Saturday, November 14, 2015

College Protests: One Thought

 One of my responsibilities at the psychiatric hospital is to gather the testimony for involuntary commitments, which I pass on to the legal department to submit to probate court. There are two things we must prove: mental illness and dangerousness*.  I solicit information from potential witnesses - hospital and statewide ER staff, family, police, case managers, neighbors.  Inexperienced witnesses often focus entirely on how ill the person is. Oh, he's talking to himself all the time (so am I).  She's out-of-control, sleeping with lowlifes (so are thousands of other women in the state).  He's obsessed with swords, he's got dozens on his wall (so does the State House). She thinks someone is releasing gas into her apartment while she's at work (she does _what_ about that?) I often have to repeatedly redirect people into identifying for me what actual dangerous thing they have seen the patient do.

She yells at the neighbors. Meh.
She pounds on their doors at one in the morning.  Okay, now we're getting somewhere.  She could get punched or even shot.
She said she's going to buy a gun and shoot them. Yep, that we can use.  Did she say this in your presence?
No, she said that to her sister last summer.  Eh, that's probably not going to hold up. What's your sister's number?

Well, it's very sad.  Usually it's mostly true, and the frustrated relatives quite properly want their loved one to have the best life she can.

Yet sometimes, when one digs deeper, we find it's not all that true. In the case above, the patient had never said anything about a gun to her sister.  The sister had heard that from other family members, but no one seemed to know where it came from.  The pounding on the door happened once, when she smelled smoke, and there was smoke. What turned out to be the real problem was that the patient acts like a little girl.  On her own time, not at her job.  She has crayon drawings all over the kitchen (Dora the Explorer, not the new adult fad).  She buys lots of barrettes, and stuffed animals, and flowered underpants. It creeps people out when they visit and they complain at her, so she doesn't let anyone now.  So there may not actually be any stuffed animals anymore.

We're not going to become the underwear police, either.

Is she ill?  Maybe. But telling me that it's not only Dora but Disney Princesses and playing with dolls doesn't change things.  Tell me what's dangerous. Give me an example of what is provably dangerous.

I think of this when I read the college reports of racism, of parties that black girls aren't welcome at, of the KKK being on campus at Mizzou. "Rape culture" seems to have a very flexible meaning. Any of these things could be. But you have to give some hard evidence.  Statistically, it must be true that there are at least some racists at Missouri.  But some people are awkward. And sometimes people don't hear correctly. And sometimes the story turns out to have no identifiable origin.  Or worse, is a hoax, of which there have been many. In fact, I assume the dramatic incidents on college campuses are probably hoaxes at this point.  Regular bigots usually just shout things or show up after dark with a spray can.  If there's anything more creative than that, I'm suspicious.

There is something that is very troubling in the complaints/demands from protest groups at the schools.  I don't know what percentage of students they represent. 1%?  90%?  Dunno. I would like to think that it's hardly anyone, just some troubled people who are congenitally resentful, with the rest of the campus going about their business.  Yet it's enough that administrators take it seriously.  But the complaints far too often focus on administrators (and professors, students - and Society?  The World?) having to validate their world-view. Other people not simply taking their word that they are being harmed is itself considered an additional harm. Any pushback is considered further evidence that the whole place is invalidating, requiring even more apology. It's a bottomless pit.

*Technically, we must show that the dangerousness results from the mental illness, but that's a refinement we needn't bother with here.

I have a second thought.

1 comment:

Grim said...

There's a sentiment expressed in a number of ballads and a few other songs that I've always liked. It's sometimes expressed politely, and sometimes profanely, but the kindest way I've heard it put is from an Irish ballad about a moonshiner:

"...and if you don't like me/
then leave me alone."

It may be harder to leave family alone, but it's very far from impossible.