Analogies Regarding Who Matters

Black Lives Matter is overreacting. Why are they protesting in such damaging ways.? It isn’t helping their cause at all. They haven’t even finished their investigation. Why can’t they wait for the facts before condemning the police? You can’t condemn all police for what  one or two do. 99% of all police do a wonderful job of protecting and serving their communities. All lives matter.

Those are among the more civilized responses to black protests of police brutality. There are other, much less civil responses that most of you know and I won’t go into them here. If you like, comment that you wish me to go there and I will. But for now let’s concentrate on why most white people don’t understand Black Lives matter protests. I myself don’t fully understand and as a white person can’t fully understand. I want to look at why.

If you have never removed a dead body from a crime scene you can speculate on what it feels like. You can empathize in the most humble and sensitive way. But you will still never know how it really feels. Only the medical examiner and their staff truly know. They are privileged. They have medical examiner privilege. They are able to cross the yellow tape of a crime scene and you aren’t. They are allowed to carry a dead body to the medical examiner’s van and you aren’t. They are allowed to carry the body into the morgue and you aren’t. Even if you are given permission to carry a dead body to the morgue or do it yourself unilaterally they are going to do everything in their power to prevent you from doing so because that is their job and always has been.

They have privilege but I’m sure they have never thought about it in that way. But if you make a good case for letting you transport, and reveal that it is privilege that is stopping you you are met with anger. How dare you call me privileged. I work hard being a public servant. You make a good case for your issue; you go to the media and ask why you can’t transport a corpse to the morgue when you are already at the crime scene with your van, and the forensics people are done, and the media decide it’s not a newsworthy event.

The people gathered ask why you want this particular body when what you told the media was that all bodies could be transported by concerned citizens. Even when you ask the police for permission to take the body they tell you you aren’t allowed to and besides, the medical examiner’s van and people are already here. They brusquely push you back behind the yellow tape.

People are outraged that you would even ask to do such a thing. Everybody knows that it is the medical examiner’s job. The next day you tell the media that your concerns haven’t been listened to and you surround the morgue with your supporters, arms locked together, and do not let any dead bodies in or out. People are outraged that dead bodies are going be left to fester out in the street and nobody will be able to walk to where they are going without either smelling death or going out of their way. What if someone from a rich family dies and they insist the police arrest the protesters because they want their relative embalmed immediately.

Aren’t the protesters going overboard? Aren’t they being idiots and hurting their cause by over reacting to one crime scene incident? Aren’t they being criminal in making innocent citizens late for work and appointments? Aren’t they threatening the vital needs of important people? Some would say so. Some would say they are ruining their chances to be heard.

What the protesters are doing is what they feel they must do to make society recognize that they are serious about this issue and want active and honest dialogue about the issue. They are tired of being subject to medical examiner privilege, even if everyone is unaware that it even exists. And no, the medical examine isn’t responsible for his privilege. He has just always had it. The mayor isn’t a bad person for not recognizing the privilege. The mayor is always looking for things that hurt the people but this one is invisible, and may not even be legal.

What the protesters want is for the people in power to simply understand their issue and support their right to petition to change policy, allowing anyone, under certain circumstances, to transport bodies to the morgue. Let the process work and bring applicable laws  before the courts. Don’t squash the issue simply because it might not be vitally important. Serve the people like your job description indicates

Now this is a ridiculous analogy but I think it gives us a vague approximation of the dynamic of my point. In this instance the protesters aren’t blaming the individual trained medical examiner employees, who are there to carry the body to the morgue, for having the privilege of transporting that body, even though the examiners enjoy that privilege. The employees in that van are only symptom of the problem. The real problem, to the protesters, is that the issue is systemic, institutional. The medical examiner has always been the only one allowed to transport dead bodies, and they have been supported by government and the people for years without ever giving regular citizens the chance to do so. The protesters  are serious about the issue, believe it is vital to the health of the city and want to make government and the people face it head on and do something about it.

I do apologize for this poor analogy. But it addresses, somewhat inadequately, the often complex relationship between the individual person or action and the group/society that I believe is germane to this issue. Most human issues, when boiled down to their essence, involve some aspect of the rights, duties, privileges and responsibilities of the individual and those of society, the two in conflict. What makes this issue so difficult is that there is confusion, sometimes on both sides, but more often on the side of privilege on who and what is involved in the essential issue at hand. Who is to blame, the system or the individual actor?

