Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Whenever a shooting event, like the murder-suicide at UCLA, gains national notoriety, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over “our” alleged failure to deal adequately with issues of “mental health.” Tragically, it is the rarest of figures who dares to challenge this consensus. But challenge it we must, for as innocuous as the term sounds, “mental health” is fraught with philosophically problematic assumptions and implications.

First, the sole reason for concluding that, say, Maimak Sarkar, the UCLA gunman, is “mentally ill” is that he became a murderer. Yet this in turn logically implies that anyone who murders is “mentally ill.” However, if the latter is true, then this means that such 20th century genocidal killers as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao; infamous mobsters like Al Capone, John Gotti, and James “Whitey” Bulger; those members of the KKK who terrorized and murdered blacks; homicidal inner city gangbangers; and members of ISIS are all “mentally ill.”

Yet these classes of killers are never described as “mentally ill” by those who can’t resist labeling as such school shooters and the like. This is because the former belong to different political-moral templates: “ideology,” “racism,” “power,” “greed,” “oppression,” “extremism,” and the like.

Second, the only reason for regarding as “ill” one who acts murderously or violently is the metaphysically dubious supposition that humans are, by nature, essentially good. This is an article of faith, a normative theory that, unlike, say, the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, flies in the face of the history of the human species. Indeed, this vision of humanity is so counterfactual that we’d be far more justified in endorsing the judgment of Dr. Sawyer, the miserable psychiatrist from Miracle on 34th Street, that it is those who seek to do good who are “mentally ill” (or “maniacal,” as he put it).

Third, if murderers are “mentally ill,” then rapists, armed robbers, and violent-doers of all sorts must be as well. In all fairness, the “mental health” enthusiasts don’t deny this. In fact, as far as they’re concerned, “mental illness” extends well beyond violence to explain even those select thoughts and feelings that the “experts” assure us are a function of bad health.

Fourth, as the late, prolific psychiatrist Thomas Szasz never tired of informing audiences, though the judgments of psychologists and psychiatrists are cloaked in medical terminology, this is just a veneer designed to mask moral judgments. Yet the latter, even when they are negative, are consonant with human dignity, the dignity that derives from the uniquely human ability to make choices.

In stark contrast, to explain away a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions in terms of sickness most definitely is an attack against one’s dignity as a person. In giving up the language of morality—a language that pertains uniquely to persons, to subjects or rational beings—to explain human conduct in favor of the language of science, an idiom the subject matter of which consists of objects, human beings are reduced to things. Persons under the aspect of science, even if it is pseudo-science, are no longer persons but animal bipeds. They are no longer agents or actors exercising intelligence but fields within which impersonal forces or processes operate.

Fifth, once human agency and, hence, human dignity has been pushed aside—once it’s been declared by the “experts” that a person is “sick”—than there is no limit to the indignities that could be visited upon that person in the name of either “healing” him or, quite possibly, ending his “suffering.”

In other words, the principle of reciprocity or proportionality—a moral concept—places a line between the permissible and impermissible in distributing retributive justice. Yet this principle has no place within the contexts of “mental illness” and “treatment.”

Finally, since “mental health” and “evil” belong to two, entirely distinct universes of discourse, those who insist upon describing college campus, elementary school, and movie theater killers as “sick” or “mentally ill” are no more justified in regarding them as “evil” than they would be if they described cancer patients as evil. Not only are such folks not evil; not unlike the victims of cancer, they deserve our pity, our compassion.

Conversely, if we insist that these murderers are evil, then we must resist all attempts to label them “mentally ill.”

We can’t have it both ways.

 

 

 

 

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In “Anti-Trump THUGS, not Protesters, in New Mexico,” I alluded to my friend and colleague whose private remarks to me via a private message provoked me to write my essay.  In the interest of collegiality and fairness, I post here his response to me. Because he wishes to remain anonymous, I will refer to him only as Professor “Chris.”

Dr. Jack Kerwick recently wrote a response to a question I posed to him regarding Trump’s recent New Mexico rally.

