Las Vegas Shooter on Anxiety Medication

No surprise here, but Right Scoop is reporting that Stephen Paddock, the outwardly normal, reasonably successful man who decided to carry out the worst mass shooting in American history, was on prescription medication for anxiety. Not only no surprise, but in fact I would have been surprised to learn that he hadn’t been on some such emotion-modifying prescription drug. 

Due to various personal relationships with (mostly young) people who are struggling with emotional problems and who are being encouraged to use psychiatric drugs of one sort or another, I have spent a lot of time recently thinking through this issue of our modern world’s obsession with happy pills as the cure-all for life’s hardships and the soul’s confused urges. Having always been opposed on principle to any reliance on such drugs (barring the extreme cases of genuine schizophrenia and perhaps emergency suicide prevention), I have gradually come to the conclusion that the gravest danger they present, both to the individual and to his or her society, is precisely their unavoidable — yes, unavoidable — weakening of moral feelings. 

My reasons for this conclusion are immersed in my theoretical views on the nature and development of moral character, and the indispensability of full emotional self-awareness in both the growth and the demonstration of that character. To make a long story short for the time being — I’ll have much more to say about this in the days ahead — artificially dulling the feelings in the name of “reducing anxiety” or “overcoming depression” necessarily entails dulling the capacity for natural emotional responses of all types, including and especially those required for proper moral judgment and self-restraint.

Would Paddock have stopped himself short of committing this well-planned atrocity if he hadn’t been on psych meds? We’ll never know, and should never presume to know, but there seems to be strong evidence, both from research and from moral philosophy, for at least raising the possibility. This is not intended to excuse his crime, or to lay blame on anyone else — the responsibility for his destructive act rests entirely on Paddock himself — but it does afford us a much-needed opportunity to reopen a discussion that has been allowed to drift into the background as the medical profession practically force-feeds mind-altering drugs to young people, from elementary school to university, on a routine basis. 

“Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is a noble sentiment to be sure. But it cannot be used as an excuse for refusing to ask hard questions. Isn’t it time that we, as a civilization, got serious about finding out what we are doing to our minds in the name of quick-fix psychiatric care, so that, if it is ultimately harmful, we may stop doing it?

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