Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cho and Virginia Tech revisited

While I remain unconvinced that the Virginia Tech massacre requires any bold changes in law or policy, there is an irony in the way that Seung-Hui Cho was treated by the school and local authorities. As National Review and others have pointed out, had the vitriol and insanity that he spewed been directed at a protected minority group, the university would have come down at him like a ton of bricks. But act in ways that make teachers and students afraid to be in the same room with you is to simply let your voice be heard. Who are we to judge?

One of the singular sins of my generation is to have lost their capacity for judging anything other than "intolerance" - a concept that, for us, has taken on a specialized meaning applying to a set of disfavored attitudes about race and sex. We had good reason to be concerned about these things, but we have been fighting the last war since approximately 1969. Many of the people who dealt with Cho understood that his conduct had passed a point at which he ought no longer be the master of his treatment, but our disinclination to pass judgment prevailed.

(Interestingly, it appears that it was only when Cho's conduct arguably became an offense against gender - sexual harassment - that there was any concerted effort to address the threat that he posed.)

For me, the difficulty of all this is underscored by some research done by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Professor Harcourt has apparently demonstrated that there is a strong and inverse correlation between the homicide rate and rate of combined institutionalization (i.e., prison and mental institutions). He shows that, while our prison population has risen, the numbers in mental hospitals has decreased such that we institutionalized more people in the 1940s and 1950s than we do today.

Professor Harcourt is quick to point out that this does not mean that we ought to embark on a new project of warehousing people and I agree. It is hard to get at the Chos without sweeping up less dangerous folks. But the determined refusal to see a problem like Cho's for what it is strikes me as another malignancy of the Sixties.


Dad29 said...

Clay Cramer has mentioned the study, as well. There are a couple of lacunae--notably in the area of Alzheimer's patients who were formerly institutionalized--that may have an impact on the general theory. Not enough to invalidate the conclusion, but enough so that a follow-on study should be initiated.

As to the lack of discrimination, some of it comes from the abuse of the quote from Christ "Judge not, lest you be judged."

This has been ripped from its context; whereas Christ was referring to 'judging to perdition' (i.e., consigning someone to Hell, which is certainly NOT within our competence nor authority), the gurus of PC have removed eschatology from the meaning of the quote and applied it to temporality.

In other words, they've managed to quote Christ as though He were an atheist, or agnostic...

illusory tenant said...

dad29 pontificates: Christ was referring to 'judging to perdition' (i.e., consigning someone to Hell, which is certainly NOT within our competence nor authority), the gurus of PC have removed eschatology from the meaning of the quote and applied it to temporality. In other words, they've managed to quote Christ as though He were an atheist, or agnostic...

That's an interesting take on Matthew 7:1, complete with some remarkably bizarre conclusions, since Matthew 7:2 reads,

"For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you." (NAB)

So if Christ was, in fact, referring to "judging to perdition," then so were the human disciples He was admonishing, since Christ specifically and analogously connects the two measures of judgment.

How dad29 reaches his interpretation of this verse, let alone attributes it to "the gurus of PC" is anyone's guess.

Speaking of judges, hopefully the apparently subjective intuition (or divine inspiration, perhaps) employed in dad29's hermeneutic isn't representative of the "strict constructionism" he and his fellow travelers favor among the judiciary.

illusory tenant said...

let alone attributes it to "the gurus of PC" ...

Let alone attributes the plain reading to "the gurus of PC," that is.

Anonymous said...

Hippies caused the bloodbath? C'mon. I know that this nonsense about "no one is willing to make judgments" is standard rightwing rhetoric.

And, its complete BS. As a result of consensus, left, right, and middle, we have become much more punitive since the dreaded 60s. More criminal laws reaching more conduct with more severe sanctions. This is just an example.

The libs may say, for example, its not government's place to judge romantic and sexual relationships between 2 consenting adults. The right's response is to spin this beyond all recognition and declare thst libs/Dems, etc. are fighting for an anything-goes, amoral society.

On to Cho. he was judged to some degree and had been reached by the legal system - obviously not to the degree necessary to stop what happened. This could lead to a serious discussion about mental health care, a discussion that proceeds from a more meaningful premise than we do nothing or we "warehouse" people.

But, the real shame of your post is that you ignore the real, and real difficult issue, an issue you, as a lawyer, are uniquely aware of.

Deciding how a community empowers its government and institutions to diminish the liberty of individuals (in any number of ways) on the basis that an individual is troubled or makes other uncomfortable or even scared.

For example, what error rate can we live with? Forced medication, hospitalization, supervised community health care, etc. How many folks who will never go on to cause harm are we willing to scoop up to get the Chos?

As you damn well know, this is a very complex policy and legal problem and its the main issue (other than the questions associated with access to handguns and ammo).