In this case of protest it is not the individual actor being blamed, even if he is a bad actor and is booed off the stage. It is the playwright (the system) and his work, the play, (the situation of privilege) that is the problem. The actor has been given all the good lines and almost all of the time on stage and the chorus (the oppressed) has been given hardly any lines. This ruins the play, but the audience (privileged society) doesn’t know better, because all plays are the same. The chorus knows the play would be better if they had more lines. The audience members are shocked and angered when the chorus asks for more lines. The chorus is determined and desperate, they threaten not to perform the play. The audience is enraged at the chorus and demands the play be the same as it ever was . They blame the chorus for the ruination of the play

And herein is the essential issue. The play has been ruined. But by whom. Is it the oppressed chorus, because of their radical threat. Or is it the playwright and their play (the system and it’s situations of privilege).

The truth is we need both the actor and the chorus. The actor will still be important with less lines and the play will be better with the chorus having more lines. The playwright  must be made to write more balanced plays and show both actor and the chorus that he has evolved. The audience will enjoy the new play better than ever and realize it’s because the playwright has evolved. And who makes the playwright evolve?

The critic (you and me)



Do We Have Room for This Crate Of Kalishnikovs?

I think if people really take a close look at things they will see that the real reason people fight so desperately to keep access to semi automatic weapons is that they want to be the ones with the powerful guns and stockpiles of ammo when the government fails and the country descends into anarchy. And to be honest the chances of that happening are not insignificant.

Yes, economic chaos is a real possibility. Fostered  by the wealthy and powerful fools who control and manipulate our economy, and thus the world’s, through greedy risk taking and egoistic speculation, the whole thing could come crashing down on their, and our own heads any any moment. The resulting domino dynamo that follows will plunge the world into a dark age.

This is only one possibility among many. But instead of brushing it off as conspiracy it is a real enough threat that it must be considered and attempts to prepare for it are not folly. This is the course that the gun hoarding anarchist/survivalists expect and in fact desire. They feel persecuted by a government that oppresses them and won’t allow them the freedoms they think the constitution ensures. They want the chaos, because with the guns and ammo they will turn the tables on the “weak and corrupt” government and will become the rulers, as is their right.

This is the source of the NRA’s fringe hardcore stance on semi automatic weapons. They have no problems with folks owning rifles and handguns under the 2nd amendment for protection because they will either get them to join their merry band or will have superior fire power with which to dominate them. But they absolutely must be able to own as many dangerous weapons as they can find large elaborate glass case for. They have already banded together and have huge stockpiles of powerful weapons. They come from that same government they hate and fear, who has more firepower than it knows what to do with. Yes, we have “well regulated militias” out there. They are not regulated to protect government interests but to suborn them.

Now I don’t have an issue with a man protecting his home in any way he deems fit. And frankly I’m not afraid of the quasi-military organizations and lone wolf survivalists. Egoistically I believe my life skills will be appreciated in a world like that. That ego might get me killed anyway but I have no family save my daughter, who gets it, so I can take the risk. Anyway, I strongly believe their dreams of conquest and vilification of the government will be squashed by a military that still functions amid the madness. That’s what the military is designed to do. It’s superior firepower will prevail, until there nothing more than small pockets of resistance.

Conspiracy theory 101. I’m not above it.

So here is my proposal for the “I’ll show you. I’ll be running this place soon and then you’ll have to answer to me” crowd. Go ahead, have as many AK 47s and AR 15s as you want and a silo full of ammo to boot. have some salvage military weapons, rocket launched grenades and pounds of C4. Go ahead, protect your homestead. Wait lovingly for the apocalypse. But if you take one step over your property line with any semi automatic weapon, including pistols, any military weapon, or even the ammo for such weapons the penalties will be more than draconian. For example, a minimum of 40 years and up to life with no chance for parole. Same for anyone found in public with such a weapon. No license to carry. No concealed carry. How is that for a compromise?

