April 19, 2007

Someone who gets other people killed

Filed under: The Gray Lady — tomemos @ 1:52 am

I have a serious question. When did it become okay to criticize college students, or indeed any innocent bystanders, for failing to prevent or halt a horiffic school shooting? Is this the internet’s fault, or talk radio’s? Honestly, I feel like something has seriously changed since 1999, when Columbine got people blaming the parents, the guns, bullies, Doom, and Marilyn Manson … but not, as I recall, the actual students who had to run and hide for their lives. If I’m right, and this is new, we are worse people since then.

I agree that it is appropriate, after a school shooting, to ask whether the school administration and security did enough to predict and prevent it, though we should keep in mind that hindsight is 20/20. I agree that it’s fair to suggest that a culture of harassment and bullying makes it more likely that violence, including fatal or mass violence, will occur, though obviously there isn’t a one-to-one ratio. Diciest of all, I can agree that it becomes fair game to at least wonder whether the parents and home life contributed to a shooter’s mental problems, though I’m certainly not going to invite any bad parenting karma by bragging that no child of mine could ever, ever, ever do such a thing. But to say, as the National Review’s John Derbyshire does, that Virginia Tech students were deficient in not rushing a deranged shooter in an attempt to disarm him … well, there’s no “though” there. That’s just fucked up.

As NRO’s designated chickenhawk, let me be the one to ask: Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn’t anyone rush the guy? It’s not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness’ sake—one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren’t very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can’t hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren’t bad.

Yes, yes, I know it’s easy to say these things: but didn’t the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything? As the cliche goes—and like most cliches. It’s true—none of us knows what he’d do in a dire situation like that. I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I’d at least take a run at the guy.

If I try to write about this thoroughly (“count shots”? Even the goddamn Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook says that’s nonsense) I’m going to get sick again, so let’s cut to the most important thing here, one that took me a few reads to pick up: the way Derbyshire redefines the extremes of the situation as the norm. Normal people, when they imagine finding themselves on campus with a maniac who is shooting people at random, would unanimously define that as an absolutely critical scenario, and would define the minimum (and probably only) condition of “success” as simple survival. In order for Derbyshire’s pornographic fantasy to make any kind of sense, though, he has to define the scenario as far removed from critical (he only has “two handguns, for goodness’ sake,” and he’s killed less than three dozen people) and define basic success as much more than survival (“I’d at least take a run at the guy”—at least, meaning, “that’s if I couldn’t take him on with a samurai sword”). Furthermore, make no mistake—Derbyshire is directly blaming the victims, as when he says how much braver he would be “if I thought I was going to die anyway.” In other words, Derbyshire is normalizing the concept of a murderous rampage, and is defining a code of honor for those being killed for no reason.

So okay, that’s the National Review, they’re crazy over there, and the right wing in general seems anxious to assert how well they could martyr themselves to prove a point (as with the British sailors captured by Iran, or the captured journalists who disgrace themselves by saving their own lives—post satirical, news real). Then I see this letter to the New York Times, showing how cruel compassion can be:

To the Editor:

Re “Black Day in the Blue Ridge,” by Lucinda Roy (Op-Ed, April 17):

Struck by unimaginable grief, an otherwise unsentimental man says, “We’ll need to act like a family.” Too bad no one thought of that before.

Cho Seung-Hui was the invisible student. It was clear that he was deeply troubled. But instead of reaching out, those closest to him labeled him strange. Instead of intervening, they dismissed and ignored him.

The shooting spree may have been unthinkable, but the suicide was foreseeable. If it had been solitary and silent, would anyone have cared, or even noticed?

To prevent future massacres, we don’t need metal detectors, armed guards or reflexive campus lockdowns. We need more compassion and more humanity. We need to act more like a family.

Jeff Hersh
Austin, Tex., April 17, 2007

Oh, brother. Listen, I don’t know what ABC Family specials you’ve been watching, but the difference between murderously troubled and relatively stable is not an invitation to a birthday party. “Those closest to him,” as defined by this writer, apparently means those who shared a dorm or a class with him by pure chance, and in fact those people acted just as they should have: they went on the record when he wrote troubling material, the teacher told the appropriate authorities and tried to persuade him to go into counseling, and they otherwise stayed out of his way. With no knowledge of the nature of his problems, and no overtures from him whatsoever, no more should be expected or even advised. The idea that anyone, let alone a college student with no psychological training, has a duty to get closer to a loner who makes those around him uncomfortable; the idea that this was a question of deficient “compassion” and “humanity” (my god!), is the most inappropriate sanctimony I’ve seen since Jerry Falwell blamed gays and atheists for 9/11.

