That’s completely different

The Washington Post has some information on yesterday’s installment of the required daily mass shooting that has become such a hallmark of the US summer as well as autumn and spring.

The shooters who killed a pair of police officers and a bystander who tried to stop them on Sunday in Las Vegas had expressed anti-government views, according to police, who are working to officially determine a motive in the violent episode.

“There is no doubt that the suspects have an ideology that’s along the lines of militia and white supremacists,” said Kevin C. McMahill, assistant sheriff of Clark County, during a news conference Monday.


While authorities said they believed this was an isolated, random act, they also said they were investigating the ideology of the two shooters.  They believe that the fact that they placed a swastika on the bodies of one of the people they killed Sunday suggested that they equated law enforcement “with the Nazi movement,” McMahill said. Police also said they are investigating reports that one or both of the Millers went to the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy during a standoff with federal authorities earlier this year.


A neighbor told the Los Angeles Times that on Sunday morning, Jerad Miller had pulled out swastikas and an Army insignia and said he was going to put one on every police officer they killed. ”I’m thinking, ‘Right. They’re not going to do that,” Kelly Fielder said. “I should have called the cops. I feel I have the deaths of five people on my shoulders. The signs were there.”

No no no they weren’t. That was just some passing whim that had nothing to do with the shootings. The shootings were because Jerad Miller was mentally ill. That’s totally all there was to it. Plus, it’s complicated.

Fielder described Jerad Miller as hateful of the government and of President Obama, while she said Amanda Miller was “a good girl who would do anything to make her man happy.”

See? See? They cancel each other out, so the views don’t count.

The pair then took the slain officers out of their booth and laid them on the ground, covering Beck with a yellow Gadsden flag that read “Don’t Tread on Me” and placing a swastika on his body.

They also pinned a note to Salvo that read, “This is the beginning of the revolution,” McMahill said, and they repeated that phrase to people in the restaurant before leaving and heading to a nearby Wal-Mart.

Mental illness, that was. Nothing to do with ideas at all. The guy was cray. Plus? It’s complicated.

Jerad Miller had posted a lengthy statement on his Facebook page last week writing that the country was facing oppression that could only be stopped “with bloodshed.”

The couple apparently was committed to an anti-government belief system typified by hatred of law enforcement and the notion that the federal government has no authority over them, said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.

“This isn’t the first attack from people who show these kinds of beliefs,” she said Monday in a telephone interview from the organization’s headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. “They come to see the government as the enemy. The fact that these two shot cops is right in that line of thinking.”

But…that has…nothing to do with it…

In 2010, a similar strain of anti-government rage resulted in two family members killing two police officers in West Memphis, Ark. That episode concluded in a Wal-Mart parking lot, as Jerry Ralph Kane Jr., and his 16-year-old son, Joseph, died in a firefight with law enforcement officials.

Earlier this year, a man plotted to kidnap and kill police officers in Las Vegas as part of the anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement, which believes that governments operate illegally. The FBI has called the sovereign citizen extremists a “growing domestic threat,” one that has had violent and fatal encounters with law enforcement officials.

There were 43 violent incidents between law enforcement officials and extremists, with 30 police officers shot and 14 killed, between 2009 and 2013, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Well maybe there was some connection.

End of sarcasm. Any bets on how many of the people who have been telling us Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree had nothing to do with misogyny will be making a parallel claim about the Las Vegas shooting spree?

My bet is not a fucking one.



  1. deepak shetty says

    will be making a parallel claim about the Las Vegas shooting spree?
    I expect the parallel claim that will be made is Ophelia is making the new shooting about feminism as well and pointing to this post.

  2. says

    I popped over to AVfM to see what they might have to say about it. Surprise, not a peep.

    Although the lead “article” is an amusing video made in response to the Rodger murders by “a 17 year old Sociology student from the UK who loves to write and makes youtube videos from an MRA perspective.” (Available at for anyone who doesn’t want to go to that awful site.)

  3. Al Dente says

    From the article linked in the OP:

    Inside the Wal-Mart, Jerad Miller fired a single shot and told the shoppers to get out, again talking about “a revolution.” Joseph Wilcox, who was standing near the registers and carrying a concealed weapon, told his friend he was going to confront the shooters.