Rick, you normally don't stoop this low. The fact that Cho had not been hustled off campus in a straight-jacket is not fodder for the culture war, the-sky-is-falling, our nation is in the clutches of the beast, gibberish the right spews. Your post seeks to hide the difficult and meaningful issues in order to exploit this tragedy for unrelated, crass, and frankly radical political purposes.

Rick Esenberg said...

Anon 11:59 - Go back and reread. I acknowledge the complexity and difficulty. But it remains the case that the reluctance to take action in the face of Cho's extraordinary mental illness (judged by what happened before - not by the shootings) raises questions. And it is not the hippies, it is Foucalt and Sasz.

Dad29 and Illusory raise some interesting points. I would probably not go so far as to suggest that Jesus' admonition against judgment goes only to the expression of an opinion about final things, but I do agree that there is a trend in Christianity that paints Jesus as a "sensitive man of the 90s." The problem is that, if you just sit down and read the Gospels, that's not quite the Jesus you encounter.

Anonymous said...

Well, Sasz is a rightwing libertarian who thinks that there is no such thing as mental illness. And, frankly, so few Americans have read Foucalt that I don't think that's the problem. And Foucalt was so abstract, its awfully hard to trace his thinking to actual policy.

Nonetheless, your claptrap about a society unwilling to be judgmental is precisely and demonstrably false. Don't get me wrong, I get it. Some flavor of liberalism you pretend exists is responsible for the fact that Cho was free to kill. This is nonsense. See my previous post.


Rick Esenberg said...

Foucalt and like-minded thinkers were enormously influential. They needn't be read by many to have a substantial influence on policy. Not that many people read Szasz either, but it'd be wrong to claim that he was not influential and, I think, wrong to deny that his influence was part of the milleu of the sixties. Whether you call it libertarian or liberal doesn't really matter to me.

Was "liberalism" responsible for Cho? Of course not. But one of the paradigms that we have followed since the 60s - all of us, really - clearly affected the way in which the university and local authorities responded to him. I don't know that it needs to be abandoned so that we go back to the world as it was in the 40s and 50s, but, perhaps, it should be rethought.

illusory tenant said...

dad29 may well have raised an interesting point - if it was in any way supported by the text, and indeed, not completely contradicted by the text. In the meantime, the gurus of PC have nothing on the gurus of pure, willful fantasy.

Incidentally, it's Foucault.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Szasz wrote applied theory, i.e., he wrote specifically to influence present-day policy and was fairly influential, especially in the insanity defense area.

Te notion that Foucault somehow created or popularized a school of thought that plays the sort of role you seem to think it does is just weird.

Have you ever seen "A Fish Called Wanda?" Kevin Kline thinks he too can capture the meaning and impact of philosophers in a sentence or two.

Anyway, back to Foucault, if your point is that he somehow ushered in an age where any behavor is ok or that judging behavior is improper, you are both misstating Foucault and misrepresenting the state of things.

I'll say it again, the right's strange rant that we live in a value-less or impossibly judgment free culture is factually wrong, in the most concrete ways. Our society makes more judgments in peoples lives and about their behavior than ever before in history and imposes those judgments, impacting people in a varity of ways.

This stuff is just the right talkin to itself and inventing yet something else to be outraged about.

PS - the fact that Foucault saw himself as a critic of Enlightenment does not make him a liberal by any stretch; indeed modern liberalism is as much rooted in the Enlightenment tradition as anything else.

Oh yeah, before I forget, someone wanna make the claim that "Discipline and Punish" has influenced our education or corrections systems?


Anonymous said...

And, another thing. This whole discussion illustrates one of the right's biggest, typical flaws.

When the facts or issues at hand call for a discussion of concrete policy that leaves the right nowhere to go (other than "lower taxes will end bird flu and drought") - the right simply hurls mindless abstractions back and forth.

One example, is the right's response to urban crime. Proposed solution: be outraged an insist that that urbanites should be different than they are. End of discussion.

W/ Cho, a guy with a documented history of mental illness, a finding that he was a danger to himself and others, and we are talking about Foucault. Not the easy access to handguns, not even our mental health system or how the courts deal with mental health issues.

Rick, your recent missives about urban crime have been an interesting experiment. I think they have been entirely ignored which, I think, speaks volumes. Apart from abstract disapproval, the right has nothing to say about dealing with the issue.

"Things should be good not bad, and I am angry about it" doesn't strike me as a meaningful way to approach, well, virtually every policy issue out there.

Dan Knauss said...

I think the convoluted path by which this point was reached:

"...the right's response to urban crime. Proposed solution: be outraged an insist that that urbanites should be different than they are. End of discussion." unfair and irrelevant to the original post, with which I have no argument. But contriving arguments seems to be the rule of the day, so I will continue.

This is a valid point. (About the vapid, non-serious, non-analysis, non-response of "conservatives" today to practical policy issues, especially local "cons" w/r/t Milwaukee, which is both better and worse than they know.)