Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Learning from Tragedy

When tragedy strikes, people go for their standard templates. If you are a liberal, the problem is thunder on the right and the answer is gun control. If you are a conservative, the problem is the welfare state and the answer is smaller government.

As as conservative, my template looks for a failure in the expert-led centralized bureaucratic administrative welfare state. Yeah! How come nobody did something to stop this kid Jared Lee Loughner before he killed? It's not as if he hadn't been a problem and hadn't became a person of interest to a number of government bureaucracies.

The chaps at The New York Times today are wittering on about experts-this and experts-that: "Red Flags at a College, but Tied Hands," writes Benedict Carey.

“It wasn’t a case of ‘Gee, no one saw this coming,’ ” Dr. Borum said. “People saw it. But the question then was what do you do about it? Who do you call? The whole thing speaks to the need for some coordinated way to detect such threats.”

See what's coming here? We need a new administrative system of experts to detect and deal with the threat of a paranoid killer. Fully funded and credentialed, of course. Not to say pensioned.

But I wonder. I wonder about the limits of government to solve social problems. We are talking about the whole question of freedom.

The meaning of freedom, if it means anything, is that people have a right to make mistakes. We say that there should be no prior restraint on the actions of normal humans just because, according to scientists, they might be a problem. Liberals are big on this, and rightly so. They point to the sorry record of lunatic asylums, psychiatric hospitals, electroshock, lobotomies, and psycho-active drugs. If you are going to restrain a dangerous person, where do you draw the line?

There's another thing. When a paranoid person kills a national politician it is national news. Everybody demands that something be done. But how often does a paranoid kill a non-public figure? What are the numbers on that? And what could we actually do to reduce the incidence of killings by people with mental illness?

Of course, my template is that the bureaucratic method is not a good way to deal with these issues, because they are not a question of rules and tests and procedure. They are a question of social relations, and that means that they are moral and cultural questions. I believe we need to rediscover and restore a moral community in our "little platoons" that can deal with people at the edge of sanity, and reclaim such people back into the human community. I think that the institutionalization of modern people, starting in kindergarten or before, is a big question mark. What does it do to a human being to be incarcerated in bureaucratic government institutions right through their childhood, and then delivered to big business bureaucracies when they are adults?

You could say that in the modern era we don't socialize people, we bureaucratize them.

Any ideas on that, you experts? I know. More research is needed.

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