"No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's..."
"No damn cat, and no damn cradle." ~Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
By Adriana Gamondes
In the introduction to Nuclear Rites, Stanford anthropologist Hugh Gusterson explains why he approached a formal study of atomic weapons scientists in the same manner he’d approach a tribal culture: “one powerful Western institution that is particularly understudied by anthropologists is science.”
Gusterson concludes that, though typical psychological analyses of weapons production bear some truth—that the power of nuclear weapons systems become an extension of the self, an expression of potency,etc.—the view too easily dismisses scientists’ own rationalizations and ideology as mere distractions from driving psychosexual motives. Instead, according to Gusterson, scientists’ faith in the ultimate morality of their work and the fact that this stems from the problems they’re charged with solving (namely the belief that winning the arms race would prevent nuclear strikes by less evolved nations) might better explain the field’s euphemization of risks, romanticization of their technology and exaggerated self-assurance that this technology can be controlled even in the face of repeated human error and equipment malfunction potentially costing the lives of millions. Gusterson discusses profit mostly as it pertains to scientific status, coveted name-rights and the ritual of “initiation and transcendence” involved in creation and testing.
The word “profit” is derived from the Latin profectus—“to gain, advance or progress.“ There are a variety of interweaving gains to be made in ventures that are perceived to advance humanity in the name of progress—money is only one of them. Gusterson quotes Robert Budwine, head of the USA Delegation and director of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory:
The United States, for all our manifest faults, is without a doubt the best hope for a future world of peace and prosperity… Weapons research simply must continue at a determined and intensive level for our nation to have the opportunity to lead humankind towards some future utopian world order.
Several of Gusterson’s works begin with a quote from E.L. Doctorow: “The bomb first was our weapon. Then it became our diplomacy. Next it became our economy. Now it’s become our culture. We’ve become the people of the bomb.”
“To the victor go the spoils” has a different meaning in that sense. Gusterson also points out in The Insecure American that by becoming terrifying on the path to progress—even if this is rationalized, as it always has been, as the conscious pursuit of the “greater good”—we’ve terrified ourselves. Fear sells, but we’re the chief consumers of it.
Every social policy which requires the cover of morality and pursuit of a shining future to rationalize human and ecological collateral is now framed as a “war” on some frightening specter or other: the war on terror, the war on disease, the war on street drugs, and the war on mental illness (providing the sanctioned replacement for street drugs). Some are beginning to recognize that whenever the “war on” prefix is attached to any problem, whatever the “war” has been declared on will expand.
The voting public might backlash against some of these proverbial wars (case in point, the legalization of recreational marijuana in two states), but public opinion is increasingly feeble when it comes up against corporate interests. Most American voters wanted withdrawal from Afghanistan and for Wall Street bankers to be held accountable. Many were repelled by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut limits on corporate campaign financing and almost 90% of Americans are concerned about vaccine and prescription drug safety. But as clinical psychologist Bruce Levine wrote in a Huffington Post article entitled The Myth of U.S. Democracy and the Reality of U.S. Corporatocracy, “’We the People’ have zero impact on policy.”
In one sense, the pharmaceutical juggernaut in the US plays the role of military medical corpsmen, culling the wounded from the battle fields of various ideological and actual wars. When commercial distractions fail to dull anxiety over an increasingly surveilled, controlled and body-scanned society and worsening economies, ecology and human health statistics, even those who remain relatively unaffected by the fallout might blame their own or their children’s mental defects and reach for the pills in an attempt to bring thoughts and feelings in line with perceived norms.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” As social animals, it’s psychologically painful for most people to feel out of step with context. By the same principle, as the new norm becomes a medicated state, it may be increasingly painful to work out life’s woes without chemical aid if no one else is doing it, especially when normal emotional responses to life challenges such as grief and concern over illness are creeping out of the margins of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and being turned into full blown clinical mental illnesses with corresponding pharmaceutical “cures.” E.L. Doctorow could easily have written, “Drugs first were our weapons. Then they became our diplomacy. Next they became our economy. Now they’ve become our culture. We’ve become the people of the drugs.”
We’ve also become the people of the side effects. Psychiatrist, drug expert and Pharmageddon author David Healy explains how tobacco science keeps prescription drugs off the media list of causal conjectures for modern increases in violence and suicides and how, in turn, social denial sustains itself on denialist science. He calls the research fudging a “Doubt is our Product” strategy once used by tobacco companies to hijack statistics on rising life expectancy in the 1970’s as proof that smoking is safe.
…most of us know people on antidepressants none of whom are violent. This makes it difficult to accept a link to prescription drugs. For many even raising the idea that Holmes may have been crazed by a prescription medicine is likely to sound deranged or the excuse of a bleeding heart liberal.
But in fact there is a great deal of publicly available clinical trial (Hammad 2004, p40-41) and other data highlighting the risks of violence from psychotropic drugs. There is far more hidden data. There is in fact no other area of medicine in which there is so much hidden data on a risk that has consequences for the lives of so many innocent third parties…
In the case of violence, the published trials show antidepressants cause it, probably at a greater rate than alcohol, cannabis, cocaine or speed would be linked to violence if put through the same trial protocols that brought the antidepressants on the market. The labels for the drugs in a number of countries say the drugs cause violence. And there is at least one clear and well-known factor, just like autopsy rates, that can account for the findings – young men. Violence is linked to young men, and episodes of lethal violence are falling in all countries where the numbers of young men are declining.
Shortly after Healy’s article was published, a study in the The American Journal of Public Health reporting that suicides now outnumbers car accidents. The old adage about suicide is that violence turned inward may often turn out.
Does the drug industry fear that, if it were known certain prescription drugs could lead formerly average individuals to commit deadly acts, survivors would accuse industry of providing a justification/alibi for perpetrators? Probably not. Drug makers more likely fear being held accountable as perpetrators in high profile crimes. It’s hardly out of concern for victims that industry favors the message that med madness is merely an empty defense to avoid prosecution, which is why pharmaceutical giants have repeatedly offered and provided free legal resources to prosecutors to combat the use of the “Prozac defense” by defendants even when survivors and surviving family members felt defendants’ prescription drug use played a role.
Not that non-criminal monetary penalties meted out to companies which hide product risks or bribe doctors to commit dangerous prescribing inspire much board room terror. From Sick system: Record $11 Bln Fines Do Not Deter Pharma Giants from Crime:
Pharmaceutical companies have been fined a record $11 billion over the past 3 years for unethical and illegal practices. But leading researchers says companies will carry on breaking the law, regarding fines as “the cost of doing business.”
Eight out of 10 of the biggest pharmaceutical producers in the world have been caught breaking the law in this period. All in all 26 healthcare companies have signed “corporate integrity agreements” with US authorities, a form of probation following serious fraud.
Industry might easily absorbs the litigious “cost of doing business” but it still fears a reverse profit slide from corrected public perception of risk/benefit ratio. Accordingly, while the Times plays hero by reporting coercive drugging practices and certain drug injuries, industry embedded media doesn’t consistently disclose the science associating violence to the medications, the counter-evidence to the idea that the drugs correct brain chemical imbalance or that the drugs have no proven clinical efficacy beyond functioning as chemical straight-jackets, providing limited seizure control or temporary psychic and sometimes physical painkilling properties.
Painkillers may have a place in medicine; but the problem for marketing strategy is they can’t be mandated and practitioners who overprescribe can face criminal charges. Since court-mandated drugging is largely based on efficacy theory—the idea that these drugs essentially “fix” the brain in order to improve cognitive functioning or reduce violent behavior— and since forced drugging in institutions, foster care and prisons and drugging as a condition of receiving social services or Medicaid (effectively forced) represent a large chunk of the psychopharmaceutical market— this explains the need for tobacco science to argue clinical benefits, from fake studies of “brain chemical imbalance correction” to genetic theories of mental illness.
Since Senator Grassley began his investigations of pharmaceutical marketing and research fraud, regulatory and industry cover-up and academic capitulation, the public has become slightly more aware of the body of research questioning drug safety. But if information is power, the public remains crucially disempowered. Some individuals, for example, may choose to avoid drugs as a personal choice because their evolving awareness of risk reports outweighed the seriousness of their own complaints. But the same individuals might nevertheless believe public safety could be compromised if certain other people weren’t forced to take medication, particularly since only a few independent investigative journalists like Evelyn Pringle have resisted industry pressure to withhold key facts which might change the assumptions.
According to Pringle, the pyramid of front groups set up and funded by psychiatric drug makers over the past 25 years have made it nearly impossible to educate the public about the serious adverse effects associated with psychotropic drugs, particularly suicide and violence.
Like members of many prominent industry front groups which began as consumer non-profits, local NAMI chapter members may be largely ignorant of NAMI’s history and driving policies. NAMI’s members may claim to be working for internal change, though that change has not been forthcoming in the 33 years the group has existed. Despite pleas of benign intent, NAMI has managed to attach itself and its medication/forced treatment models to criminal, juvenile and family court systems and law enforcement nationwide. NAMI is also officially sanctioned and has also been slated by compromised National Institute of Mental Health director Tom Insel as one of only two “consumer partners” of the NIMH, along with another industry front group, Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association). The NIMH itself has long been identified as an industry-captured regulatory body which maintains a “revolving door” employment exchange with pharmaceutical companies which share board members with mainstream media corporations and collectively rank next to fast food and the automotive industry for ad spending.
Senator Grassley’s investigation of these “charity” organizations which Pringle participated in verified that their budgets are largely supported by money from drug companies – “results that sadly got very little coverage in the MSM— leaving the public unsuspecting of the underlying motives of all these so-called ‘patient advocacy groups,’” she warns.
In return for the massive funding, Pringle reports that front groups have done a great deal to protect psych drugs profits over the years:
For instance, their leaders have showed up at every single FDA advisory meeting held to decide whether to add warnings about suicide and violence to the labels of antidepressants and testified against adding the warnings. And every year, the groups recruit family members and friends of suicide victims in communities all over the US to unwittingly participate in drug marketing schemes disguised as ‘suicide prevention’ walks and programs without ever mentioning that the majority of people who commit suicide are already on the medications the schemes are aimed at selling that cause people to become suicidal.
Year after year they recruit using the same old phony lines. Family members and friends are told to be on the look-out for loved ones who might be depressed – people are committing suicide because not enough are getting treatment - which translates into drugs, drugs and more drugs only.
The MSM actually helps the groups promote these blatant drug peddling schemes with public service announcements…Obviously because their budgets are also so overly dependent on Big Pharma advertising dollars.
If money is only one “gain” to be had in pushing the drug paradigm, it’s a big one. But Pringle can easily attest how drugs have become our culture and how the public and scientific authorities alike are turned into psychiatric “informants” through disinformation and the cultural currency of fear, faith in progress and the universal need to believe that the devil wears horns.
And the culture-capture doesn’t stop at the 6 o’clock news. Cannes nominated film We Need to Talk About Kevin tells the now overly familiar story of an empathy-impaired-from-birth mass murdering teen with a curious resemblance to the young Hitler clones in Boys from Brazil. It’s The Omen for pop-psych millenarians and too lousy a movie to be worth dissecting in many ways, but the message and timing are telling and the film could serve as a “lurid parable” as a Guardian reviewer wrote, though not in the way the reviewer probably intended it. At the end of the We Need to Talk About Kevin, the fictional mom tells her incarcerated killer son how he played his cards in court: “You managed it all so well. Tried as a minor, out of your head on Prozac…You’ll be out of there in a couple of years.”
On the meaning of that particular line, author Lionel Shriver is very clear:
Of course, Kevin is indeed sent to a psychiatrist as an adolescent (which many of these why-didn’t-the-parents-seek-professional-help readers fail to notice). But he’s a wiley, manipulative little fellow, isn’t he, and merely uses a prescription for Prozac to plan his post-Thursday judicial defence—since Prozac has been identified as having a psychotic effect on a small minority of patients.
Without quite denying that drugs might cause a few rare psychotic outbursts, the author attempts to inoculate viewers against increasing suspicions that prescription drugs might partly or even greatly explain many modern mass murders. Even if it’s admitted that Prozac didn’t work to curb a character’s violent impulses, the film implicitly sells force and a horned devil—that those who are born evil must be identified and preemptively managed. As another scathing review summed it up,
Probably viewed by all involved as an important contribution to the nature/ nurture debate and a stark commentary on the taxonomy of evil, the only thing this movie succeeds in doing is dumbing down a complex issue to the point where it feels like an episode of Sesame Street brought to you by the word ‘dysfunction’, the number ‘666’ and the colour ‘red’…The problem with Kevin in that he’s such an unambiguous sociopath that there’s no room for any kind of empathy – and it doesn’t take a degree in psychiatry to know from about ten minutes in that he needs to be taken as far away from civilisation as possible – maybe to Swindon – and put in a padded cell on a diet of bread, water and really, really strong anti-psychotics.
Shriver mentions in the Bookgroup interview that there are more dimensions in the overlap between “nature and nurture” than in one or the other in terms of depicting psychopathology, though she doesn’t seem to grasp that by “genetic,” mainstream geneticists aren’t indicating “100% genetic” but “largely genetic” or “mostly genetic”—just as Shriver implies of her fictional assassin. In an obviously coordinated press junket for the film, UK autism researcher and pharmaceutical defender Simon Baron-Cohen similarly hems and haws on the “nature/nurture” quandary only to ultimately land, like Kevin’s author, on the “largely genetic” interpretation in a Daily Mail review:
At zero degrees of empathy we find the psychopath, such as Kevin. From everything we are shown in this gripping film, psychopaths are born callous.
