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Our peculiar sickness

There’s a really interesting book excerpt in the New York Times Magazine on the globalization of western-style mental illness. Most fascinating is the observation that mental illness is not constant across time and space. Different cultures have different kinds of mental illness, as do different periods of history.

If there is a manifestation of insanity peculiar to the west in the 20th-21st century, I wonder if it might be the phenomenon of public, apparently random shootings. Wikipedia has a list of all known school shootings around the world. Most took place in the west and appear to have started in the 1960s. Likewise, workplace shootings started in the 1980s in the west, which is how the expression “going postal” entered the vernacular.

I think authorities usually write these incidents off as “copycat” shootings – people imitating each other. But that just begs the question: How large a role does imitation plays in the manifestation of mental illness?

And why do the mental illnesses of so many westerners get expressed through random violence?