Yesterday, I wondered if a guy like Cho was evil or psychotic. The latter implying that with the right mix of medication and therapy, perhaps he could live a relatively normal, stable life. The votes are still coming in, but so far, the poll is essentially 50-50. Half believe he's psychotic. Half believe he's evil.
A commenter asked, "Can't he be both?" At first, I thought, yes, but upon second thought, I believe the answer is no. The name given to these actions imply the solution. Or the diagnosis determines the treatment. The nun portrayed in Dead Man Walking sought a spiritual solution that would lead to rational beliefs and actions like taking responsibility and apologizing for committing a sin. Psychiatry seeks a biochemical or behavioral solution that would lead to rational beliefs and actions. There is an assumption of an illness, a mental cancer, that is outside of will or soul. If the person gets "balanced" he or she will behave better. If the imbalance hadn't been there to begin with, the crime would never have happened. I think the two perspectives are very different and lead to very different solutions to the problem: a murderer.
Franklin Graham said that he believed Cho to be "demon possessed". It's hard to argue with that assessment. Whether literally or figuratively, this man definitely succombed to his "demons". That means the only hope for his redemption would be repentence and conversion. And surely, that would change a killer's heart.
This scenario is said to have happened with the Florida killer who took a Christian woman hostage and allowed her to read passages from the Bible:
The woman allegedly taken hostage by Brian Nichols, a suspect in a quadruple murder, said that during the hours she was held in her apartment, she and her captor watched TV footage of the Georgia manhunt, had long discussions about God and ate pancakes with butter.He ostensibly repented and peacefully surrendered to the police after letting her go. Was he possessed and then exorcised of his demons? Was he psychotic and then suddenly not psychotic?
"He said, 'That's not me. I can't believe that's me,'" Ashley Smith (search) told FOX News affiliate WAGA-TV Sunday. "I told him: 'You need to turn yourself in.'"
Had Cho been detained in the mental institution, given anti-psychotic medication and therapy, would he have been given the psychological space he needed to sort things out? His persistent, violent ideation was never challenged. He wouldn't talk to anyone. Left alone in his thoughts, he didn't get any rational feedback. Would he have accepted it, had some been given?
No one really likes to talk about it, but it seems that even crazy, imbalanced people choose their actions. (This is why we still hold chemically imbalanced drunks responsible for their actions.) This choice implies that they could choose differently. Cho could have chosen a different reaction to the slights and offenses he perceived which he used to justify his violence. He was rational enough to use and manipulate the media. He knew what they would do, and they did. (More here.) They worked as a team, Cho and the media. In fact, other murderous (crazy? sick? evil?) terrorizers use the media in a cold and calculating way, too. They, too, justify their actions and blame the victims. None of these people appear insane. They seem consumed by hate--so much so that they value no life, including their own.
Cho carved A. Ismail into his arm. Clearly, he saw the connection. The societal beefs were the same: rich, privileged, bullying. Still, his family worried over his mental state even when he was a small child. Apparently they were ill-equipped to get help. I'm not implying that Cho was somehow a Islamic terrorist even with all the speculation about his formative years spent in Saudi Arabia. What I am implying is that Cho was well-versed in the language of victimhood and recognized similar grievances being put forth by terrorists. He also knew the media would air those grievances because the victim rhetoric plays well. Or, it usually does. This time, though, the true victims pushed back.
What would media silence about terrorist acts in Iraq or murderous rampages like Chos do here? The media won't write about suicides, usually. They recognize that kids will copy those acts. But I digress.
I'll end again with a poll. Do you think that psychiatric treatment could have cured Cho? In the comments, maybe you could include the kind of treatment that would have helped him.
Update: Upon more reflection, it's important to note that some people are more fragile mentally. They are more likely to break under stress. Some war veterens have discussed this--some people cannot handle the gruesome stimuli that come with war. My uncle is one of those people. He is a Vietnam Vet, came back to the U.S. after two tours as a grunt, started a successful business, and for whatever reason, after his divorce, lost his grip on reality. Was it PTSD? I don't know. Other relatives say that he was mean from the beginning. But how to tease out his personality from the dysfunctional environment? Eventually, as an adult, he adopted an angry, blame-the-world perspective. He used people to support him and justified his rage. He chose to disconnect. And yet, he could be utterly charming and engaging. When I was in High School, I interviewed him for a paper on Vietnam. He easily answered my questions while the family listened intently, shocked that he was talking about it. Borderline Personality Disorder? Psychopath? Narcissist? Just an angry guy who used a trauma to hate the world? A fragile soul destroyed by experience? A faithless man, who never truly knew or accepted the grace of a loving God? All of the above?
I've seen medication moderate disturbed people. In one case, the person was supposedly suicidal, but it became clear that the real problem was homocidal ideation. Needless to say, I called the psychiatrist on the case and urged an increase in the anti-psychotics he prescribed. They worked, but the person was still fragile. Everyone would profess shock if this person snapped, but upon further exploration, it wouldn't be so.....crazy. Meds or not, I feel that the person desired, however remotely, to do better, to live better, to come back. A conscious choice was made to engage again.
And I knew people who want to stay in that destructive place. And I know those so self-unaware, that they don't recognize they are in a destructive place. In one case the person appears normal superficially and even fooled a psychiatrist or two. These are the people who worry me. But what can be done? Insane assylums are passé and might not house the most potentially violent, disturbed, intelligent crazies anyway.
Back to the notion of being both psychotic and evil. Perhaps the function of the psychology profession is to talk the disturbed person off the edge. To eliminate or diminish the ability of the person to harm society. True healing, though, is proactive. Health isn't the absence of disease, it's the presence of vitality. A mentally healthy person has a belief system that animates their purpose for being. For most people, it's a belief in God. Taking the iron grip off of trying to find all the answers here and now, materialistically, and surrendering to the mysteries of the universe--including why bad things happen sometimes--counterintuitively confers mental health.
G.K. Chesterton posits that the insane person is trapped in the materialistic world--trying in vain to make sense of the senseless. The insane person's world constricts as he limits himself to what he knows, for sure, to be true. Ultimately, he know only himself to be true. He believes, Chesterton says, in himself. And that's when madness enters. I would do Chesterton's work injustice if I tried to pull a short quote to prove the point so I won't. To get a better understanding of the mind of Cho and those like him, I recommend reading Chesterton's book Orthodoxy, specifically Chapter 2, titled "The Maniac." You will recognize the maniac. He is Scott Peterson. He is Dylan Kliebold or Eric Harris. She is Andrea Yates. He is Cho Sueing-Hui. It is my hope that you'll read it and receive comfort and understanding. It's truly a book that can change your life.