Support the Café

Search our Site

Ideology, mental illness, or society? Deciding who to blame in a culture of violence.

Ideology, mental illness, or society? Deciding who to blame in a culture of violence.

After a tragedy such as yesterday’s mass shooting in Chattanooga, or any of the others that frequent the news, our first impulse is to assign blame. Michael Schulson in Religion Dispatches looks at the inexact science of blame.

Ideology, mental illness, and social problems all do contribute to bloodshed…. What’s strange is that we make sense of violence in such monolithic terms, and often with so little evidence. But it’s worth dissecting the peculiar terms of the debate that emerges after these highly public, tragic spectacles. Doing so highlights the extraordinarily low standards that we often accept in the analysis of blame….

…In the hours after an attack, how do the George Packers of the world know what’s really to blame for the violence?

The answer, of course, is that they don’t.

In part, that’s because the evidence is so sparse. The perpetrators often have died. While alive, they’ve rarely evinced any serious intellectual foundation for their actions. Maybe society is to blame, but it’s hard to pin down any concrete connection between social conditions and a given act of terror; while social science identifies patterns, it can rarely tell us where the blame lies in any specific instance.

In a recent essay for The Atlantic, criminologist Simon Cottee challenges the idea that we can ever fully understand why someone becomes a terrorist. “Everyone from clerics to caustic cab drivers seems to have a confident opinion on the subject,” he writes, “as though the interior world of terrorists can be easily mined and mapped.”


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anne Bay

In every recent case of these young males killing ‘for no apparent reason” , when the background of the killer comes forth it is quite the same. Insecure, loner, isolater, history of lack of social development, trouble with school and lack of a life focus with education or job. In every single case, the family finally came forth and said yes, they knew about their relatives’ problems-including depression, buying guns, retreating in the home to a basement or other isolated space, etc. So the family knew. They knew what was going on. The red flags of serious mental illness were present and could not have been more clear. So, these men who have committed these crimes probably could have been helped if someone had taken the step to get them into treatment. How to do that? Quite clearly the laws need to be changed to get a person into the right professional clinic/institution, and clinicians to identify the person’s psychological and physiological state. It’s not a mystery as to how these men got to be the way they are, the mystery is how to get them removed from their environment and into a professional set-up so they can get help. Also, their whole family needs help. These men did’t get to be the way they are by themselves. Their family is sick too and needs professional help. What is surprising to me is how surprised the different agencies seem to be!!!! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the family dysfunction that contributed to these killers. People are not hatched…as a psychologist said once….look at their early childhood and what the family dynamics are. And every time, the killer is the only one looked at-but they couldn’t have gotten to be as they are and obtain their weapons of killing without a long history of support. It’s time to educate the populace on what healthy child development is and what signs of mental illness to look for and get help for, even as children! There is no excuse for letting children develop into being a person of destruction, their own and others.

Eva Arnott

Sometimes a young man who has been unsuccessful in his own life feels hostility to everyone around him and causes a tragedy like those in Newtown or Aurora. In other cases a similar loser identifies with his own ethnic or religious group and kills non- members, as in Tennessee while the vast majority of reasonable members of his group are as horrified as anyone else at what he has done. We need to be careful to not blame the normal family members or fellow-members of a religion for what the evil perpetrator has done.

JC Fisher

If James Holmes was “sane” when he shot up the Aurora CO movie theater (showing Batman, doing the shooting as The Joker), then I believe the term “sane” has lost all relevant meaning.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café