In the event of a nationwide meltdown I’m confident that when these radical Libertarians  go against the semi-organized remnants of police and military forces they will create the battles they have craved, and come out as oppressed as they ever were. The ironic thing is they created the military. They were the ones who wanted America to be strong in the face of its enemies. They wanted drones and cruise missiles and stealth bombers and hardened tanks and everything that will keep them pacified in the chaos. They created  the militarized police forces by insisting that anyone could get a powerful semi automatic rifle, and use them in committing crimes. They screamed that police forces were outgunned. So the police got their own tanks and troop carriers and hand held rocket launchers.

The irony.

So sit and stare at your beautiful gun collection. But don’t you dare bring them anywhere near me.

Like my daddy always said, “keep in in your pants”.

It’s Just Really Wrong

In my last post I complained about what I perceive to be media’s constant promotion of the crisis of the moment and what that entails. This anger was precipitated by the recent mass murder in Isla Vista Ca. by a UCSB student. But the primary cause of my anger has been the portrayal of the perpetrators of many of these cruel and murderous acts as people who are “mentally ill”. Although it is true that many horrible crimes of this nature are committed by people with mental disorders, the manner in which people with mental disorders are portrayed is mostly terribly misinformed, wildly wrong and/or wholly demeaning.

I have a few caveats which I will reveal here. First, I have a severe and persistent mental disorder. This is a clinical term but in essence it means I have a mental disorder from which there is currently no opportunity to recover. My disorder is luckily being managed with medication. Not everyone is so lucky. This circumstance makes me particularly sensitive to the stigmas and false perceptions people like me are constantly subjected to. It most certainly informs my opinions about this issue.

Second, I want to make it perfectly clear that my comments and conclusions about what is happening are in no way, let me repeat, no way, intended to downplay, deflect attention from, deny or otherwise diminish the very real causal responsibility of persons with mental disorders, in this and many other events of this type. My issue here is not that the people committing these crimes are mentally disordered. It is in the perception of mental health as a whole, of people with mental disorders and the language used in reference to both that informs my expression.

As time passes it becomes more universally accepted that mental disorders are primarily caused by physical dysfunction of the brain. This can be from traumatic brain injury, from chemical imbalances in the brain, from chemical addictions that affect certain areas of the brain, from genetic deficits, and from other factors that influence brain function. However, the cruel distortions of information about mental disorders and those who suffer with them remain alive, often strengthened by the decades of stigmas built from the passing of myths from generation to generation. We also have an unfortunate history of insensitivity regarding how these people have been treated, from having parts of their brains removed surgically to being locked in the attics of shamed families.

Many of the distorted perceptions about mentally disordered people remain with us to this day. All to often when people hear the words “mentally ill” they see a picture of a wild-eyed and violent person who sees demons that tell them to do bad things and who must be constrained and sedated. They are referred to with colorful names such as wacko and sicko and nutjob, batshit crazy and psycho. The truly unfortunate thing is that although these representations have been proven to be overwhelmingly false, the stigmatized perceptions remain strongly entrenched among a majority of the populace.

The even more truly unfortunate thing is that the media reinforces these prejudicial perceptions. Especially damaging is the consistent use of pejorative terms like maniac, lunatic, and madman etc. to refer to a person with a mental disorder. Nowhere is this more clear than in the media discussion that universally occurs when a mass murder is perpetrated by an obviously mentally disordered person. They are routinely referred to as deranged, crazy, insane and demented. The term mentally ill is thrown around haphazardly without any qualifications.

As many of these murders are committed by gunmen the inevitable debate centers on the juxtaposition of our second amendment rights versus the right of innocent people to live without being gunned down by “madmen”. Invariably the question is raised in the media that asks how many undeserving innocents need to be murdered before guns are taken away from “mentally ill” people. Panels of experts discuss how various segments of society need to recognize and act on the “warning signs” and “red flags” of mental illness. It is intimated that if we can just take care of the “problem” of mental illness that somehow magically these terrible incidents will cease. A more plausible problem in all of this is the fact that pro gun rights groups such as the NRA use this “mental health” solution as a way of deflecting scrutiny from the proliferation of guns with the capabilities of massive mayhem, and the easy access to them.

I am under no illusions that citing facts will do much to change the perceptions and judgements of many of the very people who need them to change, but I feel compelled to say something about it. Let me try to give you my take on all this without getting too emotional. And then let me offer some opinions I feel may help address the crucial social issue of the escalating frequency and severity of acts of mass violence.

