Monday, February 18, 2008

Prozac, Nietzsche, and the NIU Gunman

The mystery of Steven Kazmierczak--the NIU gunman--deepens. In an interview conducted by CNN, Jessica Baty--Kazmierczak's girlfriend--has added at least two pieces of information. She indicates that he was on Prozac, but had gone off the drug "because it made him feel like a zombie." She also reports that after the shooting, she received mailed packages from him with various books--including Friedrich Nietzsche's THE ANTICHRIST, which he had been reading in recent weeks.

Prozac is one of the best-known of the anti-depressant drugs, which works by blocking the removal of serotonin from between nerve cells. As I indicated in Chapter 10 of DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM, there is controversy over the reliance on drugs like Prozac to manipulate neurotransmitters in the brain to deal with depression. Using such drugs can be evasive and self-defeating because it does not really solve the problem, which is something wrong in the mind or in the social environment of the patient. Moreover, going off such drugs can have severe consequences.

Reading Nietzsche being associated with homicidal violence by young men has a long history. In the famous 1925 case, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb read Nietzsche and decided that they were "supermen" who were "beyond good and evil." To show this, they decided to commit a murder--killing Bobby Franks, the young son of a rich family in Chicago. Of course, reading Nietzsche by itself is not going to make young men homicidal. But it is likely to be unhealthy for young men who otherwise are mentally disturbed. I say this as someone who regularly teaches Nietzsche, but who worries that certain kinds of students would be best not to read Nietzsche.

We need to know much more about Steven Kazmierczak. In particular, we need to know more about his use of Prozac, and about the dangers of such anti-depressant drugs.

4 comments:

Holy Water Salt said...

He's a psychopathic mass killer. I study and blog on them...this guy is an easy example of one.

Larry Arnhart said...

holy water salt,

I don't know if Steve K was a psychopath or not. But I would like to have more information about him. Chapter 8 of DARWINIAN NATURAL RIGHT is devoted to psychopaths as "moral strangers."

As you indicated on your blog, it is very strange that Jessica Baty's MYSPACE page declares that "Jessica is loving and missing her Steven." Her boy friend has just murdered 5 people, and this is her reaction!?

There is so much more about this case that we need to know--the effects of Prozac on his behavior, his past history of mental treatment, the secret life that he was hiding from everyone, his fascination with serial killers and the criminal justice system.

Rob Schebel said...

In a previous post, Dr. Arnhart, you point out that this young man was on Prozac, had been off of his medication, and was possibly a paranoid schizophrenic.

I know I'm just speculating at this point, but if he was on Prozac isn't he likely to have seen a psychiatrist to get a prescription? And if he saw a psychiatrist, he must not have showed signs of paranoid schizophrenia, because then he would have been prescribed a different medication or assigned to a mental clinic of some kind.

Of course these days it's rather easy to walk into a pscyhiatrist's office to get Prozac. But perhaps he showed signs of bipolar disorder, which is often treated with anti-depressants only?

I don't believe that going off of Prozac would normally illicit such an extreme response. However, some research indicates that anti-depressants can cause patients, especially younger people, to become suicidal.

Either way, doesn't it seem that someone dropped the ball either on a full diagnosis or an appropriate follow-up?

I'm not a pscyhologist, so I'm not pointing fingers or blaming anyone here. This is just speculation.

Larry Arnhart said...

I have no professional training or experience in psychological assessment. Moreover, we don't have enough details about Steve K's case to justify any conclusions.

But we can see that this is a mysterious case. It seems unlikely that going off Prozac would be enough to provoke premeditated homicide. The reports that he cut himself when he was in high school suggest very deep problems. But, again, we don't know enough.

What I find most interesting is that he hid the dark side of his personality so effectively that few people could even glimpse what was going on with him. He was even careful to leave no clear evidence for the police to discover. For example, he apparently removed the hard drive from his laptop computer. It's a though he intentionally wanted everyone to be left guessing about his motives.

Like a psychopath, he was able to charm those around him so that they could not see who and what he really was.