As the United States makes its way through another record-breaking year of mass-murders without the slightest thought to reconsidering our gun laws, there has been, and will continue to be, a lot of talk about mental health and mental illness. And let’s be clear: as many as 57.7 million Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year.
The reason for this has little to do with actual mental illness issues, which plague the US particularly after Ronald Reagan abandoned the mentally ill to the streets to find their bootstraps. Suicide, addiction, and the various mental health diagnoses that are out there are not being addressed, for the most part – at least not with the resources it would require to actually help people. Yet even if they were, I don’t think our accelerating pace of mass shootings in the United States would even slow, much less stop.
The reason for this “mental illness” language is because we are terrified of actually talking about the intrinsic evil of violence. We have lost our language of evil – it was hijacked for use to describe benign things like contraception and sexual orientation, or abandoned in favor of clinical-sounding terms, so we let go of it altogether, and instead have adopted the idea of mental illness which we use when we want to say “evil” but don’t want to sound that-kind-of-religious. Mental illness sounds clinical and measurable. You can get pills to cure mental illness, right?
There’s no pill for the evil of violence, so that’s scarier. But for all that we fear violence, we love it more.
This particular kind of evil, the evil of violence, is one that the United States of America loves and worships and engages in with unparalleled commitment. If you follow the money, it reveals that we love and value violence above all else. If you ask what it is we trust, our actions and votes show clearly that we trust violence above all else. If there is a problem in the world that needs our intervention, then violence is our first go-to answer. And when violence fails, as it invariably does, we are at a loss and quietly abandon the battlefield, declaring victory with the smoldering rubble of other people’s lives in the rear-view.
So when we have a continual flood of news about mass-shootings in schools and on military bases and in malls, what’s the first answer that many offer up? Talk about mental illness, while lobbying for more guns and buying more guns.
This is not a mental health problem. The problem is that the United States worships violence. The Fort Hood shootings are good examples (also good examples of how having armed guards and armed teachers will not make schools safe from shootings, because what is better armed than a military base?). The first Fort Hood shooter was a practicing psychiatrist. The second Fort Hood shooter was receiving mental health care and was being assessed for PTSD. In both cases, looking for people who lack mental health care would not have told us anything about these two men. In both cases, in a heavily-guarded, well-armed situation, people with access to mental health care, or trained in providing that care, murdered fellow soldiers.
This is not a mental health problem. It is a violence problem. In the aftermath of yet another shooting, this time at the hands of a white-supremacist and former Klan leader, President Obama talked about how violence like this has no place in our society. (Well, specifically intolerance-tinged violence) But violence has a place in our society – it is a place of honor, a place of worship, and a place of trust. We are a nation of violence, and while these shootings are certainly heartbreaking in every case, I don’t think we can act surprised or offended anymore.
These shootings simply show us who we truly are. It’s up to us to change.