The error of deinstitutionalization

Just heard the news regarding another mass shooting, this time in my own backyard — at Texas A&M University:

Texas A&M University says a shooter has been taken into custody near its campus in College Station.

College Station police spokeswoman Rhonda Seaton tells CNN multiple people have been shot, including law enforcement, but she doesn’t know the extent of the injuries.

Multiple calls to Seaton’s cellphone from The Associated Press have gone straight to voicemail.

The university issued an alert on its website just before 12:30 p.m. Monday warning of an active shooter near the campus football stadium, Kyle Field.

The warning tells residents and students to avoid the area.

Seaton says the shooting happened within a block or two of campus sometime before 12:45 p.m. She says police have one suspect in custody.

If the last couple weeks’ worth of mass shootings have been any indication, this guy was probably a well-established nut, too. When, oh when, will we repent of the error of deinstitutionalization?

35 thoughts on “The error of deinstitutionalization

  1. To me the real question is on what basis do we justify having involuntary institutionalization? If an individual is crazy and harmless there is no point in trying to confine him, and if he makes threats then he should be jailed for them or confined. But either way it must be considered a legal rather than psychiatric procedure, lest we empower the run of the mill psychologist to jail us.

    • This is a nice example of liberal class warfare. When weighing the real costs, to crazy people, of de-institutionalization against the imaginary costs, to normal people, of institutionalization, the latter always wins. I mean, really, who cares about real schizophrenics living short lives of gross suffering under some bridge when upper class housewives might have to entertain fantasies of their husbands’ involuntarily committing them and having them drugged?

      It’s a theme, though. Easy divorce makes upper class adults’ lives easier and more pleasant. Getting rid of blue laws makes the lives of us rich suburbanites a lot easier. Hook up culture is fun if you’re a responsible adult with plenty of disposable income (or child of same). Employment equality for women makes your life better if you are a bored, upper class housewife like Betty Friedan. In general, if you have the smarts, self-control, and money to take advantage of freedom, it produces lots of hedonic benefits. The only people who lose are the dumbasses, lunatics, losers, Walmart clerks, and the poor. And who gives a [Ed: expletive deleted] about them?

      • Anymouse is alluding the possible (and sometimes actual, see Sweden) pathologizing of traditional religious people as mentally ill.

      • “The modern mental health system is not an example of a traditional institution.”
        Precisely my point. Thank you.
        “The intitutionalize/de-institutionalize debate is a debate between two modernisms.”
        I agree.

      • All institutions in modern American society are modern, so pointing out that the mental health system is modern is a non sequitur.

      • I do think this is a legitimate point, because too many conservatives still assume that the modernism of the late Edwardian and Progressive eras was good and beneficial. I was once reading a book by a Kinsey detractor where she starts by championing the late Victorian social reformers. I simply have no interest in supporting such things, and do not see how they benefit and genuine traditionalist conservatism.

      • All institutions in modern American society are modern, so pointing out that the mental health system is modern is a non sequitur.

        I’d give churches and the legal system as examples of institutions with long pre-modern roots. They may have been corrupted by modernism, but the mental health system is an exemplar of modernism itself.

  2. Anymouse is right. The modern mental health system is a thoroughly rationalized and modern thing, so there is a traditionalist case for going with a light touch. That doesn’t mean the system does not have its uses, but it should be viewed with certain healthy degree of suspicion. We are only beginning to understand what mental illness is.

  3. The hard questions are hard because there is danger on both sides. That does not absolve us of the need to address the issue when the current system is clearly not working.

  4. Nobody trusts the modern mental health apparatus not to go full Stalin on them, not just the upper class eccentric set. Deinstitutionalizing in the 60s was probably a big mistake. Reinstitutionalizing now that the institution has been thoroughly compromised is probably a worse one.

    • We acknowledge that the mental-health system is, like all Western systems, hopelessly corrupted by liberalism. Proph’s point, as I take it, is that in a properly-ordered society, the authorities have simple ways to restrain obviously dangerous persons.

      • There’s a preventative angle to this too.

