Are the perpetrators of school shootings ‘lost causes?’

As a human being, I experience the deep, gnawing pain, shattered heart, and emotional trauma related with school shootings. Indeed, I will likely associate the names Columbine, Virginia Tech, and, as of yesterday, Sandy Hook, with their tragic massacres for the rest of my life. I find these incidents cruel and inhumane; staggering and confusing; painful and unforgivable.

And, yet, I am going into a profession that focuses on the complexity of human behavior, a field that strives to foster psychological well-being for those suffering from distress, whatever that may be. And, for this reason, politics aside, I believe we are facing an extreme crisis. People can debate tirelessly about gun control or proactive security measures. They can talk about prison sentences and the inadequacy of the legal system. They will point fingers at violent media, at the saturation and glorification of death and brutality on television and in video games. I am going to argue from a different approach, and take a stab at blaming my own home base: the mental health sector.

In the aftermath of school shootings, people respond with unquenchable curiosity and seemingly desperate need for unanswerable questions. What provoked him? Could this have been prevented? And most importantly, how could someone do that?

There are the typical predictors: being male, history of violence, sharing premeditated plans with others, emotional detachment, arrogance. It is likely that most of these perpetrators suffered from personality disorders among other mental illnesses. Hindsight biasthe phenomenon behind wondering “how could I have not known?” in cases of tragedies is common. For instance, when reading the infamous personality profiles of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two gunmen behind the Columbine shooting, it almost seems unfathomable that people did not take their ideations seriously.

These perpetrators need just as much help as anyone else. In fact, I will argue that they need help the most. Yet, due to the nature of their backgrounds and personality, most will not receive the adequate help they need. For good reason, we empathize with victims. Their traumatic stories move us; we seek to normalize their feelings and convince them that they are not bad people. And for the same reason, we struggle with empathizing with perpetrators. Rapists and murderers:  They deserve to die. They deserve to burn in hell. They deserve to rot in jail.

And, yet, what if we could intervene BEFORE these acts of violence? What if we could provide these individuals with the same sense of unwavering support and unconditional regard that we can give victims BEFORE these tragedies occur.

What if the perpetrators are just victims of their own abnormal distortions?

I recognize that there is not a simple black-and-white remedy, and I believe that anyone who claims to know how to “solve this problem” undermines the vast complexity of human behavior. This has nothing to do with tightening legal consequences or approving new restrictions. This has to do with simply talking to disturbed individuals and ending the societal stigma and denial associated with psychiatric illness.

How can we look for ways to reduce the rage and social isolation experienced by so many of these perpetrators? How can we raise awareness to their unrealistic perceptions of the world, of the people around them, of the human life value, while, at the same time, setting aside our own socially-constructed morals to provide support, nurture and validation for theirs? Is there a way to effectively treat these dynamic personalities, to provide successful treatment for their thought processes? How can we erase the idea that these people cannot be saved, cannot be helped, cannot be worthy of psychological treatment? Are they simply lost causes?

In addition to homicidal desires, most gunmen in school shootings have prior attempts of suicide. The underlying motives for suicide usually consist of an assorted of disillusioned, negative variables, including depression, isolation, extreme rejection. What if we focused on those symptoms first?  Right now, when people express ideation for harming themselves or others, we follow the mandated ‘5150’ procedure for involuntary commitment. Is that enough? Removing them from the public protects and benefits society, but I’m wondering, what protects and benefits them?

In light of yesterday’s tragedy, I send my deepest wishes and remorse to the victims and their families. But, I also feel frustrated and angry that we failed to protect so many innocent lives because we have failed to adequately protect and help the perpetrators. As an aspiring therapist with a passion for the psychological dynamics of behavior, I do not believe anyone is a lost cause; I only believe that we have not found a workable solution.

Advertisements

Fallacies of the American Dream and How We May be Harming our Children

The American Dream, while obviously subjective in its definition, epitomizes the idea of capitalism by reinforcing that In America, you can do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be.

And, sure, we know that this can and does happen. Everyone has heard the rag-to-riches stories, the infamous recounts from people who came to this country with no more than five dollars in their pocket and an imagination brimming with dreams. Naturally, these are the people who founded a small business, be it a restaurant or car dealership, and worked their way into billion-dollar lifestyles. These are the professional athletes from poverty-stricken families; the supermodels who immigrated for a better life; the Silicon Valley techs who never completed college.

Hard work and determination, that’s all it takes. That’s what has been drilled into our heads. As long as we have those two traits, we can achieve success. It may be slow and it may be mounted with obstacles, but it can be done.

Sounds good.

In theory.

But, for every pipe dream and every story with a happy ending, how many people fail?

