Prior to a few days ago this blog subsisted in a particularly dusty corner of the internet. Even I barely used it. The last post was written under the assumption that the rather succinct elaboration of my points would be read by a few of my Twitter friends, rather than by several hundred thousand people. It was, as I said, a summary. But, what happens happens.
I do not wish to prevent anybody from sharing their experiences of violence and as caregivers for those who suffer from mental health problems. I think it’s important people are able to share their experiences. I also think it’s important that people do that without contributing to damaging narratives about vulnerable people, who for the most part are no more likely to attack anyone than anyone else.
The target of the post was not the author of the article personally, but the values and politics with which and into which she injected her article. As a result, it seems, of the fact that I spent no time in the post directly acknowledging the validity of the mother’s perspective and experiences (it was a summary of objections, not an overall appraisal), many took its tone and brevity for denunciatory rudeness. There was talk of my “shaming” and “silencing” discussion. In response I wish to distinguish (albeit problematically) between the “experiential” and “political” content of the article. It is entirely possible to share one’s experience without inserting it into a political narrative connecting mental illness and other issues directly with senseless, murderous violence, and making assumptions about the experiences of recently murdered people to whom you attach your own. And when you write an article and put it forward into the public sphere where it frames the terms of subsequent debate, you are responsible for how you do it. It may be the case that the way Liza Long’s son was projected in the article was adequate and appropriate to her experience, but in an article that wants to talk about mental illness, this projection taps into stigmatizing practices that marginalize those who have mental illness. This was my point in 2). There were some issues with my quoting, which was indeed paraphrasal and not direct quoting, but it used words from the article. To those asking how anyone could possibly have insight into the son’s inner mental life, there is a very easy way: ask, as though you really want to know, and then listen.
Criticism is not shaming, and my “values” are not a privilege that I must sympathise with people for not possessing. There is a public discourse to which someone contributed and to which I, in the event, also seem to have contributed. I do not consider my contribution “shaming” any more than criticisms to this effect are “shaming” me (they are not). Many posters accused me of having limited or no experience of mental illness, the mental illness of loved ones, fear of my own death, fear of death of a loved one, violence from a mentally ill person, “seeing the look in the eyes of someone who is about to xyz” and so on. None of these claims have a basis, apart from in bafflement and incredulity that anyone could have experience with any of these things and hold my position, and in fact all of them are false.
One comment claimed that Zyprexa is FDA-indicated for disruptive behaviour/autism in children. I can find no evidence whatsoever that this is the case, but even if it were, the issues of long-term damage and dramatic increases in use, of the questionable, sometimes criminal actions of pharmaceutical companies in promoting unapproved uses of their drugs and suppressing evidence of their inefficacy (Zyprexa in particular was promoted illegally for dementia-related uses) remain. I did not claim that antipsychotics are not prescribed to children: they are, and in alarming amounts. Indeed, some reports about antipsychotic prescriptions to children in foster care and other vulnerable people are extremely worrying and should be the focus of serious scrutiny. These are the problems I was referring to.
It is true that the fact that most mass killers have no history of contact with mental health services does not prove they were not mentally ill. But the fact they have no history means, especially if they are dead, that there is no evidence that they were beyond the fact of their crime. This just isn’t enough. The unfounded, sensationalist speculation around the lives of those concerned in these sorts of crimes is usually futile, often counterproductive, and sometimes completely flies in the face of the facts. Liza Long’s connection of herself and her son with the unknown and unspoken lives of those she placed her experiences alongside was just one example of that—point 1).
Soon after the killings were first reported abusive tweets poured in to the account of a Ryan Lanza wrongly identified as the “Ryan” Lanza who committed these murders; he’d posted depressed and suicidal tweets and people retweeted these thoughts as though to demonstrate: look! It all makes sense now. The lead was a completely false one. The tweets continued nonetheless: even if he wasn’t the killer, he “fit the profile of the killer”, he was fucked up, he should get help before he does kill someone, and so on. People, including Liza Long, deserve to be protected from abuse and violence. In a climate where a torrent of abuse and violence can be visited upon vulnerable people based on misconceptions and assumptions about mental illness, I think it’s utterly necessary to challenge things that contribute to that climate.
Thanks for your comments guys.