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Stephen Neary: “The Orwellian Present” sounds about right

December 13, 2010

Another DW crosspost.

I became aware of a situation late last night on Twitter, but didn’t have enough Sanity Watchers Points left to try to write about it then.

The post referred to: Anna Raccoon’s The Orwellian Present – Never Mind the Future.

I have found the Mental Health Act (England and Wales) disturbing enough, with no real requirement that people be dangers to themselves or others to be locked up. Those requirements are easily enough manipulated where they do apply. Based on personal experience elsewhere, I know how easy it can be if you are perceived in certain ways for it to be considered (under draft provisions) “necessary for the health or safety of the patient or the protection of other persons that medical treatment be provided to him”–from the previously linked grounds for compulsion page. I am not sure what has become of drafts since then, and it’s not really important here: let it suffice to say that all the draft provisions I’ve seen (along with the 1983 version they’re meant to supplant) make it appallingly easy to twist criteria to lock up pretty much anybody, with very little accountability. And nobody’s going to make a fuss if the way the person’s behavior is presented and interpreted comes across as weird enough.

That’s appalling enough. Being able to do a total end-run around what few protections apply to people who fall under the Mental Health Act, while claiming you’re not really holding them involuntarily–as apparently happened here? I don’t have the words.

I can’t find much more information about Stephen Neary’s situation and would like to, but–again, based on my own experience and things I have witnessed–I find what is described hideously plausible. Reading about it left me shivering and having flashbacks (which I am well aware would make me far less plausible to a lot of people, to the point that I hesitated to mention it).

More on Deprivation of Liberty “safeguards” referred to in Anna Raccoon’s post. Again, I have very little trouble believing that this could be twisted to create “arbitrary decisions that deprive vulnerable people of their liberty”, For Their Own Good. That’s a nasty mix of disablism and institutionalized arsiness for you. (See also the Stanford Prison Experiment.)

My own reaction was rather different from what near-inevitably came up in one discussion I did find (from someone who was at least trying to maintain an open mind):

There is a massive campaign with this petition on facebook and elsewhere on the net and I have not joined any bandwagons I’ve seen about it because as you say this is one emotive side to a story. I too thought it highly unlikely a ‘tap’ on the shoulder would instigate any incident reports, and them being unable to name a Vicar was more to do with confidentiality and safety rather than being unable to recall a name or that he didn’t exist.

I had no trouble believing that once certain types of stigma kicked in, everything the (not very small-looking and “low-functioning”) man did was viewed through a certain suspicious lens, and the Zakhqurey Price-style punitive “you are defying me, you inferior disordered so-and-so” factor kicked in as well–a tap on the shoulder would have been very likely to get written up as assault. And very few other staff members or people higher up in the system would object, since he is autistic/mentally ill/what have you after all, and it’s probably for his own good.

Insisting that this kind of thing couldn’t possibly happen absolutely reeks of privilege. I have seen people written up for less in institutional settings. The same goes for predictable agitated behavior in someone who is being held against their will in unfamiliar settings–autism is not required, but it sure does help! To me, it’s just a bit surprising that they didn’t have Mr. Neary arrested, as per the zero tolerance BS pointed out near the end of a previous post. (I am skipping quoting that, for length.)

Actually, what I have read about Mr. Neary’s case (and I bet he doesn’t get called that a lot!) strikes me as an excellent example of how differently criteria can be applied depending on how a person is seen in the first place. Sometimes that means that a tap on the shoulder (or making faces at someone) is assault, sometimes it means that trying to tackle someone down or otherwise restrain them isn’t. Sometimes it means that the police get called just because someone is suspiciously sitting in front of a library or beaten and Tasered by them for sitting on a curb.

And, given the amount of abuse and disregard for basic human rights that people with certain disabilities run into every single day, insisting that the only sane and sensible thing to do is to wait for information that’s less “one-sided” reeks even more of privilege. Very few people want to hear about the shit that does go on, and it’s rarely considered “one-sided” when the people and institutions mistreating them are the only ones allowed to speak.

So, yeah, I would like to know more about Stephen Neary’s situation, but I have very little trouble believing that something like Anna Raccoon describes could happen. And I went ahead and signed a petition, as little good as I suspect it will do–because there’s really not much else I can do about it. I hope that some of you reading this will do the same, and possibly come up with some better ideas.

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