    Wilcox, 31, “immediately and heroically moved towards” Miller, McMahill said. But as went to confront the shooter, he walked right by Amanda Miller, who shot and killed Wilcox.

    The armed civilian who was going to stop the shooters didn’t accomplish anything other than getting himself killed. That’s not the way the gunnutz assure us it’s supposed to happen.

  4. says

    Why is everyone politicizing this tragedy? Oh, and the police should just shut up and stop twisting things around and making themselves into victims like the narcissists and vultures that they are. Private, personal funerals please–none of those major memorials that draw big crowds and first responders from other places. No taking advantage of the situation to talk about how dangerous it can be to be a cop. That’d be insulting.

  5. Trebuchet says

    Once again (and again): “Mentally ill” and “right-wing” or “misogynist” are not mutually exclusive. I’d go so far as to say the latter two may tend to be associated with the former.

  6. Andrew B. says

    Can someone tell me how exactly “mental illness” causes people to become violent? When people say that Elliot Rodgers et al. behaved as they did on account of “mental illness,” they never explain the causal connection. I know mentally ill people, and curiously, they don’t tend to go on violent rampages. Why is that?

  7. iknklast says

    You’ll lose that bet. Many people on the rightwing will do so.

    But…but…it’s because the victims didn’t have guns! If they had guns…what? They were policemen?…It’s because the bystanders didn’t have guns, which would totally have kept the shooter from shooting anyone. If there had just been a toddler with an automatic weapon in his diaper, he could have pulled it out and taken down the shooter…

    Sorry, I can’t keep that up any longer. My head is about to explode.

  8. says

    Can someone tell me how exactly “mental illness” causes people to become violent? When people say that Elliot Rodgers et al. behaved as they did on account of “mental illness,” they never explain the causal connection. I know mentally ill people, and curiously, they don’t tend to go on violent rampages. Why is that?

    Because there is no causal connection. They would be pointing to the connection as the evidence otherwise.

    It’s about removing choice from the killer, or molester, or whatever (consciously or otherwise) by filling the discussion space with noise and distraction. Because they have to believe or pretend that a person that shares a feature with something personal to them (gender, religion, politics, philosophy…) would never choose to do something terrible like that. So there has to be an explanation that takes agency from the person so that the precious feature can’t possibly be related and obviously no one should be even investigating the possibility.

    I see it over and over with Elliot Rodgers and I’m still slugging it out in comments. They have all sorts of places on the internet to explore the mental illness connection. But that’s not what they are doing when they see people looking at angles with better evidence. They are going to places where other people are talking about misogyny, and how PUA culture, or MRA culture might be related to things where there is really good evidence for a connection. And there they insist at everyone else repeatedly that mental illness is a factor and “how dare you deemphasize mental illness” (when what we are really doing is discussing misogyny), and “haw can you say mental illness is not a factor” (when we are not considering what there is not direct evidence for).

  9. says

    Actually, the shootings occurred because psychopaths had access to firearms.

    It’s a serious ethical breach for their psychological therapist to reveal a clinical diagnosis like this.

    Oh, you’re not their therapist? So you don’t know anything, and are just being ableist. Gotcha.

  10. RJW says


    OK, MrFancyPants, they were having a rather bad day and they decided to murder some people—it could happen to anybody really, or is it a tragic love story?

  11. A. Noyd says

    iknklast (#10)

    It’s because the bystanders didn’t have guns, which would totally have kept the shooter from shooting anyone.

    As Al Dente pointed out in #5, one of the bystanders did have a gun. He thought he was going to play hero but only got himself killed. Here’s more:

    In the frenzy, Wilcox, who was shopping, told friends he was going to confront Jerad Miller — not realizing that Amanda Miller was his accomplice. Wilcox went from the checkout area to Miller and pulled his concealed firearm. But before he could fire, Amanda Miller shot him in the ribs and Wilcox collapsed.


    Police confirmed that Wilcox was not able to get off a shot before he died.

    I have to wonder if he noticed Amanda Miller but didn’t pay attention to her because she was a woman.

  12. says

    1. You’re reducing the message from “toxic ideas have real world implications” to “naw, they were just crazy.”
    2. Calling someone a psychopath, without any clinical insight into the case, is wrong.
    3. Tagging people with mental illness with the brush of “vector for violence,” even so-called psychopaths, is ableist at *best*. Most people with mental illnesses are victims of violent crime, not instigators of it.

