THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 657 January 10 - 16, 2011
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January 10, 2011
I was thinking of what to say on the the Arizona shooting, when I saw this:
I am not sure I have any answers either. Do we have the right to be crazy? Does an old lady have the right to live out of a shopping cart at a big drug store parking lot? She cashes her social security check there, apparently uses that and the local library bathrooms, and sometimes sits in the public library. She has assaulted no one, and doesn't beg although she will accept money if offered. She doesn't do drugs so far as anyone can see, and except for being an unpleasant sight and perhaps a reminder of things most would rather not have to think about, she's not a problem. So we have the right to force her into an institution? Once we decide on that case, we can move up the ladder, eventually to the babbling idiot, probably on drugs, who sits on a public sidewalk in a puddle of her own urine, openly begging when not singing to herself in a singsong unmelodious fashion: does she have the right to do that? Or does society have the right to lock her up for her own good?
The first answer is that these are matters best left to the states, and better to the counties, the cities, the villages, and the neighborhoods. And yet -- is there a federal civil rights issue here? What is your basic right? At what point have you so deteriorated that you are no longer a citizen able to decide these matters for yourself?
Should the Arizona shooter have been locked away in preventive detention before he fired his first shot? And who decides such matters? And will there be a minority report?
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|This week:||Tuesday, January
The usual Media goat rope about who was responsible for what in Tucson continues, with some media hosts trying to be reasonable by saying, well, it wasn't really Rush Limbaugh's fault, and Sarah Palin wasn't really to blame, but while we're talking about that, they ought to tone down their rhetoric, and no, we really don't want to talk about political rhetoric from the mainstream press itself...
In fact American political rhetoric is pretty tame compared to past eras, as anyone who takes the trouble to look back to Viet Nam War days will soon learn. (Hey, Hey, LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?) But there is no evidence that there was anything political at all in the Tucson shootings, just as the man who shot Reagan had no discernible politics. John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald were political. Jared Lee Loughner had no politics. He was just weird.
Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson shooter, was clearly a case of what we used to call dementia praecox and which is now known as schizophrenia. The change in terminology is supposed to be more accurate, as was the change from manic-depressive and agitated depression to "bi-polar" disorder, and other such benefits of the DSM. Of course there is recent evidence that the medical/psychological professions have got much of that wrong. Schitzes aren't generally mass murderers, and manic-depressives aren't generally so schitzy, and the diagnoses are confusing, and modern studies are questioning their utility.
Actually that is nothing new. Many years ago I took part in a study at the University of Iowa (SUI in Iowa City) in which we coached students from the drama department to go in for counseling and give textbook responses to see what diagnoses they'd get; the results were not encouraging. Only about half the diagnoses were "correct" in that the therapist came up with the diagnosis that the student was role-playing. In those days the therapy was almost all talk -- there were Freudians, Rogerians, followers of Karen Horney, Gestalt psychologists, Reality therapists, a Jungian or two, and some others I forget, and each had a different treatment for different diagnoses, and none of them knew much about what was really going on. The study made the whole process look farcical, and I think it was never published because it would have terrible effects on departmental budgets; but it was common knowledge that the psychology profession was in a state of confusion and much of what was thought "science" wasn't scientific in any demonstrable way.
After all there is no more (and no less so far as I can tell) evidence for the psychological structures posited by Freud (Ego, Id, Superego) than for the Reactive Mind of Hubbard's Dianetics. (Dianetics was an intellectual synthesis of Korzybski's General Semantics and Jung's version of Freud with Jung's "collective unconscious" playing a key role; both were thoroughly respectable among intellectuals in 1948. Dianetics was about as effective a treatment for neurosis as Freudian analysis, and was a great deal cheaper both to learn the therapy methods and to take the treatment. Like all the other known psychotherapies of the time it did little to nothing for full psychotics with manic depression or dementia praecox.)
A few years later the psychiatrists discovered various pharmaceutical treatments that greatly helped some patients and tamed others, and many of the classic theories of psychology and psychological disorder went away.
The general inability of psychological therapy to deal with dementia praecox or schizophrenia -- a diagnosis of schizophrenia meant you were uncurable, and generally meant you would be confined to a madhouse forever -- led to more and more attempts at physical therapies including electro shock and insulin shock; eventually psycho drugs were found to tame people down and make them less dangerous so they could be let out of the madhouse. Of course some would then go off their meds and do violence, or simply get in the gears of society.
Madhouses are expensive. Moreover, many were confined to them long after they were no longer dangerous to themselves or others -- "cured" manics and schitzes were very useful as trustees and unpaid orderlies in madhouses, and were often kept long after they legally should have been released, often because the doctors couldn't figure out how they would live outside the asylum environment. There was a wave of sentiment for letting the non-dangerous mad out into society, and this certainly resonated with legislatures since it would save a lot of money. In theory there would be "mental health" clinics for outpatient servicing of the recently released; in practice those proved to be too expensive and went away even as the number of clients for them increased by an order of magnitude.
Thus we had, and have, many who in earlier times would have been considered mad turned out on the streets. Others were released with medications that kept them calm, but the side effects induced many to go off their meds. We all know the results. Watch the relevant Law and Order episodes for more.
I haven't any profound observations on this dilemma: the price of liberty is that many who are considered mad are allowed to live their mad lives among us. Note that it was not all that long ago that many behaviors, including homosexuality, were considered treatable disorders. Note that there are very strange protestors who act in ways that others consider utterly mad. So there are counter protestors to the protestors, and sometimes one and sometimes another faction appears to be insane. Once in a while both protestors and counter protestors seem to be stark raving mad.
Allowing the non-violent madmen to live among us is a price of liberty; and allowing physicians and police to lock people away without judge and jury because they are mad is conceding a power to the authorities that often proves unwise, and sometimes is simply an adjunct to tyranny.
Trouble rather the tiger in his lair than the sage amongst his books. For to you the Kingdoms and their armies are things mighty and enduring, but to him they are but toys of the moment, to be overturned by the flicking of a finger . . .
I always meant to ask him where he got it, or if he just made it up. I never got around to asking. Does anyone know a source? I suspect he made it up. But see below
January 12, 2011
Unlike the Fort Hood shooting, the Tucson shooting is inspiring legislation, for such matters as changing the name of the bill called "Repealing the job-killing health care law" on the grounds that the "killing" phrase is provocative. There is also a bill to make putting cross-hairs on a legislative district illegal on web site political screeds. Another to federalize protection of Congresscritters and their staffs. And other such nonsense. I doubt any of these will get out of committee, but apparently there are those who take seriously the Obama Chief of Staff's maxim about never letting a serious crisis go to waste. Always make use of the crisis to take political advantage; apparently some have taken that seriously.
The results of the recent election should be enough to see that most of that junk will be treated as it deserves. We do need to be vigilant: this is to be used in ways to restrict freedom. We had a Moment of Silence (which we did not have for the Legions at Fort Hood). Let that be enough. The Tucson victims do not need to have new Federal Powers and restrictions of freedom as their monument.
January 13, 2011
Friday the 13th Falls on Thursday this month.
The furor over Tucson continues; apparently it was far more important than the Fort Hood shootings, which after all were quite political and thus comprehensible. No one doubts the motives or the intentions of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, or his political associations.
By contrast the Tucson "senseless murder" as many put it didn't make sense, and for some reason the media have fixated on making it make sense. Of course dementia praecox doesn't make sense and never has; the phenomenon of madness has troubled philosophers and theologians for millennia. If man is a rational animal, what are we to make of irrationality? How does this fit in with any systematic consideration of the world? Theologians have similar difficulties. Do the insane go to Hell?
Then there is the very practical problem for the legal system. Are madmen responsible for their actions? How shall the legal system deal with this? The M'Naghten rules were the first serious attempt systematically to factor madness into the Common Law, and have been adopted by most of the UK and Commonwealth and all but a handful of States in the US. There's a fair summary of this on Wikipedia.
