The Ghost of Adam Lanza
Goodness is the fulfillment of value. Value exists only in life. If there is no life, there is no value, and thus goodness becomes an entirely irrelevant concept.
— Adam Lanza, 2011, in the video “Antinatalism at Light Speed”
Recently, someone discovered the ghost of Adam Lanza. His abandoned YouTube channel, named “CulturalPhilistine”, had been sitting on YouTube for 9 years, without anyone linking it to him. It had only about a dozen subscribers and 20 videos, which were audio and a black image. A little while ago, someone found it and linked it to Lanza. It was quickly deleted, of course, but people managed to save all the content before it went down. So, now we have new insights into the mind of Adam Lanza.
Adam Lanza committed the Sandy Hook school shooting. On December 14, 2012, he killed his mother, and then went to an elementary school, where he killed 20 children and 6 adults. The children were in Grade 1. Lanza was 20 at the time. He lived with his mother and spent most of his time alone in his room.
I remember hearing about it at the time, and being stunned. Like the Columbine shooting, it was both horrifying and incomprehensible. What could motivate someone to commit such an act?
The media portrayed Lanza as an insane individual with irrational motives. They emphasized his Asperger’s diagnosis, reclusive behavior, and morbid fascination with guns and death.
His YouTube videos paint a very different picture. They reveal an intelligent young man who was thinking clearly when he posted his videos — and the last one was posted less than a year before the murders. He was reaching out to humanity to present his views of life and death.
Adam Lanza’s worldview could be broadly described as efilist (anti-life). He was aware of the efilist and antinatalist circles on YouTube. His videos mention Inmendham and other figures who were active in antinatalist/efilist discourse at the time, such as DerivedEnergy and Gratex. He was engaging with people in that circle to some degree. He was also aware of other heretical circles, such as the white nationalists (he mentioned HeyRuka a few times), and probably the ancaps and others.
I have listened to most of his videos, and I am going to present a summary of his views. Of course, they are interesting because they shed light on his motives for mass murder, but they are also interesting in themselves.
I believe that Lanza developed his worldview mostly by thinking for himself, and then refined it later in life, after he encountered related ideas on the internet. Some of his rhetoric echoes Inmandham’s, but some is very different, and his views were not the same. In some of his videos, he explicitly contrasts his views with efilism. He used the term “antinatalism” to label his views, but he also said it was not the ideal term. He said his views could be called “eulavism” instead.
The first stage in the development of Lanza’s worldview was the rejection of culture. He viewed culture as a delusion, a disease and an imposition on children. At this stage, his views could be loosely described as anarcho-primitivist. He idolized an imaginary primitive state of humanity before culture and civilization. He used the term “feral self” to refer to this hypothetical precultural human nature. You could also call it the “biological” or “natural” self, as opposed to the “cultural” or “social” self.
He correctly recognized that culture is irrational, and that it is imposed on people by authority figures and by what he called “bullying”. For example, suppose that a child is picking his nose, because that’s what he naturally feels like doing. A parent or teacher then bullies the child to conform to social/cultural expectations of correct behavior. After being forced to conform to this value, the child internalizes it, and feels bad about picking his nose in the future. Lanza viewed enculturation as the imposition of cultural values on the feral self, creating a kind of false self with false values.
There is some truth to this, but Lanza’s idolization of the primitive was based on a common delusion, one that (somewhat ironically) he got from culture. He assumed that the default or natural state of things is good. In one video, he says that without culture he wouldn’t be making a YouTube response video to someone. In the feral state, maybe he would be stroking the other person’s hair and looking into his eyes, or “whatever feral humans do”. That is a very romantic idea of the primitive. If two strange chimps meet in the forest, they might fight, or a male might attempt to coerce a female into sex, etc. They don’t just sit together and groom each other. Lanza imagined a primitive paradise that humanity lost due to the disease of culture. That was a naive fantasy.
The truth is that culture has a biological function, and we depend on it. Human beings cannot exist without culture. We are cultural animals. There never was a primitive human state without culture. There was a pre-modern state, a pre-civilized state and a pre-human state, which can be observed in chimps or gorillas. But there was never a pre-cultural human paradise.
Lanza believed that culture consisted of mindlessly-propagating memes. The memes infect people, who then propagate the memes to other people. Parents, teachers and other authority figures were the vectors of the memes. But so were ordinary people. He saw a world of people infected by memes, acting as enforcers of a memetic tyranny.
This view is not irrational or insane. It is partly correct. Culture is propagated irrationally, often based on conformity and obedience, and once acquired, it is mindlessly imposed on others.
I think Lanza was bothered by the irrationality of culture more than most people, because he was an aspy guy who was (in some ways) hyper-rational. He couldn’t just accept memes being imposed on him without reasons. He was also aware of the irrationality of culture, while most people simply take culture for granted and never question it.
Maybe he also hated culture because it alienated him from others. As someone with Asperger’s syndrome, he probably didn’t pick up cultural norms as easily as others do, especially those aspects of culture that are non-verbal. When he tried to relate to others in a natural and rational way, he failed because he wasn’t following the implicit rules of social interaction. Those rules are highly arbitrary, and create a barrier to self-expression and interaction.
