April 23, 2007

A Final Thought On Cho's Mental Illness

A thoughtful reader concerned about backlash against the mentally ill asked me to write a piece basically saying that not all mentally ill people were homicidal maniacs. 

It's a fair request, but in this case it's counterproductive.  Here's what I mean: you want to say that "not all mentally ill people are violent."  You want counterexamples to Cho's example.  But that's a defensive posture, unnecessary because... Cho wasn't mentally ill.  He was a sad, bad man who killed people because his life wasn't validated.  There was no psychosis, there was no cognitive impairment, there was no psychiatric impairment in insight in judgment.  There was a lack of sex, but that's not yet in the DSM.

Not to reduce his life down to a soundbite, but he was a guy who thought he deserved better by virtue of his intelligence and suffering; found himself in a sea of mediocrity but couldn't understand why he couldn't therefore excel; and, worst of all, found that all the things he thought he deserved eluded him-- especially hot chicks, who not only dismissed him and found him creepy, but, worse, chose to be with the very men he thought were obviously inferior to him.  It's Columbine all over again.  It's almost even the same day.

Forget the Prozac, forget the involuntary commitment (where he was found by the court to be "a danger to himself and others"-- that's standard boilerplate, it is clinically meaningless).  Those are  red herrings.  You may as well blame wearing black t-shirts.  He's not mentally ill; he's an adolescent.

The difference, the single difference, between us and him is that when we were sulking in high school, we listened to Pink Floyd or U2.  He watched Oldboy.  We had a battered copy of a Playboy down at the creek under a rock, that was so creased we had to infer the boobs.  He had the internet.  Maybe we bought a pocket knife, or-- wow-- a butterfly knife.  He bought two Glocks.

In other words, the difference is this: he decided to shoot 30 people, and you didn't.  That's it.  I know it's not a satisfying answer, I know we want explanations, but there aren't any.  Forget genes, forget DSM.  He chose to do something bad,  he knew it was bad, but he did it anyway.

Don't worry about the mentally ill.  Worry about the nut politicians and media outlets who will look to the easy and convenient excuse of mental illness, rather than have to do the hard work of figuring out why our society is melting.

 

Older posts on Cho here, here, and here.







Comments

I am no psychiatrist, but I... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2007 3:45 PM | Posted by Kit: | Reply

I am no psychiatrist, but I could not possibly agree with you more. I said similar things after Columbine - I was a shunned geek in school who couldn't get a date for years too, but I never went on a shooting spree. I just figured "someday it'll get better, and I've got to do my part to make that happen."

And it did.

Personally, I found this post to be interesting in terms of possibly answering the "why" question.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I suppose it's possible tha... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2007 8:03 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I suppose it's possible that this was just bad luck. Perhaps one of every hundred men seriously considers doing this sort of thing, but either their environment changes or something opens their eyes, and leads them on a different course. But it's inevitable that to some of them, such change doesn't come in time.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
<a href="http://www.prisonp... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2007 2:05 AM | Posted by Kaitlyn Smith: | Reply

http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/april2007/190407mindcontrolled.htm


We have been receiving numerous calls and e mails alerting us to the fact that VA Tech is pulling links from its website concerning their relationship with the CIA. Reports from November 2005 confirm that the CIA was active in operating recruitment programs based out of VA Tech. Several professors from VA Tech are involved in government programs linked with NASA and other agencies.

Wikipedia also pulled a bizarre recently taken photograph of Cho wearing a U.S. Marines uniform.

Such details only fan the flames of accusations that Cho could have been a Manchurian Candidate, a mind-controlled assassin.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -3 (3 votes cast)
Thank you for this post! T... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2007 5:05 AM | Posted by ELN: | Reply

Thank you for this post! This is similar to how I felt after I kept seeing professionals calling him psychotic, paranoid, etc., but I couldn't seem to articulate it.
I doubt his moral illness was completely his fault, but trying to slap him with a speculative diagnosis seemed both dismissive of the crime and damaging to those with mental illness. Furthermore, how do you put a statistically significant label on a statistically insignificant behavior (if I understand that part of the DSM correctly)?