Prior to the M'Naghten case, pleas of insanity did not result in acquittal (not guilty by reason of insanity): judge and jury were only concerned with whether the accused was guilty of the crime. Sentence was then imposed. The King (or President, or State Governor, or other relevant executive authority) could and often did then issue a conditional pardon based on the recommendation that the accused was in fact not responsible because not far removed from a wild beast or a child below the age of reason. The pardon would be conditional in that it would prescribe confinement at the pleasure of the Crown in a suitable institution -- which could be a snake pit asylum or a private asylum depending largely on the social and financial position of the convicted -- who remained a felon, duly convicted of the crime.
As "the science of mental health" became more respectable there has been emphasis on prevention, with some experts going so far as to advocate preventive detention of the irrational who might commit a crime. For a while it looked as if the DSM might solve this problem, by giving objective criteria for determining who was suffering from what madness, and what the prognosis for that particular "disorder" might be, and thus giving the authorities a basis for intervention. The intention was to prevent crimes and thus save innocent victims before they were massacred or assaulted. Good intention, but the problem was that detention of someone who might be dangerous but who has not yet committed a crime is a power easily abused, not only by errors of those with good intentions, but also by tyrants. Locking someone up as insane without a trial by judge and jury is a very serious matter, especially in cases where there has not yet been an actual crime.
The problem is that the mental health profession is losing its confidence in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is only astonishing to me because it took so long. It was obvious to me from the beginning that the problems madness presented to the institutions of medicine, insurance, and the law were a great deal knottier than any "Manual" could solve or even authoritatively address; but then my graduate school text in Abnormal Psychology was Henderson and Gillespie, A Textbook of Psychiatry, written by practicing psychiatrists and greatly concerned with actual case histories and real experience with actual patients, not devoted to Freud, Jung, Horney, Dewey, or any other theory of the mind. They did not believe themselves infallible and often confessed that the profession didn't know everything or in some cases not much.
Most of my graduate studies in psychology were based on evidence, not therapeutic theory. The first edition of the DSM came after I left graduate school. I found that first edition of the DSM useless and often absurd, and in my judgment the trend through successive editions has been to make it both more "authoritative" and ridiculous. I am sure there are sections that are useful, but they are interposed between nonsense, and that's not the purpose of a manual. You don't find phlogiston in a chemistry manual.
Almost all the great psychological theories that we had to learn in graduate school are now shown to be no better (if no worse) than Hubbard's Dianetics, and based on not much more evidence. Freud, it turns out, made up many of his case histories: no wonder the highly lucrative practice of psychoanalysis was recommended by Freudians! But that's beating a dying horse.
The Tucson shootings have caused a flurry of debate about "civility" and even calls for legal enforcement of "civil debate," which means that "civility" is to mean suppression. As usual the popular remedy to a problem is less freedom. Lately it always seems to be. There is also a call for more psychiatric intervention and compulsory mental health care.
I remain of the opinion that locking people up at the discretion of police and mental health experts is a very dangerous matter. I have no delusion about the perfect justice to be expected from a judge and jury, but that at least is a devil we know.
We need to be very careful in rushing to any federal remedy to the problem of madness.
I remembered vaguely that I'd considered this before, but my internal data recovery system isn't as reliable as it used to be, But I also remember looking to see just where in Kipling this was (since it certainly sounds like him) and not finding it. Does anyone know where in Kipling? Gordy was perfectly capable of making up something Kipling-esque. It's hardly important but I would like to nail this down.
Raymond Chandler fans will find this mail interesting. It is time sensitive.
It's official, Florida is flake free:
January 14, 2011
Just about everything worth your attention has been said about the Tucson murders, but for some reason the media won't let it alone. Sarah Palin used the phrase "blood libel" in her comments, and immediately there was an outcry, although precisely why is a bit beyond my comprehension. The operative word in the phrase is libel: it states that this is a false story used to condemn people innocent of the criminal act that forms the story. In particular, the "blood libel" is a story that Jewish communities in various places slaughtered Christian children in order to use their blood in various rituals; by implication all Jews were guilty, whether participants or not. There is no evidence that anyone ever practiced this ritual anywhere; the story was made up, possibly to explain a real murder by persons unknown.