When a tragedy strikes, many people become convinced that it could have been, not just predicted, but easily prevented. This is understandable, and probably preferable to the opposite extreme (“no one could have seen this coming, and we need learn no lessons from it”). People want to assign blame, which is nothing new; what is new is the sense that every nearby citizen must consider themselves conscripted, at all times, to prevent random violence, and that it is fair game to blame them after the fact, even if they or their friends were killed. This is a pathology brought on in part, I have to think, by 9/11 and the story of Flight 93, and more generally by the permanent state of siege that we have been told we are under. The letter writer above says that we need more compassion, but what he betrays is a sense of alienation and paranoia, a belief in a world where some of our fellow citizens kill us while the others selfishly let it happen.

• • •

In Gavin DeBecker’s book on predicting violence, The Gift of Fear, he describes a psychological process often undergone by battered women:

The relationship between violence and death is no longer apparent to them. One woman who’d been at a shelter and then returned to her abuser gives us a good example: She called the shelter late one night to ask if she could come back. As always, the first question the counselor asked was “Are you in danger now?” The woman said no. Later in the call the woman added, almost as an aside, that her husband was outside the room with a gun. Hadn’t she just a moment earlier said she wasn’t in danger? To her, if he was in the same room with the gun or the gun was being held to her head, then she would be in danger. (177)

Without in any way trying to lay claim to the specific victimization and trauma De Becker is describing, this is very close to what I think of when I hear people say that our society is self-destructing. We have passed the point where school shootings are thinkable; we are now able, two days after the massacre, to blame the dead for being cowardly and selfish, and to talk matter-of-factly of what we hope to do when we’re caught in the crossfire, without any realization of how insane and monstrous that sounds.



  1. While I absolutely agree that blaming the victims is remarkably misplaced, I’m not sure from the quotation you provide that this is what Derbyshire is doing. “Why didn’t anyone rush the guy?” can be asked with a condescending moral tone, and maybe there’s a bit of this in Derbyshire’s use of the term “spirit of self defense,” but it can also be asked pragmatically. Of course no individual victim can possibly faulted for trying to survive, but in hindsight, this doesn’t necessarily seem like the optimal behavior, even in the interest of survival. I mean, Cho Seung-Hui murdered entire classrooms worth of people. Surely a classroom of people rushing him as he came in the door would have been more likely to survive than a classroom of people hiding under desks. So it’s worthwhile to ask what the optimal response would have been, given of course the degree of information available to the victims: not, of course, so as to judge the character of the victims, which because they are victims should surely be unimpeachable; but, instead, to determine what you would do (or want to do) in a similar situation, in the hopes of mitigating similar tragedies in the future.

    The thing that was most touching to me in this story was the reactions of the teachers, especially the 76 year old teacher that guarded the door while the students went out the window. It’s odd, but my experience hearing about this was to think that, as a teacher, we’re automatically put into a sort of leadership role. Whether we’re any better prepared to respond to such incidents than our students, I can’t help but imagine myself in one of those rooms as being called to lead merely by my role in the classroom. I have absolutely no idea whether, in an actual situation, I would be capable of responding to that call, or even what that would entail. But the feeling of responsibility is there.

    Comment by surlacarte — April 19, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  2. “Oh, brother. Listen, I don’t know what ABC Family specials you’ve been watching, but the difference between murderously troubled and relatively stable is not an invitation to a birthday party.”

    Hersh’s letter is simplistic and naive, to be sure; however, I don’t see how a plea for compassion bears any resemblance whatsoever to Falwell’s blaming of gays and athiests for 9/11. I doubt Hersh was suggesting that Cho Seung-Hui should have been invited to more birthday parties or given more hugs. Rather, I think he’s refering to the bullying, harassment, and discrimination that goes unchecked on high school and college campuses (even though that betrays a lack understanding of this particular situation, and of the extreme nature of Cho’s mental illness). Yes, it’s pretty silly to suggest that the shooting could have been prevented if only we all “acted more like a family,” but I don’t think Hersh’s intent is to blame the victims for getting themselves shot, and I certainly don’t think it’s productive to ridicule and berate him for using the word “humanity.” We’re living in a culture that believes terrorists are “evildoers” with no motives other than a hatred of freedom. If individuals are going to be childlike in their understanding of violent acts, I’d rather they err on the side of compassion rather than cynicism.