Referencing protests outside of Donald Trump’s rally in Albuquerque, Kerwick calls those involved “anti-Trump thugs.” Although no person was arrested at this event—and while it goes without saying that violence for its own sake against any person is inexcusable—I would argue that these protests don’t exist in a vacuum: they are, at least in part, a reaction, a raw, pained, fearful reaction to Trump’s remarks.

Trump’s comments on immigrants, particularly Mexican immigrants, are indeed “controversial” insofar as they’ve disrupted the status quo.

Kerwick mentions how “the displays of outrageous, indeed, the criminal, conduct of Mexicans assaulting police, destroying property, violating Americans’ right to peacefully assemble, and self-identifying as illegals” serve to vindicate Trump’s judgment concerning the prohibitive cost of illegal immigration from Mexico.

This seems unfair: Would we believe that such actions would occur without them first being provoked? Kerwick answers this question in the affirmative.

“Does anyone really think,” Kerwick asks, “that if not for Trump, those igniting fires, hurling obscenities, flashing the middle finger, destroying property, and clashing with police would be volunteering to help the sick or going to work?” But this loaded question assumes what needs to be shown.

Of course, illegals must be dealt with, but while Kerwick cites “craven and greedy politicians” as the reason such immigrants haven’t been deported, a more plausible explanation is that a gaping hole would be left in the economy were such a wholesale move ever attempted. While it is doubtless that cowardice and greed are present within the political class, these factors alone can’t account for the readiness to establish pathways to citizenship for illegals.

As for Trump’s “wall,” Kerwick asks, “why should any American regard the proposal of a wall as any more ‘controversial’ than the proposal for one to lock one’s doors at night?” He suggests those who are anti-wall are “for the erasure of a border between Mexico and the US.”

“Erasure” is an interesting word for its focus on both removal and residue: an erasure is what remains after forcible “purity.” Apparently a “wall” is the only manifestation of such a process; those on one side legally must have “erased” that which would tie them to the other side.

Kerwick’s italicizing of “American” suggests that he’s advocating a bandwagon appeal, an ethos of “America” that demands its “otherness” as part of its branding. Yet others, without reserve, would cite America for its plurality, its acceptance of otherness. If people who contribute to America now are not breaking any laws save for the border they crossed to get here (chiefly to escape whatever toxic reality does exist over there), why are we casting them aside?

To deny that Trump’s words haven’t invited paranoia and fear from a pained populace in search of a scapegoat seems more than intellectually dishonest.

Kerwick cites 9/11 as the chief cause of Trump’s suggestion of consideration of a “temporary ban on all Muslim immigrants,” mentioning Louis Farrakhan’s support of the plan. However, as A. Idris Palmer has argued, Farrakhan is not a genuine Muslim but, rather, a “heterodox, eccentric Batini who for over 55 years has masqueraded as a Muslim.”

Thus, any attempt to align the views of Farrakhan with that of the American Muslim population is doomed to failure.

Kerwick maintains that my use of “controversial” is a rhetorical ploy reserved only for the views of one’s opponents. I am an opponent of Trump’s. Still, even political outsiders with the most bemused, clinical interest could describe as “controversial” Trump’s words within the contexts under discussion, for they need only observe the protests that seem to follow him wherever he holds a rally. After all, not unlike the Trump supporter in North Carolina who was videoed sucker punching an unsuspecting protestor, they don’t exist in a vacuum.

Yet Kerwick suggests that I am misinformed for my use of this term, controversial, and that my disagreement with Trump is unreasonable. Using an example of the moon landing of 1969, Kerwick underscores that, even if there’s disagreement between “folks who insist [it] never happened and […] the rest of us,” the event in question is not controversial.

Such an analogy fails for several reasons. Chiefly, the Apollo moon landing was a singular occurrence in time, an action televised for all to see. There was no rhetoric involved (save for Armstrong’s indelible quotation).

Secondly, there were no direct references to any groups of people that would stroke either their ire or that of other groups of people. Indeed, there was most certainly nothing “controversial” about Armstrong’s walk because nothing about it divided people who witnessed it: it was a uniting force.

