Monitoring mental disorders in students could prevent future violence

The recent violence of the Boston Marathon bombers and of the Aurora Colorado theater premiering “The Dark Knight Rises” may be cause to evaluate some of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic hypotheses. Freud’s works have demonstrated that, “It is precisely these frustrations of sexual life which people known as neurotics cannot tolerate; the neurotic creates substitutive satisfactions for himself in his symptoms.” But the evolution of civilization “presents the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction.” Most insightful in this pivotal work of Freud is his support of the assertion homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to man): “As a rule this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose … when the mental counterforces which ordinarily inhibits it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien.” The tragic events at the Boston Marathon are a clear example of the spontaneity of cruel aggressiveness.

In view of the university student status of the Boston bomber suspect, a proactive approach to mental disorders and criminality would be mandatory psychologic evaluation by mental health professionals of all students at developmental points during their education from pre-K to the doctoral level. Interestingly, an article by Sriram Chellappan and Raghavendra Kotikalapudi, Missouri University of Science and Technology (The New York Times, 17 June 2012, Sunday Review, p. 12) reported a research study which has indicated a correlation between scores on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and Internet usage features, such as “p2p packets” indicative of high levels of sharing files (music and movies), email usage and flow duration entropy (frequent switching among Internet applications like email, chat rooms and games).

Practically, these computer scientists are developing a software application that would monitor Internet usage data in terms of traffic flow information and post red flag alerts when usage patterns signal symptoms of mental disorders. Such a software application should be a mandatory university app (i.e., without installation a student will not be able to register electronically or access any university websites) on all desktops, laptops and mobile technologies of registered students and dropouts. The red flag alerts of Internet usage patterns indicative of correlated mental disorders with a risk of violent behavior will notify university counselors who will be required to conduct a face-to-face series of psychological evaluations and referrals. Understandably some may object to this proposal on the grounds of the right to privacy (and unreasonable intrusions thereof) emanating from various provisions of the Bill of Rights (See Griswold v. Connecticut [1965]). However, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court interpreted the constitutionalization of libertarianism in terms of the right to be free of government intrusions. Private universities such as NYU were certainly not the concern of the framers of the American Constitution, and the monitoring of traffic flow information is not an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The prevention of future Columbine High School, Aurora, Colo. and Boston, Mass. homicidal assaults by student perpetrators lies clearly in the perfection and application of computer software on all high-tech informational devices of students and should be seriously evaluated by university administrations.

The problem with violence is not to be explained in terms of the influence of violent media or the theater as Jean-Jacques Rousseau once held when he excoriated the dramatist Voltaire in 1760: “You have ruined Geneva … I hate you.” The problem is the violent ideation and behavior of individuals with specific mental disorders and the failure of society to proactively diagnose and treat the psychopathology. Certainly, even Albert Gallatin, one of the most brilliant and successful of Jeffersonian statesmen (and founder of NYU in 1831), would be expected to be in a state of dismay at the contemporary scenario of students planting bombs in backpacks, maiming and killing innocent civilians for latent psychopathic motivations of political and religious smokescreens.

Joseph Manago is a former NYU professor. Email him at [email protected]



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