A Theory of Murder
Murder is too easy. Where's the game? You dent a body slightly
-- if it were a car, it would be easily patched up -- and
it's dead. The guy is gone.
In the arena of creating effects, wowing people, getting
people to say "Man, you're too much!" or "Ummm,
you're a great lover" or "Did you really just make
that up?!" or "Oooh! Ahhhh! Don't stop!" or
"ENCORE! ENCORE!" or "And the WINNER is..."
-- in that arena, creating an effect upon someone by killing
him or on others by killing their intimates is akin to aceing
a challenging test by looking up the answers in the back of
I suppose there's a game to not getting caught, and there
are other ways to decorate murder with the semblance of intricate
play, but I wonder how often something like this happens (perhaps
over several lifetimes, perhaps over decades):
A guy accidentally kills someone he loves -- bumps that person
off a cliff or puts a small hole in the otherwise intact face
or by some small, seemingly harmless action causes a heart
to stop, a clot, an unintended impact. Let's say it's sudden
-- the person is very much there, full of familiar mannerisms
and gestures, smiling, chatting, knowing your thoughts, responding
to your words and expressions, and something happens, and
the body is still there, almost looking at you [forgive the
pronoun -- I mean a general "you"], but has gone
still, is unresponsive, no one is there, and you have no idea
where your friend has gone, whether or not the friend still
exists (and you begin to doubt, in the face of such apparently
absolute absence, whether anyone could possibly ever have
existed there). Let's say the body appears whole and unharmed
or only slightly marred (as by a small bullet hole between
the still open eyes).
What's happened here is that there's a huge discrepancy between
the enormity of the presence becoming an absence (friend here,
friend gone) and the triviality of the visible causes (some
slight damage to some tiny part of the body). The discrepancy
would be less if the death had been slow and agonizing or
quick and dramatic and gory. But here death seems too trivial
an event to be associated with so huge a spiritual result.
And it's particularly hard to deal with if you think you caused
it -- if you handed the person the mushroom that turned out
to be fatal or accidentally fired the gun you thought hadn't
been loaded or, in play, tripped your friend who fell and
hit temple against sharp stone and went still.
You did such a tiny thing, caused such a huge effect.
In such a situation, one solution -- one way you might make
sense of it -- is to view your action as a terrible action
causing terrible damage, magnify death, no matter how quick
and simple, to monstrous proportions, live a life of pennance.
But a more attractive solution (since it lessens your guilt)
is to say: "After all, nothing much has been lost. We're
just chemical accidents." When you kill someone, it's
no big deal, nothing more than shutting down a few chemical
In other words, you reduce the enormity of the absence by
deciding that there was never much of anyone there in the
first place. Perhaps there SEEMED to be, but that abundance
of beingness was an abundance you imagined, just as a child
endows a doll with personality. You resolve never to do that
again -- give being to others, give others the means to disappoint
And if the loss was extreme enough (and your own carelessness
flagrant enough), you may find yourself obsessed with proving
to yourself that death is no big deal by killing some other
people (intentionally) just to prove to yourself that it's
awfully easy to kill people and makes no difference to the
world or to you.
And along the way, you feel justified, since your victims
inevitably betray you: You create what you think must be the
ultimate effect upon them, but they reward you with no response.
They just vanish. That pisses you off, so you begin to do
weird things, like arrange bodies in lifelike positions, have
sex with them, talk to them -- all desperate attempts to persuade
yourself that you've created an effect on them by having them
appear to be creating effects on you in return. (Similarly
a child will try to imagine the doll is talking back to her.)
I suspect this is part of the stereotype of the serial killer
getting off on his killings, having an orgasm. And it's part
of the rage associated with such people: Why don't they REACT
when I kill them?
Eventually the only interaction that's real to them [we'll
leave "you" behind at last] is killing, and that
interaction is always initially a release, but soon after
devastatingly disappointing -- an exaggerated parody of the
letdown after bad sex, in the absence of live communication.
I'm not sure it ever happens that way (well, yes, I'm pretty
sure), but I do know that we sometimes feel impelled to degrade
our idea of identity and of the reality of other people. Killers
and torturers tend to kill -- as they kill others -- their
own imaginations. They no longer want to know that behind
another face can be found another being like themselves, one
with hopes and dreams. Life goes flat for them.
Since that perception of others, that knowledge that one
is among fellow helloers, gets killed off when one kills others,
soon it validates itself: You no longer need to deny that
others like yourself exist, because, devoid of the imagination
that lets you grant life to others, you can no longer grant
life to yourself. [Forgive me, but I find "one"
intolerable after a few sentences. It's the academic's way
to kill. So I've returned to "you".] When you begin
to unsee the beings around you, you become less. In the absence
of others, your own identity becomes unreal to you. After
all, who else exists to agree that you exist? Having no playmates,
no one to help (and a game is, among other things, a means
to help ones teammates), you are dead.
So now it's OK to assume that others exist like yourself,
because you are dead yourself, devoid of dreams (it's no longer
safe to dream), a distant spectator to the actions of your
own hands. So the killing of those like yourself is now of
I wonder if it might happen that way?
And I wonder how engaging in wars creates killers -- or at
least people dead inside. And I wonder how drugs designed
to make us not feel much (so that we don't feel bad) might
accelerate such a process.
And I wonder if it's possible for those of us who'd prefer
to be alive and have others be alive to create life faster
than the deadly ones create death.
It must be odd to stand next to a living person and be unable
to perceive the being. Here I am, miles and perhaps years
from the "you" I address, and yet you are alive
for me. I recall an old poem of mine about why I'd never become
a serial killer: What if, without realizing it, I killed one
of my readers!