THE VIOLENT URGES, THE TUMOR: The modern history starts with Charles Whitman!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 8, 2019

Was he "mentally ill?"
By most reckonings, the modern history of mass shootings starts on August 1, 1966.

This history starts with Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old engineering student at the University of Texas. Whitman stabbed his mother and his wife to death, then shot and killed thirteen people from the observation deck of that university's Main Building tower.

Eventually, Whitman was shot and killed that day by an Austin policeman. The modern history of mass shootings essentially starts with his astonishing acts.

Was Whitman suffering from some form of "mental illness?" The leading authority on these events offers this capsule account:
In the months prior to the attack, Whitman had sought professional help for "overwhelming, violent impulses," including fantasies about shooting people from the tower. An autopsy conducted after his death revealed a hypothalamic tumor.
Governor Connally commissioned a task force to study these astounding events, which seemed especially shocking due to the lack of recent precedent. In part, these judgments were offered in the commission's report:
Psychiatric contributors to the report concluded that "the relationship between the brain tumor and [...] Whitman's actions [...] cannot be established with clarity. However, the [...] tumor conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions," while the neurologists and neuropathologists concluded: "The application of existing knowledge of organic brain function does not enable us to explain the actions of Whitman on August first."

Forensic investigators have theorized that the tumor pressed against Whitman's amygdala, a part of the brain related to anxiety and fight-or-flight responses.
Why did Whitman do what he did? Beyond that, what explains the disturbing ideation for which he sought professional help in the months before his disastrous actions?

We can't answer those questions. Meanwhile, how about another pair of questions:

Had Whitman been suffering from some form of "mental illness?" Would catastrophic effects of a tumor be categorized in that way?

We can't answer those questions either. That said, a more clairvoyant professional screening might imaginably have spared Whitman, and his fifteen victims, from his subsequent conduct.

This speculation leads us to Donald J. Trump's latest manifesto. The presentation was offered on Monday, when the president offered these somewhat selective proposals in response to our recent mass shootings:
TRUMP (8/5/19): First, we must do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs. I am directing the Department of Justice to work in partisan—partnership with local, state, and federal agencies, as well as social media companies, to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.

[...]

Second, we must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately. Cultural change is hard, but each of us can choose to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life. That’s what we have to do.

Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.

Fourth, we must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.

Today, I am also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty, and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay.

These are just a few of the areas of cooperation that we can pursue...
As presented, several of these proposals would seem to make perfect sense. For example, should people "judged to pose a grave risk to public safety" have access to firearms?

Proponents of gun control have always said they shouldn't. Trump's public statements concerning such matters are often written in disappearing ink. But in that passage, he seemed to be saying that dangerous people should be forbidden access to guns.

On their face, several of Trump's proposals seemed to make perfect sense. That said, these are highly tribal times, and at highly tribal times, tribal minds may function poorly across the political spectrum.

If Trump makes a proposal, anti-Trump tribal players may reflexively oppose it, even where the proposal in question may make perfect sense. It seems to us that this has been happening in the general area of mental illness.

Many mass shooters, from Whitman on, have seemed to be struggling with something resembling mental illness. But over here in the anti-Trump world, anti-Trumpers have risen in opposition to the president's remarks in this general area.

Two days ago, we described a remarkable news report in the Washington Post. Concerning the general phenomenon of mass shootings, the news report ran beneath this remarkable headline:

Studies: Mental illness isn’t to blame

A wide range of mass shooters, from Whitman on, have seemed to be struggling with syndromes resembling some form of "mental illness." But now the Post seemed to be saying that any such thought or speculation was pure silly-bill bunk.

We authored a shocking claim at that time. Our shocking claim went like this:

"Now that Trump has said that illness does play a role, [anti-Trump] tribals will be strongly inclined to say that it doesn't."

Is it possible that our human thinking could be so hopelessly tribal, even over here, within our own liberal tribe? Tomorrow, we'll show you what Rachel Maddow and Connie Schultz said about mental illness that very same night—and we'll review this new opinion piece in today's Washington Post.

