Source: Medical News
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Mentally Unbalanced in Modern Life”
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 79
Issue number: 11
|“The Mentally Unbalanced in Modern Life.” Medical News 14 Sept. 1901 v79n11: pp. 423-24.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response); society (mental health); society (criticism).|
The Mentally Unbalanced in Modern Life
WITHIN the last three years
the world has been aroused to bitterness and startled to the verge of irrational
action and opinion by three dastardly attempts upon the lives of rulers. Two
of them were unfortunately successful; the third, thanks to the skill of American
surgery, now promises to be a happy failure. All three attacks were committed
upon individuals whose dispositions were most kindly, whose lives had been free
from any stain of personal wrong-doing and whose public careers were not of
the character which tends to the making of personal enemies. In the cases of
the Empress of Austria and the King of Italy the outrage that caused death was
quite as wanton and uncalled for, and the criminals had quite as little personal
reason for the attack as in the case of our happily recovering President.
A comparative, even superficial study of the characters of the criminals as disclosed by their history shows certain points of similarity. They  were moody, retiring individuals who made few friends and were largely thrown back upon themselves and their own thoughts during their moments of leisure. All of them seem to have had a craving for the notoriety that their act would bring them and an unfortunate delusion that somehow good would come out of it. Had they been men accustomed to confide in others there would have been some possibility of a correction of their delusion, or, failing that, some warning of the crime to come. None of them had any adequate motive for the crime and yet planned it as carefully and with as much shrewd adaptation of means to the end, as if they were about to perform a praiseworthy act.
In this country this is the third criminal attempt upon a ruler’s life. The other two were committed by men whose histories evidently point them out as mentally unbalanced. As a matter of fact such men are not criminals so much as unfortunate human beings led by delusion into the commission of acts that, owing to the instruments of destruction which civilization puts so ready to hand, are much more serious in their consequences than unarmed delusion could effect. Power of evil is placed within reach of the unbalanced and the impulse to exercise it proves attractive to the aberrant fancy and leads on where difficulties would have deterred.
It would seem as though such occurrences must be more or less inevitable in our modern life, for the unbalanced we have always with us and the psychological moment that prepares so sad an occurrence as this may not easily be detected. Yet there are certain lessons that the event teaches, certain warnings that it emphasizes. When the struggle for life was severer than at present many more of the mentally unqualified were eliminated early in life. There is in our crowded world an ever-growing number of individuals to whom chance influences may prove the source of impulses to acts with consequences out of all proportion to the original motives, and it is to be regretted that this country has been chosen as an outlet for an immense number of this class, as well as a general rendezvous for criminals who cannot find a resting place in their own land. There is need, then, for a more thorough and honest control of immigration, and it daily becomes more apparent that not only those who suffer from physical ills and financial stress should be refused an entrance here, but those whose early surroundings and training have been such as to engender the seeds of anti-social conduct. A reconsideration then of the fundamental principles of our immigration laws is therefore a subject of great national concern.
There is, moreover, a further feature in our political system that, taken at its worst, fails most lamentable in the service for which it is created. Meant primarily for the protection of society, our police systems too readily develop a corps of individuals who prey on society, and whose highest ideal at times is expressed not as to the quality of service they can render to the body social, but as to how much they can get out of it. We hold it true that dishonest and corrupt officials, with authority, do much to foster the spirit of discontent and by their leniency in the systematic control of the vicious permit the development of the spirit that seeks to kill.