And yet, the film (like the science) does not want us to settle too comfortably into the idea that the cause of psychopathic low empathy is purely genetic. It hints, disturbingly, at the role of psychological conflict in Kevin’s mother, about whether she is trying to love him without truly loving him. The science confirms that environmental and emotional factors do also play a role in the development of antisocial personality disorder, but teasing apart cause and effect in such hard-to-parent children is a tall order.
In people who end up as psychopaths, brain regions connected with empathy are under-active. The science also tells us that empathy is a complex skill, with several components. Two major ones are “cognitive” empathy (the capacity to recognise what someone else thinks or feels) and “affective” empathy (the capacity to feel an appropriate emotion in response to someone else’s thoughts and feelings).
Psychopaths such as Kevin have zero degrees of affective empathy (they just don’t care about someone else’s feelings) but have excellent cognitive empathy (able to worm their way into someone else’s mind by using their ability to figure out what someone else might think, want or feel; able to manipulate others through deception).
The film doesn’t touch more established “environmental” patterns of the deliberate and organized use of substances to fuel violence, such as Hitler ordering the Luftwaffe to consume huge amounts of methamphetamines, the forced drugging of abducted boy soldiers in Sierra Leon, or Breivik’s deliberate doping in service of a violent political movement. This is because the film seeks to generalize on a disconnected relatively recent form of school shootings: non-ideological mass murder performed mostly by lone perpetrators with no association to violent militant organizations, who most often have no criminal background, make no attempt to escape and harbor no specifically personal gripes against targets. Instead the film attempts to offer a stand-in for group affiliation, organized ideology and personal resentment in the idea that our entertainment culture is fomenting the deadly nihilism of the demon seeds lurking among us. At one point Kevin mumbles out a monologue peppered with teen-ironic emotional quotation marks:
You wake up and watch TV. You get in your car and listen to the radio. You go to your job or your little school. But you’re not going to hear about that on the six o’clock new. Why? Because nothing is really happening… I mean it’s got so bad that half the time the people on TV—in the TV—they’re watching TV. And what are all these people watching? Huh? People like me. And what are all you doing right now but watching me? You don’t think they would have changed the channel by now if all I did was get an A in geometry?
But the character’s goth nihilism is no more or less meaningless or untouched by history and context than Baron-Cohen’s or the filmmakers’. The film’s villain isn’t alone in assuming the public is hopelessly clueless and unworthy.
First, one of many things making the news media so hollow and making the public so lost on the issues—and at risk—in the age of chemical psychosis is, as Evelyn Pringle demonstrates, the lack of reporting on prescription drug-induced violence and suicide. Even when the major media presents a supposedly "balanced view" of the hunt for identifying factors among populations "at risk" for violence, particularly in terms of predicting random mass killings, prescription drugs receive no scrutiny. So if the Kevin character conceivably knew anything about the phenomenon, he would have had to perform pointed searches from the previously mentioned scarce alternative media sources to generate a Prozac defense. In doing this, he would have figured out that such a strategy would never be allowed to succeed in what would be, in real life, a high profile mass murder case. Only in a few obscure cases has the prescription defense managed to even reduce charges.
But why haven’t students mass murdered their classmates for as long as there have been schools if violent psychopathology is “largely genetic”? Why didn’t these specific crimes occur—moreover undergo a spike in rate— during eras when Dickensian child-rearing, legal domestic violence and taking children to public executions were commonplace if these zero-empathy-gene carriers only need a subtle environmental jump-start?
Using Wikipedia’s list of American school shootings as a guide but weeding out “classic” crimes (the types of crimes that have always existed), a pattern emerges which is illustrated in a simple table below. The table includes only mass assaults by students against students and staff (qualified as attacks on two or more students, or attacks on one or more student if coupled with an assault on staff), or by adults not associated with a school assaulting students and staff with no comprehensible motive, such as targeted revenge against a specific individual for a perceived wrong, sexual, financial or ideological/militant motives. If the attacker killed themselves and other bystanders or family member in the course of the spree, these are included.
To explain why it was used for this purpose, the Wikipedia list is the only publicly accessible “active” list (with new additions made and citations added) and has the benefit of being slanted in the reverse direction of the argument being made here: Wikipedia, known to be monitored and edited by various industries which closely control certain entries, does not focus on the prescription drug use of mass school shooters or may not mention it at all, even when this information was confirmed after a particular crime. The school shootings excluded are those such as targeted revenge attacks by adults on adults or specifically targeted revenge assaults by students on staff or students; “duels”; single suicides on school grounds; domestic or sexually motivated murders of female students and staff (the most frequent type of school shooting until 1966); family members seeking revenge for staff physical punishments on students (also a seemingly common cause of school shootings prior to 1966); deaths occurring in the course of staff physical abuse of students; gang or mob-related violence and related ideologically motivated militant terrorist attacks on schools, including Wiki's bizarre inclusion of an act of war by Native Americans in 1764 without mention of settlers' terrorist attacks on Indian children (presumably because Native Americans did not refer to the education process as "school"). What remains in the estimate are crimes in the “inexplicable” category of mass school attacks which the film extrapolates on.
In 1966, Charles Whitman, the amphetamine-addicted Bell Tower shooter who suffered from an undiagnosed brain tumor and migraines— for which he may have been prescribed other drugs— set the precedent for a student committing a lethal mass school shooting against students and staff. According to available information, prior to 1966, there was a single lethal mass assault on students and staff by an adult staff member of a school in the US and only one non-lethal attack by an adult with no relationship to a school. Before 1966, there were no recorded mass assaults by a student on other students and staff.
1960-1970: 3 mass assaults by students or recent former students on students and staff; 1 assault on students and staff by adult with no relationship to the school. 22 dead (17 by Charles Whitman).
1970- 1980: 3 mass assaults by students or recent former students on students and staff; 2 assaults on students and staff by adults with no relationship to the schools. 15 dead
1980-1990: 5 mass assaults by students or recent former students on students and staff. 5 dead
1990-2000: 15 mass assaults by students or recent former students on students and staff. 42 dead.
2000- 2010: 5 mass shootings by students or recent former students on other students and staff; 2 mass assaults on students and staff by adults with no relationship to the schools. 72 dead.
2010- 2013: 5 mass shootings by students or recent former students on students and staff. 41 dead.
