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Julie Mannell

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There's No Murder Gene in Mental Illness

Posted: 12/20/2012 5:19 pm

Have you heard the tale of "The Pied Piper?" There is an ancient Germanic myth that tells of the happenings in the village of Hamlin. Legend has it that a piper dressed in foreign attire, entered the town with his magical pipe only to find the village indifferent to his musical services. To demonstrate his power, the mastery of his vocation, he then used his music to entice the attention of the town's children and lured them away, and into the forest, never to return.

On Friday, December 14, 2012 -- in startling parallels -- Adam Lanza entered into a small elementary school, in a quiet Connecticut township, and swallowed the lives of babes before, ultimately, taking his own life with theirs.

It was a horror that redefined horror and the public hysteria was imminent. As journalists from all major news channels descended on Newtown, so did their probing questions: "Can you describe the scene in the school?" "What are the names of the dead children?" "Why would anyone do this?"

The startling need to fit this tragedy into some sort of simplistic narrative with a singular motivation was played out on televisions everywhere. In the advent of 24-hour news, speculation is utilized as a means of filling airspace: how many talking heads and pseudo-experts and organization representatives can we get, how long can they talk, what new imagined accounts for Newtown can we employ as channels for this hysteria? How can we keep people watching?

Almost immediately President Obama addressed gun control. He vowed to begin the process of meaningful action with regard to the sale and purchase of assault rifles. The response, on the part of gun owners, was to find a way to distinguish themselves as not only followers of a different mantra, but members of an entirely different species from murderers like Lanza and his predecessors. Yet, on what grounds could they valorize this distinction?

The term "mental illness" has been thrown around as a quick and easy solution for gun enthusiasts and media alike. The parameters by which it has been defined in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre is nearly always contingent upon the predicate of threat. Over and over again, in defence of gun ownership, gun enthusiasts have delineated their identities as those of the "stable" while the shooters are then disposed to the realm of "the mentally ill." Mental illness, in turn, is conflated with violence through a process of loaded renaming. Mentally ill people are "disturbed," "threatening," "bad people," and ultimately counter-cultural figments of fear induced imaginations.

On Piers Morgan Tonight, Larry Pratt, the ex-director of Gun Owners of America, tried to draw a line between himself and Lanza through an intentionally ablest take on bad guy/good guy rhetoric:

"If you believe and understand that there is evil in the world then you don't try, as your first line of defence, to solve it psychiatrically you protect yourself with a gun." Essentially what this means, in the world of Pratt and his followers, is that there are those who need psychiatric treatment and then there is the rest of the world that needs to protect themselves from those people.

In a well-intended rebuttal, Piers Morgan then unconsciously affirms the sentiment: "firearms which can be used by mentally unstable people." Without elaborating as to what qualities or characteristics might render one "mentally ill," both Morgan and Pratt allude to mental illness being on one end of a static binary that dictates who is capable of killing and who is not.

The truth of mental illness is it is not a static concept, an ailment reducible to genetic rhetoric, there is no "murderer gene," no physical property that can dictate an identity or predict individual morality. This lack of visible qualifiers is precisely why those diagnosed as "mentally other" are amongst the most vulnerable in society.

Historically we have created categories for those individuals who exist outside the realm of normative societal expectation. These racist, sexist and homophobic categories are then used to depict populations of vastly unique individuals as a singular homogenous portrait that is then employed as a justification for mass oppression.

The swift and broad diagnosis of mental disability has been particularly instrumental in the rectification of systemic subjugation. Was it not that long ago that we treated unsatisfied housewives for "hysteria," or sent gay youth to camps, or employed developmentally delayed kids in labour camps or published reports of racial minorities as intellectually insufficient? Was this not a means of rectifying violence? It seems that anytime society wants to disallow certain kinds of people from participating in the public sphere we can justify their exclusion through the allusive renaming of individuals as "mentally ill."

