Neurobiology of Exercise? How about the Neuroanthropology of Exercise!

I’ve just come across a good 2006 full-access review article on the Neurobiology of Exercise. Written by Rod Dishman and eighteen co-authors (!), the article covers some of the main areas that are coming clear with research on exercise and the brain:

-Effects of Exercise on Brain and Behavior
-Exercise as Countering Stress
-Energy Balance
-How Physical Activity Is Regulated

But the review mainly caught my eye for these lines in the abstract:

Mechanisms explaining these adaptations are not as yet known, but metabolic and neurochemical pathways among skeletal muscle, the spinal cord, and the brain offer plausible, testable mechanisms that might help explain effects of physical activity and exercise on the central nervous system.

Muscle, the peripheral nervous system, and the brain – a dynamic combination! For me, the implications go far beyond trying to understanding something like “exercise and health.” How activity as both cultural and physical form shapes us is a central way to understand ourselves as embodied beings, as having encultured nervous systems that can do incredibly skilled activities. That takes us a step further than – oh, exercise, the brain must have something to do with that.

For a vivid demonstration of just what I mean, watch this video. The action really gets going about 50 seconds in.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnNuzzN2cUk

And for those of you who want more links, here are some other recent articles:

Linking brains and brawn: exercise and the evolution of human neurobiology (2013)

Neuroplasticity – Exercise-Induced Response of Peripheral Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor: A Systematic Review of Experimental Studies in Human Subjects (2010)

Physical activity and brain plasticity in late adulthood: a conceptual and comprehensive review (2012)

Sport, Modernity, and the Body (2012)

The Anthropology of Sport and Human Movement: A Biocultural Perspective (2010)

And of course any of my colleague Greg Downey’s pieces!

Big hat-tip to Timothy Lende for finding such a great video!

Category: Body, Brain, Sport | Leave a comment

Intergroup Resources: Building Social Justice Online and From the Ground Up

Intergroup Resources is a powerful new online resource center that offers support and information to communities, organizations, and campaigns that work on social justice around the United States. Through sharing materials, tools, and insights gathered from organizers all around the country, the new site aims to strengthen “intergroup resources” for addressing issues such as immigration, activism, race, and globalization.

Intergroup Resources will:

◦Create online and offline “learning spaces” where we practice, provide feedback and refine the tools available for intergroup work

◦Link the four dimensions of intergroup work—Dialogue, Education, Action and Reflection—and deepen our understandings of their interconnections within the DEAR framework

◦Guide the adaptation of existing tools and materials to locally-specific contexts

My USF anthropology colleague Angela Stuesse played a central role in creating this project, along with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State. Intergroup Resources grew out of Stuesse’s doctoral research, which is relayed in the forthcoming book Globalization Southern-Style: Immigration, Race, and Work in the Rural U.S. South.

Globalization “Southern Style” shows the changes that a small town in Mississippi goes through when Latino immigrants began working and organizing in chicken processing plants alongside local African Americans. USF News featured Stuesse and her work in the article “Bridging the Immigration Divide,” describing how her community-based research led to the genesis of the Intergroup Resources initiative:


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Category: Culture, Inequality, Society | 1 Comment

2013 ICNC Conference on Cultural Neuroscience and Health

The International Cultural Neuroscience Consortium has put out a call for papers for their May 2013 conference. This year’s topic is “Cultural Neuroscience and Health: Closing the Gap in Population Health Disparities.”

Here is more about the conference from the ICNC:

The conference will foster interdisciplinary, international approaches to studying culture and health and highlight advances in cultural neuroscience that address closing the gap in population health disparities. Speakers from across the world will present cutting-edge research at the intersection of epidemiology, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, and genetics.

The conference will be held at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL from May 10-12, 2013.

The topics and speakers already show that this will be an outstanding event.

Abstract and poster submissions are due on March 1, 2013. Registration is suggested on or before April 15, 2013.

Category: Announcements | Comments Off

Mental Health Care during Conflict: The Case of Colombia

Vaughan Bell, a clinical psychologist and the main force behind Mind Hacks, spent several years working with Médecins Sans Frontières in Colombia. The MSF (Doctors without Borders) program focused on health in rural areas, particularly those affected by civil combat, and Dr. Bell played a major role in helping to address mental health in those regions.

