Cognitive Psychology

The Rash of Shootings for Making Simple Mistakes and Primal World Views

The rash of shootings of people for making innocent mistakes has really shaken me and seemingly many in the country. Who hasn’t approached the wrong car in a parking lot mistaking it for their own? Who hasn’t gotten lost searching for an address and pulled into a stranger’s driveway just to turnaround? Hell, I once put on someone else’s shoes after a get together at a friend’s apartment in South Korea and made it two flights down the stairs before realizing. I once picked up another person’s checked luggage before realizing it wasn’t mine. These things happen. No one deserves to be shot for them.

The Shootings

There has been a history of people shooting Black folks for such innocent mistakes, but it seems like we’ve had three in week or so:

  • RALPH YARL, 16 years old, shot in the head and BACK, on 13 April ,after having rung the doorbell at the wrong house when trying to pick up his younger siblings from a playdate in Kansas City. The 84 year-old shooter was a conspiracy theory nutter and consumed by fear, which, otherwise, might be known as paranoid. He shot within seconds of opening the door. Yarl was able to flee and went to three houses seeking help before receiving any. Initially, the shooter was released from police custody because white shooter, black victim. Prove me wrong. Miraculously, he is expected to live and make some kind of recovery from his injuries.
  • KAYLIN GILLIS, 2O years old, was shot and killed on 15 April in upstate New York, when the car she was a passenger in pulled into a driveway while looking for a party. The 65 year-old resident came out and shot blindly into the car as they were leaving.
  • PAYTON WASHINGTON, an 18 year-old cheerleader in Texas was shot in the leg and back after she mistakingly got into the wrong car on her way hope after cheerleader practice or workout or both or some damn thing. She is expected to recover from her injuries.

What do all these shootings have in common?

  • They were all committed after the victims had made common innocent mistakes.
  • All of the victims were non-threatening other than having mistakenly entered someone’s property, but you know front yards, doorway stoops, driveways, and cars parked in public parking lots are fairly accessible to the general public and just being thee does not constitute a threat no matter the time of day or night.
  • None of the shooters said anything before opening fire. There was no attempt to establish any kind of connection between the shooter and victims. It was spot the victim, shoot the victim, proclaim innocence because I was afraid for my life. The claim worked so well that the police let the 84 year-old go before arresting him a week later after extensive protests.

One is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a trend.

Is there anything that explains this quick draw shoot first ask questions later Wild Wild West tough guy maverick breaking all the rules because the system is broken behavior that we’re witnessing?

Primal World Beliefs

One of them relates to a relatively new psychological concept called primal world beliefs. Primal world beliefs are fundamental views about the primary characteristics of the environment around us and how it functions. They seem to function as a lens through which individuals see the world rather than base on experience of the world.

For example, I have a deep and abiding belief that life is change. Everything in the world is in a state of change in spite of the fact that our world is largely static. The sun rises and sets every day. The tree in my front yard is there everyday. Physical objects don’t transmogrify. Roads don’t change their routes. Personality is consistent. Reactions to situations is predictable. Yet, I believe change happens, albeit slowly in most cases, and it is the way we react and relate to and cope with those changes that determine much of our lives.

For an interesting introduction to the world of primals, take their free test! Report your results in the comments if you so desire.

Jer Clifton of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center who runs The Primals Project reports that their findings have identified twenty-six beliefs about the world, but that those twenty-six can be organized into three categories:

  • A safe versus dangerous world
  • An exciting versus dull world
  • An alive versus mechanistic world

Their primals had better predictive value for many personality and wellbeing variables than more traditional measurements like the Big Five Personality test.

Primal World Views the Justify Shooting People

Just given this precursory overview of primals, we would suspect that all three shooters would have a primal world view that the world is a dangerous and mechanistic place. Dangerous in that people pose plausible dangers to one another, especially at night. Mechanistic in that strangers and Blacks and young people are all inherently more dangerous than others cannot deviate from their threatening inclinations. Both of these primals would produce a feeling of justification in keeping their guns near at hand, pulling them out frequently when they felt even an inkling of threat in their environment, and shooting first and asking questions later.