While some insist that there’s been “increased recognition” of mental illness, it would be strange to argue for “increased recognition” of mass civilian murder or increased recognition of the determination to commit it: The rarity of the earliest mass school shootings, particularly those perpetrated by children on other children, meant they made headlines around the globe. Today, hardly anyone is familiar with One Goh’s lethal mass attack in 2012. Med-madness may not explain every crime, though the increase in non-ideological, “inexplicable” mass killing incidents in schools would appear to mesh with the availability of certain drugs more closely than it does population increase or other societal advents, such as the availability of powerful assault weapons. The sheer death tolls from separate attacks are clearly related to the types of weapons used; but Charles Whitman managed to slay 16 with circa-1960 bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles. People in farming and mining communities once had easy, undocumented access to explosives and there’s never been a shortage of matches; but if these types of attacks follow the patterns seen in other developed countries and had been included in the estimate, the increase might appear even more staggering.
Although Prozac wasn’t FDA approved for use in children until 2003, it was increasingly prescribed to school-aged children from the time it was first marketed in the late 1980’s, followed by a series of spinoff blockbuster selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and second generation or “atypical” antipsychotics. Prior to that, stimulants and first generation antipsychotics had been marketed for use in children since the 1950’s, followed by earlier generation antidepressants, Valium and other “anxiolytics” and sedatives. To repeat, the number of children so disabled by mental illness that they qualify for SSI and SSDI has risen 35-fold in the past two decades along with the increase in prescription drug use.
(Drug ads from Dr. Bonker’s Institute.)
Like Baron-Cohen, the creative team behind We Need to Talk About Kevin is forced to tuck forgone conclusions on the genetic roots of violence behind a feigned spirit of “exploration” as they waffle around the total lack of science supporting the existence of a gene or “set of genes” for violent criminality. It’s a leap of faith that they seem sure science will eventually exonerate, but they hedge the bet for credibility. Among the “environmental accents” dribbled through the plot, the film offers enigmas for popular generalization: If someone harbors shallow political criticisms of shallow media culture, they might walk away with a sense of satisfaction that a glimpse of Kevin playing a video game with his dad advances their pet theory that modern mass killings are caused by violent gaming and the commercialized void. If they think junk food explains it, they can watch pre-school Kevin angrily stuffing his mouth with neon orange cheese puffs in one brief scene. Viewers who prefer the view that cold, selfish mothers cause modern school shootings can find fodder watching Kevin’s mother struggle not to hate or physically assault her malicious offspring. The happiest viewers will be those who already leaned to the idea of the born psychopath. But if a viewer believes that relatively new prescription drugs could play a role in the modern advent of mass school killings, they’ll walk away with suspicions about the film’s financial backing.
But the film didn’t go blockbuster and the casting and unhappy hipster style suggest it was never intended as anything other than an art house sleeper aimed at an influential, progressive boutique audience who are predisposed, like Baron-Cohen, to accept the film’s dominant genetic take.
As it happens, Kevin was co-produced by Steven Soderbergh who was arguably at the top of his game when he made a radical shift from championing consumer advocates (Erin Brockovich) to attacking them in two films, Contagion and Kevin, which both play like extended public service announcements for the pharmaceutical industry and public health.
Those who point out that Che, Soderbergh's biopic on Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, hardly qualified as pro-corporate would be missing the point. Though Guevara—who happened to be a medical doctor— may arguably have been part of an inevitable counter-force attempting to release Latin America from the clutches of North American corporate slave labor, the Marxist and Cuban template for public health share the same roots as that of the US—namely the French revolutionary model generated by radical Jacobin anti-monarchists which sought to replace the divine right of kings with the secular collective divinity of the state. Not all countries' social health structures verge on utopian extremes; but as reform psychiatrist Thomas Szasz writes in Coercion as Cure, the "sacralizing of the state" occurs when physicians are "converted from servants of their patients to agents of public health."
Even Contagion, which had a more blockbustery early run than Kevin, made only a fifth of the box office for Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen. The project choices probably weren’t about the money. Instead Soderbergh’s recent spree appears to be some kind of ideological fork strategy to correct growing public rebellion against commercial science, public suspicion over regulatory conflicts and, considering the common thread running between the two projects, to adjust “misguided” public conceptions of autism.
What I need to find out, from someone like Malcolm Gladwell, is how do people change their minds? What is the process by which a person changes their mind about a deeply held belief? What’s the thing that clicks over for them? I have no idea. Clearly people do change their mind about things, but how does that work? Is it gradual, sudden? Is it through a peer? What’s the source of the information?
Gladwell is famed for using Bernaisian “obfuscation, distraction, suggestion” and the “the subtle introduction of doubt” to shill in defense of financial institutions, Penn State’s inaction in the Sandusky scandal, Big Tobacco and Big Pharma, including apologias for psychopharmaceuticals and the purported genetic roots of mental disorders:
What further confounds the culture-of-Ritalin school is that A.D.H.D. turns out to have a considerable genetic component. As a result of numerous studies of twins conducted around the world over the past decade, scientists now estimate that A.D.H.D. is about seventy per cent heritable. This puts it up there with the most genetically influenced of traits--traits such as blood pressure, height, and weight. Meanwhile, the remaining thirty per cent--the environmental contribution to the disorder--seems to fall under what behavioral geneticists call "non-shared environment," meaning that it is likely to be attributable to such factors as fetal environment or illness and injury rather than factors that siblings share, such as parenting styles or socioeconomic class. That's why the way researchers describe A.D.H.D. has changed over the past decade. There is now less discussion of the role of bad parents, television, and diet and a lot more discussion of neurology and the role of specific genes.
In Contagion, Soderbergh’s possible homage to Gladwell’s conception of “epidemic” ideas and the “Mavens” and “Connectors” who push them forward, public health officials and vaccine makers are defended as martyred heroes. In keeping with Bernay’s and Gladwell’s methods of doubt-implantation and herd-like view of “the masses,” the public are depicted as hysterical fad-magnets who die in droves because they have forsaken true science to follow a criminal charlatan who questions the safety of vaccines and who suggests that vaccines cause autism.
In The Tipping Point, Gladwell writes, “There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it.” Jude Law, the actor playing criminal “naturopath” Krumweide (German for “krummen”= crooked; “weide”= field) claimed the character was based on Lancet Paper author Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield, who lost his license to practice medicine in politicized attacks on the study’s findings that novel bowel disorders in autistic children might have an association with the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, was remotely exonerated when colleague John Walker Smith won a reversal of the General Medical Council’s verdict in British court at about the time the film was released. In Contagion, Soderbergh didn’t need to look very far to find irresistible packaging for his “good and evil” idea-Mavens: in order to make the character instantly detestable, Law’s bandy-legged, angry-Cockney characterization resembled, sort of confusingly, not so much Wakefield as Brian Deer, the reportedly pharma-funded Murdoch freelancer who filed the initial viral complaint against Wakefield and is named in an appealed libel claim.
In his pop-think bestseller Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses Simon-Baron Cohen’s conception of autistic “mind-blindness” and, in roundabout terms, Baron-Cohen and Yale autism researcher Ami Klin’s views of autistic empathy deficits. With the backing of Kevin, Soderbergh seems to finish his Gladwellian tactical assault by attempting to counter the view that pharmaceutical drugs have some association with modern mass murder. By deduction, what remains is the idea that autism may relate to genetic psychopathology.
At the start of the film, which follows Kevin’s mother and father from courtship to parenthood, the screaming, sleepless bringing-up-baby sequences are every inch the experience of many autism parents, except “Kevin” is clearly “born with it.” Whatever “it” is, it looks a lot like autism. The fictional mother, played by Tilda Swinton, even asks a pediatrician— whose exam room is covered in huge, grotesque posters of clowns— if toddler-Kevin is autistic but is reassured that Kevin’s lack of “rocking behavior” rules out the condition.
Since rocking behavior isn’t a required criterion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the scene could be taken as a comment on clinical cluelessness. The clowns aren’t subtle and the filmmakers are clearly presenting infantile autism as a kind of genetic roulette spin that could somehow land on “violent psychopath.” Though most autism families witness their healthy infants regressing into illness and disability, the regression, illness and physical pain are excised, reinforcing the “mystery” of the born killer and its supposed cold-blooded connection to “genetic autism.” The dead giveaway that Kevin’s creators scoured the deepest recesses of autism research for the killer’s characterization is a moment when preschool Kevin gets the flu and, for a fleeting time during his fever, normalizes into an affectionate and responsive child.
Still, defining autism and sanctifying drugs may not be the actual endgame of Soderbergh’s project choices. They’re “lurid parables” for something larger.
Partly as a consequences of parsed and filtered “murdertainment” depictions of mass murder and censored data on adverse drug effects, the rate of consumers who take psychotropic medications without full consciousness of risks continues to rise: one in ten adults and children in the US take one or more psychiatric drugs including antidepressants. 5-20% of these individuals will experience drug-induced psychosis and mania according to the American Psychiatric Association, accounting for 8.1% of all psychiatric hospital admissions. Robert Whitaker factors that if 8% of the 10.741 million “patient care episodes” reported by the federal government in 2000 were indeed prescription drug-induced mania and psychosis, this could mean up to 860,000 Americans have this type of reaction.
That’s 860,000 Americans who could, at any given moment, go postal. It’s interesting that the term “going postal,” according to Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, entered the vernacular because of a number of postal workers who experienced violent mania and killed while taking antidepressants. If fear sells, there’s a great deal of selling potential in every disaster that arises from these statistics as long as the association to prescription drugs is obscured. But what exactly is being sold?
The purported genetic origins of various forms of mental disability as well as fear of violence from affected populations are essential to psychopharmaceutical marketing and the marketing of mental illness. In their paper, Schizophrenia: Medical Students are Taught it’s All in the Genes but Are They Hearing the Whole Story?, neuroscientists Jonathan Leo and Jay Joseph write,
The idea that schizophrenia is due at least in part to a genetic predisposition is seen as an accepted fact in modern day psychiatry. The acceptance of this theory is not only important for how psychiatrists approach the research and treatment of schizophrenia, but also has implications for the entire field of psychiatry…The genetic theory of schizophrenia is frequently cited as evidence in favor of genetic predisposition to other conditions; the thinking being that if schizophrenia is genetic, then depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and a host of other DSM IV categories must also have their roots in problematic genes. (By the expression “genetic theory of schizophrenia,” we mean the view that although environmental factors might be important, genetic factors are equally if not more important). Scientists have spent countless hours and numerous resources investigating the role of genes in certain behaviors, but a specific gene has never been found for those disorders which have no known neurochemical or neuropathological markers. in the case of schizophrenia, several scientists have reported finding a “schizophrenia gene” only to eventually retract their findings (e.g., Marshall, 1994; Sherrington et al., 1988).
Before autism, schizophrenia was central in attempting to demonstrate the genetic root of mental illness as well as for generating public approval for forced institutionalization and treatment due to public safety concerns. But the late Loren Mosher, while directing schizophrenia studies for the National Institute of Mental Health, declared that schizophrenia was clearly “environmental” after the agency completed extensive analyses (Breggin, The War Against Children of Color, 1998; p. 54). Mosher made this statement to counter the agency’s press releases at the time, which inexplicably reported the reverse of the NIMH’s actual findings. Leo’s and Joseph’s review, like many other studies, found that the famed twin and adoptive studies once thought to prove the genetic basis for the condition not only didn’t provide support for the gene theory but undercut it. Jay Joseph also authored The Missing Gene: Psychiatry, Heredity and the Fruitless Search for Genes which questions the “twin method” standard for emphasizing genetic cause of conditions over environmental. As with autism, independent research is discovering immune and toxic factors which may influence the development of schizophrenia.
As far as whether drug treatment actually improves conditions for schizophrenia or makes the public or patients themselves safer, Whitaker points out that, according to historical documents and institutional statistics, those with schizophrenia weren’t generally more violent than typical members of the public prior to the invention of mental health drugs. Whitaker further argues that mental illness, particularly schizophrenia and other conditions involving delusional or erratic states have been used to back fear-based marketing strategies to peddle drugs, a scheme which is self-fulfilling because violent personality changes and suicidality have been increasingly associated with the atypical and traditional antipsychotics used to treat the disorder.
What’s more, Mosher also analyzed data from two World Health Organization schizophrenia studies from the 1970s which concluded that those not exposed to prescription drugs typically had a roughly two to three fold increased rate of recovery over those chronically exposed to psychiatric medications. But Frau Koma isn’t interested in the small print. Neither is Paul Steinberg of The New York Times, who has frequently weighed in on the supposedly genetic origins of autism and recently called for greater "risk management" of mental disability (forced institutionalization and forced medication) in the wake of recent mass shootings in a strangely contradictory op-ed entitled Our Failed Approach to Schizophrenia in which he poses schizophrenics as both less violent and more violent than the general population:
...we have too much concern about privacy, labeling and stereotyping, about the civil liberties of people who have horrifically distorted thinking. In our concern for the rights of people with mental illness, we have come to neglect the rights of ordinary Americans to be safe from the fear of being shot — at home and at schools, in movie theaters, houses of worship and shopping malls...The vast majority of people with schizophrenia, treated or untreated, are not violent, though they are more likely than others to commit violent crimes. When treated with medication after a rampage, many perpetrators who have shown signs of schizophrenia — including John Lennon’s killer and Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin — have recognized the heinousness of their actions and expressed deep remorse.
