It was with a sinking feeling that I saw the first few “just a crazy guy” articles start to appear after the shooting in Aurora this weekend. In the media’s ever present need to categorize tragedies like this (as well as most other people that I’ve seen talk about it), it seems they’ve grafted the faux-binary way that everything else in society is split (GOP/dem, rich/poor, legal/illegal, normal/abnormal etc) onto this situation as well: absent a political motive, he’s “just a lone crazy”.
Well guess what: the “one lone crazy guy” rhetoric is offensive as shit to people who suffer from mental illness, not to mention complete and utter bullshit. How about “a guy who fell through the canyon sized cracks that exist when we stigmatize anyone with mental health issues as a culture”?
It’s not just “one lone crazy guy” who killed those people, it’s a culture that STILL TO THIS FUCKING DAY TREATS MENTAL ILLNESS AS A JOKE AT BEST.
It’s not just “one lone crazy guy” it’s a culture of violent authoritarian hero worship combined with a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps it’s all in your head here take this pill and shut the fuck up about it” approach to mental well being.
It’s not just “one lone crazy guy” it’s a culture that marginalizes anything “abnormal” to the point where people DON’T seek help because of the social repercussions that come with asking.
I’ve been on the end of that too many times, and it makes me angry as hell. I’ve also watched my wife, who’s mental health problems are SEVERELY worse than my own, deal _constantly_ with this bullshit… because in the end, no matter how sensitive the person speaking on it appears to be, inevitably there is one prevailing attitude towards mental illness: it is treated against an artificially constructed background of ‘normal’ an not as an outgrowth of cultural malaise. Whether its outright cultural normative bigotry “lock those crazies up!” or just condescension “we know what’s best to help you”, people suffering from mental illness are RARELY consulted about their own illnesses, and even more rarely treated in reference to the culture/society they come from.
It’s authoritarianism at its most subtle, and even some of the most staunch anti-authoritarians I know don’t see it in themselves.
Am I defending the actions of this guy? Of course not. It’s absolutely horrifying what he did. But it is also absolutely inexcusable for a society to write someone off as “just another crazy” without questioning where society itself has failed, and continues to fail. And I DON’T simply mean asking “how could we have caught this in him and stopped him sooner?” – that’s just as much a band-aid fix as gun control (at best) and an argument for more authoritarian “behavior monitoring” (at worst).
No I mean as a society sitting down and asking the HARD questions: what is it about our culture that leads to this? What are we as a society doing systemically to produce someone like this?
Most of all, what would things be like if we treated mental health sufferers as individuals in need of compassion, not condescension – as individuals in need of acceptance, not “normalizing”?
There will _always_ be individuals in society that do things like this. That is one of the consequences of forming a society itself. But a society that is AWARE of these things and sensitive about its own culpability in making people act like this can minimize the impact and frequency of these tragedies.
A society that treats mental health as simply another wound to be bandaged will only suffer more attacks like this.