Friday, December 14, 2012

Mass Murder and the Mind

not surprisingly, facebook today is full of anguished observations about the elementary school murders in connecticut.  mostly i read people calling for gun control.  and i'm with them.  these kids were murdered with weapons nobody needs for hunting or self-defense.

but we all know, i think, that better gun  control laws won't stop these things from happening--witness the similar killings of schoolchildren in china with axes and other accessible items whose purposes aren't to kill, but which can certainly do so.

social change on a large scale might help. but what change, and how to effect it?

 one thing apart from the killings themselves, i find alarming: several posts referred to the problem of "mental illness," which causes people to become killers.  i would certainly admit that anyone who commits this sort of murder is crazy.  but the reverse isn't true: not everyone who is crazy commits murder.  yes, i know, 'crazy' is a bad word.  but it is large enough to encompass many different, severe forms of mental illness, and we know it's used routinely to describe mental illness.  and 'mental illness' is the expression being used.

what i fear is the prejudice against people with mental illness that has always been part of our culture and that often still rears its head when society becomes fearful in the wake of large crime.  i'm not afraid for myself--my own form of 'mental illness' is very mild, and often in the mental-health world not even described as illness.  I'm clinically depressed.  but the veiled attacks on mental illness do hit home.  

i don't have the beginnings of an answer besides gun control, and since many of these sorts of murder are committed by students in the school, some sort of process that would sort out the truly potentially dangerous kids early enough to get them help.

but my fear is that this is simply part of human nature, from the beginings of history on.  read the Iliad--  the great joy of killing in war, the very detailed, sensual descriptions of individual killings.  read about the inquisition.  read simply the stories of less dramatic but pretty awful murders in any culture and any era.  maybe if ours were not a violence-glorifying culture, both on a media level and on a political level, it would help.  maybe if it weren't essential for our culture to have class systems that require some people to feel hatred of themselves and others, we would lessen mass killings of every sort.  but please don't blame the mentally ill, who are more likely to be victims of violence than its perpetrators.

No comments: