Thursday, April 19, 2007

Preventing future Virginia Techs?

Overview of Virginia Tech
(Image from Wikipedia)

On the John Milton Listserve to which I belong, we have been discussing what has happened at Virginia Tech and how to prevent it from happening again.

One scholar, Carol B., suggested psychological profiles on every potential university student to keep out those individuals who might prove dangerous -- perhaps along with an administrative system for catching those students who might grow dangerous while at university (though this point was less clearly made). Otherwise, she asked:
. . . how many more 'copycats' can we afford to expose our young people to?
Another scholar, Alan H., responded:

What about "our" unstable, disturbed young people, and all who might at some point in their lives be considered as such by teachers and counselors of varying levels of competence and fair-mindedness, 99.9999999% of whom pose no threat to anyone? Are they to be blacklisted from school and employment?
While emotionally, I can emphathize with Carol B., I share the concerns of Alan H., so I posted the following to the Milton Listserve:

All day yesterday, I was thinking about the same point raised by Alan.

I recall being something of a 'loner' as a young man in university -- keeping to myself a lot and feeling alienated from fellow students as I underwent my 'existential encounter with nothingness' for a couple of years.

So ... did I need counseling, or more philosophy?

I'd be averse to seeing this sort of intellectual crisis treated as pathological when it's actually, often, a sign of significant intellectual growth.

Suppose that I had been 'noticed' and referred for counseling. I'll bet that I would have been resentful at the implication that I was 'troubled' and would have grown even more sullen -- which likely would have resulted in a psychological evaluation that I required further 'treatment.'

I foresee a Teufelskreis of eccentric, epicyclic complexity that, once a student were spun into it by administrative machinery, would be exceedingly difficult to escape without the student fully accepting the 'diagnosis', willingly submitting to the 'treatment', and gratefully acknowledging the 'cure'.

"Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

Or blacklisted as a threat, as Alan wonders? Similarly to Alan, I worry that, in attempting to prevent a future Viginia Tech, we could do more harm than good.
So . . . let's be careful and make sure that in our concern to catch potential killers, we not set up administrative systems that will treat 'difficult' individuals as pathological threats.

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19 Comments:

At 7:09 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

Recently, I wrote a short piece about "ranting", simply observing that it is part of the communal psyche to diagnose after the event rather than anticipate; consequently, debate is inevitably in a context of disaster...and reason takes a back seat. I think about the leap from plane terrorism to psychological profiling of all would be terrorists...as a USA profiler put it..."people who look like terrorists". But what does a terrorist look like/ Alright, then, anyone who is male, young, Islamic, attracts attention. Not a very sound practice: racism by another name. I share your concern here. Since when were the Arts all about people who were easily profiled as terribly sane? It is hard to distinguish between the introverted loner who is intellectually engaged (yet, odd if compared to the more usual extrovert "let's get happily drunk" student) and the one who might be psychopathic. And just because you screen and find a person balanced does not mean that the person will never experience trauma/imbalance at some time--especially, given the lunatic demands of some higher learning courses. This idea seems totally impractical and ill-conceived to me. Well-meaning, yet with more disastrous implications than the occasional and extremely tragic mass-murder.

 
At 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have very considerable concerns here. I am personally aware of three individuals who, displaying some "untoward" characteristics were, I guess the term would be "labelled". Two went on to earn doctorates and have continued some twenty years hence to lead what I would consider exemplary lives.
The other case turned out somewhat more tragically. Not for any person outside theirself fortunately. But.
The scholar's Borg point is well struck. Once a label is attached, particularly in American society, (I suppose it may be the case in other cultures) that label becomes a Scarlet Letter. Informing, true or not, that this person is not to be allowed in, nor to participate with individuals not so stigmatized.
Very, very unfortunately terrible things do happen. And we second guess ourselves to our own detriment. Society's as well.
I hate that I am unable to call forth, given the example that has brought this issue to the fore but, for American society specifically: let not a scattergun approach take the place of a pinprick solution.
I so wish I felt not that I had to use what I do consider an appropriate analogy. The US' state of national mind being what it is: a thing called the Patriot Act was installed at a point. Some individuals swept up along with the deserving detritus found themselves carrying not only their Scarlet Letter, but reasons and justification perhaps to, well.
I pray I am not the only one who finds himself awash in a whirlpool of conflicting solutions. I do so hope that any holding the power to enact any solution would find themselves in an eddy out of this turbulent current.
The US' system being as it is, will hopefully be allowed some "distance", prior to making any judgement.
A swift and final solution is ultimately unreachable.

