"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety"Attributed to Benjamin Franklin, it's a bit overstated IMO. At least, I'll trade a little liberty for a lot of safety, but even then only temporarily. Examples might be, say, quarantines.
But with quarantines we have a disease we can diagnose. If only we were so good at diagnosing mental illness. (At least the press isn't very good, anyway) Yet we're hearing rumblings about simplifying involuntary institutionalization in response to the Virginia Tech slaughter, and that's potentially very scary.
For instance, it's often very tempting to attribute disagreement to mental defects, especially in politics. In some countries it has been policy, and dissidents would wind up in mental hospitals or "reeducation" facilities.
But it can't happen here, right? In fact, it has, and the mere threat of institutionalization has been used for intimidation, Here's an example.
Now that we've seen Congress change hands twice in the last 15 years, you'd hope that both major parties would have learned something important: you don't ever let the govt have a power that you wouldn't trust your opponents with. No more political theater of Congressional investigators and special prosecutors - the Dems could just declare President Bush, VP Cheney, Tom Delay and countless others mentally ill instead harassing them, and the rest of us would cage Dennis Kucinich, Michael Moore, Al Gore and other spigots of senselessness.
IMO any safeguards against political or other misuse that were strong enough to be worthwhile would render the whole project useless. But I suppose I could compromise a little. So I propose the Brazen Bull Act of 2007 - Let's find the people who are in favor of simplified institutionalization and lock them up.