Mental Illness and Collective Responsibility

Mental illness is not responsible for mass shootings. Removing guns from society would prevent mass shootings, but guns aren’t responsible for mass shootings. A desire for mass suffering is at play. What causes the desire for mass suffering? Much of what we call mental illness is not the cause but the effect of pain in relationships with family, community, and institutions. Individuals shouldn’t  be held responsible for illness, but who then is responsible? Insanity is a collective phenomenon. The desire for mass suffering is an outburst after a chain of painful experiences, inadequate coping mechanisms, family dysfunction, social alienation, exploitative communities, institutional neglect, and personal malice. Society is in part responsible for the suffering that produces mental illness. The division between criminality and insanity is a subtle one, mediated by society’s willingness to heal and prevent aberrant behavior. The barometer for what is considered mental illness depends upon what we are willing to accept responsibility for as a society. One day when social institutions are far more capable of caring for the neglected, and communities welcome their outcasts, we will recognize how much more the responsibility for tragedy rests on our own shoulders.

A perfectly sane man may commit a mass shooting, with pre-meditation and planning. However, mass shooters are automatically branded as mentally ill because it seems irrational. Why? Because we are too good to be worth killing? That reflects our experience of ourselves and our community. We are not so innocent in the shooter’s eyes. Mass shooters, terrorists, and communist revolutionaries traditionally feel disenfranchised by the social order. Our contentment with our individual homes, luxuries, entertainment, ambitions, and families blind us to the suffering of other people. The people in Newtown are no longer blind. The killer achieved his objective. We all feel his pain now. His suffering is externalized, projected onto those families. If you think this is unjust, it is only a matter of time before more mass shooters force us to reconsider the meaning of justice. We are responsible for everything that affects us. If something matters, we should hold ourselves responsible for its outcome. Welcoming the social outcast and eliminating gun ownership would have helped prevent this. We are all interconnected. Unity is both a goal and an operating assumption. Through shared travails we realize that as one humanity, we rise and fall together. Any pretensions to individualism, isolationism, or factions of particular interest will be forced to acknowledge their interconnectedness. Selfish evil cannot be marginalized or ignored, it just transforms expression until united good rises to meet it. Pain never leaves the world, it just waits to kick open a school door in Newtown, Connecticut.

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Jungle

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