No-Name Who’s-His-Face, The Murderer

Last night some sort of psychopath murdered and wounded people in cold blood in a movie theater at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, by shooting them to death indiscriminately. The act was heinous and sickening and my heart goes out to all affected.

I just saw someone on the news who had the bright idea to call this killer “The Joker”. And all I could think was “what the fuck is this guy doing on TV?” Everyone in the media should be scrupulously avoiding glorifying these sick actions in such a manner. It does not make you clever and insightful that you put it together that this person was trying to mimic behavior from the movies. And the nickname you are trying to sell with relish is not cute. As we learn from the movies themselves–since we’re ridiculously playing that game here–this person used “theatrics” to try to gain attention and what he twistedly considers glory. Don’t give it to him. Don’t send him or those like him the message that they will get to be considered “the real life Joker” if only they use the right gimmick in murdering people.

We should learn whatever there is important to learn about the nature of his crimes and what makes human brains do such terrible things. But we should not give anyone the impression that they will be rewarded for acts of brutal terror and destruction with iconic nicknames. We should commemorate the victims, not celebrate their killer. And we should not endorse the fantasies of delusional people who cannot separate fact from fiction. Years hence, it is appropriate we remember these murders but don’t bother to remember their perpetrator’s name or anything more lurid or “quirky” than the cold fact that he murdered, injured, and traumatized human beings.

Your Thoughts?


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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • darwinharmless

    I’m always happy that I can’t remember the name of the bastard who shot John Lennon. I know I could Google it up, but I’m much happier to let him be just “that asshole who wanted fame”. Same goes for this pathetic loser. Let’s forget his name and never mention it in the media.

  • physioprof

    We should learn whatever there is important to learn about the nature of his crimes and what makes human brains do such terrible things.

    It’s not just human brains that cause these events. There are sociopolitical causes–mediated through their effects on individuals–to these events as well. It is a big mistake to think that these shooters are strictly either “lone wolf” mentally disturbed individuals or motivated by various gun-valorizing, violence-glorifying, and eliminationist strains of rhetoric (virtually all right-wing) that permeate our society.

    • Daniel Fincke

      The phrase “what makes human brains do this” does not posit the brain is the ultimate cause. It’s neutral on that. All we know is the effects happen in the brains that they decide to do crazy things some times.

  • physioprof

    Cool. Then we are apparently on the same page.

  • Ace of Sevens

    He apparently called himself the joker, though that hardly excuses the news media for promoting the nickname. That’s nothing compared to Louie Gohmert, though.

  • Corvus illustris

    “We should learn whatever there is important to learn about the nature of his crimes and what makes human brains do such terrible things.”

    Precisely the pragmatic argument against judicial homicide aka capital punishment: preserve the subject for further study. In certain other cases of mass murder–Ted Bundy comes to mind–one might also have learned of other victims. But atavistic screaming for revenge will drown out rational discussion, as usual.

    • michaelk

      Well said. Capital punishment is nothing more than vengeance and sending the perpetrator “to his maker.” It has no place in rational, civilized society.

  • Andrew

    The report I read said that the man (24-year old James Holmes) had NO previous criminal record. Apparently he was a medical student, studying neuroscience. His family said that he hadn’t been able to get a job after earning his masters. His neighbors said that he seemed shy, even reclusive. Police said he put up NO resistance when they found him just sitting in his car, outside the theater. This wasn’t some sociopath that just wanted to kill people. This was an intelligent young man who no longer wanted to live in this world. He planned this out months in advance, knew exactly what he was doing, but had NO escape plan.

  • Patrick RichardsFink

    David Brin has passed on the suggestion from antiquity that people committing horrible action like this be referred to by insulting monikers.

  • cactuswren

    I just shared this on Facebook, I hope you don’t mind.

  • DavidM

    Isn’t this like saying we shouldn’t mention Hitler’s name or make movies about him? Instead we should just try to pretend that no-name who’s-his-face (Adolph Hitler, the Fuehrer, leader of the Third Reich) tells us nothing about the Human Condition, but only about the nascent state of our technical mastery of the Human Condition – but we’ll overcome all this once we learn more about stuff like brains. (Bullshit.) Reality can be more lurid than fiction. Closing your eyes to it won’t make it go away.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Er, no. He’s not Hitler. He’s an attention-seeking psychopath who does not deserve the attention he sought. And others like him do not need to be inspired with the hope that they too can become iconic if they just start firing on people indiscriminately.

    • DavidM

      Well, er, I never said he was Hitler. Anyway, I think this guy does deserve the attention he has gotten, just like Hitler. I think you realize this too, that’s why you’re paying attention to him. I think what you really want is to punish him by not giving him the attention that he wanted, but that you’re confusing your desire to punish him with the claim that he doesn’t deserve attention. But hey, maybe not…

    • Daniel Fincke

      My primary concern was not to reward or encourage him, not to punish him. Punishing him is for the legal system. I just got angry with a commenter on TV or I would not have said anything.

    • Patrick RichardsFink

      Part of his planned payoff was to become famous. If there’s any sanity in the world, this will be denied him.

    • DavidM

      @Dan and Patrick: The thing is, guys, you’re both being profoundly unrealistic. When a nutbar does something like this it is neither possible nor desirable to deny him his day in the spotlight. You and many others resent this, but that changes nothing.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Well while he’s in the spotlight show some discipline and don’t give him a cute nickname or let him drag down the reputation of things that don’t deserve it. He does not deserve to tarnish the name of The Dark Knight Rises or to coopt the name of the Joker, etc.

      Proactive journalists have made their coverage focus on the victims and not the perpetrator. There are things that can be done.

  • BCat70

    I am totally stunned by the ‘killer wanted to be the Joker meme”. How many idiots are gonna miss the fact that the killer died his hair RED, and the Joker’s hair is GREEN?

    Fail all the way down the line.

  • BCat70

    I am totally stunned by the ‘killer wanted to be the Joker” meme. How many idiots are gonna miss the fact that the killer died his hair RED, and the Joker’s hair is GREEN?

    Fail all the way down the line.