It never ceases to amaze me that whatever it is, it’s almost invariably a thing. Who knew, for example, that if you google “diary” and “Holocaust”, there are tomes upon tomes of articles on whether the Anne Frank diary was forged, and thousands upon thousands of people taking a keen interest in what I had no idea even could be an issue.
Well, turnabout is fair play. I know you know that serial killing is a thing. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that being a serial killer is its own thing. By which I don’t mean we have our own chat lines. As with pedophiles that goes without saying. Rather I mean we have our own online conferences, how-to seminars, how-not-to seminars, our own organizations – I’m VP External of the Southern Alberta Chapter of Off Your Knees, Serial Killers, or OYKSK. In short, it’s a thing. And it’s a thing as multi-layered and multi-faceted as 9/11-Trutherism, anthropogenic global warming, and yes, pedophilia.
And just as pedophiles take umbrage at all being painted with the same brush, so do we serial killers. We are not tokens of some type. We are sui generis individuals, each with his own axe to grind – or wield – his own strengths and weaknesses, his own penchants and would-never’s, his own religious affiliation, party membership, sexual orientation, allergies, underlying medical conditions, hopes and dreams and fears – usually of getting caught – and so on.
In a blog entry of this size I can at most touch on the tip of the iceberg. But some consciousness-raising is better than none.
There is an organization called Serial Killers Anonymous (or SKA), but we consider them outliers, because they’re trying to quit, which we liken to apostasy. Do LGBT clubs welcome members who are ashamed of being LBGT? Why then should we welcome members of SKA? That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily proud of being serial killers, any more than heterosexuals are proud to be heterosexuals. Pride is just the wrong concept here. Each of us is what he is.
And I say ‘he’ here because yes, almost all of us are male. (Well okay, ‘male’ according to our birth certificates. Sheesh! One has to be so careful these days!) According to StatsCan – Canada, by the way, is one of the few jurisdictions willing to regard this data as important for social policy purposes – only 3% of serial killers are female, whereas our own internal survey shows it’s actually even lower. Some psychologists argue that this has to do with lower testosterone levels in women. Others conjecture that it’s because men place a higher value on justice, whereas women tend to value maintaining social relationships. I suspect they’re both right. But I digress.
We don’t deny that there are, among us, those who fit the stereotype promoted by Hollywood thrillers, according to which we kill prostitutes because my mother laughed at my penis, or we kidnap and starve fat women so we can harvest their skin to make ourselves a coat less hirsute than the one we were born in. But there are crazies in every organization or walk of life. Not unlike what you call terrorists, their numbers are less than miniscule, and yet those are the people you’re obsessed with. Get a grip, we say. We have a grip. That’s why we harbor our ‘damaged’ people the same way you’re finally learning to harbor yours. With compassion. But we don’t give them the reins of our government, which is more than we can say for who you’ve elected as your President. (Okay, that was a Trump-shot. Not terribly clever, I admit, but it had to be inserted somewhere.)
No, the vast majority of serial killers are, as the Blues Brothers put it, “on a mission from God”. Only the sexually repressed think God has a problem with prostitutes. Or Kantians that He has a problem with your garden variety murderer. (We call the latter ‘one-offs’, by the way. We use it in the sense wizards use ‘muggles’.) Or with abortionists. Or with the ‘greedy’ point-zero-zero-one-percent. Truth be told, we don’t really give a shit what God has a problem with. We have a problem with what we have a problem with. And on that score there’s no limit to the variation within our ranks.
What I can attest, however, is that to the best of my knowledge there are no racists in our ranks, no homophobes, no anti-Semites, and no Islamophobes. We simply don’t tolerate intolerance. There are, amongst us, two who kill Scots, but not because they’re Scots. It’s because of the haggis. There’s one who kills country-and-western signers, but not because, with the exception of Charlie Pride, they’re all white. On the contrary, we all kill with a reason, and for the most part with good reason.
Of the 8,861 members currently on our books here in North America, only eleven have been brought up on Justification Beyond Wonky charges. And of them only three have been found to be killing with JBW. We may not be “stomping out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored” – we leave that to the Salvation Army – but we’re doing the work God should be doing but is otherwise occupied because of His own personal hang-ups about seafood and fabric blends. In fact there’s more than a few us us who’ve filed for permission to put Him on our hit list. But because the Christian Caucus still controls 41% of the vote, we’re still 8% shy of the two thirds we need to override their theological squeamishness.
And you’d be amazed at what some of us are squeamish about. Like Leon in The Professional, some won’t do women and children. Others, for reasons intelligible only to them, give vegetarians a free pass. As is said in Sad Cat Diaries, “There is no logic in this place.”
And yet there is a logic of sorts about who does not get a pass. For example, mass murderers don’t get a pass. Does that mean none of us can kill mass murderers en masse without having to then commit suicide?
Nice try, but no cigar. Attend to the meaning of the word ‘murder’. A murder is a wrongful killing. But since killing a mass murderer isn’t wrong, it’s not murder, and so nothing prevents us killing any number of them, especially if – as would be the case with the thousands of SS officers involved in the Shoah – killing them en masse would be a matter of efficiency.
