Certainly, I believe the devil takes melancholy as a means for trying to win over some persons. And if they do not walk with great care, he will do so. For since this humor can subdue reason, what won’t our passions do once reason is darkened? It seems that if reason is wanting, madness results, and so it does. But in those of whom we are now speaking, the melancholy doesn’t reach the point of madness, which would be much less harmful”- Teresa of Avilia
In the last post I wrote (with too much academic verbosity) about the fascinated reports on the quality of Lubitz breathing. In that post I wrote about how this revealed an ambivalent epistemology in which Lubitz ‘audio essence’ was revealed. That essence fluctuates between human and Evil as if Lubitz was possessed by forces not of the profane earth. In this post I’ll follow up on the connections made to Lubitz mental health and the link this has to ideas of possession. First I want to dwell a little more on the uncanniness of that breathing.
Lubitz breathing has been commented on so much because it was regular and calm. It betrayed no sign of distress in the man at the controls of flight 9525. An elevated respiratory rate might have indicated heart attack or confusion or rage or anything other than normality. There he sat in the cabin, adjusting the controls, pressing the buttons he always pressed, observing the instruments and making the corrections. Unlike every other time these mundane operations that a pilot surely carries out with a degree of automaticity were imbued with a new and awful significance. Except that his breathing didn’t suggest any significance whatsoever.
It was all normal. All within the usual coordinates of everyday expectations. Maybe Lubitz smiled an inane smile as he locked the cabin door; maybe he was distracted by a stray thought as he input the new altitude; maybe he hummed a phrase from his favourite song while the captain tried to axe the door down; maybe he had the same bored gaze as driver stuck in traffic while the screams of the passengers rose behind him. We can imagine the scene as it might be played out on the big screen. A kind of psychopathic Patrick Bateman look about him: Andreas Lubitz the tranquil centre of a terrible and deranged storm.
When I say ‘psychopathic’ I mean it quite literally:
But in those eight minutes of silence, Lubitz revealed himself to the world as a calm, cold-blooded killer, who will go down in history – perhaps just as he wanted – as a “madman” who destroyed the lives of 149 innocent individuals.
Of course when I say all this I am indulging in the same urge towards dark and thrilling narratives as the media. The story (and it is a story) that is being told to us in this Telegraph quote is that a “cold-blooded killer” “destroyed” the lives of “innocent” victims. It’s important to pay attention to the word choice even at the risk of overstating the obvious. He was cold-blooded: like a shark or a reptile; not human but masquerading or hiding in human form; thus he deceived the world; he played at being a man though he was not a man but something horribly other.
What appears like a man but isn’t a man in our inherited mythic narratives? Various kinds of malevolent undead such as vampires and zombies; those beings of horror such as Wilbur Whateley, a Lovecraftian Fosterling of the Old Ones who would release hell upon humanity; or Vessels- nonphysical supernatural being wearing the flesh human bodies, also known as Meatsuits, in the act of daemonic possession. In other words Andreas Lubitz is described in terms that suggest he is inhabited by/is the expression of various shades of Evil. And how best do we understand the embodiment of the principle of Evil in our supposedly secular age? How else but as psychopathy?
It is so common to regard psychopaths as evil that it is just as common to see refutations of the idea from psychiatrists, psychologists and other experts in matters of the brain. When Dr Kent Khiel was interviewed by the BBC after having carried out neuroimaging on child rapist and murderer Brian Dugan, he felt it was necessary to point out that
Meanwhile Dr Kalpana Elizabeth Dean has written a short paper the title of which simply and starkly asks “Psychopathy: Evil or Disease?”. No doubt there are those who don’t entirely appreciate Ernest Becker’s notion that human beings are theological animals and so might be surprised to learn that this paper was published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2012. I suppose it might be shocking to think that the question of evil could be asked by a scientist and clinician in the 21st century and that her peers could consider it a question worth asking rather than refusing to publish and laughing her out of the profession. Personally I think the idea of evil does as much affective good as it does explanatory damage but that isn’t a debate I want to get into here, and I’m sure I needn’t take a trip down the blood soaked corridors of literary and cinematic treatments of psychopathy. We are obsessed with them. They appear to us as nonhuman humans and as the limit cases to all our politics, all our ethics, all our comforting illusions about humans being nice deep down to the core.
A cold-blooded killer he is said to have “destroyed” his “victims”. With this language Lubitz is placed into the affectless world of the psychopath incapable of feeling any empathy or warmth, any guilt or sorrow, for the others that he has killed. Perhaps if it were possible to survive one’s own death and to walk about the aftermath of one’s actions to come to understand what your life had or had not meant in the world, Lubitz would walk in the crash site, among the commentariat, the newspaper pop-psychologists, scratching his head.
In this grim perverse and wholly speculative picture that the media is casting Lubitz would resemble Brian Duggan, of whom Kheil commented ‘he struggles to try and understand why people even care about what he did’. The psychopath doesn’t just not care because he doesn’t even realise that he is meant to. He doesn’t “kill” people or “end lives” because he doesn’t see them as such- he knows there are no people and there is no value to life; he merely “destroys” like a child does a broken toy or veterinarian a dog.
There is no point in pretending that the idea that Andreas Lubitz was a psychopath isn’t latent in all the speculations about his mental state. There are the extreme examples such as on a website dedicated to the detection of, and protection from, sociopaths- Lovefraud (the author Donna Anderson writes “sociopaths are everywhere”; a paranoid truth). An article by the anonymous reader “Jennifer in NYC” openly, in big red bold capital letters, asks ‘Was Andreas Lubitz, Who Crashed a Plane into a Mountain, Depressed or a Psychopath?’ Jennifer, the commenters on her piece, and presumably Anderson agree that yes Lubitz was a mass murdering psychopath.
More reputable news sources also reported on the possibility that Lubitz was a psychopath in the days immediately after the crash. Quoting from a psychiatrist making a general point about the rare and complex nature of murder-suicide the Belfast Telegraph decided to report that consultant psychiatrist Dr Paul Keedwell had claimed ‘Lubitz may have been a psychopath’. At least, that’s the headline that the newspaper ran on the 28th March.
One left wing commentator from the blogosphere has attempted to separate the actions of Lubitz from all the buzzing hacks who keep insisting on linking his actions to his depression. I admire the attempts many have made to make this separation as both a psychiatric nurse, blogger and activist around mental health. However in attempting to prevent the fearmongering and discrimination of people diagnosed as depressed AnotherAngryVoice writes that
the premeditated decision to murder 144 passengers and 5 work colleagues, for whatever reason, are clearly the actions of a psychopath without the capacity to feel basic human empathy. If Lubitz had had any capacity for empathy whatever, he would have considered the enormous wave of suffering such an action would unleash on the families and friends of his 149 victims and realised that such a vast tsunami of grief would massively outweigh his own depressive issues. Such a realisation would have driven him to either quietly commit suicide on his own, or to actually accept the medical help he had been offered and rejected. Only a psychopath would be able to consider going ahead with a plan that involved murdering so many other people and causing such a huge amount of human suffering as a consequence.
Of course I agree that the victimisation and painting of people who are diagnosed with depression and may be struggling to get through one day to the next, unable in the extremes to raise themselves from bed or to eat or dress or life an arm from where it lies, is heinous and unacceptable. It causes more suffering and pushes the depressed only further into the darkness that swallows their lives. Pain upon pain, injury upon injury, the creeping corrosive sense that one is ‘Good for Nothing’– less than zero. But to defend the depressed only by manoeuvring the semiosomatic category of psychopathy and thereby to use the bodies of psychopaths as…what?…human shields?… is hard to describe as anything but psychopathic.
I’m not suggesting the author of those comments is themselves a psychopath but that the treatment of the psychopathic here is as a form of life that is less than human. It doesn’t matter that the neurobiology of the psychopath might be such that they lack the basic core morality that evolutionary processes in conjunction with relatively non-pathological socialisation has instilled in us. I don’t want to get into the murky field of what constitutes psychopathy but I do want to say that constitutive of the category of psychopathy is non-inclusion within the normal bounds of “ethicity”. It is strange to hold the psychopath qua psychopathy responsible in the same way as other people.
I’d suggest that actually we don’t do this at all but instead we punish the psychopath for being what it is, which is, being a being which should not be- or, if we’re honest, being the living demonstration of the possibility that we are all beings that should not be. The psychopath then is as close to an Eldritch horror as we’re likely to get.
As Bifo says in his own quite general commentary on the meaning of Lubitz’s murder-suicide ‘it is easy to target those who are officially labelled as psychopaths’, but it is even easier to target those who we want to be psychopaths. If Lubitz is a psychopath he is evil and if he is evil we understand what he has done and don’t have to look any further into the subject. This lack of obligation to understand would be precisely what enables us to continue obsessively picking over the story as carrion birds at the crash site. What is happening in our own morbid anatomy to allow us to keep looking and to want ever more details if we’ve already decided what and why it Lubitz did as he did. Again this isn’t to dismiss the therapeutic and emotional work done by the concept of evil.
The left blog repeats something that has bothered me intensely since I first read it in the voyeurism of the Blit report on Lubitz published not long after the crash. The German paper featured the kind of kiss-and-tell story we’re more used to from the one night stands of footballers and pop stars. Quoting a woman who is supposedly Lubitz former girlfriend (Mary W) the newspaper provided us with what has become this atrocity’s neurotically compulsive mantra- or its tagline:
One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.
Did Andreas Lubitz confide this to the woman who claims to have been his girlfriend? Did he suffer from the grandiosity and narcissism common to psychopathy as so many claim? All around Lubitz- or the impersonal disintegrating spectacle of his autopsy without body- are those claiming to know why he did what he did. It’s a truism that we can’t ever really enter the mind of another person or know what it is like to be inside the “closed world of the suicide” (Al Alvarez) and yet here we are suddenly all experts and able to say with confidence Lubitz was a deranged and egotistical monster.
Of course his monstrosity is sealed by this fateful cinematic quote. It is a given by someone who was very likely paid for giving it and who gave it to a newspaper that is known for its conservative nationalist, misogynistic, Catholic and Islamophobic leanings. And I say it is a tagline, it is cinematic, because, when we look at it, it is precisely the idea most of us have of what a psychopath might say after having been raising on films like Psycho. They are lines that we know psychopathic individuals do write because of the diaries of Eric Davis Harris and Dylan Benner Klebold. But here it reads as a pure fiction. If you were going to put something in a psychopathic mass murderer’s mouth, what would it be?
What did Lubitz say? He said nothing. He breathed. He breathed that horrible breathing that jarred so much with the horror of his actions. From what we can tell he was perfectly calm. Who knows, perhaps he was even happy? This isn’t impossible. It might sound even more monstrous, even more deranged and fantastic, but it is also among the most possible accounts of his final moments. If Lubitz was the grandiose egomaniac who wanted the world to remember his name and his actions to cause some change to a nameless “system”, and he knew the plane had a flight recorder, a voice recorder, then why didn’t he leave the world with his testaments? his theories? his spiteful accusations? A man who hates the world but wants it to know his name is desirous of its own attention. It just doesn’t make sense that he would say nothing if all this was planned out to satisfy some twisted delusional need.
That breathing; how to explain something so unhinged as tranquillity in the face of an onrushing hurtling death with the sound of pleading and screaming from your victims at your back? It’s fucked up. It’s just fucked up. And when it comes to suicides, and murder-suicides are suicides (cf. Thomas Joiner 2014, The Perversion of Virtue: Understanding Murder-Suicide; or Barner, Golden, Peterson 2010, The Truth About Suicide), it is also very common.
In fact it is so common that it’s hardly even worth pointing the reader to any references to confirm it in this blog post. Almost every text, organization, psychiatric worker, peer-supporter, suicide prevention phone operator, and many family members of suicides and survivors of attempted suicides report that in the days, sometimes weeks, leading up to the act of trying to kill yourself you get very calm. You get very calm and in some cases even very happy. As the suicide prevention textbook from Columba McLaughlin states
Some people can go to their deaths in a very calm way because they have already made their decision as to how they are going to cope with the issues that are causing despair in their lives. Some people can go to their deaths in a very calm way with the knowledge that tomorrow there will be complete peace in their lives.
Often people can interpret this calm as meaning that the suicidal person is okay, that they are fine, or that they have become resigned to their lot in life. Many people who are have been suicidal and have tried to die report to have been in a state of suicidal serenity because the solution has been found and the exit route is known.
If you have decided to die and you know how you’re going to do it then all of a sudden you are living and embodying the truth that we are all already dead.
A profound sense of the illusory nature of life and the insignificance of all its stupid causes of anxiety and suffering must suddenly melt away in a zone of blissfully detached suspension.
You’re going to die and only that death is real.
Relief, and the evaporation of all sorrows.
For some this morbid tranquillity must seem like “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can”. Much has been made of Andreas Lubitz calm breathing, his ordinary demeanour, his lack of any indication that he was planning to die. Couldn’t it be that this is because having made his decision he had already enjoined a kind of horrible gnostic rapture? Apparently there are reports he went on a spending spree on the weeks before he crashed the plane and killed hundreds of people along with himself. What is money to a dead man? Why not spend it all? Why not treat yourself? He was already gone and just waiting to leave.
