Chasing the Whirlwind

I’m a great one for hare-brained schemes, or more accurately simple (but profound) theories of human behaviour. I like to see myself a little bit like Einstein sailing in circles on Lake Placid (or whatever lake it was) while he worked out his latest scientific theory. I can remember being about 11 or 12 and developing elaborate thoughts in my head as I walked home from the bus across the Rondebosch Common. What those theories were now I mostly couldn’t say but one was the fairly common narcissistic fancy that the world was actually a dream and that I was the main character. Another held that the solar system and all the planets were actually atoms and molecules inside a larger structure.

Today’s fancies are perhaps more rooted in reality. My latest theory I call ‘Chasing the Whirlwind’ and it has to do with finding your passion in life, your whirlwind if you like. The beauty of this theory is that it relates to ‘good’ passion as well as ‘bad’ passion. There’s the Whirlwind of Happiness and the Whirlwind of Anger and they’re both pretty important to understand.

I was trying to explain a bit of this to P yesterday as we drove back from Betty’s Bay along that glorious coast road. If people’s lives are like stories, then I like to ask questions of the narrative. Why did it turn out this way and not that way? How can we amplify the good parts of the narrative and taper the bad parts? And if a story is really problematic, then where did it start to go wrong? Where did the wheels start spinning out of alignment and things got all out of whack?

I imagine that this theorising can be a confusing to read because it’s easy to get carried away by the ideas. But a major influence in this theory has been a powerpoint presentation I read recently by Carolyn Yoder of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). Now I have no idea who or what the Mennonites are but the Peace Centre at EMU is clearly a source of excellent ideas on Trauma and Healing because this diagram alone is pretty good.


Yoder follows that up with another one which is about breaking the cycle of aggression. Basically this involves grief work or mourning and she reminds us that this should be daily work. What I also liked was that the part where she says that you don’t need to see (or be) a psychologist or mental health professional to go through this process. And there’s a whole range of activities from daily writing to yoga to dancing and being creative to channel your energy in a more productive direction.

Let’s just look at the negative spiral for a bit. I read an interesting article by Philip Rucker (taken from the Washington Post) on the recent spate of mass homicides in the US. Here’s an excerpt:

In Binghamton, New York, a Vietnamese immigrant upset about losing his job burst into an immigration centre and killed 13 people before killing himself. … In Pittsburgh, police said a man discharged from the Marines gunned down three police.

… Consider the case of Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, an electrical engineer whose life swiftly turned sour last fall. His wife divorced him and he lost his job and his beloved dog, Saki. On Christmas Eve, Pardo dressed as Santa Claus for a holiday party hosted by his ex-wife’s parents at their home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in a Los Angeles suburb.

Pardo rang the bell, swung open the door and opened fire on the party guests with a semi-automatic handgun before dousing the home with petrol and setting it ablaze, authorities said. He killed nine people, including his ex-wife, before taking his own life.

“He was looking for revenge, which is almost always the motive in these mass killings,” Levin [Jack Levin, a well-known criminologist at Northeastern University] said. “It wasn’t enough to get her, but he wanted to get everything associated with her, everything she loved, everything he identified with her.”

Looking at the picture of Bruce “Santa Killer” Pardo that accompanied the article, what disturbed me the most was how normal he looked. Apart from that set jaw and the slightly glazed eyes, he could be one of a million other guys. Clean-shaven, shortish hairstyle and nothing to set him apart from your average beer-loving, football-watching all-American male. He could be the older brother of that Mall Cop guy, the King of Queens.

I’ve seen quite a few men with anger issues in my short career and it wouldn’t have taken an awful lot to tip them over the edge. Which is why I think it’s important to try and understand what drives people like Pardo to extreme rage. Three strikes turned this guy into a homicidal maniac. He lost his wife, his job and his beloved dog and then went on a rampage of unbelievable destruction.

There’s also the issue of gun control but to stay strictly in the realm of Psychology, one very helpful handle for understanding this type of behaviour is that of “narcissistic rage”. Take a fragile sense of self, destroy it entirely and is it any wonder that what you’re left with is primitive anger hijacking intelligence for mass revenge?

Yoder refers to the “inner tornado” of energy which gets stirred up by trauma. With very little knowledge of this case, I would be interested to find out if the three (severe) losses Pardo suffered stirred up some old (and unhealed) inner tornado in him.


3 Responses to Chasing the Whirlwind

  1. litlove says:

    Very interesting (although I’d appreciate your help in making better sense of the diagram). What it makes me think of is the concept of the ‘demonic’, or what Freud decided lay beyond the pleasure principle. It’s been understood subsequently as the drive function, but I prefer it in a slightly older incarnation, when it was understood to be the wellspring of turbulent energy in the soul, a huge force that was itself amoral, but which could be harnessed to good or to evil. It is completely without reason or intelligence, just an onslaught of pure, mindless oomph. I suppose I was thinking of it in terms of your tornado, and the way it can whisk a person beyond the reach of cognitive and moral considerations. I think you’re quite right that we would benefit enormously from studying the moments when human beings move into overdrive.

  2. Pete says:

    Litlove – Oh dear, my comment got lost so will rewrite. I was saying that I was worried that this post might be a bit manic. The whirlwind of happiness does have a slight manic ring about it! But that could be over-diagnosing. I liked your link with Freud and also the demonic etc. And while that diagram itself is perhaps not that clear, Yoder’s presentation illustrated very well (for me) how Trauma works in terms of perpetuating a cycle of aggression and violence. Very relevant for multiply-wounded societies.

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