Mental Health and the Government: A Marriage Truly Made in Hell

Dear Dr. Hurd:

Do you agree, in the context of our free will, that bad philosophy has the potential to push people toward madness or psychosis?

Dr. Hurd’s reply:

Absolutely. Actually, people drowning in madness and psychosis are, by definition, drowning in mistaken or bad ideas. Mistaken or bad ideas, in turn, are grounded in bad or wrong philosophy.

One of the worst philosophical errors one can make is to equate feelings with fact. Definitions of psychosis include such terms as ‘loose associations’ and ‘loose connections.’ These refer to a total breakdown in logic. If one holds logic as a strict standard, with logic overriding emotions when the two conflict, then psychosis is minimized or unlikely. If one never had good critical, objective thinking skills in the first place, then one is more prone to some sort of mental disruption.

Most often, the mental disruption we observe is neurotic anxiety or depression. Individuals with these problems are not psychotic or mad. But they do experience emotional states somewhat at odds with reality. They see themselves, life, or their ability to cope as much more futile or danger-ridden than is actually the case. They don’t lose touch with reality completely, but their emotions distort reality. They leave these emotions unchallenged or uncorrected at their psychological peril.

Dear Dr. Hurd:

Do you agree that a legitimate function of government is incarcerating the potentially violent mentally ill?

Dr. Hurd’s reply:

No. First of all, we don’t incarcerate people because they might commit a crime, at least not yet. In a free and rational society, we incarcerate people because they are convicted, beyond a reasonable doubt, of actually committing a crime.

It’s not a crime to be mentally ill, however one defines that. Some members of the American Psychological Association have referred to anti-leftism or conservatism as mental illness. Is the government then to incarcerate everyone who is not a leftist?

It’s not a crime to hold questionable viewpoints, or even outright evil viewpoints. It’s only acting on those viewpoints, by initiating force against others, that one becomes a criminal.

Imagine our society if the government had the power to incarcerate people it deems potential threats to society. Do you actually believe, once given this power, that government would limit such incarceration to the obviously psychotic? Of course not. Opponents of the Obama regime would be incarcerated for being a threat to that regime, and therefore ‘a threat to society.’ The same would be true under a religious dictatorship, rather than a secular and socialist regime such as Obama’s.

The moment you give government the power to declare what is and isn’t rational thinking (or feeling) is the moment you have installed a totalitarian dictatorship. It’s possible that somebody is so chronically irrational and insane, perhaps unwilling to seek psychiatric help or unable to benefit from it, that he or she could be a potential threat to himself and/or others. Such a person would be forced to live off family, friends or other forms of charity. It’s not government’s place to force taxpayers into providing shelters, hospitals or therapeutic residences for such people. However, in a free society, the freedom exists to voluntarily help such people if one chooses. Many family members often attempt to do this, usually with predictably disastrous results.

If such a chronically insane and nonfunctioning person reached a point where he or she intruded on people’s private property rights, this would be in violation of the law—and of course, at this point, government would have to intervene. Such a person would either be incarcerated, or otherwise subdued (with due process of objective law) to be kept from harming innocent others.

This would only be in response to actual criminal acts.

Some take this last example as a justification for government incarcerating the obviously mentally ill or insane. But it’s no justification for government deciding who is or isn’t insane. It’s simply a response to the fact that the nonfunctioning person, with no place to go, is trespassing on the rights or private property of others.

This is the point where government begins to have a role. But no sooner. In the privacy of one’s own mind and property, anyone is free to think, feel or even delude him- or herself as he or she sees fit. None of it is government’s business, unless or until the person crosses a line and starts to break the law.

The idea of government being empowered to dictate what is or isn’t insane is a foundation of dictatorship. Castro did it, North Korea does it, Iran does it, Hitler did it and Soviet Russia did it. From the point-of-view of most governments, anyone who dislikes the men and women in power is self evidently insane. Once government
has the power to determine what is and isn’t insane, then political ‘crimes’ are punishable by law, and dictatorship has begun.


Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.