It’s a special kind of crazy when a bunch of kids get shot
When it’s labeled mental illness… and it’s not.
It’s a part of human nature we find frightening, and thus
We will do our best to label it… “not us.”
There are parts of our society which all could shoulder blame
But we’d rather hold responsible… one name.
We could build a safer culture, but you see, the trouble is
We deny that it’s our problem… cos it’s his.
Two thoughts, one on either side of the coin. Firstly, the number of people living with one form or other of “mental illness” (I use the term for convenience, while disagreeing with much of what it implies, but that is a looooong post for another time) is vast, and mostly invisible (nearly a quarter of the adult population in America, in a given year, deal with a diagnosable mental illness). Most of the people I have ever worked with have seen a doctor or therapist for anxiety or depression in the time I have known them. Longtime readers know that I, myself, occasionally lose the battle and need to retreat from the world.
So if we want to search for “mental illness” as a cause of any given incident, there are very good odds that we can find “evidence” in the recent past of any given individual. And such a finding would be essentially meaningless. It doesn’t predict such incidents, but does help to stigmatize mental illness, and does help to prevent people from seeking help, so as to avoid that label.
The other side of the coin… “human nature”–the vast spectrum of behaviors that encompass what we do–includes bits we are not proud of. Human nature includes heroism and barbarism; self-sacrifice and greed; cruelty and kindness. Human nature includes, without any need to assert “illness”, the ability to kill one another, as well as the ability to put oneself in harm’s way to save someone else. We love to give ourselves credit for the good things we do (individually and collectively), but do our best to distance ourselves from the bad.
And there is danger in this self-protective tendency. When we give ourselves credit, and deny ourselves blame, we paint an inaccurate picture of ourselves, and we deny the influences around us that led to our actions. We did good because we are good, not because of this or that factor. They (never we) did bad because of some innate evil, or flaw, or something that somehow allows us to think it could never happen to us. There is no need to look for reasons that we, as a culture, could fix, because good and evil are innate. And so we do not fix things we could. We say “when you blame society, you let the individual off the hook!” without recognizing that when we blame the individual, we let society off the hook.
If we do things because of innate goodness or evil, there is no need to act (indeed, trying to change things will be futile). If we recognize that we learn from and are influenced by our environments, if we recognize that human nature includes the ability for perfectly normal people to commit atrocities, then we can work to recognize the factors in our cultures, and we can work to change for the better.