Power Dynamics

Blair’s Big Brother Binge

Blair's Big Brother Binge

If you thought genuine concerns over security and welfare motivated the deceptively named bills in Tony Blair's final Queen's speech, in all likelihood you believed him when he reassured us of his noble aims to rid the world of the genocidal threat presented by Slobodan Milosevic, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. With one dead, another at large and the third awaiting his fate in death row, Blair's speech writers have had to find some new daemons to justify even more surveillance of our everyday lives. A double whammy of new anti-terrorism legislation and a revised Mental Health Act empowering the authorities to detain emotionally disturbed citizens before they commit a heinous crime. On cue the corporate and state media highlight the case of a paranoid schizophrenic allegedly failed by mental health services and let loose only to brutally murder an innocent cyclist. The only conclusions the establishment media lets us draw is that we must pour even more funds into the burgeoning mental health sector to ensure vulnerable individuals diagnosed with psychiatric disorders take their medication and are kept well out of harm's way through 24/7 surveillance. One need merely join the dots by comparing this with recent legislation purportedly crafted to defend young children from the spectre of Internet paedophiles, but conveniently enabling the police to enter any dwelling to confiscate computer equipment. Do we seriously believe that the same government that deregulates gambling, allows 24 hour boozing and praises entrepreneurs responsible for a culture of mindless hedonism would only use these newly acquired powers against a handful of psychopathic killers and child molesters? The UK already has the world's highest density of CCTV cameras (bar a few densely populated city states), the highest psychiatric disorder diagnosis rate in Europe and the highest spending on mental health services (12.5% of total health expenditure in 2002 compared to 5% in Italy and France and 10% in Germany).

The psychiatric model absolves individuals with personality disorders of responsibility for their antisocial, self-harming, obsessive, abusive, murderous or otherwise dysfunctional actions, turning misfits into victims suffering from neurological diseases rather than citizens responsible for their actions. Rather we should empower people to get meaningful jobs to fend for themselves, but if they commit a crime, they should bear the consequences. Simultaneously we hear calls for universal screening of all children for all personality disorders, allegedly to help the undiagnosed victims or keep tabs on future criminals. By focussing narrowly on genetic markers that may make people more susceptible to the expression of psychotic symptoms, they completely ignore the social context, e.g. over 50% of Londoners diagnosed with schizoid disorders have a history of drug abuse, including the widely publicised psychopathic murderer. Someone who has endured years of illegal drug abuse, followed by years of psychoactive drugs and confinement is extremely vulnerable to violent mood swings, putting a lie to the myth that lack of medication caused a murder. It would be more accurate to say that failure to offset the combined effects of legal and illegal drugs and a background of emotional abuse in a consumerist society obsessed with virtual violence triggered a killing spree. Sadly the potential for this kind of behaviour is much more prevalent than we might like to think. numerous wars soldiers, especially in times of economic hardship, social upheaval and forced abstinence, have abused their new-found power by raping and pillaging the indigenous population. Yet the same soldiers back home in more prosperous times might seem exemplary fathers and members of their communities. Besides within just one month in England alone we have witnessed two cases of fathers on SSRIs murder two or more members of their family, yet in neither case did the media highlight medication as the cause.

The real agenda is to set a precedent for preventive detention, empowering the authorities to lock up emotionally unstable citizens considered at high risk of committing murder. If this power were only used sparingly against a handful of individuals there might seem little to worry about, but recent experience with the implementation of anti-terrorism legislation would suggest otherwise. Most murders in the UK are committed either as a result of domestic disputes or by the hitmen of self-confident gangsters. To even be sure of saving a single human life a year we would need to detain thousands of citizens. Current estimates show as many 500,000 with schizoid disorders (just under 1%), a similar number for bipolar disorder (1%), Autistic Spectrum Disorders (1%), OCD (1% again) and some estimates of the controversial ADHD label as high as 3-4%. If we begin to enter the hilly territory of manic depression, now shamelessly promoted by celebrities, then well over 10% of the population could be claimed to suffer from psychiatric problems likely to require medication and/or monitoring just in case they harm themselves. All could now be at risk of arrest, all to save one or two individuals killed by madmen on the loose. Most amusing of all, Camilla Cavendish reported in the Times of London (They're getting away with murder 23/11/2006) that "... between 55 and 63 people are killed every year by people who have recently been in contact with mental health services. At about 10 per cent of the total murder count, dare I say this is quite a lot?". Sadly that is very close to the percentage of the general population who've been in touch with mental health services in the last year.