Lest we forget, some 20% of Americans supposedly have to deal with depression at some point in their lives and studies of the children caught in the chaos of the Middle East — its threats of sudden violence — have been assessed as more than 50% suffering from post traumatic stress!

As a teacher of college students I have seen a wide variety of mental disorders (or whatever you wish to call them) turn up in students under the pressure of studies at a time in life when such things are likely to emerge. Our tendency is to distance ourselves from people acting oddly which, needless to say, tends to send them further over the edge.

I have been in touch with some of these students virtually throughout their adult lives. They will occasionally get in touch when things are particularly bad for them. When I have had time I have tried to visit them in nearby mental health units or have enlisted friends to assist. One begins to realize that we all have our breaking points under pressure — those juveniles persuaded to confess to attacking the NYC Central Park jogger a decade back who had done no such thing, although several spent grim time in jail for same.

My own general sense of people is that we fall along a spectrum ranging from the totally self-centered psychopath to the caring individual who is empathetic towards fellow humans. Hume suggested that our moralities are all based on such “sentiments” and that we needed to teach children justice to support this weak disposition to care for others. Any who have watched sandbox play will know the hard move from the two year old’s claim that IT’S MINE! to learning to share.

Flipping the coin, there is considerable evidence that brutal, destructive behavior is also programmed in a variety of ways. I recall the report of a wider colleague on an in depth NYC study of perps who had been charged with extremely violent crimes against persons. The researchers discovered that in 9/10 of the cases investigated the perpetrator had suffered both brain damage from blows on the head as a child and early childhood exposure to extreme violence (e.g. seeing a mother murdered or being brutally tortured as a form of extreme ‘discipline’). The upshot is that we humans are extremely malleable creatures, vulnerable to environmental factors and somewhat predetermined by our genetic inheritances.

Many violent eruptions must be manifestations of someone tortured by mental experiences. When we think of suicide bombers — an action totally contradictory to our ordinary survival instincts — something of the same sort of mental disorder must be at work.

Our religions sometimes calm such tortured souls. But manifestly they can also unleash demons. Suffer the little children.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is
legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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