    Comment by girldetective — April 19, 2007 @ 10:07 am

  3. Hersh’s letter is tricky.

    Derbyshire’s letter just plain makes me want to vomit. Ideally on his shoes.

    Comment by Fae — April 19, 2007 @ 10:46 am

  4. Surlacarte, to be sure, a classroom full of people rushing the shooter as he came in would lose only a couple of people before overpowering him. The only difficulties are that you would have to know that the shooter was coming at all, know when he was about to come into your room, and (trickiest of all) essentially decide who was going to die. The bottom line is that an armed assailant will beat an unarmed, untrained target every time, and it is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

    I agree that we should honor the heroism of those who sacrificed themselves attempting to save others. Derbyshire cheapens their sacrifice by portraying it as nothing much (“just jump him”); he cheapens those who made a decision to lose their lives by telling us, “Your chances aren’t bad.” These people weren’t heroic, in other words; they were just unlucky.

    * * *

    Girl Detective, your charitable reading of Hersh’s letter, that he is writing about a topic (bullying and harassment) that has no bearing on this case, still does not do him much credit, since it is beyond inappropriate to use a horrible tragedy to chastise people about a subject you don’t understand. Whether or not his attempt is to blame the victims (or their friends), that is what he is doing. “They dismissed and ignored him” shows a stunning lack of sympathy for college students who were simply going about their lives.

    You’re right that my Falwell example is overblown; heat of the moment and all that. The comparison I was getting at, though, is that there are times not to impart high-minded moral lessons. The fact that Hersh’s instinct, like Derbyshire’s, is not to mourn but to scold, is incomprehensible to me, and I worry that this is becoming more common. And I honestly think that assuming that our enemies “hate freedom” and assuming the Virginia Tech students lacked compassion, without knowing anything about either group, are two paints from the same palette.

    Comment by tomemos — April 19, 2007 @ 11:10 am

  5. For the record, an article was released shortly after I posted my comment, saying that Cho was indeed bullied. I don’t think Hersh should have assumed it was the case before it was confirmed (unless he saw an earlier article; I don’t always keep up with follow-up headlines), but it does have some bearing on the situation.

    I don’t think my reading of his letter was overly charitable, but if you want to criticize him for chastizing society instead of taking the time to mourn, that’s perfectly valid. What I found counterproductive, though, was the wrathful and mocking tone of your critique. Derbyshire’s position is unquestionably reprehensible; Hersh’s, while ill-conceived and ill-timed, at least attempts to point towards positive social change (in, as I said, an overly simplistic and childish way). While I agree that he shouldn’t have lumped all Virginia Tech students into one group, I don’t think he deserves to be demonized for suggesting that we should see people like Cho as human beings instead of monsters.

    Also, while it’s true that both the assumption that our enemies hate freedom and the assumption that Cho’s classmates weren’t compassionate enough are highly inaccurate, the difference between them is that the first paints a cartoonish portrait of perpetrators of violence as either anonymous lunatics or moustache-twirling villains, while the other attempts to acknowledge the social and psychological factors that lead to violence.

    Should Hersh’s immediate reaction have been to criticize people in a situation he knew almost nothing about? Of course not. But there are plenty of people out there who are doing much more damage than someone who’s advocating “more compassion and more humanity.”

    Comment by girldetective — April 19, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  6. Man… you’re writing a legitimate blog, here. Seriously. Your entries are always researched, polished, and make interesting points. You deserve your PhD.

    Comment by BWJ — April 19, 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  7. I agree that Hersh is less offensive than Derbyshire, since he was not claiming that people should have directly exposed themselves to harm. And I obviously agree that Cho (and everyone) should be regarded as a human being with real problems rather than as a monster, a weirdo, etc. But the price for acknowledging the social causes of violence can’t be that everyone in the vicinity is presumed to be part of the problem, just as the price for taking rape accusations seriously can’t be that everyone accused of rape is presumed to be guilty. That would be to substitute one stereotypical villain for another.

    As for my tone … if I sound wrathful, it’s because the way Hersh and those like him wag their fingers makes me furious, and all the good intentions in the world won’t change that. In fact, I have higher expectations for someone who claims to care about compassion, namely that he should show some himself. Furthermore, we’re not talking about idle musing; we’re talking about an opinion published in the paper of record. In a forum like that, being “ill-conceived,” “ill-timed,” “overly simplistic,” and “childish” is the kind of thing that people can fairly get mocked for.

    BWJ: Thanks a lot! If only deserving it were enough…

    Comment by tomemos — April 20, 2007 @ 12:56 am

  8. hey tomemos, great post. i, too, found myself thinking a lot about this in the wake of virginia tech, mainly because it actually does seem like the people around him did all the things reasonable people could have been expected to do: his teacher referred him to a counseling, his roommate reported a suicide threat to the appropriate authorities, etc. i think people thinking about school shootings want to try to figure out ways that they can be stopped, and since psychologists say there’s no way to accurately profile potential shooters, they try to blame people around the shooter for not “stopping” him (well, or her i guess, but let’s face it, usually him or them). there’s just such a need to figure out how these shootings can be stopped short of gun control or more difficult gun policy changes like that. i think it’s right to be furious about this response because it’s a very thinly veiled (and sometimes not veiled at all) way of saying, blame the victims. if this happens to you, you must have deserved it for your “lack of compassion.” p.s. the most amazing line in the derbyshire is “setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals”… !

    Comment by textual bulldog — April 28, 2007 @ 6:02 pm

  9. I stumbled across this critique of my letter in the NYTimes about the VTech massacre, and I was pleased to see my letter provoked some thought, but disappointed that my main point was overlooked. My message was simplistic, but it neither blamed the victims nor suggested it was easily prevented by invited Cho to more birthday parties. Despite the brevity of the letter, no one picked up on the line about his suicide being foreseeable. Suicidal thoughts are an epidemic on college campuses, as well as in society at large, and we can do far better is providing treatment, destigmatizing mental illess, and reducing societal pressures that too often bring people to think death is a viable solution, as well as the tens of millions who suffer from depression and other mood disorders. Obviously, Cho’s problems were severe.

    I said that those closest to Cho dismissed and ignored him, which the author of this blog responded showed a “stunning lack of sympathy of college students just going about their own lives.” This comment shows a stunning lack of understanding of my point, and exemplies the self-centered attitude that pervades U.S. culture. Does this make the author, or the victims, or students, teachers and family members in closest contact with Cho responsible for the massacre? Of course not. But too few of them took sufficient time from their own lives to care about Cho, or help him. As I said, Cho’s shooting spree was unforeseeable, and almost unprecedented. But his mental problems, including his suicidal thoughts, were known. For every Cho who breaks with violence towards others, there are thousands whose violence is solely self-inflicted. And for each of them, there are hundreds who feel like hurting themselves. And too few of us take times from our self-absorbed lives to do enough to help the millions around us who suffer.

    The Rovian reaction to attack the messenger — childish, ill-timed and ill-conceived — instead of discussing the substance of my message exemplifies society’s desire to ignore this issue, just as absurdly labeling terrorists as evil people who hate freedom ignores the underlying problems that leads to terrorism. Cho and terrorists are certainly responsible for their horrific actions, but their culpability does not mitigate the wrongs and neglect by those who created the oppressive environment from which they violently lashed out.

    Comment by jeff hersh — October 5, 2007 @ 5:15 am

  10. Dear Jeff,

    Thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful response. Let me begin by saying that today, with the perspective given by distance, I would not have used the dismissive and mocking tone that I did. It oversimplified your point and set an inappropriate tone which (as you see in the comments) created objections in a number of readers, not just yourself. Of course, by not changing the post in the intervening months—or now—I give the impression that I still feel this way. I take responsibility for that, in the interest of preserving the blog as a record of how I felt at the time.

    However, while my anger and frustration led me to respond in an immature way, I strongly disagree with your characterization of my post as “Rovian.” There is a difference between attacking the messenger and attacking the message, and despite my “childish” and “ill-conceived” invective (I agree), I believe I made a substantive response: namely, that the people you accuse of a lack of compassion for Seung-Hui Cho in fact responded appropriately, and that it is vindictive, not compassionate, to accuse them as you do. That did not come across, apparently—mea culpa—so let me try again.