The small print again: John Hinkley Jr. had taken antidepressants and tranquilizers prior to his attempted assassination; Mark David Chapman had abused a combination of prescription drugs and LSD before killing John Lennon. Steinberg complains that the Goldwater Rule prohibiting psychiatric professionals like himself from making unauthorized assessments have a "chilling effect" on discussions of violent crime.
After mass murders, our airwaves are filled with unfounded speculations about video games, our culture of hedonism and our loss of religious faith, while psychiatrists, the ones who know the most about severe mental illness, are largely marginalized.
But psychiatric views haven't been marginalized in regard to making the latest staple conjecture that mass shooters may have some form of autism.
Various theories attempting to meld criminality and autism have appeared since Hans Asperger subtitled his discovery “autistic psychopathology.” In essence, Asperger meant extreme disconnectedness but his choice of terminology has set off speculative scrambles in every new generation of scientists bent on nailing down, once and for all, the ever-elusive “crime gene.” In response to ongoing semantic confusion, a team of Austrian researchers tracked the life histories of all 177 of Asperger’s original patients, searching for any statistical increase in criminal activity. They found none. From No increase in criminal convictions in Hans Asperger's original cohort:
Abstract: Hans Asperger originally used the term "autistic psychopathy" to describe his patients on the autism spectrum, leading to a possible confusion with psychopathic disorder and delinquent behaviour. We conducted a penal register search for 177 former patients of Asperger's clinic with a childhood diagnosis of "autistic psychopathy" or features of the disorder in Austria. The mean percentage of registered convictions was similar to that in the general male population of Austria over the studied time period. A qualitative assessment of offence types in Asperger's former patients suggests that the nature of offences does not differ from that in the general population. In this original cohort of Asperger's patients, convictions were no more common than in the general male population.
But regardless, autism continues to be drawn into the debate on modern crimes, from financial villainy to murder. Most recently, autism has been linked to the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Massachusetts on December 14th which left up to 28 people dead—20 of them children under the age of 7. Sean Hannity of Fox News convened with Drs. Marc Siegel and Keith Ablow on lack of empathy, autism and violent crime. None appeared to be “chilled” by Goldwater or concerns about labeling and stereotyping:
Sean Hannity: Now we had heard reports—personality disorder. I had heard the term “autism” today, Asperger’s syndrome… Obviously this kid, at this age, shooting his mother, going in to shoot with abandon all these kids, obviously something’s wrong. Would any of those conditions tell you that could happen?
Siegel: One thing’s for sure, Sean, he’s out of touch with reality at the time this occurs. If he had something called Asperger’s, he may have had ongoing meltdowns which are associated with violent behavior. That’s possible. It’s possible he was on medication, that the medication wasn’t working, that he didn’t have empathy, that he wasn’t relating well to others, that he had social problems..But that still doesn’t explain everything. It’s also possible given he’s the age of 20 that he became psychotic, that he lost touch with reality completely and that he had some kind of delusional system going on that led to this heinous crime.
Hannity: Is it always a medical condition, I mean… I’m asking this as a question…If someone is disconnected from reality, no sympathy, no empathy, no conscience, no consciousness, no soul…There is human evil. I mean, someone can kill innocent children like this, it seems to me that that is human evil.
Siegel: You know Sean, I don’t know what Dr. Ablow’s opinion is on this and we’re going to hear it in a second, but I personally don’t let people off the hook and say ‘this is a mental health condition, they’re not evil.’ I think the two can coexist.I think there is an issue of evil here as well.
Ablow: Here’s what I think. I think the final common denominator here is lack of empathy. You can’t walk up to one child after another, kill that child and see each child fall to the ground and slump over in his or her seat while maintaining any empathy. So why can you lose human empathy? You could be delusional, schizophrenic perhaps, and be working on a delusional system. I don’t know that to be the case here, but you could be where you think “If I do this, I save the whole world.” That’s one level of things. Secondly, sure, personality disorders can do this, and there are other conditions that can do this, like drug abuse combined with either a mood disorder or personality disorder or all three. But listen, is it a mental illness? Of course it is, because that lack of mental illness doesn’t come from nowhere. And in twenty years, Sean, I’ve never found anybody who does anything like this who hasn’t been through hell him or herself in a way that creates mental illness. Not genetics, it’s partly life.
Though limited information on the shooter has been made available and little of it is substantiated, according to the Washington Post, the Newtown perpetrator who killed himself after the attack has been identified as 20 year old Adam Lanza, a socially awkward A student with possible Asperger’s syndrome who had once attended Sandy Hook. Other news releases state that Lanza had become depressed after his parents’ divorce and reportedly took the atypical antipsychotic Fanapt.
Fanapt is FDA-approved for the treatment of schizophrenia. Medical side effects of the drug include tardive dyskinesia, male breast development, cardiometabolic damage and Parkinsonism. Psychiatric side effects of Fanapt include akathisia, aggression, mania, delusion, hostility, suicide.
The report that Lanza took Fanapt originally appeared in the The New York Daily News which then excised mention of the drug when it was disclosed that the source of the information may not have been Lanza’s uncle but an imposter. The twist has confounded the issue, but there are further reports that Adam Lanza took medication, probably since the age of ten at least and that Lanza’s mother was in the process of filing for conservatorship of her son in order have him committed.
If the court trend of sealing medical records in high profile mass shootings continues, as with Columbine, Virginia Tech and Aurora, the truth may never be confirmed and the hot potato for "cause" lands on other targets. The only excessive concern expressed for privacy center on perpetrators' pre-crime medical treatment and the only speculations being chilled are over what prescription drugs they may have taken.
Following the Newtown massacre, several seemingly legitimate sources within the killer’s family told the media that Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, though newscasters don’t always hold out for confirmation before guessing at a possible link between violence and autism spectrum disorders. After a series of these premature proclamations, some made within hours of several initial mass assault reports, it’s clear the theoretical association between autism and criminality was simply lying in wait all along. With the Connecticut tragedy, the pundits might have come up aces at last. But in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, Joe Scarborough of Fox, an autism father himself, jumped the gun when he stated that James Holmes’ behavior smacked of autism.
Joe Scarborough speculated Monday that James Holmes, the alleged shooter in Aurora, Colorado, might have been “on the autism scale.” Holmes was behind the mass shooting at a midnight showing of “Dark Knight Rises.” He shot over 70 people, killing twelve of them. On Monday, Scarborough weighed in on the tragic event and said that it was a “mental health issue.” The MSNBC host said he “did not want to generalize,” but that he knew who was responsible as soon as he heard about the shooting. “I knew it was a young, white male, probably from an affluent neighborhood, disconnected from society, it happens time and time again,” he remarked.“Most of it has to do with mental health. You have these people that are somewhere, I believe, probably on the autism scale,” said Scarborough, whose own son has Asperger’s syndrome. “I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not. People that can walk around in society, they can function on college campuses, they can even excel on college campuses, but are socially disconnected.
Norwegian mass shooter Anders Behring Breivik, who again quite clearly fit a more traditional profile of militant mass murderer, has also been suppositionally diagnosed with Asperger’s by an expert who had never interviewed nor treated Breivik.
Ulrik Fredrik Malt, a psychiatry professor at the University of Oslo, said the 33-year-old Breivik was suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and narcissistic personality disorder, but was likely not psychotic.
The question of Breivik’s sanity is key to his ongoing trial. Though judges are certain to find him guilty, they must decide if he was criminally sane or not.
Their decision would affect whether he gets mental treatment in a secure psychiatric facility.
Asperger’s is a developmental disorder on the autistic spectrum that often is characterized by a lack of empathy. Tourette’s is a neurological disorder marked by tics and verbal outbursts…
Malt said Tourette’s could explain why Breivik has frequently smiled inappropriately throughout the trial.
Malt’s opinion is based on his observations of Breivik during his trial, which started on April 16th, but he has not interviewed the defendant.
Although Malt’s opinion would appear to have been along the lines of what Breivik is trying to prove in court, the defendant lashed out against the diagnosis.
“I want to congratulate Malt for a very good demolition of my personality,” he said.
Once a campaign manager for Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential run, serial killer Ted Bundy—by all accounts an infamous showman, master manipulator and adept liar— lured victims through personal charm or by playing on sympathies and attracted serial killer groupies during his trials. According to biographers, he was raised by his grandfather, a “tyrannical bully,” who exposed Bundy to sadistic pornography as a child. Bundy has been speculatively labeled as “manic-depressive,” “sadistic sociopath” or, due to his infamous charisma, a psychopath. A Tampa, Florida news station is currently in possession of the single witness recreation drawing of Bundy’s execution by electric chair: he was smiling before the hood was pulled over his head. Before he died, Bundy smirked and smiled inappropriately throughout court proceedings, can be seen smiling in photographs taken in between his 30 or more murders. So much for smiling inappropriately as a diagnostic criterion— Bundy was never diagnosed with autism or Tourette’s while he lived, though reports of Bundy’s timidity in junior high have brought even Bundy in line for the current trend in armchair “autism screening.”
In the wake of buckshot, post-crime diagnostics, the autism community, like any group misguidedly framed for disaster, has been put on the defense while trying to avoid the ugly pitfall of drawing attention from the immediate victims, most recently 20 innocent first graders, including a six year-old boy with autism.
In the midst of the Dec. 14 shooting in Connecticut, the shooter’s brother, Ryan Lanza, has been reported saying that his brother suffered from mental illness and was autistic. Unfortunately, those in the mental health communities and autism communities do not get the chance to mourn America’s loss of all these children but instead are doing what they can to advocate for autism and other mental health concerns before all of us with autistic children or adults of [sic] autism are all labeled as potential murderers.
Perhaps more unfortunately, the label has a particular tendency to stick to certain targets within the gap of information surrounding modern mass murders and the labels may distract from uncovering actual cause and stopping future crimes. Many mainstream advocacy organizations, possibly in order to avoid being labeled as Luddites or to avoid losing corporate sponsorship, steer clear of speculating on the pharmaceutical association. This is true of some groups even when growing evidence of the link between prescription medications and violence could provide enough reasonable doubt in the common confusion between autism and violent criminality to slow the adoption of damaging institutional policies against the disabled—or vigilantism.
The blinkered approach neither mourns the direct victims of the crimes nor does it prevent smear attacks which threaten to add the disabled population to the roster of victims in the aftermath. But to address any of it, advocates would have to first acknowledge why the confusion persists.
Similar to the environmental injuries strongly associated with the exploding rate of autism—whether the injuries are fast-tracked by vaccine damage, exposure to drugs with similar cellular damage profiles to mercury and other vaccine components, or due to an increasingly toxic environment— the adverse effects of certain prescription drugs appear to be the great equalizers: no matter how unique an individual started out, some will end up, post adverse event or regression, displaying very similar external behaviors. For autism, there are recognizable patterns of regression into stereotypies and injured social and communication capacities across the spectrum which vary mostly by degree of intensity. In the case of drug induced psychosis, many reportedly display almost identical behavior and cognitions.
First-hand and expert accounts have documented a senseless Stepford-wife aspect to drug transformations that seem to involve a shedding of imagination and individuality and sudden convoluted attraction to stock representations of aggression. The sudden, extreme fixation on stock symbols is nearly a given among non-ideological modern killers in the Western Hemisphere: formerly “nice” or “average” or merely “troubled” or “bullied” kids—not to mention children with ethnic identities that might have, at one time, made them victims of Nazi eugenics—developing an obsession with the most culturally accessible, cookie-cutter representations of violence and atrocity.
Young men and boys often surround themselves with the fetishes of their favorite violent video games and films. If there were any doubts that violent imagery increases aggression, the modern military wouldn’t use digital battle simulation in training recruits to kill. But there’s another issue of extreme, uncharacteristic and delusory identification. Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold, though he was half Jewish, developed a sudden Nazi fixation after he reportedly began taking an unnamed antidepressant. Finnish shooter Auvinen, being a bit closer to the Russian border but paradoxically from a culture with historical resentment of violent Russian expansionism, also wove Stalinism into the sudden onset of his Celexa-induced, gun-worshipping violent delusions. But Auvinen’s focus also included the Western psychotic staple—Nazism. As one Finnish drug critic put it when commenting on the Jokela school shooting, “Now we know what put the ‘SS’ in SSRI.” Even the fact that Holmes— who spent summers as a nondenominational counselor for Camp Max Strauss serving underprivileged children—suddenly identified with “The Joker” wasn’t much of a departure from the trend.
Anders Breivik is probably a red herring within the assessment since he was long associated with neo-Nazi organizations; his ideology, though repulsive, was relatively cohesive and drawn from an organized militant movement. But for the majority of modern mass killers, the focus on violent symbols might appear too random and disorganized to amount to any structured ideology. According to other documented cases of med madness, formerly agnostic or nonobservant individuals have developed an overnight belief in the devil.
In Talking Back to Prozac, Breggin describes the loss of individuality, loss of empathy and the “robot-like” state induced by drugs which deactivate the frontal lobe. This description of modern, drug-fueled mass killers has been as consistent as their pre-drug histories were not:
Kip Kinkel, Oregon, Prozac, “expressionless.”
Luke Woodham, Mississippi; Prozac: “expressionless.”
Micheal Kasmierczak, Illiniois; Prozac withdrawal: “expressionless.”
Seung-Hui Cho, Virginia; “antidepressant”: “expressionless.”
