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Boston Massacre

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I’ll admit it.  When I first started thinking about writing a blog post this morning, my  initial inclination was to say “well, here we go again,” and leave it at that.

There’s a “here we go again” feel about these things to me these days.

They’ve begun to all run together for me,   in spite of the fact that their perpetrators seem to have (at least superficially) different motives and different personalities.

And I can’t get behind the reductionism of people who declare that anybody who does anything like this is by defintion “mentally ill.”

The designation seems to be shorthand for saying “I don’t understand it, I don’t think anybody can understand it, so I’m going to call it a disease.”

Certainly some of the people who do these things seem to be mentally–um, off–on some level.  It’s difficult to know what to say about somebody who dresses up as The Joker to stage a mass shooting in a theater showing a Batman movie except that he’s got a brain that may be missfiring in all sorts of directions.

In this case, the media grumbling has been not about “mental illness” but about “terrorism.”

And I get that.  In spite of the BBC’s snarking over the use of the term, I think that in the present state of the world that line of inquiry has to be run down.

But I also think it’s unlikely to pan out, at least if we assume “terrorism” means something like a politically or religiously motivated attack.

Those kinds of attacks tend to have people all over the place trying to take credit for them.  After all, what’s the point of making a political statement unless the world knows what you’re trying to state?

Whoever did this does not seem to care if anyone knows who or why or what for, which could bring us to “domestic terrorism.”

“Domestic terrorism” in the US–see Timothy McVeigh–is usually meant to be retaliatory (getting back for Ruby Ridge) or destabilizing.  It’s not necessary to publish a manifesto if  you think the relevant parties (meaning the US government) already know what’s going on, or if you think it doesn’t matter if they do or don’t because you only want to see them collapse.

The last possibility is the one that tends to be true–some lone guy, or pair of guys, whose most coherent motivation is to make as much fuss as possible and get “famous” in the only way they know how.

On that last point, I’m with the people who want to start the blanking out of perpetrators’ names in the press, so that obscurity and not fame attaches to the people who commit these things.

You’d still have some of those outliers, though, because for some of them revenge or the sheer act of violence will be enough.

But I wonder about something.

If this phenomenon is new–the one about fame and retaliation, now, not about political or religious terrorism, neither of which are new–

If this phenomenon is new, and we’re going to pla that game where we blame it on something else that is new–

Why isn’t the therapeutic culture, and the triumph of  therapy and psychological management in the schools, a likely candidate?

How does anyone–and especially a child–defend himself against being “identified” as having a “mental illness” or a “disorder” and the subsequent attempts to “fix” him?

The  most frightening things about the therapeutic culture all seem to me to be unfixable:

There’s the fact that the people who enforce these regimes are almost all trained out of being able to accept other people as human beings. 

Stuck in a room with a therapeutically “trained professional,” it can be virtually impossible to figure out what is going on. 

If you don’t know the jargon or haven’t seen “good social work practice” in operation, it’s as if the entire world has gone fluid and words mean whatever the “professional” wants them to mean at any particular moment.

It’s virtually impossible to get any of these people to make a simple, unambiguous declarative sentence at any time. 

Instead, you get endless forays into “empathic” language whose only purpose is to manipulate you. 

And any attempt to fight back against what feels increasingly like an assault is merely labelled as yet more “evidence” that you have “mental health issues”–after all, what could you possibly be getting upset about?  We were just trying to explore your  own feelings and ideas so that you could get the “help” you need.

If you don’t find some third party knowledge of what’s being done to you, you end up feeling that the world is a dangerous and hostile place where anything you do at any moment can be labeled and used against you–because, in fact, that is exactly what the world actually is.

And since you have neither the vocabulary nor the insight to pinpoint the real cause of the problem–well, the problem is the world and what’s in it and that world has already labeled you fair game for mental aggression.

So maybe it’s not so odd that some of these people–Adam Lanza, say, or the Colorado theater shooter–do what they do.

And then we declare that the proper response to what we’ve done is to “take mental illness more seriously.”

Written by janeh

April 16th, 2013 at 8:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

14 Responses to 'Boston Massacre'

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  1. Welcome to theocracy. Piper said it was a particularly nasty form of government. Oh. And the obvious reason the therapeutic culture can’t be at fault is that the ruling class is NEVER at fault. The subjects are not worthy of the Great Leader. If the society is tanking, it’s not policy decisions but malaise–and if the medicine shirt won’t stop bullets, it’s because the wearer lacks faith.

