In the wake of the Connecticut mass murders of last month, a great deal of attention, official and otherwise, is being focused on the “mentally ill.” Politicians of all persuasions are proclaiming that we need more funding for the so-called mental health services, and predictably, the various practitioners and centers are lining up with their hands outstretched.
The spurious logic, of course, is never identified, or if it is, it gets lost in the rhetoric. Mental illness is presented (and accepted) as the proximate cause of the violence. If one were to ask a mental health practitioner why an individual was so crazy and acted so brutally, the reply would be: Because he has a mental illness. But if one were to press the matter and ask: How do you know he has a mental illness? the only possible response is: Because he is so crazy and acted so brutally. The only evidence for the so-called illness is the very behavior it purports to explain.
The news from Connecticut was so tragic and overwhelming, it eclipsed reports of other brutal murders that occurred about the same time. One of these came to be known as the New York subway shoving murder. Apparently a woman murdered a 46-year-old Indian immigrant by shoving him under a subway train.
Yesterday ABC news ran a report on the matter. It seems that the accused, Erika Menendez, spoke to the NY Times last Friday at the jail where she is remanded awaiting trial.
Menendez is quoted as saying: “I was homeless. I was hungry. I was fighting with my boyfriend. He came running up the stairs, and I just got up and pushed him.” She went on to say that she picked her victim because of his ethnicity and that she had “been beating up on Muslims and Hindus for a long time.”
The question is: How can we best conceptualize/explain this kind of behavior? The mental health industry’s explanation, of course, is: Because she has a mental illness. But this, as we’ve seen, explains nothing. The fact is – assuming the accuracy of the report – that Menendez has no regard for the lives, rights, and sensitivities of other people – or at least people of the Muslim and Hindu persuasions. She was having a bad day, and she dissipated her negative feelings by throwing an innocent bystander under a train. She used this person as an object to salve her bruised psyche in the same way that a normal person might, say, throw a stone in a lake or slam a door.
The critical question is: How does a person raised in a civilized society reach adulthood with so little regard or empathy for her fellow human beings? In an earlier post I offered one possible explanation based on indulgent or indifferent upbringing.
America has a very short memory for horrific news, and already the Connecticut murders are receding from the spotlight. The drive to improve the so-called mental health services, however, is remaining strong, fuelled no doubt by the pharmaceutical companies and the APA. But the mental health system has been largely ineffective in remediating these kinds of problems in the past.
Does anybody seriously believe that more psychotropic drugs can instill in these individuals an age-appropriate level of respect for the lives and sensitivities of others?