The Disturbing Case Of Vince Weiguang Li

Recent headlines proclaiming the orgy of death and suffering witnessed by passengers aboard a Greyhound bus traveling through Canada from Edmonton to Winnipeg, cannot have failed to shock all but the most callous among us.[1] The tale unfolded of a young man hacked to death, his head cut from his shoulders. Finally, and most gruesomely, we heard how his attacker paraded up and down the bus, once other passengers had managed to disembark, holding the severed head aloft while eating parts of his victim.

Perhaps the questions on most lips was how and why anyone could bring themselves to commit an act surely best confined to a horror by Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King.

In fact, such gruesome crimes are not uncommon. I was reminded of this while reading Vineyard Views this week. Al Devito links to an article describing how a man in Greece cut off the head of his girlfriend and paraded it around the local town. Also in the news, the case of a missing British girl found murdered and dismembered in Brazil.[2]

Three factors differentiate the bus murder from these others: 1) the crime was committed in full view of witnesses, 2) the victim was totally unknown to the assailant, and 3) the attacker ate parts of his victim. It is, in fact, only these factors that make the crime less than commonplace. Yet it is these very elements, particularly the first and third, that create the sense of horror and disbelief that drives to the core of our revulsion.

How could anyone debase themselves sufficient to perform such a heinous act? The only acceptable explanation is mental illness. But ‘mental illness’ is a convenient blanket covering a multitude of conditions. My own mother suffered a period of mental illness, though she could never have resorted to the crimes of Vince Weiguang Li, the perpetrator of the Canada bus slaying.

Maybe our difficulty in understanding what happened on that Greyhound bus has more to do with how we view ourselves, than any need to understand the motives of the killer.

Modern day society causes us to assess ourselves from the top down, rather than the bottom up. Instead of comprehending our actions based on where we’ve come from – our evolution – we are taught to be one stage lower than the gods. Constantly seeking the approval of a Creator, our minds have become detached from their distant ancestral base. Unfortunately, our brains have not.

Millions of years ago reptiles ruled the planet. It was a stark, unpleasant place. Reptiles had only the most basic of brain structures, but it was all they needed to survive in a ‘kill or be killed’ environment. Indeed, the prime motive for killing was food for survival.

The brain evolved over many millenia into what we have today. It did so, not by replacing what was already there, but through a process of addition, rather as a company might build its business upwards from a basement office into a multi-storey skyscraper.

Eons later, most employees aren’t even aware the basement exists. It’s now used to provide the rest of the building with its very basic services – still important, but much overlooked.

In fact, we visit this basement of our brain frequently, though rarely realizing we’ve been there. It’s responsible for the basic ingredients of our ‘flight or fight’ responses, though the ‘limbic’ or secondary section of the triune brain,[3] first espoused by Paul D. MacLean[4] in 1952, is also associated with this behavior. The human brain is such a complex organ that interaction between all three levels, the reptilian (or R-complex), paleomammalian and neomammalian, is continual.

The term ‘reptilian’ is sufficient to make us shudder. Most of us have an inbuilt revulsion to these cold-blooded, apparently emotionless, creatures. Any idea of a link between humanity and the reptilian is quickly rejected. Yet the link is both deep and strong. We all harbor reptilian tendencies within us. They are as much a part of our make-up as is the appreciation of art or fine music, but the achievement of their suppression has been one of the major challenges for human society through the ages. Unfortunately, like all things suppressed they occasionally burst out, as an airbag suddenly appears from nowhere when inflated by the impact of a car accident.

While I doubt anyone’s proved it yet, my belief is that extreme and sudden violence stems from the reptilian brain. We are all capable of it, yet in just a few of us, it seems possible the R-complex can completely override other brain functions, forcing them into submission and allowing the reptilian to take control. This would account for the otherwise unfathomable behavior exhibited by Vince Weiguang Li on the ill-fated greyhound bus.

While reptiles are not associated with self-awareness, some trigger must cause the creatures to feed. It’s possible the trigger is a basic, instinctive, form of the emotion that, in us, has evolved into intense pleasure. While scientists would probably argue the trigger is a purely visual response i.e. if it moves, eat it, that theory works fine for ancient reptiles, but in our more advanced brains, the killing instinct of the reptile combines with emotions unknown to this lowly, less evolved creature.

It’s my contention that Vince Weiguang Li experienced control by his reptilian brain, probably over a long period. The desire to kill became stronger and stronger, until eventually it was irresistible. His evolved brain would have fought against the primitive urge using reason and logic, creating an intense conflict psychiatrists would classify as psychosis.

The powerful, instinctive urges of the R-complex won out. Vince Weiguang Li had no choice but to kill. The intense satisfaction of the act caused him to mutilate his victim far beyond what was necessary simply to take life. To experience satiation, Li had to commit the ultimate, primeval act, and eat part of his kill.

What caused this degeneration into base, animalistic, behavior? It’s difficult to pin down, but for whatever reason, it would appear to be on the increase. As previously stated, the Greyhound bus incident was not the only example in recent days, though certainly the most obscene.

It’s known that violence breeds violence. Lack of respect for one’s fellow beings is a necessary prerequisite for war, whether in reality as in Iraq, or on the screen via movies or video games. The continual titillation of our reptilian brain with media-fed violence seems a likely ingredient in the recipe for disaster that culminated in the gruesome death of Tim McClean.

