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eric_hinkle
Nov. 22nd, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)
A bit OT but when my father was a young men, he once got hired to help deliver some supplies to a local SE PA insane asylum -- or as they called it then, "the Snake Pit".This would have been in the mid 40's or so.

They were to slide bags of food down into the asylum basement. Some of the saner patients were waiting down there to catch them, with one standing at the end of the slide in a rather obvious catcher's stance.

The guy who hired Dad told him, "Hey, kid, watch this!" He then took the heaviest bag he could find, yelled down, "Hey, you screwies, here comes a light one!" and sent it flying down the slide.

The poor lunatic who was waiting for it got sent rolling head over heels, and the driver laughed himself sick. But when he slid the next one down, the inmates stood out of the way and let it hit the floor. The driver yelled down: "Hey, you're supposed to try and catch it!"

They called back: "We're nuts but we ain't stupid!"

Then the driver had to go inside through the asylum to get paid, and he took Dad along with him. Along the way Dad saw poor people walking through the halls half naked. Some were weeping and some were reeking of their own feces. They passed by what he said looked like cages in the zoo with inmates inside screaming and throwing themselves at the bars. He said it was one of the most terrifying places he'd ever seen in his life, and when he told me the story he begged me to never, ever, sendhim or anyone else to one of those places.
polaris93
Nov. 22nd, 2010 05:09 am (UTC)
They really were snake pits -- the last place in the world where someone who is mentally ill should be sent to recover. They were just warehouses for inconvenient people, places to put them away so they wouldn't be nuisances and couldn't disturb people any more -- or where they would never run into anyone with any influence who would believe them when they told him what had really happened to them. Girls and women who'd broken down because they were raped by relatives, boys and men who'd been used and discarded by trusted others -- they got railroaded into such places just to shut them up. Those really were terrifying places, places where evil and injustice triumphed every day.
eric_hinkle
Nov. 22nd, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
Yes. I'm surprised the list you linked to didn't mention a place called Byberry (if I remember the name right) which was right here in Pennsylvania. It started out as a noble idea to help the mentally ill, but by the 50's the place was a horror.

And a lot of those places were even worse back in the heyday of the eugenics movement, given that you get get fixed like a stray dog "for the good of humanity". I knew some folks who were educated in eugenics as a philosophy (my own mother was one!) and some of the things they could say with the most honest innocence would leave your jaw hanging around your knees.
polaris93
Nov. 22nd, 2010 05:48 am (UTC)
I know. Sitting in my toilet-tank stack, the one I read from when well anyway, is Edwin Black's War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. It details the most appalling abuses of civil rights in this country during the first six decades of the 20th century, including the neutering of people in madhouses and other places as part of the eugenics crusade. We finally broke out of that, but weirdly enough, before we did, it migrated overseas and was picked up by the Nazis, who perpetrated utter horror on the world in the name of "racial purity." My adoptive father and his friends believed in that bullshit -- there was a lot of that among upper-middle and middle-class people in Southern California in the 1940s and 1950s, which is where and when I was born and grew up. My reaction to it is, those who believe in neutering other people should be neutered themselves. And the fact of it, and the reason for it, posted all over town.
polaris93
Nov. 22nd, 2010 08:46 am (UTC)
BTW, ironically enough, it turns out that the eugenics movement never could have fulfilled its goals, anyway, no matter how many people it castrated. Of course, there are always mutations, but what they all missed back then was the fact that bacteria and viruses, which are everywhere, happily swap genes with one another and any other living creature they happen to be in contact with on a 24/7/365 basis, and have been doing so since life began on our world. A great many of the genes in the human genome originally came from creatures very distantly related to us, injected into our ancestors' genes by bacteria and/or viruses that were on or in their bodies, and passed down to us, their descendants. And the same is true of every other species alive on Earth now. The genes of every single living creature are out there and will be forever, as long as there is life on Earth, thanks to randy bacteria and viruses, and every shuffle of the genetic pack puts them together in new combinations. So eliminate a few genes from the human genome, and within a few generations, between mutations and microbes, they're right back with us again. You'd literally have to sterilize the Earth, right down to the mantle, to eliminate anyone's genes.
eric_hinkle
Nov. 22nd, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
bacteria and viruses, which are everywhere, happily swap genes with one another and any other living creature they happen to be in contact with on a 24/7/365 basis, and have been doing so since life began on our world. A great many of the genes in the human genome originally came from creatures very distantly related to us, injected into our ancestors' genes by bacteria and/or viruses that were on or in their bodies, and passed down to us, their descendants.

