October 12, 2015

"The wish to hurt others is tied not to autism but to psychopathy, which manifests in a deficiency or absence of empathy and remorse."

"Some autistic people may not recognize why they cause distress; psychopaths don’t care that they cause distress. Autistic people may see the world from a singular, personal perspective; psychopaths are often cunning manipulators who act according to perceived self-interest without regard for the destruction they cause. Psychopathy seems to have coincided with autism in the cases of Mr. Harper-Mercer at Umpqua and Adam Lanza at Newtown, Conn. Psychopathy apparently coincided with depression and grandiosity in the cases of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine and Elliot O. Rodger at Isla Vista, Calif. Psychopathy almost certainly coincided with schizophrenia in the cases of James Holmes in Aurora, Colo., and Jared Loughner in Tucson. You can categorize such people as having a common madness only if your criterion for madness is their behavior itself...."

From a NYT op-ed, "The Myth of the 'Autistic Shooter,'" by Andrew Solomon. Solomon is identified only as "the author, most recently, of 'Far From the Tree,'" so I looked up "Far From the Tree." Subtitled "Parents, Children and the Search for Identity," it's a very long book about the "startling proposition... that being exceptional is at the core of the human condition—that difference is what unites us."

46 comments:

Ignorance is Bliss said...

This is the first I've heard of the 'Autistic Shooter', so apparently the myth has not spread very far.

Shootist said...

@blissful Iggy

It takes time for the data points to correlate. Obviously all these people are mad, loony, psycho-killers. That they are all Asperger sufferers is just another interesting point. Maybe it is best if those we used to accurately refer to as mental defectives are not allowed to exercise their basic Constitutional Rights without being supervised by a responsible adult.

Ann Althouse said...

"This is the first I've heard of the 'Autistic Shooter', so apparently the myth has not spread very far."

I raised the subject here here and continued the topic here. I was making observations and asking questions, wanting to look at everything truthfully, not indulging in myth-making. I understand the urge to protect the mentally ill and the mentally challenged, most of whom are not dangerously violent, but the other extreme is to insist, reflexively, that whatever part of a mentally ill individual that turns out to be violent must be a separate phenomenon from the part that he shares with other mentally ill persons who are not violent.

For example, some subset of depressed persons kill themselves. Is the tendency toward self-killing not part of the depression?

Michael K said...

I think it as likely that the shooters were paranoid schizophrenics. Occam's Razor suggest that a single hypothesis is more likely than two.

chuck said...

> that difference is what unites us.

That's silly. Anyone who has attended public school knows better. Perhaps the book has some real content. OTOH, probably not.

Carol said...

if your criterion for madness is their behavior itself

Exactly. People can't come to grips with this kind of evil so it gets a facile label like paranoid schizophrenic, because one would do this unless one was...paranoid schizophrenic. Or something.

Is this an actual instance of begging the question (as opposed to merely raising the question)?

Freeman Hunt said...

He makes a good point about psychopathy versus autism.

Henry said...

You can categorize such people as having a common madness only if your criterion for madness is their behavior itself....

I believe very strongly in evaluating people by their behavior...itself.

Categorizing is, however, a different activity than evaluating or understanding. There, I can support the author. "Nobody who understands the history of justice or of the imagination (largely the same history) wants to be treated as a member of a category." - Wendell Berry.

"startling proposition... that being exceptional is at the core of the human condition—that difference is what unites us."

I first misread this as "being unexceptional is at the core of the human condition." I think my misreading makes more sense. Difference is important because it's exceptional. If everyone is exceptional, difference is commonplace.



Henry said...

One side point.

The killer’s “diagnosis” was based primarily on posts on Yahoo made over the last decade by his mother, Laurel Harper, in which she characterized both herself and her son as having Asperger’s syndrome — a category no longer in medical use that describes autistic people with advanced verbal skills.

In a different psychoanalytic era, Freudians would be making merry with the Harper-Mercer-Harper son and mother relationship. There was a time when Freudianism saturated the culture, from Bruno Bettelheim's vile theory of refrigerator mothers to Hitchcock's Psycho.

madAsHell said...

Maybe it is best if those we used to accurately refer to as mental defectives are not allowed to exercise their basic Constitutional Rights without being supervised by a responsible adult.

Nancy Lanza couldn't be reached for comment.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I think "high-functioning autism" has become a catch all diagnosis. Subject has problems dealing with people and acts in an inappropriate manner? Must be a high-functioning autistic.

Perhaps they have problems dealing with people and act in inappropriate ways simply because they suffer from some form or another of mental illness and autism has nothing to do with it.

YoungHegelian said...

I prefer to think of the shooters as victims of demonic possession.

It explains the phenomena & is about as scientific as well. Psychological evaluations made at a distance without detailed historical & clinical knowledge of a patient aren't worth the pixels they're displayed on.