It may well have been just one of many other factors. Certainly, ‘mental illness’ would have played a part. Interestingly, following his arrest, Li begged the police to kill him. Did he, perhaps, feel it was the only way to prevent him repeating his crime?

If we spent more time concentrating on where we’ve come from, and accepting the dark, primeval cellars lurking in our minds, rather than concerning ourselves solely with the religious view of where we’re going and how ‘good’ we have to be to get there, it might be possible to better understand the primeval motivations driving those like Vince Weiguang Li, and maybe, just maybe, prevent another, similar, appalling incident.

[1] “Passenger beheaded on Canada bus” BBC, July 31st 2008

[2] “Man ‘admits Brazil girl murder'” BBC, Aug 1st 2008

[3] “Triune brain” Wikipedia

[4] “Paul D McClean” Wikipedia

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7 Replies to “The Disturbing Case Of Vince Weiguang Li”

  1. An interesting theory, RJ. I’ve also read that the reptilitan brain figures strongly in the development of our visual language. Stark images can emerge from the pre-limbic part of ourselves, such as have been displayed in this case.

    Something, however, keeps bothering me about it.

    Everyone says that he was so completely normal during the bustrip, until one thing happened. He went to talk to a young woman during a bus break. After that, he moved his things over to where Tim McClean was sitting, almost as if he had been directed to do so. Then, after they’d cleared city limits twenty minutes later, he stood up and went into action.

    That he was carrying a hunting knife and knew all too well how to use it does not bespeak a random event. He acted ‘like a robot’… mechanically, like someone falling back on trained reflexes. The trophy he carried up to the front of the bus to display (to who? to show that the deed was done?) bespeaks assassination. And as a professional hunter, of course he partook of the kill, as you mentioned. That is not unusual behaviour for assassins.

    His subsequent silence is what one would expect of someone forbidden to speak of authority’s orders. His plea for death is understandable if one sees the operation in this light…

    Why was this seemingly innocent young man murdered in such a horrible manner? Unfortunately, we really cannot rely on the murderer to provide this information.

    Nobody has mentioned who this young lady is who seemed to play such a pivotal role in this story. I wonder if her side of the story might shed some light on this morbid turn of events.

  2. We will do almosat anything, and do, to circumvent the feeling of being no one. One antedote is extreme acts, to get attention, to say I not only exist, I am a beast, a really ‘bad person’ who deserves to be eliminated. He can view his own death as proof for his existence because it was, and now it is gone. Such acts reaffirm the fiction control exists, and we have it, but truth suggests it is a myth to be dismissed because if there is no control, how do we know there is anyone at all? His act reestablished the fiction control exists, and for his peace of mind, it was worth it.
    His act, in his mind, made him a significant someone, as measured against his immigrant status, the fraustration of low pay, and the agony or being no one in a strange land where everyone seems like they are someone. Life seems to feature the sum of what we do to defend the fiction we are someone. How much stuff do we require to qualify as someone? If you have nothing, or you feel you are not a viable contender in the contest, what are your options? In a split second, only intense drama would work to dispel his date with truth: there is no one to be anything and nothing can offset that fact except acceptance of the truth. Truht was nowhere to be found on the fateful day on the bus. This issue will reasset itsert time and time again because left unaddresssed, it will result in “incomprehensible acts”.

  3. Very well written piece, RJA. In a workshop several years ago, we did address this reptilian side of our primitive cellular selves.
    We need to acknowledge, repulsive and appalling though it is to comprehend, that there is a Li dwelling within each and every one of us. How we keep it in check is in enhancing the ‘higher’ and ‘better’ components of our psyches. Our spiritual selves in the terminology of some. Recognizing the ‘soul’ in all who cross our paths.
    Li didn’t. His reptilian aspect triumphed.
    This would have been fruit for exorcism in the old days.
    Now we know better?
    And as you rightly say, we have this evil all round us 24/7. We only have to think of Abu Graib and the unthinkable perversions that are being carried out in the name of ‘terrorist’ interrogations.
    XO
    WWW

  4. wasnt tim mclean of 1st nation heritage.
    im sure this helped vince li case. 1st nation people are often thought of as not worthy.
    before you know it vince li will be out enjoying the sunshine and not behind bars but free as a bird.
    what a sick world we live in.

  5. The reptilian.. it is an interesting theory indeed and I’m sure it can explain some cases but not this one. I’ve been researching like Li’s for 8 years now and although not all are as horrific and gruesome as this one, most seem to share words of God and Evil. They share a belief that they are killing either in the sake of God’s name because they’ve been commanded (voices the attacker hears) or they truly believe the victim is a demon or evil spirit of some sort and believe they are doing good by expiring the victim.
    Such as this case we left that detail out..
    There is just something else going on. Take the Sergio Aguiar’s case.. the father killed his own child and said it had demons while the killing was taking place yet was calm as if no one was watching him just like Li when stabbing was taking place. They don’t fear or worry about anything because in their head and belief system they are acting out something “good” by putting something “evil” out.
    Yet the father was known to be a very loving father. I am pretty sure this guy probably shared some of the “voice” or being “spoken to” symptoms just like Li’s and many others I can recall.

    What has been puzzling to me about this particular case was the cannibalism which now the RX factor can actually explain that and it would make sense.
    Still very troublesome and difficult to blame soley on that.

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