Monday, July 30, 2012





Derangement Obsession


In his New York Times column a week ago in which David Brooks tries to cast doubt on the effectiveness of gun control in preventing murder, David Brooks notes "the truly disturbed have always been with us but their outbursts are now taking more malevolent forms."

Good thing, too, because it may be the only thing he wrote that made sense, while contradicting one of his central arguments.

"The best way to prevent killing sprees," Brooks claimed before his brief burst of logic, "is with relationships- when one person notices that a relative or neighbor is going off the rails and gets that person treatment before the barbarism takes control." (Brooks recognizes the need for more widely available treatment.)   Yes, that'll get it done- because the one thing an emotionally unstable guy is going to appreciate is a neighbor, probably untrained and inexperienced in the field, telling him he's crazy.

That is, in the unlikely event the neighbor or friend would even recognize the derangement.   It's not for nothing that a local news report following a deadly spree always includes one neighbor or acquaintance of the accused saying, roughly, "he always seemed such a nice guy who never bothered anyone."    One of Brooks' readers, who identifies himself as Capt Tom Bunn, LCSW points out

As a PhD student in neurology, Holmes had daily contact with professors and students who had greater knowledge about mental disorders than the average person - or even the average mental health professional. 

If, in that environment, no one recognized where he was headed, the idea that mental health screening can prevent mass murder suggests we should have our own heads examined.


As a PhD student in neurology, Holmes had daily contact with professors and students who had greater knowledge about mental disorders than the average person - or even the average mental health professional. 


If, in that environment, no one recognized where he was headed, the idea that mental health screening can prevent mass murder suggests we should have our own heads examined.


Brooks believes "when you investigate the minds of these killers, you find yourself deep in a world of delusion, untreated schizophrenia and ferociously injured pride."   I (sarcasm alert) don't know as much about schizophrenics as does David Brooks, Psy.D. but we all know people "in a world of delusion" and "fiercely injured pride."   They're known as conservatives.   The veteran NYT columnist believes "many" of the mass killers " had suffered from severe depression or had attempted suicide."    But as another Times' reader, Aidan Mouellic of Vancouver, B.C., explains

As someone who has personally experienced mental disease, I can say that not once did I ever have the urge to go on a rampage. The author of this article must have never experienced severe depression, because it he did, he would know that while inside the void, the last thing one would want or could do is go on a killing spree. Depression makes getting out of bed as difficult as climbing a mountain. Walking to the mail box becomes a challenge. Depression is internalized rage, not externalized.

Skeptical of the need for, or appropriateness of, gun or ammunition control, Brooks argues "the crucial point is that the dynamics are internal, not external.  ThesekKillers are primarily the product of psychological derangements, not sociological ones."

Addressing Brooks' contention that the problem is one of psychology, CNN"s Fareed Zakaria recognizes roughly equal distribution of the mentally disturbed, but not of firearms, throughout the world.    He reasons

At one level, this makes sense, of course, as the proximate cause. But really, it’s questionable analysis. Think about this: are there more lonely people in America compared with other countries? Are there, say, fewer depressed people in Asia and Europe? So why do they all have so much less gun violence than we do?

The United States stands out from the rest of the world not because it has more nutcases – I think we can assume that those people are sprinkled throughout every society equally –but because it has more guns.


There are more firearms per capita in the U.S.A. than in any nation, as indicated in the map (immediately below) Zakaria displays.   The U.S.A. stands alone- is exceptional- as having more than 70 guns per capita.     With only 5% of the world's population, Zakaria finds, this nation has 50% of its firearms, 88 per 100 individuals.








It's not surprising, then, that death (homicide, suicide, and accidental) is higher here than elsewhere, and rising as gun laws have been loosened.    This is happening, significantly, as other violent crime in the U.S.A. has been dropping since 2000.     Crime down, shooting up- a coincidence, surely.
You might expect those who claim (explicitly as does Brooks and or otherwise) that the answer lies in psychology rather than in sociology would ponder why the U.S.A. apparently has disproportionately more "deranged" or "crazy" individuals.   Alas, there is no such curiosity.    That would lead one to suspect their motives, if not to assume that it is to prevent consideration of curbs on the acquisition of arms.

But it is not only the motive, but the premise, that is at odds with objective reality.   Atlantic magazine's Senior Editor Richard Florida presents a chart (below) which correlates 21 factors with gun deaths per 100,000 people.    McCain vote share, unemployment, illegal drug use are among those one would expect to be positively correlated with gun death.  Trigger locks, assault weapon ban, college graduates are among those of the usual suspects negatively correlated with gun deaths.

But three factors stand out as negatively correlated.   They stand out because they would be assumed to track closely with incidents of all violent deaths and are blithely trotted out whenever mass killings, such as in Aurora, occur.    Stress, neuroticism, and mental illness are negatively correlated with gun deaths.   Where there are more of the former, there has been less of the latter.   Take that, Brooks.




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