Inquiring minds try to know: To what extent are members of Homo sapiens able to conduct a "national discourse?"
Experts who study this question are pointing to a pair of reports in today's Washington Post.
At the paper's "Today's print edition" site, the pair of articles appear quite close together; they're separated by only one other report. On that page, the reports are listed as shown:
Dayton gunman had dark thoughts, ex-girlfriend saysFor unknown reasons, no author's name was cited for the second report.
By Emily Davies, Tim Craig and Hannah Natanson
Studies: Mental illness isn’t to blame
Does mental illness play a role in our endless mass shootings? Now that Trump has suggested it does, the question will likely be tribalized.
The red tribe will promote the claim; the blue tribe will be inclined to reject it. So it goes when our highly tribal, war-inclined species tries to conduct a discussion.
(Indeed, one Democratic candidate has already made a dramatic claim about this important question. For details, see below.)
Does mental illness play a role in these endless events? We're not equipped to answer that question, but consider some of the things we're told in that first Post report.
That first report concerns the late Connor Betts, the 24-year-old man who conducted the shootings in Dayton. The Post spoke to a former girl friend. The resulting report starts like this:
DAVIES, CRAIG AND NATANSON (8/6/19): During his senior year of high school, Connor Betts seemed to always have caffeine pills in one hand and an energy drink in another. He was unable to sleep, he told his then-girlfriend Lyndsi Doll, because of dark, animal-like shadows that tormented him at night.According to Doll, she and Betts became a couple in high school. She seems to have thought that her friend was some version of "mentally ill:"
Seven years after they dated, Doll recalls Betts as a serious and reserved kid who wrestled with hallucinations and menacing voices in his head.
While they were in high school, Betts told Doll that he had suffered from psychosis since he was young and feared developing schizophrenia.
“He would cry to me sometimes,” she said, “saying how he’s afraid of himself and afraid he was going to hurt someone one day. It’s haunting now.”
DAVIES, CRAIG AND NATANSON: They connected over their shared mental health struggles—she suffered from anxiety and depression—often turning to each other for support.Doll isn't a clinician; neither are we. But to our layman's ear, it sounds like Betts may have been some version of "mentally ill."
But as their relationship progressed, Doll became increasingly concerned that Betts was far from normal and desperately in need of professional help. He talked a lot about the “dark, evil things” he heard in his head. He would sometimes check out midway through the conservation, when it seemed like his mind would drift elsewhere.
Alas! Just two lines down its list of today's reports, the Post linked us to that second report, written by Wan and Bever.
"Mental illness isn't to blame," the Post's capsule description said. Experts say that this report highlights the lack of analytical skill which keeps our self-impressed human species from conducting serious public discussions.
Does mental illness play a role in our endless mass shootings? We'd just finished reading about the voices Betts used to hear in his head.
But so what? Hard-copy headline included, the Post's second report starts like this:
WAN AND BEVER (8/6/19): Studies: Mental illness isn’t to blameJust like that, Trump was refuted. But alas! As they continued, Wan and Bever fell victim to an array of logical fumbles. Their errors typify the work of the species, several top experts have said.
Every time a mass shooting occurs, the country talks about mental health. Many politicians are quick to point to the shooters’ disturbed minds. News reporters probe for “loner” tendencies or signs of instability.
“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun,” said President Trump on Monday, after two mass shootings in less than 24 hours.
So is mental illness to blame for America’s mass shootings? Not according to research.
What sorts of logical errors do Wan and Bever commit? Consider what happens as they continue:
WAN AND BEVER (continuing directly): Some mass shooters have a history of schizophrenia or psychosis, but many do not. Most studies of mass shooters have found that only a small fraction have mental health issues. And researchers have noted a host of other factors that are stronger predictors of someone becoming a mass shooter: a strong sense of resentment, desire for infamy, copycat study of other shooters, past domestic violence, narcissism and access to firearms.Instantly, the reporters say that some mass shooters do in fact "have a history of schizophrenia or psychosis."
That doesn't mean that these conditions played a role in their subsequent conduct. But it seems to suggest that these types of mental illness may indeed play a role in some mass shootings, if not in all or most.
Some mass shooters do in fact "have a history of schizophrenia or psychosis!" That said, we're quickly told that "only a small fraction" of these offenders have been found to have had "mental health issues." (Apparently, narcissism isn't considered a "mental health issue" by Bever and Wan, though this point isn't explained.)
At any rate, "only a small fraction" of offenders have been found to have mental health issues. That said, just how small is that small fraction? A few paragraphs later, we're told this:
WAN AND BEVER: In a 2018 report on 63 active shooter assailants, the FBI found that 25 percent had been diagnosed with a mental illness. Of those, three had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. In a 2015 study that examined 226 men who committed or tried to commit mass killings, 22 percent could be considered mentally ill. A report from the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation estimated that a majority of mass shooters have mental illness, based in part on looser definitions and retroactive assessments.In a report whose headline declared that mental illness isn't to blame, we're now told that 25 percent of offenders "had been diagnosed with a mental illness." And that's only the start of the problem. At no point do Wan and Bever come to terms with an obvious logical point:
The fact that someone hasn't been diagnosed with an illness doesn't mean that he isn't mentally ill in point of actual fact.
This Post report by Wan and Bever is a logical muddle all the way through. That said, the New York Times doesn't do much better with this report by Benedict Carey, which appears beneath a sadly confident banner headline:
What Drives People to Mass Shootings? Scientists Have Some AnswersCarey succumbs to his own unique logical stumbles. Consider the bungle which occurs during this Q-and-A:
CAREY (8/6/19): How strong is the link between mental illness and mass shootings?Alas, poor humanity! According to Carey, most people with persistent mental distress won't commit a violent act.
Tenuous, at best. People who blame mass shootings on “the mentally ill” are usually reasoning backward from the act itself: the person just shot 20 unarmed strangers, so he must be “crazy.”
In fact, scientists find that only a small fraction of people with persistent mental distress are more likely than average to commit violent acts: patients with paranoid schizophrenia, which is characterized by delusional thinking and often so-called command hallucinations—frightening voices identifying threats where none exist.
Presumably, that is true. But that doesn't speak to the relevant question—to the possibility that every single mass shooter has been severely mentally ill, whether he or she had been diagnosed or not.
What role does mental illness play in our endless mass shootings? We can't answer that question, but we can tell you this:
The inability to reason clearly plays a major role in all our attempts at public discourse. People from the finest schools get hired by our greatest newspapers, then quickly exhibit an endless array of logical lapses and blunders.
Experts say that this is the way our tribal, war-inclined species is equipped and wired. There's no known way to correct for this, several top experts have said.
The late Gene Brabender may have put it best, speaking to the late Jim Bouton out in the bullpen one day long ago:
"Where I come from, we just talk for a little while," the big raw-boned righthander said. "After that we start to hit."
Meanwhile, "The Horror! The Horror!" That's what Conrad's Kurtz said.
Candidate Warren speaks: Donald J. Trump has suggested that mental illness plays a role in these endless shootings—and let's face it, he ought to know!
At any rate, now that Trump has said that illness does play a role, tribals will be strongly inclined to say that it doesn't. Candidate Warren's fiery tweet is quoted in today's New York Times:
"White supremacy is not a mental illness. We need to call it what it is: Domestic terrorism. And we need to call out Donald Trump for amplifying these deadly ideologies."
"White supremacy is not a mental illness?" Are we sure we agree with that? And what would our answer have to do with the actual question at hand?
Our discussions always work this way. Compare, contrast and discuss.