Sunday, April 22, 2007

An issue for Oprah, not Congress

On some issues, you can just count on America to learn the wrong lesson, and its media to reject almost any opportunity to introspect seriously, insistently turning prurient images into titillating porn-news. 9/11 spurred patriotism of the worst sort, and the Va. Tech rampage is all about a crazy kid whom no one could help. On the latter subject, two of my favorite rants are relevant.

One of them is how America's readiness to dispense psychiatric medication distracts from the issue of creating community integration -- acceptance, interaction, and support -- for people with behavioral and psychiatric problems. Too many people give off the impression of living seemingly normal lives. If they occasionally or regularly do something that hurts themselves and/or others, it's all too often well under the legal radar. Suppressing your symptoms to pass off as acceptable in society does not amount to real acceptance, support, or integration. The suppressants come complete with scientific explanations about dopamine, but have been rushed on to the market. Some of the most frequently prescribed medications for depression are known to increase the risk of suicidal behavior in teens -- how is that a cure for depression!? They make you feel better, like illegal substances, and it seems the main difference is that they are legal only because they are controlled -- by a highly vested nexus of pharmaceutical companies, the FDA, health management organizations, and psychiatric care providers. They are legal because they are legal. Well, I suppose no one's claiming they're ethical.

The other, more obvious, issue is, of course, guns. Gary Younge in The Guardian:

[Dave] Hancock [who works at the Bob Moates Sports Store in Midlothian, Virginia, and loves guns] believes there might be a case for stronger checks on the mental health of prospective gun owners. But if anything, he argues, what happened this week is an argument for more people to carry weapons, not fewer. "If one single professor had been carrying a legal weapon they might have been able to stop all this," he says.
Riiight. So every classroom must contain a professor with a gun, whose duty it is to fire when necessary to save the lives of the students. Campuses must give up their ridiculous insistence on being weapon-free (weapons are currently not allowed on the Va. Tech campus, nor are they on my campus). The guns-for-self-defence votaries say if it were legal to carry weapons on campus, we could take out a would-be killer before he killed too many people. But with more guns on campus, professors and students might have to exercise their "peacekeeping" duties more often. Makes for a great learning atmosphere.

The Guardian report says more than 30,000 people die every year in the US from firearms - more than one every 20 minutes.

"The right to bear arms" is enshrined in the constitution. The founding fathers intended it so that citizens could protect themselves against state tyranny. Now gun lobbyists argue that they want them to protect themselves from other citizens.

However, in the more violent cities in America there is hostility to that view. "When they wrote the constitution I don't think they really had this crazy kid in mind," says Debbie Yorizzo, a student-teacher at Hunter college.


Virginia governor Tim Kaine said on Wednesday that he held "nothing but loathing for those who take the tragedy and make it political".

And so Monday's murders were rendered into a purely emotional event borne from a psychotic moment - a subject more likely to be resolved by Oprah or Dr Phil than by the House and the Senate.

Like hot air, the week's coverage of the shootings expanded to fill the space available to it. The issue of gun control was occasionally raised but rarely seriously discussed. Instead, they kept asking "How could this happen?" America's innocence is one of its few eternally renewable resources. Its ability to shock itself with the predictable is itself predictable.

"Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell," wrote Graham Greene in The Quiet American. "Wandering the world doing no harm." There were few who couldn't see this coming even if no one knew where or when.

Amid the hours of reconstruction and speculation, press conferences and pen portraits, we heard from creative writing professors about the tell-tale signs of psychosis in student literature and from student counsellors about referral procedures. Some of it was interesting. But whatever route the interviews took they always ended up at the same destination - if someone wanted to do this, there was nothing we could do to stop them.

By Thursday CNN was reduced to gleaning insight from the woman who drives the student shuttle bus and screening Cho's rambling rants. They beeped out the expletives as though the swearing was the most offensive thing about their content.

The rampage took place on Monday morning. It's Saturday morning in America right now. The National Rifle Association website says in a brief message at the bottom of the front page that their "thoughts and prayers are with the families. We will not have further comment until all the facts are known."
Photo from armyofmom blog entry dated 6/10/2005, captioned "giving the boys a 22 for Christmas"

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