There was a here-we-go again note in the aftermath of the horrific killings at Virginia Tech: the grief, the memorials, and the parade on TV of psychologists. There was also a discomforting, underlying theme (I felt) that we cannot protect ourselves from those who would harm us.
We can ban guns, hold “workshops” on bullying, etc. but we ultimately are helpless. I think, to some degree, we’ve made ourselves more helpless than we have to be. Society has dismantled rules that made us safer (and I’m not talking about rules regarding handguns).
Rather than stand here on my soapbox, I want to (belatedly) note a relevant article Friday by Charles Krauthammer (who is both columnist and psychiatrist):
“If we are going to look for a political issue here, the more relevant is not gun control but psychosis control. We decided a half a century ago that our more eccentric and, indeed, crazy fellow citizens would not be easily locked in asylums. It was a humane decision, but with the inevitable consequence that some who really need quarantine are allowed to roam the streets.
“It turns out that Cho’s psychiatric impairment had been evident to many. He had been cited for stalking two women on campus. Virginia Tech police tried unsuccessfully to have him involuntarily committed. A teacher referred him to counseling, and even his fellow students saw signs of dangerous disturbance. ” Cho’s plays. . . had really twisted, macabre violence,” writes former classmate Ian McFarlane. “Before Cho got to class that day [of reading plays], we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter. I was even thinking of scenarios of what I would do in case he did come in with a gun.”
“In a previous age, such a troubled soul might have found himself at the state mental hospital rather than a state university. But in a trade-off that a decent and tolerant society makes with open eyes, we allow freedom from straitjackets to those on the psychic edge, knowing that such tolerance runs a very rare but very terrible risk.”
The media, by the way, did a lousy job. Here is an item from the Weekly Standard:
“In their anguish over the slaughter of innocents at Virginia Tech, students and teachers and school officials and parents seemed to agree on one thing: the press coverage was not only horrible, it made things worse. And the problem was not just momentary mistakes, such as identifying the killer as a recently arrived Chinese student when he turned out to be a longtime immigrant from South Korea.
“Somehow the media have adopted as their first duty in covering a catastrophe that of judging, finding fault, and parceling out blame. Actual reporting comes in a distant second. Almost from the outset, reporters harshly condemned school officials for not having canceled classes and shut down the campus after two murders in a dorm and before the massacre in classrooms two hours later.”