On Sunday night, I went to an old friend's Christmas party, and when I walked in, I suddenly saw a group of New York liberals talking earnestly about the Newtown massacre.
It wasn't exactly a festive topic to be discussing among the Christmas cookies and twinkling tree ornaments and mulled wine on lacquered trays, but it was what everybody wanted to discuss -- earnestly.
One of the people was very prominent; another was well known and somebody I'd debated with on certain issues and didn't speak to me anymore; the other two I didn't know but were likely well known in their fields.
All of these earnest, good middle-aged and elderly people very piously discussed and reinforced each other in several main theses of the "progressive left":
o We must have more gun control -- the NRA is on the run now after the Obama win and we can get them to change -- it's a travesty that assault weapons with multiple rapid-firing rounds are even on the market at all, how can this be? Wal-mart is to blame once again, they even sell the same weapon that killed these kids in their stores! Let's cut 'em off at the knees with naming and shaming campaigns and boycotts!
o We need to get Obama to step up on this and not be contradictory or weak in facing down the right-wing and its gun lobby -- time to pressure him from the left more and get him to face down these conservatives the way we did with their "war on women".
o These violent videos and Internet games are obviously part of the problem, and this is the fault of the gun lobby and also big weapons manufacturers; these companies all make money off selling violence as a sport and as a veritable foreign policy and we must work against the capitalists who purvey this culture.
I listened for a time and came and went and listened some more. I always marvel at how the left and the liberals don't so much debate or probe questions so much as reiterate and reinforce each other, often with little frowns or pushes at the doubtful to bring them into line. And then I decided to speak.
"Yes, you are right, that we will likely have to have more gun control -- why would anyone but a law-enforcer or soldier need a rapid-firing assault weapon of this type? And how is it possible to buy the ammunition for these weapons of mass death over the Internet."
"And yes, we should ask questions about the exposure of our children to these violent video games and online war games in MMORPGs, but this has First Amendment consequences that we would expect progressives to be attentive to."
"So yes -- you may get your way on gun control and even on ratings or consumer boycotts or some response to violent media in video games and movies."
"But in response, YOU will have to give, TOO. You progressives are going to have to give up some of your hard-held, unbudging positions on certain civil rights matters. And the first of these has to do with mental health."
Immediately, the prominent lefty hastened to seem to agree with me, and cited the need for ObamaCare, and more free mental health care and attention to community mental health issues.
"Oh, no," I objected. "I don't mean what Michael Moore is saying. I don't mean free health care -- that's a separate issue. You don't seem to realize that the real issue of mental health care is the ability to institutionalize those who are a danger to themselves and others."
"The pendulum has to swing back from the 1970s when litigation closed down all the insane asylums. We need to bring back institutions. We can make them humane. We can make them accountable."
I described some of the experience I had had with relatives and friends, families coping with these kinds of impossible children and teenagers who became violent or drug addicted and out of control -- a revolving door of people constantly dumped back out on the community with medications that were sometimes causing worse violence and an impossible burden on families.
The little circle of lefties was silent. Nobody answered me. Nobody believed I was right. Nobody wanted to hear it. Everybody wanted to cling to their "guns and religion," if you will -- their view that only guns, and only the religious right were the problem in this massacre, and nothing else. Nothing else.
I withdrew, because nobody wants to start an argument in a Christmas party, but it was upsetting. Later, the prominent one came up to me and asked a few more questions and also demanded to know what I thought the remedy was -- still looking to blame the absence of ObamaCare and the need for ObamaCare as a prevention of school shootings.
I elaborated and explained of the cases I knew of children put in prison or who had become involved in drugs and whose parents were absolutely beside themselves. I've noticed over the years in the schools and even in my church and playground: when the children are little and cute, the solution tends more to counseling, social work and pharmaceuticals. If only little Johnny can be put on Seroquel or Risperdal or Zyprexa or Concerta or whatever all their names are -- and then maybe a bundle of other pills to offset the effects on the heart and stomach that these powerful drugs cause! -- why, the family will get back to normal.
