How do you defend yourself when you are called crazy? Anything you say can be dismissed as the ranting of a crazy person. Therein, lies the problem with turning our gun debate or any other policy matter over to "mental health professionals."
The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, or DSM-V, is hitting library shelves across the country. Included are a plethora of diagnoses, including some that many feel could be used to label those with political perspectives against the grain of groupthink in America.
Second Amendment advocates are desperate to take the heat off of guns as the culprit of school shootings, terrorist horrors and other societal ills. Thus, the idea that the whole problem is really one of "mental health" is very appealing.
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I got a letter this morning from a patriot who went to a meeting with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. He was delighted to tell me that finally, "Conservatives are getting it." The pressure for reform has moved away from the guns and toward mental health.
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I felt like I had dropped into a black hole and was falling deeper and deeper while screaming, "Noooooooo!"
My father was a "do-it-yourself" kind of guy. He still is. He has plenty of money and lives very well on South Padre Island, Texas. He "tinkers" his day away. There is no broken item he can't fix, in his mind. So he will spend hours fixing a $50 item that could have been done by a professional who could have done it in five minutes for the same amount of money Dad spent (sometimes less), with much less frustration.
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Watching my dad, an accomplished dentist and successful inventor, go through the agitation of his self-imposed tinkering, I remember the moment I realized that while he was genius-level intelligent, this didn't seem to fit well into the "genius" description. Why not hire a professional?
The professional problem
Professionals exist for a reason. They have wisdom, tools and experience that others don't have. The most intelligent person can look foolish trying to become a plumber for an hour, a mechanic for a Saturday afternoon or a seamstress for a special event.
Why is it that we sit down at dinner with a politician and tell him how politics could be done better? We would never sit down at a dinner with a doctor and tell him how he could do knee surgery better. I have studied psychology most of my life, but no one ever comes to me and tells me how to provide better therapy, or how to talk a suicidal person "off the cliff." So why do we all think that just because in our spare time we watch politics, we are experts, regardless of our trained field of expertise?
Don't misunderstand me. I am not downplaying the crucial role of the citizen in our republic. Politicians should, first, answer to the people; they work for us. But mental health professionals should stick to their day jobs and inject only where their professions are at issue. Their input is not needed where policy is concerned, and their conjecture could be dangerous. The voice and the energy of our people are vital in our government. However, there is a level of savvy required to be successful in the mechanics of politics. This is not about idolizing politicians – quite the contrary. They need to be held entirely accountable by "We the People." Here is why:
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Mental health professionals are highly likely to base their fixes on humanistic, often politicized, ideals that simply won't fix what is wrong and often exacerbate the problems we already have. According to the DSM-V, we could all have labels, and increasingly those labels can cost our liberty and, ultimately, our country.
According to one analysis of the current DSM -IV, more than 46 percent of Americans will have mental disorders in their lifetime, and the new DSM-V makes diagnosing anyone far easier by reducing the number of symptoms required to receive the diagnosis. If you needed eight symptoms before, now you may need only one. Now, where is my prescription, Doc?
In Washington, D.C., they want to limit gun ownership not by weapons type, but based on mental illness. See the trap?
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The mental health professions are precisely the wrong place for us to move our focus for gun safety, or any other liberty. They don't know policy. They don't understand campaigns or the procedures behind the politics. Most are politically ignorant and often more so than the average citizen. The more I read of the common assumptions of today's mental health professionals, the more I am convinced that these professionals should have very little influence over public policy.
Mental health professionals: Mental and unprofessional
There are numerous examples of how mental health professionals erroneously decide they are suddenly experts on politics. There are a few who can sincerely look at the field that is politics and remain rational, without bias. One who can is Jonathan Haidt. He seems to have taken the emotion and bias out of his work and truly collected and analyzed data rationally – a tall order for a mental health professional trained in liberal academia.
Mental health professionals tend to make several erroneous assumptions when they discuss politics. They don't understand the underlying intent of the construction of our Constitution and our republic when they write, so they tend to impose humanist values on the political landscape. Take, for example, the work of Diane Halpern, a cognitive psychologist at Claremont McKenna College in California.