    Let us be frank. Clinically sane people can hold repulsive, hateful ideas, and act upon them. If it were otherwise, every serial killer would be found “not guilty by reason of insanity.” If you are going to define “crazy” by actions, rather than clinical diagnoses, then I will challenge you to find a single sane person on earth.

  13. Nick Gotts says

    Any bets on how many of the people who have been telling us Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree had nothing to do with misogyny will be making a parallel claim about the Las Vegas shooting spree?

    My bet is not a fucking one. – Ophelia Benson

    I think there might be some. The Tea Party andor “libertarian” right will certainly be trying to distance their ideologies from these killings, and “They were just crazy” is one option. The others are “They were liberals/leftists” (which is going to be tricky, given the abundant evidence to the contrary but hell, “He was a feminist” has been tried with Rodger), “Gubmint oppression drove them to it, and of course we deplore it, but…” and “false flag operation by Obama”. My guess is that all will be deployed, but the last will be most popular.

  14. RJW says


    !. Straw man argument, I never made any claim that the offenders were ‘just crazy’, of course ‘toxic ideas have real world implications’, however I’m not convinced any particular individual is necessarily vulnerable to “toxic ideas”, surely an individual’s psychological state is a significant factor. The possibly is, that the perpetrators of the crime, in a different historical context, would have developed an obsession about Communists, ethnic minorities or witches. In summary, is the “toxic idea”, the cause of the behavior, or a product of some mental illness?

    2. Yes, it’s an assumption but you’re being somewhat precious here. Since I have no clinical qualifications whatsoever, I, like any member of the public, can use technical terms imprecisely.

    3.You’ve really drawn a longbow, I would never made any such claim. My wife was mentally ill, she was neither violent nor aggressive towards me or anyone else, just self-destructive.

    As to your final paragraph, I agree in principle, with one proviso–psychiatry is an inexact discipline and subject to revision, perhaps serial killers are indeed, crazy.

  15. Nick Gotts says

    One odd point I’ve noticed in the reporting of these murders: the killers left both swastikas and a Gadsden flag at the scene of the first killings, but the interpretation of the two by police spokesperson Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill is diametrically different: that the Gadsden flag represents the killers’ ideology, while the swastikas represent what they thought the police stood for. That could be right, but given the reports that the Millers are reported by neighbours to have been outspoken racists, how does he think he knows? Part of the white supremacist movement openly espouses Nazism, while other parts hurl accusations of Nazism at everyone else. Could be there was something at the scene which supports McMahill’s claim (they are said to have left a note saying their act was the start of a revolution) but if so, it has not been reported.

  16. Silentbob says

    @ 13 MrFancyPants

    Oh, FFS.


    a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.

    If Roger wasn’t a psychopath he was doing a fucking good impression.

  17. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    Silentbob @ 21

    Where is your evidence that any of these people lacked the ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships or failed to learn from experience, etc.?

    Additionally, where is your evidence that psychopathy is the only reason anyone ever does anything that would be considered amoral or has difficulty forming meaningful personal relationships or fails to learn from experience?

    Also, please show us the evidence that Dictionary dot fucking com is considered an authoritative source for diagnoses of mental/emotional/mood disorders.

    Good grief.

  18. Minnow says

    But surely we do need to wait and see if this was a genuinely political/terrorist act or an expression of mental illness or a combination? Especially if we want to draw broader social conclusions from it, or allow it to influence policy. I am amazed that should be controversial. At first sight, it seems these shootings seem to have been in some way motivated by a strange ‘anti-fascist’ ideology (although not one I recognise) but nobody wants to say ‘see, that’s what anti-fascism gets you’, do they? Because it would be bonkers. It’s more complicate than that.

  19. jambonpomplemouse says

    Well, they were mentally ill, which, as we know, makes them incapable of expressing hatred or having political opinions. That’s a given. But also, don’t forget that, including themselves, they killed more non-cops than cops. That means that they definitely didn’t have a problem with government employees. They were just mentally ill. Won’t everyone stop politicizing this tragedy?! Stop making it about their pro-government agenda?! PC gone mad!

  20. karmacat says

    I understand this rush to label a killer with a mental illness. It is based in part on a wish to be able to know where danger is. If we can predict who will be a mass murderer, we won’t be surprised. when events are unpredictable and random, we feel helpless and powerless. Psychiatrists often can’t predict who will successfully kill himself or herself. We can’t diagnose a person from afar because we have only have that person’s version of events. I read some of Elliot Rodger’s autobiography, but I don’t know what the people in his life were really like. I only had his view of other people. It is valuable to examine these mass murderers and their motivations, but it has to be done carefully and without extrapolating too much. Mass murderers are fortunately rare, but that means we can’t do a robust statistical analysis of which traits in a person lead to killing others. There are no simple answers and that makes us feel less sure of the world and what will happen to us.

  21. Doubting Thomas says

    And the cops’ response? To snap up all the tanks, machine guns and other military gear they can get their hands on. Surprise!

  22. John Horstman says

    Huh? No, you’re completely wrong. The same people denying the connection to misogyny in Roger’s killing spree will do the same here. Now, if they were LEFT-WING anti-government killers, then they’d be connecting it to the ideology, but you really ought to know that Right-wing ideological connections get a pass in the press.

  23. Jackie the wacky says

    People rush to blame mental illness because as people without them, it makes them feel superior.

    Sane people like them would never do something like this! Only horrible people with disabilities and illnesses are dangerous! Shame on them of being so dangerous.
    What’s that? They are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence? Nah. Couldn’t be. “Normal” people don’t have to consider how the ideas they support and spread contribute to these tragedies! Just blame a minority and keep on being a bigot, because that never hurt anyone. Well, not anyone who matters.

    Slavery and the centuries of abuse and oppression that came with it?
    That was some crazy people. Yep, that’s all.

    Every war and genocide ever?
    Just some crazy people. No sane people have ever done anything violent or immoral. That’s just science.

    Right winger white supremacists constantly calling for violence and the roots of the tree of liberty to be watered with blood couldn’t lead to people actually picking up guns and killing anyone! Why that would be like suggesting that misogynist sites that tell men how awful women are for not fucking them and how they deserve violence and inequality could lead to men actually hating women enough to murder them. We all know that could never happen.

    Yep, the problem is all these crazy people. When do we do something about them running around loose?


  24. says

    @ Silentbob 21

    Now incorporate the DSM 5 definition, and get a psychologist with experience with psychopaths to look at Rodger’s manifesto and videos. With those observations in hand you will have something more solid to try to tie mental illness with.

    One of the problems with mental illness and explanations for behavior is that a brain broken in an extreme way will often resemble an extreme life lived through extreme experience (relatively speaking, history often looks extreme). Go read about adoptions from countries with historically crappy and neglectful treatment of orphans and you will see many examples of people unable to love or establish meaningful relationships, and who display antisocial characteristics and pathological selfishness. It makes sense that extreme neglect could form such a person. To make matters more complicated there is probably more than one path that can be taken towards psychopathic characteristics.

    The problem is that the box that we call “mental illness” contains many things and is a very poorly defined category. PZ’s post “Demons. It’s all Demons” made a good point in that many of us desperately want an explanation for human behavior that we don’t like and don’t want to think is possible for all of us. Some of those things we call mental illness can be seen in an MRI, some can be partially connected to broken genes or environmental exposures, and some can be connected to specific sorts of socialization or lack of specific socialization. I take a very firm stand with respect to evidence when people toss around that word because I know just how shitty we are at recognizing mental illness as a group, but the hidden double edge of that sword they are using to remove agency from Rodger and others is that the might very well be mentally ill, and they may have gotten there through choice and socialization among like-minded misogynists and other extreme types of thought.

    If it’s possible for someone to become a psychopath though choice, society has a compelling interest to hold them accountable for those choices and focus on those sorts of choices in other people (this is all hypothetical, I’m not saying that any group here is making choices that can lead them to psychopathy in any situation). That sort of thing is what I think many in the manosphere and other groups connected to mass shootings and other horrible crimes are afraid of (even left-side political activism has some terrorism so this affects everyone). They understand that the eyes of society will fall on them. So they are scrambling to protect their groups and many are unaware of what they do.

    It’s far better to stick with what we know for sure in these situations first and add elements as they become verified. The alternative to have an error in our mental model, and that can lead to all sorts of error filled assumptions that we had no idea we were even making. Then our own error based actions can be toxic with respect to solving social problems all by themselves.

