Monday December 31st, 2012
Do the Mentally Ill Need Locked Up? (James E. Miller)
In the weeks following the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy, the usual cadre of intellectuals spilled their insight on the opinion pages and television cameras across the nation and shared what they thought were meaningful solutions. The most inane of these answers was for state officials to boost their efforts to disarm society. The fact that the deranged shooter blasted his way into a decreed "gun-free" zone and went about murdering helpless innocents is lost on these anti-firearm observers. Then again, logic has never been a strong point of government apologists.

Not all commentators have focused on banning those objects incapable of thought and action. A few have their sights aimed at the mental state of shooter Adam Lanza and how allowing decidedly unhinged people to exercise their freedom poses a grave risk to the public as a whole. Former psychiatrist and leftist-turned-neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer is leading the persecution. In a recent Washington Post editorial, he writes that while poverty has been in decline over the past half-century, the homeless population remains comparatively high as a "majority of those sleeping on grates are mentally ill." Because a "tiny percentage of the mentally ill become mass killers," Dr. Krauthammer suggests that more of those diagnosed with mental impairment be forcibly committed to live out their lives in psychiatric institutions. In his words, it's time to stop letting them "die with their rights on."

Not only does Krauthammer's response undermine the personhoods of the mentally ill, but it is the type of resolution that runs in contrary to any fathom of limited government thought.

It's interesting how the doctor takes to mocking the "rights" of human beings as if respecting them is sentence of death. This is terribly incorrect. The recognition of self ownership in men falls within the law of nature humans live under. Death is a part of life but not the direct result of freedom. Even in the freest society or the most totalitarian, morality will inevitably make its presence known.

Treating anyone with the ability to reason like a beast that needs to be forcibly locked up is a crime. It is of little matter how pitiful their rationale may seem, those mentally deranged are still capable of calculating how to move about the world in a manner most fitting to themselves. In other words, they strive to live and meet ends. Should this result in the aggressions or theft, then there is a case to be made in punishing the perpetrator; but never before.

Dr. Krauthammer's suggestion doesn't just rest on the side of heinousness; it opens the floodgates to a society where those deemed too eccentric are put away for good. In 2011, one in five Americans experienced a mental illness according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Locking up this amount of people is hardly something that can be accomplished in a systematic and safe manner. There would conceivably be a tremendous burst of outrage as 20% of the population is stuffed into tiny rooms with bars.

With lax protections available for the mentally ill, the issue then becomes who is qualified to order someone be kept away indefinitely. In a society marked by the existence of the state, it would be a government-licensed doctor with his head filled with pro-authority evangelism. Such power is the opening of Pandora's Box of savage totalitarianism. After all, nobody with a conscience finds pleasure in imprisoning the innocent. Those drawn to the profession would see their cause as being justified and needed. The eagerness they bring to the job as decider of fates would work itself into rash decisions. The man with an unconscious twitch could be determined to be shooting an ungrateful eye at his authoritative examiner. Any motivation to buck societal norms would be stamped out for fear of warranting a sentence of confinement.

The government's distinct method of assuring safety has always resulted in appalling and dangerous outcomes. This includes sexual perverts hired to frisk airline travelers, the militarization of law enforcement, countless cases of police brutality, and the murder of thousands of innocents in the War on preventative Terror. Encouraging bureaucrats to label, sort, and incarcerate the mentally ill is likely to yield the same distasteful consequences.

The truth is, a perfectly functioning society would be an unnatural place for humans to reside. Like all attempts at coercive egalitarianism, the ridding of the streets of the mentally ill is a crime against nature. It is the placing of violent authority in one man over another against the wishes of the victim. For all his denunciations of statist social engineering, Krauthammer has proven himself a great admirer of state power.

In this writer's humble opinion, if the mentally ill are to be locked up, there is no reason not to apply the same treatment to the sociopaths, warmongers, coercive environmentalists, socialists, and degenerates that occupy state legislating bodies and the litany of executive branch agencies which plague the free world. After all, these are the people who find a need to control society through the barrel of a gun. They commit transgressions against freedom but see no justice because they do so under the banner of the state. These people, not the bum sleeping on a street, are in desperate need of being barred from civilized society.

H.L. Mencken once wrote that “justice, in fact, is always unpopular” especially in the context of democracy where the common man seeks protection no matter the slow knife taken to liberty's throat. The unfortunate reality is that the mentally ill are more often than not seen as a burden on society. Their eccentric behavior defies basic social norms and customs. The average man would much rather vanquish them from the Earth instead of acknowledging their existence.

Attempting to live in a society devoid of social irregularities is a wishful pipe dream. Trying to create a promise land by locking hordes of the mentally ill is a turning of morality on its head. Like it or not, they are thinking individuals worthy of their rights.

As the famous dictum by German pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller goes:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Totalitarian regimes have a history of locking up political dissidents under the auspices of them being mentally ill. If the truly deranged are not treated in accordance to the rights that are universal in all men, then there is little in the way of protest to be launched if swarms of the public are rounded up under the pretense of security. Justice is always forsaken at the first sign of ceding to violence and liberty dies a slow death under Dr. Krauthammer's intent. But as an enthusiast of the warfare state, true human freedom has never been the good doctor's desire.
James E. Miller holds a BS in public administration with a minor in business from Shippensburg University, PA. He is the Editor in Chief at the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada and a current contributor to his hometown newspaper, the Middletown Press and Journal. He currently works in Washington D.C. as a copywriter.