I haven’t featured Ken White lately, in part because Popehat’s posts are sporadic, unlike those of mad bloggers who habitually post multiple essays a day. However, Ken’s most recent post is the epitome of ethical blogging at its best. It is long, but absolutely worth the time to read. His subject is the internet pile-on against a mentally ill writer named Kenneth Eng, who, Ken points out, was obviously not well, and yet was mercilessly attacked and mocked. Fox News even exploited his illness for some sensational cable moments—shades of Sam Nunberg! Ken, who has written frankly and courageously about his own battles with clinical depression, takes a hard ethics inventory, finds himself and the internet community lacking, and does a superb job—as usual—of clarifying a difficult issue. I have had my differences with Ken, but at his best, White is as ethically astute and clear a writer as there is online, with an almost unfailing ability to point us in the right direction.
He writes in part,
This is, perhaps, the most grim part of the story, grimmer even than our indifference and casual cruelty. If Kenneth Eng can’t be helped successfully, what’s the hope for the millions out there in worse circumstances, some of them potentially violent? Kenneth Eng didn’t slip through the cracks. He got support that, if you described it in a story, I would dismiss as fanciful. What about people without those resources and without that support?…
Towards the end of 2014, with the last of his lawsuits dismissed, Kenneth Eng dropped from sight. I can’t find more references to him. I do not have the heart to go beyond the web and research whether he is confined, whether he continues to relapse without notice, whether he’s even alive. Maybe he’s even better. Maybe.
Why are we the way we are? Is Kenneth Eng a schizophrenic whose illness finds expression through florid racism? Or is he a racist asshole who is also schizophrenic? It makes little difference to the people he abused or threatened or assaulted, the people terrified that he would go on a violent spree, or the people repulsed to see the seemingly mainstream AsianWeek publish his racist screed. It is right and fit that we should support those people and acknowledge how they felt, whatever Eng’s motives were. It is appropriate to protect them. But how should we treat Kenneth Eng? Not, I think, with carefree laughter.
Kenneth Eng is on the other side of viral now, and it’s hard to see him there. But we can still see ourselves, and the view is not always pleasant.
Read it all, and be thankful for the keen mind and integrity of Ken White.
3 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Ken White Of Popehat”
I read it all, and it is a very sad story. What it said to me is that we should be careful who we mock, and be mindful that mental illness is out there. We need no more evidence than the Parkland shootings to validate that reality, and Eng is just one more person who suffers, now apparently in silence (unless he truly has found help) from something few of us can understand at any level.
I have known a few people who have had bouts of mental unwellness, but I have never known a person who was seriously ill like Eng. Online exposure is surely not the same thing, and I know Ken White has battled depression and has therefore had a kind of first-hand experience, which no doubt informs his commentary.
Definitely worth the half-cup of coffee to read.
Well written blog, here and Ken’s.
Much to think about
I have noticed with interest the number of our high-publicity mass shooters who have obvious and serious mental issues. I have also noticed the after such an incident, there has never been a discussion of how we need to do a better job helping those with serious mental illnesses. In fact, anyone who tries to start such a discussion is shouted down and labelled with one of the -ist or -phobe terms. Is serious reform of our mental illness system being held hostage by the anti-gun agenda in this country?
When you try to search “mass shooters mental illness”, the results are only “mass shooting not linked to mental illness”. However, I looked at the LA Times article “Deadliest US Mass Shootings 1984-2017” and started working backwards. I looked at all the mass shooting they had listed 2014-2017 (and included Parkland) and this is what I found.
Shooters had known, serious mental issues:
Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock
UPS San Fransisco shooter Jimmy Lam
Ft. Lauderdale Airport shooter Esteban Santiago -mentally ill, working for ISIS or both
Washington State Mall Shooter Arcan Cetin
Colorado Springs, Co Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear
Roseburg, Ore shooter Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer
Charleston SC shooter Dylan Roof
Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodgers
Fort Hood shooter Ivan Lopez
Pulse Nightclub shooter Omar Mateen -Isis inspired
San Bernardino shooters – Isis inspired
Orlando Workplace shooter John Neumann, Jr. -can’t tell, was a ‘troubled’ person
Chattanooga, Tenn Recruiting Center shooter Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez- probably Islamic terrorism
The mainstream news media states matter-of-factly that there is not a connection between mental illness or islamic terrorism and mass shootings. I would say denying the obvious is not helping the situation and it is not helping us fix our mental health system.
Our mental illness treatment system in this country is a joke. Part of the problem is that only psychiatrists can prescribe the medications needed to treat such illness. Psychiatrists must go to medical school, then a psych residency. This is an expensive process and few people do it. Psychiatry is a labor-intensive field and only allowing some of the most highly paid people in the country do it will never work to provide treatment to everyone who needs it. I think we need a more targeted psychiatric training program that trains people specifically to treat the mentally ill instead of giving people a general medical education and then having them do it as a specialty. It would allow us to train more people and at lower cost, allowing treatment to more of the people who need it.