        How many of these deranged shooters were made so precisely because we do not have a properly-ordered society?

        Broken families and broken communities produce broken individuals.

  5. We acknowledge that the mental-health system is, like all Western systems, hopelessly corrupted by liberalism.

    It was a product of modernity from the very beginning. In a big country like the U.S. these kinds of things will happen from time to time and aren’t a major menace, so it is probably a good idea to think about this for a bit before we start calling on government to lock a bunch of people up.

    The traditional method of dealing with the insane was for the family to take care of them. Its hard to say if this was an adequate restraint on violence, but the overall murder rate was a lot higher than it is now, so maybe nobody noticed.

    • …these kinds of things will happen from time to time and aren’t a major menace…

      Statistically, they may not be a major menace, but the God-given mandate of all governments is to restrain evildoers, as the Apostle Paul pointed out in Romans 13. With a system that gives primacy to the individual’s autonomy (unless they are being conspicuously Christian), the current rulers are clearly failing in their mandate.

      …calling on government to lock a bunch of people up.

      No, we’re calling on government to restrain evildoers. That’s their job.

      • restrain evildoers

        And locking up a whole bunch of people who shouldn’t be locked up because a tiny fraction of them might cause harm isn’t evil too?

      • I did not say “lock up a whole bunch of people.” You should not be looking to put the worst possible interpretation on this issue.

      • This is a pragmatic issue where you weigh the harm on both sides. There is no obvious traditionalist response.

      • Agreed that there is potential harm in either restraining innocents or in failing to restrain evildoers. But we can say that the current order goes too far in leniency, except when it cracks down on Christians and other offenders against liberalism.

      • “I did not say “lock up a whole bunch of people.””

        If we’re going to absolutely eliminate these kinds of incidents, which everyone admits are statistically rare, we are going to have to lock up a lot of people who shouldn’t be locked up. You didn’t say this, but it flows from your premises.

        “we can say that the current order goes too far in leniency”

        Can we? That’s the question at hand.

  6. The shooter was a 35 year old white male, with a history of mental problems, who could’t hold down a job and loved guns. He is said to have been fairly reclusive, which makes his choice of residence odd. It’s a small house very close to the A&M campus, renting for $700 a month, much of its value being proximity to campus. The shooting occurred when he was served with an eviction notice for failure to pay the rent. He will probably turn out to have been attached to the university in some way or other, since he could otherwise have solved his rent problems by moving to the other end of town. It seems possible he will turn out to have been a graduate student of some sort. Graduate schools are one institution open to lunatics who can ace the GRE.

    At the risk of sounding like a soppy socialist, I’d say that one way to get round the “involuntary” institutionalization problem would be to make lunatic asylums more attractive than the alternative residential options of lunatics. Hot meals, comfortable bed, free rent. Heck, I’d throw in an open bar. It wouldn’t work for everyone. After all, they’re lunatics. But life is hard when you’re crazy, and a more than a few crazy people might willingly take up residence in an institution where it was a little less hard.

  7. Mental illness is an effect.
    We’re all crazy insane – and we won’t admit it.
    Insitutionalization is 1) a band-aid and 2) cruel & (not so) unusual punishment.
    Who is willing to go after the true cause?

    • I’m not convinced that this kind of insane, rage-filled killing is any more of a problem today than it was in the past.

      I also doubt that “deinstitutionalization” or even the advent of modern psychology is a watershed moment in history, which corresponds to the supposed increase in such killing.

      We are indeed all crazy insane, and we always have been. If you want to find the true cause, you don’t need to look any further than man’s fallen nature.

      But now, with typical modern hubris, we think it’s possible to fix that. We’re just not sure how…yet.

  8. As traditionalists, don’t we believe that everyone should be “institutionalized.” Not in the narrow, modern sense of a psychiatric hospital, but in the sense that families, churches, religious orders, and certain types of fraternal associations are institutions. Whatever organic imbalances there may have been to aggravate their aggression, each of the recent shooters was a social isolate. They are the products of the social atomization we traditionalists accuse liberalism of causing. I understand that many social isolates are isolated because they are unbearable creeps, and I’m not saying that none of this would have happened if these young men were raising children with a nice young woman (although that might have helped). Some unbearable creeps might do quite well in a monastery with a strict Abbot and robust rules of silence.

