Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The headline of an NPR piece reads, "A Disturbing Motif: Online Manifesto, Mass Shooting," and author Linton Weeks at one point asks the following question:
Seeing that there is often a pattern of behavior in which an angry, demented or ultraviolent person goes visibly crazy on the Internet before committing atrocities in real life does raise the question: Is there a way to reverse the chain of events? Could an online community or any close observer of the Internet prevent another Tucson-style tragedy?It's a fair question, but not a good one, as it leaves most of the relevant parameter space unexplored, focusing as it does on just Internet ramblings. While particularly bizarre rants might well serve as a red flag that their author might be dangerous, there is, as a YouTube official indicates, simply too much such material out there for any one "watchdog" to keep track of it. This is, of course, on top of proper concerns about freedom of speech that government monitoring, which comes up in the article, would raise.
Another question that arises, although not in the article, is the one I raised the other day: "What can be done to reduce such occurrences in the future?" The answer, the near-Pavlovian political discourse of our day notwithstanding, isn't "more government," but, as I suspected, getting it out of the way, so ordinary citizens familiar with such troubled individuals can act on such warnings -- of which an Internet presence is likely to be only one symptom, anyway.
Two commentators note a growing trend towards not institutionalizing people with severe mental illness. First, at Pajamas Media, Clayton Cramer observes:
In 1950, a person who was behaving oddly stood a good chance of being hospitalized. It might be for observation for a few days or a few weeks. If the doctors decided that this person was mentally ill, they would be committed, perhaps for a few months, perhaps longer. Hospital space was always at a premium, so generally, if someone was kept, there was a reason for it. The notion that large numbers of sane people were kept for no reason just has not survived my research efforts.And Helen Smith, although I disagree with her wording -- there is no right to menace other people -- notes that the "rights" of the mentally ill are currently in intellectual fashion among the predominantly leftist intelligentsia. A law review article Smith coauthored was shot down at one journal for the sin of recommending that campuses assign a single person to handle reports of inappropriate behavior. One reviewer sniped that, she and her coauthors "must be working with John Ashcroft."
Here's a really disturbing motif: Unrestrained maniac goes on killing spree. Left wing rabble-rousers call for de facto censorship of (actual) political dissent, while continuing to crusade against keeping the dangerously insane from harming the general public. Thus, ordinary citizens become further marginalized from the political discourse, while also learning that any concerns they might have for their own safety will be left unaddressed.