Monday, September 6, 2010

Political correctness just another form of social control

Kris Ulland's recent post on Scientology involvement with Thomas Szasz's Citizens Commission on Human Rights has been generating a lot of interest. I made a remark in one of my comments to her post that politics makes strange bedfellows. Organizations and politicians may disagree vehemently with another's policy planks, but when their interests occasionally coincide they are more than happy to get into bed together to further a common goal.

Szasz's reputation as an anti-psychiatrist is built on his disagreement with the idea that mental illness is a disease. I have come to the same conclusion myself, based on my observations of my son's behavior. It walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, but it is not a duck. It looks in many ways like a physical illness (slow and odd movements, incoherent speech, etc.) but it is not a physical illness. It didn't really matter if Chris was on drugs or off drugs, the behavior was the same. I am glad to report that this is not the case now.

Wikipedia on Thomas Szasz:

While people behave and think in ways that are very disturbing, and that may resemble a disease process (pain, deterioration, response to various interventions), this does not mean they actually have a disease. To Szasz, disease can only mean something people "have," while behavior is what people "do". Diseases are "malfunctions of the human body, of the heart, the liver, the kidney, the brain" while "no behavior or misbehavior is a disease or can be a disease. That's not what diseases are" Szasz cites drapetomania as an example behavior which many in society did not approve of, being labeled and widely cited as a 'disease' and likewise with women who did not bow to men's will as having "hysteria"[9] Psychiatry actively obscures the difference between (mis)behavior and disease, in its quest to help or harm parties to conflicts. By calling certain people "diseased", psychiatry attempts to deny them responsibility as moral agents, in order to better control them.

Szasz, in his later book, The Manufacture of Madness (1970) writes:

The best, indeed the only, hope for remedying the problem of "mental illness" lies in weakening - not in strengthening - the power of Institutional Psychiatry. Only when this peculiar institution is abolished will the moral powers of uncoerced psychotherapy be released. Only then will the potentialities of Contractual Psychiatry be able to unfold -- as a creative human dialogue unfettered by institutional loyalties and social taboos, pledge to serving the individual in his perpetual struggle to rise, not only above the constraints of instinct, but also above those of truth.

I worked for many years in politics at both the national and state levels and directly for a couple of political parties. I have a certain sympathy for Scientology, not because I am a member, which I am not, but based on the experience of being the brunt of political correctness when the going gets down and dirty in politics. The party in perpetual power where I worked, would float all kinds of accusations against the party I worked for - racism, sexism and religious fundamentalism are the big three that generally make middle of the road people, tempted to shift allegiances, scurry right back to their comfortable center line. Do I want to be a Scientologist? No, but that doesn't mean that I disagree with everything they have to say. Their stance on psychiatry (anti-drugging and anti-coercion) is one of the things they stand for that strikes me as appropriate.

Thomas Szasz suffers from the same political problem as any person or organization whose opinions are not held by the mainstream. He is politically incorrect by North American standards. I may be stepping on a lot of Hungarians' toes here (hi, Tibor!), but Hungarian's (like many of their European counterparts) are more often than not politically incorrect. Europeans have a long history of being at the mercy of the state and of those who enforce state control. Who are Szasz's critics? Institutional Psychiatry, of course and those who are under its power.

I began to really appreciate Szasz when I was looking for something positive to believe in about my son's prospects. Institutional Psychiatry was hinting that Chris was a lifer. It is odd that this psychiatrist, who mainstream psychiatry kept insisting was a heretic, was actually a psychiatrist who seemed to put the rights of the individual first. He seemed very much on the patient's side. From my limited experience with institutional psychiatry at the time, I never got the feeling that it understood (had empathy for) the patient.

Szasz believes that the label of schizophrenia is like being persecuted for being a witch.

A direct line of progresion can be traced from the witch's marks to the so-called stigmata of the hysteric, and, most recently, to the signs which schizophrenics are made to reveal through projective psychological testing. Each of these "diagnostic" findings is used to incriminate the subject -- as witch, hysteric, or schizophrenic; each is then used to punish him -- by means of theological, medical, or psychiatric sanctions.

He then goes on to say that "While some witches may have survived dunking, no "madman" survives psychological testing." (Read Szasz for dark humor, too.)

The figure of the psychotic or schizophrenic person to psychiatric experts and authorities, according to Szasz, is analogous with the figure of the heretic or blasphemer to theological experts and authorities. According to Szasz, to understand the metaphorical nature of the term "disease" in psychiatry, one must first understand its literal meaning in the rest of medicine. To be a true disease, the entity must first, somehow be capable of being approached, measured, or tested in scientific fashion. Second, to be confirmed as a disease, a condition must demonstrate pathology at the cellular or molecular level.

A genuine disease must also be found on the autopsy table (not merely in the living person) and meet pathological definition instead of being voted into existence by members of the American Psychiatric Association.

The above quotes are from taken from Wikipedia and directly from Szasz's The Manufacture of Madness, Random House, 1970.

Roughly speaking, institutional psychiatry is imposed on you, perhaps by force of law, while contractual psychiatry is when the individual seeks out a psychiatrist and retains complete control over his participation with the expert.


  1. The consensus of the long thread of conversation on my facebook page after I posted the Scientology question was that all of the information on the CCHR site can be found elsewhere. If people are unhappy to learn that it is funded by Scientologists, look to other sources.
    The information on CCHR's site is unbiased and not managed in any way to assume that it has been manipulated to spread the message of Scientology. Some people have serious problems with Scientology and do not want to be called a "Scientologist" because of their anti psychiatry sentiments. Other people could care less and feel that a difference of opinion is healthy and that they might learn something.
    Few people seemed to know that CCHR is funded by the Scientologists. Many many people admire Thomas Szazs - the founder of CCHR.
    Following the money keeps us on our toes...

  2. I agree entirely with Szazs and have stated emphatically that schizophrenia does not exist. It cannot be observed in a pitri dish. There is no diagnostic tool that can detect its pathology. It is merely a commonly held belief by society, by the psychiatric community, and by big pharma.

    Yet psychiatrists have concocted the DSM in an attempt to bring forth medical credibility to their profession. In order to determine that someone has an illness the medical practitioner observes symptoms, verifies signs, isolates the pathological problem, and treats the underlying illness.

    In the case of "mental illness" the psychiatrist equates behaviors to symptoms, cannot measure and concludes employing a differential diagnosis at best that the symptoms (behaviors) must be schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or a,b,c,d,e, or f because they are not what can be medically verified through testing. This then provides the license to administer neuroleptic tranquilizers. And, once the patient has received the label once they are confined to that box of conjecture for life.

    It's a crock of shit! And, before any psychiatrist can prescribe psychiatric drugs he or she should be forced to take them for at least a year. Perhaps they'll think twice about their useful purpose and their vocational choice.

  3. Thinking Critically About Scientology, Psychiatry, and Their Feud

    Important article...and some thoughts on the politics of psychiatric oppression by Will Hall:

    Finally I want to point to something I think is the problem of the survivor movement. We identify primarily as people harmed by drugs, diagnosis, and force. As a result we do not have a politics around homelessness, criminal justice issues, health care coverage, and employment. We contributed to our own isolation when we narrowed our agenda. The original survivor activists were part of broad popular movements for social justice. We’ve lost those alliances. One of the most wrongheaded directions I’ve seen recently is how the right wing family values movement has gone against screening as invading privacy, and the survivor movement has felt comfortable allying with them. That’s been a mistake. Our allies should be broader progressive disability movement, the prison reform / abolition movement, the homeless movement, and healthcare reform movements.

    Personally I feel wary about aligning myself with the right who happen to share an abhorrence of's not just about being politically correct...often times the motivation behind a similar political goal can be grossly different.

  4. I see your point. However, I am wary of aligning myself with any particular organization. Single causes make more sense to me because I can decide who I want to couple up with on a one night stand to further my goal(instead of sufering through a long term marriage!) One person's idea of social justice is not necessarily another person's idea. I saw this through working in a political party. Political parties are supposed to have a position on all kinds of diverse topics. People would wander into the party because of one particular plank or another in the platform and I'm thinking, what are they doing here because another plank in the platform would be completely the opposite of where they were heading. The waters get muddied. Don't organizations tend to say they speak for all their members yet they don't actually consult their members? I am not aligned with any particular party or ideology now, thank goodness. I can't stand the fact that people get labelled because others assume things about who they are based on the organization they support. Life is getting very black and white in some areas. I prefer to pick and choose. BTW - I am not that familiar with the early survivor movement or even the current one, so I stand to be educated. Thanks for the comment.


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