Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#10. Social Control in the Trappings of Medicine

This is Day 10 of our 30-day blog on the Declaration of Principles adopted by the 10th Annual Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression held in Toronto, May 14-18, 1982.  (More info here.)  Today we are talking about Principle 10.

Principle 10 reads in full as follows:

We oppose the psychiatric system because it uses the trappings of medicine and science to mask the social ­control function it serves.

Basic Rationale

Frankly, I’m tired of getting sold short.  Not just by psychiatry, the mental health system and the dominant culture, but also by insiders, advocates, even myself.  The debate these days seems to be whether mad people should be outright controlled (by psychiatry, Murphy, the House of Representatives, the public safety crowd) or whether everyone should be a bit more tolerant because, erhm... tolerance is a good thing ....

In actual fact, mad people and mad experience are essential to our culture.  There is no excuse for policing us, controlling us, converting us.  You can't afford to miss or ignore us.  We are creators, consciousness-raisers, and canaries for the minds of an entire culture.  We are the prophets and messengers of the cultural unconscious.

The seeds of madness are not something to be poisoned or uprooted - as psychiatry claims.  They are something all people - wise people, smart people, self-interested people - should encourage, nurture, cultivate.  All people - wise, smart, self-interested - owe it to themselves, their families, their communities to develop mad-awareness and become mad-literate.

It’s not that difficult really.  Learning to appreciate and embrace madness is not about having to put up with something you don't want.  It's not about having to tolerate something illogical, incomprehensible or unsafe.  It is about learning to understand and appreciate a different range of values.

“Normal” values are so accepted that practically no one sees them.  These values are herd-based, material and survival-oriented:  Be polite.  Keep your thoughts to yourself.  Keep up with the Jones.  Do what the boss says.  Respect authority.

“Normal” people do these things.  Why?  Because they embrace conventional norms that say, above all else, protect survival needs and herd membership.

How do you do this?   You ‘consider the consequences’ of your actions.  Before doing anything, you first ask how it affects….

  • my survival needs, and 
  • my herd membership.   

Thus, the two great commandments of conventional society can be summarized as follows:

Normal Rule #1.  Don’t jeopardize survival needs (food, roof, family, job, safety).
Normal Rule #2:  Don’t get kicked out of the herd (because it jeopardizes food, roof, family, job, safety).

When people follow those rules, psychiatry pronounces you 'rational' and ‘sane.’  If you don't, you get sent to psychiatric reformation camp.

The values and choices that get you labelled mad are entirely different.  For me, fidelity to personal inner experience trumps social acceptance and material survival almost every time. It’s not that I don’t want to have a home, or food, or friends, a job or a decent standard of living.  But something wells up in me that just won’t budge.  I get this uncomfortable feeling inside that - although something might be popular with others - it just doesn’t feel right.  I try to ignore the feeling, and for a while I usually succeed.  Conventional society calls this part of me ‘having good judgment.’

It’s the other part of me that’s the problem.  It’s the voice inside that won’t stop nagging:  “If I can’t be honest, what’s the point? Who cares about being accepted if it means I can’t be true to myself?”

Then I get this empty hollow feeling.  The one that feels like my life is a lie.  And it’s all over.  … I guess the [job*]  will have to go.  Or insert* = [appearances, approval, security, paycheck, groceries, rent... ] 

Most mental health professionals – and society at large - consider this latter behavior crazy (“You told off your boss, again?”).  I get called immature, impulsive and grandiose.  They prescribe lithium or Depakote and write notes for SSDI.  For them, my disregard of survival needs is reckless and incomprehensible.  For me, it is a painful but necessary, principled choice.  What else would you suggest I do?  

  1. Kill my relationship with myself 
  2. Go along to get along with conventional values
  3. Become complicit with a community/society/world that I don't particularly want to live in 
  4. Let myself be used to perpetuate a social lie that this is actually good for people

Despite the downside from a survival and social comfort perspective, the choice to listen to inner voices like these is courageous and valuable.  Somebody, somewhere has to do it.  Otherwise, nothing will ever change.  It’s what the mystics (the wisdom everyone quotes but no one actually follows) have been telling us for millennia.

