Crime of the awful dimensions we saw in Newtown is, thank God, rare. But the human brain isn’t made for statistics, and it’s only natural to imagine that we are seeing a mass-murder epidemic and to demand action. Although we are too apt to call mass-murderers crazy rather than evil, this crime does seem like a lunatic’s work. A propos, it’s hard not to wonder about the long-term effects of a project the cultural revolution put over in the 1960s and ’70s: de-institutionalizing the insane so long as they were (supposedly) not dangerous, and building legal and bureaucratic obstacles to keep mentally ill persons from being committed to hospitals or asylums, for society’s and their own good.
Of course we don’t yet know all the facts about Newtown. Nor do we know the extent of the social catastrophe decades after the asylums were mostly closed, the inmates sent home and told to take their medicine and be nice to their mothers. We don’t know the size of the catastrophe because conservatives tend to lose interest in social revolutions after a year or two (abortion is the rare exception), and we can hardly expect anyone else to care. The only response that seems appropriate to a heart-rending tragedy like Newtown is prayer and silence. But for America at large, far more is required.