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  • Connecticut State Police Release Sandy Hook Report

    NEWTOWN, CT - UNSPECIFED DATE: In this handout crime scene evidence photo provided by the Connecticut State Police, shows the Newtown Tehcnology Team ID of Adam Lanza in the bathroom at the suspect's house on Yogananda St. following the December 14, 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, taken on an unspecified date in Newtown, Connecticut . A report was released November 25, 2013 by Connecticut State Attorney Stephen Sedensky III summarizing the Newtown school shooting that left 20 children and six women dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to the report, a motive behind the shooting by gunman Adam Lanza is still unknown. (Photo by Connecticut State Police via Getty Images)

  • Connecticut State Police Release Sandy Hook Report

    NEWTOWN, CT - UNSPECIFED DATE: In this handout crime scene evidence photo provided by the Connecticut State Police, shows ammunition infrot of a gun safe in the south east bedroom (shooters room) at the suspect's house on Yogananda St. following the December 14, 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, taken on an unspecified date in Newtown, Connecticut . A report was released November 25, 2013 by Connecticut State Attorney Stephen Sedensky III summarizing the Newtown school shooting that left 20 children and six women dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to the report, a motive behind the shooting by gunman Adam Lanza is still unknown. (Photo by Connecticut State Police via Getty Images)

  • Connecticut State Police Release Sandy Hook Report

    NEWTOWN, CT - UNSPECIFED DATE: In this handout crime scene evidence photo provided by the Connecticut State Police, shows a Bushmaster rifle in Room 10 at Sandy Hook Elementary School following the December 14, 2012 shooting rampage, taken on an unspecified date in Newtown, Connecticut . A report was released November 25, 2013 by Connecticut State Attorney Stephen Sedensky III summarizing the Newtown school shooting that left 20 children and six women dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to the report, a motive behind the shooting by gunman Adam Lanza is still unknown. (Photo by Connecticut State Police via Getty Images)

  • Connecticut State Police Release Sandy Hook Report

    NEWTOWN, CT - UNSPECIFED DATE: In this handout crime scene evidence photo provided by the Connecticut State Police, shows firearms and ammunition found on or in close proximity to shooters body at Sandy Hook Elementary School following the December 14, 2012 shooting rampage, taken on an unspecified date in Newtown, Connecticut . A report was released November 25, 2013 by Connecticut State Attorney Stephen Sedensky III summarizing the Newtown school shooting that left 20 children and six women dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to the report, a motive behind the shooting by gunman Adam Lanza is still unknown. (Photo by Connecticut State Police via Getty Images)

  • Pro Gun Control Group Hold Memorial On Anniversary Of Sandy Hook School Shooting

    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 14: Shundra Robinson holds a picture of her son Deno Wooldridge, 18, while speaking at a gathering of gun violence victims and gun control advocates at Cornell Square Park on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting December 14, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Thirteen people, including a three-year-old boy, were wounded when gunmen opened fire on a crowd gathered at the basketball courts in Cornell Square Park in September. Twenty children and 6 adults were killed when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook School. Wooldridge was shot and killed while standing on his grandmother's porch on October 18, 2010. More than 400 people have been murdered in Chicago so far this year, most by gunfire. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Second Report On Sandy Hook Shootings Released

    NEWTOWN, CT - UNSPECIFED DATE: In this handout crime scene evidence photo provided by the Connecticut State Police, shows a rifle in the master bedroom in the suspect's house on Yogananda St. following the December 14, 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, taken on an unspecified date in Newtown, Connecticut. A second report was released December 27, 2013 by Connecticut State Attorney Stephen Sedensky III gave more details of the the Newtown school shooting by Adam Lanza that left 20 children and six women educators dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School after killing his mother at their home. (Photo by Connecticut State Police via Getty Images)

  • Second Report On Sandy Hook Shootings Released

    NEWTOWN, CT - UNSPECIFED DATE: In this handout crime scene evidence photo provided by the Connecticut State Police, shows a Glock 20, 10mm found near the shooter in Room 10 at Sandy Hook Elementary School following the December 14, 2012 shooting rampage, taken on an unspecified date in Newtown, Connecticut. A second report was released December 27, 2013 by Connecticut State Attorney Stephen Sedensky III gave more details of the the Newtown school shooting by Adam Lanza that left 20 children and six women educators dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School after killing his mother at their home. (Photo by Connecticut State Police via Getty Images)