A lot, it seems. This past financial recession and the widespread popularity of the occupant movements reveals just that, and in the past half-century, the once booming middle class has shrunk, making the class differences between the upper and lower class more evident than ever before.

 In a sense, the rich are staying rich and getting richer.

What about everyone else?

Capitalism benefits the wealthy because it relies on maximum potential of resources, which of course, the rich have. How so? A few reasons:

1. Income is associated with academic success, college enrollment, and college graduation, thus leading to more education and higher-powered careers.

2. Income is associated with greater health, both mentally and physically.

3. Income is associated with more resources (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know), and this is manifested through networking, powerful relatives and acquaintances, more opportunities

All of these three variables are high predictors of success.

Overall, more money = more leeway room for failure.

If a wealthy entrepreneur wants to open his own restaurant, he has more money to invest in marketing and start-up costs. If he needs loans, he will be more likely to receive approval due to his high income. Furthermore, if the business does fail, he is more able to recuperate after losses. Not to mention, this individual is more likely to have higher levels of education, more connections within the network (wealth brings power), and more professional support. Compare this to a man living just above the poverty line. He may be a genius chef and businessman, but if this man is married or raising a family, is he willing to sacrifice their finances? If he is already in a stable-paying position, is he willing to jeopardize that cushion of safety for an unpredictable, unreliable paycheck?

Those struggling with finances cannot necessarily afford to invest in such pipe dreams. If a poverty-stricken child enjoys singing and has obvious musical talent, her road to success will pose tremendous challenges compared to the daughter of a millionaire. The wealthier child may enjoy voice lessons, private conservatory schools, access to professional choirs, and parents who are willing to drive and spend money to audition and promote their child.

Hard work and determination? Sure, both children may work equally hard and be equally determined to achieve success.

Can raw, innate talent make up for the rest?

The American Dream is not unachievable, as we still have many new businesses and inventions emerging from individuals of modest backgrounds. Nevertheless, pessimism remains the general climate for most young adults in today’s society. With college rates soaring and employment meager, people are living at home longer, plagued with more credit card debt, and likely to settle for underemployed or underpaid positions. Likewise, their parents are likely to be racked with their own debt, potential possibilities for home foreclosure, the likelihood for reduction of social security and pensions, and their own fears of career layoffs. At the same time, we are literally bombarded with “get-rich-in-a-day” schemes, lottery results, reality television, the exploitation of lavish lifestyles, making us believe that anyone can join that elite life.

Moreover, we hate deluding the innocent children. After all, while we realize that the world needs the accountants, dentists, factory workers, middle managers, and construction workers, we don’t want them to settle for less than the glamorous. We want our kids to be the unstoppable athletes, breathtaking actresses, elegant models, unmatchable inventors, and the admirable superheroes.

Is this fair?

We want our children to defy the statistics, but yet, math is math, and disappointment is disappointment.

Is it fair to pretend that we are all on an equal playing board when eventually we everyone grows up and realizes we aren’t?

Is it fair to preach that hard work and determination always pays off?

Is it fair to be disappointed if our child doesn’t succeed in profoundly changing the whole world?

On one hand, it can be cruel and potentially damaging to a child’s development to explain how “the real world” works. We want to cultivate a nurturing and supportive environment. We want them to be motivated and driven to success, and having a solid dream can provide them with reason to work hard. Also, while it is numerically impossible for every child to be a star, there are always exceptions, always dirt-poor children who grow up to change the world and always believers who promise that if you want something bad enough, you can have it.

Yet, at the same time, ignorance cannot be bliss forever, and we may actually be doing a disservice to children by telling them that they can all be singers, ballerinas, and presidents. It can be hard for a parent to promise his children that they can grow up and be “whatever they want to be,” when the odds of that are so unlikely. Children of lower-class and now middle-class statuses are already at a disadvantage; they are more likely to attend less-prestigious schools and more likely to need to push education to the wayside in order to work.

How can one achieve those far-fetched dreams when food needs to be put on the table and rent needs to be paid?

The American Dream? What will it look like in the next century? Will the next generations of children grow up with that idyllic sparkle in their eyes believing confidently that they can be princesses and superheroes?

Five reasons why people will never compromise on the abortion debate

1. Life: the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body.

That is the definition extracted directly from Webster’s Dictionary, but it provides no justification in defining how life begins. After all, how do we define living from dead? By breathing? By maturation and development? Moreover, to essentially END life, we must understand what STARTS life, and yet, this is entirely subjective.

