The Enlightened Caveman


The Docilization of America
September 10, 2004, 3:17 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Parenting, Politics

No, I’m not trying to be one of the Williams of obscure words (that’s Buckley and Safire). Don’t bother with your dictionary; I made it up. Docilization is the process of making people docile. That, it appears, is what some of our social engineers are after, and it may surprise you to learn that they are primarily Republicans. I am referring to Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, which came about in 2002, and is now recommending comprehensive mental health screening for “consumers of all ages,” including pre-school students. Schools, so they say, are in a perfect position to screen 52 million students and 6 million adults who work in the schools. As I read about this, I could feel a chill going up my spine.

The rationale for this program is well-meaning (as are all social engineering plans). They say that mental health problems, though they are very prevalent, are often missed or misdiagnosed. I’d buy that. They also say that, each year, many young children are expelled from schools for unruly behavior and for emotional problems. I’d buy that, too. The solution is to screen for mental problems and recommend treatment, which happens to center on anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs. This I cannot buy. It’s a load of crap.

There’s no question that medication is sometimes required to deal with mental problems. However, we are on the verge of eerily playing out the vision of Aldous Huxley in his classic, Brave New World. Huxley wrote the book in 1932 to be a piece of satirical fiction. In it, he describes a futuristic society where individuals are genetically engineered to be stratified into several levels. Those at the top live the best lives and make all the key decisions. Those at the bottom are designed to be workers, workers who are content to only be workers and to have no say in the direction of their lives. To keep this utopia humming, among other things, every person takes a pill daily that keeps him or her happy and comfortable with life. When criminals commit crimes, which is rare, they are not incarcerated, they are given a heaping dose of this “soma” drug. So, I guess what is happening is that our little people are the equivalent of Huxley’s criminals – instead of dealing with their actions, they are going to be drugged. I have problems with this on multiple levels.

For one thing, we’re talking about a government administered plan. That, alone, should scare the bejeezus out of just about anyone. To think that 52 million kids are going to be screened, with the results being a thumbs up or thumbs down on anti-psychotic and/or anti-depressant medication, is truly frightening. Even if they have only a 1% error rate in their diagnosis, that’s 52,000 kids who will either be put on drugs unnecessarily or who will do without when they really need them. But there’s a bigger issue – whether a drug actually solves a problem or masks it.

In many cases, there is no doubt that chemicals in the brain are off, which is causing the child to behave in a rambunctious or otherwise undesirable way. Personally, I say suck it up and learn to live with it. That’s how character is developed. But putting that aside, what about the tons of kids who exhibit bad behavior for reasons other than brain chemicals? What about the kids who act out because mom and dad regularly engage in violent disagreements? What about the kids who act out because mom and dad could care less about them? What about the kids who act out because they’re bored with the curriculum that is geared for the lowest common denumbinator (that’s my word, too)? If Bush’s gem of a little program is enacted, these kids will be put on drugs like Ritalin, which will most likely curb their deviations from teacher and parent expectations. But will the problem will be solved? Not even close. It will be masked. It will remain hidden in the background until something comes along that even Ritalin can’t control. Then what? Admission to an institution? Prison? Come on.

The bottom line is that the behavior of children is all that should be evaluated. If Jimmy can’t control himself, discipline him. If it doesn’t work, get his parents involved. If that doesn’t work, get him out of the classroom and send him for mental health screening. That’ll keep the numbers of kids being screened manageable enough for us to expect good results. It’ll also make drugging our kids a last resort, which is exactly what it should be. Even if something like Ritalin can improve Jimmy’s behavior, isn’t everyone better off if he learns to control it himself? Will he not take the lessons learned along the way into the rest of his life? Will he not use the ability to overcome personal hardships to overcome the inevitable barriers that will stand between what he wants and what he can attain?

So, once again, Bush and pals prove themselves to be unable to see the ramifications of their so-called principle-driven actions. I think everyone applauds when politicians vote their conscience. We all appreciate it when our public servants commit to what they believe in, even when it could cost them politically. But sometimes, their altruistic ideals do not translate into policy without undue harm to some group of people. In this case, that group of people is all of us. If we have a bunch of docile kids who’ve used pharmaceuticals to help themselves and their parents avoid facing reality, we’ll eventually have a bunch of docile adults who don’t know what to do when reality gets tough. And with a war on terror going on, this is bad news for everyone.

When are they and the well-meaning social engineers going to learn that anomalies in the populations of humans are far too complex to “fix” with broad, sweeping government solutions? The one thing that works every time is simple – hold people accountable for their actions and their actions alone. That goes for kids, too. Docilization is not the answer.

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