Tim Kretschmer, Winnedon, Germany; “psych services”: “no emotion.”
Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold; Colorado; Luvox; “antidepressants”: “no expressions.”
Michael McLendon, Alabama; “antidepressants”: “expressionless.”
Autism is sometimes clinically defined by “lack of normal expressiveness,” fixations on particular icons (for instance, Thomas the Train), and various degrees of repetitive speech and choreiform movement which can sometimes give affected individuals a “robotic” appearance. Long before studies showing a correlation between autism risk and drugs in the water or drugs in pregnancy were published, with the latter setting off speculations on future “SSRI autism” lawsuits, psychopharmaceutical critics had noted the “autistic-like” transformations of individuals under the influence of psychiatric drugs, particularly antidepressants, amphetamines and antipsychotics. But the point of the observations was not that the subjects had been born this way. Instead it was understood that subjects were undergoing a sort of “regression” from expressive normalcy to OCD, robotic behavior, language and memory impairment, stereotypies, self-injury, paranoia and social withdrawal. There’s a “before” and an “after.” It bears repeating that, unlike the relatively rare schizophrenic “psychotic break” in eras before prescription psychopharmaceuticals, the modern epidemic of psychosis more often involves immediately identifiable mitigating factors and vastly higher and more predictable rates of violence and suicide. Even the “before and after” has a before and after.
Another overlap with pharmaceutical brain injury which also doesn’t amount to a parallel to regressive infantile autism is that those suffering from genetic or environmentally-caused mitochondrial insufficiency—which mounting research indicates may underlie autism and other modern chronic diseases which are also on the rise— may be at increased risk for experiencing drug-induced psychosis.
It’s uncertain why this may be so, though it’s known that certain psychiatric drugs impair mitochondrial function. In The Silent Spring published forty years ago, Rachel Carson summarizes a chapter devoted to the mitochondrial-toxic effects of modern drugs and chemicals:
Some of the defects and malformations in tomorrow’s children, grimly anticipated by the Office of Vital Statistics, will almost certainly be caused by these chemicals which permeate our outer and inner worlds.
There’s also the question of whether symptoms of chronic toxicity, either subclinical or full-blown, could fast track some children into biopsychiatric clutches in the first place. All the same, even several mainstream, industry sponsored autism researchers and organizations agree that autism in itself has no clinical association to planned violence. Furthermore, individuals with autism are vastly underrepresented among perpetrators in crime statistics and those with mental or other disabilities are far more likely to be victims of crime than to commit them. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that,
- Persons age 12 or older who had disabilities experienced an estimated 567,000 nonfatal violent crimes in 2010.
- In 2010, the age-adjusted violent victimization rate for persons with disabilities (28 violent victimizations per 1,000) was almost twice the rate among persons without disabilities (15 violent victimizations per 1,000).
- In 2010, for both males and females the age-adjusted rate of violent crime was greater for those with disabilities than the rate against those without disabilities. The rate for males with disabilities was 23 per 1,000, compared to 16 per 1,000 for males without disabilities; for females with disabilities the rate was 26 per 1,000, compared to 15 per 1,000 for females without disabilities.
The above estimations are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. There’s no data available on categories of disability (cognitive, physical or a combination) regarding disabled crime victims nor any data on disabled child victims of crime under the age of 12. This is a problem that Executive Director L.E.A.N. On Us and law enforcement response specialist Carolyn Gammicchia attempted to address through yearly formal requests for data gathering programs from the Department of Justice and the federal Office for Victims of Crime since 2005. So far, no program has been put in place and the holes in the data remain. Gammicchia’s organization did uncover that 50% of disabled victims never seek legal or medical assistance, more than half the crimes against the disabled are perpetrated against those with more than one type of disability and that individuals with developmental disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to be victims of criminal acts than the general population— far higher than the estimated twofold risk of victimization faced by the disabled population as a whole.
Cognitive injuries also open the door to psychiatric abuse. This may have been true of John Ogdren and Sky Walker Steuernagel. Would they have had autism if not for environmental factors? Would they have killed if they had not exposed to further environmental factors— drugs with black box warnings for violence and suicide? Would Ogdren and Steuernagel have been medicated if not for developmental disorders?
The answer to the last question is that they might have been medicated even without serious disabilities. Many American children are, whether this happens because, as Breggin wrote, a child is bright and bored in a mediocre school, suffering from moderate lead or mercury exposure, traumatic stress, closed head injury, simply due to minority status or any number of reasons. But even though the cognitively disabled are drugged at a far higher rate than the general population and would predictably experience a proportionate increase in side effects, the vast majority of drug-fueled killers had no remarkable preexisting mental disability. Though several mass killers had come from troubled backgrounds, there’s no evidence this was true of the whole. The common denominator for med madness is not necessarily genetics or “partly life”: not autism, not preexisting conditions, not even horrific childhoods.
Reading the comments’ sections of articles on school/mass shootings, one sees members of the public conjecturing on the rumored autism of Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho. Reading comments for articles about autistic individuals who kill, there are frequent references to school shootings. And in the previously mentioned film We Need to Talk About Kevin, the communal musings are brought together into a neat little PR bomb.
What these two issues—mass murder and autism— may have in common, mostly, is that they’re becoming systematically blurred in public perceptions and there’s a method to it. Joe Scarborough’s remarks on Fox were not off the cuff and neither were Sean Hannity’s. When pharmaceutical front group Autism Speaks remained silent over Scarborough’s statements, this was not an accident. There’s something in the message that’s important to media sponsors and to mainstream public health authorities.
Along the same bipartisan lines mentioned earlier, liberals are hardly immune from drawing sociopathic parallels to autism. In an op-ed railing against conservative self-centeredness, liberal pundit Paul Wallis recites a list of hateful conservative views, including “Ethnic groups are criminals,” “The poor are criminals,” “Obstructing any type of assistance to those who need it is standard [conservative] procedure,” “Sick people only get sick to take money away from the rich,” and then adds:
Can this possibly be considered anything but an autistic viewpoint? Even the lying is based on the same mentality as a 2 year old who thinks they can get away with anything. Apparently anything which doesn’t directly benefit or relate to oneself isn’t on the conservative radar. That’s autism, incarnate.
If there’s one area of bipartisan agreement to be found in the partisan media circus, it’s that “autism incarnate” is criminal incarnate.
Adriana Gamondes is a contributing editor to Age of Autism and a Facebook page administrator. She and her husband commute between Massachusetts and Florida and are the proud parents of recovering twins.
Disclaimer: Withdrawal from psychotropic drugs can often be more dangerous than continuing on a medication. It is important to withdraw extremely slowly from these drugs under the supervision of a qualified specialist. Withdrawal symptoms are sometimes more severe than the original symptoms or problems.