We may be edging towards something useful here.
We have already dismissed those who just want to say that Rodger was mentally ill therefore we need think about it no more.
What we need to do – and it is going to be difficult with the subject of the discussion dead – is pick apart the important question of whether Elliot Rodger was both mentally ill and also mentally ill in a way which rendered him insane and thus not in control of his actions or with any insight into their effect. This, I understand, is what M’naghten was about but I don’t know enough to say more than that.
There are vast numbers of people who have made the odd visit with a psychiatrist, who have had the odd couple of weeks on diazepam and could sometimes have used the support of a mental health worker – who are more often social workers than medical people. We are the people all around you who have manageable levels of SAD or bi-polar, who have the odd panic attack , who don’t and never will present a threat.
No way are we insane. Part of the problem with mental health stigma is that we are actively discouraged from making that distinction, from acknowledging that mentally and emotionally we all have bad days, better days and good days. Just like everyone else does with their wonky knee or their digestive system. Oh, no. To suit the simplistic worldview we must each be entirely normal – not a useful concept – or totally and permanently dangerous like something in an early Victorian novel. Either or. That is why Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde scared the wits out of its first readers, though in the longer term it simply cemented the comic book definition of madness.
There is also the whole question of the etiology of mental illness. I know that Maudsley in London has been doing a lot of work on this, especially on the links between drug dependency, symptoms of what we used to call schizophrenia and the stresses and strains of poverty and detachment from social and geographic roots. It seems to be a very complex chicken and egg puzzle so that the old “born with a brain prone to …” and “it was the drugs wot caused it” explanations no longer work.
The finer points of this are way above my pay grade but is there someone here who could explain better than I have?
The good bit about researching that conundrum is that in inner city South London there is no shortage of live subjects. Mass killers tend to come one or two at a time and in many cases they are delivered to us dead. Not an ideal situation if we are trying work out the interface between political motivation, anger at some section of the population and the tip over from violent fantasy into violent action.
When Anders Behring Breivik was safely in custody the cries from the US to kill him pronto could be heard on this side of the Atlantic. Never mind the guns for a minute but is there something in the American psyche which would rather risk it happening again than understand why it happened this time? With Breivik we may eventually know why. With Rodger we never can but we should not be dissuaded from asking political questions – by the NRA or the Santa Barbara police or by anyone else.