Saturday, April 21, 2007

Monsters and Victims

Some have called Cho Seung-Hui a "victim" of mental illness and of a society that ignored and shunned him. Others call him a "monster" and disparage those who call him a victim. But why can a monster not also be a victim, if we define a monster as "One who inspires horror or disgust," and a victim as "One who is harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition"?

Does anyone really doubt that Cho Seung-Hui was victimized by mental illness he did not freely choose for himself and by a society that, for whatever reasons, neglected his pressing needs, and that his illness turned him into a hateful and mass-murdering monster?

Some might say that even if Cho was, in truth, a victim of mental illness, this is a truth so overshadowed by the magnitude of his monstrous acts that to call him a victim dishonors those he victimized and also gives people excuse to succumb to their worst impulses. Cho clearly saw himself as a victim of others, and this surely sparked and inflamed his vengeful hatred and provided him with a rationalization for acting it out in the horrific way he did.

Yet if we do not acknowledge his victimhood, do we not only deny the truth but also encourage hatred to go unchecked by compassion to the point where it may well fester and push other sick people over the edge or, at the very least, make our society a meaner, uglier place for all of us?

I believe that the best course for society and for us as individuals is to view Cho and his like as human beings victimized into becoming monsters and to temper our rightful and cathartic condemnation of their deeds with empathy and compassion for them as persons so that we may soothe and help to heal broken hearts and minds.


Tom said...

Perhaps both Monster and Victim is inappropriate and misleading. I am very reluctant to give Cho the designation of Victim – he cold-bloodedly killed 32 people. While help for his psychosis wasn’t imposed upon him, he had opportunities to receive help. He was 23 years old and either a junior or a senior at his university; he had achieved something that provided him with choices and pathways to seek happiness. While he is sure to have been mentally ill, in the way we use the term loosely and non-legalistically, he knew what he was doing on the day he went on his killing spree and he knew it was something terrible.

Nagarjuna said...

Tom, although I am generally reluctant to use the term "monster" for a human being, I think it is appropriate for Cho when defined the way I defined it. As for his also being a "victim," I strongly suspect that one of the symptoms of his mental illness was his inability to see what he was doing as wrong, or to refrain from doing it. I suspect that it is more likely the former and that he truly believed that the people he killed were so despicable that, even though society would surely disagree, they deserved to die and that he was destined for the greatness of sacrificing himself to salvifically carry out their just punishment for their unpardonable "debauchery." Hence, I think he and his victims were all victims of his mental illness.