JOHN DERBYSHIRE: Uvalde vs. Sandy Hook—Cell Phones, COVID, Sex?
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Tuesday's horror naturally brought to mind the similar event ten years ago in Newtown, CT when 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He killed twenty of the school's children and six teachers, then shot himself. Before setting out on his rampage he'd shot and killed his mother, with whom he lived. Lanza's parents had separated when he was nine; he hadn't seen his father for two years.

The killer in Texas this week was 18-year-old Salvador Ramos. The town was Uvalde, TX; the school, Robb Elementary. Ramos killed nineteen children and two adults before being shot dead by a Border Patrol agent. Before setting out on his rampage Ramos had shot his grandmother, although not fatally. He lived with the grandmother because his mother had thrown him out.

Aside from noting these obvious parallels I can't think of much to say that I didn't say ten years ago about the Sandy Hook massacre—listen here.

I'm skeptical of talk about causes and solutions. I don't believe this is a zone of cause and effect, of problem and solution: I think this is a zone of chaos; a zone where stuff happens, without any rhyme or reason we can comprehend at the present state of our knowledge.

For sure, the event itself is not an issue on which any sane person can take sides. There is no argument to be made for the mass murder of little children. Even in the worst extremes of total war, where things can get pretty indiscriminate, the deliberate targeting of children is beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior, by common agreement among civilized peoples.

The main thing I'd change: my 2012 description of the NRA as "one of the best-organized and most effective lobbies in our political life."

I'm still an NRA member and I still donate when I can, but they have foolishly gotten themselves into legal tangles [The lawsuit seeking to impose the “death penalty” on the NRA, explained, by Ian Millhiser, Vox, May 13, 2021] that I believe with good sense, good accounting, and foresight they could have avoided. I doubt those tangles will end with the NRA being dissolved, but it will be less able to stand as the first line of defense for our Second Amendment rights.

That's a big blow to our rights just by itself. The power-hungry government gun-grabbers will worm their way into any cracks in our defenses, and right now the NRA is showing a lot of cracks.

The Uvalde killings actually illustrated some of our favorite Second Amendment talking points. For example, we have all enjoyed the quip: "Call for the cops, call for a pizza delivery, see which one gets to you first."

In the case of Uvalde, the answer is plain. Salvador Ramos fired off his first shots in the street outside Robb Elementary School at 11:28 a.m. The first 911 call came in about two minutes later, at 11:30. Cops first showed up at 11:44—so that's a fourteen-minute delay [Cops now say Salvador Ramos entered school ‘unobstructed,’ wasn’t shot dead for nearly an hour, by MaryAnn Martinez, Craig McCarthy and Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, NY Post, May 28, 2022].

My bet's on the pizza delivery.

And what did the cops do when they got there? Why, they made lots of phone calls: for body armor, snipers, trained negotiators.

Around 11:54—so this is ten minutes after the cops showed up—parents began arriving and begged the cops to storm the school building. The cops, annoyed at having their phone calls interrupted, acted on the time-honored principle of policing everywhere: that law-abiding citizens are much easier to beat down than are criminals and lunatics.

At least one mother, Angeli Rose Gomez, who had children in third and fourth grade at the school, was handcuffed. She told the Wall Street Journal she saw other parents tackled, tasered, and pepper-sprayed while Salvador Ramos went gleefully about his work inside the school [Uvalde Shooter Fired Outside School for 12 Minutes Before Entering, by Douglas Belkin, Rob Copeland, and Elizabeth Findell, May 26, 2022].

It's hard to see how private citizens, whose primary concern is the safety of their loved ones, could do any worse of a job.

That's the beating heart of citizens' rights, including Second Amendment rights, right there.

As a footnote to that, I'm wondering whether perhaps Latino government is even suckier than the Anglo-Saxon variety. Uvalde, although of course in the U.S.A., is a very Latino town. Look at the names of the dead: Ramirez, Garcia, Rodriguez, Torres [The victims of the Texas school shooting in Uvalde, Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2022].

But is there an immigration angle? A friend who lived and worked in that area forty years ago doubts it:

These Hispanic Texans have been in the US longer than even most of my ancestors. Maybe there are some [illegal] immigrants since I was there, but back then at least in Carrizo, Crystal City, and even more so in Uvalde, there were not a lot of recent immigrants. They either stayed in the border towns, or headed north to the cities. The Uvalde region was too poor, and the Hispanic Texans didn't like immigrants very much. They may have not liked Anglos much either, but they identified as Americans, they didn't wave the Mexican flag around.

One final note here. Talking heads on TV are shrieking for Congress to do something or other about guns. Hoo-kay: What did Congress do after Sandy Hook? Obviously, nothing that fixed the problem of crazy kids shooting up schools.

