Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dangerous ideas

By now everyone with any exposure to media has heard about the tragic shooting of Arizona's Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

In the ensuing search for answers, left-leaning pundits and politicos have all ten fingers and toes pointed toward the "evil" political right, as they usually do, this time particularly on the Tea Party and the Evil Alaskan, Sarah Palin. Fervent the neo-liberal statists are. Thoughtful and grounded in reality and history they are not.

Here in Canada, Globe and Mail columnists are busy indirectly casting aspersions a spotlight on American conservatism too, blaming Fox News for the state of political discourse in America and lamenting America's "gun problem." Indeed, how fortunate are we Canadians to not have Fox News, which might actually break through the incessant neo-liberal subterfuge filter every now and then and bring some counterpoints to the op-ed-masquerading-as-news "reporting" of the Neil MacDonald types! How blessed we are to be free of the danger of diverse thought and raucous political opinion! And guns?! Thank God for the RCMP, who pull more long guns out of the homes of hunters, sportsmen and farmers each year than they do handguns out of the hands of gangbangers, criminals and organized crime persons. Ah Canada, the great white coddled.

I digress. In the aftermath of this tragedy more than a few are seizing the moment to paint individual liberty and anything close to it as "dangerous." The right to arm oneself, the right to free speech, the corollary of open political discourse, the right to free assembly, and so on. In the wake of the Giffords shooting, inalienable freedoms are today being tagged either directly or indirectly as dangerous.

More dangerous than the bullets fired by mentally unstable men or women, however -- the real danger, if you will -- are the arguments and thoughts of those who would capitalize on tragic events to lay groundwork for the removal of rights and liberties from free men and women.

Enter William Galston at The New Republic, via Frum Forum, making the case for involuntary treatment and commitment of the "mentally disturbed," which early reports indicate accused shooter Jared Loughner certainly is. Galston's motive is security and he argues for these two changes to law.
First, those who acquire credible evidence of an individual’s mental disturbance should be required to report it to both law enforcement authorities and the courts, and the legal jeopardy for failing to do so should be tough enough to ensure compliance. [...]

Second, the law should no longer require, as a condition of involuntary incarceration, that seriously disturbed individuals constitute a danger to themselves or others, let alone a “substantial” or “imminent” danger, as many states do. A delusional loss of contact with reality should be enough to trigger a process that starts with multiple offers of voluntary assistance and ends with involuntary treatment, including commitment if necessary.
Galston's argument is without doubt the most dangerous idea yet to float to the surface in the wake of the Giffords shooting. Readers should note that the proposed amendments have the greatest potential for harm when used in concert: coercion to report mental disturbance + forcible incarceration based on delusion alone.

If this equation does not illustrate the danger of Galston's preferences, here are some explicit reasons why Galston's amendments need to be flushed.
  1. Mandatory disclosure overrides patient-doctor confidentiality, which upends privacy law. There is no need to inform the armed branches of the state about the mental state of citizens who pose no imminent threat to themselves or anyone else. The deal on the table is to exchange privacy all the time for the off chance that the state may be able to protect you from a delusional individual at some point in the future. Run away now.

  2. Even if armed with knowledge about who's less than stable mentally, there is no guarantee whatsoever that police are going to be able to stop a mentally disturbed person from committing a crime. We all know that when seconds count the police are only minutes away. So what are police going to do? Monitor mental cases 24/7/365? Put tracking ankle bracelets on them or implant tracking devices under their skin? Or would they simply incarcerate each and every person reported to them via psychologists and psychiatrists? My bet is on the easiest route with potentially lower overall cost and the least risk to officers: confinement. Hence the nefarious power of Gaston's forcible incarceration.

  3. Definitions are powerful. He who gets to decide the scope of the terms decides, by Galston's terms, who gets drugged and committed. So, who defines concepts such as "mental illness" or "delusional" or "credible evidence of mental disturbance?" Richard Dawkins, for example, like all totalitarian dictators of the twentieth century, considers religious belief patently delusional. His New Athiest comrade, Sam Harris, considers religious teaching to children a form of child abuse. Zealots on either side of the political spectrum sometimes seriously consider their opponents to mentally disturbed, delusional, even evil. Totalitarians regard political dissenters to be a threat to the public good. Some neo-liberals consider watching Fox News or believing in Creation to be evidence of being a few fries short of a happy meal. The Trojan horse of Galston's argument is terminology. With very slight tweaks in the scope of the relevant terms there can then be violations of religious and political freedom the ramifications of which Americans have seen only on foreign soil, but which Galston seems to have either forgotten or is willing to risk bringing to America.
So it is that tomorrow, under Galston's law, the very same people pointing fingers and toes at Sarah Palin and conservatives today would have the tools at their disposal to institutionalize those they consider mentally disturbed and make Fox News illegal. I'm sure that sounds fantastic to some but history tells us these sort of ideas are the most dangerous of all, for they lay a foundation that evil men leverage to crush political dissent, religious freedom and general liberty.

I hope and pray the Giffords tragedy will not go down in history as a turning point in the freedoms and rights of Americans. I suspect if you could ask Ms. Giffords today, she'd say much the same.

Update: ElRushbo strikes again. A teaser:
It was interesting on Good Morning America today, and it was interesting what wasn't in the New York Times today that they no doubt heard, that they edited out. [...]

This morning on Good Morning America a portion of an interview Ashleigh Banfield did with Zach Osler, who is a high school friend of the shooter Jared Loughner.  Ashleigh Banfield: "What was his motive in Saturday's attack and what about the speculation that he may have been fueled by partisan politics and rhetoric in the media?"

OSLER: He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn't listen to political radio. He didn't take sides. He wasn't on the left; he wasn't on the right.

RUSH: Doesn't that kind of debunk virtually all speculation that we have heard since 30 minutes after the shooting on Saturday in the media?

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