Original Publish Date: May 11, 2021
“Howard Roark laughed. He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water.” - Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead
Lessons from a Libertarian
Ayn Rand’s best-selling novel, The Fountainhead, begins with a vivid description of her main character’s relationship with life and the society in which he exists. The novel’s protagonist promoted Rand’s belief that individualism is superior to collectivism, a notion embraced by modern day libertarians. Conservative on the political spectrum, the so-called “right-wing” agenda exists in contrast to much of the policy promoted by the nation’s supposed “left-wing” President and Congressional leadership. These fictional labels behind which the nation often rallies, however, can be just as misleading as Rand’s proclaimed atheism and pro-choice beliefs. While the growing social divide within the United States on the other hand is hard to miss, the passion of Howard Roark, with or without clothes, still inspires an ideology that life is a gift with unlimited possibilities.
The Focus on What Matters
Originating as a decentralized, grassroots movement advocating for racial justice, in 2015 an expanded movement known as Black Lives Matter (BLM) initially focused on promoting policy reforms to end police brutality. Later BLM expanded its platform to include, in part, decarceration, reparations for harms related to slavery and community control over law enforcement.
In response to BLMs growing support, counter-movements such as “All Lives Matter”, “Blue Lives Matter” and “White Lives Matter” gained popularity in part to promote equality beyond color, but also to undermine certain fundamental tenets BLM sought to address. Collectively these movements expose an inherent risk in the use of words or slogans in general as an instrument of change. As a nation forged from a pronouncement of independence in 1776, the Second Continental Congress drafted the Declaration of Independence to include a right of revolution. Lessons from 250 years of history afford myriad examples how practically any cause can further a fundamental right and concurrently, through manipulation or other disingenuous means, become a way to repress the same.
Freedom’s Invisible Line
The success of any social reform can depend upon the tangibility of its target, and the notion of repression throughout all of society is not always black and white. Addressing recidivism, for example, may require reforming the thousands of state, federal and military prisons, local, county and Indian Country jails, juvenile correctional facilities and immigration detention centers across the nation, each of which can measure incarceration by counting the individuals who pass in and out of the front door. There is another prison, however, that often evades detection far too easily, and meaningful blueprints of its internal infrastructure still remains a modern-day mystery.
The human mind is an enigma exponentially befuddled by how little modern science actually understands it. For an historically understaffed army of mental health care workers deployed far and wide to assist those confined by matters of the mind, identifying the actual prison itself can be problematic. Society’s attempt to offer assistance through words such as “depression”, “bi-polar”, “psychotic” and “trauma” often results in misdirection altogether. The overutilization of these terms, unfortunately, may result not just in confusion but also desensitization or indifference.
A Pandemic’s Fuel on a Raging Fire
Historical hindsight of mental health reform in the twentieth century has exposed a broken system, the damage from which only becomes clearer with advances in medical science. Genuine concern about the damage caused by institutionalization and seemingly barbaric treatment may have repositioned those once deemed clinically insane into a series of nomadic tribes wandering the nation’s urban areas with a cloak of anonymity surrounded by a stigma of undesirables.
The institutional duct tape and safety pins used to protect those suffering from mental illness was already struggling before 2020, and only when society finally emerges from the depths of COVID-19 will the pandemic’s actual impact on mental health begin to reveal itself. As the number of COVID-19 cases rise and fall in the United States, however, an impending mental health debacle has started to unfold. How well an already flailing system can accommodate an entire generation of mental health patients devolving in new and existing ways at alarming rates may ultimately define modern day society for decades to come.
Back to Ayn Rand
Rejecting organized religion and blind faith, Rand advocated reason as the only way to acquire knowledge. While rational thinking can be a powerful resource in addressing a mental health crisis on a global scale, the value of faith and religion as an ally should not be underestimated. For a nation that may appear at times to be lacking in all three, there is solace in knowing the final chapter on COVID-19 and its impact on mental health in the United States has not yet been written. How the story ultimately unfolds will depend upon the nation’s relationship not just with its leadership, but with each other. Perhaps society may surprise itself.
In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson acknowledged the Fourteenth Amendment meant to enforce the equality of “the two races before the law . . .[but] if one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution . . . cannot put them upon the same plane.” In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education held “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” In 2020, the notion of separation took on an entirely new meaning as people divided not by class but rather from household to household and educational institutions transitioned from physical to virtual.
Like it or not, the words to describe each passing generation and its inherent behaviors come with certain assumptions and judgments. Rather than challenge individual vernacular that may deliberately or even accidentally cause insult or injury, society as a whole may consider rejecting this confinement altogether, verbal or otherwise.
The Zen of Now
The adult population in the United States mostly consists of an aging Baby Boomer generation through Millennials with an influx from Generation Z on the horizon. While the former gave rise to a Women’s Liberation Movement that symbolically began on September 7, 1968 with the burning of bras, hairspray, makeup and other symbolically feminine products at the time, the modern era has expanded the rules of attraction through sexual identification as well as the spectrum between asexuality and sexuality (sometimes referred to as sexual-ish). This complex conglomeration serves as a beacon of hope in such uncertain times.
When COVID-19 ends or transforms from pandemic to endemic, the healing process can begin. No matter what public issue society must overcome, deeply imbedded within each is the possibility of mental health concerns equally spread across both sides to all debates. Whether it is posttraumatic stress (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), 309.81), acute stress (DSM-5, 308.3), or even an unspecific trauma (DSM-5, 309.9), society may consider setting aside established labels just in case they fail to capture the entire scope of concern. Equally important is the need to recognize that those suffering from delusions (DSM-5, 297.1) or psychotic breaks (DSM-5, 298.8) on the one end, and social anxiety (DSM-5, 300.23), panic attacks (DSM-5, 300.01) or just an overly strong desire to avoid crowds altogether (DSM-5, 300.22) on the other, may have a far more difficult time exiting the pandemic than he or she did jumping into it.
By all accounts it appears society is the victim of a train crash while a passenger on the COVID Express. Rather than seeking solace from a catchphrase or letter, society may choose to dig deeper into its proverbial bag of tricks. How individuals within society choose to address each other as well as mental health concerns may define a generation. A pandemic never before seen by most of those living in the United States necessitates an appropriate response, which may also be something never before employed by most of those living in the United States. If alive today, Ayn Rand may not approve of the necessary combination for a response to the pandemic, especially since it will more than likely include some faith and a possible prayer.
Craig Garner is the founder of Garner Health Law Corporation, as well as a healthcare consultant specializing in issues pertaining to modern American healthcare. Craig is also an adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.