Now Bell and co-authors Fernanda Méndez, Carmen Martínez, Pedro Pablo Palma and Marc Bosch have published a new open-access paper Characteristics of the Colombian armed conflict and the mental health of civilians living in active conflict zones in the journal Conflict and Health. As he writes at Mind Hacks, “while there is lots of research on people who have experienced armed conflict in the past, there was very little information on the mental health of people living in active conflict zones.” This paper addresses that major gap in the literature.

Here is the full abstract:

Background
Despite the fact that the Colombian armed conflict has continued for almost five decades there is still very little information on how it affects the mental health of civilians. Although it is well established in post-conflict populations that experience of organised violence has a negative impact on mental health, little research has been done on those living in active conflict zones. Médecins Sans Frontières provides mental health services in areas of active conflict in Colombia and using data from these services we aimed to establish which characteristics of the conflict are most associated with specific symptoms of mental ill health.

Methods
An analysis of clinical data from patients (N = 6,353), 16 years and over, from 2010–2011, who consulted in the Colombian departments (equivalent to states) of Nariño, Cauca, Putumayo and Caquetá. Risk factors were grouped using a hierarchical cluster analysis and the clusters were included with demographic information as predictors in logistic regressions to discern which risk factor clusters best predicted specific symptoms.

Results
Three clear risk factor clusters emerged which were interpreted as ‘direct conflict related violence’, ‘personal violence not directly conflict-related’ and ‘general hardship’. The regression analyses indicated that conflict related violence was more highly related to anxiety-related psychopathology than other risk factor groupings while non-conflict violence was more related to aggression and substance abuse, which was more common in males. Depression and suicide risk were represented equally across risk factor clusters.

Conclusions
As the largest study of its kind in Colombia it demonstrates a clear impact of the conflict on mental health. Among those who consulted with mental health professionals, specific conflict characteristics could predict symptom profiles. However, some of the highest risk outcomes, like depression, suicide risk and aggression, were more related to factors indirectly related to the conflict. This suggests a need to focus on the systemic affects of armed conflict and not solely on direct exposure to fighting.

This conclusion – that fighting itself is often not as bad as hardship and domestic abuse and other traumas that can fill every day – is one borne out in other research on adversity.

Bell drives this point home in his Mind Hacks post:

The study looked at how symptoms of mental illness were related to experience of direct conflict-related violence (exposure to explosives, threats from armed groups, deaths of loved ones etc), violence not directly related to the conflict (domestic violence, child abuse etc) and what we called ‘general hardships’ – such as economic problems and poor social support.

We predicted that the more someone was exposed to violence from the armed conflict, the worse mental health they would have, but what we found was a little different.

Experience of the armed conflict was more linked to anxiety while non-conflict violence was more related to aggression and substance abuse. Depression and suicide risk, however, were represented equally across all of the categories.

This is interesting because a lot of conflict-related mental health interventions are focused on trauma and PTSD, where as our study and various others have found that trauma is only one effect of being caught up in an armed conflict.

Bell also notes that Médecins Sans Frontières continues to work in Colombia, including a quite readable report on their work in northern Colombia (Violence in Colombia Isolates Millions from Health Care). MSF/Doctors without Borders would welcome donations to help support its efforts.

-//-

Link to Mind Hacks post In the Middle of a Conflict. You can find all of Mind Hacks coverage of Colombia here.

Link to open-access Bell/MSF study Characteristics of the Colombian armed conflict and the mental health of civilians living in active conflict zones.

Photocredit: Stephan Vanfleteren/Doctors without Borders, from the report Violence in Colombia Isolates Millions from Health Care. You can find the entire portfolio of Belgian photographer Vanfleteren’s work in Colombia here.

Category: Health, Mind, Stress | 3 Comments

On Science, Social Science, and Politics

Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, penned an early January op-ed in Nature, Science Must Be Seen to Bridge the Political Divide. In it he argues that science must be seen to remain apolitical, so as to maintain its funding and its respected position in society. Science and politics shouldn’t mix, which means scientists should stop being so political, in this case supporting the Democratic party.

For the third presidential election in a row, dozens of Nobel prizewinners in physics, chemistry and medicine signed a letter endorsing the Democratic candidate… If the laureates are speaking on behalf of science, then science is revealing itself, like the unions, the civil service, environmentalists and tort lawyers, to be a Democratic interest, not a democratic one.

This is dangerous for science and for the nation… In the current period of dire fiscal stress, one way to undermine this stable funding and bipartisan support [for science] would be to convince Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, that science is a Democratic special interest.