1. A very small percentage of people with mental disorders are violent and represent a real threat to society. An overwhelming majority of “crazy” people present no threat of harm to anyone.

2. The people we must actually be afraid of are those who demonstrate a real potential to be a danger to themselves and others. These people represent a small percentage of the mentally disordered but comprise a large percentage of those who commit these crimes. It is less difficult to identify these people than many of us think. Mental health professionals can often recognize these tendencies, even in the young.

3. One dangerous segment of the population are those who unreasonably feel persecuted or shunned. Whatever it is that causes their suffering they cannot help but blame others. When the pain becomes too great they lash out at those they feel have wronged them. There are people who have hallucinations that tell them that some person or group of people is responsible for their misery and must be eliminated. But these people are few and far between.

4. A particularly dangerous segment of society are those with severe antisocial personality disorder, more commonly known as sociopaths. These people display little or no compassion for anyone else and are singularly concerned with fulfilling their own desires to the exclusion of everything else. They can be exceedingly dangerous in that they are very intelligent and can conceal the severity of their antisocial tendencies from scrutiny. They can plan and execute elaborate schemes and can elude law enforcement for long periods of time. They can affect any type of personality and behavior they feel will help them accomplish their ends. They normally have complete disdain for anyone who interferes with their selfish goals and have no remorse in removing them as obstacles in any way they find expedient. It is from this sliver of society that I feel many of these so-called “maniacs” come from. Yes, they are severely mentally disturbed. And yes, there desperately needs to be better ways society can identify and address the unhealthy behavior of those with these disorders, the ones who represent a true danger to society. But the remedies are not so readily simple as some would blithely offer.

What can we do?

I do not claim to have the answers but I do have some ideas. We definitely need to be better informed as a society, across the board, about the real nature of mental disorders and those affected by them. We must fight to educate our citizens, especially our youth, about the truth of these chronic disorders. When I describe my own disorder I tell people there is a part of my body that has an imbalance of substances that make me unable to properly process certain chemical reactions. This problem cannot be cured but can be managed by medications that help me live a “normal” life. Younger people usually tell me they are sad my body is broke but glad that the doctors can make it better. They could care less about which part of my body isn’t working like its supposed to. They only care that my life isn’t ruined by it. Adults invariably say “You must have Diabetes”. And Diabetes is similar to Bi-Polar Disorder in those aspects. When I tell those adults that no, it isn’t Diabetes, and they learn the truth many of them give me one of those “Come on don’t mess with me” looks. But they often get a little sheepish when they realize what I am really saying. Mental disorders are primarily chronic physical diseases, as much as Crohn’s Disease or Psoriasis. But they are just not perceived in the same way. These false perceptions must be changed. As with any cycle of misinformation and dysfunction the first cracks and eventual first breaks in the circle are the hardest to realize and are daunting. They must be changed if we are to make any progress in changing hearts and minds.

The rather large elephants, in this case, are the decisions made in the conference rooms of major news to use language that supports the misconceptions and prejudices that surround mental disorders and those who suffer them. As long as people on TV use derogatory language to define mental health and its effects it will be hard to change things. I’m not sure there is a realization that the offensive terminology used to describe people with diagnosed mental disorders is as vile and disgusting as the n word and other pejoratives. There needs to be wholesale sensitivity training for those in the media, training that extends beyond race and gender issues, and also beyond disability issues that are more prominent. If this evolution doesn’t happen the country will continue to be subjected to language that very few people question as inappropriate which perpetuates the misconceptions many Americans have about those of us with chronic mental disorders.

Even when the conversations are not about the mentally disordered, well-meaning adults in the media continue to advance their own, often poorly informed, theories about the why of this violence. They insist that stereotypes such as violent video games and films, suggestive song lyrics, and “politically correct” bans on physical punishment by educators, and the revealing of names and faces of perpetrators are to blame for these murders. While it is true there are correlations between media violence and violent behavior the percentage of youth affected is relatively small and often corresponds with other evidence of violent tendencies in these people. Also, close parental involvement in a child’s life is shown to provide a strong barrier to the deleterious effects of this kind of exposure. So, contrary to the claims of gun advocates, these factors, that are unfortunately broadly accepted, have been shown to have less of a causal relationship to violent crime than has been thought. But they sound quite good in a sound bite, repeated on news broadcasts or in syndicated columns by reporters over and over. For this reason they have found a great deal of traction with the public. Yet even the apparent validity of such proffered causes does not deflect the main focus of blame from the actions of the “lunatics”. Every time there is a mass murder by a “deranged” person the mental health care system is widely discussed, mostly featuring plenty of negativity.

