Sunday, April 13, 2014

Should David Cameron be Sectioned?

There's a petition calling for David Cameron to be detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act (the petition isn't that specific; the authors know nothing about mental health so they've just said he should be sectioned). The petition lays out a case as to why Cameron would qualify:
1. David Cameron MP appears to think he is Jesus Christ, and compares himself with Jesus
Cameron hasn't said he is Jesus. He said that Jesus invented the Big Society and that he, David Cameron is carrying on his work. It is a pompous and ridiculous thing to say, especially as the Big Society is whatever Conservative politicians say it is - mostly volunteers stepping up to replace essential services that have lost government funding and Food Banks, the need for which barely existed before they came into power.

However, John Lennon compared his fame to that of Jesus Christ. In one song, he claimed to be a Walrus. Extreme arrogance is not the same thing as a Messiah Complex.

Meanwhile, even sincerely believing oneself to be Jesus Christ is not itself grounds for sectioning.  On a recent television programme, Ian Hislop interviewed a perfectly sane and pleasant man who believes he is King Arthur.  It is possible for people to believe incredibly unlikely things about themselves and the world around them without even being unwell.  Eccentric, for sure. Factually misguided, almost certainly. But as a generality, unless there is considerable personal distress, there is no illness.

The argument continues:
2. He does this despite doing the opposite of what Jesus is recorded to have done, so David Cameron is clearly delusional.
By this thinking, every professed Christian who is homophobic, smacks their kids, accumulates massive wealth or in any way treats other people in ways they themselves would not like to be treated, could be delusional. Only they're not. This is just a mixture of misinterpretation and common or garden hypocrisy. Many if not most of us profess ethical beliefs we sometimes fail to follow.

In some ways, this is the opposite to mental ill health. Some mental illnesses are characterised by a person having beliefs they find impossible to compromise on. Sometimes, it is not the belief that is the problem (e.g washing hands helps guard against infection) but the inability to compromise on that belief to any degree.
3. He refuses to listen to the vast majority of the country, instead pretending everything is fine and refusing to explain himself, instead making idiotic ramblings and carrying out dangerous actions whilst pretending nothing is wrong
He refuses, he pretends. He is not oblivious - he chooses to ignore the people who, as Prime Minister, he is supposed to serve. This is not a sign of ill health, just a sign of a poor governance, ignorance, arrogance and selfishness. David Cameron is behaving very badly. It is possible to do that in perfectly good mental health.
4. He has already harmed thousands. He is a danger to himself and others.
There's no evidence that David Cameron is any danger to himself (his immortal soul notwithstanding). There's no evidence that David Cameron is a direct danger to others. There is no evidence of violence towards others. He has made decisions which have harmed people, even led to deaths, but very indirectly; he has spearheaded austerity measures which have put already very vulnerable people in increasingly vulnerable positions. He is responsible for that.

But this is the point; someone who is not in control of themselves will lash out and could harm people fairly randomly. They have diminished responsibility. Cameron is in control. He is surrounded by advisers and he sits through parliamentary debates where the consequences of his actions are discussed at length. He knows full well what he's doing and chooses to do it anyway.

Other arguments set forth by supporters of the petition include that David Cameron is a psychopath. Psychopathy is a controversial and complex area, but there is some evidence that Cameron exhibits some of the characteristics you might associate with this condition.  However, there are two things to be said about this.

The first is that Cameron is part of a government who collectively exhibit these traits. He is part of a very small but very powerful cultural bubble where it is normal behaviour to dismiss the suffering of others (particularly groups which represent a convenient scapegoat) and to line one's own pockets whilst professing to have the country's best interests at heart. It is impossible to tell whether Cameron would behave as badly in a context where the people around him weren't behaving this way, and giving him permission to do likewise.

Meanwhile, psychopathy, if it can be said to exist, is in the nature of a person and thus untreatable. If someone has not committed a crime, it becomes legally very tricky to detain someone for treatment (Section 3 of the Mental Health Act) when their condition cannot be treated.

I don't need to say, of course, that the idea of a petition to section someone is, if we take it seriously, absolutely terrifying. In days of yore, it was quite easy for wealthy men to get troublesome wives and daughters diagnosed with a serious mental illness and shuffled out of the way into institutions for the rest of their lives. In the mid-twentieth century, it was not uncommon to find people who merely deviated from the general population in some slight way - gay men, sexually active unmarried women, for example - put away and subject to dangerous and damaging treatments for little more than the failure to conform.

Do we really want to imagine a world where it would be possible to persuade doctors to detain and medicate people by a popular vote?  Does that even work as a joke?

So what can this petition achieve? Well, it has already has several effects which one is free to witness both on the petition site and elsewhere in social media :

  • It has caused a great deal of amusement at the expense of people with mental illness. Despite the earnest tone of the petition, we shouldn't take this seriously, because it's just a laugh! Mental illness is so funny!
  • It has reaffirmed our cultural connection between mental ill health and bad behaviour; David Cameron is bad, therefore he must be mad. The petition states, "This is not an attack on those with mental illness" but saying a thing does not make it so. 
  • It has reaffirmed our cultural belief that mental illness is actually worse than evil. The fact that Cameron has overseen so much suffering in the country is one thing, but the reason he ought to be removed from power is because he is mentally unwell. 
  • It has promoted ignorance of what mental illness is and how the Mental Health Act works. 
So well done to everyone. And people argue e-petitions are a waste of time. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are wrong about the petition. It has been altered somewhat since you wrote this.