The most famous crime in literature was committed with an axe. Rodion Raskolnikov murdered the elderly pawnbroker and her sister to prove that she, the pawnbroker, is a worm but he is an ubermensch. Dostoevsky used the story to illustrate the death of values in modernity. Dostoevsky’s own morals are questionable, and so are his ideas about Russian history and society. The early Russian translations of the late 19th century German philosophers whom Dostoevsky imagined to be an influence on Raskolnikov are notoriously imprecise. And yet, in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, how come no one is talking about Dostoevsky?
We hear quite a bit about psychiatry. According to his brother, Adam Lanza, the man who slaughtered 20 children and 6 adults, was on the autism spectrum, which explains what was going on, to a degree. It’s not a sufficient explanation because Mozart, for instance, was almost certainly autistic, and yet his ailment (which informed his genius) was a gift to humanity.
What strikes me about Adam Lanza is his self-centeredness. Sources suggest that his mother wanted to institutionalize him, which, to be sure, sounds scary. But check out what appears to be his rationale for the rampage: he felt his mother, the woman, who, whatever her faults, literally gave her life to him, loved a kindergarten class where she did some volunteer work more than her son, which prompted him to assassinate both his mother and her 6-year-olds. Adam Lanza thought his mama didn’t love him enough. That’s beyond Dostoevsky. While some critics suggest that Roskolnikov’s figure is vaguely matricidal, Dostoevsky could not consciously imagine a son who felt that the woman who gave him life was insufficiently devoted.
Adam Lanza is so spoiled rotten American. I don’t doubt that there were dangerous autistic people in Austria in Mozart’s time and that plenty of men and women who get autism diagnosis today are responsible gun owners. And yet the alleged rational for the mass shooting sounds so very contemporary American kid talk. Granted, that’s an explanation proposed by some third person, not the perpetrator himself, but jealousy does seem to be a motive.
The killer might had been wired differently from his peers, but he was functional enough to soak up the anxieties common to last several generations of Americans. They might be some of the most privileged people in history (even the ones who, unlike Adam Lanza, weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth) growing up in spacious estates with dotting mothers watching their every move. But they are perfectly content nurturing resentment of mom and dad and feel the need of spending years on a shrink’s couch pontificating about their feelings. I suspect that Lanza was not the only 20-year-old in his neighborhood who never had a job. He didn’t move out of the house, but how many of his former classmates will end up boomerang kids, returning to their childhood rooms (and video game collections) after college?
I have no to tax the hell out of the 1%. But my problem with them is this: so many upper middle class/upper class parents today forgo moral education. Everything is relative and any behavior is explained away. High school students are less likely to have part time jobs because they are busy with college prep classes. This is the environment in which the Newtown killer was raised. I’m not going to blame his mother; I suspect she didn’t do anything radically different from what any other woman of her background would do had she had a mad genius for a child. It’s just that a little more moral education wouldn’t have hurt Adam Lanza — or any other American kid for that matter. Too many privileged kids today do things because they can, even if that means murder.