How do we deal with America's mental illness crisis?
Before Ronald Reagan became President Reagan in 1981, the old Soviet Union (dominated by today's Russia) imprisoned political opponents in psychiatric hospitals. In later years, many of those former inmates recalled that the very fact of being confined among people who were truly mentally ill, was so stressful as to induce a degree of that illness in the sanest of people. Being forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs increased that tendency.
The communist Soviet leaders hoped that imprisoning people in that manner would provide their government with a plausible cover of compassion. It enabled them to deny that they were punishing dissidents, rather claiming that they were "helping" them. It also insinuated that only crazy people oppose communism. The forced hospitalization policy did in fact work to suppress some political dissent, because everyone knew that it was an insidiously cruel punishment.
President Reagan, ardently anti-communist, successfully promoted the release of mentally ill patients in the U.S. by reducing funding for their care. Thousands who had been involuntarily confined were turned out into the streets. Most of them became homeless and hopeless. Unemployable, all too many turned to drugs and crime. Their death rate was high.
While Reagan is vilified for this policy, the fact is that after he left the presidency, no subsequent president, nor any Congress, reinstituted the pre-Reagan policy. They could have but did not. Today, involuntary confinement to mental institutions for prolonged periods is difficult to achieve.
That is as it should be. The danger of a Soviet-style policy by a future socialist-oriented U.S. government is by no means out of the question. After all, it could be asked by leftists, what truly same person would actually wish to own a lethal weapon? Who in his right mind could possibly support the Second Amendment? At least that is what the radical left would ask, and you know what the answer would be.
California is no longer the paradise it was under Governor Reagan. Radical leftism has taken root. It is all but a separate country in many ways. It has its own immigration policy, illegal under federal law. At one point, its governor even floated the idea that the state should produce its own virtual currency in the form of accounting tricks, an action uncomfortably close to secession.
Radical leftist policies in California have put on public display the embarrassing appearance of a third-world hell-hole. Swathes of the state, mostly in big cities, are heavily populated by semi-conscious (or even unconscious) drug addicts, and entire city blocks seem to be covered in garbage and human feces. The problem is getting worse. A harsh comedian suggested that conditions are so bad that illegal aliens might return to their native countries as refugees from America.
As a proposed solution, "Officials in San Francisco decided ... to back a plan allowing the city to force some people with serious mental illness and drug addiction issues into treatment."
Among progressives, this is a formula for internecine warfare. Leftist philosophy is socially libertarian when it comes to drug abuse, but it is also authoritarian when it comes to political expedience. These two do not mix.
The policy presently proposed by San Francisco is timid, so much so as to be ineffective. It would involuntarily commit very few. "Only about five people could be forced into treatment in San Francisco under the newly-passed plan. ... But Wiener's new bill could bump that up to 55, which is the number of people who now fit the definition for at least involuntary holds. San Francisco's health department has identified an additional 48 people on the fringe who have been involuntarily detained six or seven times."
As you see, this is by no means a clean sweep of the streets, but only a symbolic gesture. It is not the numbers; it is the principle that is of significance. Its portents could be enormous.
Small government and personal accountability are vital principles of conservatism. Involuntary commitment to mental institutions poses a threat to those principles — but so does illegal public disorder. What policy, then, will solve the problem without endangering personal liberty?
President Reagan told us there are no easy solutions, but there are simple ones. The simple solution is to enact constitutional laws and properly enforce them. This cannot be done in isolation. It cannot be done by local governments that flout federal immigration laws, nor by policies that regard public defecation as a human right.
The debauchment of California did not occur overnight, nor will the "simple" solution be "easy." A policy directed only at cosmetic measures is not the answer.
I am not optimistic that those presently in power in California (and in other states with similar problems) will look inward and admit that their political and social(ist) philosophies caused the problems. I admit to being entirely cynical in the matter. Leftist politicians serve themselves, and no one else, at whatever cost to the public.
Neither am I optimistic that the general electorate in the affected regions will re-evaluate their political opinions. As Sir Winston Churchill said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
The temptation to enact draconian anti-drug laws is powerful, and in some limited instances, such policies could be useful. The specter of a police state should, however, moderate any authoritarian impulses we might entertain.
Not all social ills are remediable by government. Some might not be remediable at all. To some extent, tough love, the abandonment of the incorrigible to their chosen fate, might be the best policy. No delight can be taken in that, but reality can be unpleasant.
Subjecting the majority to the depredations of the intransigent will cause only further harm.