  25. Nick Gotts says

    At first sight, it seems these shootings seem to have been in some way motivated by a strange ‘anti-fascist’ ideology – Minnow@24

    Er, what? The murderers are reported by neighbours to have spouted racist and anti-government conspiracy theories, they participated in the Cliven Bundy ranch stand-off, they draped a Gadsden flag over one of the bodies, posts on their facebook page “decry the federal government, gun restrictions and taxation”.
    And this, from the LA Times, is about the woman in whose apartment they spent the last few weeks:

    Fielder, 42, said she met the couple when she moved into the apartment complex in April. “They were my next-door neighbors,” she said, adding that she took to Amanda Miller, whom she called a “beautiful young girl from the countryside. Her grandmother owned horses.”

    She said Jarad Miller was hateful, especially toward people with liberal politics.

    “He was angry at the government. He was hellaciously mad at Obama and anyone who was on food stamps. She was a good girl who would do anything to make her man happy. But he was not a nice person. No, not at all.”

    If that sounds to you like anti-fascism, I can only conclude you have your head on backwards.
    (I include the last three sentences to show that virulent sexism also appears to have played its part here.)

  26. mesh says

    It certainly doesn’t sound like you agree that toxic ideas have real world implications. By your logic, ideas are mere symptoms of psychological states and thus have no influence at all; white supremacy, misogyny, fundamentalism, etc. are just a pant size.

  27. RJW says

    @32 mesh,

    Jeez, another straw man argument, is there an epidemic?

    I couldn’t make it any clearer than —“of course toxic ideas have real world implications”, however the point is that most commenters here could be confusing cause and effect, they should consider the possibility that people develop insane ideas because they’re, in fact ….insane. Are we all equally vulnerable to possession by toxic ideas?

    Read #1 @ 20, again.

  28. mesh says

    Right, I get that you think that toxic ideas can only originate within insane minds. That’s the very observation I’m making – if it’s all about psychological state then an idea has no influence of its own. If a sane person can never be influenced by white supremacy, and there’s nothing inherently meaningful about white supremacy that wouldn’t render it, under your model, noninterchangeable with misogyny or fundamentalism, then white supremacy, as an idea, has no influence – it’s just a product. What good does it do to combat the idea of white supremacy if, as you suggest, the best case scenario is that they’d simply fall into the very next thing on the spectrum anyway?

    Demonstrating an inconsistency is not a strawman.

  29. mesh says

    Or let me put it this way – what good does it to do to argue against any idea at all if they’re all just the products of psychological states? If certain insane people can’t help but formulate toxic ideas then any attempt to argue will have no effect. Thus the only practical solution is to institutionalize, medicate, etc. So why argue at all? Why even blog about it?

  30. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Some guy in my country also wrote a manifesto before killing a bunch of people a few years ago (you may have heard about it). Oh well, he obviously wrote it for no reason, so any apparent causal link between his own stated goals and his actions must be coincidental.

  31. throwaway says

    Labeling a natural, albeit unwelcome, aspect of human behavior as a clearly demarcated “different” does not make something psychopathy. Look at their targets: they were not indiscriminately chosen – there was a purpose behind their murders and it was to stir in people the feeling that this was a wake-up call, that we should stand together in arms against all that threaten us. They felt connected enough with their identity that they engaged in the manner they believed was aiding those who shared that identity.

    All of those things strike me as empathetic reasoning and thus not psychopathy.

  32. says

    @ mesh 36

    Or let me put it this way – what good does it to do to argue against any idea at all if they’re all just the products of psychological states? If certain insane people can’t help but formulate toxic ideas then any attempt to argue will have no effect.

    I can take a stab at that. It depends on the “psychological state”, and I’m speaking relative to actual jargon in brain science. Some words are terms and meaningful. Some are not meaningful and have too many casual uses. Some pairs of words are very specific things, some pairs refer to very broad categories with lots of things. “psychological state” is a very broad category.

    Some psychological states are subject to alteration by ones peers or debate opponents (though different emotional rules apply). Persuasion could be defined as an alteration of the psychological state of another though communication, where the emotional rules can change depending on things like in-group status. Under such a definition I would consider a potentially toxic idea to be one that inconsistent with reality, and has a chance of causing error in judgement when decisions are made that assume the idea.

