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Wednesday, April 18. 2007
Virginia Tech and the fantasy of safety
I have written three versions of a short piece on the VT massacre, but was not satisfied with any of them.
My main points were to have been that such events are unpreventable, and so rare as to make planning for them almost absurd. Many college kids act strange, and are quirky; many write Quentin Tarantino-type stuff, and many are angry about one thing or another, but it doesn't mean a thing.
And, often enough, sadly, college-age kids have psychotic breaks that can go relatively unnoticed for periods of time. I am not asserting that that is what happened, because often mass murderers are not clinically psychotic, but it seems likely from today's new information. My point is that the often-mentioned "clear warning signs" are always retrospective.
Everybody is a genius at connecting dots in retrospect. And no-one, I believe, is an expert on murder sprees: they are too rare, and the inner demons are too variable.
Classical Values summarizes the shrink-related thoughts from other bloggers, and SISU has additional summaries. I can refute many of the quoted assertions, but I won't.
The overarching psychological issue, I believe, is the notion that terrible things should not occur in life. Random terrible things happen every day to many people all over the globe, and always will. Tsunamis will come, and earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides, and diseases and plagues; people will go berserk, wars will happen, and bombers will plant bombs; multi-car crashes will occur, and roller-coasters will collapse.
The idea that random terrible events are preventable, and that life could somehow be made thoroughly safe, sanitary, and secure, is a childish fantasy, or even a delusion. We bubble-wrapped Americans specialize in that fantasy, but most of the rest of the world understands better that life is a dangerous enterprise, and not Disney World.
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Fox & NBC playing the killer's self-made videotaped manifesto, straight up. Gad, what a prompt for borderline copycats.
"The importance of being noticed" makes the world go 'round:
For Shame: http://sisu.typepad.com/sisu/2007/04/we_just_enjoyed.html
Perhaps, we should find a florist in the town where his mother lives, and send her some flowers. My God how alone she must feel. I would like to see her porch loaded with flowers from other parents, who understand her pain.
Well said Dr. Bliss. Such events are unpreventable if we are too live in a free and open society, at least I can't see how it could be otherwise. Though the anti-gun bandwagon to come will manage to overlook that particular bit of wisdom.
I'm with you Buddy on the 'copycat' promotion. I see no need for NBC to cover this as they are doing. Some filters and distillation should be in order.
The one thing missing, for me, in the reporting and other conversation of this heinous act, is one simple word. Coward. This man was a coward in so many ways. His behavior should be ostracized as such. I remember the first words out of my mouth on 9/11, "what cowardly bastards."
Maybe I'm wrong in that assertion, but I think not.
That's a good thought AP. Let me know if I can do something.
Re the shame subject: Feeling shame makes people angry, for sure. But we all experience shame, and being shamed, in life. Killing is an entirely different matter.
I dunno. Of course we have sympathy for the parents (there but for the grace of God), but, really, if anyone should've understood his schizophrenia (or whatever it was), and would have had the leverage (emotional and financial, for starters) to get him into a program or under supervision, it was them, his parents.
I understand this is a very superficial statement, made without any knowledge of details.
I mean, think about it, you're 23, single, friendless, and insane --which relationship can direct you, if not your parents? Where were they? Probably lost in helpless despair, as far as their son was concerned --and waiting for him to 'grow out of it'. Oops --wrong approach.
Dr. B., I'm not very clever in matters of the intellect. I assume your 'shame' is my 'ostracism.' My use of the term is in its historical sense, at least as I recall my reading. I realize I'm warming a large ball of wax here. But the killing of innocents is normally taboo, except in the most extreme circumstances. It is just that I see, not a glorification exactly, but an acceptance of such cowardly deeds by individuals as being the norm and not the exception. Powers that have been reserved in the past for purposes of sovereign integrity are now being accepted for personal delusional ego. Show my ignorance here, but acceptance of that gestalt, I feel, is not the way too proceed. It is not just shame, but guilt, that sometimes prevents aberrant deeds. We are losing all constraints on civilized behavior. But it is that very word, civilized, that makes many angry.
BL, I had your thoughts in mind as I replied to AP. But for all we know this ass hid all from his parents. Only let himself go (his plays) in the venue in which he knew he would receive no reproach. Who knows, a coward in not letting his parents see his demented self, a coward for his last actions. A coward all the way round.
Agree that these things cannot be prevented. Without in any way wanting to minimize this beast's wicked behavior, what strikes me (as in all such cases) is the waste. First of the victims' lives. But second, the wasteland that inadequately treated mental illness makes first of the life of the sufferer, then the pain and rage they turn outwards on the world.
We are so obsessed as a culture with preserving people's "rights" not to be confined, that we often fail to treat them when they suffer from conditions that, by definition, cause them to think nothing is wrong with them, only with the world. Florid mania, in relatives of mine, has led to paranoia and violence. Picture a 5 foot woman surrounded by 4 husky cops, guns drawn to get her to drop a knife she is waving at them. Six months later, illness finaly exhausted, she has forgotten what happened, and thinks nothing is wrong with her. The only way someone like this gets needed care and meds is if they are forced on them, if they are committed long enough to bring mania and or delusions under control.
However another aspect of this story (besides the tale of another mentally ill person who fell thru the cracks and who committed mayhem) is that, yet again, all mentally ill people will be tarred with guilt by association with this bastard of the Virginia shootings. Most mentally ill people are not murderers. Perhaps they voice their violent fantasies more freely than a more prudent "sane" person, but stories like this scare me.
When I read the quickie profiles of the textbook shooter, I shudder. Things like "We all know the characteristics--loner, mental health problems, possibly delusional, yada yada yada. " And talk of people shamed, and brooding, and feeling angry at more privileged others, etc. I wonder how many frustrated, difficult, ugly, awkward but basically harmless and well meaning young people will be further stigmatized and shied away from by their peers, teachers and potential helpers who ignorantly cast them as future shooters.
Remember that to the policeman, the world is divided into perpetrators and those not yet caught. As some commentators have rightly observed, we call everyone with a diagnosis "insane" regardless of the difference between violent criminals, chronically depressed, autistic, manic, paranoid schizophrenics, narcissists, OCD accountants, etc. I would hate to think that in the legitimate desire to prevent future tragedies like this Virginia one, people start thinking of unpopular, obnoxious loners as all either shooters or potential ones....
Stigma is a huge barrier to people seeking care. I recently visited my old college with my kid. We walked by the student health services where I had walked in suicidal a quarter century ago and been sent out with instructions to get on a waiting list at the state clinic as they wouldn't treat me. Not included in tuition. I went back to my dorm room and did not emerge except for the occasional meal for three months. In a black hole. No diagnosis. No meds. No therapy. No followup. I didn't shoot anyone, I didn't want to. But I knew that if I went anywhere and got a diagnosis, got treatment, I would always be an object of suspicion.
I do think that one small part of prevention, should be increased mental health services on college campuses. And not simply the nonsense of quickie cognitive behavioral time limited therapy (which works better the stupider and more naive you are). The mood disorders and schizophrenia tend to emerge during these years, or cause the most disruption. And, yet, ironically, this is often a time when kids are uninsured or underinsured.
University health services are usually adequate for needed things like birth control, antibiotics for strep, etc. But they are terrified of the expense of therapy and meds, and rightly skittish about diagnosing, ie stigmatising kids about to spread their wings. If university health services could view it as part of their mission to diagnose and coach kids with mental health issues how to manage their health, their futures would be both happier and more productive. And there might be fewer tragedies like this one.
Please do not say I am advocating a Nanny State. I am not.
My feeling about mental illness is that with adequate treatment, its sufferers should be able to love and work and take all the boring responsibilities of adult life upon themselves that "sane" people do. With no excuses or whining about life not being fair. With no mooching off anyone, or loafing in depressing idleness. But without adequate care, it is obvious that not only does their illness make them a burden and charge, but a tiny subset may harm society.
You may be right, retriever, about this guy's salvability. Wretchard @ Belmont related a comment that maybe a good orthodontist could've fixed his "bird chin" (implying that this might've "let" him bond to other human beings).
BL, I don't think any of us can judge who is salvageable or not. Maybe this guy wasn't. His face is chilling, not just ugly. But we never know. I still tend towards the judgmental, so rather doubt this particular guy could have been saved...Then smack myself upside my head and remind myself that with man these things are impossible, but all things are possible with God...
The thing is, with a dog that bites, you put it down. But you have to try to save another human. It isn't that I am soft on crime or mushy about people being basically good. We're all sinners. As BD reminds us, if we acted on all of our feelings, we'd be in jail
Obviously, I'm no forensic psychologist like that Dr. Helen...but I just don't think even the worst murderers started out wanting to do the appalling things they ended up doing. I think they took one wrong turn then another, and nobody was able to get them to put themselves straight again. The appeasement process occurs in the way people often deal with violent and hostile people as with Hitler--fearing to stand up to them, punish or discipline or treat them early on, leads to far worse trouble later on. Yet even the most self-satisfied amongst us need others holding us accountable, nagging, pushing, cajoling us to do the right thing. Precious few (except perhaps my spouse) can be right in isolation...that old phrase of the church as a school for sinners comes to mind.
Off to sleep. Another college tour with the kid tomorrow, and will try not to scope out this place as the others this week for safe hiding places for my ewe lamb in the event of some violent madman going for people...taking one's darling kid to visit just makes one ache for those stricken Virginia parents...
right you are, you can multiply each death times six or eight loved ones, for the number of people permanently more or less shattered.
Luther re 'coward', check out this Mark Steyn column, esp the italicized part about the incident in Canada.
Good flip of the coin there Buddy. We all worried about being cowards when the time came. Few were. But Mark is right I think, few now as brave as Professor Lebrescu, 'they' are trying to breed it out. But you know I speak of something different.
Down into the column, he writes of this:
"14 female students of the Ecole Polytechnique were murdered by Marc Lepine (born Gamil Gharbi, the son of an Algerian Muslim wife-beater, though you’d never know that from the press coverage). As I wrote up north a few years ago:
Yet the defining image of contemporary Canadian maleness is not M Lepine/Gharbi but the professors and the men in that classroom, who, ordered to leave by the lone gunman, meekly did so, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate — an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history. The “men” stood outside in the corridor and, even as they heard the first shots, they did nothing. And, when it was over and Gharbi walked out of the room and past them, they still did nothing. Whatever its other defects, Canadian manhood does not suffer from an excess of testosterone."
(end quote) Steyn is Canadian, so he can be so frank.
Niall Ferguson discusses Nassim Taleb's new book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, in The Telegraph. The piece echoes some of the themes in Dr. Bliss' Virginia Tech and the Fantasy of Safety. Quote from Ferguson:... it is Taleb's assa
Tracked: Apr 30, 06:39