The Lileks Zone

Time to bring back the asylum?

Forgive me if this has been covered – I’ve been at sea, where internet is spotty and news in the public areas is provided by International CNN, also known as “the shrieking den of lies.” (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but the day after the shooting the lead anchorperson began the hour by saying “A nation divided and in fear: a look at America.” Uh huh.) I’ve been able to keep up on the attempts to drag the narrative into the usual dank dens where the ever-fever’d right plots its base crimes; I just heard the president admonish these times when rhetoric gets overheated. I did like this line:

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds, but to get in their faces and kick their ass if they are actually our political enemies.

It was a healing moment. Anyway: now that everyone realizes this fellow had a head full of angry bees, it might be possible to have one of those “national conversations” about involuntary commitment of the mentally ill. (Seems Newsweek is on the case.) For years I was told that the reason we had mentally ill homeless was because, of course, of Reagan. He cut the funding and kicked out the mentally ill, and didn’t care, because he was mean and stupid, etc. But as Myron Magnet pointed out, there was a shift in the thinking about the mentally ill in – any guesses? Why yes: the sixties. Old asylums were horror-holes, Bedlam redux, and new drugs meant the insane could be let out and trusted to take their meds. Didn’t quite work out for everyone.

Simultaneous with de-institutionalization was a cultural meme: the crazy are really more sane than we are! Or at least wild lovable dreamers who are just like Robin Williams. Think of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which is probably the “China Syndrome” of mental-health-treatment movies. Not only did we hiss wretched Ratchit, we cheered on free-spirited McMurphy, because he was played by Jack Nicholson, and wondered why they had picked up an enormous taciturn American Indian and zapped his brain for no reason at all. They were all guilty of being non-comformists, if anything. Simple-minded, but everyone has an uncle who’s a little soft in the bean; doesn’t mean he should be made to live in a hospital gown and play cards all day before he’s tranked into a dreamless sleep.

So we turned against institutionalization, and now we no longer wonder why these people whose minds have turned against them walk around us and decide, on a clear sunny day, to shoot a little girl.

Side note: wonder how many people will be sent over the edge by the martial messages sent off by the name of the news station that broadcast the shooting story. Not saying the station is guilty, but it does create a climate, no?

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January 2011