Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Sunday Feeling

I arrived late to a board meeting one day a few years ago. I was in an obvious foul mood because some idiot had pulled out on me on the road and almost hit me. I confessed to laying on the horn and yelling. One of my fellow board members is a psychiatrist here in town. He told me that he made it a point to never react to other drivers out there on the road.
"The American Psychiatric Association estimates that about 10%(I forget the exact number) of the general population is psychotic or borderline psychotic," he said. "The vast majority of those individuals are not treated or are treated inadequately. Now, consider the number of people in a place like Arkansas that keep weapons in their vehicles. I'll bet it's 20%. More so during deer season. Statistically speaking, this means that a certain percentage of drivers in Arkansas are armed psychopaths. So I never react when somebody pisses me off on the road. Flipping somebody off is just not the smart play according to the mathematics."
Security planning is all about doing the math. This is not a police state. At least not yet. There has to be a balance struck between a free society and the imposition of restrictions even if they are for the common good. It is thought that having security points in our government offices and courthouses is a minimally intrusive method of ensuring the safety of the workers and the visitors. On the other hand, making everybody get wanded and frisked when the President is at the ball park makes sense too despite the fact that such measures are highly intrusive. The President is the head of state. A single shot can alter history. Such measures are appropriate.
Which brings to the horrific events at Virginia Tech last week. How could such a senseless rampage been avoided? Is there a way to secure a college campus to keep something like this from happening again?
The answer to the last question is "probably not." Most college campuses are wide open green space with kids going in and out of buildings at all hours. Everybody is carrying a backpack. Everybody is in a hurry to get somewhere. You can't make everybody go through a security point in the buildings on your average college campus. The threat of somebody packing a gun or some other weapon on campus is practically non-existent, statistically speaking.
Could the campus police done a better job in responding to the incident? You can bet that procedures are being reviewed at Virginia Tech and at college campuses everywhere. Having said that, the experience of the last 4 years in Iraq prove that it is damned difficult to stop someone with a death wish who intends to maim others. If the greatest military power on Earth struggles to prevent similar assaults, we might want to cut the authorities in Blacksburg some slack. Besides, what are the odds?
But this is unlikely to bring comfort to the loved ones of the murdered and the Virginia Tech community. A social cripple named Seung Hoi Cho gave the lie to the numbers. He proved the oddsmakers wrong at least on one day in April.
You heard various opinions as to Cho's mental state last week. One psychiatrist on "Good Morning America" while allowing that Cho was paranoid and a narcissist also described him as a "weakling" and a "loser.' Other experts have diagnosed Cho from afar as being bi-polar. He was referred to a local mental health unit by a local judicial officer a year or so ago. He was kept for observation and released. Still, the young man was a creep who wrote alarming stories filled with violent imagery. He used his cellphone to to take pictures of girls' legs under their desks.
This ain't normal.
I was at a cocktail party once where I met a woman who was a Dean of Students at one of our local colleges. The conversation turned to the difference between kids today and kids when we were in school.
" I'll tell you the difference," she said. " When we were that age, you didn't get fucked up until you got to college and then you kinda worked yourself out of it. Kids today show up completely fucked up and when we contact the parents they are like 'Hey! This is your problem now.' Seen it a dozen times. That's the difference. They're fucked up when they first show up on campus."
I understand that this lady is no longer in academe. She is now in sales. Probably a good move. Sounds like she was burned out.
I don't know the answer to any of this. I do know that there are a dearth of in-patient beds for a person with mental illness. However, the jails are full of mentally ill people. The law enforcement types don't want them there but there's nowhere else to put them. This is because there's no big money to be made in psychiatric illness. Ask the psychiatrists.
And yet, just because it's not a license to print money like a procedure driven practice such as cardiology doesn't mean that mental illness is not a medical issue. Just because the jails are full of crazy people doesn't mean that it's a legal problem.
Surely we as a society could have done a better job of diverting Seung Hoi Cho at some point. Then again, maybe we couldn't have. After all, it's harder than hell to prevent some goddamn fool who is intent on blowing you and himself to Kingdom Come from acting on these black impulses. It's not as easy as counting to 10 whenever you are cut off by some idiot in the car ahead of you. Sometimes the odds don't matter anymore.
Ask the folks at Virginia Tech.

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