That much seems like a safe assumption, but we should acknowledge that it might not be.

Another seemingly safe assumption that we might make about these three shooters is that they are all conservative asshats who are probably MAGA supporting jerks. There we might be wrong.

Hierarchy Trumps Danger

An interesting finding in the research of Clinton and his team is that the commonly held belief that conservatives see the world as inherently more dangerous than liberals is wrong. Their testing shows, for example. that BernieBros saw the world as more threatening in 2016 than MAGA did. The extremes of both ends of the political spectrum were equally likely to see the world as a dangerous place.

The thing that correlated well with conservatism was the hierarchical world primal, which is the belief that the value of something is based on its rank in a hypothetical arbitrary hierarchy. This includes people (like Black vs white, poor vs rich, men vs women, straight vs LGBTQ+, Christian vs non-Christian, married vs single, children vs childless among others), places like rural vs urban, red state vs blue state, and things, including cars, animals, foods, literally, everything. Hierarchical beliefs “explained twenty times more the variance in political ideology.”

I once had an argument with my mother, who I believe had “shooting a burglar in her house” on her bucket list, which luckily, she never got to do before she passed — about shooting a burglar in her house. I argued that what she was essentially saying was that her television set or other worldly good was more important than the burglar’s life, which I couldn’t accept that as true. She argued that if someone broke into her house, she they should know that one of the consequences was getting shot since it was likely a neighbor to do the burgling and they knew her views. We lived in a rough neighborhood that only got worse.

However, it was indicative of our hierarchical beliefs. She placed her material possessions above the life of “criminals.” I place human life or life in general above material possessions. You can guess our political beliefs, I’m sure.

My guess is that these three shooters also placed their material possessions above the life of anyone that they felt was threatening them. In general, the stand your ground laws and the castle doctrine do the same.

The hyping of guns in this country has been based on the need for “personal protection” from criminal elements including immigrants, the coming civil war, the confiscation of guns, and other factors that promote the world is a dangerous place point-of-view.

Given the elements of these crimes, I cannot help but believe that these shooters were definitely holding world primal beliefs that indicated the world is fundamentally dangerous, mechanistic, and, probably, dull.

As MAGA and the politicians, media outlets, gun manufacturers, and influencers that cynically pander them promote and reinforce the dangerousness of the world and the solution being guns and shooting first and asking questions later, we should expect more senseless violence in our world not less. Sadly, we should all be acting far more cautiously when interacting with strangers, especially when unexpectedly and unintentionally interacting with them.

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Image Attribution

The image is by the WordPress AI image generator. The text is by Ye Olde Blogge. The license is whatever WordPress says it is. Since they don’t say much to me about it, so I don’t know.

a comic style picture of a child in really big big trouble by an adult
a comic style picture of a child in really big big trouble by an adult

15 replies »

  1. Hasn’t anybody read Thomas Hobbes “Leviathon”?
    Natural state of man is warre. So the farmer must use one hand for farming and the other hand to carry a musket to defend himself.
    We surrender some of our personal soveriegnty to the goverment so that one can spend all their time in productive activities with out having to constantly waste time and effort to defend our persons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Any!

      Yes, I’ve read Thomas Hobbes, but I don’t think the natural state of human kind is war. However, I agree, we surrender our ability to commit violence to the state in exchange for the state ensuring our safety through police and courts and military defense. When we are able to live in a relaxed and happy state with our basic needs met, we aren’t as stressed, we’re more productive, we work together more effectively. An armed society is not a polite society, it is a fearful society.



      • I agree that (hopefully) the natural state of man is NOT war but that wass Hobbes position (but not Kropotkin’s).
        Remember also that it does not require all to be war like only 5 or 10% unfettered would be enough to instill fear and disorder.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Any!