I'm somewhat torn though. Killing 32 people is a twisted and unreasonable thing to do, so I do think one can loosely define such moral illness as mental illness. It seems self-evident he was sick. But that self-evidence is just one more reason why having people call him mentally ill serves no more purpose than calling him human--except to stigmatize the formally mentally ill.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I just figured "someday ... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2007 8:05 AM | Posted by Ernunnos: | Reply

I just figured "someday it'll get better, and I've got to do my part to make that happen."

And that's exactly what the killers are unable to do. They suffer from a lack of imagination. Their sense of present entitlement is blocking their view of the future.

The kid listening to Pink Floyd was also counting down the days to turning 18 and striking out on his own.

It's an old joke. "Hey teens, move out and pay your own way while you still know everything!" But I think it's a useful delusion of youth that everything will be better when you're finally on your own and in charge of your own destiny. It gives you something to look forward to. And that first apartment filled with milk crate furniture seems like a palace. That'll get you through some rough times.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
well it was one glock (a 9m... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2007 5:48 PM | Posted by Philip Dawdy: | Reply

well it was one glock (a 9mm) and a walther (.22 cal). great post as usual.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
There are lots of today's a... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2007 7:24 PM | Posted by founders 11: | Reply

There are lots of today's adolescents who 1) have indeed watched Oldboy 2) don't get laid, and 3) have the internet, who don't go on to shoot 32 people, don't make multimedia manifestos, don't think they're jesus, and don't express persecutory delusions. If you don't mean to imply causality, if it's all just about individual choices, why the purposeful dichotomy of "him" vs "us"? If it's all about a "choice" at a particular moment in time, why are the diametrically opposed "histories" you present relevant at all? Or are they more red herrings?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
i would buy the 'sexual fru... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2007 10:17 PM | Posted by lyle: | Reply

i would buy the 'sexual frustration/inability to deal maturely with life' angle more as a replacement explanation for mental illness... IF he had snapped from nothing and done all this killing in a state of temporary psychosis brought on by all his repressed issues hitting him at once. that is, bought the gun, bought the military dress, bough the lock and chain he used to lock out the cops, bought the ammunition clips on EBAY... all during the same day, or even hour span, from the point where he started killing people.

but, that's not even close to what happened, from everything i've read.

first of all, he was logically, rationally and intelligently planning out the murder of probably many more people than he actually ended up killing, while nobody in his life noticed an acute state... not his family, not his classmates, no one so far.

yes, everybody thought he was weird. but i have yet to read a news story where anybody has described his mental state as 'snapped'. or that he had deteriorated rapidly during the hours and days leading up to his rampage.

i mean, what other evidence do you really need for mental illness than nobody can tell when you're just being yourself and when you're planning the murder of dozens of people and yourself?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I propose we call it anothe... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2007 10:58 AM | Posted by rhoul: | Reply

I propose we call it another case of "Homicidal Loser Syndrome" (HLS).

I'm surprised the media hasn't pointed out the striking similarity between Cho's melodramatic narcissism and recent Montreal school shooter Kimveer Gill - it's practically a copy-cat case.

Forget the DSM - both fit the bill for what any high schooler would appropriately label "loser". Their sensationalized self-portraits are examples of pathological self-absorption - these killers aren't "snapping" like Charles Whitman (possibly due to an undiagnosed illness) - they are quite consciously choosing to form an identity around becoming a dark, dangerous, evil, all-powerful (and sexy?) "killing machine" who will be martyred and remembered.

It's simple, desperate megalomania to be "something" by someone who has otherwise failed to become anything.

Another example of "Homocidal Loser Syndrome" is Ricardo Lopez, who stalked and mailed a bomb to pop star Bjork:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiqTUI8hZYA

He describes himself as "an angel of death", who would "become the most important person" in Bjork's life - her killer. In reality, he sits alone in his apartment, taping his descent into madness and subsequent suicide...

Every teenager goes through a wretched phase of social confusion, identity crisis, insecurity, and extreme emotional volatility - it's something to grow out of, not pick up a gun and validate through a homicidal rampage.

Maybe if this term is popularized, fewer sexually frustrated loners would nurse the delusion that if they play out their juvenile revenge fantasies, it will validate their existence as anything less than completely pathetic.

