I have been in internet hell for reasons I cannot even begin to comprehend, let alone explain. Apparently there was some glitch that had nothing to do with me or my computer, but it effectively prevented me from checking my web site e-mails. It took my friend, the sublime genius at Cal Poly, to fix it, and I am now back in business.
Along with the usual job opportunities, notices of great wealth that would be mine as soon as I sent my Social Security number, bank account, and mother’s maiden name to an address in Nigeria, and offers of discount drugs I hope I never have to use, I received a very nice e-mail from a gentleman who discussed, among other things, the fact that he had bi-polar depression. I don’t suffer from or know much about bi-polar disorder (other than that some of our most creative geniuses have suffered from it) but I do know a little about depression. It runs in my family, proving that there is, apparently, a genetic component to just about everything from hair color to cancer, and it is also a corollary of post traumatic stress disorder, which I also have.
What impressed me most about this man’s email—apart from the fact that it was clearly written by someone intelligent and educated—was that he discussed his bi-polar depression at all. I was raised in a family where any kind of illness was supposed to be grandly ignored. If you snubbed it, it would, like an ill-mannered guest, slink away and leave you alone. That was for physical illnesses. Anything that fell under the bailiwick of the mental or emotional was even more grandly ignored. It simply wasn’t discussed, and I even have a dim memory of my mother once dismissing psychiatry as a fraud. It was an odd belief, if she truly believed that (she was very prone to hyperbole for dramatic or comic effect), because she suffered from depression, her father had really suffered from it, and one of her uncles had such a tenuous grasp on reality that he ended his days in the elegant and distinguished Baltimorean institution of Sheppard-Pratt, now known as a “behavioral health provider,” but known in those coarser days as a loony bin.
But if there is one thing I do know from my own experience, it is that the enemy of health—of mental health in particular—is silence. There are so many therapies and treatments and medicines available now, and so much more knowledge than in my unfortunate great-uncle’s day, that there is no reason for anyone to have to suffer from or be discriminated against because of mental health issues. The proviso, of course, is that one is able to talk openly and freely about it, without stigma. The young soldiers coming back with PTSD, and the frankness of geniuses like Francis Ford Coppola, and the authors who have written about their own troubles such as William Manchester (Goodbye Darkness), William Styron (Darkness Visible), Susanna Kayson (Girl, Interrupted) and so many others, have all contributed to a much more open attitude to mental issues.
Now, in the wake of the appalling tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, mental illness is being discussed on every news and talk show. Unfortunately, I fear people are making little distinction between the kind of mental illness that leads to evil, and the kind of mental illness that leads people to judge themselves with unrealistic harshness, or the kind of mental illness that can be easily ameliorated with drugs, just as they are making little distinction between firearms in evil hands and millions of the same firearms in law-abiding hands. There is also some, though not as much, talk about movies and video games that glorify violence, particularly violence with firearms.
No one has or ever will have any practical solution to evil. It exists, just as good exists. But any action on the three issues being discussed and blamed, to one extent or another, for the tragedy that occurred, will have consequences on America’s legal system, and more importantly on our Constitution.
Practically everyone is howling for some kind of gun control, but that will have an impact on the second amendment. A much smaller group are calling for restrictions on the kind of violent games and movies Hollywood relies on to fill its coffers, but that will—and must, by definition—require that the first amendment be modified. And then there is the issue of mental illness.
There is no right to privacy in the Constitution (anything not specifically spelled out in the Constitution as something the government may do is intended to be something it may not do, an aspect of the Constitution the current administration, like some others before it, has chosen to ignore) but the amendment that probably comes closest to touching on the privacy issue is the fourth. It too would need to be modified to allow private medical records to be shared with law enforcement.
One of the newspapers recently ran an op-ed piece talking about the second amendment and advocating that the Constitution should be regarded as something flexible, something that should be changed and modified over time to reflect the changing needs of a constantly evolving society. I cannot conceive of anything more moronic. The Constitution upholds and affirms God-given rights and freedoms, and those things do not change. Freedom, the right to defend yourself, the right to express yourself, the right to privacy, all those are things that were in the best interest of mankind two thousand years ago, and will still be in the best interest of mankind two thousand years from now.
So how do we prevent another horrifying tragedy? I don’t think we can. The Bath, Michigan school murders of 1927 have been forgotten today, but they far surpassed anything we have seen in our time, even Virginia Tech. Evil existed then, exists now, and will, sadly, always exist, and I for one do not believe your rights or mine should be curtailed in a futile effort to chase something that cannot be. As Ben Franklin put it, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
On the other hand, it is very good and desirable that we are talking openly and frankly about these things. Without the Constitution we might not have that liberty.