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  10. For the last few thousand years we did without a mental health system. If someone could not take care of himself, and his family would not take care of him, he was apt to be enslaved. If he caused problems, he was apt to be killed. Why do we need a mental health system now?

    Lets have debt based chattel slavery for chronic fecklessness, improvidence, and incompetence, and execution for persistent low level misbehavior. Hey presto, no more crazies wandering loose.

  11. Wrong, all of you. Every one of you. At least for the English speaking world.

    Before the asylums, there was the poorhouse: this was an Elizabethan invention to deal with the indigent. So they did not starve. Now, that was open to abuse, and became privatized, which led to more abuse… the mad-doctor was seen as the lowest post in the medical field (which was not that regulated at the time), less honorable than the apothecary.

    The Quakers developed the first modern Asylum at York (the York retreat still exists). This used moral treatment — pleasant housing, food, activity — and got good results. It required lay (non medical) staff of good families. It was expensive.

    So the state took it as a model, but then physicians got into the act — and as madness became more common (read E. Fuller Torrey some time. the initial asylums were often 14 to 16 beds) they became bigger, more expensive, and the staff became cheaper.

    Couple this with the American tendency to go for a quick cure and you have the 1950s psychosurgery scandals. (Not ECT: that works. Still used. Used to run an ECT service. Since I teach evidence based medicine professionally, the data does stack up for it for severe depression).

    Now, in the rest of the world. de institutionalization has gone much further. With very few mass deaths. This is because (a) handguns are basically banned (b) we still have active mental health acts with the ability to treat against your will and (c) we do not have a bill of rights. (We do have Americans coming over to practise law and/or tell us what to do. You can have them all back).

    Any mental health act needs a patient’s bill of rights. The local (NZ) one says you cannot commit someone because of race, religion, creed sexual orientation, intellectual handicap or substance misuse.

    And the act needs legal review. Lost a case last week — because I could demonstrate that the person was at risk to a standard sufficient that a judge believed detention was justified.

    The Commonwealth Mental Health Acts follow a tradition that dates back to at least the reformation. They have continually been reformed because this area is continually difficult.

    Of course, you rebels and miscreants in the United States do not follow tradition, which is one reason (together with the second amendment) why you do have these problems. You miss the via media constantly

    • Of course, the reason the Tudors had to come up with the poor houses is that they had closed all the monasteries and seized their assets. With the monasteries closed, the poor had no place to go.

    • In all fairness, Chris, the Founding Fathers never imagined in their worst nightmares that the polity they established would ever devolve to its current level of barbarity and tyranny. How could anyone?

      The point of the Second Amendment, often missed by those who misunderstand it and/or fear guns, is to ensure that We The People can overthrow the government should we find it necessary. It has not quite worked out that way, but here is something to consider: in the 1950s, guns were available at hardware stores, gas stations, and via mail order. There were no school shootings or other public massacres, and no one felt the need for to carry a concealed weapon. Contrast this with our modern utopia.

      One of the many effects of liberalism/leftism has been to make our world more dangerous. That’s not the Second Amendment’s fault.

  12. @BillL
    Look, you can get a gun easily in Canada or NZ, Most farmers have one, Most hunters do — and if you don’t have a licence for a firearm you can get an air rifle.

    But the seeds of the current mess were laid by your founding fathers. They took a risk. They trusted that the American people would be noble.

    And to be fair, they were. For more than four score and ten… (and no, you should not be guilty for the Indian issues or the war between the states).

    But you left a hole liberals could and did crawl through in your constitution. It led to Roe vs Wade.

    And that, in my view offended heaven. You have sewn the wind, you are reaping the whirlwind. As is the rest of the Anglosphere — we bought in regulated abortions but the liberals have interpreted that abortion on demand.

    The trouble is that the Anglosphere is the most functional part of the world . If we fail, if we come under the judgment we rightly deserve, the world will suffer. Greatly.


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