Mad, or bad? Attacking the Concept of Madness
2013 04 15
By Holly Case | AEON
In 1961, a young psychiatrist initiated a one-man insurgency against his own profession. ‘Psychiatry is conventionally defined as a medical specialty concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mental diseases,’ he wrote. ‘I submit that this definition, which is still widely accepted, places psychiatry in the company of alchemy and astrology and commits it to the category of pseudoscience. The reason for this is that there is no such thing as “mental illness”.’
Fifty years after his book The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct first ventured this uncompromising view, its author Thomas Szasz visited Cornell University in upstate New York. He was there to speak to an audience of students, many of them coerced or bribed by their professors to attend, plus a few local lawyers and psychiatrists. His subject was ‘The Insanity Defence: The Case for Abolition’. The talk started late because a man in a wheelchair was being positioned near the front of the lecture hall. Szasz greeted him enthusiastically; the audience would later learn that he was Ronald Leifer, a psychiatrist who had been denied tenure at the Upstate Medical Center at Syracuse in 1966 for defending Szasz and his iconoclastic ideas against practically the whole of the psychiatric profession.
When it finally started, the lecture was heavily anecdotal and lasted barely half an hour. The 91-year-old psychiatrist spoke in a quiet voice and with a thick Hungarian accent. Students shifted in their seats. Then came the Q&A. Although the subject was the insanity defence, the audience was more interested in Szasz’s assertion that there was no such thing as mental illness. ‘What about schizophrenia?’ ‘How can you be a practising psychiatrist if you don’t believe in mental illness?’
One student asked him: ‘Are you trying to say we all have different brains?’ The lecturer seemed unsteady on his feet. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘we do.’ Another student put it to him that we might be determined by our neurological make-up. ‘I think you and I have different brains,’ Szasz replied. That got a laugh from the audience. It was clear that being the only one in the room with a brain like his was part of his persona; being contrarian was his way of being right. Throughout his career, even friendly co-optation irked him. When scholars started associating him with the anti-psychiatry movement, he wrote a book entitled Antipsychiatry: Quackery Squared (2009).
The psychiatrist inherited from the Inquisition the task of quarantining society’s dangerous elements
Szasz liked to present himself as a dissident. And yet, when he began dynamiting the foundations of psychiatry in the 1960s, rebellion was in vogue, and he seemed very much a man of his time. Along with so many other radicals of the decade of dissent who got half of what they wished for, he has largely been forgotten, his troubling declarations defused by decades over which he worked as an academic and a practising psychiatrist.
After the talk at Cornell, he confided over a stiff drink that he generally did not give talks anymore. ‘I’m too old,’ he told me. ‘Plus, not many people know I’m still alive.’ Indeed, not long after our conversation, Szasz died, last fall. But did his ideas die with him? On the contrary, it might be that the world has only recently come around to his way of thinking.
Near Szasz’s school in Budapest there stood a statue of Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian obstetrician who found posthumous fame as a 19th-century martyr of science. To Szasz, the sickly and discontented young son of a Jewish businessman, Semmelweis became something of a hero. The late doctor’s claim to fame had been the discovery that it was possible to practically eliminate the often-fatal ‘childbed fever’ common among new mothers in hospitals if doctors simply washed their hands before assisting with childbirth — especially if they had just been performing autopsies. When his findings became more widely known in the 1840s, he expected a revolution in hospital hygiene. It didn’t come, and Semmelweis grew increasingly outspoken and hostile towards doctors who refused to acknowledge his discovery. Vitriolic academic exchanges ensued, and he was eventually lured to a mental hospital where his opponents had arranged for his incarceration. He was beaten severely and put in a straitjacket. He died within two weeks. Echoing Voltaire, Szasz recalled the doctor’s tragic life in an autobiographical sketch in 2004:
It taught me, at an early age, the lesson that it can be dangerous to be wrong, but, to be right, when society regards the majority’s falsehood as truth, could be fatal. This principle is especially true with respect to false truths that form an important part of an entire society’s belief system. In the past, such basic false truths were religious in nature. In the modern world, they are medical and political in nature.
Read the full article at: aeonmagazine.com
Latest News from our Front Page
Nigel Farage (UKIP) Speech on the EU, UK & Mass Immigration
2014 03 08
UKIP Nigel Farage Spring Conference speech - 2014
Red Ice Radio:
Nigel Farage MEP - The State of the EU & The Undemocratic Treaty of Lisbon
Labour wins UK by-election as Ukip trumps Tories
The ruling coalition in the UK was dealt a blow in the latest by-election test, as the UK Independence party pushed the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats into third and fourth ...
Pentagon studying Putin’s body language to predict his behavior
2014 03 07
The Pentagon has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years so that researchers can study the body movements of foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, in hopes of predicting future behavior.
An article published by USA Today reporter Ray Locker on Thursday and corroborated by documents discovered by RT provides rare insight into a scarcely-discussed military effort that ...
Pentagon Claims That Climate Change ‘Enables Terrorism’
2014 03 07
In it’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review the Pentagon has said that climate change and ’erratic’ climate will cause increased terrorist activity.
The four yearly reports highlight threats that face civilization and this years homed in on climate change causing an increase in terrorism.
It also mentioned that rises in sea levels and other issues associated with a warming planet will lead ...
Scientists Control Tiny Mechanical Probes Inside Human Cells
2014 03 07
Nanotechnology doesn’t get as much attention these days as genetic and stem cell approaches to medicine, but all three aim to target the causes of illness with greater precision and less collateral damage in the rest of the body than conventional approaches.
Nanotech breakthroughs have come more slowly than many had hoped, but a recent success shows progress toward the goal ...
Fukushima: The Ticking Nuclear Bomb. Over 800 Tons of Radioactive Material Pouring into Pacific Ocean
2014 03 07
First published by GR in October 2013
In August this column ran a piece claiming that the Pacific Ocean was being poisoned by radioactive material escaping from Fukushima, two years after the devastating tsunami and meltdown at the Japanese nuclear facility. Three months later, shocking evidence points towards a calamity situation.
Silence from the corporate media.
There is growing evidence coming from ...
|More News » |