AReasonableMan said...

chuck said...
Anyone who has attended public school knows better.


You can learn everything you need to know in life at a public school.

Fritz said...

When I think back on all the crap I skipped in High School. . .

rhhardin said...

Indians suffered from warpathy.

Paul Snively said...

Ron Winkleheimer: I think "high-functioning autism" has become a catch all diagnosis. Subject has problems dealing with people and acts in an inappropriate manner? Must be a high-functioning autistic.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were a lot of truth to this. However, in my experience, people in general, and mental health professionals in particular, are good at looking for a varied, but related, set of criteria for assessing autism-spectrum and other disorders. Speaking for myself as a computer scientist/physicist adoptee who suffered from depression and even suicidal ideation when I was younger, it was very helpful to be found by my birth mother's family and learn that she suffered from depression and that I'd had a brother who was, tragically, a suicide.

So you're right that just saying "I'm depressed" or exhibiting some social difficulty isn't dispositive. For whatever reason, certain kinds of neurological disorders also tend to show up as heightened technical or artistic ability—in short, an ability to "live in one's head" more successfully than in the world outside. That is also, I think, an important clue to the presence of these kinds of disorders, and for some of us has even led to being seen as "normal" and even, to some extent, as an object of envy, thanks to "married with a good-paying job" being quite a bit more apparent than "has thought about killing himself a dozen or so times in his life."

Bob Ellison said...

I'm gonna go play the piano.

Unknown said...

"Autistic people may see the world from a singular, personal perspective; psychopaths are often cunning manipulators who act according to perceived self-interest without regard for the destruction they cause."

Are the descriptions of the subjects in these two sentences different? Besides one having more words and a negative slant?

CStanley said...

I think most people who haven't experienced the mental health system would be shocked at how arbitrary these diagnoses are, and how little real help is available.

So when a case comes to light, if the behavior doesn't fit what we think the disorder typically is like, then it is highly possible that the individual was misdiagnosed.

pdug said...

"Please keep our social constructs straight. Don't go lumping things together that we have made separate tautologically"

Steve Uhr said...

Must be very hard to be a high-functioning autistic, constantly aware of your perceived inferiority. Not too surprising that sends some over the edge.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

In other news, it is not about improperly calling a psychopath autistic, but improperly calling someone who is a psychopath shrill.

BN said...

Yay Carol at 2:18.

Law question: what's the legal test for crazy (or "mental disorder/autism/whatever")?

Good enough for me.

The Godfather said...

I don't remember much from studying Criminal Law in law school, but I do remember being taught that, in evaluating a claimed insanity defense, you can't base a conclusion of insanity on the nature of the criminal act itself. If you do, then by definition, the more horrendous the crime, the greater the likelihood that the criminal will escape punishment.

Much of the discussion of recent mass killings (not so much on this site as in the media generally) starts from the proposition that someone who did X (killed a score of school children, shot up a movie theater, or whatever) must be crazy, because no sane person would do such a thing. Conservatives are as guilty of making this argument as are liberals, because conservatives oppose useless gun controls by arguing for impossible mental health controls.

There are plenty of people with autism, aspergers, schizophrenia, PMS, whatever, who don't commit mass murder. Such diagnoses of people who do commit mass murder are not necessarily explanatory. Certainly not fully explantory.

TreeJoe said...

As many a psychiatrist has said,

"A healthy mind is simply undiagnosed"

Roughcoat said...

Is committing mass murder always an indicator of mental illness/defect? Is the act of commission always caused by mental illness? Does being a mass murderer mean ipso facto that one is mentally ill? Can one commit mass murder without being mentally ill or in any way mentally defective?

JCC said...

I'd suggest a reading of the comments at the NYT original article. Note the number of commenters with personal experience with autism who suggest that personal violence is part and parcel of autism (arising from frustration - sound familiar?), and that further, no one with autism should be permitted any proximity to firearms due to a an innate immaturity and poor impulse control.

Solomon , BTW, is apparently well qualified to his opinions, having, among other things, a PhD in Psychology and employment as a lecturer in psychiatry at Cornell's med school.

So his sense that a overlap of austism and psychopathy could be dangerous, but that psychopaths were the common denominator in mass shootings? One wants to say "No sh*t?" Could something be more obvious? Isn't he just calling crazy people...well, 'crazy' while downplaying the dangers of untreated or mistreated autism?

buwaya said...

There is another reason for all this -

Fashion

There have always been crazy people. I have no reason to think that there are more crazy people about now than there were 50 years ago. And the sort of mostly-functional crazy person who would be capable of planned massacres like this would not have been the sort who would have been in an institution at the time. They were walking around loose then as now.

There are more guns around now, even per capita, but there are many more restrictions on purchasing and training with guns today than there were 50 years ago, and in most places more gun stores or otherwise legal sources to purchase them. A look at the classified ads in period gun magazines is instructive.

