Serial killers and the state
If you watch enough interviews with serial killers you will find that they often return to this idea: “The state drops napalm on people—murders and horrifically injures people—and the men who do it are rewarded with medals and adulation. Well, why not me? I just do what the state does except I do it at a local level; my victims are no more or less innocent than the people our government killed in Afghanistan. You are hypocrites, whereas I live a consistent life.”
I have heard Ian Brady and Charles Manson give roughly this justification for their actions. Occasionally, the serial killer—self-aggrandising—will add, “You would do the same, but you dare not; only I can dare.” When this line was given by Ian Brady to the writer Colin Wilson, a man with an acute interest in the occult and serial killers, Wilson—a rather sweet and diffident man—replied, “Yes, the trouble is two wrongs don’t make a right.” A non-answer for mild tea-drinkers: “Who decides what is right? Answer: the man with the better club—or better ability with the club.”
The argument is basically libertarian, with a strong influence from Nietzsche and, I think, from early 20th-century Nietzsche popularisations, such as Might is Right—published under the pseudonym “Ragnar Redbeard”. There is no real need to read the book; the whole thesis is in the title; if you think the title is wrong, we can always hit you over the head with the book until your agree it is right.
Although the serial-killer self-defence seems asinine and simplistic, it is actually quite deep and hits right at a core question for political theory: “What justifies the state?”, the state being that organisation with a monopoly on violence in a particular geographic area.
The trouble is that the serial killers are quite right; people happily—more or less—acquiesce to be ruled by states that act like serial killers, and often the butchery states undertake has no demonstrable benefit nor protective function for the citizens under the state’s “care”; the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan being perfect examples. In what sense are Bush, Obama, and Biden not basically serial killers? Why do they start these wars, if not for self-aggrandisement and, as with serial killers, “because I can”? Indeed, about the only demonstrable bar to these wars seems to be—as dear old Colonel Gaddafi found out in an expensive and bloody way—to have credible Weapons of Mass Destruction; it is only the physical ability to be an equal serial killer that keeps you safe; might is right, indeed. There are few better ways to demonstrate that you are top ape than to kill a hundred thousand or so people; especially if you order other apes to do it—and so the wars go on; serial killers get marriage proposals, and ex-presidents get golden-hazed retrospectives—except for Trump, who, not being a politician, at least deescalated or sought to end these conflicts; no rehabilitation for this monster.
So I think when serial killers make this justification for their actions they are on pretty solid ground; basically, the state comes about through predation—it only exists because some men managed to band together and be more predatory than other men. Now they have a state they can bonk you on the head and take your cow and your wife and daughter if they want; sometimes, they see the long-term benefits from a more or less laissez-faire policy where people are let alone and a certain surplus is skimmed off—at other times they seek to expropriate it all due to greed or lust, often mediated through (self-serving) religious or ideological delusion.
The situation is tolerated—more or less—because, as Carl Schmitt observed, there is no global sovereign and cannot be. There is no larger and completely stable bonk-group that can be appealed to at a global level. There are other gangs; and, by and large, you probably want to live in a state where the men who constitute the bonk-group are more related to you by blood than not, since this will ameliorate, to some degree, how harsh the bonk will be—given that genetic interests are real. A 1/6 cousin will bonk you less than a 1/8 cousin; and the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon demonstrated this is true when he analysed village brawls between South American tribesmen; men literally bonk men they are more closely related to less. You might also share some other non-biological factors, such as religion and traditions, that can ameliorate the bonk you receive.
Those who wish to justify the state will say: we admit the above, but the serial killer is wrong because he benefits from the collective defence the state affords; we have a social compact that is primarily designed to defend us from external predation through the state. The condition contained within this pact is that we do not predate—as individuals—within our in-group; we put all predatory behaviour into attacks on the out-group and—bad news for the serial killer—into predation against those who predate within the in-group; namely you, Mr. Charles Manson.
This view is not entirely correct, since the state basically says: “We will predate on you, probably not as much as other out-groups (though there is no guarantee in this regard), and this is to your benefit because other bonk-groups might literally exterminate you and take your goods; therefore, our rule is just and you must help us to suppress predators, internal and external.” The state is still a predator; its defence amounts to: “Yes, we are probably—especially if composed from your kinsman—a less bad predator than other groups; we also suppress intra-group predation, to an extent.” In other words, “We are a serial killer; it’s just we will probably not kill you.”
