Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Unanswerable Questions from Virginia Tech

When Cho Seung-Hui killed 33 people at Virginia Tech, including himself, the media were understandably flummoxed. And ever since, the news has been dripping with the “why” question—as if understanding his motivation, or the circumstances that led to his act, would offer some balm to the rest of us. If only we could understand why it happened, these stories suggest—if only it could be made to make sense—then maybe we would be able to accept it and move on.

And so now we are confronted daily with evidence of Cho’s mental illness, from secondhand reports to his self-videotaped rantings. Ah, we can say with a collective sigh, he did it because he was crazy.

But the questions don’t stop there. The next is more of a “how” than a “why”—how could an obviously insane person, someone with a history of involuntary commitment, legally obtain guns? There’s more comfort in asking “how”: “how” suggests a process, something we can imagine taking control of. “Why,” on the other hand, connotes an issue far beyond our comprehension. “Why” is the realm of karma, where the gods alone decide.

I can offer the short answer. Cho was able to acquire guns for the same reason that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were, or Son of Sam, or Aileen Wuornos. They acquired guns because we live in a society whose priorities and values are upside-down. In the United States, guns are a basic human right. Unlike healthcare or a living wage or marriage or control over your own uterus, a gun is something that anyone can have.

But it’s the first question I really want to get back to: why. In the popular view, that was the simple issue: Cho killed 33 people because he was mentally ill. Next?

I haven’t heard much discussion about why he was ill—what biological or experiential circumstances twisted the chemicals in his brain, gave him delusions, denied him the ability to connect with his fellow human beings. Mental illness allows him to be dismissed. It allows the rest of us the comfort of assuming he was inexorably different, that such a thing would never happen to us. It allows us to dehumanize him.

Chemistry was my attempt to get past that initial fear of mental illness, my attempt to rehumanize its victims—indeed, to see them as victims rather than monsters. Granted that Zach, the character in the book, is not as severely troubled as Cho evidently was. I don’t know if I could have written such a sympathetic portrait of someone whose delusions were as debilitating and dangerous as Cho’s. But my experience researching the book—and, of course, my experience living through the circumstances that inspired it—gives me a perspective that I find missing from the current national discourse.

Perhaps it’s none of my business to know why Cho suffered as he did. And it certainly doesn’t, in any way, excuse what he did. But, whatever the reason, it is well to remember that there were 33 victims at Virginia Tech. We may never understand, and surely we will never accept. But let’s also refuse to live in denial. Mental illness is not a deus ex machina; and turning our eyes from it will not make it go away.


At 10:05 PM , Blogger concerned heart said...

I think I can answer some questions about Seung-Hui Cho it was his karma to be the son of a man who was 38 or 39 years old who had badly mutated DNA in his sperm making cells and sperm. 35 is advanced paternal age. His father was described as a "country bumpkin" who could not make a decent living in Korea, was very poor and lived in a basement apartment with his family.He came here and was a presser for 25 years. His son was damaged from conception. He never learned how to talk, to socialize, to hug or be hugged. He would have been diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia or in today's terminology with autism, the catch-all. There are probably many genes in the gunman that were mutated, the genes that form the brain and nervous system and the myelin. We are never told about the paternal age effect although there is a great deal of science over 50 years which if known and talked about would be known as the male biological clock. There is a great deal of money to be made selling pharmaceuticals, drugs, tobacco, psychiatric services and the like to the mentally ill and drug dependent people. The CDC will never issue a public health warning and the March of Dimes is set up to ignore it. The disease charities are set up to sell pharmaceuticals or genetic probes and not to prevent autism through cryobanking of sperm in ones mid to late 20s.The NIH does not fund much in area of paternal age. Diabetes could be prevented, schizophrenia could be prevented, also MS,autism, Duchenne's,hemophilia, fibromyalgia, prostate cancer, endometriosis, breast cancer, ALL, probably major depression too. So the unanswerable question I will answer his father had mutated sperm making cells and if you checked the DNA of the gunman and his father spermatagonia or sperm you could find the same Copy Number Variations or other mutated genes. We have to wake up and study the paternal age effect.








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