Would-be political assassin Jared Lee Loughner, a fan of the Above Top Secret
web site, has an abiding interest in the subject of mind control. Like most other conspiracy buffs, he defines that term loosely: He considers the expression of any opinion contrary to his own to be the equivalent of brainwashing. Predictably, his fellow buffs now suspect him of being an "MKULTRA" assassin.
Based on what evidence?
Before you answer, take a look at Loughner's internet postings. His writing style demonstrates schizophasia, popularly called word salad
It is characterized by an apparently confused usage of words with no apparent meaning or relationship attached to them. In this context, it is considered to be a symptom of a formal thought disorder. In some cases schizophasia can be a sign of asymptomatic schizophrenia; e.g. the question "Why do people believe in God?" could elicit a response consisting of a series of words commonly associated with religion or prayer but strung together with no regard to language rules.
If Loughner is schizophrenic
-- a safe bet
-- then he probably would not be a good subject for hypnosis. Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a recognized expert in the field, has argued that schizophrenics cannot be hypnotized. That opinion appears to be commonly held, although some professionals disagree. (A few assert that placing schizophrenics under hypnosis is possible but dangerous.)
If schizophrenics cannot be hypnotized, then the whole notion of Loughner as a hypno-programmed "MKULTRA assassin" stands exposed as a silly fantasy offered up by conspiracy-crazed reactionaries desperate to distance themselves from the violence committed by one of their own. Myiq at the Confluence
links to this story
by William Galston of The New Republic
, which brings us a bit closer to the hard truth of the matter:
Starting in the 1970s, civil libertarians worked to eliminate involuntary commitment or, that failing, to raise the standards and burden of proof so high that few individuals would meet it. Important decisions by the Supreme Court and subordinate courts gave individuals new protections, including a constitutional right to refuse psychotropic medication. A few states have tried to push back in constitutionally acceptable ways, but efforts such as California’s Laura’s Law, designed to make it easier to force patients to take medication, have been stymied by civil rights concerns and lack of funding.
Although this passage contains some accurate information, Galston gives the impression that deinstitutionalization of the mentally unstable was a liberal
idea. It was anything but.
This tragic story goes back to the 1940s and 1950s, when various investigative reports, films, dramas and novels sensitized the American public to the sad conditions prevailing in many mental hospitals. These institutions were funded -- in too many cases, under
-funded -- at the county and state level. Responding to these concerns, the Kennedy administration initiated a program designed to move patients out of mental institutions and into an outpatient program overseen by federally-financed community care clinics.
Conservatives supported the idea of closing down asylums, but they did not want to spend money on outpatient care. Many accepted the bizarre views of Dr. Thomas Szaz, a libertarian who argued that mental illness does not exist. Similarly, R.D. Laing argued that schizophrenia was simply a mystical state of awareness, much like an LSD trip. Inane arguments of this sort proved useful to right-wingers who, for ideological reasons, have always opposed spending money on the less fortunate.
After JFK’s death, federal funding for mental health care ran into severe obstacles, including a particularly bizarre propaganda campaign mounted by conservatives. On the radio and in newsletters, right-wingers screeched that all attempts to provide humane aftercare for the mentally unstable were actually Soviet conspiracies perpetrated by Marxists in Washington. The fraudulence of this (now largely forgotten) propaganda effort was exposed in an article titled “The Far Right’s Fight Against Mental Health," published in the January 26, 1966 issue of Look
(In the years since, we've seen a steady stream of these ridiculous agit-prop campaigns, which, alas, soon plummet down the memory hole. Fifty years from now, will anyone recall that the teabaggers once tried to frighten the citizenry with the specter of Obamacare "death panels"?)
In short and in sum: We should blame the right, not the left, for the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill -- and we must not allow today's conservatives to rewrite that history. The fact that The New Republic
attempted such a rewrite tells us much about that publication, which some wags have called The Newly Republican
I will grant that the left does deserve a share of the blame. Half-a-century ago, many liberals were desperate to close the "snake pits" and thus accepted the presumption that a disease such as schizophrenia is treatable on an outpatient basis. As a matter of obdurate fact, schizophrenics usually avoid treatment unless compelled. What was and remains needed is a reformed program of institutionalization, properly funded, with a publicly-accountable body overseeing the patients' rights.
That outcome isn't likely.
Even if a hundred Jared Lee Loughners were to commit atrocities over the next hundred days, conservatives would still prevent the expenditure of public money on care for those who cannot function as their own masters. As long as the virus of libertarianism continues to infect our national discourse -- as long as the Grover Norquists among us continue to send government services spinning down that well-known bathtub drain -- people with serious mental illnesses will afflict their families until tossed into the streets. Many homeless schizophrenics will die of exposure to the elements; others will be warehoused in prisons unequipped to offer treatment.
We Americans treat our mad abominably. Our willingness to do so is a sign of our national degeneracy.