Missing the Point About Psych Meds and Killing
Many online have responded to reports that Las Vegas shooter What’s-his-name had been using prescription anti-anxiety medication by shouting “Don’t make excuses for evil!” As if asking about the possible role of these medications in his moral decision-making were an attempt to absolve him of culpability. Or as if it were tantamount to saying “The medicine committed the crime.” False.
The most intelligent criticism of this line of investigation that I have seen is the claim, supported by a Columbia University psychiatrist, that What’s-his-name’s medication, Valium, is associated with impulsive outbursts, not pre-meditated acts of violence.
But that argument, while presumably true, misses the point. The issue here, or at least the one to which I wish to draw attention, is not a matter of simple causation — “If you take this pill, you are 30% more likely to commit a crime” — but rather a matter of long term moral effects. Whatever a physician might tell a patient by way of (condescending) simplification, anti-anxiety medication, anti-depressants, and other similar psychiatric drugs, cannot target only particular feelings for dulling. Rather, these drugs dull all feelings. Hence, as I noted in a previous post, they will necessarily have some effect, over time, on the moral feelings.
Reason calculates possible acts and their likely outcomes. Feelings compel us to pursue or avoid these acts and outcomes. Dulling the emotions means, in part, dulling those emotional responses (which most of us have learned through a normal upbringing ) which cause us to recoil at those rational calculations which imply inherently despicable outcomes.
Perhaps the most dangerous effect of this drug-induced moral dullness will be found in children, who are still forming their basic moral character, and in whom a reduction of emotional responses may well — I would say certainly will — lead to an underdevelopment, or distorted development, of basic character, meaning of the emotional “second nature” that causes us to resist harmful temptations and to pursue beneficial ends.
But even in adults with an already-established moral barometer, the effect of reducing emotional responses through medication is likely to cause at least a slight numbing of the moral sense — a medically-induced effect similar to (and compounding) that of the desensitization resulting from addiction to grotesquely violent or sexual entertainment, or from (especially long-term) alcohol and illicit drug use.
Without wishing to exaggerate anything based on the little information we have so far, all I am noting is that these psychiatric medications may have been a contributing factor in the development of What’s-his-name’s thinking, regardless of what else we finally learn about it. In any case, they are certainly a contributing factor in the ongoing moral numbing of “advanced” civilization in the progressive era, as the medical world’s reliance on these medications becomes increasingly widespread and cavalier — a product of our modern scientific inclination to reduce the soul to the mind, and the mind to the brain.
We are losing our understanding of what makes us human, and hence losing our perspective on the limits of our ability to “fix” ourselves with chemical solutions. We are more than chemistry.