Monday, June 09, 2014
Isn't there anything we can do about this shit?
I'm guessing you're probably like me, and you're starting to get a little bit tired of wackos committing random acts of mass murder. Yeah, it's a bad thing.
So everybody's got a diagnosis and a prescription. Better mental health services. Rooting out misogyny and delusional extremism from the culture. Making it harder for nutcases to get guns. All that sounds good, if not necessarily evidently possible, but . . .
Here's the problem, looking at this from a public health perspective. We really don't know how to predict that somebody is going to be violent. Well, that's not quite true -- past violent behavior is a useful predictor of future violent behavior. There is an elevated risk of violence among people who are simultaneously seriously and persistently mentally ill, and also have substance abuse disorder, but even there it's only a minority. But being mentally ill, as a general category, is not predictive of violence. Most people who commit bizarre acts of violence against strangers could be said after the fact to have a diagnosable mental disorder, but that's really tautological. Whether you want to say that people who behave in extremely deviant ways have a disease or not is really just a semantic argument, it doesn't mean anything. The point is, we can't predict.
And that's really nut. We aren't about to start restricting political speech in this country, and we shouldn't. Direct threats of violence can be against the law, but Glenn Beck's conspiracy theories and George Will's endorsement of rape and Bill O'Reilly's provocations against abortion providers -- you just can't draw the line. If the culture is full of angry, hate filled people with ideas that they use to justify violence, there isn't any law you can pass against it.
And, we can't start taking rights away from people who get a diagnosis of mental illness, that we extend to everybody else. In case you didn't know it, the vast majority of people qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis at some point in their lives, if not all the time. Getting a psychiatric diagnostic label is pretty much a random event that doesn't mean anything.
Finally, by now, the U.S. is saturated with firearms. We're never going to recall them. I'm all for reasonable regulation, just like we regulate cars and drivers, but that's not going to stop a nutjob.
So, if we could improve our ability to predict who's going to go postal, we might be able to do something. But until that happens, I despair.