  • Second Report On Sandy Hook Shootings Released

    NEWTOWN, CT - UNSPECIFED DATE: In this handout crime scene evidence photo provided by the Connecticut State Police, shows firearms and ammunition found on or in close proximity to shooters body at Sandy Hook Elementary School following the December 14, 2012 shooting rampage, taken on an unspecified date in Newtown, Connecticut. A second report was released December 27, 2013 by Connecticut State Attorney Stephen Sedensky III gave more details of the the Newtown school shooting by Adam Lanza that left 20 children and six women educators dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School after killing his mother at their home. (Photo by Connecticut State Police via Getty Images)

  • Twenty-seven small U.S. flags adorn a large flag on a makeshift memorial on the side of Highway 84 near the Newtown, Conn., town line as residents mourn victims killed by gunman Adam Lanza, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. On Friday, authorities say Lanza killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • In this photo taken with a fisheye lens, a message honoring the victims that died a day earlier when a gunman opened fire at an elementary hang from a bridge near Hawley Pond, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Mourners carry ornaments to decorate the Christmas trees at one of the makeshift memorials for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Monday,Dec. 17, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. Authorities say gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother at their home on Friday and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Crayons sit on a table outside of a barbershop a day after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Crayons sit on a table outside of a barbershop a day after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Tamara Doherty

    Shop owner Tamara Doherty, paces outside her store just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Tamara Doherty, Jackie Gaudet

    Shop owners Tamara Doherty, left, and Jackie Gaudet, right, meet outside their stores for the first time since being neighbors, just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Kristin Hoyt

    Kristin Hoyt, 18, of Danbury, Conn., ties a balloon to an overpass up the road from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • A Newtown, Conn., resident, who declined to give her name, sits at an intersection holding a sign for passing motorists up the road from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • A snowflake ornament with the name of 6-year-old Noah Pozner hangs on a Christmas tree at a makeshift memorial in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn., Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, as the town mourns victims killed in Friday's school shooting. Pozner, who was killed Friday when gunman Adam Lanza opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School, will be buried Monday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Twenty-seven small U.S. flags adorn a large flag on a makeshift memorial on the side of Highway 84 near the Newtown, Conn., town line as residents mourn victims killed by gunman Adam Lanza, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. Authorities say Lanza killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life, on Friday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jamie Duncan, 16, of Newtown, Conn., lights a candle at one of the makeshift memorials for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Monday,Dec. 17, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. Authorities say gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother at their home on Friday and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • A mourner carries a giant Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal to place at one of the makeshift memorials for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Monday,Dec. 17, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. Authorities say gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother at their home on Friday and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • A hearse arrives at B'nai Israel Cemetery with the body of Noah Pozner, a six-year-old killed in an elementary school shooting, during funeral services, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in Monroe, Conn. Authorities say gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother at their home on Friday and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • People arrive at B'nai Israel Cemetery during burial services for Noah Pozner, a six-year-old killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in Monroe, Conn. Authorities say gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother at their home on Friday and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Veronika Pozner

