Morality: Lessons from the Loony Bin

Whatcha' got hiding in your whitey tighties, Uncle Sam?
Whatcha’ got hiding in your whitey tighties, Uncle Sam?

Contrary to the popular belief that we should only learn from experts, I think you can learn something from any human being. For example, I learned a lot from the residents of a loony bin, where I worked as a program manager.

I can hear the shrieks of the politically correct all the way down here at my swamp-side cottage for using the phrase “loony bin.” A. I question political correctness in most cases as self-censorship and deliberate obfuscation. “Collateral damage” means murdered innocents and “enhanced interrogation” means torture. B. The residents themselves called it the loony bin, and they considered it a pretty good joke.

The residents were very interesting in that they were both retarded and had a severe mental illness. In other words, an IQ below 70 plus schizophrenia, or psychosis, or some such. By the way, retardation was the term used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, though it has been replaced recently by “intellectual disability.” I have to go along with that one, because “retarded” has entered the realm of slang with a negative connotation. However, “retarded,” as in slower, replaced the much worse “feeble-minded” which replaced the much worse “idiot.”

I was very interested in each resident as an individual. Behavior modification (reward this, punish that) was all the rage but I thought it regarded people somewhat like lab rats. But then what did I know? I’m not an expert. I wondered how responsible residents could be held for mean, selfish or violent acts. If a person does not know something is wrong, surely they are not responsible, any more than a dog who kills a bunny.

Perhaps the loony bin sounds like hell on earth to you. Perhaps you think it was a grim and depressing place. Not at all. It was, however, full of surprises, full of humans struggling to relate to one another in some sort of decent manner, and believe it or not, it was full of laughter. No, not staff laughing at residents; more often the other way around, as when a driver got stuck on the beach after the residents warned him that he should not drive through the soft sand. Rejecting political correctness, they called him an idiot.

The residents often committed mean, selfish or violent acts. Were they responsible? You can only tell on a case-by-case basis and this is how, I finally figured out, you could tell: If they did something wrong and tried to hide it, they obviously knew they had done something wrong.

For example, Dylan stole Anne’s little salary for work she had done. Anne was not really aware that Dylan had done so, another resident reported the theft. Dylan at first denied it, but finally pulled it out of his underwear where he had hidden it. The fact that he tried to hide his act showed that he knew it was wrong. If Anne had picked up Dylan’s salary, she likely would have simply held it in her hand, because she did not know it was wrong.

When I hear about the state secrets, the millions of classified documents-when I see the daily, perhaps hourly-lies and cover-ups the powers-that-be pull off, the conclusion is inevitable:

They are doing something wrong and they know it. 

“Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.” John 3:21

Whatcha’ got hiding in your whitey tighties, Uncle Sam?




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