Wow, that I did not know. I guess this is just one more reason to hope that something like eugenics doesn't make a comeback. Imagine the mischief they could have worked if they'd had genetic engineering to monkey around with.
polaris93
Nov. 22nd, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
I guess this is just one more reason to hope that something like eugenics doesn't make a comeback. Imagine the mischief they could have worked if they'd had genetic engineering to monkey around with.

Oh, yes. I think there have been some science fiction novels based on that possibility and the nightmare world that came about as a result.
kestrelcat
Nov. 22nd, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
Asylums like Bedlam and its descendants on both sides of the Pond were by all accounts terrible, yes. Reams have been written about them and will continue to be.

For me, the saddest part about the asylums aside from the fact that I am certain there were people there who truly wanted to get better, is that I am equally certain there were people working there that really wanted to help the patients and simply had not the understanding to do so. I think that’s why even images of these buildings sit so solidly in our cultural conscious. It was tragic situation from all angles.

As an anthropologist I can only say that these building are a physical manifestation of the attitudes of the time. Specifically that the mentally ill were people that should be hidden in shame. That somehow by quarantining them they would get better eventually and even if they did not at least there was not chance of “catching” their madness. Wrong-headed does not even cover it.

Personally I do not understand the attraction of visiting these buildings. You’d have to be totally emotionally numb not to feel something for the people who lived and worked there to stand it.

I am not.

K
polaris93
Nov. 22nd, 2010 06:07 am (UTC)
You're right, but I'd add one more reason for locking people away in such places: to hide the evil done to them from the world, so that justice could not be done. That is, there were girls and women who had been raped by relatives and broken down because of it -- or hadn't broken down -- and were put away to hide what had been done to them from the world. And some got put away so that they couldn't inherit and others would get their inheritance, instead. Then there were political prisoners, i.e., those who were committed to institutions because their political philosophies didn't agree with those in power, as in the Soviet Union. And so on and on. The asylums have been catch-alls since the first ones were built. It's good to know that the worst of them are being shut down and/or completely renovated, with modern treatment given rather than just warehousing.
kestrelcat
Nov. 22nd, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
You make a good point about the asylums being catch-alls for social undesirables of all stripes. Familial or political. Baez used to sing a song about Natalia Gorbanevskaya. A Russian poet who was repeatedly committed/imprisoned by her government for speaking out, it’s on her album FROM EVERY STAGE (1976). The lyrics really speak to your point.
As to the familial aspects I can distinctly remember contemporaries being committed for acting out, being too wild or the like in the 80’s and 90’s. I can only imagine what the real reasons were now that I am older and looking back. That’s not done now thank the Gods, but when I was a teen the implication was always there. “Keep quite or you’ll get committed like so-n-so”. That was a real threat for a lot of us.
K
polaris93
Nov. 22nd, 2010 07:00 am (UTC)
Yes. As a matter of fact, it happened to me.
galadrion
Nov. 22nd, 2010 07:07 am (UTC)
It still happens. Hopefully not as often (isn't that always the hope), but it happens. Where there is power, one can always find someone to abuse it.
kestrelcat
Nov. 22nd, 2010 07:12 am (UTC)
Yikes! I don't know what to say Polaris other than I hope I didn't upset you. I can't even imagine.

K
polaris93
Nov. 22nd, 2010 07:36 am (UTC)
No, you didn't upset me. I couldn't have posted this if comments on it were going to upset me. It's all over and done with long ago and far away, no problem.
polaris93
Nov. 22nd, 2010 07:35 am (UTC)
Yep. Primates are prone to abuse power, and humans, the arch-primates, commit the most egregious forms of abuse of power at any and all opportunities. Unfortunately, that won't cease until we're extinct.
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