The Clare Spark Blog

October 2, 2015

Unasked questions about Chris Harper Mercer and Barack Obama

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 5:07 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

HarperI am scratching my head in wonder that the press, fixated on the Oregon shooting (October 1, 2015) and all those that preceded it (committed by white boys in their late adolescence or early adulthood) is not asking the most obvious questions.

The first of these would focus on his specific family history, the most relevant being his half-black inheritance (as the Daily Beast and others mentioned). Where is his father? The media have mentioned a mother living in California, but we know nothing about her: her work, her values, how she raised her only child. How was he punished growing up, and who was responsible for disciplining him: the mother or the father? Did the father use corporal punishment? Or some other method, such as threats or grounding. Was there a divorce? Was mom even ever married?

I have an idea why such obvious questions are not being asked. The Right insists on the father-led nuclear family as the ideal unit to lift the masses out of poverty (and even the Moynihan Report did this with respect to blacks, and Moynihan was a staunch liberal). They also imply extreme sex-role differentiation. Supposedly, males are rational, females are irrational and likely to spoil the child, even feminize him.

Second, was it simply chance that Chris Harper Mercer chose a science classroom to embark on his killing spree? The first victim is said to be the science teacher. The hostility of some “Christian” sects to science is too well known to dwell upon. [Update: it was an English class, not a science class as had been reported earlier. Thanks for the correction, Jon!]

And who were Mercer’s victims? Were they all white people like himself? Or might there have been a sprinkling of Asians (at UCLA, nearly all the students studying science were some variety of “Asian”). [Also now irrelevant as the shooter was half black.]

Finally, we come to Obama’s almost instantaneous response to the event, not to speak of his startling passivity in the face of concrete threats to the nation. The media have emphasized his “passion” and opportunism. What if he is not merely a “narcissist” as even Krauthammer insists, but enraged about gun ownership because it signifies the rage at having been abandoned by his real father, and who knows how his grandparents disciplined him?

I attribute these glaring lacunae in the press coverage to the abandonment of depth psychology. Instead of taking specific family histories, noting traumas where they exist, mental health professionals are dedicated to downplaying the permanence of trauma, let alone such antique notions as Oedipal rage. It is all happy talk now along with CBT, in the short, cheap cut to rewiring the brain through the power of positive thinking, or maybe prayer: we should beat the Devil within all of us in this fallen world.

Don’t expect anything to change, or a return to supposedly discredited psychoanalytic explanations for deranged mass shooting events by young males, or even more obvious ones, such as adolescent rebellion against authoritarian parents. We are too dumbed down for that.

Our society indulges in escapism even as it fecklessly searches for a “motive.” Those who love “families” but refuse to look too closely into their inner dynamics, are bound to fail. (See related blog: Or, since NPR is touting the (loveless, hence hate-filled) “loner” theory out for fame/revenge: see


  1. CNN tried very hard to make him [Mercer] white.

    Comment by Right Thinking — October 18, 2015 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

  2. Hello, the killer in Oregon wasn’t white. Unless you are going to call Obama white.
    Did you not look at his photo?

    Comment by C. A. Tides — October 4, 2015 @ 4:21 am | Reply

  3. Another unasked question: Was he on any of the legal mind-altering drugs like Prozac, Ritalin, Zoloft, Paxil, or other alleged anti-depressants?

    Comment by The Gentle Grizzly — October 3, 2015 @ 5:11 am | Reply

    • Early reports did not mention that his mother was black. The silence was deafening. When the news came out, I revised the blog. We don’t know how being of mixed race affected him, and I also corrected the error that it was a science building, not an English class. The meat of the blog was to ask how his parents punished him, and the necessity to look at the family dynamics. There is a widespread taboo in this country regarding close examination of the patriarchal nuclear family.

      Comment by clarelspark — October 4, 2015 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

  4. Clare:

    Insightful and inciting as usual.

    We do agree that the press appears to inexplicably have lost focus on this, but it is likely we disagree on why.this is so. Your implication that news media refuse to ask questions about family out of desire to avoid implicating the conservative nuclear patriarchal family structure seems to me to be a stretch. Calling Mercer “white” seems a stretch. I understand his mother is black, father white? Also, if Mercer had been raised by a single mother who “feminized” him, that would give validity to your framing of the “conservative complaint,” therefore the conservative media should be chomping at the bit to put out that narrative in gory detail. Bu they’re doing the opposite. What am I missing?

    I would be interested in looking at the family dynamic, but not sure what the goal would be. Ultimately, whatever “factors” were “discovered” through investigation, it would be the government’s responsibility to “fix.” But experience shows over and over that government intrusion into families can create more problems than it solves, and should be used only as a last resort. Further, the “black box” and plethora of theory about individual and family psychology has been given too much credibility in our courts and consequently wields too much power in the community.

    In the name of individual liberty, we’ve essentially defined the term “family” out of existence by making the term meaningless. Every arrangement between any number and sex of adults with and without children now qualifies as a “family” What group of adults desiring to be called a “family” is denied that status? Hell, I suppose if the Manson group could be a “family,” by what possible criteria could the term “family” be denied to someone? And if everything is “family,” of what utility is the term?

    I’m also a bit confused about your implication that Mercer was attacking science from a fundamentalist religious position. I had not heard or read any evidence that this was the case, and his asking the religion of students and shooting those who called themselves “christian” doesn’t seem to indicate a fondness for that religious worldview. . . unless he was so far off the scale that he thought he was doing those Christians a favor. . .

    I do agree it would be good to find out about family dynamic and religious point of view in an attempt to understand the genesis of this rampage. I will reserve judgment until more of those questions are asked and answered.

    Comment by Jeffery — October 2, 2015 @ 8:51 pm | Reply

    • I had not heard that his mother was black. Where did you see that, and how does his “race” matter? Second, I specifically used the term “nuclear” family, and did not consider other types of families. As for science, I posed a series of questions. If any is not relevant, forget it. But I refuse to give up psychoanalytic considerations, which all my experience has borne out. There was no implication that psychoanalytic explanations require big government to “fix.” We will have to agree to disagree on that.

      Comment by clarelspark — October 2, 2015 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

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