Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Silver Bullet Syndrome

After the VaTech massacre, there have been calls for more gun control, calls for teaching self-defense, calls for calls for censoring video games, and lots of complaints about campus security. Panicky, unrealistic charges sprang up saying implicitly that campus police should have known who committed the first two murders and explicitly that they should have "locked down" the campus in response to what their evidence said was a domestic dispute.

Since the lunatic was a student who lived on campus, under a campus lockdown he could simply have gone back to his own dorm and done the same thing he did at Norris Hall.

It has come out that the campus security and counseling staff knew or suspected that the lunatic was a lunatic, there have been calls for whisking away all such people to padded cells, whether they like it or not.

The human brain is a complex piece of organic machinery, with a delicate and powerful interaction between mental process, biochemistry, and cell growth. Thought patterns actually influence the physical layout of the brain. The subtle chemical balances vary from person to person, such that what might be a harmful combination for one is not for another. Further, the chemistry is offset by experience and training: a person with a tendency to believe his own opinions are facts, such as myself, can through training come to value the opinion of others. That's all hypothetical in my particular case, of course. Haha. Yes, you're right, not a laughing matter.

So there have been calls for all college students to receive mental health screenings.

It's a prime example of the Silver Bullet Syndrome: reacting to a crisis with a solution that may or may not work on a particular instance an intractable general problem. The silver bullet may not kill the werewolf, because you still have to shoot, and hit, the werewolf. Neither gun control, self defense training, locking down a campus, locking up all known lunatics, nor screening incoming college students for mental health are guaranteed to work against the general problem of how to kill the werewolves of a free, dangerous society.

There has always been an unquestionable oddness and questionable mental health of artists and writers, from Edgar Alan Poe to Adolph Hitler, from cartoonists daring to depict a prophet to those sent to Siberia for opposing an evil empire. Liberals should take note that when we give the government a power, it doesn't readily give it up, and the power to imprison those who have done nothing wrong is a dangerous one, indeed.

But it will at least be interesting to see Nannyism duke it out with the menace of drug company profit. Will liberals fall on the side of protecting us from those whose oddness can only be detected with mental health screening, or will their distrust of Big Pharma prevail?

(Somewhere in here, a link to Dr. Sanity would be nice.)

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