But when they are older and awkward teenagers and young men and women and not so cute anymore, then the solution becomes prison -- "bar therapy," as I once heard a lawyer describe it. Then they are supposed to be not medicated out of their medical illness, but scared out of it by being exposed to violent multiple offenders with shivs.
The fact of the matter is, I explained to the lefty, that by not conceding that people need to be locked up for mental illness and locked up for longer periods, they were only consigning them to the abuses of prison -- a heavy percentage of inmates these days are mentally ill. All that was happening -- like the removal of housing for the homeless -- was that the problem was displacing to the streets and the emergency rooms and leading to subway pushers.
None of this was convincing to the lefty soul, especially my proposal that the typical 24-hour or 48-hour period that judges would give should be extended to 30 days. It's not just a cost issue -- although that's big -- but the horrific idea for the "progressive" mind that people would lose their freedom for all that time, merely for oh, dressing up Goth, listening to heavy metal, "Interneting while Muslim", playing violent war games.
But that's not what you lock up people for, and you couldn't get a judge to take a case like that or even get a PINS on that basis from Family Court.
What I'm saying is when you have a child or teenager or young adult who becomes violent and threatening and unmanageable, you have to have an institution that can provide a restrictive setting for them. And that *is* what is going to have to happen, in addition to gun control or social limitation (not legal limitation) of violent media.
Seeing my interlocutor was still unconvinced -- there just wasn't a "progressive" angle here especially for prime-time -- I tried once more:
"You're for human rights. You're for being humane. You have covered all these topics of X, Y, Z on the issues of inhumanity. Can't you see that it is inhumane to force families to care for children like this and it is inhumane to make society bear the brunt of the failure of that inadequate family care?"
There is a concerted lobby now trying to disconnect the connection between this massacre and autism. Sadly, I know of a likely 20 sets of experts who aren't so convinced anymore. It's 2012. Not only did the teen from "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" grow up long ago; now the cute kids from numerous endearing and heart-warming stories of hero-parents caring for autistic offspring are growing up to. We're out of the 1990s, when the awareness began to boom about autism, the numbers of diagnoses spiralled, and campaigns began on issues like vaccination or foods. A typical autism self-help manual tells parents to limit TV and game time for their autistic youth.
What happens when the kid is in fact turned over to the Internet and games to be babysat because parents can't cope any more? What happens when they get worse?
It's going to take a concerted effort to get the gun lobbyists to change, and I imagine the left -- which gets all First Amendment on some things but not others -- will have little impact on the video gaming lobby, despite their effort to try to tie it ideologically to the military-industrial complex.
But what also has to be done is for the left to move on its sacred cow of freedom for the mentally ill to act out their violent impulses without restraint in the name of protecting civil liberties. We all know that the "community health care" concept is completely in tatters and never functioned as they believed for most cases. Shouldn't we ask where the "Willowbrook Class" is today?
Geraldo Rivera first became famous for crusading against Willowbrook, an abusive institution in New Jersey where 6,000 inmates suffered sometimes unspeakable torture and mistreatment, and where even some bodies were buried on the campus. It was the target of numerous lawsuits and press denunciations starting in about 1975, which finally culminated in its closure in 1987. I followed all this at the time and had little inkling that what I was applauding then along with other human rights activists could become an entirely different set of problems 20 or 25 years later.
Now we need a place with 6,000 beds in New Jersey (it has since been turned into a college campus and other facilities) -- where we can put not only people before they turn into subway pushers and shooters -- when their families or police can't cope with them on the street -- but where the drug addicted teens and the self-harmers can go for 30 days, not 24 hours. We can make it humane. In the age of social media and transparency, this can be done. Families can be involved more closely with the care of their loved ones. I will have more to say in response to some comments on past posts soon.