    Contrary to what you say, I feel that I did understand your point: that the people at Virginia Tech did not “take sufficient time from their own lives to care about Cho, or help him.” My problems with this point are twofold. First, the only evidence given in support of it is the massacre itself: if it occurred, the people around him must not have done enough. In fact, many of those around him did understand that he was troubled, reached out to him, and took steps to help him and prevent him from harming others: Cho was nearly committed, and by Virginia law he should not have been allowed to buy guns. Not enough; the shooting still happened, so, a lack of compassion. Since the only way the VT community gets off the hook here is by preventing the shooting, I cannot agree that you are not blaming them for it, at least in part.

    My second objection is to the vagueness of what you’re advocating. Neither here nor in your letter do you specify what those around Cho should have done, aside from some pleasant-sounding abstractions: “reaching out,” “more compassion and more humanity,” “care about Cho, or help him.” Let me repeat, the people who knew Cho tried to help. His roommates invited him to parties, his professors worked with him on his writing. When it became clear that he was mentally ill, they recommended he seek counseling and mentioned their concerns to superiors. None of this, obviously, caused any improvement, but what more should they have done? The people “closest to him” were not mental health professionals, and I continue to maintain that it is irresponsible and unsympathetic to scold people for not putting themselves in closer proximity with a volatile and upsetting person.

    I think your points about increased understanding of mental illness and depression are important ones, and very relevant to this case. Having read the official report on Cho’s mental state, (available here), it’s clear to me that this lack of understanding was indeed shown by those removed from the situation: the administrators who took little or no action when his professors came to them, the judge who didn’t commit him. But your letter and comment aren’t about these people, they’re about “those closest to him,” and how they committed “wrongs and neglect,” creating an “oppressive environment.” This is a brutal accusation to make against people who did what they could with a person that mystified and scared them, and as far as I can tell it is completely unfounded. Which brings me back to the point of my entry: for all the supposed compassion of your letter, it is callous to assume that the victims of a tragedy like this have been heartless and uncaring, simply because they were victimized.

    Comment by tomemos — October 5, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  11. Thanks for your clarification. I think we are generally in agreement in the matter, but are interpreting words and phrases differently.

    For background, my letter was written very soon after the incident, probably 36 hours before it ran. I was also severely hampered by the 150-word limit for letters to the NYT. The facts available when I wrote the letter were scant — including that a judge ordered him for psychiatic evaluation, and the intervention by one caring teacher who tutored him privately. When I wrote it I was struck by how many students suspected Cho before they learned the identity of the shooter. The statements that came out included how Cho never spoke, ignored everyone, was weird, etc. His roommate didn’t even know his major. Some knew he was suicidal, and there was no evidence at that time that anyone intervened in any fashion. No one could have anticipated his violence, even those who read his writings (I later read a couple of those, and they had literary value, a series theme, and were no more graphic, violent or disturbing than Kafka). But almost everyone who came in contact with him knew he was troubled, and some knew he was suicidal. But they went along on their own business. I may have done the same thing.

    Then I read an op-ed in The Times where the campus community was consoling each other, and one man said everyone needed to stick together and be supportive, like a family, to mend their wounds. That was the defining moment that made me angry and want to write the letter. I was very emotional at the time — similar to your heightened emotions that led to your harsh tone. It seemed horribly hypocritical and self-absorbed for those who suffered loss to want consolation from others, and offer consolation in return, when it then seemed that none of them cared about consoling or helping Cho when they weren’t also suffering.

    I hesitated to send the letter, knowing that it was harsh to so many victims, who probably didn’t need to hear that they weren’t particularly nice or helpful to Cho, implying that it is possible they could have prevented the massacre had they cared a little more. But I was careful to not single out anyone with an example, making sweeping generalizations. It wasn’t so much that any particular individual failed to reach out — it was that none seemed to. It may be understandable for any particular person to have not helped, but even so, it can unconscionable for a society or large group to fail to have anyone reach out. That sounds like a contradiction, but my point is that no one person is to blame, but the group as a whole is responsible. And I don’t mean responsible for the massacre — I mean responsible for not helping someone who was suicidal.

