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Red Herrings and Deadly Consequences: Mass Domestic Murders and Mental Illness

Red Herrings and Deadly Consequences: Mass Domestic Murders and Mental Illness

By Dennis Loo (12/31/12)

As anyone who’s been paying any attention to the fallout from the recent upsurge in mass - and not so mass - killings, media and public figures have been highlighting and popularizing an alleged link of mental illness to these incidents. In today’s New York Times, for example, in the lead story about Erika Menendez, the woman arrested for pushing an Indian Hindu, Sunando Sen, to his death in front of a New York Subway train a few days ago, one has to read nearly to the end of the article before you see any mention of the fact that Menendez’s stated reason for her actions were that ever since 9/11 she’s despised Muslims and Hindus. The whole thrust of the Times story is by contrast how Ms. Menendez has a history of mental problems. Similarly, in the Newtown killings, Adam Lanza’s mental issues have been put front and center of media attention and in comments and discussions about the tragedy.

This whole line of discussion alleging that we need to clamp down on the mentally ill, however, is a deadly red herring. What should be the focus of the latest subway murder is the impact of the “war on terror” and the stoking of hatred and stereotyping of Muslims and those who the ignorant confuse with Muslims, such as Hindus and Sikhs, by the major authority figures in our society. It goes beyond stoking hatred, even, to the actual killings on a mass scale by our government in wars abroad, including assassinations ordered in secret session by President Obama.

People like Ms. Menendez are more unhinged than the rest of us, but are more likely because of this to act out on the stance that is being promoted society-wide by our society’s leaders and taking that stance to its logical end. That, and not mental illness, is the root cause. People like Menendez, Lanza, the Aurora Massacre killer James Holmes, and Afghan mass killer Sgt. Robert Bales can be roughly compared to the canaries they used to use in mines who were most sensitive to the odorless fumes that would kill you before you noticed. What is amiss in our society isn't mainly that there are too many guns that are too readily available (it's a secondary factor). And it isn't that there are mentally ill people or even that there are socially impaired people around who have too ready access to weapons. The problem is principally and overwhelmingly because sociopathy has become the official norm of our foreign and domestic policies. 

Instead of attacking this problem at its root, however, elites’ prevailing response has been to carry forward the ugly logic of the “war on terror” and compound the problem by stereotyping and repressing yet another relatively defenseless group of victims, the mentally ill, to join the ranks of Muslims, South Asians, Middle-Easterners, and so on. This is yet more evidence that this system and its leaders are utterly incapable of stopping this atrocious trend because they are in fact behind this trend and pushing it forward. 

These killings are going to continue unless and until an upsurge from below, supported and joined by voices from among the intelligentsia and other opinion-makers, rises up strongly enough to challenge the whole trajectory of events and the system that is giving rise to this. 

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