Possible Psychiatric Solutions to Reduce Harmful Hate After the Buffalo Killings


Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.




We have heard all this way too many times before in America: “This has to end.” And the like. This time a young white male, who had posted an anti-Semitic and racist manifesto beforehand, came to a Buffalo supermarket on Saturday. He shot 13, among them 11 Black and 2 white Americans, killing 10. In my Milwaukee, 21 were shot, then 3 killed over the weekend.

Already the grieving, labelling, and promising has begun, as it did in so many similar recent tragedies. However, as psychologically and religiously important as such processes are, they clearly have not been nearly sufficient enough. Human tendencies to scapegoat and hate the “other” have rippled out in small to tsunamic waves, some of which also have dangerous undertows.

Some are saying once again that this is “evil.” Maybe it is, but I would also say it is psychiatric. Some responsibility for addressing racism and hate crimes lies within psychiatry because it inevitably involves how people think and act, sometimes counterintuitively. For instance, calling out the hate can pull in the sympathetic, but also actually boomerang back to the haters and intensify their hateful beliefs. This expertise goes beyond any usual involvement for diagnosable mental disorders, and yes, the suspect seems to have been in a hospital for a mental health evaluation too briefly last year after threatening a mass shooting.

Here are a few preliminary out-of-the box recommendations beyond the usual of more weapon control of guns and social media:

1. Classification

Racism of some degree or another has been turned down as an individual formal diagnosis time and time again, but why not a social psychopathology classification of it and related social psychological problems like anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, and burnout in order to develop new insights and interventions?

2. Alliances

The old strategy of those in desired power is to divide and conquer other groups, so why not develop more new alliances between discriminated groups, such as we are doing in Milwaukee by forming a Jewish and Asian American/Pacific Islander Alliance?

3. Models

Besides publicizing the tragedies, why not more of the antiracism success stories like I covered in my column on International Jazz Day, for jazz has successfully had Black leadership with allies for over 100 years, becoming beloved around the world?

4. Metaphor

Cultures do not want to be erased in a melting pot, so why not recognize the nourishment of all cultures as reflected in a potluck?

Remember this definition of insanity attributed to Einstein: “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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