Saturday, April 21, 2007

What Happens When The Left Lets Lose The Loonies

It took four days, but commentators are at last beginning to say some very sensible and interesting things about the implications of the Virginia Tech massacre.

Actually, I shouldn't complain about the delay. It takes time for facts to emerge in these cases, and the best commentary on the news emerges out of these detailed facts and cannot simply be read off from one's previous knowledge at the moment a story breaks.

In this case, the relevant facts are the history of the Virginia Tech killer, who provided plenty of warning that he was dangerously unstable, malevolent, and likely to engage in violence—but who was allowed to stay on campus and was carefully coddled by university administrators.

Peggy Noonan captures this in a column in which she points out the lack of "adult" leadership by university administrators and makes a wider point: "With all the therapy in our great therapized nation, with all our devotion to emotions and feelings, one senses we are becoming a colder culture, and a colder country."

As usual, Noonan is operating on the sense-of-life level and is not able to put her observations into very exact terms. When she says that the culture is "colder," what she is identifying is that the culture has become indifferent to questions of good and evil, because the subjectivism of modern psychology seeks to erase morality.

Charles Krauthammer—who has the advantage of a background as a clinical psychiatrist—puts this issue very nicely when he writes that the political issue in this case "is not gun control but psychosis control." He goes on to describe how, under the influence of subjectivism, our society has legally disarmed itself in dealing with the dangerously insane.

But the best article on this issue is the one below, because it is the one that really focuses on the de-institutionalization of the dangerously insane and on the philosophical premise behind that trend: the "moral disempowerment of sanity."

If the Virginia Tech killer was a "ticking time bomb," he was left to wander around unmolested by the authorities because of the subjectivist ideas of modern philosophers. It is this subjectivist philosophy that is the real ticking time bomb, a danger that always threatens to blow apart the foundations of civilization.

"Campus Massacre: We Let Loose the Loonies," Rich Lowry, New York Post, April 20 In early 21st-century America, what do you do when you encounter a severely mentally ill person?
Anyone who lives in the city knows the answer to that question—you step around him on the sidewalk; you hope he doesn't hassle you; maybe you give him some money.

The authorities at Virginia Tech did their own version of this urban shuffle in their handling of Cho Seung-Hui….

That's a microcosm of how we've handled many of the mentally ill during the great deinstitutionalization of the past 30 years, when they've been left to their own devices—and often to the streets or prison—rather than treated.

There are many reasons for this—the rise of psychotropic drugs, budget cuts, expanded conceptions of civil rights—but one intellectual current behind the trend was a moral disempowerment of sanity. One of the most influential academics of the late 20th century, Michel Foucault, argued that attempts to label and treat madness were inherently arbitrary and repressive. Academia has been celebrating "transgression" ever since….

Behind some of the plaints of Virginia Tech staff that nothing could be done about Cho, you can hear the undercurrent: who were we to judge?

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