Ralph Benko

The Tucson Massacre dominated the political discourse in America. That is a symptom of a preoccupation with politics that narrows our possibilities as a society to renew the American spirit, society and culture.

There is an axiom on the Left: “The personal is political.” This is a phrase made famous by radical feminist Carol Hanisch in a 1969 essay. It is famous because it presents, vividly, something very true and, at the time, new. But it does not contain the whole truth. The time for its centrality has expired.

All of the evidence suggests that Jared Loughner’s mayhem was a function of severe mental illness. His YouTube videos are redolent with signs of severe dissociation, words that almost seem to make sense yet do not: The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar.

Loughner’s MySpace profile contains a long list of favorite books. Much attention has been directed to his referencing of The Communist Manifesto and of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. But the really telling reference has been almost completely overlooked: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

This 1962 novel is a dramatization of (among other things) an inhumane, and indefensible, system of institutionalizing the mentally ill–along with mere eccentrics, those with below-average IQ and social misfits. It, and the award-winning movie based on it, became a counterculture classic. It may have been the trigger for a dramatic shift in social consensus against institutionalization of the non-criminal insane and others.

Those who remember the pre-Cuckoo’s Nest days have not forgotten the prescribed torments, rarely curative, to which those diagnosed as insane were subjected. Electroshock therapy, pharmaceutical regimes designed to stupefy, and, most heinously, prefrontal lobotomy. This litany does not include the inmate-on-inmate violence and abuse that was rife in understaffed institutions.

The very real abuses dramatized in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest led to general revulsion to the undignified and unbearably inhumane way our society dealt, institutionally, with the mentally ill, the below-average IQ and the socially odd. The social consensus that followed led to a wholesale deinstitutionalization on humanitarian grounds.

To say that the current policy is imperfect is a massive understatement.

Ralph Benko

Ralph Benko, author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to use the Web to transform the world. He serves as an advisor to and editor of the Lehrman Institute's thegoldstandardnow.org and senior advisor to the American Principles Project.