Sarewitz’s foil in making this argument, in telling Nature’s readers to make a New Year’s resolution to “gain the confidence of people and politicians across the political spectrum by demonstrating that science is bipartisan,” is social science. That is where the danger lies – that science could actually become like social science!


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Category: Critique, Society | 4 Comments

Connection, Content, Action! – A View on the Internet

I was struck by Alexis Madrigal’s description of how the Internet functions – a human phenomenon, recreated every day, mediated by material machines and generative algorithms. It’s an evocative image, in line with anthropological work on smaller communities online (say, the ethnography My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft, on World of Warcraft). But here Madrigal blows that up into a much larger view:

For just about every person, the Internet is not content brands that they return to mindlessly day after day. The Internet experience is composed of people (friends, famous people, Internet famous people, high school frenemies) and individual things (stories, items of clothing, pictures). These components get rearranged anew every single day into the idiosyncratic Internet that one knows as one’s own.

And because Google is built by ingesting human intelligence, the way its search work reflects those priorities. MacArthur wants the Internet to be a directory of brand names, but that’s not how it developed. And if you remember the hand-edited Internet directory of coherent, complete websites that Yahoo once was, you know why: It was impossible to find anything! For human and technical reasons, the fundamental unit that makes sense is not harpers.org (the site) but http://harpers.org/blog/2013/01/googles-media-barons/ (the page). Anyone who has used the Internet knows this, but MacArthur can’t admit that because it would mean agreeing that Google indexing pages is a good thing.

One last thought. Nowadays, most people see several versions of the hand-edited Internet: one is the stream of content their friends share, two is Wikipedia, and three is the way Google recommends search terms in real-time. Your Internet is increasingly shaped by other people’s judgment processed through machines’ ranking algorithms. With Facebook Graph Search, and Google’s Search Plus Your World, this trend is picking up steam.

I might rework Madrigal’s line that “Google is built by ingesting human intelligence.” Perhaps human activity is a better concept than “intelligence.” Just think I Can Has Cheezburger? – LOLCats, rather than The Atlantic or Harpers.

In this view, Madrigal’s analysis comes in lines with what Bonni Nardi’s analysis of World of Warcraft. Here is Rex on Savage Minds describing Nardi’s approach:

Nardi has a long background in studying how people interact with technology. If I understand this correctly, people originally studied usability: how people interacted with computers and how you could change computers to make them more usable. Then they realized that what people wanted to use technology for was affected by the form that technology itself took. Nardi was one of the people who took this insight and developed ‘activity theory’, a generalized approach which made action rather than the actors the center of its approach.

People’s actions, and the mediating content and technology, get rearranged anew every single day on the Internet. It’s an intriguing view, one that highlights its impermanence and its generativity.

Category: Society, Technology | 1 Comment

This Is Anthropology

Editor’s Note: I’m proud to feature this post announcing the new This Is Anthropology initiative, started initially at the University of South Florida and now an American Anthropological Association project. Jason, Charlotte, and Janelle deserve so much credit for bringing this digital platform to life.

This Is Anthropology

By Jason Miller, Charlotte Noble, and Janelle Christensen

In October 2011, Florida governor Rick Scott fired a shot across the bow of higher education by stating that college majors that did not lead to “jobs” were not needed in Florida. He went on to single out anthropology specifically as the exemplar of a major that produced job-less graduates.

As doctoral students at one of the nation’s largest university, which also happened to be in Florida, we were both amazed and concerned to hear such inflammatory comments about our future ‘uselessness’. Perhaps Governor Scott simply didn’t know what anthropology was? So, a small group of us decided to share with Scott and with others the important work anthropologists were doing in Florida and beyond—and the This is Anthropology project was born.

At first, we focused on creating a Florida-based tool specifically responding to Governor Scott’s comments. In a few short days we drew together an impressive Prezi-web presentation highlighting the work of anthropologists and students from USF and a Facebook page to help connect those who were interested. However, we quickly realized that that sort of public education was too narrow in scope.

Anthropology had (and continues to have in our opinion) a much larger PR problem. In less than a month we drafted a proposal for the American Anthropological Association to partner with us to create a globally available This is Anthropology website able to reach a much wider audience and allow for anthropologists everywhere to share the exciting and important work they do.

Our Beta Launch to Reach a Broad Public

One short year later we are overjoyed to announce the beta launch of www. ThisIsAnthropology.org.

This Is Anthropology was created to help inform the general public (especially high school and undergraduate students) about what anthropology is and what anthropologists do in lay, accessible language free from jargon.

Visitors to the website will learn about the kinds of jobs anthropologists have, the skill sets we employ, advice on how to become an anthropologist, and an interactive map displaying anthropology projects in different parts of the world.

One of the most exciting features is listed under the “Find an Anthropologist” tab, which allows people to view an interactive Google map showing where anthropologists are working around the world. People who are studying anthropology, and/or are using anthropology in their careers, can plot their educational institution, other work affiliations, and study sites on the map. Each of those pins on the map is an opportunity to share why anthropological work is important.

We hope this visual display of the work of many and varied anthropologists will convey to visitors the critical thinking, productive approaches to diversity, effective written and oral communication, and technical skills that are central to the work of anthropologists.

Joining “This is Anthropology”

We hope that if you are reading this, you are as passionate about anthropology as we are and that you’ll join in our efforts. There are several ways you can participate.

First, to make the site rich and representative of our diverse discipline, we need your biography. It’s quick and easy to add your information. You can add photos and links, flag your research site on the map, and share information about your research.

Information can be added by clicking on the “Anthropologists Join the Map button”, located below the map itself. This map is searchable, and as it grows, we hope it will serve as a resource for students, faculty and others to find anthropologists in particular subfields, as well as geographic and topical areas. Once you submit a profile you will receive an email with a link that allows you to edit your profile any time in the future—so your profile can grow with you!

Second, we created a Twitter hashtag, #thisisanthro, that can be used to share anthro-related news. The website has a twitter hashtag feed so that visitors can be linked to current stories and interesting sites each time they visit. Please help us spread the use of the tag.

Third, the site as it currently exists was created with very limited budget and resources. We still have plans for additional features (such as teaching resources and embedding short video vignettes) — so please tell us what more you’d like to see! The site is a work in progress, so your observations, feedback, and contributions are greatly appreciated.

Please take a minute to visit This is Anthropology, and contact the site’s coordinator Jason Miller (millerja@seattleu.edu) or AAA Staff Member Courtney Dowdall (cdowdall@aaanet.org) with your comments.

Finally, we’d like to thank everyone who has contributed content to the new site. It would not have been possible without the gracious anthropologists who contributed text or photographs or who helped us edit content for clarity, accessibility and representativeness of our discipline. Thanks go out especially to our fellow USF graduate student colleagues Shana Hughes, Gene Cowherd, and Jason Simms for participating in the planning of the website and contributing text. We’d also like to thank AAA staff members Elaine Lynch, Lisa Myers and Travis Raup who tirelessly worked with us over the past year to build the site itself.

We hope you find the site to be a valuable resource and that you’ll share with friends, colleagues and perhaps even your elected officials. If anthropology is going to solve its PR problem, the solution is going to come from all of us working together to share the amazing work we are already doing with a much wider audience.

Link to This Is Anthropology website

Category: Announcements | 10 Comments

Neuroanthropology – 2012 in Review

Neuroanthropology had a banner year in 2012. The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology came out, as did the special issue on “Neuroanthropology and Its Applications.” The AAA session on “Brains in the Wild: The Challenges of Neuroanthropology” was a wild success. Microblogging neuroanthropology on Facebook got off the ground quickly, and the Neuroanthropology Facebook Group has become a wonderful site to share ideas and research, and to discuss the latest developments in anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience.

Two classes – one graduate, one undergraduate – were taught on neuroanthropology this year. There was another special issue on neuroanthropology put together by a separate group of scholars in the spring, and Greg and I were thrilled to have neuroanthropology be an important part of the Culture, Mind and Brain conference. And the blog itself continued on strong.

So let’s break that down. (1) Scholarship. (2) Teaching. (3) Conferences. (4) Social Media. And (5) the Blog. And lots of links in each section.

Scholarship

The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology (MIT Press) laid out the theoretical foundations for the field and featured ten case studies from different anthropologists showing this new approach in action. Dirk Hanson and Peter Stromberg have both written positive reviews of the book. It took years of work to create this volume, and Greg and I once again want to thank everyone involved!!

Neuroanthropology and Its Applications presented neuroanthropology as an applied field and featured nine papers that showed applied neuroanthropology in action. I also posted on further ideas about applied research and developing interventions, and also featured a wonderful video, with important applied and theoretical implications, in So He Gave Me These Sounds.