    In this context “certain insane people”* would have to display a “repeated inability to properly respond to something in the world”** that must take a measurable form that would demonstrate a global failure in patterns of logical reasoning or rational thought needed to make informed decisions, or gather information necessary to make informed decisions.

    Thus the only practical solution is to institutionalize, medicate, etc. So why argue at all? Why even blog about it?

    Because items that involve choice and personal agency like disagreement does not involve institutionalization unless you live in a dictatorship. (I mean the literal “getting killed for disagreeing with authorities” dictatorship with no possibility of metaphor. Just actual Dictatorship.) We like to use persuasion in modern world. Arguments are just really emotionally intense attempts at persuasion that mostly occur between opposing groups. (Not as good as more calm persuasion, but probably more common.)
    Choice and personal agency are removed in the sorts of mental illness that people want to appeal to when what is called the “insanity defense” is used. That would be a legal framework in the same general region that this conceptual question exists.

    *Controversy danger. “insane” is a badly abused word and is used such that it’s often impossible to understand it the meaning is literal or metaphorical without getting people to tell you more. I have seen mere disagreement labeled as insane. Medical meanings of insane have to do with severe reality breaks in the category of schizophrenic hallucinations. Insane does not include things like logical fallacies resulting from cognitive biases. Must be specifically defined.

    **Controversy danger. “properly respond to something in the world” also has lots of interpretations that can involve inability to respond to light in blindness, to “I can’t believe they actually believe that” in political hyperbole. Must be specifically defined.

  33. mesh says

    Right, you and I both recognize that the world is more complicated than a binary black and white sane vs. insane, but we’re discussing the idea that all murderers are just random toxic idea generators period. And just like how any random generator is not partial to any specific result, RJW’s position is that the individual idea holds no inherent meaning to the person; if it weren’t idea A it would just be idea B. By this line of reasoning no one actually believes in racism, they just turn to it as one of many excuses to get extreme. After all, if the reasoning behind racism could legitimately be accepted by the human mind it opens up the dangerous possibility that sane people are actually capable of choosing to murder. Thus, attacking the idea would indeed have no more effect on their psychological state than debunking the number 14 would stop the script of a random number generator flat in its tracks before it sailed onto number 37.

  34. mesh says

    In short, if indeed their psychological state could be improved through the debunking of one specific idea such as white supremacism it would ultimately disprove the assertion that toxic ideas are only half-baked conclusions conceived within the unreasoning minds of lunatics through demonstration of the very faculty being vehemently denied. It can’t be had both ways – either they’re capable of being reasoned out of their situation, in which case they were plenty capable of reasoning themselves into it in the first place (and it actually holds meaning beyond a flimsy pretext to kill randomly), or this is a line of non-reasoning that just can’t be followed due to the idiosyncratic contortions of a madman and thus their faculty would first need to be restored before any progress would be possible.

  35. says

    @ mesh 40
    I think I see what you are getting at now. The closest thing to what you are describing that I know of is a particular cognitive distortion called “all or nothing reasoning” or black and white thinking. but I’m wondering if you actually mean the general category of cognitive distortions? Because they are all various kinds of extremes in thought that can produce really error ridden models of the world and reactions.

    There is a whole list of cognitive distortions and these represent distorted patterns of thought that can be more common in all sorts of mental states that can be treated by a mental health professional without actually being a mental illness. But these cognitive distortions are also not necessarily caused by a broken brain either. I think of them as logical fallacies for the primitive emotions and quite a few of them do overlap with logical fallacies. Let me break down “all or nothing thinking” and give you an example of what I mean.

    When you learn something new you get it in outline first as a summary of a general concept so at this point I like to think of your brain having 0/1 detection (zero is a placeholder for “not in perception”), it’s either present or absent but we have no idea about it other than what it is in general. Most of us are like that with the idea of “rocket science”. If I see rockets I know there is rocket science but I can’t tell you much about it (rocket science is a more intellectual level thing, but you can substitute experience with spiders, most are harmless but we tend to react in a polarized fashion).
    It’s only after one starts learning more about something can someone develop a spectrum of thought about it so that you turn that 0/1 into 0/1-10. Because things we detect often come in computationally polarized forms we have good/bad, fight/flight (or approach/withdraw outside of emotional extremes), so you can also make that a -10 to -1, 0, +1 to +10 scale in term of familiarity with things of those natures (good/bad is called “valance” in psychological sciences).
    While this is a model, there is real biology under it that is able to set sub-parts of the computation like “response intensity” and “valance” and do things like attaching “approach” or “withdraw” to a something in perception. Someone who engages in all-or-nothing thinking has been set to 0/+10, 0/-10, or 0/10 relative to a more appropriate response intensity.*