Most kids grow out of their high-school level "woe is me, the world is sooooooo mean

The socially isolated 20-something loner with a slow-burning revenge fantasy is just the same misanthropic teenager who's failed to pass his next developmental milestone - unlike physical puberty, emotional maturity requires conscious effort - something all killers inherently lack.

By throwing themselves into a rage of glorified self-destruction, they are correctly assuming that for at least for a few days, they will be glamorized by the media as a headline. For an isolated loner who wants to make a meaningless life appear to count for something, that's about all the motivation you really need.

I believe we all start out as losers - the winners in life are those who have learned to take it by the balls, not by the trigger.

Being internationally labeled a "loser" by world history might not be much of a deterrent in death, but to the life of a brooding "shy guy" with critically low self-esteem, it might just be enough to convince him to pick up a dumbell, instead of a gun.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
well, what about the fact t... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2007 8:29 PM | Posted by well: | Reply

well, what about the fact the kid couldn't talk around other people from the time he was a small child?

Is that not indicative of some kind of pathology?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Thank you for posting your ... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2007 10:41 AM | Posted by D Cootey: | Reply

Thank you for posting your opinion so boldly. You've articulated succinctly my own feelings on the subject (http://thesplinteredmind.blogspot.com/2007/04/if-virginia-tech-gunman-was-on-meds.html)

I firmly believe that Cho knew what he was doing. He lived on a steady diet of hate, fantasizing violently, nurturing it... Is it any wonder he then acted out on it? This was not Depression. This was the behavior of an insignificant boy trying to feel important.

We gain nothing by excusing his actions. When we remove personal responsibility from the actions of monsters, where does that leave us as a society? Why so much pity for Cho? By condemning his actions instead of pitying them, we can strengthen society instead of weakening it. It just might help put a stop to further atrocities committed by future individuals.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Conspiracy theory or not, I... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2007 7:03 AM | Posted by Thank you: | Reply

Conspiracy theory or not, I'm intrigued to find out more about the supposed link between the CIA and Cho.

I had the a distinc feeling when i first heard about the Va. Tech incident that this could have been planned and used by the government as a "distraction" from other realities in the political world that are so hot right now.

Forgive the conspiracy theory fanatism. I'm just wondering if they is any truth to what Smith has writen below:

the following quote posted by Kaitlyn Smith

"Such details only fan the flames of accusations that Cho could have been a Manchurian Candidate, a mind-controlled assassin.... "

"We have been receiving numerous calls and e mails alerting us to the fact that VA Tech is pulling links from its website concerning their relationship with the CIA. Reports from November 2005 confirm that the CIA was active in operating recruitment programs based out of VA Tech. Several professors from VA Tech are involved in government programs linked with NASA and other agencies."

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
this feels very relevent:</... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2007 7:24 AM | Posted by Thank you: | Reply

this feels very relevent:

" Don't worry about the mentally ill. Worry about the nut politicians and media outlets who will look to the easy and convenient excuse of mental illness, rather than have to do the hard work of figuring out why our society is melting."

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
To keep our society from m... (Below threshold)

May 12, 2007 8:02 PM | Posted by PeteS: | Reply

To keep our society from melting, I am telling my kids the following: "If you see someone being teased. Stick up for them. Tell them they are important. Tell the teaser that they are no more important than anyone else." I site Jesus but you can say that a wise philosopher said it or you can tell them it's constitutional.

"Teasing someone is equated with murder. In other words, don't do it."

"Doing right is more important than living." Yes, I know this is questionable advice if heaven doesn't exist. But only questionable because, heroes are venerated and spoken well of and that's a great motivator. However, if heaven does exist and the philosopher who promised me a room is not a nut case, than this is great advice because not only did I help society better itself, but I get a room in a mansion.

"Tell the kid who gets teased that God doesn't want you to get revenge, he wants to do it. And Jesus goes further and says that if you really want to torture your tormenter, then forgive him." There must be good research that's out there -for those who don't believe in God - that backs up the good philosopher's words.

Obviously, these ideas are underdeveloped and simplistic, but just take the pc midset out if you can and aren't these teachings a good way to stop the meltdown?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)