Does Trump’s rhetoric serve that purpose?

Kerwick contends that those who don’t share the viewpoints of those from “different political parties, religious denominations, ideologies and so forth” view them as “controversial.” But I would never deny that Sanders and Clinton are just as worthy of critique where they deserve to be critiqued. The difference, though, between them and Trump is that the most sensible of the latter’s positions gets lost in the style in which he delivers it. And there are times, in policy alone, where he’s eminently disagreeable.

Kerwick fundamentally misreads me when he says that I assume that “mob violence against innocents is an understandable, if unjustified, reply to ‘rhetoric.’” Trump seems to suffer under the delusion that he can speak provocatively without being provocative. The acknowledgment that people are, in fact, reacting to his rhetoric is a far cry from “excusing” or “justifying” these reactions.

Kerwick hypothesizes that, were “white Southerners with Confederate flags [to visit] destruction down upon the heads of attendees at an Obama, Black Lives Matter, or even a Nikki Haley rally,” I would have never sought a connection between the protests of the former and the rhetoric of the latter.

Aside from the obvious fact that, if the KKK or white Southerners never existed, we would more than likely never have Black Lives Matter—and might have had a black president 50 years earlier than we ended up having one—I don’t know how else to reply to such a faulty comparison.

My position is that this election has exposed a searing pain, and anger felt from all sides. It’s time to pour water on incendiary words that have already intoxicated far too many vulnerable minds.

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On the morning of May 25, I awoke to a message from a colleague with whom, in spite of our decided political differences, I’m friendly.

His question pertained to the riots—he referred to them as “protests”—engaged in by anti-Trump thugs—he called them “protesters”—outside of a Trump rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico the evening prior.

“If his [Trump’s] rhetoric wasn’t as controversial as it I,” my fellow professor asked, “if he said NONE of what has garnered his rise to the top—would these violent protests happen?”

Chris is a good guy. However, implicit in his question are assumptions that are as dubious as they are concerning.

(1)For starters, we should remind ourselves of what exactly it is that Trump has said that “has garnered his rise to the top” of the GOP presidential field.

(a)Given the legions of Mexican flags under the banner of which the rioters in Albuquerque (and elsewhere) have spread their reign of terror, it’s safe to say, I think, that Trump’s remarks regarding the criminal underclass that Mexico has exported to the United States and the need to deport those who are in America illegally is one piece of “rhetoric” that my colleague finds so “controversial.”

It’s undoubtedly true that on this score, Trump struck a chord with unprecedented numbers—millions and millions—of Americans from across the political spectrum. And given the displays of outrageous, indeed, the criminal, conduct of Mexicans assaulting police, destroying property, violating Americans’ right to peacefully assemble, and self-identifying as illegals, it’s just as undoubtedly true that Trump’s observations were spot on.

As for the deportation of illegals, from whichever country of origin, this is what the law requires—even if craven and greedy politicians refuse to enforce it.

Of course, Trump also promises to construct a wall along our southern border for which he’ll make Mexico pay. Yet unless one is for the erasure of a border between Mexico and the US, why should any American regard the proposal of a wall as any more “controversial” than the proposal for one to lock one’s doors at night?

And why should anyone whose allegiance is to America be in the least upset by an arrangement that would insure that a foreign government subsidizes an expensive mechanism that may not have existed but for its abuses?

(b)Trump has “suggested” for consideration a temporary ban on all Muslim immigrants. Considering that Islamic jihadists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans on a particularly infamous day some 15 years ago, and given that ever since America has had to contend with the most brutal of jihadists of various sorts from Islamic lands, this too has struck the ears of millions of Americans from diverse backgrounds—including Nation of Islam minister and black separatist, Louis Farakhan—as a commonsensical plan.

There are other “controversial” things that Trump has said, but I suspect that it is principally his comments on these immigration-related matters that my colleague has in mind when he uses the word “controversial” in connection with the violence of anti-Trump thugs. And this brings us to his next questionable presupposition.