At one extreme, some insist that life begins the moment a creature is independent from needing the mother’s nutrients and body to survive. These advocates do not believe that abortion is murder, because they do not believe the fetus is alive. Others may believe life begins sometime during the pregnancy, and it is indicated by specific markers, such as transitioning into a new trimester or developing a heartbeat. These people, while still pro-choice, agree on abortion depending on a case-by-case basis. Pro-life individuals believe that life begins at contraception, once the sperm and egg produce a zygote. Since the fetus begins developing and maturing, terminating this process constitutes terminating life. They would not condone abortion at any point.

Since we cannot scientifically define “life,” this is an argument that has been socially constructed by religion, politics, and moral issues.

2. Religion and politics

So long as organized religion is prevalent force in American culture, the abortion debate will remain prominent. Christianity, the most central and dominant religion, denounces abortion, and many of its followers abide to the word of their church and biblical text. Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism all oppose abortion as well. For religious folk, pro-choice may be a detrimental and hypocritical belief.

With regards to the political spectrum, America is relatively dichotomous. Democrats typically favor pro-choice platforms and politicians; Republicans favor pro-life. Disagreeing with your political party may also seem hypocritical, on the grounds that people tend to line their beliefs with their affiliated party.

3. Solving the “unwanted child” epidemic

Unfortunately, child abandonment embodies a sad reality, hence the abundance of orphanages, shelters, and the existence of foster care and adoption agencies. While the global population continues to grow, we still face worldwide food and economic crises. Pro-choice individuals often believe that abortion reduces this amount of unwanted children; outlawing it would only worsen an already-terrible problem. Pro-life individuals, however, may recognize the outpour of resources, such as the surplus of families seeking adoption, and therefore conclude that even if the mother cannot provide a loving home, another individual or family will be eager to do so. This has become a major standstill, as most people understand our societal surplus of unwanted or abandoned children, but it is difficult to determine how much of a role abortion or the lack of abortion plays a role.

4. Consequences of unplanned pregnancies

In a culture where teenagers having babies and one-night stands are rampant, unplanned pregnancy has become mainstream and almost expected. While we face a serious plague of unwanted children, there are far more who are living in neglectful homes with less-than-ideal living environments. Sometimes, these children face abuse, poverty, or simply a lack of nourishment from their families. The pro-choice argument believes that when unfit mothers must keep and raise their children, they risk placing them in danger, whether it be financially, physically, or emotionally. These children may face a life of resentment or challenge, thus creating a host of problems. Pro-choice individuals often stress that one mistake should not define a woman’s life. They also recognize that contraception methods can fail, even when a woman or couple is taking all the necessary safety precautions. Meanwhile, the pro-life argument often emphasizes the importance of realizing the risks associated with sex. If a woman  is willing to become intimate, she must own up to the responsibility of any potential outcomes. Abortion is not a viable means of contraception, and if the pregnancy is unplanned, it lies at the fault of the mother. Therefore, pregnancy cannot be considered a mistake, because, no matter how unlikely, it is always a possibility. Instead of focusing on the mother in regards to an unplanned pregnancy, pro-life individuals focus on protecting a future child’s life.

This argument remains at a standstill, especially in exceptional cases, such as rape and perceived threat to the mother’s health. Is it fair for a mother to be responsible for giving birth to a child if was raped against her will? Should she still be liable to raise a child she never planned to have? However, on the other hand, is it fair to terminate a pregnancy on any grounds? How then, do we decide which future life should be allowed to live?

5. Perceived control over the female body

This, too, is difficult, because there is no set of outlines defining what right we have over ourselves. Suicide is technically illegal, but does that infringe on the rights of our body? The same debate has been seen with euthanasia and an individual’s right to demand “pulling the plug.” With abortion, however, this becomes murky. Pro-choice individuals believe that because the fetus is an extension that is entirely dependent on the mother, she holds the power in choosing to seek abortion.  Stripping away these rights is often considered inhumane and unjust, on the philosophy that forbidding abortion puts her body in the hands of the government and state laws. Pro-life individuals do not believe women should have the right to end their own pregnancies, just as they do not have rights to commit other acts of violence or murder. A mother cannot legally kill or harm her child once he or she is born, and she should not be able to do so while in vitro.

In other words, what do we consider illegal or immoral? Pro-choice individuals may perceive abortion as a medical decision to remove a part of the mother; pro-life individuals may perceive it as a violent crime terminating growing life.

Conclusion

There is no scientific answer defining THE ORIGIN OF LIFE.

There is no proven way that has solved the problem of unwanted children.

There is no set of rules governing which rights we have over our own bodies.

We know that people are strongly influenced by religion and politics, two major hotbeds for the abortion controversy. 

This is why abortion remains the most popular, overdone controversy of our century.