Some of our members have argued that, by parity of reasoning, mass murderers of mass murderers – the Tutsi militias in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, for example – aren’t really murderers at all, and therefore not mass murderers, and therefore ought not to be targeted, at least not on the grounds that they’re mass murderers. This is my own position. But others have argued that the mere sight of Tutsis mass killing Hutus, even though they deserved it, triggers the same visceral reaction in the ‘avenging angel’ in us as did the mass murder of Tutsis by Hutus, and therefore that visceral reaction should be serviced with like abandon. But these non-cognitivists – or Non-Cogs, as we call them – are as much an embarrassment to us as are Hasidic Jews to sensible-hat Jews. I agree that we should have a visceral reaction to mass killing. But we need to override those instincts. Killing killers of killers isn’t fair. If you want to kill Tutsis for killing Hutus who had it coming, do it because of their cooking.
Because as I say, we don’t only kill killers. I’ve already mentioned our two serial killers of Scots, and our serial killer of country-and-western singers. And, of course, we also have serial killers of abortionists, of anti-abortionists, of overly officious loan officers, rude immigration officers, university administrators … As I said, we’re a motley crew. In fact the only thing that keeps us from killing each other is, as Thomas Hobbes explained it, that no one wants to be killed himself.
Which busts yet another myth, namely that we all have a death wish, or subconsciously want to be stopped. No we don’t. (Well, yes, obviously we do have a death wish, but not for our own.) We do what we do because we think we’re in the right. Some of us, no doubt, are not in the right. For example, one of us has been killing Roughrider instead of Stampeder fans. But we believe in live and let live, or in our case kill and let kill.
All this said, let’s turn to some of the conceptual issues surrounding our ‘thing’. And those issues are legion. To begin with, suppose I want to kill all whooping crane chefs, but there being a serious shortfall of whooping cranes in the world, it turns out there was only one whooping crane chef to kill. Having killed him, how do we distinguish between a whooping crane chef serial killer and a one-off? This should be a question of import not just to us but to members of any Genocide Studies Department. Suppose the Wannsee Conference included a plan to keep a few Jews in a zoo after the war. It’s the same question, is it not?
A related but more general issue is whether one can remain a serial killer if he’s run out of victims. Can he say to the judge, Yes I was a serial killer, but I’m no longer a danger to the public? And if so, should it be, like the sign by the pond in the park, “Catch and release!”?
And then comes the obvious problem of distinguishing the serial killer from the solider. The standard distinction – at least since we decided going to war needed justification – has hung on this business of killing in self-defense or in defense of others versus just for the fun of it. That, in turn, hangs on satisfying the clear and present danger test. And both ‘clear’ and ‘present’ can mean whatever one damn well likes. So the more honest answer has been that the soldier, but not the serial killer, has leave in the jurisdiction which would otherwise treat him as a serial killer. It would seem, then, that ‘serial killer’ is a political designation, not all that distinguishable from ‘insurgent’ or ‘terrorist’.
Not so, counters the legitimacy realist. An insurgent or terrorist is challenging the authority of the state, whereas your garden variety serial killer is not. He votes, he pays his taxes, he gives uptake to all the institutions of the state. Most importantly, he considers himself a criminal, albeit the criminal protagonist, not unlike the George Cluny or Brad Pitt character in one of those caper movies.
This helps, but only a little. What about the serial killer of abortion doctors? He too votes and pays his taxes, he gives uptake to all the institutions of the state. He just thinks the state is in error in not protecting the unborn, in much the way you and I would consider the state in error if it thought, as in Canada, that aboriginal women don’t matter, or in America, that black lives don’t matter. So what’s the difference between the so-called terrorist, the serial killer of abortion doctors, and the cop-killer who’s killing cops not to resist arrest but to avenge those of his brothers and sisters who are being gunned down in America like a replay of Sharpeville?
So yes, other than the crazies, all serial killers regard themselves as crusaders, but only some – I’d say about a fifth – are making a political statement. The rest – typified by our anti-haggis activists – aren’t trying to have haggis outlawed. So in that sense they don’t consider their crusade political.
And so once again, drawing these distinctions isn’t a challenge peculiar to us. Drawing the same or similar distinctions is central to the concept of a hate crime and/or of a terrorist attack. If the victim was a Jew but it would have been any Jew, then it’s a hate crime. If he bombed the tax office because it wouldn’t recognize his golf clubs as a business expense, that’s one thing, and perfectly understandable. If he bombed it because it collects money to buy ordnance to be dropped on children playing in an Afghan playground, that’s something else. That’s terrorism.
So the governance of the serial killer community is in many respects a microcosm of the governance of society at large. Some of us consider ourselves dissidents, but most do not. The crazies aside, we all consider ourselves justified in what we do. But then so do all of you. You might want to sit us down and disabuse us of the justifiability of our actions. But then how open are you to sitting down with your interlocutors and working out how best to accommodate conflicting views about vaccination safety or anthropogenic global warming?
You think you have the moral high ground on us because you’re not killing each other over the issues that divide your polity. An alternative interpretation is that that’s because your Precious, whatever it happens to be, is just something to identify with so that people won’t think you’re shallow. I think Sartre would call this your inauthentic self. By contrast, the one thing that cannot be said about us serial killers is that we’re inauthentic.