As I write this, I don’t know if it will see the electric light of the internet. What I’m about to talk about are things that even close friends, friends I’ve known for a decade, don’t know.
I don’t want this to be about me. I don’t want this to be a promotion of me as a writer or the products I try to market and sell. We’ve had enough of that. It sickens me to see our media icons jump on tragedies to make themselves appear to be “with it.” You know they do, because their tweets,their posts are banal and empty of human emotion. They are press releases from hell.
I’m hoping we can set that aside. Because what we have to talk about is literally about life and death. I have something to tell you. Human to human.
Before I do though, let me give you a little pertinent background: I vote democrat. I consider myself a liberal. But I am, because of my background and experience, staunchly anti-communist. And if you think that’s outmoded, you’re not reading the Guardian, or watching global news.
I’m a father. Of a daughter. I believe parents need to teach their sons to treat women with respect, to not view them as objects. I believe not enough do this. I believe that must change.
I believe in gun control.
As corny as it sounds, I also believe in the American dream. I consider myself proof of it. I regularly make in a day what my father would make in two weeks. I get to write and draw for a living. I get to work with people who I consider exemplary human beings. More importantly, I’ve moved into a position in my career where I get to NOT work with people who, frankly, I wouldn’t even invite over for dinner, let alone commit to working with closely for years at a time.
I get to do what I want. I get to make choices. My mind is free.
My brother’s mind is not.
My brother was born at a time when medicine was even more primitive than it is today. He was forced from my mother with things that look a lot like salad tongs and his brain was partially crushed.
Growing up three years his junior, I didn’t understand his limitations, which became more apparent to me as I grew up. Even as a five year old I would ask why is Edwin not like other eight-year olds.
Finally, my parents had to tell me.
Edwin is high-functioning. He could grasp driving a car, operating a kitchen oven. What he can’t do, because he is at the emotional level of a nine-year old, is handle someone cutting him off, or giving him the finger in traffic. He would KNOW what to do if there was a grease fire but would not be able to control his emotions enough to actually do it.
Edwin is also a large person. The drugs that keep him even-keeled also make him sedentary. Despite the drugs, he’s had occasional bouts of extreme anger, focused on various topics: Star Trek, Batman, friends, family, death, and women. Because even though he has the mind of a child that is kept relatively stable by a litany of drugs, he is still biologically a man.
He has attempted to attack my nephew. He has threatened to use a gun, though, thank God, never actually took hold of my father’s firearm and he no longer keeps one in the house in which my brother still lives.
He can come to conventions when I’m in my hometown, but he can’t stay long. The noise and the various negative encounters that inevitably go with human existence are too much for him.
For decades I have lived with the nightmarish possibility of a law enforcement officer encountering him in bad circumstances and shooting him dead. Or him, in a fit of uncontrollable anger, finally lashing out physically at my parents or my child.
The only saving grace, if you want to call it that, is that his limitations are obvious and well documented. Unlike, say, schizophrenia, which can come at various points during a person’s (usually male) young adulthood, and oscillate, like a spinning top you’re never sure when it might topple over.
Then, if you’re the loving family member of that person, you’re really in trouble.
I could go on, but I think you know what I’m getting at.
Yesterday on twitter, a person wrote to me “I’m not saying he WASN’T mentally ill, I’m saying it’s not a prerequisite for acting in this manner in the current culture.”
This is during a conversation where we’ve accepted that Elliot Rodger was a profoundly mentally ill person. His rants up to the point of his explosive outbreak of violence were so disturbing that even his compatriots on various “pick up artist” message boards, men not known for their sensitivity to women or sophisticated method of expression, questioned his state of mind.
His mother requested police visit him after one of his posts, also at the behest of a mental health professional. They questioned him without their own mental health professional present, not realizing all the while this “timid” man had firearms and ammunition and a plan to use them.
I won’t question those officers. But this gets to the heart of one of my points.
It is extremely difficult for family to control a mentally ill relative that, to uninvolved parties, appears to be normal at times. It is also extremely challenging to convey to others what it’s like to live with someone who does not perceive reality the way you and I do.
It could be women. It could be politIcs. It could be ALIENS.
It doesn’t matter because it’s not the why. The why is mental illness.
The details will emerge over the next few days, weeks, months and years. But it appears that Elliot Rodger killed many innocent people and then himself because he was crazy.
NOT because there is a culture of insensitivity to women’s rights.
We want a reason. We NEED a reason. But there is no reason except for a defect in a young man’s brain.
Before you berate me, I’m not saying there isn’t a problem with the way the SPECIES treats women, worldwide. I could never totally understand, but then again, I don’t know if understanding is entirely necessary. I understand enough to be empathetic. I understand enough to support causes for all kinds of people different from me.
But then why, you may ask, am I so up in arms, and risking the very real danger of appearing uppity, not to mention angering a lot of very otherwise pleasant women who you do NOT want to get on the wrong side of?
Because concluding that mental illness is only one component in this story is not only wrong; it’s dangerous.
Because every day that we, as a society, keep avoiding looking at extreme mental illness directly, and stop trying to ascribe a WHY that fits our SANE world view, is another day that some poor mentally disturbed individual is procuring a gun to play out a scenario that only makes sense in his head.
Working on changing our culture of male-centric abuse is a good thing. I support it. I will continue to. But that has NOTHING to do with this.
By all means, continue to discuss gun control and discourse on the failings of our culture.
But if you want these events to stop, FIRST please take this opportunity in the wake of this terrible occurrence to do some reading on schizophrenia, and violent mental illness.
Support legislation and encourage law enforcement to be ready to investigate and confront individuals in the throws of mental illness swiftly, and with knowledge and compassion.
Focus the conversation in a way that will save lives and heartache.
Or continue to steer the public discourse in a way that makes sense to you. Regardless of whether it will actually result in a better world.
Your mind is free.
You have a choice.