I feel that if we really want to address the sad situation of cultural failure to protect our citizens we will need to venture into some very sensitive areas. As it stands now mental health professionals are only required to reveal personal information about their patients if they break a law. For example, if you tell your therapist that you were depressed because you took heroin they would be compelled to inform the authorities because the use of heroin is illegal. But if you told them you wanted to shoot your mother they would be unable to legally inform law enforcement because of the broad ranging HIPAA law, which protects our health records from being revealed if they are individually identifiable. As with many threats to people’s welfare, law enforcement can only act if a crime has been committed, and not if one is expected or imminent. At this time, in order for us to have any preemptive ability to confront the potential violent actor, the immediate family must get involved. But this raises another example of the stifling effect stigmas have in affecting our ability to help our troubled youth and young adults. Families have responded, out of shame, to the realities of mental health issues within their midst with numb inaction and denial. This familial shame may be even more difficult to overcome than societal prejudices, which are formidable in and of themselves. Also serving as an impediment to the reintroduction of involuntary hospitalization as a viable solution are HIPAA law protections for minors and adolescents over 18. Designed to protect minors from avoiding treatment out of fear of parental reprisals, the law makes it difficult for health professionals to inform families of the fact they find their children potentially dangerous.

So we are left in a position where those who can act are afraid to and those who should act cannot. Those whose job it is to help the disordered have their hands tied when it comes to warning the rest of us. The dangers in allowing mental health professionals to work together with families and law enforcement are real and substantial. The slippery slope argument here is valid. The opportunity for abuse is palpable. The rights of families to protect themselves from intrusion are clear and strong. These factors muddy the waters considerably when we try to make it easier for society to bring those with the potential to harm into the light of day. Without the surety of strong professional medical recommendations to do so, it will be difficult to legislate any effective gun control measures that are not overly broad or ineffectually narrow. And the difficulties in addressing involuntary celibacy are obvious.

It seems that some will do whatever must be done to deny their own complicity in this cancer afflicting our society. The hard fact is, like it or not, that violence is not only an accepted but is the preferred means of conflict resolution in our world. Violence is learned behavior and frankly, an American child learns a great deal about violence well before they ever touch a video game or watch a violent action film. Our young boys learn plenty about misogyny and male privilege at a very young age. When we combine the false legitimacy of violence with guns and hatred for women how can we expect anything other than what we have witnessed. I feel we must accept our own role in creating and nurturing this evil. We must. This is not an easy task. It’s difficult to accept responsibility for such abject horror. But we must.

That the parents of this young man were aware of his danger to society and took measures to provide him with professional help could not prevent his act. That the authorities had interacted with him in a way that should have raised cause for alarm did not result in a good outcome. We feel helpless. Yet we seem not quite willing to do things that help reduce the incidence of these crimes.

There must be some way to make it legal to prevent someone with the inclination to do harm from being allowed to own a firearm without them first committing a crime. Yet there must also be a way to protect that same person’s sensitive health information privacy. There must be a way to involve parents and provide them with resources and help they need to intervene on behalf of their children. At the same time an adolescent must be safe from parental abuse. There must be a way to get all of us to accept our role in making our world as violent as it is.

This is quite obviously not a simple problem and there is no simple solution. I wish I had the answer that will satisfy everyone but I do not. All I know is the continued escalation in severity and frequency of these damaging acts of violence, that tear into the very fabric of our lives, represents a much greater issue than just guns, mental health, or hatred of women. It has to do with who we are as moral beings, as stewards of our children’s civility, as responsible members of society. It certainly is not a partisan matter nor should debate on the issue center on esoteric interpretations of our constitution. Amid all the seemingly endless discussion and the knowledge of the issue’s complexity one simple truth remains.

It’s just really wrong and we need to change it.