Donald J. Trump strikes us as deeply disordered. His reactions and presentations rarely make rational sense.

Alas! Especially at times like these, we liberals may tilt in such directions too. Because "it's all anthropology now," we'll try to show you how that syndrome works when we continue tomorrow.

Tomorrow: If he says it, does that mean it's wrong?

61 comments:

  1. Opposing every single thing Trump says can push his opponents into odd positions. It's just a joke, but it was said that Trump's criticism of Baltimore led his opponents to come out in favor of rats.

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    1. Even worse is loving Trump's bigotry so much, you now support sexual predation.

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    2. Quite often, Donald J Chickenshit opposes what Donald J Chickenshit said the day before, asshole David, you treasonous bastard.

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  2. "Deplorables" cost Hillary the election. Now every Democrat politician and liar in the media is calling Trump supporters racist. We could never have dreamed we would be getting this much help from Democrats. Everyone I know is more motivated than last time to get rid of the poisonous deranged left. They're out of their minds. Watch how it turns out. Again!

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    1. Nice try, but you're not you to get me to pretend that Right-wingers aren't bigots through fear mongering.

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    2. Yes, Democrats lost their minds and their bearings and they will probably lose in 2020. They don't have any strong leaders. It's fascinating to watch. The playing of the race card is pure poison for them but it seems to be all they know. Also, the other big mistake is not distinguishing between the corrupt and vile leaders of the GOP and the rank and file, a small fraction of whom may be racists but who are mostly just normal American brothers and sisters like you and me. I agree with Somerby that it is just human nature. People need a group to demonize and the left and the right in America use each other for this primordial need. It works out for everyone, the networks and politicians and the people - but it drives the country over a cliff.

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    3. 12:45
      The GOP will not win back the House in 2020. They may not ever retake it. They continue to push people away because of their bigoted attitudes (their “tribalism” if you will). They have lost the traditionally Republican suburbs, they have lost Latino support (note that Latinos are not automatically a liberal constituency, contrary to gop talking points), they have lost massively amongst women and the college educated, they have done nothing to attract blacks, who are again not as liberal as you might suspect.

      Biden and Sanders are both polling way ahead of Trump in quite a few states, including Texas, a supposed Republican stronghold.

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    4. 1:01 Sounds like the types of confident proclamations that predicted a Clinton landslide.

      But, great! Nothing to worry about?

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    5. Neither Biden nor Sanders are Hillary. Trump is no longer new and unknown. Trump’s fluke victory was enabled by a handful of votes in a couple of states. The 2018 midterms are a fact, not a conjecture. The same trends that led to those results are continuing apace.

      12:45 seems rather confident about the Democrats losing, and of Trump’s victory.

      Nothing to worry about, right, 12:45?

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    6. Yes! A lot to worry about. IMHO.

      Sanders maybe. Biden ... why? Because he's not Trump? That's all you got? Lesser evilism?

      After Trump is gone Democrats are still Democrats. One of the two parties that does nothing for working people and is paid for by corporations. One could argue Trump is prez because of Obama. Because of Democrats. That Trump's victory says more about Democrats failures than it does about the racist, stupid blah, blah, blah.

      A lot to worry about. That seems obvious to me.

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    7. "Trump is no longer new and unknown."

      Yes: "The Scary Proposition That Trump Is Gradually Becoming More Popular"

      "Millions of Americans who did not like the president in 2016 now say they do. Over all, his personal favorability rating has increased by about 10 percentage points among registered voters since Election Day 2016, to 44 percent from 34 percent, according to Upshot estimates."

      http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/08/the-scary-claim-that-trump-is-steadily-becoming-more-popular.html

      Nothing to worry about. People will vote for Biden! Because he is awesome!!!

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    8. Trump won college educated white men and only lost college educated white women by 6 points. He won white men and white women. Next time he'll do the same but by wider margins. The white male vote for Trump will be record setting.

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    9. Democrats don't offer a compelling alternative besides lesser evilism.

      Bernie ... maybe.

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    10. You still fail to come to grips with the House. The Democrats’ historic victory there, only two years after Trump’s supposedly “glorious” Dem-killing victory and in spite of Dems’ purported “failures” does not bode well for the GOP in the House. It certainly disproves the notion that they are failures who can’t win elections.

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    11. The thing is - if you take Trump out of the equation, Democrats are still Democrats and are still liberal .. and so many people hate Democrats and liberals SO much. And if you are middle and lower class and neither party does anything for you, who gives a fuck? Vote for Trump just as a fuck you to the pretentious party who is all talk and doesn't do shit for me.

      Bernie ... maybe.

      Yang for sure but Democrats are too dumb and pretentious to see he is their savior.

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    12. As a casual observer of voting behaviors of my buddies, I notice that the men who once voted Democrat got quiet in 2016, probably voted for Trump. Now they are outspoken about hating Democrats. They still don't outright talk about voting for Trump because they don't want to draw out the crazy tantrums of others around them especially Democrat women but they defend him in every political discussion. The women are more outspoken about their Trump support.

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    13. "It certainly disproves the notion that they are failures who can’t win elections."

      Yes, those are not the failures I'm describing. The failures I'm describing is their failure act on behalf of their constituents.

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    14. And SO many people hate Republicans and conservatives, and those constituents apparently don’t feel betrayed by their Democratic representatives, and that nymag article argues the opposite of your point about Trump, and your hypothesis was found wanting in 2018, and a vote for Trump is a vote for the Plutocrat GOP Party...and on and on.

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    15. Democrats are plutocrats too.

      Great for you if you feel confident!

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    16. What do Democrats have to do with liberalism?

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    17. "The white male vote for Trump will be record setting."

      That certainly suggests that Trump clearly is appealing to white males who feel their sense of entitlement threatened. That's what White Supremacy is about.

      Trump is losing the support of college educated and suburban white women because they are hearing and reading what Trump has been saying and doing and they recognize that he is not their friend. They understand what it means if Roe v Wade is undone. They don't like pussygrabbers and don't excuse boys being boys. They feel worry for Melania.

      How will Trump win if he loses the female vote because women don't want to go back under the thumb, even if that sounds great to their husbands.

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    18. Factually speaking, deplorables had little effect on the election, despite the conservative attempts to blow it up into an issue.

      Hillary lost because of vote suppression in 3 states, aided by Russian meddling in the election, an influx of Russian money to the NRA and PACs and rival campaigns, and because the media focused relentlessly on her emails while Comey made ill-timed statements that cost her votes at the last minute.

      No other candidate has had that combination of forces working against them. It is ludicrous to think that any single gaffe would have outweighed all that other stuff against her.

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    19. It is ludicrous to think that that single gaffe/Christmas present to Trump didn't impact the final outcome.

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    20. The question isn't whether "impacted" the final outcome but whether it determined it. It didn't. No one says it did except conservatives. They say this shit because they want to deflect away from the role actually played by Russia and Comey.

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  3. "Is it possible that our human thinking could be so hopelessly tribal..."

    No it's not. Because humans possess and use mental facilities.

    Liberal zombies and dembots do not. And this is what we're observing here, dear Bob.

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  4. 12:04,
    Pointing out that any Republican who isn't a bigot left the party by the mid 1990s isn't a winning strategy for Democrats.
    Everyone already knows that.

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    1. Every accusation by a leftist is an admission. The Democrat party is now made up of racists, the sexually confused, females who hate men, and the lowest IQ's.

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    2. Female is an adjective, not a noun. When you want to say "females," say "women" instead. Sorry to hear about your IQ. Does that mean you are now a Democrat?

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  5. Blaming everything on Trump unfortunately takes the place of careful, rational analysis of problems and how to handle them. There are any number of theories that try to explain all the mass shootings. Suggestions include the large number of guns, right-wing extremists, increasing cannabis use, copy-cat crimes, lost meaning of life, one-parent families, mental illness, etc. Fixing the problem would require intelligent and unbiased analysis of all the facts.

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    1. You suggest we provide a meaning of life to those who have lost that meaning, or that we provide partners for every one-parent family, or that we treat all potentially mentally ill people, (and by “we” I mean society)? Maybe those are worthy goals, even if practically unattainable, but in the meantime, easy access to assault weapons and tons of machine-gun-like magazines continues to be the proximate cause of all the deaths. We are literally putting weapons in the hands of all these “problem” people. It’s worth noting that the GOP is in thrall to the NRA and WILL DO NOTHING TO STOP THE PROLIFERATION OF GUNS. Nor will they fund anything to help with the other stuff you mention, because they do not believe in government.

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  6. Liberals by and large support the ideas Trump pretended to support that Somerby highlights. Somerby can not name a liberal who does not support them. Even Maddow and the Post are not arguing against them. Their point is that Trump and the GOP use them to divert the discussion away from gun control.

    And every rational person knows that Trump and the GOP always trot out the “mental illness” canard after every mass shooting and express great concern about it, only to fail to do a single thing about it. As a matter of fact, early on in his term, Trump nullified an Obama rule aimed precisely at preventing the mentally ill from purchasing weapons:
    (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-signs-bill-revoking-obama-era-gun-checks-people-mental-n727221).

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  7. How many of these mass shooters were made to eat broccoli as kids, even though they hated it? Hmmm? The GOP is missing an important line of inquiry here.

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    1. These mass shooters have domestic violence in common. If domestic violence were made a disqualification for gun ownership (or such laws were enforced) and if the focus on prevention were placed on those who commit domestic violence, we would be closer to a solution to this problem, and it would surely reduce the number of women killed each year by the men in their lives.

      The GOP and the Democrats are both missing an important way of addressing this problem. That is perhaps because both parties are dominated by men and they appear to be unmotivated to address this issue, perhaps because they fear that laws might be misused against them, or just because they don't want to give up their dominance, hard to know why anyone opposes this but they do.

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  8. Somerby is hopelessly muddled, as are Republicans, when they casually throw the vague term “mental illness” around. What do they think it means?

    Presumably, kidnapping people, killing them, eating their flesh, and storing their body parts in freezers would indicate “mental illness” in 20th century America. And yet, Jeffrey Dahmer was found fit to stand trial, and was convicted.

    He may have had a “personality disorder”, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate “insanity” or lack of consciousness of guilt.

    It is wrong, and frankly it serves the right wing narrative, to simply assume that all shooters are “mentally ill”, again assuming that term even has a clear meaning.

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  9. Democrats are forcing a choice between the racist left or "racist" Republicans. I'm going with Republicans since my kid is white and the left has gone insane. It's not a hard choice and it is the choice being pushed on us in 2020 by Democrats. I voted for Obama in 2008.

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  10. Old-time racists obsessed over race and ethnicity. They believed in a "one-drop rule". They believed in stereotypes about each ethnic group. These beliefs were beneficial to whites. They were bad racists.

    Today's liberals obsess over race and ethnicity. They believe in a "one-drop rule". They believe in stereotypes about each ethnic group. These beliefs are detrimental to whites. They are good racists.

    However, a good racist is still a racist.

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    1. Who wound you up today, David? Or has someone taken over your nym?

      Today's liberals do not obsess over race and ethnicity. They obsess over wrongs and harm done to people because of their race or ethnicity.

      Liberals don't care how many or how few drops anyone has. They consider the one-drop rule part or apartheid and Jim Crow and consider it a historical anomaly, not anything relevant to today's diversity. Liberals believe that stereotypes are wrong when they are applied to individuals because people need to be judged on their own merits, not preconceptions.

      Liberals are not "good" racists. Liberals consider race to be a social construction with no justification in biology that is used to discriminate against people. Liberals think we would all be better off without racial thinking. That means liberals are not any kind of racists.

      David, why don't you form your opinion of liberals by reading liberal blogs instead of repeating what the right wing tells you?

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    2. What blogs do you suggest?

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    3. Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, ThinkProgress, Media Matters, The Intercept, Alternet, Politicus, Crooks and Liars, Progress Pond (Booman Tribune), Hullabaloo, MaddowBlog, Democratic Underground (for reader views). My personal favorites are: Lawyers Guns and Money & No More Mister Nice Blog.

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    4. Rude Pundit, Wonkette, Palmer Report, Cannonfire?

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    5. Rectification of Names?

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    6. @5:59 - I wish what you wrote were true. However,
      1. Regarding ethnic obsession: When I registered for an adult education class, I was required to identify my ethnicity. The Census asks about. The NY Times, which I subscribe to on Sunday, apparently favors Kamala Harris for President, evidently because of her race. Etc., etc.

      2. Many liberals support the idea of "white privilege". That's a stereotype.

      3. Liberals say they want to be without racial thinking, but their actions promote racial thinking. Affirmative action. Black student unions on many campuses. Focus on the gap in income or in education based on racial groups, etc.. These things promote racial thinking.

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    7. "personal favorites are: Lawyers Guns and Money"

      They'll keep you dumb and off track. They are a good example of myopic snarky liberals that can't see the forest through the trees. They are garbage. Most all of those sites you mention are total garbage. Feeding you russiagate nonsense that added up to nothing. making you believe Clinton would win in a landslide. You should avoid all of that trash like the plague. Those people are so, so stupid. It's a modern-day echo chamber. You can't step out of line or against go against the party line. The ideas become entrenched and calcified and reality rushes around and past they're still, snarky, pretentious ideas.

      That's your problem.

      It totally makes sense that the idiot, boneheaded commenters here would read blogs like that. They are the ones that keep you stupid. They're the ones that feed your ignorance. That makes total sense that you read those blogs.

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    8. Try reading some people you disagree with. Talk to people you disagree with. Reed about ideas you disagree with. Do yourself a favor and get out of that boring fucking echo chamber from 2002.

      It's 2020. Those blogs are over. They have fucked you. Can't you see that? Russiagate? They are total, total garbage.

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    9. Their business models are to feed you what you want, junk food information, junk food paranoia and loathing. They don't make money unless they feed you garbage. Can't you see that? Their business model is against you. Their business model is to deceive you. They are Merchants of Doubt. They are poison and it makes total sense that is where you idiots turn to for your nformation and explains why your heads are so far stuck into the sand and your comments here so snarky, uninformed and juvenile.

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    10. Donald J. Trump strikes us as deeply disordered. His reactions and presentations rarely make rational sense.

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    11. Think about all those blogs. When, in the last 20 years, was one instance where any of them disagreed with the other? Never! Their job is to sell you a story. A story of bad guys versus good guys. Cops and robbers. There is no room for nuance of self examination. When have any.of them spoken of Democrat's failures? It doesn't exist there because Democrats there are the good guys. Those blogs are comic books. And you are a boy at home with a lollipop in his mouth reading a pleasant fantasy.

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    12. Russiagate? Russia interfering with elections?

      Look at corporate spending on elections. That's the story. That's the game. That what is important not Russia.

      But those comic books masqerading as blogs will never say a word about it!! It interferes with their comic book narrative that keeps you coming back.

      Unfortunately, you have to work to find the truth and when you do, it's not easy. It's not good Dems vs bad Republicans. This ain't no Marvel universe kids.

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    13. Lawyer Guns and Money? Trash, snark, misinformation. Reading that is like taking a stupid pill. Russiagate. How did that work out for you?

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    14. Who left the door open and let in all these gnats?

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    15. Sorry to rant on you like that. You've probably always been a follower, you've probably always run with the herd. Thinking for yourself is simply something you cannot do. Understanding the nuances of the greater scheme of things isn't in your list of capabilities. You should keep reading those blogs. Somerby is right, it's just being human. Go for it. Read up on how great your side is and the horror of the others. Peace!

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    16. Sorry to be a buzzkill.

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    17. You probably thought the Shape of Water was good. Go for it. Lawyers, Guns and Money. Brilliant stuff.

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    18. We live in a time that needs "virtue signaling". You can't just assume the American standing next to you has any problem at all with Nazis. Although the "I'm a Republican" talk is pretty good clue they don't.

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    19. Russiagate is just the corporate-owned, Right-wing media's distraction so they won't have to report about America's white supremacy problem.
      Russia? What a joke. Do you really think the David in Cals of the world were suckered by Russians, as opposed to being turned-on by Trump's bigotry? No one is stupid enough to buy that nonsense.

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    20. Sounds good. Who could argue with that? ;)

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  11. Despite the damage they do, these shooters are rare. That means that for every kid with "warning signs" or "red flags" there will be many more with the same signs and flags who will never commit violence. Implementing some sort of diversion that harms those who will never commit a crime by denying them liberty is an abuse of power. If there were a way to know with any likelihood who will shoot, before the shooting, this problem would have a much easier solution. There are kids who do all the same stuff as the killers, but who never go on to act on their fantasies or obsessions.

    Thoughts are still not a crime in our country. It sounds like Republicans/conservatives want to define and intervene on the basis of thought crimes. That is a step down the wrong path because it leads to authoritarian totalitarianism, and if you want to know what that looks like watch films like Brazil or 1984.

    This is a bad idea because it will limit freedom without doing much good toward preventing shootings. The resources needed to investigate every boy with the same profile as these shooters are beyond the means of communities and if delegated to the government will make us a police state.

    Hasn't anyone thought this through or do they think "mental illness" that produces shootings is so easy to identify?

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  12. Here is some more evidence that Trump is a white supremacist. Several of the killers and wannabee killers are saying that they were following Trump's instructions when they committed their acts of violence (and attempted violence in the case of the mailing of pipe bombs to Democrats). This is their actual legal defense as they are being prosecuted in court.

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  13. The fact of deliberate planning of murderous acts inherent in buying a gun and ammunition and body armor suggests that these are motivated acts, not momentary loss of control during rage. All people have angry impulses but we learn to control them as toddlers, before we have access to guns. The presence of a gun makes it more likely that someone may act on uncontrollable rage, but such people strike out at those around them. When someone makes a list and buys special weapons and stalks victims by scoping out shooting sites and lays in wait, they are not responding to an uncontrollable impulse but committing a deliberate act with malice and foresight.

    Certain mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia) affect the frontal lobes which is where emotional impulse control occurs. Anyone's amygdala will be active with anger evoking thoughts or incidents, but the frontal lobes inhibit the amygdala, normally. Someone without that control will be too anxious or frightened to commit deliberate acts of violence, as is true for most schizophrenics. What is different in these shooters is that they have given themselves permission to act upon their angry impulses and they feed their anger by obsessing over their grievances, which sustains the motive to commit violence. They then fantasize about how their acts will be perceived by others who share their grievances. This isn't schizophrenic behavior.

    If Trump and Republicans start persecuting schizophrenics and other truly mentally ill people out of a mistaken understanding of how the brain works in normal and abnormal situations and people, it will be a discrimination based on ignorance and a persecution of innocent, vulnerable people who suffer through no fault of their own. The common term is scapegoating.

    I can't tell you how angry this whole discussion makes me. Fortunately, I am not plotting anything, but I do wish that Trump, Somerby and Republicans in general would learn something about psychology and not act on medieval beliefs about mental illness. Science used to be part of presidential advising. No one seems to be able to advise Trump and people will suffer because of it.

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  14. I ended up with Whitman's dorm room the fall after the shootings and got visitors who had apparently not heard the news. From their stories, it is pretty clear he was a psychopath.

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