Laurie Dann, a bizarre psychotic who sent poisoned food to acquaintances and former employers and once stabbed her husband with an ice pick, shot up a second-grade classroom in Winnetka, Illinois, murdering one child and wounding several others before killing herself. To people in the community, it should have been (and was) a source of grief and outrage. To everyone else, it should have been none of their business; Winnetkans deserved to be let alone to deal with the situation they knew firsthand. Naturally, that was not to be; the media soon descended on the town, transmogrifying a lone lunatic’s rampage into a National Event, complete with analyses of its significance and prescriptions to ensure that it never happens again.

Among the Lessons to Be Learned, of course, was the pressing need for gun control. The other preferred recommendations involved medical professionals—brain research (“new knowledge and new treatments”) would furnish the cure. The relevant questions, according to a Chicago Tribune columnist, were: “Could a tumor or an aneurysm have interfered with the neurons and synapses and been reflected in [Dann’s] behavior? Was there an abnormal mix of chemicals or misfirings in her brain’s electrochemical workings? Did she have subtle brain damage caused at birth or by a slight, silent mistake in prenatal brain development? Was an error coded in her genes set to trigger abnormal behavior in young adulthood?”

Clearly there would be no talk of chance, sin, or bad luck here. The assumptions were all of Utopian social engineers. Evil is a treatable pathology, which can, literally, be surgically removed by human methods—analysis, drugs, and other clever techniques. Man is malleable and perfectible in the hands of credentialed professionals. Indeed, one much-praised aspect of the Winnetka affair was that, within 24 hours of the shooting, a large team of psychiatrists had been dispatched to “counsel the community.” (Just how we survived prior to psychiatry is never asked—some backward folk think we prayed a lot.) As editorial writers call for other communities to develop squads like Winnetka’s, it is clear that in the progressive future society no citizen will be without a shrink. It’ll probably be a mandatory “safety requirement,” like seat-belt laws.

Such attitudes are already more deeply embedded than most people realize. Virtually every commentator found Dann’s shooting spree not only revolting but surprising—”Winnetka’s Unexplainable Tragedy,” read a typical headline—as if it were expected that the professional classes had abolished madness and wickedness. The effort to construct the New Socialist Man, we may recall, began in much the same way. (MK)