Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Authoritarian Spawn of Sandy Hook

Ever since the Sandy Hook shooting, there has been a lot of oxygen expended on various "solutions" to the mass-shooting problem in the United States. The problem with many of them is that they're potentially if not outright dangerous to the liberties of law-abiding citizens.

Right now, the conversation is being dominated by the topic of gun control, which as you all know I am generally not a fan of. I'm willing to consider increased funding to make sure the background-check system works (a gun-owner friend called it a joke during a Facebook discussion). Although I initially viewed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg rather unfavorably, a lot of his ideas (minus the assault weapons ban) make sense. Heck, I've even suggested some of them on my own.

However, a lot of people with much more extreme agendas are using Sandy Hook as a platform. Certain elements of the media are trying to rebrand "gun control" as "gun safety," which is dishonest. You have people suggesting total gun bans. I've seen people claiming online--even people I consider friends--that if people aren't willing to renounce their right to bear arms in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, they're evil and selfish. I once saw an Internet commentator saying that "society" decided to end slavery, something that many people objected to and was ultimately a very costly effort. However, if "society" decides to take the same steps to change the availability of certain makes and models of guns, it would be for the best. This isn't just apples and oranges--it's comparing apples and rotten vegetables. You even have people petitioning that the NRA be declared a terrorist organization. The chance of that getting anywhere is rather small, but never underestimate how dangerous people who can vote can be if passions are aroused.

Another issue being discussed is increasing resources available for helping the mentally ill. The Virginia Tech shooter was involuntarily institutionalized as a threat to himself and others at one point, while the Tucson shooter demonstrated warning signs. The Sandy Hook shooter's mother was preparing to move across the country to get him help. Providing more resources to assist those who are mentally ill would be a good way to prevent these things from occurring again.

However, this can get very dangerous. Deinstitutionalization happened to a large degree due to abuses and poor conditions in the mental institutions of the time and those could recur very easily. After all, people in institutions might not be able to coherently describe anything done to them and it would be easy to write off any claims of abuse they make as being the rantings of a crazy person, if they can even get word out about their being abused at all. A member of my alternate-history message board (the one whose handle was Snarf, who wrote that Draka-cop story I blogged about years ago) has Asperger's Syndrome and said decades ago, people with Asperger's who might have been able to function on the outside with counseling, medication, etc. were simply institutionalized.

And Asperger's Syndrome gets into an entirely different issues. There have been attempts to link autism with the shooting already. Although this article and the articles it links to debunk the idea that people with Asperger's Syndrome are particularly violent, the damage has already been done. There are people out there who are claiming people with these conditions are unfeeling and dangerous, don't view other people as human, etc.

News flash--the condition that causes people to not view other people as human (in general, as opposed to being indoctrinated to dehumanize particular groups) is called psychopathy, not autism. However, just because something is false doesn't mean people won't believe it and that's dangerous because these people can vote.

I'm not predicting everyone with Asperger's Syndrome (or people who might not have a clinical condition but are simply quirky or not considered "normal" by their peers) are going to get rounded up. However, there are more subtle dangers--cruel peers who might maltreat some sufficiently "weird" kid (and if said "weird" kid eventually snaps, they'll no doubt claim all along they knew something was wrong with them and treated them as they deserved), arrogant know-it-all school officials (whose actual knowledge of such things can be summed up in the phrase "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing") recommending unnecessary or even destructive "treatment" ideas, etc. Thousands of well-meaning (or less well-meaning) school and community officials all across the United States can be more dangerous than the U.S. President.

And to top it off, earlier this week I found an article that flat-out makes eugenicist arguments alleging genetic predisposition to mass murder. I am not so reactionary as to immediately claim applying the concept of heredity to the mind as well as the body is a Nazi idea, but humans are not lower animals governed solely by instinct. A few years back, I read Social Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and one thing that struck me was the massive amount of brain development in the first year or two of life. This development is so profound I can't help but think it would play a dominant role, not heredity.

And this article not only makes neo-eugenicist arguments, it calls for blatantly authoritarian solutions, including "lifelong surveillance" of people with alleged "massacre genes." This is not only creepy and evil, but it's blatantly unconstitutional as well. Is there any authority in the United States that could issue a warrant authorizing this sort of thing? It certainly couldn't be a state court, as people often move throughout their lives. Maybe the foreign-intelligence courts that can issue roving wiretaps could in theory, but that's not their bailiwick.

I am not so lacking in empathy that I think (most) people advocating these positions have evil hearts. However, people with good intentions and a willingness to use state power to implement them have committed terrible evils in the past. I am not suggesting we refuse to make any changes to anything out of fear of some worst-case scenario despotism, but we need to tread very carefully. And most of all, we shouldn't be ignorant.

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