Serial killers are basically right about the state and how it justifies itself. The problem is that they are also illogical and stupid. Man is an intensely social species; there is very little we can achieve without social cooperation. Predation is a negative; to predate against people destroys our ability to cooperate, to produce goods and benefits—even if you do not predate against everyone, a predator on the loose makes people less likely to cooperate and so damages everyone. Predation is negative; just because the state gets away with it, as Colin Wilson observes, that does not mean it is the optimal strategy; two wrongs do not make a right—except this fact is insufficient alone to stop predation; only force does that. Serial killers commit self-harm through predation; the predation is a sub-optimal strategy—every human should act to maximise their self-preservation and increase their ability to act through cooperation, serial killing reduces this capacity; it makes you a universal enemy within the only group that might have a vague general sympathy towards you.
The serial killer is right to think there is no inherent reason not to turn predator—just like the state—except that the gains from predation only accrue if you are in a bonk-group; one man is not enough—hence serial killers are often narcissists or psychopaths, i.e. highly solipsistic; the paradigmatic “lone wolf”. To predate all alone own is a sub-optimal strategy; if you want to be a predator you have to be like Stalin—his early specialty was bank robbery, and he never stopped—and work at a minimal level with other predatory people (caution: you may get eaten in a Great Purge; that is the risk inherent in a career with gangsters, predators often eat each other).
So serial killers are too stupid and warped—too self-important—to even achieve the minimal cooperative restraint a man like Stalin needs to be an effective predator; they are defective predators. In other words, they do not follow their own logic closely enough; if they did, they would realise that the true “overman”, as they see it, would recuse his immediate desire to kill in order to control a state and so kill with impunity—the impunity only comes about when a man controls a bonk-group, not as an individual; an individual is always easy pickings.
The justification is probably given because serial killers lie about their real motives and so draw an analogy with the state as a blind; in reality, they are childish or narcissistic; they want the omnipotent power the state wields without the tiresome—usually bloodless—political manoeuvres it requires to achieve those positions that exercise power. When they are caught they pout like a child or a woman and say, “It’s not fwair, George Bush killed 100,000 people and nobody wants to execute him.” True; except Bush played the game and the serial killer did not, probably because they lack the intelligence or self-restraint to do so. If you wanna kill like Stalin or Bush ya have to humble yourself, ya know? The serial killer is like a child who has set a small fire with twigs thanks to some stolen matches, who, when punished, says, “Not fwair, mom makes a fire on the stove every day.” And, of course, the serial killer really wants to engage in self-pity: “I coulda been George Bush; nobody would have cared—if only my momma weren’t no whore and papa didn’t beat me blind…Guy just can’t get no breaks…”
Actually, this attitude is often seen in pacifists and anti-war protesters and so gives them an odd kinship with serial killers; and perhaps explains why wet liberals, such as the late Lord Longford, tend to give serial killers so much time and attention. The wet leftists are smarter and slightly more restrained than the serial killer, but still not enough to play the bonk game effectively. So they also say, “Bush is a serial killer; he’s no different to Manson,” and, perhaps—also being impatient predators—they will suggest that, ergo, it is certainly wrong to execute serial killers; perhaps wrong to keep them in jail at all…This is how the Tolstoy-Stalin dynamic plays out: men like Tolstoy, who present as gentle pacifists, are quite impatient and unrealistic about politics; and they facilitate men who are equally short-sighted but more brutal, such as Stalin, into power.
In short, as with all things in life, effective predation requires patience—you simply cannot murder the first tart you find in a motorway service station and expect to get away with it. Yet if you wait, as the NKVD chief Beria did with his pretty little girls, you can engage in rapine and murder without consequence; might is right—just make sure to be mighty enough.
The state’s predation is an unfortunate upshot from man’s collective action, since our cooperation produces situations where predation is a viable strategy for people to survive (to be a bonk-group); and even if you do not want to be in a bonk-group and bonk other people for their swag, you will be forced to develop, perhaps hire or acquiesce to, a minimal bonk capacity to protect against predation—in time this minimal bonk capacity may turn into a very effective predator itself, especially if it repulses many other predators and becomes strong as it does so.
So far, nobody has found a foolproof way to maintain the necessary bonk capacity to stop external predation and also stop the state from internal predation. The state is a serial killer and that is a negative; the serial killer identifies with the state’s self-promotion, the general idea that the state’s behaviour is acceptable—although he utilises what amounts to a libertarian argument as he does so; it is just he amputates the point that this predation—predation that can only be stopped with bullets, not moral appeals—is sub-optimal. Similar facile anti-humanism was evident in the ideas produced by the Columbine killers—possibly this stemmed from adolescent impotence—but the problem was that they were insufficiently anti-human; if you get really anti-human then there is no desire to emulate the state (murder everyone), since the state is far too irrational and fallible: if you get really anti-human you will see long-term cooperation is the best path.
