This is part of an excellent post reflecting on the many factors in addition to or perhaps instead of mental illness that may lead a young man to open fire on innocent people. It’s by anthropologist Daniel Lende who writes for PLOS Blogs, the network I manage. A link to the entire essay is at the bottom. Highly recommended.
We live mediated lives, lives lived through media and institutions and bodies of established and contested knowledge. Casting stones is a very human act – he was mentally ill, extreme rhetoric is to blame, the school should have done more. But I have written this post to help rise to that calling – to expand our moral imaginations.
Three things have deeply challenged me this week. I’ve realized that after one hundred years of great success, the mental health model has triumphed publicly and failed scientifically. Violence is not a mental health problem. The causes of human behavior cannot be reduced to only mental states. Yet within minutes of the shootings, Loughner was declared crazy. Many people, scientists, professionals, and politicians alike, have lined up behind this discourse. It has extraordinary institutional and cultural weight. And it mis-diagnoses the man and the problem. But I am hopeful that we are at the start of building a better approach to understanding why people do what they do.
I believe the Secret Service is right. Actions matter. But most law enforcement is about punishing acts after the fact, after someone has broken the law. Most social regulation focuses on acts, on behaviors and words, in an informal manner, such as the commentators on Loughner’s internet postings or the students in his classes. How we build an infrastructure, an institutional mediation, of acts like violence, substance abuse, and other behaviors that do not fall well into the mental health model is a challenge facing us right now.