Halpern's work begins with the false and dangerous assumption that "everyone should get along," as she criticizes the partisan nature of politics. While agreeing to disagree is fine in the political realm, compromise, flip-flopping and passing more legislation can be very dangerous to our republic.
Halpern concludes that we need to "reward people for cooperating," and that "compromise" can't be a dirty word because we need to get more "legislation passed." Actually, our founders designed our political system for gridlock. Gridlock saves America from more liberty-killing bills being passed and ensures that ample dialogue, public conversation and complex contemplation of implications for passing legislation are considered. The difficulty of passing new laws is by design! Some would argue we need much more gridlock than we have today.
The "can't-we-all-just-get-along" approach to politics is very dangerous. Robust discourse (ideally civil) is the medium through which America makes decisions. It is the thought-development process of the American political psyche. It is a beautiful thing. Halpern bizarrely idealizes the backroom deals conducted by politicians of both parties sharing a smoke together bemoaning that politicians hang out in separate rooms to "read newspapers, drink coffee and talk."
In her work, Halpern compares partisanship to racism. This is flawed as well. Racism involves physical characterstics, things immutable. Political parties are the result of choices and are changeable (though some psychologists will argue that they are partly innate). Neither party is a victim; both have the same right to adapt to appeal to their measure of what needs improvement and what changes appeal to the voters.
Halpern calls for less "hyper-partisanship and more cooperation." The reality is that there is way too much bipartisan chumminess in the Capitol, and in state capitols and city halls across this country. While it may look to the layman (or armchair quarterback/mental health speculator) like the bitter floor fights are real and personal, the reality is that they all go the Hill Club later that night and sip whisky together. The real hyper-partisanship exists on the ground – in the grassroots. That is where the listening work must be done, and it is Jonathan Haidt's work that lays out what I believe is the best, most rational place to begin that work.
Halpern praises flip-flopping as good, making an amusing reference to footwear suggesting we change from criticizing the "flip-flops" to seeing politicians as "standing on the evidence." While I am all about shoes, flip-flopping is changing opinions based on political considerations. It is bad, and the negative connotation is proper. Changing one's mind based on new evidence is not flip-flopping. Words have meaning. Suggesting that a politician is virtuous when he campaigns on one position and dismisses his flip-flop as merely taking a stand on new evidence is to invite chaos.
Diminished public trust is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in the demise of our liberties over the last two decades. The loss of trust is a natural result of our seeing politicians getting along too well with one another, compromising and flip-flopping too often. The public has every right to believe that when they vote for a politician, he has studied the issues extensively and has come to firm conclusions on his positions. It is not the public that needs to forgive the politician for his flip-flop; it is the politician who needs to offer his seat for not studying the issue ahead of time and committing to one position rather than later flipping to another.
If you are not convinced that mental health "professionals" need to tread cautiously when weighing into politics consider this: A group of professors at U.C. San Diego is studying "what makes us Republican or Democrat." They warn the viewer not to "take offense" at their word choices. I will let you decide that one for yourself:
"Children defined by teachers as 'fearful, rigid, indecisive, vulnerable, and inhibited tended to be more politically conservative as adults.' On the flip side, children described as 'more energetic, resilient, self-reliant, expressive, dominating, and more prone to developing close relationships' tended toward liberalism as adults."
Jonathan Haidt, a former self-proclaimed liberal, disagrees. He maintains that the values espoused by conservatives are not only fruitful, but also necessary to the maintenance of our republic.
Liberal universities have been planning to own the minds of youth since the 1970s. I personally sat in meetings during graduate school and heard them share their victories and recount their vision of a secular, socialist America. It is one thing to invite mental health professionals to offer their opinions on individual conditions or to treat people, but empowering people with opinions like these to guide public policy or control our access to our Second Amendment rights is, well, crazy.
Conservatives must remain diligent, skeptical and watchful. If those who understand liberty would subvert their own goals to take the heat off guns, shouldn't we be concerned? If the argument is guns, liberty-minded conservatives know we can win on Second Amendment law. If we hand that fight over to mental health professionals, we enrich liberal universities to further indoctrinate our youth, and we essentially hand over the power of labeling people "mentally ill." That is simply not the answer.