Monday, January 17, 2011

3 Things we really should talk about

In the wake of the shooting massacre at Congresswoman Gifford's meet-and-greet in Tucson, Arizona last week there seem to be three controversial topics which have been on the minds of many Americans.

Regardless of whether or not any of these three actually had much influence on shooter Jared Laugher or not, all three are things which we really do need to be able to have some "grown-up" conversations about. Unfortunately, many people have gotten either so defensive or so indignant about at least two of the three, that the third seems to be going ignored. It would be tragic if it ends up being shelved and closeted or swept under the proverbial rug, because it has spent far too long there already.

The topics of course are, civility in discourse, the availability and lack of regulation of weapons and ammunition, and the treatment of those with mental health issues.

Of course it has long been next to impossible to talk about the second issue because of the deterioration of the first, but I'll get to that later.

First of all, let's face it. America has become intensely polarized in the last few decades.

There are those on the right who will claim that in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks we came together under the "United We Stand" slogan, but the "liberal media" and the anti-war movement quickly began sowing seeds of dissension.

Myself, I suspect that the real schism was pried open by the manipulation of sound bites and talking points memos crafted by the likes of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and GOP strategist Lee Atwater and disseminated initially by AM talk radio shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh and Mike Savage. Those who agree with me could draw a logical line of lineage to Karl Rove and FOX personalities Bill O'Rielly and Glenn Beck.

But some will argue that I am a hypocrite for pointing the finger of blame and villainizing conservative activists. Fair enough. Let's take it further back. Older conservatives might say that the entropy of civility and political polarity is due to the disrespect for high office and distrust and adversarial positioning that were a result of the Watergate coverage by the Washington Post and CBS News and the anti war movement during Vietnam.

Although, there are those on the left who would speculate that if it wasn't the spin-doctoring introduced by the Reagan administration, then it was Nixon's Southern strategy of appealing to latent racist fear and anger to capture votes of Southern Whites in the late 60's with "code words" like states-rights, urban blight, and law-and-order.

Wherever the ultimate blame lays, here we are in a ultra tribal climate where people on either extreme of the political spectrum see each other as subhuman and are in a constant struggle to win over the 75-80% of Americans who live in the middle. One side uses emotionally charged, moral language, and the other uses overly complicated policy laded jargon. Is it any wonder that one side sees the other as intolerant fanatics and that side sees the first side as insufferable elitist?

Whatever happened to the good old American maxims like we're all in this together, we're all in the same boat, let's agree to disagree, and lets try to find some middle ground? The fact is that if we're ever going to solve any of our mounting problems, we are going to have to be able to talk with each other. That starts with the presuppositions that we are all people and that we are all equals.

We can't become immediately defensive and we have to all grow up and stop assuming that each of us has an absolute monopoly on what's right. We need to be willing to listen and we need to not be so hypersensitive whenever someone says something we disagree with- no matter how wrong we believe they are.

That, boys and girls is called civility. It means that you have to share and play nice. You have to be patient and kind and respectful. Sometimes you may even need to be deferential or (gulp) compromise.

Now, as to guns. You're right NRA, "guns don't kill people, people kill people." But you know what? They sure make it efficient. Laugher had 30 round clips that he got at a Wal Mart. Here's a guy who was rejected by the Army and ejected from community college, both for being mentally instable and yet it was convenient for him to get 30 round clips. Standard is a 10 round clip. Hunters, sportsmen, law enforcement officials and military personnel will all tell you that no one needs 30 rounds for self defense or to kill a deer. The only reason for having a 30 round magazine is to make it efficient to kill several people quickly.

We're not talking about taking away your guns or denying your Constitutional rights. We're talking about reasonable restrictions which make us ALL safer. At the risk of sounding condescending or un-civil, the Russians aren't going to invade us like in the 80's movie Red Dawn and there's no such thing as zombies. If you think it's imperative to stockpile a large number of weapons with as much ammunition as possible, you're very likely a member of some kind of paranoid, militaristic White supremacist group or a polygamist cult or you're very mentally unstable yourself- or all three.

If you're not one of these three kinds of nuts, or involved in organized crime in some way, please try to be a little less absolutist when arguing for your gun rights. If you could muster a little more reasonableness and a little less sanctimony, it will go a long way toward the rest of us not stereotyping you as gun "nuts." I'm perfectly fine with the logic that every American has a right to a rifle, shot-gun, and/or hand gun, but come on, get real, your right to bear arms does not include a right to automatic sub-machine guns or surface-to-air rocket launchers- it just doesn't, I'm sorry. The rest of the world thinks that we're unreasonably violent cowboys for wanting just the one hand gun each.

Finally, and most importantly we have to do something about our shameful ignorance of and indifference to the plight of the mentally ill, not to mention our lack of any kind of meaningful structure for screening, evaluating, and treating people with severe mental and emotional illness.

Oh you'd think that we've made giant strides because we closed down all the embarrassing institutions exposed in books like 'One Flew Over the Coo Coo's Nest,' and because television has almost as many commercials for antidepressants as it does for erectile dysfunction- but just because we can take CAT scans and PET scans and MRIs of the human brain and just because we now consider lobotomies and electroshock therapy as barbaric, doesn't mean that we're caring for or providing desperately needed services to this often shunned part of our population.

It's one thing to dissect and analyze Laugher's blog and videos for phrases that might mirror those of Glenn Beck. It's one thing to question how someone who had run afoul of the Army, college, and employment could get their hands on guns and such powerful ammunition so almost effortlessly. But the REAL question is, how could someone so obviously sick not get help? Why wasn't he hospitalized? Why wasn't he in regular counselling? Medicated? Supervised?

Maybe it's because we stigmatize mental illness more than we do respiratory illness, cardiovascular illness or ostiopathic well being? Do we not value Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Therapists, Counselors and Social Workers as much as surgeons, oncologists, gastroenterologists, endocrinologists and other internists?

We seem to be obsessed with our physiques, our skin, our hair, our teeth, and especially the performance of our penises- but when it comes to sociopathy, psychopathy, neurosis, depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, grief, personality, identity and as in Laugher's case, schizophrenia- we don't want to see it, we don't want to think about it and we sure as hell don't want to have to pay to do anything about it.

I don't know what the answer is. Maybe too few of us have any concept of what could be done because no one has ever been willing to talk about it.

What I do know is that I think it will be a phenomenal tragedy if the next chapter to the story of the Tucson massacre is that Laugher pleads insanity and some right-winger laughs because it's those mamby-pamby bleeding-heart liberal's own damn fault because they let everybody get away with everything.

What I'd love to see is for the recovering Congress woman, her astronaut husband, the gay Latino hero who saved her life, Gifford's dear Republican friends and the parents of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green would all come together to get Laugher psychiatric treatment and propose and fight for a National mental health care bill and establish foundations to provide mental health services to adolescents and young adults in Tucson and beyond. That would be fantastic.

It seems to me that John Hinkly Jr., President Reagan's would-be assassin quickly became the butt of all kinds of crazy guy jokes and Reagan aid Jim Brady who was put in a wheel chair by Hinkly's bullet and ever since tirelessly fought for stricter handgun control laws has all but become a footnote in history.

My prayer is that Gifford and Laugher together become catalysts for major change in the tone of our discourse, in gun regulation and especially in mental health reform.

But if you disagree with me on any of these three issues, do me a favor- please don't call me names, threaten to kill me, or think I must be crazy just because I see things differently than you do.

No comments: