It starts from the one thing we all have in common: our vulnerability. It’s right there in the first sentence of the murderer’s screed: “even if we were to deport all non-Europeans from our lands tomorrow, the European people would still be spiraling into decay and eventual death.”

Embedded in that admission of vulnerability is the fundamental error: that accidents of birth like national origin — and by extension, skin color and religion—matter more than all we have in common.

The other error is that, despite starting his 74-page screed with a plea for white people to increase their birth rate, the murderer chose to make war instead of love.

This, I think, is where the human tree branches.

We all start from vulnerability and the need to protect ourselves. Our self-protective strategies take infinite form, but for the great majority of us, they come down to forging durable bonds through cooperation, kindness, generosity, tolerance, humility, and nonviolence.

This is the smart strategy. We help ourselves by helping others. It’s the strategy endorsed by our greatest spiritual teachers, including Jesus, the religious icon of white Europeans.

Those perched on the smaller branch of the human tree reject this strategy. Probably they’ve been raised in environments lacking in cooperation, kindness, generosity, tolerance, humility, and nonviolence. Perceiving how out of step they are with the larger society and (for whatever reasons) unable to overcome that alienation, they recast those qualities as weaknesses.

For them, self-protection comes through dominance and intimidation.

It’s a strategy that can work in the short term, sometimes a few years even. But it inevitably fails because it’s harmful to others and, ultimately, to the self. The perpetrator doesn’t necessarily recognize that, of course. There’s a psychological component to vulnerability that includes a need for context and meaning. Solidarity with those of the same heritage and skin color, delusional as it may be (home DNA tests are proving just how “impure” we all are), fulfills that need. And to become notorious among one’s in-group through violence toward The Other is more fulfilling still.

How do we fight this? We start by recognizing that their cruelty and violence originate in a truth we all share: though they’d rather choke than admit it, they feel weak and vulnerable too. But their strategy is maladaptive, essentially the same as that of kids of color who form gangs. Which means there is no easy fix. We need to intervene early by showing them there’s a smarter way to get along in the world. But if that doesn’t work and they insist on harming others, we need to lock ’em up long enough to assure they never hurt anyone again.

The Avon River in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.