Southern Fried Denial
Unfortunately, today’s breaking news isn’t anything new. Once again a crazed gunman has gone on a rampage shooting a bunch of innocent people who stood in his pathway. At least our initial take on it is that all of the victims are innocent of any wrongdoing. There is also an assumption that society is without fault in such a tragedy, and little is said or examined in these kinds of cases to determine if anything could have been done to stop it or at least stop similar incidents from happening in the future. Instead, there will be a lot of recriminations directed toward the gunman accompanied by a bunch of head-scratching denial as to how such a thing could happen here. In fact, cases such as this one bring into focus a couple of political positions driven by conservative interest groups in The South that converge in a pool of human carnage.
Here in The South there is a visceral, knee-jerk reaction to any assertion coming from anyone that unrestricted gun ownership played any role whatsoever in such a tragedy. If anyone dares to bring up the topic, they are immediately branded as some sort of pinko commie liberal who doesn’t know what he/she is talking about. After all, it is screamed often down here, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people!” Now, this is an argument that is both correct and incorrect in its assertion. While it is true that an untouched gun never inflicted its terror on anyone, it is equally true that a person without access to a gun would not be able to shoot someone to death. Both premises are equally true.
But I assert a different premise on the issue. A gun in the hands of a mentally ill person is an act of terror waiting to happen. And this is where insanity bares its ugly head down South on a regular basis. The same politicians who advocate unfettered gun ownership also seem hell-bent on not wasting money on mental illness. It is a basic tenet down South that a trip to the altar on Sunday morning to be prayed over will remove that evil demon from your soul and you will be cured. In the minds of many in the “Christian South,” mental illness is just a manifestation of Satan in the world, and Jesus is the only cure for the problem. So smart southern politicians – insert Republicans into that definition – know that they will be rewarded from the pulpit with support for such a position. And what they really wanted was to save tax dollars for their wealthy constituents anyway, so it’s a win/win situation.
This begs the question: Where is Tennessee Williams when you need him? Many years ago the gifted playwright ripped the scabs off of Southern denial about such things as mental illness and homosexuality, exposing it for what it was. He was celebrated for his brilliant portrayal of dysfunctional Southern families and personalities. Even down here in The South, he was celebrated by many who were ready to move on into the 1900s, leaving the scars of the Confederate loss during The Civil War behind. But in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, many Southerners retreated back into the “what-if-we-had-won” fantasy world that had seized up the region’s economy and forward movement for a hundred years. The evangelical movement ushered in by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and their like used the issue to pump up its membership and fill its coffers with money, which they used to build schools with which to drive the public school system to near bankruptcy. The truths pointed to by Tennessee Williams were challenged and the man himself was tarred with the brush of homosexuality.
The entire southern region of the United States – even once progressive Texas – has taken a 50-year U-turn to a distant past that nobody today can even remember. You find yourself attending a Bible study class at your local Mega Southern Baptist Church where the “teacher” says, “Don’t tell me there’s no hunting in Heaven, because then I wouldn’t want to go.” That really happened to Mrs. Jack and myself a couple of years ago. Needless to say, that was the last straw for us and we ran for our lives out of the place. Now, you may say, “Well, that was an isolated incident.” But it was not. The reason we attended that class was to escape the “teacher” in our previous class who kept sending racially incendiary jokes by e-mail to Mrs. Jack, mainly targeting Jessie Jackson. There was also a weekly warning against the “homosexual agenda” from the pulpit, and the announcement of a big event where “many Republican politicians will be there to address us.” That, too, came from the pulpit.
The level of meanness in The South has been ratcheted up to an alarming level by those who lead us both politically and spiritually. The vilification of “welfare mothers” still spews forth at a fevered pitch. Several Southern Governors refused to accept Federal money to assist those just “getting by” on unemployment, in a fit of Republican fiscal conservative unity. “Damn the unemployed poor. Let them take care of themselves,” they said with a good old fashioned Southern harrumph. This is the attitude when it comes to all assistance programs. Despite being the region with the worst education system, a high poverty rate and continued racial tensions, The South clings to its old views on everything. That includes monies to assist the mentally ill. There is such a shortage of State facilities to treat poor mentally ill patients here in Texas that it is the common practice to keep them for no more than 60 days and then just turn them loose back into society where they do “crazy” things that often involve guns and death to others or themselves or both.
But if you ask most Southerners if anyone in their family is in need of psychological help, they will quickly tell you no. This guy in Alabama who killed 12 people plus himself on his shooting rampage is being portrayed as a great mystery to all those who claim to have known him. Everybody is shocked and surprised that he would do such a thing. We were told by the mayor of one of the three towns that he rampaged through that “everybody knows everybody here,” and “we feel protected from such things happening here.” Pure denial! If everybody knows everybody, then why didn’t someone know this guy was about to blow? Down here, even if you suspect such a thing, it would only be whispered about in gossip circles and maybe even laughed at. Everybody knows that nothing like that could happen here! Yet it does. Will we ever really know what caused the guy to explode in violence against himself and others? Most likely not, because his family will also be reluctant if not downright unwilling to admit that there was the first sign of such a thing before it erupted.
Down here we have a long tradition of locking our crazy family members in the attic so nobody will know. Our regional motto should read: Attics for the crazies and closets for the queers; and we like it like that! That’s just how we roll down here. That’s how we have rolled for hundreds of years, and nobody in authority seems willing to be truthful about it or address its insanity. Instead, we stand on our “high moral ground” and scold the heathens to our north as Satan worshipers, doing what we can to enact our beliefs into Federal Law, thus saving the heathens from themselves. That’s what Jesus told us to do, isn’t it? Force everyone to be a Christian whether they want to or not? Get rid of that pesky free-will thing that God gave mankind? And just in case there’s resistance to our viewpoints, we want to be allowed to stockpile massive amounts of automatic weapons. “Isn’t that what the Prince of Peace would do in our place? I’m pretty sure that there’s a story somewhere in the New Testament about Jesus gunning down a bunch of non-believers. Give me time: I’ll find it.”
I, personally, am not a big gun-control advocate. I think that sportsmen should be able to hunt. Most liberals don’t realize that hunting actually does have some positive benefits for some wildlife populations. When properly managed by State agencies, it helps to keep populations at levels that can be sustained by available natural environments during the winter. But I’m not sure why anyone needs a semi-automatic rifle to hunt wildlife. It seems like one of two things: overkill or an attempt to gloss over the fact that such rifles are not really for hunting: they are for warfare. That being said, I am forced by the State of Texas to register my car every year, and I haven’t used it to kill anyone yet. So I don’t see why gun registration is such an unreasonable thing to ask.
At this point, I would ask my readers to please pause for just a moment to pray for my well-being because I have pissed off my beloved wife – who is absolutely anti-gun – and my brothers – who are offended by any statement calling for gun registration. As a result of this piece I may have no family left, so pray for me.
But, the thing I am really advocating here is: if you’re going to allow people unfettered access to firearms, please throw some money toward State-supported mental health facilities in an attempt to help people before they explode into violence. It not only will take more and better facilities; it will also require our political and religious leaders to become outspoken advocates for mental health issues, thus removing centuries of stigmatization that keeps sufferers from coming forward. It’s time to clear the figurative attics of The South and address the real dangers that are posed by our narrow, backward views on mental illness.
Sanity is worth fighting for.
KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT!