We are protagonists »« The land of denial

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  1. Francisco Bacopa says

    This might be a good cartoon for people who are committed to the idea that ER must have been mentally ill while still allowing them to assign blame to misogyny. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Soldiers kill. Are they mentally ill? Almost always not, though they sometimes become ill by killing.

    And keep in mind that there are many different standards of what counts as mental illness. Medicine has its criteria, but most legal definitions of mental illness in the US are based on on the 1843 M’naghten case in the UK. If ER had survived his spree he would not have been deemed insane by our laws based on the M’naghten case.

    I believe Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell -Tale Heart is a critique of the M’naghten Rules.

  2. says

    Another frustrating thing-what mental illness did Elliot suffer from? Many people are quick to claim he was mentally ill, as if that tells us anything.

    I’ve asked several people- “Which mental illness did he have, and how do you know that?”
    Thus far, I’ve gotten no answer on the former, and the only answer I get on the latter boils down to circular reasoning (his murder spree was evidence of mental illness, b/c you have to be mentally ill to kill a lot of people).

  3. Al Dente says

    Rodger posted several YouTube videos and published a long manifesto, all of which showed his racism and misogyny. Whether or not he was mentally ill is impossible for the non-mental health professional to determine, let alone guess which form of illness he supposedly had. However there is no doubt about his misogyny. He went out of his way to parade his hatred of women publicly and in various venues.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Quite a few people died of AIDS before the medical profession even identified a causative virus.

    Does the fact that (apparently) several psychologists were unable to agree on a standardized diagnosis mean that Rodger was actually sane?

    The word games about all this going on at FtB, particularly in Pharyngula threads, bring me back to my perennial wish for more and better education on epistemology, semantics, and critical thinking. Why is it that the hardest subject for our minds to grasp is … our minds?

  5. Al Dente says

    What difference does it make if Rodger was “cray-cray” or whatever description of his mental health you want to use? Nobody and that’s NOBODY other than a forensic psychologist can even attempt to make a diagnosis of Rodger’s mental health status. However we can read his manifesto and watch his YouTube videos to determine his feelings towards women.

  6. says

    I still don’t like the application of mental illness by people that obviously don’t have any idea about how to identify it.

    That being said it’s a pretty clever metaphor and might even be useful. An “If there was mental illness, and we have no reason to think so, his…” or something better worded would have been better.

  7. says

    People can be driven to horrendous acts by mental illness, but also by conditioning. Does anyone really believe or claim that the entire German populace of 1933-1945 was mentally ill?

    Admitting that conditioning was the cause means admitting there was an outside cause that needs to be dealt with. It’s so much easier pretending everything happens in a vacuum.

  8. Al Dente says

    Cross-posted from Pharyngula:

    Whether or not Rodger was mentally ill is actually a moot point. If he was there’s nothing we can do about it at this point. However the misogynist culture which nurtured his hatred of women can be examined, can be analyzed, and hopefully can be curtailed.

    I’m made angry by the MRAs and other misogyny apologizers saying: “The only thing driving Rodger was his mental illness.” That’s bullshit! He was a flat-out misogynist. He saw women as things, not people. He talked about killing all women because they weren’t meeting his expectations to be compliant sex objects. Who told him that women weren’t even sub-human? The patriarchal culture did. Women were objects because they are continually objectified. Women are lesser than men because the patriarchal culture continually says so. That’s what has to be dealt with. Rodger’s possible mental illness is a red herring. The misogynist, patriarchal culture is real.

  9. Pliny the in Between says

    Couple of items – There is a lot of substantive information about this case that allows a reasonable individual to use the term mental illness without regret. For example, it was reported that the local police department was asked to conduct a wellness check on Rodger by his mental health case worker. The presence of a mental health case worker is at least a hint to the possibility that he was undergoing treatment for mental illness. With the overwhelmed state of most mental health systems, it would be unlikely that someone without such a diagnosis would qualify. The wellness check isn’t something done lightly. It means that this mental health worker was concerned about his state of mind and the possibility that he posed a risk of danger to himself and/or others. Unfortunately, the police are not optimized for behavioral assessments and for whatever reason, he was not taken in to an ED for a detailed assessment.

    Having been a member of a tertiary trauma system for more than 2 decades prior to my retirement and having worked on community care delivery systems that include a strong behavioral psych component, I unfortunately have more than a passing knowledge of the pathology. I also have managed the aftermath of GSW injuries in patients of all ages including pre-schoolers. In my own experience at least 20% of my patients had debilitating psychiatric pathology often overlaid with substance abuse issues. Outside of closed mental health facilities, it’s hard to find an institution that treats a wider range of behavioral health issues than the urban trauma center. I agree that the term should not be used lightly, but I don’t think that it is inappropriate in this case. No doubt other elements and traits contributed.

    As for the panel itself, well, once you release it, others are free to see it as they may. For me, the intent was to remind people that mental illness and misogyny aren’t mutually exclusive. It is possible to be mentally ill. It is possible to be a misogynist. It is also possible to be a mentally ill misogynist.

  10. Pliny the in Between says

    To an extent, Al, the panel was intended to make the point you mentioned in your last comment. The presence of mental illness in no way removes the issue of his particular hatred toward women and it’s possible origins. In fact this case touches on at least three critical areas – access to firearms, cultural abuse of women, and the mental health system. It is possible to champion all three.

  11. theoreticalgrrrl says

    It’s not even about whether this particular person suffered from a mental illness. I keep seeing people write that the act of shooting and killing six innocent people is automatically diagnostic of mental illness. That only a mentally ill individual could possible open fire and murder random people.

  12. leni says

    Whether or not Rodger was mentally ill is actually a moot point. If he was there’s nothing we can do about it at this point.

    Not being able to change the past is true for everything, always.

    His family reported him to the police. They knew that something was terribly wrong and they sought help.”Moot” doesn’t really seem like the best way to describe that.

  13. Maureen Brian says

    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 is that there is no 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.

  14. Pliny the in Between says

    This series of comments is a microcosm of the problems being raised by the Rodger case. On one hand, it would be easy to simply ignore the objections to my panel as either missing the point or over-reacting to an element of the work that is peripheral to its intent – unfortunately, that’s precisely the kind of thing that the panel was about in the first place – dismissing concerns about the cultural contributions to Rodger’s hatred of women as over-reacting. After all, if he is mentally ill there’s nothing we can really do about that – nothing we can learn about ourselves. That would be much tidier than having to address his access to guns and his exposure to a culture of hate. ‘I can’t fix his brain chemistry but I might have to get off my duff and do something about these other issues. ‘

    So instead I will simply thank you for the food for thought.

  15. Stacy says

    Pliny, thanks for the comic and for your insight.

    I have a question I’ve been hesitating to ask because I’m afraid it may just serve to boost the noise over the signal: Aren’t personality disorders distinct from mental illnesses? Is that a distinction without a difference as far as cultural perceptions are concerned?

    I’m curious about it, but if Rodger had a PD but no mental illness, I’m not sure that that would change the conversation.

  16. Pliny the in between says

    That’s a good point Stacy. Delusional psychosis vs personality disorder is a valid consideration.

  17. says

    @ Pliny the in between 9
    First let me say that I still like the way you relate hypothetical mental illness to misogyny. It very neatly frames the role that his hatred played in his reasoning and motivation. I like it and I hope to see this spin on the situation influence the argument in positive directions. But…

    For example, it was reported that the local police department was asked to conduct a wellness check on Rodger by his mental health case worker. The presence of a mental health case worker is at least a hint to the possibility that he was undergoing treatment for mental illness. With the overwhelmed state of most mental health systems, it would be unlikely that someone without such a diagnosis would qualify.

    The problem is that this still conflates mental health services, which treat a lot more than people that are mentally ill, with people that are mentally ill. I’m seeing a psychologist for emotional reactions based distorted ways of seeing myself and other things and none of it is mental illness. It’s all the same sorts of bad reasoning about one’s life that many of us are prone to. Ruminating on intense emotions can take all of us down bad paths.

    With the overwhelmed state of most mental health systems, it would be unlikely that someone without such a diagnosis would qualify. The wellness check isn’t something done lightly.

    I’m not willing to accept this at face value. How do we know that this was not a person that came to unhealthy reasoning about things through culture and choice? Mental health services can still be called for such a situation and diagnoses that can create a personality that came about without something being wrong with the plumbing that removes choice.

    In my own experience at least 20% of my patients had debilitating psychiatric pathology often overlaid with substance abuse issues. Outside of closed mental health facilities, it’s hard to find an institution that treats a wider range of behavioral health issues than the urban trauma center. I agree that the term should not be used lightly, but I don’t think that it is inappropriate in this case. No doubt other elements and traits contributed.

    I still think that it’s inappropriate because it still conflates culture and choice derived psychological issues, and the term “mental illness” still includes too many people without criminal impulse issues and lets others with less education and experience tie mental illness to violent people too easily.

    I also still think that it deemphasizes misogyny, though not irrationally since the intention is to provide a way to get people to keep misogyny in mind when they might otherwise focus on mental illness. So don’t think that I’m saying that the attempt is not actually useful. I just think there is a better way to frame it.

  18. says

    A slight expansion of my previous comment.

    I also still think that it deemphasizes misogyny, though not irrationally since the intention is to provide a way to get people to keep misogyny in mind when they might otherwise focus on mental illness. So don’t think that I’m saying that the attempt is not actually useful. I just think there is a better way to frame it.

    The deemphasis of misogyny would be at the broader cultural level, but it would be effectively emphasizing misogyny for an individual that might not otherwise emphasize it and so this would be useful.

  19. says

    The “he was mentally ill, so you can’t discuss anything else” comes up when someone wants to talk about easy access to weapons as well.

    There were likely many factors that produced Eliot Rodger. Misogyny certainly; mental illness, quite possible (evidence of care by mental health professionals); access to guns, certainly. We could probably come up with several more; in fact, each of these factors is really a collection of a lot of them. We could then draw an n-axis diagram and find the intersection of all of these and say “There! There is Eliot Rodger!”

    That wouldn’t be useful, except to show that no one factor overwhelms all of the others. The question should not be “what is the one thing we fix?” but how do we address all of these issues? We can’t prevent another Eliot Rodger by just addressing mental illness, or guns, or misogyny. It’s important that we have debates on all of these things.

    That said, it’s not necessary that any one forum address all of the issues. It’s perfectly reasonable that misogyny be discussed here, while another place discusses how the mental health system failed Rodger. What no one should do is use the existence of one factor to deny the existence of the others.

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