(2)You can take it to the bank that if a person refers to another’s views as “controversial,” it is almost always going to be views with which he or she disagrees.

In other words, it is always the other guy (or gal) who speaks controversially.

As for the views of oneself and one’s ilk, not so much.

In reality, though, the word “controversy” should be reserved for reasonable disagreements, i.e. conflicts between informed individuals. That there is disagreement between, on the one hand, folks who insist that the moon landing of 1969 never happened and, on the other hand, the rest of us, most definitely does not mean that the event in question is “controversial.”

But setting this point aside, we need only acknowledge this much: Given that the presence of different political parties, religious denominations, ideologies, and so forth represent differences in viewpoints, virtually any such perspective is bound to sound “controversial” to those who don’t share it.

Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s plans to militarize society via their socialism is, at a minimum, “controversial” to roughly half of the country that plans on voting against them.

And yet there are zero reports of their “controversial” views provoking political opponents into attacking the property and person of others.

(3)My colleague seems to assume that mob violence against innocents is an understandable, if unjustified, reply to “rhetoric.” To this I offer two responses.

First, as in the case of the “controversial,” it is always the other guy’s “rhetoric” that is “divisive,” “polarizing,” “incendiary”—i.e. provocative of bloodthirsty retaliation.

Had it been hordes of, say, white Southerners with Confederate flags who visited destruction down upon the heads of attendees at an Obama, Black Lives Matter, or even a Nikki Haley rally, you can bet dollars to donuts that my colleague never would’ve inquired into the connection between the “controversial” “rhetoric” of the latter and the “protest” of the former.

Second, the only time that violence is defensible is when it is defensive—when it is unavoidable in order to protect oneself or innocents. Decent parents teach their children this from a young age: “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” and all that.

As one lifelong martial artist and former New York City detective put it, for a civilian to use violence for any reason other than self-defense or the defense of a loved one from “imminent danger,” is for that civilian to be “part of the problem [.]”

(4)Finally, my colleague’s question assumes that those participating in these carnival-esque riots have a clue as to what it is they are against (or, for that matter, for). It’s far from clear from this is the case.

Besides, does anyone really think that if not for Trump, those igniting fires, hurling obscenities, flashing the middle finger, destroying property, and clashing with police would be volunteering to help the sick or going to work?

 

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The NeverTrumpster is on the horns of a dilemma, for if Trump is the faux conservative that he claims he is, then so too are presidential candidates that they’ve supported the same. On the other hand, if the latter are conservative, then so too is Trump conservative.

John McCain 2008

A self-confessed admirer of Big Government “progressive” Theodore Roosevelt, McCain allied with another Teddy—Ted Kennedy—to grant amnesty to 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants. He as well joined with Democrat Russ Feingold to pass “campaign finance reform,” a set of federally-imposed restrictions on the first amendment that the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional.

McCain rejected George W. Bush’s tax cuts “for the rich,” and he joined the “Gang of 14,” a bipartisan coalition of Republican and Democrat senators that existed for the sake of enabling the Democrat minority to block those of President Bush’s judicial nominees like Sam Alito who McCain described as “too conservative,” managed to make it to the bench (Unfortunately for McCain, Alito survived the confirmation hearings).

McCain, a firm believer in anthropogenic “global warming,” proposed “cap and trade” legislation, a move that, had it been successful, would’ve left “the American economy in tatters; supported using taxpayers’ monies via the federal government for embryonic stem cell research; and, while claiming to be “pro-life,” never tired of castigating Republicans for talking about abortion.

The NeverTrumpster states as a reason for rejecting Trump the latter’s “temperament.” Yet as both Democrat and Republican sources have verified, McCain has a notoriously terrible temper. On multiple occasions, he has berated and cursed out those of his colleagues—and his fellow Republicans to boot!—with whom he has disagreed. John “McNasty” McCain is as well known for making off-color remarks and, allegedly, has even gotten physical with people who have upset him.

