Wednesday, August 14, 2013

lynch mobs for the mentally ill

It happens all the time. Someone breaks the social contract, and the mobs descend like mad dogs, ready to run 'em outta town. Sometimes, they literally want them out of town. Sometimes, the result is just social ostracization. Either way, that person is outta here.

A man camps out on the mountain near my town, on BLM land that's never patrolled. He comes into town, asking for work to feed his wife and kid, who - if you ask him - are on their way to Bolivia. Or they're waiting in El Paso for him to send money. Or they're just around the bend. It doesn't matter: he believes everything he says, even the things he screams. No matter that he's screaming into cars as they pause at the stop sign where he stands. People in town share pictures with each other on Facebook - his piles of trash near where he camps, his dead dog who's still around - plenty of speculation about how the dog died. No food, no water, tied to a tree - at least that's what they say. It might be true. In the picture, the dog has been dead for a long time, a slow meal for scavengers. It's fucking horrifying. Others report being attacked by him. Stabbed, even. Have they called the police? No clear answers on that one.

The mob formed online. Someone wanted to write a petition to get him removed from town. Others didn't care how it happened, they just wanted him out. 'He's a danger - get him out of our town!' No thought for his humanity; no thought for his free will or right to self-determination; no thought, even, for the next town in his path.

I said, "A petition against what? To do what? I get that he's a danger/etc, but what exactly is a petition supposed to do? Run him out of town with its 'official paper'-ness? I don't know the guy, but he doesn't sound like his mental faculties are all there. How about finding out what we can do to get him the help he seems to need?"

Another individual and I found the information on how to get the man help - to have him undergo mental health screening and potentially be hospitalized either voluntarily or by court order; I asked if anyone would be willing to write a statement about the man's behavior. They wouldn't have to do anything else. I'd submit the application for them. So far, silence. 

It was hellfire and brimstone until someone stepped up to offer another solution, a solution that recognizes the man's humanity and his affliction. Mental illness and the behaviors is causes are not personality traits. Mental illness is an illness, which means it can potentially be treated. There are so many physical ailments which alter behavior, but we excuse those. The next step is to recognize the physical nature of mental illness, and treat our ill accordingly. 


  1. Fear wants violence. It is an old anti-logic that works at all levels of society. Hence the idea that, post 9-11 "examining our relationship with the Muslim world" is a completely traitorous and insanely unsupportable idea, and "kill all of just the right ones and the problem will be solved," is widely accepted to be a level headed and practical course. We have measurable results from this strategy, Vietnam's aftermath, the "winning endstates" in Afghanistan and Iraq. These crappy results from attempting to target ideologies the way we used to target uniformed armies of organized state actors seem to have no impact on our thinking. I think it is because fear fundamentally dislodges us from reason. The great irony is that we want to make our enemies fear us even more than we fear them after they have attacked us. What we fail to note is that when we feel that way, we want to kill a lot of people in order to make ourselves feel safe again. When they kill us, we NEVER feel like just calming down and shutting the fuck up. So we kill em back, and they continue to feel like killing us, but even more. So---ummm--it's working?

    The reasonable response to a threat, that actually contains consideration of the idea that there are human psyches inside the threat itself, real people that have motivations and incentives, that reasonable approach seems crazy when one is gripped by fear. The funny part is that our fear is borne out of the idea that that person, or persons, cannot be reasoned with. That like us, that entity can only be successfully engaged by total destruction.

    What we fear is that The Enemy feels as unreasonably violent as we do. Hmmm.

  2. Thank you my dear for being the voice of reason in such a dark and disparing time. It truly is sad that rather than showing this person some kindness they see him as a problem to be thrown out with the trash. How would they feel if it was their family that needed the help and instead was treated this way. Unfortunately being the voice of reason isn't always the popular position, but it is the responsible one.