A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Cho Seung-Hui

Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 people and then himself on Monday at Virginia Tech. He was a victim of mental illness that didn't get treated. He was an example of one of the instances where someone who shouldn't be able to purchase guns was able to. In fact, he fell through the educational system, the mental health system and the governmental system. There were enough warning signs to get him help before the tragedy but noone took on the responsibility of taking care of him. And so he spiralled deeper into his psychosis and became a danger to himself and others.

How responsible is society to the mentally ill that are violent? Many people are inclined to call Cho Seung-Hui a monster and take no responsibility but I don't believe he was a monster. He was a deeply disturbed young man nearly completely out of touch with reality. I and many other mentally ill people have been so fortunate that we haven't become violent as a result of our illness but anyone who has ever been lost in psychosis knows that there was always the possibility of hurting oneself and/or others. It could have gotten that bad. There's a saying, "There but for fortune go you or I." Cho Seung-Hui was a human being, he was one of us, and he was ill. He had a mother and a father, maybe siblings and over the years he had some friends. He felt sadness, fear, anger and joy just like any of us.

What went wrong with him? Barbara Oakley, an Op Ed Contributer at the New York Times wrote: "We may not know precisely what set Mr. Cho off, but we are beginning to home in on the unusual differences in certain neurochemistries that can make people act in bizarre and dysfunctional ways." (4/19/07) Ms Oakley is probably right, Cho Seung-Hui may have had some chemical imbalance, a physical problem that created a psychological problem. This chemical imbalance could have been due to a genetic flaw. I believe his illness was so acute that he no longer became responsible for his actions. What should have been done with him before he got to this crisis point? He should have been committed, given medicine and therapy and guided back to a healthy reality. Many people are fortunate enough to survive their psychosis either in a hospital or outside of one with the aid of medicine, therapy and support groups without causing harm to themselves or others. But there are those who are not so fortunate, those who, like Cho Seung-Hui are timebombs ready to explode.

The deeper issue is what to do about the acceptability of violence in society. In the U.S. the police carry guns and as it instructs in the Constitution many people believe in the "right to bear arms" and own guns. By owning and carrying guns our society is saying that violence, under some circumstances, is okay. It also says that war is okay. But is it? Is it okay to tolerate killing? Shouldn't we be teaching that violence as an attempt to solve problems is no longer acceptable in any way? The children do not know this, they are not taught this. They are taught that the existence of "bad guys" means that there must be a hero and he must be tough. These heroes show that they are tough, yes and clever, but not smart. Smart is changing the "bad guys" into "good guys". Smart is seeing the bad guys as sick and in need of help rather than more violence.

Somewhere along the line Cho Seung-Hui was taught that violence was okay, that violence was the solution to an intolerable situation. Perhaps he played video games when he was younger, or watched action adventure films or just listened to the news. He knew when he bought the guns that violence was okay because he got easy access to them. Isn't this our problem, a problem of attitude? I have a button that I used to look at when I was struggling to stay in touch with reality. It says "Attitude Is Everything" And it is. If you hold onto negative, paranoid and violent attitudes about life, that's what you get. More negativity, more violence. More people who suffer from mental illness. But if you keep your attitude on the positive and non violent, that's what you draw into you.

The crime an punishment mentality doesn't work. When you call someone a criminal and lock them up and restrict their lives, most don't learn to change their attitude towards the positive. No, they just refine more of the negative, they learn to be tougher, they learn to be better criminals. Perhaps they even see themselves as dark heroes of a sub culture. But they are not, they are sick and lost and no one wants to deal with them properly. There's violence in prison and violence outside of prison. So why are we surprised by the violence that sprouts up all over the country? We allow the guns and the guns get used. Cho's delusional and paranoid and ultimately violent psychosis was not as out of place as we would have it. It was fed by the culture he lived in, our culture. We have to take our share of the responsibility.


Axinar said...

"Perhaps he played video games when he was younger ..."

I shot up many, many people in video games in my younger days.

That doesn't explain how someone can turn a real gun on a real random person.

Something was terribly wrong with this young man.

How we let him reach the point he did is what we really need to examine.

Kate Waters Kiernan said...

Hi axinar, thanks for the comment.

My point is just that our culture played a part in shaping the young man that Cho Seung-Hui became. Those who believe in gun control will use this terrible instance to press their point: that guns are deadly not just to animals and birds but to human beings. That they shouldn't be so readily available. I take it a bit farther and say that legalizing guns is promoting the acceptance of violence in our society. I think this is a point we need to examine if we are to make sense of why Cho Seung-Hui did what he did, to himself and others.

Anonymous said...

It is terrible what happened and we are being bombarded on the news about this guy.

Peter says theya are just making out to be a heroe.

Something should have been done when he was reported to the police for stalking females.

Police are ignorant about mental illness. They either do not know how dangerous it is or realise how treatable it is. He just needed treatment. 'They' do not seam to have given him this option. If he refused the treatment knowing that it prevents harm then I think he is fully resposible for his actions. If he was so psychotic that he could not make this realisation then it is the resposibilty of officials resposible for keeping him and others safe.

Yes guns are dangerous and you should have to go through a strict proceedure to obtain a licience to carry one. That includes mental health vetting so that this could have been prevented and something done about his health.

Kate Waters Kiernan said...

Hi Anonymous (though I do know who you are but I'm not sure if it's okay to use your name without your permission...),

I think he was too psychotic to be responsible for himself and that was why he acted out as he did. He needed to be committed for a time until his symptoms could be under his control. Unfortunately, even though people did realize that he was sick, they didn't force him to be committed. But it's a delicate issue to decide to commit someone, especially when they haven't (as yet) committed any crime or acted out in some way. When I was most psychotic I feared that I'd have to be locked up in some inhospitable place forever. I would hate to be the one to strip anyone of basic freedoms but as this case shows, sometimes it is absolutely necessary.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

I have been committed, yes it was horrible and yes your freedom is stripped of you but at the end of the day I didn't end up harming anybody or myself. I was commited because I tore a picture off the wall in my own flat and smashed it. Is that a crime? No. The pyschosis was so bad and I had to get it out of my head.


Anonymous said...

Oh come on! Everybody likes violence. That's why we're over in Iraq, isn't it? To kill us some A-rabs, YEEHAAWW!! That's why we did Vietnam, amirite? To fuck up some "evildoers," right?

Cho Seung Hui was merely emulating the time-honored European tradition of slaughtering large numbers of human beings. I mean, how do you think the West was won? Through diplomacy and rational discourse? FUCK NO! By slaughtering them Injuns, I tells you what! Hell, even back in the medieval ages, our forebears was slaughtering each other with more primitive implements, like swords and maces.

Cho Seung Hui IS the perfect model of what it means to be a descendant of a European culture. You're not gonna let some foreigner be a better European than you, are's ya? Ya better get out there and beat his record so the Europeans can reclaim the the title of best killers.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Cho was he listened to the wrong voice in his head. Your blog is titled "Yin and Yang". Which voice did Cho listen to? The Yin? Or the Yang?

He was definitely ignorant of his true self, the self that realizes their is no duality.

Concepts of treatment using drugs and western medicine may not be as effective as other Eastern approaches. Approaches that help the mind strengthen itself against Negative thoughts and emotion. I don't even watch the news anymore. Why inundate yourself with the negativity that flows so freely in popular media? If only the news was balanced, with both positive and negative, then maybe I would find it worth my while.

The truth is, these kinds of incidents won't stop until we all find the balance we all desperately need. Without balance, there won't be inner peace, and without inner peace, there won't be peace globally.