Pacifists are broadly correct: you should resolve everything through negotiation and refrain from predation; the problem is that pacifists act as if the optimum strategy is always possible; hence they resort to moralised arguments as to why people refuse to adopt the optimal strategy—in reality, many people are too stupid or too tempted by easy booty from predation to refrain, so you must bonk them on the head. It is possible to insulate yourself from predation to quite a high degree—perhaps through geographical isolation and religiosity; however, this is far from foolproof.
Simultaneously, pacifists often end up being free-riders; they engage in parasitism in a slightly different way, since they benefit from the state’s defence from predators—often more severe predators than the state—without contribution to that defence. Of course, the pacifist would reply that the American, Soviet, and Nazi states are about the same; and that anyone who thinks otherwise has been taken in by sentimental propaganda by one side or the other—it is no crime to refuse to feed a predator.
This is rather questionable: many Eastern European peasants welcomed the Germans as liberators, but they then discovered that while the National Socialists were less predatory with their in-group than the Soviets, they were more predatory with the out-group so that outsiders were worse off than with the Soviets—the peasants again backed the Communists as the lesser predators, the lesser of two evils; often the real choice we make as men—and a choice pacifists, being zealots, refuse.
Ultimately, the National Socialist strategy in the East shows why predation is sub-optimal; people who would have aided them against the USSR turned against them—anti-Communists, such as Churchill, judged Germany as more predatory than the USSR and cooperated with Satan against a more proximate devil. Extreme predatory behaviour is eventually checked because no matter how strong the predator their extreme behaviour will cause people who would not usually cooperate to cooperate and so defeat the aggressor. Although, of course, we should remember that—relative to Genghis Khan—Hitler was quite merciful; the Germans killed enough Eastern European peasants to make Stalin seem the better man again, but they failed to create Khanian-style skull mountains that would have brought about true obedience through absolute terror.
Lesser of two evils aside, at some point pacifists will be confronted by someone who wants to bonk them on the head directly—possibly a serial killer or mugger; and, since suicide though submission is against nature—against our innate need to perpetuate ourselves and our kin—complete self-abnegation before aggression cannot be a correct response. The pacifist has to defend himself, since the world is not perfect; people do not see sense, even though violence really—though it is an awful cliché—is not the solution.
So the serial killer is, in the end, a man who would found a state but does not have the patience and guile to do so; he understands the dynamic—he understands what most politicians really think; and he understands that the moralised justifications for the state are mainly fiction. Unfortunately, he draws the wrong conclusion; he thinks, “Oh, I’d like a bit of that, thank you very much,” except he is not bright enough or guileful enough to get his slice. At best, as with Manson, he can knit together a wild cult; and even then Manson—fatherless, remember—could not command men; he could seduce women, but girls do not make for a predatory group. Manson was a short man, rather like Napoleon, and was raped in youth reformatory school; he eventually learned to counter-rape. He was a man who aspired to be a leader, but was simply too feminised and impulsive to be effective.
Manson can be contrasted with a real contemporary deviant leader of men, Sonny Barger—founder of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. Barger was a smarter and more patient man than Manson; in the long-term, his deviance has undoubtably done more damage, yet he retains a certain positive mystique—he is close to the sort of man around which a state might form; he could really put together predatory men and thrive. Again, note well, Barger survived and receives grudging respect—whereas as Manson is pure evil—because he carved out a state-within-a-state, as with the Scientologists, that basically operates parallel to the state in several countries; it is only insofar as he has beaten the state at its own game that he gets grudging respect, not absolute abomination.
Similar behaviour—at a similar time—can be observed in far-left terror groups, such as the Weather Underground and Red Army Faction; people with laughably insufficient bonk capacity attempted to overthrow the predatory group that controlled the state—they got off lightly because the state was sympathetic to their antics, to their general predatory ambitions.
I have no solution to this conundrum, except to say it would be optimal to breed man to be as intelligent and far-sighted as possible (effectively, this amounts to the same thing), so that our predisposition is to maximise long-term cooperation and minimise predation; and an ideal state should be organised in such a way as to minimise opportunities for predation and to incentivise its citizens to think about long-term outcomes as much as possible—easy to say, much more difficult to achieve; especially since the extant human material is quite predatory. Such a state would have to have a banner that was very blue, for blue is a colour that evokes distance and deep time in our mind; and people who dwell in the depths have less interest in predation, being long-term thinkers.