The manhunt for former Los Angeles Police Officer Christopher Dorner is over. His charred body lies in the embers of a remote mountain cabin after a shooting spree in which he shot dead four people, including two police officers.
It is a story right out of a Hollywood action movie: a 21st century Rambo, betrayed by the institution he served. Experts in violence have been informing us that these terrible acts are committed by sociopaths without a conscience. Christopher Dorner has thrown a wrench into this assumption. He was a law enforcement officer and an ardent advocate for gun control!
Dorner had been living by the values our society has been promoting for the past few decades: that we must not tolerate abuse or bullying of any kind; that we must stop being passive bystanders and actively stand up for victims against bullies; that the sticks and stones slogan is a lie and that words can hurt us forever; that the worst thing that can possibly happen to us is for someone to insult our race, religion or sexual orientation; that the N-word is the most destructive, and therefore the most taboo, word in existence; and that it is our moral duty to report all acts of bullying to the authorities, who will protect us from the bullies of the world and make them change their evil ways.
Dorner was a lifelong fighter against racism, injustice and abuse. As early as first grade he beat up a kid for using the N-word. He joined the Navy and the police force so he could devote his professional life to protecting the rest of us. He claims that he stood up for one of my fellow Jews when other police recruits “sang Nazi Hitler youth songs about burning Jewish ghettos in WWII Germany where his father was a survivor of a concentration camp”.
He fervently supported the rights of gays and lesbians as well as other progressive causes, including gun control. And he did exactly what our anti-bullying education insists we must do: he reported acts of abuse by fellow police officers to the police review board.
Was Dorner a sociopath?
So what went wrong? How could this man, with such an apparently model conscience, kill people? Was he a closet sociopath?
Of course not. That is a misunderstanding of violent behavior. The bullying paradigm has created a dualistic “evil bully/innocent victim” model of human personality and dynamics. In this model, all purposeful aggression is committed by sociopathic bullies. But such people are rare. Most intentional violence is committed not by people who feel like bullies but by people who feel like victims.
Pay attention to the news. A man is divorced from his wife, so he shoots up her family. A kid feels rejected by his peers so he shoots up the school. A man is found guilty by a judge so he shoots up the courtroom.
How did Hitler get Europeans to exterminate Jews in World War II? Did he proclaim, “Let’s go bully the Jews!” No! He said, “We are the victims of the Jews!” And when people feel like victims, they are capable of the most atrocious acts and feel justified doing them.
Even in democracies, how do our leaders get us to go to war with other countries? Do they tell us, “Let’s go bully that country!”? No. They convince us that we are victims of that country, or potential victims, and we happy to send our armies there and blow them up.
When we feel victimized, we are angry, hateful and desire revenge. Bullying experts call anger, hatred and revenge “bullying.” But this is wrong. Anger, hatred and revenge are by definition victim behaviors. When do we get angry? When we feel victimized. When do we hate people? When we feel victimized by them in some way. When do we get revenge? When we feel victimized.
The sociopaths are 'us'
I hate to break the news to you, but the sociopaths are not “them.” They are “us”! We all become sociopathic when we feel victimized. Our conscience gets flushed down the toilet. We feel like we are the good guys, the innocent victims, and they are the bad guys, the bullies–and bullies, as we have been taught, are not to be tolerated. There is no room for them in our society; they must be eliminated.
Perhaps that is the reason for increasing gun violence. When pain becomes overwhelming, some people despair that society will actually rid us of our bullies. They take matters into their own hands, pick up guns and tell the bullies, “Hasta la vista, baby!”
There have been numerous manifestos written by killers. I challenge you to find even one of them in which the murderer presents himself as a bully. No, every single one presents himself either as a victim of an evil society, or a crusader on behalf of his own victimized society against an outside evil force. Just remember Anders Breivik.
