Every time there is a mass shooting, I hear the phrase, “Police are still looking for a motive.” Maybe we’re looking in the wrong place.
While we continue to search for individual motives for these terrible crimes we are ignoring the state of the society in which we live, which serves as collective motivation for these acts of self-destruction: “a social condition of instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values or from a lack of purpose or ideals.”
Sound familiar? This condition, called anomie, defined by Emilie Durkheim in the early 20th century, was linked to suicide rates in different countries; a high degree of instability in a country was connected to high suicide rates. When a social system is in a state of anomie, common values and common meanings are no longer understood or accepted, and new values and meanings have not developed, resulting in more individuals feeling a sense of futility, lack of purpose, and emotional emptiness and despair. Unfortunately, these same individuals have access to weapons of mass destruction, so they can take a lot of other people down with them.