If you blame yesterday’s act of terrorism against several US citizens going about the business of democracy on the aberrant delusions of someone with mental illness, you wrong all the victims of terrorism gunned down, blown away, gassed, or hacked to pieces by people who are certifiably sane.
You also wrong men and women in armies everywhere, who commit atrocities in the name of patriotism or just the imperative to follow orders and, as a consequence, become mentally ill.
Mental illness is not simple. Sane people kill every day, for good or bad reasons. Most of the people who will be murdered tomorrow (and there will be many), will be murdered by certifiably sane people. Many certifiably sane people become profoundly disturbed as a consequence of having killed.
The relation between killing and insanity is not simple.
If you blame the violence perpetrated yesterday on an elected official of the United States on the aberrant behavior of a deranged young man you wrong all elected officials everywhere whose right to govern freely has been and is being tampered with by the United States government. This is violence too. It may not always be bullets in the head, but it’s violence against international law, cooperation, and respect for the sovereignty of other country-states. It hurts freedom and democracy and the respect we owe one another.
The relation between killing and other forms of violence is not simple.
If you blame yesterday’s killings on the deranged behavior of “the mentally ill,” you make us all very nervous about the strange, introverted, unhinged, pained, and often fabulous people who populate our communal lives. In particular, you cast a black shadow of panicked danger on the students in our high schools and universities, and make teachers everywhere nervous and suspicious around students who think and act differently.
Blame yesterday’s act of terrorism on a culture of intolerance and violence and you won’t wrong, hurt, or marginalize anyone. Blame it also on the easy availability of guns, and, again, no one will be hurt – many will be spared instead. Blame it, too, on the paucity of true support for those who are tortured by mental pain — not the availability of drugs and mental jails but that of safe and anonymous places to turn to in order to be heard and made to feel less alone — and you will be helping more people than you think.