Why has everybody forgotten psychosis as the cause of violence?

It’s perplexed me for years: someone who can clearly be described as psychotic is violent, yet in the hierarchy of propounded explanations for the violence, psychosis falls to a footnote in shrunken print. If it appears at all.

Instead, the news media and professional pundits kick off an anguished anthropological dig into the guy’s professed politics, first, after which they get the usual quotes from family and neighbors. “Yeah, he was angry about [fill in the blank], but what a sweet guy!” Or “He was quiet and so nice–he helped me take out the garbage.”

“He seemed so normal.”

I don’t care. When I read about mass shootings, or mass violence of any kind, the first thing I notice is: the killers evidence psychosis of one kind or another, but usually paranoia. Why paranoia? Because, unlike a schizophrenic, a paranoid can organize, can plan, can present himself as rational enough to buy weaponry from gun dealers.

After the Twin Towers fell, I read with intense interest the series of New York Times articles giving what was in effect case histories of the nineteen men who assaulted us. What struck me immediately–beyond their religious allegiance–was how many of them seemed to be psychotic, acolytes in a regimented cult of psychotics.

Whatever a killer’s form of worship (and I include worship of demagogues), he is essentially nuts. His god and his god’s pronouncements are not the cause of his violence. They are the structure, the perceived directive through which his madness can express itself in violence.

Well, that’s more than I intended to write. But still, why do we continue to search for an answer to mass violence beyond madness? Maybe because madness as an explanation is not comforting.

And why is all this violence happening? Shooting deaths virtually every day. Are people in the USA crazier than ever?

I doubt it. Psychoses are diseases, illnesses, probably genetic in origin. No one is going to become psychotically violent because Donald Trump’s language and projections are violent.

But Donald Trump’s language and projections can draw in people who are psychotic, or in some sort of psychological rage that may stop short of clinical psychosis. Killers don’t have expressed reasons for killing; first comes the rage, then the killing and then someone makes up reasons, because it’s what rational people do: we must find reasons, make order out of what seems like chaos.

Killing is by its nature unreasonable. Killing is a failure of reason.

No demagogue, no politician can make me violent. Incredibly furious, fiercely angry, yes. But I’m not buying a machine gun and shooting anybody. I am incapable of it.

So this violence is happening for two interconnected reasons:

First, the USA, like any other territory, has a certain limited population of undiagnosed and/or untreated psychotics.

And second, psychotics can buy weapons.

Doesn’t matter whether they profess allegiance to Allah or Donald Trump. They’re nuts and we do not control the manufacture and purchase of weapons of mass slaughter.



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