A would-be mass murderer in 1965 would have been able to mail-order, for instance, an M1 carbine with 30-round banana magazine (the "Patty Hearst" gun), which is an excellent substitute for a Bushmaster, at least for the purpose of mass-murder. Same goes for automatic pistols. Many others use old technology that would have been standard even 50 years ago.

No, the reason for nuts behaving like this is because even in the world of murderous nuts there are fashions. They watch the news like the rest of us.

Michael K said...

"this kind of evil so it gets a facile label like paranoid schizophrenic, "

Not at all. The behavior before the shooting is highly suggestive in several.

"Is committing mass murder always an indicator of mental illness/defect?"

No more than committing murder at all is. The Charleston shooter, the Colorado shooter and the Tucson shooter were all clearly schizophrenic before. One was in treatment and one was in need of it but his mother, a Democrat hack in the Tucson Sheriff's department "protected" him.

The TV guy who shot the people during the TV interview was a racial hater.

The Columbine shooters were weird but I'm not sure they were anything but psychopaths.

The Oregon shooter seems to have been a hater with some racial and religious issues.

Michael K said...

"And the sort of mostly-functional crazy person who would be capable of planned massacres like this would not have been the sort who would have been in an institution at the time."

You haven't talked to some of the people I talked to in those days. Most common schizophrenics are passive. The paranoid type can be violent. A psych social worker in Santa Monica found out the hard way that you don't get between a paranoid psychotic and the door.

Michael K said...

" They watch the news like the rest of us." I agree.

When I was working on the psych ward at the VA in Los Angeles, the TV sets always had lots of people watching intently. They believed that the TV was giving them instructions. Mass shooting fits right in.

Terry said...

"difference is what unites us."
Different interests and goals is what gives us common interests and goals?

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

My daughter is mildly autistic and doesn't care about/understand other people enough to develop an interest in hurting them. Deliberate cruelty requires intense focus on and a thorough grasp of the emotions of others, something that generally isn't a strong suit of autistic. s

Laslo Spatula said...

I am tired of People fucking with my Schizophrenia.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

I recognize the Fucked-Up Crazy long before you do.

You're still discussing 'what if's' when I can see the IF and I can tell you just how quick it is coming.

But you will ignore me because what I say can't be right about your precious sons.

I cannot figure out girl-crazy as easily, but they generally don't kill people.

I am Laslo.

MayBee said...

I don't know why there couldn't be some autistic people with a propensity toward violence, just as there are non-autistic people with a propensity toward violence.

This seems a bit like a "no true Scotsman" defense.

BN said...

Michael K.: "The behavior before the shooting is highly suggestive in several."

Yes, but what do we do about it? Nothing. So either put them away, or don't make excuses after the fact.

They know what they're doing is wrong. They choose to do it anyway.

BN said...

Yes, mind you, they choose to do it for whatever reasons. Genetics most likely, or environmental exposure to chemistry, or internal chemistry or electrical shit in their brain, or... all sorts of theoretical stuff. And on and on.

But they know... they *know* what they're doing is wrong. So... treat them like any other criminal. We all gots issues after all.

BN said...

I understand, this is an attempt, a hope, to understand and cut it off at the pass. But we don't do that anymore. We don't put fucked up people away when we see them. We try to understand them instead. And we fail at that, don't we?

We'll never learn. Sometimes the old ways of dealing with things were better maybe.

Crazy, huh?

Michael K said...

" So either put them away, or don't make excuses after the fact. "

We could come up with a way to make sure they are treated. The problem is that the treatment has to be involuntary. Maybe we could have an implantable drug source, sort of like birth control. There is no will to develop those because the social stigma of trying to treat psychosis.

Robert Cook said...

"Indians suffered from warpathy."

Do you mean they suffered--as in, were victims--of the "warpathy" of the European settlers of this continent?

Michael McClain said...

Regardless, the little bastard was a murderer, and the "gun free zone" prevented anyone from exercising their right to self-defense.

Fernandinande said...

Terry said...
"difference is what unites us."
Different interests and goals is what gives us common interests and goals?


Sameness divides us. Slogans unite us.

Michael K said...

"were victims--of the "warpathy" of the European settlers of this continent?"

Cookie, anyone you are interested in is a victim. How about the massacres of Indians by other Indians ?

It's all old stuff.

Joe said...

Extreme autistics used to be called retarded.

Mild autistics/Asperger types (my youngest son is one) used to be called weirdos or eccentrics.

One characteristic of both is that they have lots of empathy; the theory being that they lack filters on that empathy and it overwhelms them. Even if not true generally, it's extremely true for my son--he's very sensitive to other people's feelings and with friendships, yet relatively thick skinned/oblivious otherwise.