JK

 
At 8:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Eshuneutics and S.K. It seems that we all agree that the solution should be carefully calibrated to fit the problem without creating larger-scale problems.

We do face unpleasant dilemmas in our postmodern world, unfortunately.

Preventing, for example, terrorism -- given the direction that terrorism is taking as terrorists' aims and weapons grow ever more overweening -- requires measures that make our lives less convenient

I don't know how profiling works, but I can imagine that it runs up against the problem that you, Eshuneutics, note.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very simplistic method of profiling is as follows:

1. Does he/she look like me?

2. Does he/she talk like me?

3. Does he/she have in their
immediate personal space a
thing I find objectionable?

4. Is there anything I find not
compatible with my conception
of Doctrine here?

5. Did my kids/husband/wife/pet
snap at me when I left for
work?

6. If any of the above are true:
"trust your instincts". As far
as you are to be concerned,
this person is quilty. Refer
to higher ups.

JK

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I miswrote "SK" when I meant "JK"...

Must've been thinking of Soren Kierkegaard.

As for the profiling humor, wouldn't numbers one and two require a "no" answer? If someone looks and talks like me, then he's all right, 'cause "I'm all right Jack"!

Me and Peter Sellars.

Um . . . hold that. Sellars neither looks nor talks like me. He might not be all right.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Does your dag bite?"

"I thought you said your dag did not bite?"

"That is not my dog"

JK

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I recall that one, too. An old joke made funny again in the Pink Panther.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If y'all have read the updates, this Cho dude was not just a tad "eccentric" or "too quiet." He was one sick puppy. It is very hard to force anyone in the USA to get help for mental problems once he turns 18. Very sad. Very tragic.

CIV

 
At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Sonagi said...

What struck me about accounts of the rampage was that no one was able to lock the doors. I am a US public school teacher. We are trained for different types of emergencies. If we are notified by code that an intruder is in the building, we are to lock the doors and put out a color-coded card to signal the type of emergency. In the wake of Columbine, public schools across the US revamped security procedures.

I wonder whether Virginia Tech or other universities not only have in place emergency procedures but have actually trained all staff in how to respond. The odds of being shot to death in a lecture hall are extremely rare, but every life is precious. Emergency plans and staff training are not costly.

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, I've been reading quickly but not carefully, but from what I've seen, I can't understand why he wasn't detained for the threats that he had already made.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I bet that universities will be looking at such measures now.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 2:08 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

It's sad to think that we might live in a world where two of my personal heroes John Forbes Nash and Nicoli Tesla might not pass a psychological review.

Unfortunately much like evil we usually don't recognize insanity until after the fact.

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Bohink, Nash and Tesla are both impressive individuals. I wasn't aware that Tesla had problems though I knew that Nash was schizophrenic (since I saw the movie).

As for Cho, from what I've read today, his insanity had already been noted but was not taken seriously enough.

Sadly for the men and women who died that day...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 1:17 AM, Blogger Dave said...

let's be careful and make sure that in our concern to catch potential killers, we not set up administrative systems that will treat 'difficult' individuals as pathological threats

I'm not sure what distinction you are making between reactions to this event and historical attempts to identify or control "difficult" individuals.

 
At 4:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dave, I wasn't making that sort of distinction -- though looking at previous attempts would be useful.

I was expressing skepticism about trying to set up a process for screening out or singling out potentially violent individuals because I'm not convinced that the profiling can be made accurate enough that it won't do more damage than good.

Moreover, in this case, Cho's dangerous traits had already been noted, and that knowledge should have been acted upon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:18 AM, Blogger Dave said...

In 2002 the Secret Service survey 37 targeted school shootings and found that profiling individuals was useless. The assailants were too disparate in demographics and in terms of social markers such as academic achievement.

I was thinking more in terms of older cultural traditions in which nonconformists are treated like potential terrorists. The misuse of the ice-pick lobotomy in the 1940s is one example.

 
At 6:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dave, your comment fits well with my skepticism.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:40 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Even if you were able to commit a person, it would only be for ninety days in most states. You can't treat a person, unless the illness can be treated with drugs, without their willingness to be treated. I think societies reaction to mental illness and the stigma, keeps people from seeking treatment. Unfortunately the way our society deals with mental illness, is to wait until someone commits a crime, then lock them up in prison.

 
At 8:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, Hathor, that is one of the problems in this case. Clearly, Cho needed help, and people knew this, but too little was done . . . too little could be done.

Jeffery Hodges

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