But that's what Congress mostly does—nothing. Well, not altogether nothing. There's the Freedom to Fish Act, forty billion dollars for Ukraine, the world's second most corrupt white nation (the first of course being Russia), and similar legislation that either nobody of any importance cares about or that nobody of any importance disagrees about.

So I'm not worried that Congress will take away our gun rights. Some Kritarch may take them away; Joe Biden may take them away; but Congress? Fugeddaboutit.

On mental health issues, which was the second point I raised in 2012, I am even more sure than I was then that our understanding of mental health is about where our understanding of physical health was in the Middle Ages.

Partly that’s because I’ve now read Andrew Scull's 2016 book Madness in Civilization; subtitle "A Cultural History of Insanity from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine."

Scull gives a withering account of all the fads, theories, cults, and potions that have been used as a basis for treating mad people down through the ages, including this present age. You put the book down convinced of what you previously just suspected: that psychiatry is a pseudoscience, a racket kept afloat by Big Pharma and the health-insurance companies.

If you're not much interested in how mad people were dealt with in Ancient Greece or 18th-century England, just read the last chapter in Scull's book, dealing with the modern age. Sample:

A succession of studies during the late 1960s and 1970s had demonstrated the extraordinary unreliability of psychiatric diagnoses. Even with respect to what were regarded as the most serious forms of psychiatric disturbance, different psychiatrists only agreed upon the diagnosis about 50 percent of the time. Many of these studies had been conducted by the profession itself, including a landmark study by the British psychiatrist John Cooper and his associates of differential diagnosis in a cross-national context. That research showed that what British psychiatrists diagnosed as manic depression, their American counterparts were prone to label schizophrenia, and vice versa.


 That landmark study was in 1972. In an endnote Scull tells us that in one of the findings British and American psychiatrists were both shown videotapes of two British patients and invited to diagnose what was wrong with them: 85 and 69 percent of American psychiatrists diagnosed schizophrenia; 7 and 2 percent of their British colleagues did so.

Scull's book is full of gems like that. Don't even get him started on the DSM—that's the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association—which is supposed to be an encyclopedia of mental disorders, but which keeps changing its mind about what is a mental disorder and what isn't.

Thus the first edition of the DSM in 1952 listed homosexuality as a disorder; in 1973, after some lobbying, that was removed.

Contrariwise, heavy smoking was not listed until the fifth edition of the DSM in 2013, where it showed up as "Tobacco Use Disorder."

Professor Andrew Scull has a new book out this month: Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry’s Turbulent Quest to Cure Mental Illness. It was reviewed in Literary Review by an academic psychiatrist, Joanna Moncrieff. Her description of the DSM:

A political document the function of which is to facilitate insurance claims, rather than having anything to do with science or medicine. The sense of certainty created by a diagnosis, though welcomed by many patients and clinicians, is ultimately illusory. Madness & Mistreatment, May 6, 2022

I've had some personal acquaintance with the psychiatric profession…but I'll put that in my Monthly Diary. Suffice it to say that I am a deep skeptic, and take reassurance from knowing that credentialed scholars like Andrew Scull and psychiatrists like Joanna Moncrieff are likewise.

I'd like to see crazy people locked up in asylums, for their own benefit and our safety.

However, between the obviously crazy and the obviously normal, there is a wide and thorny terrain of oddity and eccentricity. The great majority of odd or eccentric people will live out their lives harmlessly muttering to themselves; some tiny proportion will do homicidally crazy things.

Can we figure out in advance whether some given individual belongs to that tiny portion or not? No, we can't. Can we lock up all the odd and eccentric? Possibly we could, if we were willing to spend half our Gross National Product building asylums and training staff. Should we? No, not if we have any regard for personal liberty.

Last Sunday morning a middle-aged white guy, a Wall Street professional, was sitting in a subway car going through downtown Manhattan. A young black guy was pacing up and down the car muttering to himself. Then suddenly, for no reason anyone can figure, he pulled out a handgun and shot the white guy dead. The shooter has since been found, arrested, and charged with murder [Suspect in NYC subway shooting Andrew Abdullah charged with murder, NY Post, May 28, 2022].

Two days after that, on Tuesday evening, I myself was riding the subway on my way to Penn Station from an event uptown. There were two other people in my car: a young white guy sitting opposite me engrossed in his smartphone, and, further along from us, a large and very disheveled black guy talking quite loud to no one at all. He wasn't paying any attention to us, just talking to the empty seats opposite him, occasionally raising his voice to a shout.

The shooter had been arrested earlier that day, so I knew this wasn't him. I can't say I was nervous: well-nigh all lunatics are harmless. I didn't move, though in case he saw me moving and got up to come and yell in my face, which I thought I'd prefer to avoid. Nothing happened; I got out at Penn Station.

Thought experiment: Imagine that a month ago, say, you could have brought both of those guys—last Sunday's subway shooter and my Tuesday subway shouter—in front of a panel of credentialed, experienced psychiatrists. Would the shrinks have been able to tell you which of the two guys would shortly commit a murder?

