A time bomb began ticking in the mid-1970s, when the psychiatric and mental health professions went politically correct and identified the mentally ill as "victims" who required advocates. While patients in general do need assistance, the activists turned caring into political action that changed the American cityscape and endangered our well-being.
Announcing in the mid-1970s that confining mental patients violated their civil rights, a cadre set to work to release as many patients as they could, resulting in the huge homeless phenomenon of the 1980s that remains with us now. Suddenly the streets of major cities and small towns hosted a permanent population of vagrants who harassed passersby and businesses. The media spin maintained that these abandoned citizens were the victims of the cruel American capitalist society. In other words, it was our fault that people marginalized by society existed, dramatizing that the public deserved this inconvenience for living selfish lives.
Upon examination, it was discovered -- but not reported by a compliant mass media -- that over 80% of the homeless were actually newly released mental patients, not dispossessed victims of the economic system. If members of a community complained, they were told the street people were fine -- as long as they took their meds. With no one in charge to enforce and administer dosages, the problem grew into a national scandal. Other nations saw the phenomenon as the underside of America's economic system, when actually the homeless were purposefully inflicted on U.S. society by political radicals.
Whether coincidentally or in a clever conspiracy, by the time the first waves of homeless hit the streets after their release, activist lawyers assured their "right" to roam at will by having all the vagrancy and loitering laws in the country struck down in various court rulings. Citizens who asked why they weren't protected from attacks by street vagrants were told by the police that their hands were tied. The entire homeless problem appeared to be a plot to embarrass Americans for being Americans and to send a message that capitalism had failed.
You know the rest. Cities now care for the homeless at great cost, in several cases actually busing them into town in the morning and returning them to county or city shelters at night. And even though we may all be homeless soon in the Obama economy, the problem was caused by political radicals.
But the homeless problem is not the entire story. Another consequence appeared, one that more seriously endangers our well-being.
But first, an explanation of how this happened. It's actually simple, and most Americans were co-conspirators without knowing it. The radicalization of mental health treatment began with a few kooky psychiatrists in the zany 1960s. The leading proponent was British psychiatrist R.D. Laing, who proffered the ridiculous theory that schizophrenics were actually more in touch with the world than ordinary people. Laing, pointing to the lucidity and intellectual prowess of many schizophrenics, switched places with his patients, allowing them to be the doctor and the doctors the patients.
All this would have passed into the smoky cloud of pop nonsense if not for a novel and play written by U.C.-Berkeley professional graduate student Ken Kesey, known for his role in popularizing the use of LSD. But he is better known for penning One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, influenced by the teachings and theories of R.D. Laing, in 1962. The play became a hugely popular film in 1975, and the world was introduced to the case for freeing the seriously mentally ill.
Recall the plotline. R.P. McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson) is a schizophrenic confined to a mental ward, where we meet the doctors and the cruel and unfeeling Nurse Ratched, the character created by Kesey to represent the medical profession's contempt for mental patients. Audiences fell for the plotline, adding popular sentiment to the scheme to release schizophrenics with the newly freed homeless.
Since then, mass murders by deranged killers have become a commonplace in America. And each incident can be laid at the feet of Laing and Kesey and their co-conspirators in the psychiatric and legal professions who exploited illness to make a political statement.
A famous and instructive case occurred in Chapel Hill, NC in 1995. Wendell Williamson, a law student at UNC, went on a rampage with an assault rifle, killing two and wounding thirteen. Williamson made more news by suing his psychiatrist, claiming he should have been confined due to his schizophrenia. He won the first round in court but lost on appeal. He wrote a book about his life titled Nightmare: A Schizophrenia Native that lays out the frightening internal life of patients with the disease.
Williamson thought he could read minds, and that others could read his. He heard Bill Clinton, Kurt Cobain, and John Lennon urging him to carry out directives, including the command to kill. The book provides readers with the reality of delusion endured by patients, making it clear they are ordered to kill -- the same explanation offered by nearly every mass murderer who lives to make a statement.
The 1.4 million other Americans with the same condition are living among us, listening to voices, ready to kill. Their parents or spouses or friends or co-workers have no recourse to intervene. Then it happens.
Bernie Reeves is editor and publisher of Raleigh Metro Magazine.