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Commentary: As We Learn More About Adam Lanza We Consider The Devil's Workshop

Flickr | alancleaver_2000

It’s been my experience that people are normally murdered for one of two reasons: money or sex. When I share that observation, somebody will invariably suggest that I add narcotics to my short list of prime motives for slaughter. That idea seems reasonable at first but upon further review, it turns out to be redundant.

Killings in the drug world are usually not prompted by drug usage per se, but rather by the failure to pay for the drugs being used. Junkies are notoriously poor credit risks and generally unreliable customers. It’s no accident that the term “rip-off” entered the vernacular via the drug culture.

A dealer can ill afford the reputation as an easy mark. A person burned in a narcotics transaction can’t take the offending party to court, so street justice is the only avenue available to him.

Jealousy is another lethal motive to consider, but it is actually a secondary emotion arising from conflict over one or both of the “Big Two.” You either envy the affections of a lover (sex) or another’s material possessions or social status (money). Cain slew Abel because God seemed to favor his brother’s offerings over his own, which leads me to conclude that Abel enjoyed more success as a shepherd than Cain did as a farmer.

Of course, the foregoing observations pertain only to what we think of as “rational murders” — crimes that we neither justify nor excuse, but that we can at least comprehend. The more bizarre manifestations of mayhem tend to be prompted by really bad ideas.

It has recently come to light that Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass-murderer, had called in to a talk radio program the year before his crime to discuss the matter of Travis the Chimp.

Travis, you’ll recall, was the supposedly domesticated chimpanzee who gained notoriety when he went berserk and bit the face off a woman who was visiting his owner. Lanza defended the animal’s behavior.

Speaking in a robotic monotone and identifying himself only as “Greg,” the soon-to-be killer phoned John Zerzan of AnarchyRadio to opine that the animal was the victim.  Society had, in effect, confined Travis to a cage-less prison, thus driving him mad by thwarting his natural inclinations.  His commentary was basically “Civilization and Its Discontents” for lower primates.

Later, he wrote about making the call in a blog posted under the username of “Smiggles.” Investigators subsequently traced that alias to Lanza, after which a former classmate identified the voice on the recording of the call.

Knowing what was to follow, it was obviously chilling to listen to the future child-murderer calmly discussing the animal’s plight. Even more disconcerting was the realization that much of what he said actually made sense.

At the time of the original attack by the chimp, I did a column suggesting that wild animals belong in the wild. Had Travis been left in his natural habitat, he probably would never have harmed a human, if for no other reason than lack of opportunity. Instead, forced to conform to a household not of his making, he horribly maimed his hapless victim.

The caller seemed to relate to the chimp’s situation.

However cogent his thoughts concerning frustrated apes, Lanza proved to be psychotic. His case is yet another example of the tragic consequence of allowing crazy people access to firearms. But his phone call made me wonder if he and others like him may not be at least partially enabled by an excess of free time.

Lanza lived in the basement of his mother’s comfortable suburban home. He had the leisure to mull Travis’ alienation, phone talk shows, maintain a blog and collect guns. It seems that in the wake of every random mass-murder, we learn that the killer had spent long hours alone preceding the crime doing, well, nothing more constructive than contemplating his thoughts, which usually aren’t good.

Though mental illness is hardly cured by staying busy, I wonder if this particular breed of disturbed young man might do less harm in more primitive societies where privacy is scarce and most of the day is taken up by the struggle to survive. If nothing else, forced social interaction might alert others to his problems before they result in tragedy.

When my siblings and I were kids, our Irish grandmother would often remind us that the idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.  Maybe, she had a point.

M.W. Guzy
M.W. (Michael William) Guzy began as a contributor to St. Louis media in 1997 with an article, “Everybody Loves a Dead Cop,” on the Post-Dispatch Commentary page. In addition to the St. Louis Beacon and now St. Louis Public Radio, his work has been featured in the St. Louis Journalism Review, the Arch City Chronicle, In the Line of Duty and on tompaine.com. He has appeared on the Today Show and Hannity & Combs, as well as numerous local radio and television newscasts and discussion programs.