The only way to understand Dorner’s apparently defective conscience is by realizing that, like virtually all violent people, he felt victimized. Read his rambling manifesto. He spent his life trying to do all the right things, only to have his innocent worldview implode, like a child learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
A victim of workplace bullying
Dorner attempted to be a true hero fighting racism, bullying and injustice, only to discover that the worst racism, bullying and injustice were to be found right there in the police department. His manifesto claims that police spend most of their time making money from other people’s misfortune, trying to squeeze as many overtime hours as they can from the bureaucratic activities involved in processing incidents.
When Dorner informed his superiors about this, he was treated like a snitch! Imagine, irony of ironies, you have dedicated your life to fighting bullying and you get labelled a bully! Dorner wrote in fury, “How f**king dare you attempt to label me with such a nasty vile word!” – bully!
Betrayed by his employers, Dorner became consumed with the drive to clear his tarnished name. Unfortunately, when we are angry, our critical thinking gets muddled. Unable to think of any other way to accomplish this, he decided to go on a terror campaign against the LAPD.
The real cause of violence
That people in Dorner’s position kill in response to being bullied should not surprise us. After all, the experts claim that words are more lethal than fists. In this view, killing people is not nearly as terrible as verbally insulting them–especially with the N-word.
Dorner began choking a fellow cop for using that word, although he said that he should have put a gun to his head. He also believed that even the slow, torturous death administered to Jesus was nothing compared to the pain of being called the N-word.
Dorner was not stupid. He was correct in assuming that killing people is the best way to bring attention to his cause. He has even gotten what he wanted: for the LAPD to re-examine the case that got him fired.
In his film Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore presented an interesting thesis, that our nation has so much gun violence because we promote fear–specifically fear of blacks. When we fear people, we see them as dangerous enemies, so we go out and by guns.
Moore is on the right track -- except that we have been promoting much more than fear of blacks. We have been promoting fear of everyone, for bullies are not limited to any one race or religion. Bullies can be any of us. Everyone is a potential danger.
It is time to realize that it is not bullies that kill. It is not guns that kill. It is when we are angry–when we feel victimized–that we pick up guns and kill.
Our nation is determined to end violence, particularly gun violence. But guns don’t kill. Angry people do. If there are no guns around, people will kill with arson, homemade bombs and airplanes. The government cannot get rid of our anger for us. In fact, when we turn, as Dorner did, to government officials, everyone’s anger increases.
Yes, gun control may succeed in reducing some gun violence. But there is only one reliable way to reduce violence, and that is by reducing anger. Accomplishing this is not a Quixotic dream. But we have been looking for the solution in the wrong place.
Anthropologists have found societies that are practically violence free, without formal government or police systems. The Ladakhis, for instance, who live in northern India near Tibet, possess no victim mentality. It is almost impossible to get them angry. They are much happier, resilient and harmonious than we are.
How do they achieve peacefulness? Through wisdom. Wisdom is the solution to life’s problems. Peaceful societies teach people how not to think like victims, as do all major religions, ethical systems, and successful psychotherapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavior therapy, rational emotive therapy, Adlerian therapy and positive psychology.
Ironically, this age-old wisdom was made available to Christopher Dorner, too, but he rejected it. In his manifesto, he said that he attended a Christian elementary school whose principal recommended that he “turn the other cheek” when racially insulted. Dorner’s reaction was, “I’m not a f**king Christian,” and preferred our modern victim-mentality teaching that no one has a right to disrespect us, especially for our race.
And no matter how hard and often Dorner fought those who said the N-word, they continued to say it, and he continued to get into trouble. His rage against insults ultimately led to his own undoing, as well as to the tragic destruction of several other lives.
If there is anyone other than Dorner himself to blame for his murders, it is modern culture. From preschool, we teach children irrational beliefs that set them up for victimization -- that we are entitled to a life in which no one disrespects us; that insults are worse than broken bones; that racial insults are the absolute worst thing of all; that bullies are evil and victims are virtuous; that our emotional pain is other people’s fault; that we must inform the authorities whenever we feel bullied; that the authorities are unbiased assessors of good and evil; and that the authorities will take our side against our bullies.
As long as we teach this, there will be people whose illusions burst and resort to guns to create their own justice.
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.