The journal Anthropological Theory also had a special issue on neuroanthropology with four main articles Juan Dominguez, Robert Turner, Charles Whitehead, and Stephen Reyna, and an extensive commentary by Andreas Roepstorff and Chris Frith. It’s great to have an extended and growing group of scholars in this area.

Stephen Reyna wrote on Boas’s Dream and the Emergence of Neuroanthropology in Anthropology News. I too wrote on the founding figure of American anthropology and this modern effort at holistic anthropology in the companion piece Franz Boas and Neuroanthropology.

Sarah Mahler published her book Culture as Comfort. A real cross-over, as it integrates human development, neuroanthropology, and applied cultural work into one package to illustrate what culture is, how it works, and how we can better engage with our cultural comforts and discomforts in an increasingly multicultural world. A good book for introductory classes, applied settings, and popular reading.

Finally, Ben Campbell, a contributor to The Encultured Brain, gave the “Neuroanthropology Perspective” (pdf) in Evolutionary Anthropology’s great journal forum on What Makes Us Human?

Teaching

Two classes at two universities used The Encultured Brain as the basis for teaching neuroanthropology. Jason DeCaro taught an undergraduate class in neuroanthropology at the University of Alabama this fall.

ANT 474 Neuroanthropology. This course provides an introduction to evolutionary and biocultural approaches within anthropology to the central and peripheral nervous systems and their interconnections. Topics include the evolution of the brain; how culture and social structure shape the brain, its development, and its activity; and anthropological perspectives on connections among culture, behavior, brain, mind, and body.

Here’s how Jason described the outcome:

Outcome of first ever UA Neuroanthropology class: out of 11 undergrads, two now plan to pursue this line of research in grad school, and one is constructing an honors thesis around it. That’s what I call a successful debut. Thanks to Daniel Lende, Gregory J Downey, and the contributors to The Encultured Brain, the outstanding foundational textbook which helped create all this excitement.


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Category: Round Up | Comments Off

Trauma – The Importance of the Post-Trauma Environment

Trauma. We often think of it as some event from the outside that hits us. That traumatizes us, leaving both immediate and lingering wounds. Like a gunshot to the heart or a knife to the belly. Something that decenters us, leaving not just physical wounds but existential ones that never heal.

New research points us in a different direction, one of “Trauma Socialized.” Less injury and more context, where trauma itself becomes mutable, not a bullet or a knife but a social event formed by social interactions and cultural meanings.

The journalist David Dobbs writes in the New York Times on the work of Paul Plotsky with rats and Brandon Kohrt with child soldiers with his article A New Focus on the ‘Post’ in Post-Traumatic Stress – Understanding the Effects of Social Environment on Trauma Victims.

It turns out that most trauma victims — even survivors of combat, torture or concentration camps — rebound to live full, normal lives. That has given rise to a more nuanced view of trauma — less a poison than an infectious agent, a challenge that most people overcome but that may defeat those weakened by past traumas, genetics or other factors.

Now, a significant body of work suggests that even this view is too narrow — that the environment just after the event, particularly other people’s responses, may be just as crucial as the event itself.

This expanded view of stress and trauma was on full view at the Culture, Mind, and Brain conference last October, put together by the Foundation for Psychocultural Research and UCLA. I organized the session on stress, trauma, and resilience that featured Plotsky and Kohrt, as well as anthropologist Lance Gravlee on race and stress and psychologist Carol Ryff on aging and stress. The talks by Plotsky, Kohrt, and Gravlee are in a new video I have included at the end of this post, along with a full set of links to conference coverage.

Paul Plotsky is a pioneer in looking at the impact of trauma early in life through rat models, using an experimental paradigm focused on long versus short maternal separation from pups.

His latest work questions deeply the assumed “natural” impact of extended separation. The social environment in combination with maternal behavior is as determinative in shaping the impact of separation as the separation itself. As Dobbs writes:

About five years ago, Dr. Plotsky was thinking about the mother’s post-separation panic when, he said, “it hit me: maybe she views her environment as unsafe” because she and her pups are back in the same cage as the one they were taken from.

So he upgraded the simple cage to a complex one: a maze devised to test rats’ navigational skills. The separated rat family now reunited not in the kidnapping site but in the antechamber of an eight-room condo.

Now, even after 180-minute separations, things went fine. The mother would sniff the pups, check out a couple of rooms, then move everybody to one of them and coddle and nurse the pups much as she would after a 15-minute absence. Even if Dr. Plotsky separated the family again the next day (or even eight days in a row), she would do the same thing, usually choosing a new room.

But maybe the pups still suffered? Actually, no. Few showed any signs of trauma, either immediate or lasting. A separation that had been considered permanently scarring proved routine simply because the mother, having a more varied, secure environment in which to receive her pups, felt calmer and more in control, and she passed that on to the pups. Trauma seemed now to rise not from the separation alone but from the flavor of the reunion.

Similarly, the work of Brandon Kohrt on child soldiers in Nepal shows how reintegration into the community matters greatly in whether being a child soldier ends up as something traumatic or not. Treated as pariahs, or put back in the same excluded class as before the war, and children who were soldiers do badly. Welcomed back into the community, the former child soldiers do well. Again, David Dobbs:

Since 2006, Dr. Brandon Kohrt, a psychiatrist and medical anthropologist at George Washington University, has followed the fates of Nepalese children who returned to their villages after serving with the Maoist rebels during their country’s 1996-2006 civil war… Their postwar mental health depended not on their exposure to war but on how their families and villages received them.

In villages where the children were stigmatized or ostracized, they suffered high, persistent levels of post-traumatic stress disorder. But in villages that readily and happily reintegrated them (usually via rituals or conventions specifically designed to do so), they experienced no more mental distress than did peers who had never gone to war. The lasting harm of being a child soldier, it seemed, arose not from the war but from social isolation and conflict afterward.

Thankfully, the Foundation for Psychocultural Research filmed both Plotsky and Kohrt in action at the Culture, Mind and Brain conference. You can get the full version of their research, and what it means for interdisciplinary work, in this video. I introduce the speakers, who also include Lance Gravlee and his equally ground-breaking work on the social construction of race and how that shapes the impact of stress and social inequality.

Here are your links, including previous coverage of the Culture, Mind and Brain conference and some of the speakers there.

-Culture, Mind and Brain Website
-YouTube Conference Talks on Stress and Trauma
-David Dobbs NYT Story on Trauma

-Day One Conference Post – Human Diversity, Genetics and Epigenetics, and On Being Interdisciplinary
-Day Two Post – Stress and Trauma, Culture and Cognition, Trauma in View, and Pathways to Interdisciplinarity

-Tanya Luhrmann’s conference talk on schizophrenia and hearing voices cross-culturally, which provides a wonderful demonstration with mental health of the same sort of dynamics discussed by Dobbs – the social matters in the psychiatric
-Post on Lance Gravlee and his work on race, genetics, stress, and inequality
-Carol Ryff interview on well-being and aging

Photo Credit: Salem-News.com and Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal’s Maoist Army by Robert Koenig and Brandon Kohrt (view the trailer for Returned over at DER Documentary)

Category: Brain, Culture, Plasticity, Society, Stress, Variation | 4 Comments

Newtown and Violence – No Easy Answers

I just dropped my two young children at elementary school. They were bright and smiling, one off to practice handbells for a Christmas concert, another to chat with friends before the first bell.

Neither noticed the police car newly parked beside the school. Neither had a penny for my thoughts, of what it must have been like for those parents in Newtown, dropping off beloved children and then not having them only a few minutes later.

Now at my computer, I think of the Connecticut State Police Spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance, the man who has guided us through much of this tragedy. I remember his assurance on Friday that the police were doing everything to find out not only what happened, but why.

But why.

No Easy Answers

With violence, there are no easy answers, as I wrote about in my summer piece Inside the Minds of Mass Killers after the Aurora Batman shootings.

One narrative – that Adam Lanza was mentally ill – is already waiting in the wings, prepped as an explanation. Another – where guns are the culprit – has exploded already with full force. Lanza used a semi-automatic assault rifle with extended clips and shot his victims multiple times. He had hundreds of more rounds to continue his killing. Without that firepower, he couldn’t have killed so many so quickly before taking his own life when the police arrived.

The United States urgently needs more and better mental health care. Regulating guns like we regulate motor vehicles seems reasonable, given how many thousands die from gun shots and from car accidents every year. Neither, though, gets us much closer to why.

Mentally ill patients are not more violent than anyone else. Guns don’t shoot themselves.

We still need better answers. The horrendous violation that Lanza committed, against all social norms, against everything that is decent and good, stares back at us with such dark eyes.

On “Adam Lanza’s Mother”

Thinking the Unthinkable, where the mother of a violent 13 year old recounts her own struggles with her son, swamped social media over the weekend. A truly viral post.

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.


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Category: Critique, Culture, Society | 30 Comments