Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Mental Illness Equation and Induced Helplessness


One of the consistent narratives regarding the numerous mass shooting incidents in the United States is that of the "incomprehensible" and "senseless" actions of someone who suffers from some treated or untreated mental illness. In the case of the Sandy Hook School Shooter, Asperger's Syndrome has been brought up.

(Caveat: almost nothing at all reported about this incident or the alleged shooter has turned out to be accurate or true; the level of misinformation is higher in this incident than in some of the previous ones, but misinforming the public about what has happened, who is/was involved, and what factors may have played a role is the common narrative approach. Thus every one of these incidents take on a legendary aspect which is very difficult to break afterwards.)

The idea that "mental illness" is behind these incidents is easily digested by a gullible public, few of whom actually know anything about mental illness and what is -- and isn't -- actually being done for and about the mentally ill in this country.

Some people are subject to what used to be called psychotic breaks, and they can go on uncontrolled rampages. This has been true throughout human history, and by this time, it's not really a mystery that it can and does happen.

Sometimes these psychotic breaks and rampages can be induced by various drugs and medications. The meth monster and the speed freak are well known and mythologized variants of the psychotic break rampager-berzerker, but there are apparently quite a few other illicit drugs and licit medications that can bring on episodes of psychosis and rampage.

Claims that somehow the shooters in these seemingly endless incidents fit into one or another of the mental illness categories that can lead to psychotic breaks and rampages or that they are taking one or another drug or medication that can do it (or that they stopped taking a drug or medication) are fairly commonplace. It may even be true. And there are arguably far too few effective mental health services available in this country.

The problem is that if we know that incidents of mass murder can -- and do -- result from such things, and we ostensibly don't want mass murder as a routine part of our daily lives, it's probably not wise to continue to make guns so easily available to people who might be victims of this sort of mental illness, no?

But somehow that logic step is never taken among our High and Mighty. It simply doesn't register as an appropriate thing to do...

Instead, what we constantly hear about is the need for ever greater levels of "security" in our daily lives, whether it be at school or shopping or going to the movies or church. In other words, rather than dealing with the problems of treated and untreated mental illness, we must position armed guards everywhere, and an ever-expanding surveillance apparatus everywhere, in order to identify and track potential mass shooters and ideally prevent them from acting in the future.

Alternatively, we are told that "arming everyone" would make the likelihood of a mass shooter taking out more than a few people less likely because an armed bystander would then take out the shooter. This is fantasy, but oh well.

Then there is the notion that the problem is not guns or access to firearms at all; the problem is mental illness and lack of treatment. Or the wrong kind of treatment. Or alternatively, the problem is "bad people" and the proper response to bad people (summary execution) is not employed with enough rigor.

Yes, well. In the case of the mentally ill acting out, summary execution is SOP; dozens if not hundreds are killed by police every year. "Bad people" on the other hand often as not aren't dealt with quite as lethally.

The idea that mentally ill or bad people shouldn't have access to firearms is widely accepted, but in practice restricting access is an abstraction. Put another way, it's a good idea with no means of implementation without restricting access to firearms by "normal" people. We don't want to do that because of the all-important Sacred Second and Freedom.

So there's nothing we can do about it.

Just as there is nothing we can do about the unemployment problem. Nothing we can do about the growing economic inequality, either. Nothing we can do about the looming Fiscal Cliff except to "cut entitlements to show we are serious." Nothing we can do about anything that would make life better.

Helplessness in the face of crisis. Indifference in the face of suffering. Violence in the face of misery.

Get the picture?

The current emphasis on "puzzle pieces," heightened security and  "mental illness" provides us with many clues to how this incident will be resolved in the minds of authority and subsequently in the minds of the public. Just like every other mass shooting incident, the shooting will be deemed "senseless," the shooter's motivations will be deemed "incomprehensible." He was a "loner," "mentally ill," "easily picked on," so on and so forth. We must protect ourselves from these people. We will do so by heightening security at schools and all other public places; we will heighten surveillance of everyone, but our specific focus will be on "loners" and the "mentally ill."

There will be little or no effort to restrict access to firearms. Nino won't allow it.

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