Thursday, August 21, 2008


MSNBC quotes a Jason Goldtrap as calling the practice of locking up people with mental illnesses and neurological variations “ important element of trying to maintain civility." They then go on to quote him as saying "There is a place for mental institutions.”

Obviously, I disagree. I hope most people disagree. While I agree that many people with neurological variations such as autism need and benefit from supportive communities, those communities exist to serve and support those who live in them, not maintain what Mr. Goldtrap calls civility. I do not just disagree with what Mr. Goldtrap reportedly wants to do with people who have neurological variations and mental illnesses; I disagree with his very notion of civility. Long ago, my mother taught me that true civility has nothing to do with some magical realm where nobody ever harshes your mellow; civility, at its base, means concern for other people. When people make noises or act strangely out of neurological variations, they haven't behaved uncivilly themselves, since they have little if any control over their behaviour. But they do need us to act civilly, with concern and empathy, toward them. If we do that, we will have no need to institutionalize people with neurological or cognitive disabilities. If, on the other hand, we adopt a version of civility that makes comfort more important than empathy, we will all find ourselves under the care of big nurse (or big nanny) in time.

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