This is Day 7 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 7.
Principle 7 reads in full as follows:
We oppose the psychiatric system because it is inherently tyrannical.
Basic RationaleIn the Animal Farm of modern times, we perhaps have advanced somewhat beyond ages past. It used to be that tyranny was just a matter of privilege and right. You didn't have to justify it. It came with the office. Nobody really questioned that kings, nobility or huns had the right to rule by might.
In the past few centuries, the emergence of concepts like democracy and human rights have given us at least some pause. In most circles, we give lip service to the creed that All Animals Are Equal. Even so, in the streets and on the wards, the Orwellian observation that 'Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others' remains pretty apropos. One day your'e an indignant black teen, the next a body in the street. One moment you dream of lofty unseen realms, the next you're pinned in 4-points to a concrete floor. You spend a few bad months lost or confused and pay for it with a life time of conscripted, prescripted psychiatric control. Or maybe you're the lonely grandmother, sad to see the years and kids pass by. The next thing you know you don't have any memories to regret because they've all been eletroshocked away.
At essence, it's the same old social ladder. We've just moved up a rung or two. These days, you can't do cruel or selfish stuff to others just because you feel like it. Pure, unadulterated self-interest doesn't fit the bill anymore. At least not for acts in public view.
Instead, we operate on the principle of justifiable privilege. To obliterate someone's personhood, you have to serve a purpose that the dominant culture has approved: In the name of law and order. Keeping America safe for democracy. Protecting property, business, the fabric of civilization. Ensuring due deference to revered institutions. Preserving the family, its values, its structure, the foundation of all that is moral and good.
To protect these conventions, we create the roles. Dress them in uniforms and lab coats. Give them badges and oaths of office that pledge their allegiance to dominant 'good'. Then we arm them with the most powerful arsenals and weaponry that science, technology, medicine can produce, and unleash them on everything 'other' we fear.
From the viewpoint of the dominant culture, these are no longer mere individuals, acting selfishly. They are the Animals Who Know Better Than Others. They represent the established order, are appointed to enforce the 'best interests' for all.
They get special deference. They get to expect it. They get to impose it, demand it, make it materialize by any means necessary. And for the most part, as a society, we're happy to eat the meat of their slaughter, provided we don't have to live in the pen.
The damage usually goes mostly unseen. But it never, ever goes unfelt. It may stay under wraps for decades, sometimes centuries. Nevertheless, for those in kept captive in the cages, control is still control, cruelty is still cruelty, tyranny is still tyranny. The popularity of the injury does not make it less. Inhumanity and injustice hurt even more when supported and blessed by others of one's kind.
Suffice it to say, if we actually took Animal Equality seriously, all of this would be unthinkable. That there are designated tyrants, actual authorized social roles, in which some human beings are hired, trained, employed, expected to bully others into obedience would seem unimaginably awful to all.
That would be the end of psychiatry and a lot of other social ills. That would be the end of cruelty and control being passed off as 'treatment' - of social violence being billed as professional, therapeutic, ethical, helpful care.
In the interim, we have a long way to go and a lot of consciousness to raise. At a minimum, we can no longer afford to breed or feed Animals of Privilege. The tragic consequences of tyranny and social control are mounting daily. With every new body, whether on or off the ward, the cost is increasingly, undeniably clear. We have to end our system of privileged injustice. The outcomes of marginalization, cruelty and abuse are predictable, exponential and dire.
Far more healthy, affordable and protective of community interests is our equal share in human rights. If we simply decided to change the 'treatment as usual' - to move from tyranny and control to respect, dignity and fairness - we could change psychiatry, our culture, the world practically overnight. Armed only with a sincere change in attitude - without any new drugs, technology, hospitals, weapons, police or jails. With this simple shift in collective will, respect, dignity and fairness could become the universal standard - the treatment as usual for us all.
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. Have you experienced the 'inherent tyranny' of the psychiatric system?
2. What would you like others to know about your experience?
3. What factors in the system generate or perpetuate tyranny?
4. Recall a time where you felt someone else truly met you as an equal. How was that different from your experience of psychiatry?
5. Which approach generated more ultimate well-being and why?
6. If we wanted more respect and equality and less cruelty and tyranny, what kind of training would be needed to create this?
7. In your experience, what attitudes, approaches and processes could most help us to reverse tyranny and move toward true respect, equality and self-determination?