          I feel that that is plan, to such a degree that there is a coherent plan, of the Koch Bros and their allies. They want to use stressed out, hyped up, armed MAGA to increase the violence in our society to help them create an authoritarian state. I can’t see any other interpretation for it, especially given the revelations from the Dominion v. Fox case.



  2. Imagine, but not too vividly lest you make it your reality, living for long periods on the verge of full blown fight or flight syndrome with elevated levels of adrenaline and testosterone and cortisol tensing every nerve and muscle, your body begging for a cathartic release. Imagine never going to answer the doorbell or a sound in the yard without a gun in hand locked and loaded because “they” are out there just waiting for you to drop your guard so they can take everything you have. Yep, you know its you or them with everything on the line and whoever shoots first wins, just like in all those wild west movies. And you know that if they do you wrong, disrespect (there’s the hierarchy factor) you, the law is going to let them get away with it because of those “woke” DAs and juries that will buy their sob stories.

    A Hell of a way to live, no metaphor intended, a literal Hell, and way too many are living it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      Your description there describes my mother to a t. She believed that the criminals were just waiting to break into her house and steal her things. It didn’t help that she had been burgled several times. She was sure that the liberal judges and DAs would let them off, too. When I said, it was on her bucket list to shoot a burglar, I meant it.

      I think it is on a lot of these yahoos’ bucket lists. They want to kill someone who “deserves” it whether it is for property crime or protesters or some chance encounter where they fear for their lives a la Zimmerman provoking Martin so he could shoot him in self-defense.

      All of the hype about needing a gun to defend yourself from Fox News and their ilk just keeps winding it up tighter. We’ve seen much more violence this year than previous years. It’s just going to continue.

      An armed society is not a polite society; it is a fearful one.


      Liked by 1 person

      • The more accurate statement would be that only a polite society can afford to be an armed society. Historically, the armed segments of societies, usually the nobility of very hierarchical systems, had elaborate codes of civility for their members and ritualized conflict resolution which include formal duels which (until the introduction of firearms) often concluded with less than lethal outcomes. The core issue in most of those situation was respect and disrespect, as it is any honor society. [Hidden Brain did a fine episode on honor societies: For someone in an honor system, disrespect is existential threat. Much of our gun violence is about that. The tit-for-tat shootings between street gangs, road rage, the shooting the the parking lots of night clubs, virtually all domestic partner and ex-partner shootings, and police shootings of unarmed people have that issue at their root.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          That was a major point of Steven Pinker in his “Angels of Our Better Nature” that the state was to take over providing respect for the individual. With the legal system giving a viable and non-violent recourse to wrongs, injuries, and slights, people would not have to resort to violence as long as they had confidence in the legal system. it would seem that the Republican’s effort to undermine our confidence in our legal system is paying off in increased amounts of interpersonal violence.


          Liked by 1 person

          • That is the trade off of civilization, personal sovereignty for collective safety. It is one that sociopathic libertarians have always resented.

            This is a fascinating article that takes the observation of the consistency between that civil war map and aggregate racism farther back in relation to death by gun in different regions, all the way back to the cultural differences between groups who initially settled various areas. It also happens to map to our present partisan sorting.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              Thank you for the link.

              Social psychologists suggest that 75% or so of our behavior is determined by the environment or situation. We know that culture is slow to change. Those things seem logical or even reasonable to me, but the idea that geography can have such an impact on behavior seems counter intuitive. I would imagine if there were a rapid turnover in population, though, the effect wouldn’t continue or be as strong. You know, a rapid turnover like when white settlers and colonists drove out the Native Americans who were already there.

              That is a significant effect, and one that the author is correct about, it should be studied and used more.



      • Howdy Bruce!

        Right you are! Living under constant stress and fear does indeed induce a kind of PTSD known as mass psychosis. It’s main symptoms are a willingness to believe nearly anything, a diminishing capacity for critical thinking, and a preference for simplistic easy solutions for complex problems. The Republican Party has been building towards this moment for decades with their constant fear mongering, emphasis on gun rights, and focus on white grievance politics.



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