Monday, January 10, 2011

Two Things

After any horrific event, it's logical for thinking people to look at what might have led to it. That is what a culture should be doing after Representative Giffords assassination attempt. This didn't just impact the Congresswoman but also those who were at the event, wounded, murdered, and those traumatized by what they saw.

It also impacted our whole country as everybody of a certain age has gone through this vicariously many times. It might be a leader we followed or for whom we had voted. It might be somewhere we could have been.

The question is what could make a difference and stop it from happening again? Are we truly without options and just have to wait for the next tragedy which might be in a kindergarten or in our own neighborhood?

We are in a culture of death threats and anybody who runs for office politically has probably experienced some of it. It's not unique to Arizona. It's an element of our society that sees a violent response as acceptable and threats go along with that. It's just politics some say. Most of those threats are intended to intimidate and ideally shut the person up. Some though have real violence behind them.

The more that comes out about the shooter in Tucson, the more his mental illness seems obviously to be a factor in what he did. Reading more about it, we can see evidence of his obsession with Giffords that went back years. It might have been her beauty as well as her politics, her Jewishness, her success, or her position as a government leader. He may not even be able to tell anyone what was behind his obsession.

He was certainly picking up right wing talk but from the extremes of the right, not so much the Sarah Palins probably as more the farther out fringe, that shadowy region where most of us don't even know the people's names. Who knew some of their bizarre ideas until we read about it after this blew up? People who want to go looking for weird concepts can easily find them today with the Internet.

The violent rhetoric, the death threats, the singling out one person as evil personified, the personalizing policies to become individuals which leads to wishing them dead and verbalizing it, that isn't healthy whether it had anything to do with Saturday's tragedy or not. Those threats are about trying to shut down a political viewpoint and fear is one of their tactics.

There is a way to tone down the rhetoric from the responsible people on the right and the left. Stop making it about a person. Stop demonizing people and stick to the issues that are being debated. Get all upset about immigration but don't demonize Jan Brewer. Be fervent on anti-abortion but don't single out George Tiller. Sometimes words lead a deranged mind to go a step further.

So that's the first thing.

The second is what are we going to do about mental illness in this country? This young man was clearly seen as a risk and yet nobody was able to do anything about it. Go to The Daily Beast for an assortment of stories on him. After you read that, check out some of the other articles that go into where we are in our country in terms of violence as an 'answer.' Some still see it as a tool that is preferable to the ballot box when the vote doesn't go their way.

Daily Beast had a good article on the developing mental illness of this shooter. It is unclear exactly what was wrong with him mentally, but he was in his own world clearly and it was inhabited by a lot of very violent ideas. He was removed from Pima Community College after an assortment of threatening events and an Internet post. The officials said in order for him to return to class he had to have a mental health evaluation. He just dropped out. Isn't there some way to force people like that to have that mental evaluation? Is that really damaging their civil rights for the country to make sure people who might be mentally unstable are not also inclined toward violence? They don't have to go together, you know.

I realize how those who advocate for the mentally ill won't like what I said but time after time we have these kind of tragic events and almost always people knew ahead of time that it was a time bomb; but they couldn't do anything about it.

Not everyone who has schizophrenia is dangerous. Some hear voices and that typically develops in their late teen years; but those voices don't have to be a threat to the world around them. I am not saying this young man was schizophrenic. I certainly have no idea; but when people are, they typically don't want to get help for it. They often have to be forced into taking the medications that can control the chemistry in their brain enough to allow them to lead normal, or almost normal lives. Let's say-- in control of their own lives.

Because our culture has no way to force mental health evaluations for those who are suspected of being deranged mentally, we have these outbursts every so often (and would maybe get some even if we had a more effective policy toward mental illness) where not only the lives of other people are ruined but also that of the mentally ill person. Isn't there a way to deal with this before it goes so tragically wrong?


Kay Dennison said...

As usual, you have your finger on what's really important!!! I congratulate you, my friend.

Kay Dennison said...

This is the finest piece I've read on this tragedy. I applaud you!

Ingineer66 said...

Good post Rain. Unfortunately in our world of politically correct touchy feely crap it is really hard to force people to do anything. Additionally because of the load on mental health services caused by rampant drug (meth) use the counties are severely strained to provide even basic evaluations especially for non-violent offenders. If this guy or the Virgina Tech shooter would have been forced to get evaluated and maybe even treatment, perhaps these tragedies could have been avoided.

Parapluie said...

How can demonizing of pubic figures be stopped or mitigated? We could take away freedom of speech. Not an option! The best thing that could happen is a general awareness of this crazy act and the powder caig of emotions leading to a will to do something. We can form an organized watch of prominate hubs of public opinion and when there is demonization, we can call it to their attention and the rest of the public as well.

June Calender said...

We are a huge country; we cannot police every odd ball citizen. As long as we tolerate and, in fact, patronize, those elements of the media that compound the paranoia and urge violence there will be people who respond with violence. I remember it as starting with Kennedy but actually I suppose it started with Lincoln. Random violence is a part of society as we have made it by our actions, both passive and active. America is imperfect and perhaps is becoming more imperfect year by year. This is tragic and sad and I, for one, feel helpless to do anything except watch and weep.

Rain said...

We can not give ratings to those who use the tactics as part of their programs. That means, whether they seem entertaining or not, right or left, if they demonize individual people, if they vilify the whole system of government, if they don't deal with issues but personalities, we don't watch them. We don't listen to them.

There have always been the small groups who are way over the top. One was in my area some years back and had a show that used free radio waves. That could probably be stopped but it is hard because we do value freedom of speech and I don't want that taken away. If they go over the line with threats though, that is illegal against the president and could be against federal employees period. I don't think making physical threats against others should ever be okay legally.

On the mental illness, most of the ones who have later been involved in such shootings were seen and singled out by education but the problem is nothing could be done legally. That could be changed. Force a mental evaluation.

Pima Community College had seen he had a problem and demanded a mental evaluation before returning to their community. Maybe it could have been forced. The military rejected this young man and I'd guess it was his mental state.

If I am not mistaken, at one time we did more about such people in terms of temporarily incarcerating on mental health instability grounds before they did something violent. If he had been, maybe they'd have gotten a handle on this with medication being ordered.

The important part is that what you need to evaluate is the risk to others and self element as just being schizophrenic doesn't mean he had a violent streak that would do something like that. Sometimes it's an escalating thing though.

Our country is lousy on dealing with mental illness and worse we stigmatize it instead of recognizing it as another illness like many others.

We don't have to go after every nut job but those who show by their behavior that they are out of control and at risk to others.

TaraDharma said...

"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors."

- Ann Coulter, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, 02-26-02

I think Ann (and Rush, And Beck) need a mental evaluation. Good post, Rain.