The Derelict and the Pastor; or, the Insane and the Inane
A mentally unstable
alcoholic derelict named Arthur Cafiero, who frequently screamed at passersby and refused all entreaties from police that he go to a homeless shelter, was allowed by West-Park Presbyterian Church on Manhattan’s Upper West to use the front of the church as his regular living and sleeping quarters. During the sharp cold spell this past month Cafiero, wrapped in dirty blankets, froze to death in broad daylight on the church steps
. Pastor Robert Brashear says: “We’ve asked ourselves many times over, ‘Is there something else we could have done?’” It doesn’t seem to occur to Brashear that Cafiero should have been taken to a city shelter, even if that was, heaven forbid, against his own preferences. Indeed, as Brashear makes clear, the respecting of the insane derelict’s preference to freeze to death is the whole point. “But in Cafiero’s choices,” he continues,” there is a dignity and self-definition, even when we don’t understand or approve of those choices.”
That inane comment is, of course, a variation on the core slogan of modern liberalism: “I believe in right and wrong, but I don’t want to impose my judgments on others.” It is the world view which conservative critics call relativism, but which (as we’ve discussed before at VFR) is more properly described as nihilism.
By the way, people today call nihilism “relativism” for the same reason they call leftism “liberalism.” Given the fact that the opinion being spoken of is now mainstream and thoroughly respectable, the correct term for it would sound too harsh, too judgmental. To call a widely accepted sentiment “leftist” or “nihilist” would make the speaker sound extreme rather than the thing he is criticizing, so he insensibly adopts the softer term instead. In other words, under the regime of advanced liberalism or mainstream radicalism, the only way that critics of the left can avoid coming across like extremists is to subscribe to the polite fiction that the culturally dominant radicalism is—just as it claims to be—”mainstream.”
Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 01, 2003 07:58 PM | Send
Perhaps if Reagan hadn’t closed so many mental health centers in the 80’s and thus over taxed the remaining state ones, Mr. Caifero never would have fallen so far as to have to live in either a shelter or the steps of a church…
Jody’s comment reveals 100 percent ignorance of the reality of the so-called homelessness problem.
First, the state mental health facilities were closed mainly at the instigation of liberals on the basis of personal freedom, that people should not be made to live in state facilities, that they would be capable of conducting their lives on their own, which in many cases was not true.
Second, there are facilities, indeed, APARTMENTS, thousands of them, available for every single so-called homeless person in New York City. (Indeed, there is such an overabundance of such facilities, and they’re so easy to get into, that lately many people have been coming from outside New York to get into these free homes.) Police and social workers and church charity workers frequently deal with the homeless in New York, try to persuade them to go to the homes the city has made available for them at a cost of billions, but many of these people simply refuse. They prefer the less organized, freer live they have on the streets.
It’s impossible for liberals to accept these facts, for the same reason that it’s impossible for them to accept the reality of criminals or enemies. To accept that reality would mean to accept (1) that people are not basically good; and (2) that therefore the bad or evil choices that individuals make are not the fault of “root causes” inhering in our society, but in the character and choices of those individuals.
For the liberal, if society requires that mentally ill people be maintained in state residential facilities, society is being oppresive and uncompassionate; if society then releases those patients into the streets, it is being oppressive and uncompassionate. Either way, it is society that is guilty. The liberal cannot see things any other way; it is the template, inherited from Rousseau, by which he views reality.
I recommend Jodie look up Heather MacDonald’s long article on homelessness from about two years ago in the City Journal. It’s a real eye-opener.
LA, I couldn’t agree with more. I have worked with and for the homeless for the past 17 years and one of the most frustrating aspects of my job is the inability to commit a mentally ill client to even a 72 hour assessment in a local hospital’s behavioural unit unless he or she agrees to go voluntarily. The result is that the homeless shelter I work at becomes a defacto community mental institution run by staff who fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill. My remedy is to force the Executive Director of the state ACLU to care for a homeless mentally ill person in her home for at least a month. Perhaps with that experience our society’s love affair with the “rights” of the mentally ill will get real.
I still find it interesting how instinctively liberals associate human dignity with self-definition.
I have never felt the need to be “self-defined” by my choices; I have been happy to be defined by my sex, my nation and my culture (more so back when these things were allowed to mean something).