    if it weren’t idea A it would just be idea B

    This could be different distortions depending on what A and B are. Someone might only know A and B, but have not learned about C,D or E and are acting based on what they know. Or there could be a cognitive bias from what is called the “availability heuristic” where people tend to chose based on what is most often in mind. Meaning can only be applied to what exists in memory, but also meaning can be applied differently depending on the intensity of experience (some people like to catch frogs, some are disgusted by the thought), and that is shaped by how the people around you act as social role-models (are you from a frog-friendly, or frog-disgusted culture).
    I’m sure some people do become racist because they live in a racist culture, I believe that culture has momentum and is unconsciously picked up in lots of respects. So racist behavior and conclusions that are readily available to a person are more likely to be picked up without contradictory information being presented. So going back in time and thinking about the “origins of racism” is useful here. But with respect to solutions racism is always expressed individually, but it’s easier in a racist culture because you have support. There are different behaviors that support something like racism at the individual and group level and both sets of behaviors require individual treatment.
    Similar for murder. If a person learns to accept that murder is a valid solution to a problem they will be more likely to use it. The answer to if it’s worth it to try to change the behavior of a murderer would depend on if there are examples of murderers being rehabilitated (yes), how hard it is to rehabilitate (depends on the person and why they came to the conclusion that murder was an acceptable choice, and how deeply embedded the response is), and what your personal skill set in this area is.

    It can’t be had both ways – either they’re capable of being reasoned out of their situation, in which case they were plenty capable of reasoning themselves into it in the first place (and it actually holds meaning beyond a flimsy pretext to kill randomly), or this is a line of non-reasoning that just can’t be followed due to the idiosyncratic contortions of a madman and thus their faculty would first need to be restored before any progress would be possible.

    This is reasonable only when applied to individuals. The most rational thing to do depends on what is in one’s experience. In our culture we have examples of people who are rehabilitated so it’s better to try that first. But as there will likely be examples of people who can’t be rehabilitated we just keep the possibility in mind while we deal with the evidence of what we have in front of us. As society studies murderers that can’t be rehabilitated we will get an idea about all the many ways that one can arrive at that state (I get 212 hits for “rehabilitation and murder” in pubmed).
    >Some of the ways will involve informed decisions and choices that can shape a persons “cognitive fate” (I made that one up but it’s consistent with current brain science)
    >Some of those ways will be made worse by lack of information that might make one less “conceptually competent” in interacting with society (I made that one up too but it works)
    >Some of those ways will be made worse by ones culture (including prison rehabilitation culture, social culture, childhood culture)
    >Some of those ways will involve problems that can be compared to “insanity” in that reasoning or logic as a process is broken or badly biased by an anatomical, cellular, or genetic system being rendered non-functional or “differently functional than the norm” though mutation, environmental exposure, epigenetic front-loading of emotional information** (you mom was really stressed out while pregnant for example), or really extreme experiences such as neglect or abuse (that also involve epigenetic systems, epigenetics blurs the nature/nurture boundary because it’s the system that translates nurture).

    That last one is the critical one here, but each of those really extreme ways of altering a person will have a specific set of characteristics.

    *There is still controversy here. Just what an appropriate response is also is disagreed about by society. We are in the middle of disagreeing on how we should respond to LGBT individuals for example.
    **epigenetics is a major system worth reading about. It’s essentially chemical modification of DNA and it’s packaging proteins that turn gene transcription on and off. It’s a major player in long-tern changes to environmental information from food availability to emotional content of the environment. Epigenetic modification can transmit the effect of starvation conditions from grandparents making transgenerational epigenetic modification a thing, and the emotional content of ones environment epigenetic changes in the brain altering gene transcription and cellular activity at many points over a lifetime (in utero, during infancy, early childhood, late childhood, adolescence, and more). We do not yet have a good understanding of the reversibility of the process.

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