No, they wouldn't. Mental health isn't anything like physical health. There aren't distinctive diseases, with known causes, unambiguous symptoms, and predictable developments. We understand less about the mind than Geoffrey Chaucer understood about the body.

Sure, we have a handful of drugs like lithium that help with manic depression; although, as Dr. Moncrieff says, lithium is also toxic, and the long-term benefits are questionable. Most psychiatric medicines are either placebos or mild narcotics. None of them cures anything.

All we can do is what our ancestors did: lock up in asylums people who are obviously mad—humanely, for our general safety, and always with the hope their madness may pass spontaneously, which sometimes happens.

"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?" Macbeth asked his family physician. The doctor, an honest man, answered in the negative.

The answer today would be the same.

And then, my third point in 2012, the culture. Back then, I pooh-poohed most of the commentary about Sandy Hook that blamed it on the culture: on violent movies and video games, absent fathers, or the decline of religious belief. No, no, and no, I argued.

That's what I still say. But now I wouldn't rule out cultural developments altogether.

Smartphones, for example, were still somewhat of a novelty in 2012. Today they are ubiquitous.

All right, I admit: I hate the damn things. You're walking along the street, or sitting in a subway car, and everybody—well, except for the crazy guy further along in the car yelling at invisible enemies—everybody is staring at their damn fool smartphones. How can the word "zombies" not come to mind?

Or you go to the doctor or the dentist. He keeps you waiting for half an hour and there is nothing to read. These places used to have a stack of magazines you could browse in. Now…nothing, except perhaps some six-page drug company brochure masquerading as a health magazine.

I suppose I shall have to get one of the filthy things eventually; everyday life is increasingly organized around them. Still, I regard my eventual acquisition of a smartphone the same way I regard death: inevitable sooner or later, but to be postponed for as long as possible.

I'll allow, though, if you attach electrodes to my gonads, that smart phones are a convenience for normal people.

What are they to abnormal people, though? Here are a couple of data points.

  • Salvador Ramos, the Uvalde school shooter, lived with his grandparents. On Thursday, May 26, this week journalist Ali Bradley interviewed the grandpa. He told her that Salvador was always on his phone, and that just hours before the shooting, Salvador's grandma said she was going to take him off their mobile payment plan.

I'm just sayin'. What means handy convenience to a normal person might mean something entirely different to a lunatic.

And then, much more in evidence now than it was ten years ago, there is the sex revolution.

Note my careful wording there: "the sex revolution," not "the sexual revolution."

The sexual revolution was that era fifty or sixty years ago when traditional social constraints relating to sex were lowered or eliminated. Disapproval of illegitimacy and homosexuality—or, as I once expressed it, "bastardy and buggery"—disapproval also of open sex talk and pornography, all that disapproval was mocked or legislated away, leaving us all free to find sexual happiness wherever we chose, to the general improvement of mental health and the advance of personal liberty, or so we were promised.

That was the sexual revolution. Its results were mixed. Yes, there was some increase of liberty. Harmless people who had lived lives of shame, fear, and concealment were free to participate openly and honestly in society.

There were also downsides, though: exploitation, the decline of the family at the bottom of society, some crudity and ugliness in language and the arts, and of course AIDS.

But here I'm talking about the sex revolution: the recalibration of traditional male and female roles, always to the disadvantage of men; and more recently the effort to deny biological sex altogether, to elevate the airily subjective over the grittily real.

Some of the effects are well-known. For example: In spring of 2021 59.5 percent of college students in the United States were women. It's a good bet that the proportion passed 60 percent sometime last year.

And then there's actual, you know, sex. There's a steady trickle of news stories about how millennials and Gen-Zers—that's people born after 1996—aren't having as much sex as previous cohorts. Here's one from last October telling me that among Gen-Z-ers aged 20 to 24, fifteen percent are sexually inactive [What's Driving Gen Z's Aversion to Sex? | Opinion, by Debra Soh, Newsweek, October 12, 2021]. Having been aged 20 to 24 in the late 1960s, I find that pretty incredible.

Some of the factors here aren't hard to figure out. It's a fact well-known to dating services that women are much pickier than men. Not to be too crude about it: men will date anything. A woman, however, is seeking a man who looks like he's going somewhere. She wants to date up.

Back to those college attendance statistics. How are the female sixty percent going to date up, if "up" is defined as having a college degree, and way more gals than guys have one?

Then there's the sexual harassment hysteria. We used to find mates at our workplace; nowadays, dating a co-worker—or even just suggesting a date—is asking for a lawsuit.

No wonder the word "incel" is current. A lot of young guys are involuntarily celibate. They console themselves as best they can with video games, violent ones for preference.

Lay the past two years COVID restrictions and lockdowns on top of all that, and yeah, the culture is definitely in play.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

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