WHAT WE ARE UP AGAINST

Ron Thompson

Among the several aspects of the struggle against biological psychiatry which seem to make this struggle unique among social justice issues, one in particular may be worth highlighting. That aspect is the strange fact that not one single individual famous and highly respected for their moral vision has ever made a statement, or taken a public stand, against either the biological dogma of mental illness or its intimate corollary, the doctrine of forced treatment.

Perhaps because there are so many hundreds of individuals - maybe thousands - who have in recent decades, usually in association with each other, declared themselves outraged at forced treatment or the lack of science behind 'biological' psychiatry, it seems they simply haven't noticed this powerful and troubling fact.

Since the fully articulated paradigm of biological psychiatry (with its inevitable corollary, the forced treatment doctrine) has only emerged in the last thirty years or so, it is perhaps unfair to too much take to task earlier famous individuals noted for superior goodness or general moral wisdom who never confronted these two intertwined issues.

Still, I will mention, to go back just to the beginning of the Enlightenment about 250 years ago, that none of the figures of the caliber of, say, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, or Albert Einstein ever made a statement against the doctrine of force-treating mentally ill people, let alone wrote a systematic paper questioning a doctrine so drastic and yet so firmly embedded in our legal system and concepts of morality.

More recently, such admired figures as Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Llama, widely regarded as embodiments of moral wisdom, who voiced their thoughts on many issues of moral perplexity, have had nothing to say on the two-headed question of the scientific truth and moral acceptability of the thought and behavior of 'biological' psychiatrists.

One will look in vain at the entire list of Nobel Prize winners who, clothed in the prestige of their award, have offered statements dealing with the largest moral issues of the 20th century, for any statements questioning the paradigm of biopsychiatry, either in its earlier taken-for-granted form, or in the highly rationalized and very publicly propagandized state it has now reached..

Such organizations as the ACLU, Amnesty International, or Doctors Without Borders, have nowhere among their pronounciamentos and advocacy for the betterment of institutions or the human condition generally, given voice to the slightest skepticism, let alone opposition, to the practices of involuntary biopsychiatry.

This is equally true for all members of the new field or profession of Bioethics, which one might think had a particular responsibility to deal with the two-headed issue of biopsychiatric practice.

In considering the Greenpeace, Sierra Club or Nature Conservancy organizations, or PETA, one can readily conclude that the environment, and every animal on the planet, has a far more public advocate than anyone questioning whether it is morally acceptable to assault a mentally ill person with powerful, dangerous drugs, often for his or her lifetime, in the name of compassionate help and science-based medical treatment.

From another angle, that of our huge social and financial reality in the form of hundreds and thousands of 'think tanks' and foundations, dozens of which have hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in endowment, not a single one has ever directed any research, or disinterested analysis, at the questions of whether the doctrine of forced treatment, fully permitted by the US Constitution, is a GOOD or BAD practice. Nor has any such organization devoted its talents and resources to the question of whether the alleged scientific evidence for the basic dogma of biopsychiatry as a branch of medicine is in fact.... TRUE.

At no time in the last 225 years has any major religious leader from the three major western religions, or from any other religion, made any statement on moral grounds either opposing or even questioning the doctrine of forced treatment or the truth of the biological dogma (if it's untrue as science, then surely this is itself a moral issue)

No famous judge, or major figure of the jurisprudence of any country, has ever questioned the morality of the doctrine of forced 'treatment', which is part of the settled and constitutional Law of every major country. No renowned trial attorney has undertaken any case challenging the legal underpinning of involuntary psychiatry (challenging the "appropriateness" of forced treatment in a particular case, but never challenging the doctrine, doesn't count)

And from one more viewpoint, no major newspaper, newsmagazine, or television or cable news program, has ever devoted an investigation or serious analysis to either of the twin pillars of the biopsychiatric paradigm.

A partial exception to this sweeping statement is the redoubtable figure of Thomas Szasz, but since he has always allowed his convincing analysis against the medical existence of mental illness to be taken as being also against any other reality to mental illness, his otherwise splendid arguments have always lacked credibility for that reason. 20 years after he first published his Myth of Mental Illness in 1961, the triumph, as fact, of the dogma of the biological reality of mental illness has overwhelmed any lingering public consciousness of his thought.

Since the doctrine of forced treatment could survive for something over 200 yrs (if one arbitrarily takes 1776 as the beginning of the modern era) without the slightest questioning by the morally 'best and brightest' of 8 generations, perhaps it's not too surprising that when the first stirrings of something like a movement of protest by a few former patients and sympathetic professionals appeared in the '70's and 80's, absolutely no serious interest would be taken by the general public, or by those perceived as the morally wisest of contemporary times.

And then when one adds to this uncompromising centuries-old history - and contemporaneously with the first stirrings of ex-patient and 'survivor' protest - the sudden explosion of a widespread belief and highly publicized acceptance of defective brains or genes (the "chemical imbalance" dogma) as the causes of mental and emotional problems, perhaps this too explains the total absence of any 'other side' to the belief system of biopsychiatry. (In order to fully grasp the absence of any serious opposition to biopsychiatry one has only to consider the issues of Abortion and the Death penalty. Comparing Biopsychiatry, there may be as much emotionalism and intensity as accompanies those issues, but unlike them, no publicly acknowledged controversy whatsoever regarding its two basic doctrines).

And so, the present gloomy reality. One must therefore ask, do the opponents of forced treatment and biological psychiatry realize, despite their numbers, just how thoroughly their thoughts and feelings have utterly failed to make a dent in the public consciousness? Or to have penetrated the attitudes of any groups or individuals, self-appointed and otherwise, who usually act as watchdogs of the integrity of institutions and professions, and the quality of public morality generally?

Could there be any more vivid proof of this truth than the impending passage of an expanded 'Parity Bill' for mental health, where not one single member of congress thinks to question the bizarre logic of equating voluntary physical care with involuntary mental health treatment.?

And if they in fact do register this somewhat mysterious but undeniable record of complete failure, do they have the will and creativity to reexamine the unsuccessful arguments and slogans of the last 10-15 years, and return to the fight with different and better ideas and tactics? Will they have a reborn and enlarged respect for the gigantic task facing them?

If they do, then they may come up with what has never existed before and doesn't exist now - an organization with a program of coherent and consistent opposition to 'biological' psychiatry, and to the merciless logic of the forced treatment doctrine.

For if they don't do it, or can't do it, then, as shown by the historical and contemporary record sketched above, there is absolutely no sign that anyone else is even considering the challenge.

In 1991, I wrote a paper suggesting that the relative chaos and apparent semi-anarchy accompanying the youth rebellion of the 60's and 70's, and other factors such as constantly accelerating social change, had something to do with the rapid decline in prestige of interpersonal therapies. And conversely, with the rise in demand for non-consensual, that is forced 'help', by third parties who felt increasingly hostile and impatient towards anything that could be called mental illness.

It is possible that the rising controversy over the use of Ritalin for the alleged attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in young people perceived as difficult to manage or direct may prove an exception to this statement. But even if this turns out to be true; there is no sign that the analogy of the situation of drugging overactive children to drugging the seriously mentally ill is or will be perceived, because the populations at risk are seen as utterly different in nature, i.e., and ironically, especially by those who are most upset at the "over" drugging of children.

 

Antipsychiatry webring by girich_igor
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