    So the cure for a failed economy is bigger deficits and more regulation, the cure for drug and alcohol abuse is stricter laws and steeper penalties, the cure for teachers who don’t earn their pay is to pay them more and the cure for mental health experts who make no discernible difference is–oh, you got there ahead of me. People mock the “chateau generals” but there’s a lot of that going around.

    We could, of course, only give legal sanction to those schools of mental health which can demonstrate results. Those would be mostly chemists. But as long as we accept “they would have been even worse otherwise” as a good answer, we’re not going to see much progress.

    No, wait! We will! The President has promised unlimited counselors to the people of Boston.

    For the record, I still think the cult of fame is a larger portion of the problem–but there’s enough problem to go around.


    16 Apr 13 at 1:15 pm

  2. I must be out of the loop 0 the term “therapeutic culture” means nothing to me.


    16 Apr 13 at 4:36 pm

  3. No doubt Jane will correct me, but:
    Bill has sex more often than the shrink finds seemly. He has an addiction, and needs counseling.
    Mary has sex less often than the shrink says is normal. She has a phobia, and needs counseling.
    Little Johnny looks out the schoolroom window instead of reading GREAT EXPECTATIONS. He has ADD, and should be pumped full of drugs and counseled.
    Big John is a petty tyrant of a boss. He’s insecure and needs counseling. If he were an indecisive wishy-washy boss, he’d have low self-esteem and–oh, you guessed!
    Telling the shrink that you’re NOT addicted, phobic or whatever proves you’re in denial and need even more “help.” Only the badly-misnamed “professional” gets to judge–and often she has the law backing her up.
    Your worst nightmare–Nurse Ratched with a badge.


    16 Apr 13 at 8:05 pm

  4. Thanks Robert. I don’t think Australia is that bad. We also seem to have missed the Mayor Bloomberg phenomena. But we are deep into anti-smoking campaigns.


    16 Apr 13 at 10:42 pm

  5. Speaking of the therapeutic culture and, coincidentally the anti-smoking campaigns, I’m currently reading “The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact-checking the Left’s new theory of everything” by Christopher Snowdon (he of the rather devastating demolition of the junk science surrounding the anti-second-hand smoke panic, “Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking”).

    In the early chapters of Delusion, he describes how the current plethora of “new” psychological and psychiatric “syndromes” came to be and how, unintentionally, when updating the psychiatric compendium of mental illnesses, the author/editor, one Spitzer, effectively gave the green light to tout le monde to self-diagnose syndromes by creating a list of symptoms for each recognised and listed mental illness. His intention was that only professional psychiatrists/psychologists would use the lists for diagnosis, and only when interviewing the subjects face to face, so that they could judge the responses in context. Needless to say, every ratbag grabbed the book and started checking boxes, resulting in all sorts of inappropriate outcomes. Hence the epidemic of ADHD and all those other weird disorders that seem to have arisen from nowhere in the last few years that an increasing minority seem to rejoice in “suffering” from.

    No doubt CathyF can clarify/correct this brief take on the issue.

    The book that Snowden is critiquing – “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson is based on similar junk science and so far as I’ve read, he’s as comprehensively debunked the authors’ thesis as he did with the second-hand smoke stuff.

    You’ll love “The Spirit Level Delusion”, Cheryl.


    17 Apr 13 at 4:13 am

  6. You’re too late, Mique – I already read and enjoyed it!

    I follow his blog off and on too. It’s somewhat less restrained than his books, I think. Not long ago he mentioned a Canadian report that I’d seen in the Canadian media quoting the usual dubious statistics. I think (but can’t find the report now) that some of the wilder claims weren’t even supported by the research body where the person making the claims was employed.

    As for the tendency to over-medicalize ordinary problems, yes, it exists. The possibility must remain that the customer must generally get to choose to accept or deny the professional recommendation. As a very respected and now retired medical professional once told me, they have to remember they’re in a service industry.

    But then you get the people who are convinced that God or aliens are commanding them to cleanse the earth…

    I had the dubious experience a couple months ago of sitting in (at my mother’s request) on an interview between my late mother and a very young social worker. It was fascinating, in a rather morbid way. My mother, who had difficulties that were painfully obvious to anyone else who had had any dealings with her, was pronounced to have minor difficulties with ‘life stage issues’ (lovely phrase, isn’t it?) and to need nothing more than a chat once in a while, perhaps with someone from the church.

    This was AFTER that suggestion had been already mentioned once, and my mother had stated in no uncertain terms that she had no interest in or connection with a church.

    No Nurse Ratched was involved, just an earnest and well-meaning young woman who was very obviously saying all the soothing things she was trained to say in the way she was trained to say them. And sometimes real problems are missed.