Mitt Romney 2012

This Massachusetts liberal was the darling of the NeverTrumpster during the primaries of both 2008 and 2012. National Review, far from sponsoring an “Against Romney” symposium, endorsed him—twice. So too did those “conservative” talk radio hosts who are now weeping over Ted Cruz’s defeat.

Both the politically opportunistic timing as well as the blatant nature of Romney’s “flip flops” over a range of issues made him the classic textbook case of the shameless politician.

However, the NeverTrumpster assured us, Romney had “evolved.” It didn’t matter how many different positions Romney held. It didn’t matter that his “Romneycare” was the blueprint for Obamacare, or that he ran to the left of Ted Kennedy in their Massachusetts senate race on the issues of abortion, “gay marriage,” and the rights of gun owners. It didn’t matter that he praised portions of Obamacare during his first debate with the President, or that he substantially raised taxes while governor of Massachusetts—“conservatives” still supported him.

It didn’t matter that, six years after Ronald Reagan left office, Romney claimed to have left the Republican Party because of the damage inflicted upon its label courtesy of Reagan.

The NeverTrumpster embraced the real Romney.

George W. Bush

To this day, the NeverTrumpster refuses to recognize this “conservative” president for the Big Government “progressive” that he was.

Yet Bush II inflicted massive—indeed, quite possibly unprecedented—damage on the Republican Party. Thanks to our 43rd president, the country witnessed the GOP-dominated Congress that Bush II inherited transform into a Congress with Democrat supermajorities in both chambers.

Bush’s role in thrusting the country leftward can’t be overstated. As even Mark Levin, a one-time self-described “big fan” of Bush, concedes, the federal government grew under 43 at a rate that significantly surpassed that at which it expanded under LBJ’s “Great Society!”

Amnesty; McCain-Feingold; No Child Left Behind; the Homeownership Society; federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research; Medicare part B; the creation of the bureaucratic behemoth, Department of Homeland Security; TARP; the Economic Stimulus and Housing and Economic Recovery Acts of 2008—these are just some of the ways in which our last “conservative” president advanced the cause of centralization and social “progressivism.”

However, while Trumpphobes (as well as, to be fair, many in the “conservative” media who are now styling themselves opponents of “the Establishment”) would have us forget this, Bush, not unlike Woodrow Wilson in an earlier era, insisted upon taking his “progressivism” (and the rest of us) global so as to make the world, the Islamic world specifically, “safe for Democracy” under the pretext of the “War on Terror.”

Not coincidentally, McCain and Romney also excitedly embraced this democratizing project—a project that the vast majority of the electorate rejected in no uncertain terms in 2006 and 2008.

Ronald Reagan

What about Reagan? Well, this “conservative” president whose legacy Trump allegedly threatens to squander, upon cutting taxes in ’81, proceeded to raise taxes 11 times in subsequent years. And he raised payroll taxes to pay for “government-run healthcare,” i.e. Medicare (as well as to subsidize Social Security). Medicaid expanded under Reagan.

The federal government grew exponentially under Reagan, and the Gipper abolished not a single program, much less an agency. In fact, he actually created a new government department.

There’s much hand ringing on the part of “conservatives”—and “Reagan conservatives” especially!—over Trump’s “protectionism.” But Reagan was “protectionist (as shown here and here).

Reagan amnestied millions of illegal immigrants; “cut and run” when over 240 Marines were murdered fighting Islamic terrorists; appointed two left-leaning justices to the Supreme Court; and, once his tenure was over, supported the Brady bill.

As governor of California, this celebrity-turned-politician (sounds very contemporary, does it not?)—who didn’t become a Republican until he was in his 50’s–legalized abortion, imposed both “gun-control” and the largest tax increase in the history of the state, and proposed mandatory health insurance.

The NeverTrumpster’s dilemma is inescapable: If these GOP presidential candidates are “conservative,” then so too is Trump the same. On the other hand, if Trump is not a conservative, then neither is these “conservative” candidates anything of the kind.

 

 

 

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