On The Questionable Wisdom Of Pathologizing Criminality

I’m numb with all of the media diagnosing of the Arizona killer going on. Just imagine, he’s not being convicted by the press, he’s being diagnosed. Do you want to know what’s wrong with the mental health/illness system? Given one incident such as this one, all sorts of people are saying the man was “sick”. Our state hospitals are filled with people who would be better off somewhere else all because of the kind of over zealous over reaction you get to the perpetuation of these violent incidents. For every Jared Loughner in the world, there are thousands of people imprisoned in state hospitals across the land. Those people are imprisoned there primarily because of the media frenzy and public outcry over a matter such as the one we are discussing. This one man has managed to dominate the mental health news coverage in all 50 states of the union and beyond. If he had not targeted a politician and her followers this wouldn’t be the case. The story would have been much smaller, and would probably not have made the front pages in most places. I have a feeling that Jared in a way achieved his objective. Killing was his way into instant celebrity status. He can now read about himself for hours every day of the week.

The obvious point has been made that this kind of media reaction is going to increase the “stigma” attached to people labeled “mentally ill”. It is certainly prejudicial. Rather than holding the gun man accountable for his actions, people are going to say that he was “medically sick” and in need of “help”. This is another reason either to pump more money into the relatively ineffective and broken mental health system, or to make mental health law tougher, and suspending constitutional protections even further, more restrictive. Both solutions aren’t likely to completely materialize. Given the economic crisis from which the nation hasn’t totally recovered, the country doesn’t have the money to throw away on low priority mental health “care”. On top of which, the laws governing mental health in Arizona are some of the strictest in the country. Tighten them any further, and you’re going to have to lock up even more innocent and non-violent victims of these absurd laws based primarily on social intolerance.

When are we going to stop becoming a nation of refugees from the notion of personal responsibility? This notion of responsibility is a fitting complement and adjunct to the notion of liberty. Should people as individuals not be held personally accountable for their actions, then we have to blame them as members of a group. When you blame a group you are skirting the issue of responsibility. The crime was committed by an individual, and it was not committed by a group. Jared Lee Loughner was guilty of the crime of premeditated murder. It’s kind of difficult to put forward a plea of innocent by reason of insanity when all the evidence points to you planning the crime, and then executing your plans. People labeled “insane” are usually too disorganized and too disoriented to pull that kind of thing off successfully. Jared’s crime is not a good excuse to further violate the rights and freedoms of an entire segment of society. He committed his crimes alone, and he alone should be the person to pay the price for having committed those crimes. Excusing him, acquitting him, on account of his eccentric fashion, faulty upbringing, and troubled past is as absurd as it sounds. Using him as an excuse to lock up innocent people for having hard times is not going to make this world any safer than it was before. We will always have to be looking over our shoulders for the growing number of people managing to “slip through the cracks” in the new medical political dictatorship we have managed to create. Catching criminals before they commit their crimes is a much harder thing to do than you may happen to suppose. This is going to be a very daunting task, even if we call such pre-criminal behavior “mental illness”.