    I wondered if she’d ever even met an elderly person before.


    17 Apr 13 at 5:41 am

  7. I’m not sure how much good intentions count when they aren’t backed up by professional competence–and I’m afraid I judge professional competence in terms of results visible to non-professionals.

    What we’ve got now is a bunch of palm-readers backed up by the law. I don’t doubt some of them mean well, that some of them believe and have mastered their theory and that some of them are shrewd men and women who can do some good, theory or no. But the same is true of the palm readers.


    17 Apr 13 at 7:49 am

  8. There seems to be a fad for apologizing for things done by an earlier generation. I wonder if a future generation will apologize to all the kids diagnosed with ADHD?


    17 Apr 13 at 6:46 pm

  9. If the fad endures long enough, perhaps–but shouldn’t all the people imprisoned in bogus day care center sex scandals be in line ahead of them?

    So far, though, all the apologies are for what other people with different sensibilities did. There’s no great rush to own up to one’s own mistakes. When we replace the current bunch, I really hope we get people more interested in learning from their errors instead of making speeches about others’.


    17 Apr 13 at 9:02 pm

  10. Don’t spoil things, Robert. It’s much easier to point out the failings of others, especially the long-dead or elderly and frail, and also especially if you’re not talking about criminal offences backed up with criminal investigations, but well-meaning endeavours that didn’t work out, than it is to consider your own failings.

    I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person who remembers the recent past.


    18 Apr 13 at 4:57 am

  11. That last sentence seems unconnected to anything else. What I meant was, skipping the most highly emotive examples, I grew up in a small rural community where abortions were unheard of and birth control nearly so, and many unwanted and unexpected pregnancies occured. So I knew lots about what went on in such situations, and it didn’t involve babies being torn from the arms of mothers who would otherwise have been willing and able to care for them. Sure, some of the young mothers were unwilling – sometimes very unwilling – to relinquish their children, but most realizes it was necessary. They knew perfectly well that it was impossible, in that time and place and at their age, to keep a roof over their own head, much less that of a child, and their own birth family often wasn’t much better off. And some adoptions didn’t work out, but most seemed to have and some were definitely better for the child that the alternatives.

    And yet you read of stolen children (not always in the sense of stolen Native children, either), just as though if it weren’t for the evil authorities who arranged adoptions everything would have been hunky-dory, even for the mothers who were 12-13, or uneducated and unemployable, or far too immature to raise a child (I’m sure we’ve all seen teenagers who haven’t got the desire to party out of their system trying to raise a child), or a desire to get or keep as far away from the nasty or even criminal man who sired the child…. No one seems to remember what it was like to be an unmarried pregnant girl back then, and surely I’m not the only person who remembers (not being unmarried and pregnant, to be sure, but what happened and why when others were).


    18 Apr 13 at 5:59 am

  12. Our society has developed into one where violence is now a “normal” response to one’s feelings of anger. If this is terrorism, so be it. Movies, television, music, etc. all promote violence as a form of entertainment, but there are so many people who have grown up with just that as a form of entertainment that they see it as a “normal” response. Until we change our culture, we will continue to see the horrific acts of violence against masses of people.
    Is this a mental illness? I don’t think so. I think it’s the new “normal,” and we’d better get used to it, or figure out a way of changing what’s causing it.


    18 Apr 13 at 9:14 am

  13. I think just this once I’d like to let the mediaoff the hook. Certainly there is violence in video games and in GAME OF THRONES. Check the body count of Fifties westerns or early paperbacks–and before them of radio drama and dime novels. Popular culture is concerned with the essentials of life, which is sex money religion and violence, no different now from when border ballads were the hot new medium.

    But we have gone back to fame as the only immortality, while eliminating shame or infamy from the popular vocabulary. Kill a famous person! Kill hundreds not so well-known! You’ll be famous as a result.

    For that, I have a long list of people to blame. None of them are professional story-tellers unless you count the evening news.


    18 Apr 13 at 10:05 am

  14. Robert, I think the difference was in the way violence was treated. There were “bad guys” and “good guys,” and the good guys only used violence if they had to. The bad guys used it to get what they wanted or as a response to anger. AND, there were plenty of TV and movie supplements (“Father Knows Best”) to show alternative ways to deal with life as it is.
    I get your “immortality” thing, but with absent parenting prevalent today and the TV being the baby-sitter, I don’t think the media gets a pass. Nor do I think they are totally responsible, but it’s there.


    18 Apr 13 at 10:30 am

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