They tyranny of the insane
: Elizabeth Smart never should have been kidnapped. The criminally insane man who took her should have been treated long ago, for he was clearly dangerous, clearly nuts, blathering on the streets and — according to the Nth morning-show interview — harming his own family. But he was not treated. He was left to live on our streets and ultimately harm our children.
That is because, in this country, we have a self-destructive, hands-off attitude toward the insane, a skewed and ultimately inhuman attitude that treatment is somehow bad for them and that letting them live in their fetid pool of madness is somehow good for them, somehow their right. We fear Marat Sade and Cuckoo’s Nest and the gulag; we still think that shrinks in white coats armed with electricity and needles and court orders will imprison us in padded cells. But the truth is that the insane already are prisoners of their insanity.
And we, too, are prisoners of their insanity.
In New York, now that Guliani is gone, the insane are back on the streets.
They are not the “homeless.” Especially now, in our near-depression, it’s time that we separate the truly homeless — the too-poor — from the insane and the insane from the dangerously insane. They are not all the same.
And we need to recognize that the dangerously insane are a problem that must be dealt with. They are a threat. Ask the Smart family. Ask the family of the woman whose head was bashed in by a brick from a nut on the streets of Manhattan. Ask me about the squeegee thugs who attacked my car, sending my wife into premature labor 11 years ago. Ask the guy sleeping on the subway in his own stench — but you can’t ask him, because he’s insane, he doesn’t grasp reality. Yet we do ask him; we treat him only if he agrees. But he’s too insane to understand and agree. This isn’t Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s Catch 22.
When I lived in California, a colleague of mine went off his lithium and was soon found running naked in the woods of Monterey and threatening his loved ones. We tried to get him committed. But, of course, the law said that we could not until he had already harmed himself or another. So he wasted more of his life until he finally got back on his medication and returned to normal and to his forgiving loved ones. He could have and should have been treated far earlier. But our laws and fears don’t allow it. Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper could have and should have been treated; Elizabeth should never have been harmed; but our laws didn’t protect her.
We are ill-serving the insane, for we are not treating them. We ignore them, looking at them like sacred cows wandering the streets, as if there is something slightly mystical — instead of simply sick — about them.
We are ill-serving the truly homeless, for in our minds, they are now lumped in with the nuts on the street; they are treated as if they, too, are hopeless cases to be ignored when a little support can bring them back to productive life.
We are ill-serving ourselves, for we are are allowing ourselves and our children to be threatened by the dangerously insane and untreated.
It is time to change our attitude and our laws and treat the insane of the streets, for their good and for ours.