The operative word here is libel.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has a short essay on this in today's Wall Street Journal entitled "Sarah Palin is 'Right about Blood'" Libel (link) for those who want more on the subject. One would think that would close the subject, but this seems unlikely in today's climate of "civil discourse".
I had a long conversation with the new Publishers who seek to revive BYTE. Nothing definite. We'll see. Chaos Manor Reviews will continue. I am late on getting the column out.
Niven is here for a hike and talk. Sable the Husky is eager.
January 15, 2011
I have much work to do. Niven and I went up the hill (four miles and 800 foot climb) yesterday to discuss our novel and I came away with new enthusiasm and many problems solved. But first the column is late and needs finishing.
There's a large mixed bag of mail up. Many interesting subjects.
January 16, 2011
I'm still a long way behind.
I just heard a radio talk show substitute host say that crazies with their talk about rights probably deserve to be shot, but the rest of us need to be protected from nuts with guns, and "I don't care if it violates the guy's rights, it's for the public good." He wants compulsory psychiatric "help" for people who disrupt classes and otherwise act crazy, but who have not broken any laws. After all, wasn't this guy rejected by the army? (And, I note, Senator Schumer thinks that the military recruiters ought to notify the FBI when someone is rejected by the military for drug use, or because he's nuts. Now that will really make us safer. Perhaps we can have a separate security service to investigate those who try to join the military and are rejected.)
We used to have ways to lock up those suspected of mental illness. England did for a long time. A policemen and a psychiatrist could certify someone as nuts and get them locked away, sometimes for a long time since the act of being dragged off to the madhouse was often enough to get someone really angry and thus "acting paranoid". Perhaps that makes the world safer. Clearly if we can lock anyone away whom we think might commit a crime, we should have fewer crimes (although it doesn't always work out that way).
(I have not studied England's mental health laws in decades, but I am told there were some reforms of the system that allowed a police psychiatrist and the proprietor of a madhouse in conjunction with a constable to commit people.)
Confine the crazies before they do terrible things!
"And where do we get the money to pay for it, I don't know. We simply must do this," says this Fox News guest host. "Because we are at war, and if you see someone as creepy as this guy -- even the US Army rejected him -- we need to profile people like that and check them out before we let them go back to the society."
Will that make us safer?
Freedom is not free, and liberty comes with a high cost. If we are going to increase safety by restricting liberty, what will be the qualifications of those who can send you to the madhouse because you might commit a crime? Confining someone for a weekend while doctors talk to them is not the same as sending some0ne to the nut house until he can prove he doesn't belong there, but it is certainly an intrusion on liberty and freedom. It sounds simple: get the crazies off the street. We have a means of doing that, but it requires a judge and jury, and that's expensive; isn't there a simpler way? (There is. Create a bureaucracy and get out of its way.)
So we have a Fox News talk show host who wants to have the authorities able to put people away. "We have to have some control on this, so we can't just call a government number, we have to lock up the crazies." And anyone who questions giving government this authority gets a polite "Thank you for your opinion."
Whatever we do, for God's sake don't federalize this kind of thing. A national mental health program and a mental health bureaucracy, to reduce violent crime by locking up the madmen. We are spiraling in this terrible direction of a glorification of violence, and it has to be stopped.
That guy walking down the street who looks crazy -- the day we stop letting the police question him we all ought to put targets on our shirts, saith this sage. Your sanity papers please. Prove you are not crazy.
I am rambling, but not without purpose. I first addressed this question in my undergraduate days. In the 1950's there were a number of cases of clear injustice involving involuntary commitments. There were more madhouses in those days. They weren't called that, of course. Perhaps we need more of them. If they exist, they will be filled. The Iron Law will see to that. And then we can evaluate the talk show hosts who incite people to violence. Perhaps including those who want to incite the mental health experts to lock people away by force?
Freedom is not free. Liberty has a price.
Perhaps we ought to have the talk show hosts evaluated. Perhaps they should have to prove they are sane.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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