Here’s one of my favorites:
Finally, take a look at this society we live in – rotten to the core, infected as it is with attachments. For if anyone is attached to power, money, property, to fame and success; if anyone seeks these things as if their happiness depended upon them, they will be considered productive members of society, dynamic and hardworking.  In other words if they pursue these things with a driving ambition that destroys the symphony of their life and makes them hard and cold and insensitive to others and to themselves, society will look upon them as dependable citizens, and their relatives and friends will be proud of the status that they have achieved. How many so-called respectable people do you know who have retained the gentle sensitivity of love that only unattachment can offer?   (pp. 115-16) 
If you wish to love you must learn to see again. And if you wish to see, you must learn to give up your drug.  You must tear away from the roots of society that have penetrated to the marrow. You must drop out.  Externally everything will go on as before; you will continue to be in the world, but no longer of it. And in your heart you will now be free at last and utterly alone. It is only in this aloneness, this utter solitude, that dependence and desire will die, and the capacity to love is born.
  -- Jesuit priest Anthony DeMello (The Way to Love, p. 140):

This is what mad people are doing all the time.  It’s not a novel concept to us.  It’s not something to be bandied about with admiration from a comfortable distance.  We actually live this stuff.  Not because we are more moral than anyone else, but because this kind of introspection, interiority, and passion (or something totally different but equally extreme) is part of our nature.  The quality of our connection with ourselves,  within our hearts, souls, minds and being is what fuels our existence and engages us in living.  We have as little tolerance for polluting our inner selves with social untruths as polite society has for polluting outer appearances with social uncouths.  

In the best of all worlds, both values systems – and the ways of being that stem from them – would be valued.  Each end of the spectrum,  and the myriad possibilities in between, would be seen as useful and necessary for a vibrant, healthy humanity.  One choice promotes stability and ensures access to the necessities of survival.  The other questions, takes a fresh look, innovates, asks if the current protocol is really useful  -- and to what end… ?

It does not bode well for the collective conscience that we continue to imprison and incapacitate our most gifted messengers.  Any profession truly interested in public health and welfare would be on the front lines of social change.  It would be using its credibility to highlight the value of diversity in human vision and action.  It would be educating families, communities, employers about the importance of outlier messages.  It would be supporting understanding and working tirelessly to insure that important cultural messages were not being missed.

Psychiatry, on the other hand, has become the lead canary killer.  It not only intercepts and silences the messages, it actively colludes with dominant prejudice to deny the messengers decent burial.

On the other hand:  We’re all canaries in this mine of life.  Each of us will get our turn.

At that point, everyone of us hopes that life really is more than practicality - more than food, drink, hours out, wages in, material survival.  At that moment, every one of us is in desperate need of something more.  Without the values and vision of madness -  intuition, creativity, integrity, transcendence - there truly is no hope.  Without the value and vision of madness, there is nothing left to carry us - or those we love - to realms that practicality can't reach.

Questions for Reflection

We are building this work together.  Your lived experience is needed and valued.  It is essential to building our shared knowledge and expertise as a movement.  Please comment on any or all of these questions or in any way that speaks to you personally.

1. Has anyone every used medicine or science to make you conform to cultural norms?   
2. What would you like people of conscience to know about your experience?
3. With the benefit if hindsight, what do you think it was that led you to feel, think or act in the ways that came to the attention of psychiatry?  
4. What messages or lessons do you think there were? 
5. What were the core values that motivated or inspired you?
6. Recall an experience that once confused you but no longer does.  How did you go about making sense of it?  Who or what helped and why?
7. You often heard it said, "Experience is the best teacher."  Compare Experience as a teacher with Psychiatry as a teacher.  Which would you rather learn from and why?  
8. Think of the advice you would give to future generations.  If we really wanted to move from social control to valuing different human experiences, what changes should we make? 

August 10, 2016:  Conference on Principle 10 

We will talk about Principle 10, including your responses, on August 10 from 9-11  PM EST.  The conference will convene on

To join:

By Phone: (1)267-521-0167

By Internet:

We welcome your participation.  Simply press #1 on your phone to speak with the show hosts.

More details are available at

Post-Conference Reception

Those wishing to continue the discussion after the conference – or to talk informally with others who participated – may join us for the Post-Conference reception.  The reception will start immediately after the conference (11 PM EST) and continue til the wee hours or for as long as there is interest.

To join: 

By phone: (1)331-205-7196 (dial *67 for added privacy)

By internet:

International: Local access numbers available at

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