Today’s editorial was to have tackled philosophical issues surrounding court sentencing in especially violent criminal cases, a topic re-emerging most recently here with pronouncement of a 10-year prison term for Michael Trent Gaston, killer of Lawrence Allen Mock.

Our discussion would have mentioned, of course, that Gaston stabbed victim Mock seven times, but would have gone on to clearly state there was no connection between the prison term’s length and the number of times stabbed. In other words, we would be mistaken in stating a conclusion, based on accurate calculation, that the defendant received 1.4 years for every thrust of the lethal weapon.

Next would have come the editorial’s more difficult section, groping through the intellectual darkness, hoping to touch poignancy somewhere. We might have thought we knew a few potentially useful things going in: first, that these cases, by their very nature, are invariably fraught with a heavy emotional burden on both sides, which have compelling but competing needs – retribution for the victim’s survivors, versus some amount of compassion for the perpetrator’s own family members, who also experience a victimlike sense of loss.

This was, we would have to remind ourselves, a crime committed in the highest heat of passion (to accept the court’s word on this), a factor weighing toward reducing the sentence.

Monday afternoon, we cast these ruminations aside, however, as the nation’s biggest breaking news story in some time seemed to intercede. Where our topic at hand had concerned a killing presumably unplanned, crime scene visuals from the Boston Marathon finish line, quickly burning into the nation’s collective consciousness, shifted us to the more pressing matter of premeditated mass murder.

We can at least explain (though not justify) killing someone we know at a time of “extreme emotional disturbance” (as our criminal code describes it), but do we ever satisfactorily explain the likes of 9-11 or, now, Patriots’ Day 2013?

In the coming weeks and months, investigators will try to identify any suspected motives behind the April 15 blasts. And God forbid that we should learn there’s yet another die-for cause arising among our already oversubscribed-to-causes human ranks. If this attack was conceived in furtherance of some creed, a set of demanded physical or social boundaries, or any other concrete or abstract idea, then it was born in stupidity. They should know that by now we’ve had it up to here, and then some, with all such causes.

More likely, though, and even if the perpetrators believe they are loyal to anything worthy of their devotion, what we’re really dealing with, once again, is mental illness or something akin to it.

Last week, Slate Magazine, in reviewing psychiatry’s newest version of the discipline’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,” pointed out that nearly 50 percent of Americans become diagnosably mentally ill at some point in their lives, and this percentage is on the rise. Part of the explanation is that we’ve grown more adept at diagnosing mental illness, but the review also stressed that our underlying anxiety is actually increasing.

The upshot is, coping with our world is getting harder, not easier. Only when we’re healthy can we step back from anger and avoid placing undue blame on other people for our problems.

Our better future together could begin with inner healing.


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