    So after hesitating, I submitted the letter, figuring that the NYT would get 1000 letters on the massacre, leaving mine a rather small chance of getting published anyway. About 24 hours later, I got the standard email from the NYT asking me to answer some questions, review their edits and approve publication. (There were no substantial edits.) By that point, information about one professor tutoring came out, and information about the court order for his evaluation and therapy had also been reported. I was very close to withdrawing the letter, questioning if I fully agreed with it. I ultimately decided to let them run with it, as the Times, which does a very good job of selecting letters, especially when they run several on the same issue, clearly thought it was an important viewpoint. So I didn’t ask them to withdraw it, figuring it would be good to stir up some thought, and perhaps a bit of healthy guilt. Those who lost a loved one were unlikely to be further damaged by the letter than they were by their loss.

    By the time the letter ran, other people were talking about mental health issues, and making similar points, and I actually felt more comfortable about what I wrote.

    Returning to your points, I do think that some — not all — of those closest to him were neglectful, and sometimes hurtful. One woman who befriended him suddenly cut him off cold after another student warned her Cho was bad news. I vaguely recall it haven’t something to do with his awkward sexual advances. I suspect that must have hurt him deeply. There were those who made fun of him; he had a derogatory nickname. But I don’t think that this conduct was excessively cruel, or of the nature that it would ordinarily inflict severe mental disorder or negative reaction. But it was at least mildly cruel or mean-spirited.

    As far as the oppressive environment, I did not mean that the oppressive environment applied solely to Cho, or was directed towards him. I meant the same oppressive environment that our materialistic, self-absorbed, ultra-competitive culture inflicts on everyone. That is why the suicide rate — or more particularly, the suicidal attempt and suicidal thought rates — are so high. I don’t have a solution to this extremely complex problem of why mental illness is increasing so much in this country, but before anyone finds a solution the problem must be first identified. The problem also manifests itself in why we don’t help the poor and homeless, why we have the largest prison population in the world, why we have so many people without health care, and why we have such an extreme gap between the rich and poor.

    I could probably write 20,000 words on this issue and feel that I only scratched the surface of what I’d like to say. I feel I did a reasonable job with the 150 words I had, however.

    By the way, you are no Karl Rove. Feel free to write privately — my email, slightly encrypted, is my first name, then at, then jhershlaw dot com.

    Comment by jeff hersh — October 5, 2007 @ 11:26 pm

  12. When I was an undergraduate, I befriended another student, who was unhappy and also clearly mentally ill. She didn’t like her roommate and would sleep in open classrooms and the undergraduate library, stowing food in a locker on campus to avoid dorm cafeterias. When I met her, she had just been arrested for breaking into a locked dorm lounge, to sleep there. As it turned out, my friends all knew her already: as “laundry girl,” from when they’d seen her sleeping in the dorm laundry room.

    I helped her as I could… taking a computer to sell it, going grocery shopping with her… even once having her over to my house to make dinner. When she went to her court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, I was in the waiting room.

    Her response was twofold: she wanted to move into my basement, and she threatened to slit my throat.

    I have a couple of other stories I could tell. I really used to seek out people who needed help and try to be someone they could count on, or at least one compassionate figure in the midst of others.

    It really didn’t seem to do a lot of good. I’m not saying compassion isn’t good… but I really do believe that M wanted to slit my throat that day, and that given the chance, she would have. She needed love, and kindness, but more than that, she needed counseling that I was not capable of giving her then, nor would I be now.

    This past year, an acquaintance came to my apartment and threatened to kill her husband and her children. She slit her thigh open in my living room. I know she needed love. She got a week in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital after the police dragged her away.

    It’s not my duty to put myself in harm’s way. It is my duty, when I know that someone is dangerous, to alert the authorities to help make sure that no one will be hurt.

    Would it have been better for Virginia Tech to rally around Cho and support him? Sure. Would it have stopped him from killing people? I’m not sure at all. Someone who is mentally healthy responds to love with love. Someone who is mentally ill may just as easily respond with violence.

    Comment by Rebecca — October 19, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

  13. Rebecca, thank you very much for this thought-provoking (and riveting) comment. You make a very important point: we too often tend to think of mental illness as a simple lack or deficiency. Provide the mentally ill with what they lack (love, respect for themselves, etc.), the thinking goes, and they will be as normal and well-adjusted as we are. This is certainly more compassionate than thinking of the mentally ill as subhuman, but is still essentially patronizing. It casts all troubled individuals in the role of unloved child, while ignoring the complex psychological and physiological factors involved in mental illness.

    Comment by tomemos — October 20, 2007 @ 1:03 am

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