Yesterday, a gunman killed several people in a movie theater in the United States. Described as mentally ill and potentially racist, the exact reasons why the killing occurred remain unclear at the time of this writing. However, individuals are already turning to social media to explain their own views. The more extreme views dismiss the possibility of mental illness, proclaiming racism as the sole motivator and others are proclaiming the opposite. Can’t an individual be both mentally ill and a domestic terrorist? Dismissing either is dangerous but is often done in the name of political correctness. This post will focus on my belief that mental illness should never be an excuse for bad behavior, but neither should it be ignored.
Is mental illness an excuse for tragedy? No. While the limits of free-will are certainly not very well understood, all human beings have at least a modicum of self-control. To blame mental illness as a sole contributor to any action is dangerous. It demotes the responsibility that each of us have as human beings and it also contributes to the stigma that mental illnesses bring. However, we must not completely ignore mental illness, because then it elevates the mentally ill to an off-limits status that is neither fair nor justified.
We live in an age in which political correctness dictates that, while everything has a reason, some reasons are more acceptable and “plausible” than others. Many consider any criticism of the mentally ill to be ableist. Many believe that the underbelly of the human mind, bigotry, must be the sole cause for everything. We need to put aside our desires and fears when examining tragedy. Bad things can happen to good people and for little reason. We must be slow to conclude anything lest we let our own personal biases enter the reasoning process. Those that wish to blame mental illness in full or bigotry in full for any tragedy are doing a disservice to the human condition if they do not first examine objectively the evidence before them.
The mentally ill can do great grievances to those around them. While this need not be as extreme as killing another person, I would be lying if I said that the mentally ill are not an inconvenience at times. That said, we must not blame everything on mental illness, for we all have choice. Choice is the most sacred of traits for the sentient, and it must serve as both a blessing and a responsibility for those who have the ability to make choices. Choice is sacrosanct, but we must examine all contributors to the choice taken.