Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Red-flagging unstable individuals is not without risk

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 2, 2014 at 8:53 am with 1 Comment »
June 3, 2014 6:54 am

Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men?

Simple answer: God. Since he isn’t sharing, and the Shadow (whose catch phrase this is), is a fictional character, that leaves the rest of us to blunder our way through life, locking our doors both figuratively and literally, trying to keep the unknown forces of malice at bay.

Yet in defiance of logic, we often demand that our authority figures predict the future. We curse the weather forecasters. We make boogeymen out of politicians (sometimes rightly so). We point the finger of blame at law enforcement when killers emerge from their disguise as normal humans.

Mourners at a memorial for slain UCSB students/
Mourners at a memorial for slain UCSB students/

That truism is evident in a recent editorial published in the TNT (5/28) which suggests that psychologists must do a better job of identifying and nullifying unstable individuals like the Santa Barbara student who killed six and wounded many others before taking his own life.

This is a laudable idea. However, until we are able to see the future as clearly as Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report, the only certainty about the intentions of our fellow humans is our own ignorance.

There are definitely red flags, as the editorial pointed out: drug abuse, mental health issues such as schizophrenia, a violent past. But for every mass killer, there are countless would-be gunmen who manage to ignore the malicious whispers in their heads, who find a stable environment, who maintain a regimen of appropriate medication. What measures, precisely, would we place upon them?

This is the veritable slippery slope, paved with good intentions.

Let’s look at the possible scenario. After following government mandated protocol, mental health experts flag a group of individuals considered to be at risk for violent behavior. They are then processed through a state system which seeks to identify and nullify any future episode.

Sounds good so far, right? But there is risk.

The chaos theory (as this English major understands it) suggests that an observer’s presence changes the results of an experiment. Thus, the result of this intervention might well alter the outcome in a negative way, if only by leaving a nasty impression in the mind of an individual struggling to cope with disturbing thoughts. And isn’t this just a slick way of demonizing people with a debilitating mental illness?

Which brings us back to the beginning. What if we were able to see the evil lurking in the minds of men? Should we intervene, even if doing so meant that an individual’s free will and ability to exercise self restraint would be subverted by mass fear?

That is a question that must be answered thoughtfully before we proceed down this path. While the possibility exists to limit mass killings, the grim prospects of living in an increasingly authoritarian state might well be the cost.

And spoiler alert: It doesn’t turn out for the best in Minority Report.

Leave a comment Comments → 1
  1. smokey984 says:

    Good thought provoking article..

    My wife, having just graduated with here masters in Holistic Leadership, at Salve Regina, has a very unique perspective and skill set when addressing mental health. Therapy dogs, yoga, meditation etc…

    and although big pharma has a strangle hold on mental health these days, the Holistic approach will make a huge comeback in the years ahead.

    Its absolutely impossible to predict ones future behavior…warning signs, criminal history, family history, physical health, diet, education level, traumatic upbringing etc.

    It always comes back to your opening line..tied into your authoritarian state ending. If i had to place a bet based upon today’s society we know how this all ends…

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