Again, this critique of culture is not irrational or insane. It is largely correct, although there is no utopian feral alternative. Culture is irrational, and it does alienate us from each other and from our “true selves”.
Consider a young man who sees an attractive girl. Can he just say “Hi, I find you attractive”. No, of course not. He has to come up with some excuse to talk to her, and make dishonest small-talk, rather than just expressing himself honestly. And, if he wanted to touch her body, he couldn’t just reach out and touch her. In a hypothetical precultural state, he could simply touch her, and she could respond by smiling or frowning. Instead, they have to relate through a layer of arbitrary conventions: the cultural norms of flirting.
Most people don’t recognize this layer as artificial, arbitrary and dishonest, because they have internalized those norms. But it is artificial, arbitrary and dishonest, and it alienates us from each other, to some extent.
From the first video Lanza posted, titled “My Antinatalism”:
I didn’t understand this when I was younger, but I’ve always had an immense hatred for culture. I considered culture to be delusional values which humans mindlessly coerce onto each other, spreading it no differently than any other disease. I previously sought to eliminate my cultural values to the greatest extent that I could. Through this, I expected to gradually discover values within myself so that I could engage in activities and pursue goals which would lead to happiness. Eventually I got to a point where I had sufficiently freed myself from what I called “cultural values”. When I analyzed all of the things which brought me happiness, and all of the goals which I wanted to pursue, I realized that absolutely everything about those things that appealed to me was entirely a consequence of my cultural infection. Formerly, I had rejected some aspects of culture while accepting other ones and merely not calling them “cultural”, as if those values were somehow transcendent and mine. It was at that point that I realized that there is no such thing as an inner self. Any sense of self is a delusional cultural construct. I realized that cultural infections are the sole source of any possible value beyond base values. For a while, I believed that happiness could be attained if culture could theoretically be eradicated and if anarcho-primitivism were to take hold. Replace all instances of “technology” with “culture” in the analytic sections of “Industrial Society and its Future” [the manifesto of Ted Kaczynski], and you basically have my mentality at the time regarding the pernicious effects of culture.
Lanza discovered that he had been coerced and deceived into having certain memes in his head, and he resented that. He tried to purge himself of the foreign memes, to liberate his true self. But there he found only another layer of coercion and deception, another mindlessly propagating disease.
The problem was I had not been addressing what happiness is. Happiness is merely the fulfillment of value. I recognized that if cultural values were eliminated, the happiness which results from their fulfillment would not be needed, because happiness becomes unnecessary and an incoherent concept when it is removed from its context. A common theme in my quasi-anarcho-primitivist thought at the time was that non-base values exist only as a consequence of cultural infections, and impede on the happiness which results from the fulfillment of feral values. I thought of my feral self as if it were metaphysically the real me, whose soul had been devoured by the culturally constructed imposter of the self. But my feral self was also an imposter. Just as I realized that I could eliminate non-base values and have no need for the happiness which resulted from their fulfillment, I could eliminate base values and have no need for the happiness which resulted from their fulfillment. It was not only the disease of culture that had been plaguing me all along. It was the disease of life itself.
The second stage in the development of Lanza’s worldview was the rejection of value, and thus of life.
He understood that all happiness comes from the fulfillment of value, or in other words, from the fulfillment of desire. It follows that one must suffer to be happy. To feel happiness, one must have a want that can be fulfilled. Value is the root of suffering. Value is the cause of all problems.
He recognized an analogy between culture and biology. He viewed culture as imposing false values, which must then be fulfilled. He came to view life in the same way. Life creates beings that have desires. Those beings then struggle to fulfill those desires. Life also propagates itself mindlessly from one generation to the next.
He came to hate life for the same reasons that he hated culture.
Although he may have been influenced by antinatalism and efilism discourse online, his views were his own. He criticized the efilists for their belief in objective value and objective rights and obligations. He saw morality as a cultural delusion. He didn’t believe in objective values. He believed that his own values were subjective.
“My Antinatalism” continued:
I was not and I am not in some existential crisis. I have never had the slightest problem with the obvious non-existence of free will, objective purposes, and all that. I have always been entirely psychologically capable of accepting my own subjective values and goals, even though I know that they are consummately inconsequential. And it doesn’t bother me at all. The problem is not that I seek meaning and cannot find it. The problem is that I do feel immense meaning, and so does everyone else who is alive. Meaning is an abstract interpretation of value, which exists only because of life. Just as I sought to eradicate the delusional values which culture infected me with, the final solution is the termination of my life, to rid myself of all value. A solution cannot be to embrace some aspect of life, as if the erosion of delusions is the cause of this. Life is what originally caused me to have value, and changing my life will never do anything but create different delusions than the ones I already have. Unfortunately, as of right now I lack the discipline to commit suicide, and to rid myself of the values which delude me, even though I recognize the solution to life is death. But I do commend others who commit suicide. They have freed themselves from culture, life and all value. They have freed themselves from themselves.
Lanza even recognized that there was a paradox in his position. His rejection of value was itself a value. “Value is bad” is a value judgment. Eulavism is a self-negating paradox. But he still had that value, paradoxical thought it might be, and eventually he negated himself.
Does his philosophy explain why he committed mass murder? Not really. Eulavism seems to lead to suicide, if a paradox can lead anywhere. It doesn’t imply mass murder. I believe that eulavism influenced his decision to commit mass murder, but he had other motives, some of which were subconscious.
Lanza had painted himself into a corner by becoming reclusive. He couldn’t face the world outside his bedroom, but he was going to be evicted from that sanctuary. His mother was trying to sell the house, and she wanted to move him into a trailer so she could show the house. Lanza was supposed to grow up, leave home, and become a “normal” person. He couldn’t face that. He couldn’t face the prospect of conforming to society and culture: getting a job, supporting himself, and so on. He already wanted to commit suicide, and this pushed him over the edge. The first person he killed was his mother, perhaps out of anger that she created him, perhaps also out of anger that she was evicting him from his room, or perhaps because he wanted to deliver her from the horrors of life. Maybe it was all of those reasons.
Lanza had a very sheltered life. Despite his theoretical primitivism, I don’t think he ever went into the wilderness. A long canoeing or backpacking trip would have given him a less romantic perspective on nature and the primitive. Also, the absence of physical hardship and practical problems meant that psychological hardship and philosophical problems weighed more heavily on him. He could spend all day in his room thinking about them, and fantasizing about murder-suicide, instead of being forced to get off his bed and get a job.
Apparently, he had been somewhat obsessed with mass murder even as a child. He probably spent a lot of his time fantasizing, because of his isolation from others and from real life experiences. Fantasies internally generate values, which then create the desire to be fulfilled. Values are not just imposed on us from the outside. We also generate them internally.
He was a lonely incel, probably a virgin. Sexual frustration seems to play a role in motivating mass murder. He believed that culture created an artificial scarcity of sex, and so he blamed culture for his loneliness.
People have speculated about his sexuality: that he might have been gay or a pedophile. He wrote a long essay about the dishonesty and hypocrisy of society’s treatment of pedophilia. He said that he was not a pedophile, and had not been sexually molested as a child.
From the description of the video series “On pedophiles and children”:
I have to emphasize for the fifth time, I AM NOT A PEDOPHILE. My position is that children would not be harmed by consensual sexual interaction with adults any more than other adults are, unless their culture forced them into being ignorant of it and manipulated into being horrified by it.
I recognize that my anti-pedophobia was only a futile retaliation against culture, so I will never have the motivation to improve any of this.
However, in his “Pointless” series of videos, he said:
How can someone be attracted to breasts? (laughter, inaudible) I’m just attracted to young teenage girls who have the bodies of 12 year old anorexic boys.
So, it seems that Lanza was attracted to pubescent girls, not full-figured women. However, I think his obsession with pedophilia had more to do with his views on culture. Pedophilia is one of the biggest taboos, and he would have enjoyed violating that taboo. In his “Pointless” series of videos, he mentioned that he wrote his essay defending pedophilia with the thought of submitting it as a college entrance essay, even though he knew that he would be rejected because of it. He said that he liked that kind of rejection. That was revealing. The violation of taboos is a rebellion against culture.
Regardless, I don’t think he killed children because he was sexually attracted to them.
He also didn’t kill children because he hated them. He idolized them as closer to the feral, precultural human state. He hated culture and life.
I think he targeted a school because it represented enculturation. Children also represent the propagation of life. He disliked authority figures. Teachers and parents are authority figures. He killed teachers. By killing children, he was hurting their parents. There are several reasons why a school shooting would appeal to Lanza.
The idea that he was mercy-killing children is too simplistic. But he would not have viewed his actions as harmful to them. In his worldview, death was salvation and enlightenment. However, he did not believe in morality or objective value, and he must have known that killing a small number of people would have no effect on life or suffering in general.
Perhaps he also killed as a way to force himself to commit suicide. He was burning his bridge back to life, so that there was no going back.
I think he fell into a deep despair after sharing his views on YouTube, and getting mostly mindless bullying as a response. He abandoned his YouTube account in January 2012, a bit less than a year before his mass murder.
In the description of his final series of videos, titled “To the Proculturalists”, he wrote:
If you wanted to upset me, you’ve succeeded more than you could have expected. I could have explained everything in this more extensively if this wasn’t extemporaneously spoken while feeling despondent, but if no one understands what I’m saying after seven hours of videos (which barely any of you even listened to), no one ever will. I can’t handle this cultural bullying. My account is now officially abandoned.
About 10 months later, Adam Lanza put a gun to his head and blew his brains out, after killing 27 other people. I think his mass murder was also a failed attempt at expressing himself. He probably thought of that YouTube channel as his manifesto, and assumed that it would be discovered soon after his death. Instead, it sat ignored for years.
There was a strange irony to his final act. By committing mass murder, he was trying to impose his values onto others. He was horrified by life, and he wanted others to feel the same way. He hated life and value, and he wanted to propagate that value to others. He was, in a sense, trying to bully the world into accepting his values.