Is This a Time of Reform?

With Crisis Comes Opportunity

With all the political turmoil the question reform seems odd. It merely seems to be chaos and we have no idea where it will lead. And I’m not hearing a lot of wisdom from the talking heads.

Some things strike me as almost inevitable. Change, consolidation and finding a direction. This kind of turmoil can’t continue forever. All we can hope is that a direction will appear before we end up in an unimaginable crisis.

The point is that world events are hardly linear and neither are their components. Opportunities appear, reform eras come and go and from each of these things we may grasp them and make improvements. Sometimes the time is simply not ripe.

The Reform Era of the 1960s

We built a new country after World War II and then came a major reform era. We began to talk about stewardship of our world in more defined ways, the advent of effective birth control opened a new era for women and our thinking broadened in many ways.

As a psychologist one movement which caught my interest was community mental health. It was time to move away from in depth psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to a broad movement which would bring “mental health” services to the population at large. To do that they we were to apply a public health model.

Seizing an Opportunity

Just as I was finishing my Ph.D. at Duke the movement opened and I was interested. I have to admit I never liked school all that much. I just stuck with it. Too much of it was not particularly engaging for an intuitive personality type. I needed novelty, possibilities and community mental health offered those things. So I came to Baltimore to become engaged in inner city poverty. I did not really know what I was getting into but I loved it. We learned how to give services in diverse poverty communities. And we learned to do battle with the conservative forces in the mental health hierarchy who were not at all interested in groundbreaking and simply wanted the grant money.

What a Learning Experience!

We had to lay aside old ways of thinking. Had to delve deeply in the communities as they were and even keep ourselves safe. We dealt with junkies wanting to con us out of meds, riots when Dr. King was murdered, and sort out our own diversity. It was challenging, dangerous and exciting. Because we came with a new framework we could perceive origins, outcomes and vulnerabilities. In fact, we saw the savage policies which flooded our prisons and the roots of division between the people and the police seeding riots decades later.

For the Record

All such things must come to an end and in time the rambunctious, groundbreaking twenty somethings moved. But I could not resist putting down the experience for the records. The story in all its fascinating details is told in may book Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health.

From Past to Present

And then something happened recently. I came to awareness which had eluded me. The movement had come too soon. Certainly there were problems which would have worked against progress anyway, but in many ways wed lacked the tools to really document and develop what we found and what we did.

When we had gone out onto the streets we were all naive. We had to learn a new approach whether we liked it or not. Insight therapy and medications were not fundamentally useful. The community was in crisis with each community having a different crisis of sorts. And so we had to learn community and life management. But there were no tools to document what we found and ways to construct broadly useful models.

Now Comes Information Technology

The needed tools now exist. With parallel resources putting down what we found and what worked, we could have moved toward a comprehensive, flexible system which would have evolved into a whole new movement. I can only imagine what utility it would have today.

The long and short of it is that it is now time for a community mental health movement. All the prerequisites exist in Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health. We will see if these kinds of potentials will grow out of our present crisis. There are so many flowering buds out there in this age.

What do you see coming?

Roger B. Burt’s Amazon Home Page

Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health by Roger B. Burt

Creating Characters and Plots by Roger B. Burt

Our Nation in Crisis – An American Vision: Part 2

The Big Picture


Next are some examples of contributory factors which often supported bad outcomes. Most were given bipartisan support.

We now face a struggle for our future and quite possibly a struggle for the future of our world. While environmental issues are among those at the core, the problems go well beyond. And it is important to realize that failures of vision and perspective are not the province of one idealogical group. In general we have been inattentive even when it may not be a matter of ideology.

Here is a short list which demonstrate bipartisan errors:

The War on Drugs/War on Crime

In the 1980s we declared this war. Stop and frisk escalated and mandatory (long) sentences were imposed even for nonviolent crimes often involving very small quantities of drugs. Rather than going into extensive details, it is sufficient to say it was excessive and our prison population swelled to one of the highest in the world. We went from 1 million to 2.5 million. We seem to have recognized our error and the population has been reduced, but part of the support comes not from a belief in justice, but the perception that it cost us too much money. We have alienated and grievously stressed minority communities and ruined countless lives and families.

The Second Prohibition

The first prohibition related to alcohol. It was assumed it would benefit society. But what we did was to help build crime syndicates. Their profits were huge and, once established, they branched out into many other criminal enterprises. Finally we recognized our error and resumed legal sale of alcohol with appropriate regulation. But we had already built criminal enterprises which continued.

And then, much later we instituted a prohibition of recreational use of marijuana. We failed to see that it would have a similar effect like that of alcohol prohibition. But this time we helped build international cartels. Of course, there are other drugs involved, but marijuana made a significant contribution to cartel profits. Many in government and law enforcement recognized the error and there is an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) made up of senior law enforcement officials and even heads of states which supports reform. We are making progress and many states now accept medical marijuana and steadily some are legalizing “recreational” use. In all cases there is regulation as with alcohol.

Globalization of Trade

Of course, in the world as it is, we must engage in global trade. Questions revolve around how it is done. Again, I won’t attempt to delve into a complex issue except to not one specific effect. The agreements we entered into often had the effect of exporting jobs. And the types of jobs affected the people we refer to as the “left behinds”. Our error was to fail to face the inevitable. We needed, from the beginning, to look at the implications and to plan for retraining and education to help move people into alternative employment. There was a rather large void of attention to the need and also how and to what we should attend.

A Changed Economy

The pace of change has increased and that means jobs must change and the employment face of communities must change. In a prior post I dealt with vision in regard to the future of Appalachia. Politicians claimed they could save the jobs related to coal. Reality and the facts were very different. In Appalachia coal was running out, coal companies were finding ways to produce with fewer employees, other kinds of coal in other areas were deemed more desirable and it was clear that wind and solar were to be steady producers of energy. In short, these jobs would inevitably disappear no matter what politicians claimed. We have yet to face the future in terms of what this beautiful area might have for its employment needs which very much speaks to the future of their young people.
I’ll leave the list there. There are many other candidates for a list of errors made by many people across party and ideological lines. The basic issue is vision and commitment.

Next we will go into discussing some lessons learned about issues which affect our viewpoint and outcomes.

What errors of vision would you note?

Roger B. Burt’s Amazon page