    Veronique Pozner waves to the assembled media as she leaves after a funeral service for her 6-year-old son Noah Pozner, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in Fairfield, Conn. Noah Pozner was killed when Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Twenty seven wooden stand in a yard down the street from the Sandy Hook School December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-six people were shot dead, including twenty children, after a gunman identified as Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza also reportedly had committed suicide at the scene. A 28th person, believed to be Nancy Lanza, found dead in a house in town, was also believed to have been shot by Adam Lanza. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Newtown residents Claire Swanson, Kate Suba, Jaden Albrecht, Simran Chand and New London, Connecticut residents Rachel Pullen and her son Landon DeCecco, hold candles at a memorial for victims on the first Sunday following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    U.S. President Barack Obama waits to speak at an interfaith vigil for the shooting victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 16, 2012 at Newtown High School in Newtown, Connecticut. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Eknoor Kaur, 3, stands with her father Guramril Singh during a candlelight vigil outside Newtown High School before an interfaith vigil with President Barack Obama, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    New London, Connecticut resident Rachel Pullen (C) kisses her son Landon DeCecco at a memorial for victims near the school on the first Sunday following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    US President Barack Obama speaks during a memorial service for the victims and relatives of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-six people were killed when a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary and began a shooting spree. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    A woman covers her face as US President Barack Obama reads out the names of children killed during Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting at a interfaith memorial for victims and relatives at the Newtown High School on December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-six people were killed when a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary and began a shooting spree. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    A woman pays respects at a memorial outside of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. On Friday, a gunman allegedly killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Residents wait for the start of an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Cheryl Girardi, of Middletown, Conn., kneels beside 26 teddy bears, each representing a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, at a sidewalk memorial, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children.(AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Connecticut State Police officers respond to a bomb threat outside of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. Worshippers hurriedly left the church Sunday, not far from where a gunman opened fire Friday inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Ava Staiti, 7, of New Milford, Conn., looks up at her mother Emily Staiti, not pictured, while visiting a sidewalk memorial with 26 teddy bears, each representing a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    This photo provided by the family shows Jessica Rekos. Rekos, 6, was killed Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 children and adults at the school, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Rekos Family)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    A U.S. flag flies at half staff outside the Newtown High School before President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend a memorial for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    David Freedman, right, kneels with his son Zachary, 9, both of Newtown, Conn., as they visit a sidewalk memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    A man reacts at the site of a makeshift memorial for school shooting victims in Newtown, Conn., Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. A gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the town, killing 26 people, including 20 children before killing himself on Friday. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    People wait in line to attend an interfaith vigil with President Barack Obama, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Residents greet each other before the start of an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Residents greet each other before the start of an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into the school Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. President Barack Obama is to scheduled to speak at the event. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    Residents greet each other before the start of an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into the elementary school Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak during the vigil. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    This image provided by the family shows Grace McDonnell posing for a portrait in this family photo taken Aug. 18, 2012. Grace McDonnell was killed Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 children and adults at the school. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the McDonnell Family)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    This Nov. 18, 2012 photo provided by John Engel shows Olivia Engel, 6, in Danbury, Conn. Olivia Engel, was killed Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 children and adults at the school. (AP Photo/Engel Family, Tim Nosezo)

  • Emilie Alice Parker

    This 2012 photo provided by the family shows Emilie Alice Parker. Parker was killed Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 children and adults at the school. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Parker Family)

  • Noah Pozner

    This Nov. 13, 2012 photo provided by the family via The Washington Post shows Noah Pozner. The six-year-old was one of the victims in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Family Photo)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    This handout image provided by ABC News, shows Nancy J. Lanza mother of suspected mass shooter Adam Lanza at an unspecified time and place. Twenty six people were shot dead, including twenty children, after a gunman identified as Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza also reportedly had committed suicide at the scene. A 28th person, believed to be Nancy Lanza was found dead in a house in town, was also believed to have been shot by Adam Lanza. (Family of Nancy Lanza / ABC News / Getty Images)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121215/us-school-shooting-victims/?utm_hp_ref=homepage&ir=homepage">Lauren Rousseau, 30,</a> had started a job as a full-time teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School this fall. She was killed in the Dec. 14 shooting at the school.

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

    School psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, was killed during an attempt to stop gunman Adam Lanza during the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121215/us-school-shooting-victims/?utm_hp_ref=homepage&ir=homepage">Sherlach and school principal Dawn Hochsprung</a> reportedly both lunged at Lanza in an attempt to protect the school's students and teachers. Both Sherlach and Hochsprung were killed.


So what separates the "mentally ill" or "disabled" from those who are "capable?" For me, the root of disability is indicative of the way contemporary societies have constructed their public sphere, specifically with regard to space. Accessibility has long been a factor that designates the qualities by which one is able to partake in cultural practices and those who are not. If disability was as simple as a definitive mutation of the body, separating it from natural or normative bodies, then wouldn't individuals with glasses be subjected to the same domain as the paraplegics, the blind or the deaf? Disability is dictated by the way in which we construct space to purposefully include and exclude individuals. This is then indicative of the kinds of people a society designates as worthy of tolerance.

Of course, the body is vulnerable and the imperative of age necessarily indicates that eventually each of us will occupy that othered sphere of the disabled. We are, ironically, the hegemonic force that ensures our own eventual oppression.

I would like to put forth that mental illness is not static but is transitory and variant. That, like the body, the mind is vulnerable and the term "mentally ill" has been ascribed to states that we all occupy at some point. With a stroke of discourse, we have painted a multiplicity of unique and entirely individual personal challenges -- the challenge of mitigating the internal dialectic of the mind with the external obligations of societal participation -- within a singular term.

The media has now taken this inadequate and dubious term, "mentally ill," and in the style of our ancestors, rendered individuals as a singular homogeneous public threat. This is counter-factual and serves as a means to find in "the mentally ill" a cheap scapegoat for the atrocities in Newtown. Such ablest propaganda does a disservice to both the citizens of Newtown, the victims of Sandy Hook, and the larger public.

Laughably employed as the president of the world's biology is Dr. Oz. Right now he is arguing, "serial killers have different brains than us." He talks about the frontal cortex, never addressing who or what he means by the allusive and abstract "us." Compounding his rhetoric are the lower-screen banners: "Where Mental Illness meets Violence," "Genetic Clues Sought in Massacre Probe." Let's envision a world where our brains can be monitored, can we determine serial killers by examining people's frontal cortex? What do we do with these brains as we branch biology with assumptions that free-will is phantasmatic, the emotional capacity for love and hate is not complex or interpersonal, it is predetermined by the speed of neurons orbiting around our brains.

Of course people are more complex than this, and such "research" is insulting and beckons back to offensive diagrams of the woman's, the African's, the homosexual's brain. All of which exist as symbols to remind us not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The wide scope and chronic differentiation within the label "mental illness" makes it problematic as a point of intellectual reference. If an individual who must have their depression medicated is the same as a child with autism is the same as the elder dealing with dementia then -- who is then left "able" under such vague parameters, and how do you not compromise the validity of individual identities or experiences? Furthermore, such a term encompasses those who have suffered extreme trauma. This means laws that exclude or stigmatize mental illness then stand to exclude victims of violence: soldiers, rape victims, and ironically witnesses to violent crimes -- like the surviving staff and students of Sandy Hook.

As stated previous, the mind is transitory and such rhetoric, like that featured on CNN and spoken by gun enthusiasts, serves to silence the public instead of encourage conversation. The unfortunate aspect of employing any sort of overly-simplistic scapegoat is that it creates an illusory self-confidence and fuels the mirage of control. The scapegoat is a mirage and as long as we feel comforted by false explanations these tragedies will continue to repeat themselves.

Similarly, the legend of the pied piper has served an allegorical function of delineating consequences for not subscribing to polemical concerns. In the 13th century the pied piper served as a metonym for broader hysteria around the consequences of paganism or widespread emigration. In 18th and 19th century it addressed the rat infestation in metropolitan areas.

Who would the pied piper be today? How would we utilize his narrative? On what grounds could they take away the pied piper's instrument and would it have made a difference anyhow? Maybe his multi-coloured attire was emblematic of anti-social behaviour, maybe it symbolized his mental illness. Would they then bring fashion experts and musicians to provide quickly assembled accounts for how his appearance and artistry was not indicative of most other people, of normal people?

In short, as easy as it is to whittle complex tragedies down to a sole political issue and then champion it as a quick solution, the reality is that these tragedies arise from a complex interplay of a multitude of pressures. Gun control is an important topic but there is also the issue of mental health inaccessibility, the quality of mental health research and quantity of support, the organization of space for young people leaving controlled environments to enter into the "real world," how we have organized that space to address our generation's unique stresses, and how the mind responds to cultural fetishization of violence. These are issues.

Also, on Friday 20 children died, a horror that redefines horror, and hysteria won't excuse that and a simple token political point could never fully encapsulate the vast expanse of all that comes with such unjustifiable loss. Tragedies are not questions, hence there are never any answers.

 

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