The first recorded use of “crazy” appears to be in 1576:
“A. Fleming tr. Cicero in Panoplie Epist. 4 Remove not from the place where you be, sithence you are weake and crasie.3”
In other words: Keep us locked away, and don’t let us out in public. Segregate us. Which is pretty much the general view today – even though these views are disguised by euphemisms.
(There’s probably a lot of fascinating, additional etymology behind the derivation of the word “crazy,” but unfortunately I have neither the time nor space, currently, to dig into it.)
I’m really, really tired of being referred to with slurs, without anybody objecting. I’m really tired of the public at large and the media conflating gun violence with mental illness, when such conflation is not based on facts.
You know what? The “mentally ill” don’t kill people. People kill people. Gun violence is not about our mental health system – although I will be the first to say this system clearly needs improvement. No, I believe the escalating acts of mass, public violence is about the increasing gap between the rich and the poor; it’s about more and more people feeling disenfranchised or less-than, in a nation where consumerism is the state religion and “success” is measured by standards few can achieve; it’s about racism and classism; it’s about how hard it is to simply get by. It’s about the fact we live in a “democracy” that’s a virtual autocracy, a land filled with desperate people.
American violence is about people who feel powerless because we’re living in a nation in spiritual and cultural crisis, where social injustice is the nation’s defining characteristic, values have vanished, prejudice of all sort is rampant, and heritage a foreign concept. A place where a large number of citizens feel powerless to change their circumstances or how people view them; the powerlessness builds, one’s lack of agency becomes brutally apparent, and sometimes a proverbial straw tips a struggling person over the edge – he or she commits violence to be heard, to have some personal justice, to exert some control and agency in a world in which he or she has none.
I don’t condone violence for any of the above reasons. Whether your life is fucked or not – it never justifies killing somebody. But it’s an outright falsehood to, over and over, implicate mental illness each time a public shooting takes place. Mentally ill people don’t kill people. People kill people. Period.
How about this: let’s stop calling people who commit acts of public or mass violence “mentally ill” or “terrorists,” or “Islamist extremists,” or whatever, and just call them what they are: Bad people. Criminals. Immoral. Or, sometimes, struggling or disturbed people who, in a period where they’ve been pushed to the extreme, resort to an evil which is never justified, regardless of the underlying motives, nor the interior or external, socio-economic circumstances they may be victim of.
The irony is us “mentally ill” are far more likely to direct violence toward ourselves than others. Everyone once in a great while these public shootings are committed by someone delusional, someone profoundly, mentally disturbed. But this is the exception, not the rule.
I am all for reforming gun policy. In fact I am extremely anti-second amendment. But I don’t think it’s just the “mentally ill” who should be barred the right of bearing arms, or at the least, severely restricted. I think it’s everyone.
The reason I get so inflamed about how nobody is ever called out about the discourse surrounding the mentally ill, is that this discourse exacerbates the prejudice we already experience as one of the most heavily stigmatized, invisible minority groups in the United States today4. These aren’t just the uninformed rants of someone who happens to be “mentally ill.” I studied issues like this in grad school, and can back up my statements with research.
Social worker Palmer Reg Orovwuje and psychologist A.J.W. Taylor (2006)5, who have conducted some of that research, wrote:
“People suffering from mental disability and mental illness are among the most disadvantaged groups in society. They suffer severe personal distress, and they are stigmatized, discriminated against, marginalized, and often left vulnerable. They are denied civil, political, and social rights, and are treated less than fairly in legal procedures, clinical practice, and institutional management… The yearnings of people with mental illness to be recognized as full citizens able to enjoy the same rights as other citizens has yet to be satisfied.”