We now know he had researched methods of dying. This is common too. In my job I asked people about this all the time. If someone tells me they are suicidal my next question is “do you have a plan”? The inelegant word “planfulness” captures the fact that having planned out exactly how you’re going to die makes you much more likely to go through with it and so much more in need of intervention. This makes sense. If you tell me you want to start a business I can tell if you’re serious by how much you’ve looked into exactly how to go about it. It is absolutely no surprise that a man who killed himself looked into suicide methods. There is a whole online community dedicated to doing exactly that, as well as offering each other advice on the best ways of being certain to die. That Lubitz is also a murder doesn’t change that he is a suicide who behaved in a way we would expect any number of other suicides to do.
We also know that he had looked into the cockpit security measures. A report in the New York Times indicates, with the corroboration of an expert in the field of murder-suicides, that this reveals that Lubitz ‘actions were not only intentional but probably premeditated’. Intentional. Premeditated. So, once again, planned and planned in advance. All those deaths were part and parcel of his plan to kill himself, about that there can be no equivocation or denial.
And yet if he researched suicide methods doesn’t this mean he wasn’t sold on the air crash? Doesn’t it mean he entertained the possibility of killing himself in some way that didn’t involve taking other with him? In the NYTimes article it says that Lubitz spent “several minutes” looking up security measures for the cockpit doors. How many of us have spent several minutes looking things up that have nothing to do with our future plans or actions? Is several minutes even enough to work out how to toy with the workings of the cockpit’s security measures? Even if he had a page open for several hours, or days, could he have interfered with the mechanics of an air craft’s security system? It seems decided that he could and did.
Here I want to emphasise that researching suicide and security systems doesn’t mean that you are necessarily going to try to kill yourself. I’m not saying Lubitz didn’t kill himself and 150 others. All I am saying is that both in principle, and as an empirically verifiable observation, the expressed inclination towards an action does not imply a relation of physical or ontological necessity, or absolute existential commitment to, carrying out that action. It is possible to decide to die, plan out how to die, only to decide that you would prefer to live. What I’m getting towards here is the need for that moment when the plan becomes the act and the imagined among the virtual becomes the actual. As one psychotherapist quoted in the Telegraph put it
I think it’s quite possible he didn’t plan this. The nature of depression can lead to people taking action on impulse.
Even planned suicides require impulsivity to actually be carried out, and even planned suicides become forgotten or cast aside…but perhaps not because the desire to die has been supplanted by the interminable will to live. I’m going to suggest something speculative here myself. Something I don’t think is all that outlandish: a man who had decided he wanted to die by his own hand couldn’t wait to be alone. A man who decided to die and who regularly flew an airplane for a living crashed that plane impulsively. A colleague left the cockpit and something “clicked”: I know how to lock this door and I know how to crash this plane.
Why do you research methods of dying? To be certain of getting the right one, the idiot proof, the guaranteed, after all, surviving a suicide attempt can be a fate worse than death. So here he was- certain he wanted to die, suddenly overwhelmed by the need to do it now, now, now- in control of an airplane. If you crash an airplane into a mountain side what do you think is the chance of survival? If you’re certain you want to die it seems like a pretty sure thing.
I’m not going to suggest that he didn’t kill himself and murder 150 people. I’m not trying to say that we should all cry for Andreas Lubitz- although the suggestions that he may have killed himself out of desperation because he may be about to lose his job should give us pause. And I certainly don’t want to suggest that the people that died with him on flight 9525 deserved to die. I do want to add a little doubt over the decided picture of Andreas Lubitz the cold-blooded psychopathic monstrous “mad-man”. Rather than wearing a mask of ‘cheerful chatter’ it is much more likely that Lubitz was a deeply unhappy and broken man intoxicated by suicidal serenity who finally snapped at the worst possible time. He should never have been flying.
Of the rage and hatred and bitterness and scorn left by those who survived their loved ones that might be directed at Lubitz, I think we all understand that. Of his victims, who I realise I have said nothing about, I’m not sure what I could I said except that, unlike most of us, their deaths will at least have been instant and painless. If Lubitz did want to murder these people all along, maybe the truth is a little sadder, a little less cinematic, and more terrifyingly human than we’re willing to face: maybe Lubitz felt too scared and small and insignificant to die alone.
During that call there were silence between us that neither felt compelled to fill.
Silences when all I could here was breathing.