|Dylann Roof, Thursday afternoon.
(Image © Reuters/Jason Miscek.)
One difference between liberals and conservatives: Liberals tend to think that mental illness excuses crime. Conservatives don’t agree; to them, it’s just another reason the perp should be off the street. Hence the liberal uproar over one guy — one guy — saying that mass-murderer Dylann Roof “probably has some mental issues”.
Of course Roof has mental issues. He’s also a racist. The one doesn’t preclude the other ... unless you have a political agenda which requires certain facts to be bent or ignored.
Conservatives tend to make fun of the degree to which certain liberals obsess over the prevalence of racism in society. Even a knee-jerk liberal rag such as HuffPo is occasionally amused and bemused by the reductionist silliness which allows academics to find racist microagression in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Conservatives don’t deny that racism can be an issue, or that it’s an ongoing social problem; they simply resent the extent to which certain liberals cram every example of human conflict into the racism paradigm.
But that Roof killed nine members of an AME congregation precisely because they were black, that Roof's killing spree was racist by definition, no one denies. No one has begun to deny it. No one has begun to begin to deny it. As Charles C. W. Cooke points out in the National Review, liberal pundits like Anthea Brown and Arthur Chu are vigorously, viciously taking conservatives to task for denying what no conservative has denied, for excusing what no conservative has excused, for failing to condemn what conservatives have roundly, loudly condemned. Such liberals are screaming at phantoms of their own imagination, products of their own stereotypes.
The problem, according to Brown, is that an explanation of mental illness “humanizes” the perpetrator. And, though nobody will cop to it, nobody on the left side of the political spectrum wants a racist humanized.
The first error is in the tendency to lump all victims of mental illness together in one mostly-harmless package. Chu says, “We do have statistics showing that the vast majority of people who commit acts of violence do not have a diagnosis of mental illness and, conversely, people who have mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.” But that’s to treat mental-illness victims the same way Chu and Brown treat white people — simply as one group, with no subdivisions or individuality.
The fact is, mass murderers are victims of a limited number of disorders: extreme forms of narcissism, anti-social personality disorder, certain forms of psychosis, to name a small handful. Certainly, you don’t have to be crazy to kill, and not all killers are crazy. But some people do kill precisely because their minds are damaged in particular, even predictable ways ... ways that make them more frightening, not less.
Knowing how some humans are turned into monsters, though, doesn’t make them less monstrous. Any number of people would have cheerfully granted that Osama bin-Laden was psychologically damaged even as they were celebrating his execution by SEALs. That Jeffrey Dahmer was found to suffer from borderline personality disorder didn’t prevent him from being found sane enough to stand trial, or from recieving sixteen consecutive life sentences. No one will shed a tear for Charles Manson when he finally dies. If you think conservatives will want to cut Roof a break because he was physically or psychologically abused as a child, or because he has some sort of genetic anomaly that prevented him from developing compassion, then you don’t know conservatives as well as you think you do.
The second error is trying to fix racism as the evidence of Roof’s monstrousness. Put a different way: Roof isn’t a monster because he killed nine African-Americans; rather, he’s a monster because he killed nine people. Their race may have been essential to Roof’s cause, but it isn’t even peripheral to the tragedy. If Roof had killed nine Presbyterians, would the act be any less senseless, any less an outrage? Would Roof be any less of a monster if he’d been completely indiscriminate in his rampage, shooting white and black, man and woman, straight and gay, believer and nonbeliever, with the malice in his heart with which he shot down the people at Emmanuel AME?
In fixating on Roof’s racism, in trying to deny him any psychological damage, pundits like Brown and Chu have reduced the nine slain people to mere symbols, so many African National Congress flags, whose only meaning in death is to illustrate the fact that racism is still a problem. Moreover, they demonstrate the subliminal racism and overt stereotyping that informs much of liberal identity politics. The assumption that conservatives would attempt to minimize or sympathize with Roof’s slaughter — because of course all conservatives are white and only whites are conservative — is itself stereotyping. It refuses conservatives the dignity of being individuals; it denies conservatives any compassion or empathy, any drop of the milk of human kindness, just as fixating on the race of the victims strips them of the fullness of their humanity.
Chu fulminates, “I get really really tired of hearing the phrase ‘mental illness’ thrown around as a way to avoid saying other terms like ‘toxic masculinity’, ‘white supremacy’, ‘misogyny’ or ‘racism.’” This is not only bulls**t (nobody uses “mental illness” merely to avoid those phrases!), it serves to illustrate how many leftist buzzphrases do get thrown around, with considerably more abandon and on considerably fewer factual grounds. All Chu is really saying is, “I’m sick of all the people who refuse to demonize white, straight males in their social analyses.” And in doing so, he demonstrates the intellectual blank and bankruptcy to which the left has come.
Do we need to have a conversation about racism? We already know there are knuckleheads who insist on making snap judgments about other people based on their skin color; we know there are people who insist on hating people of different races, from different countries and cultures, and on teaching that hate to their children. We know that these knuckleheads use that hatred, those snap judgments, as basis for their actions. Problem is, not all the knuckleheads are white or conservative.
If all that we mean by “having a conversation about racism” is that liberals shame conservatives and conservatives say “Nostra maxima culpa” ... well, that “conversation” ain’t gonna happen any time soon. The fact is, we all agree that the shooting in Charleston was racially motivated, that racism is wrong and needs to be ended, and that Roof deserves to spend the rest of his life atoning for his sin in prison, whether or not we agree his life should end by execution. Nothing really more to say than that.
So let’s shut up and mourn the nine beautiful lives that were snuffed out Wednesday. And save the conversation for an incident in which the racism isn’t obvious to everyone.