Thursday, June 2, 2011

Imperialism and Mental Health

Greetings, citizens!

A somewhat "intellectual" rant for you all this evening, I invite you to consider the concept of Imperialism. In a university setting, and to some extent in politics, imperialism is an extremely salient concept used to denote the tendency of large power structures towards Empire, that is to say, to dominate the resources and means of production of all those around them. Rather than seeking to establish fair and balanced trade, they find an excuse to colonize, either in word or in deed (these days much more in deed than actual word of course), and establish their own system, values and rules in the place of what was once there. It is generally agreed upon that this kind of approach is old-fashioned and unsustainable, and should be left by the wayside; what comes in its place is more likely than not a more subversive and just as potent form of cultural purification, but the point remains that the concept in general is frowned upon.

That is because, on at least some level, our society claims to understand that we should not judge an "other" just because it is "other," indeed we support the idea that difference should be celebrated (in theory anyway). We believe, especially in academia, that it is important to allow cultures to retain the right to define their existence on their own terms.

Unfortunately, that courtesy is not being extended in practice - but more than just on the geopolitical scale, this concept also applies to the Mad conflict. I submit to you, New Mad Nation, that the current medical system, especially vis a vis mental health, is imperialist in nature, and therefore is severely outdated and in need of reform. I hope that this analogy will work even for those in academia who heretofore have been all too happy to leave this subject to "the medical professionals."

Imperialism stems from the concept of a Greater Society, where the Polis, or center of power and "culture," reaches out to the colonies to "civilize" them. This is done purely for the economic benefit of the Polis, but the "civilization" of the colony is offered as a fair exchange. Sometimes, the colony in question will even receive some of the proffered benefits - that is part of what makes imperialism so difficult to resist. It isn't ALL bad; a powerful overlord can offer powerful resources.

I think the parallels to mental health are clear, here: Psychiatry is the center of power and "culture" when it comes to the coveted "sanity" resource, and it sees the Mad as "uncivilized;" not only do we have problems, but we are HELPLESS to solve those problems without Psychiatry's intervention. That, for me, is one of the key issues: this concept of helplessness. Psychiatry insists on itself with all the fervor of an invading empire, which insists that the colonies it invades are helpless to culture themselves, ignorant fools in need of wisdom.

Like with an empire it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The presence of an invader damages the natural infrastructure and establishes new cultural norms that leave the colony confused, hurt, and estranged from their resources. In this condition, they DO become helpless to some extent; when enough damage is done by the invaders, only the invaders can help them rebuild. And then the invaders are validated for "rescuing" them; and many of the colonists will come to believe in their invaders because they have no other choice.

Psychiatry claims it is trying to help us, but its major objective is not our aid, but social stability. This has always been the project of mental hygiene: social control. By reaching into the areas with a different approach to society, to emotions, to thought, and instating their own ideals - often by force, and I do mean this literally if you will consider the number of people forcibly interred in mental hospitals which are little better than brainwashing facilities in some cases - psychiatry acts as an empire seeking to consolidate its power. Dissent will not be tolerated - it will be colonized, subjugated, and thus "civilized" until it doesn't desire dissent anymore.

Sometimes psychiatry DOES help people. But at what cost? If psychiatry is ever to be a valid method of treatment, it must be an /option/, not a mandate. And even though it is less of a "mandate" in some senses as it used to be - though not as much less as you might hope - this is only because it has already secured such a prominent social position that it does not NEED to mandate on the overt. It exists as an internalized mandate in the society itself. When a person is in enough trouble, the automatic assumption is that they see a psychiatrist. If the person doesn't want to see a psychiatrist then they are considered to be refusing to accept their situation, or refusing to seek treatment, or in some way refusing/being obstinate: like a stubborn child. Even though you are less likely to be dragged off by psychiatry (though it does still happen), you are now pushed into it by all of the good "citizens" of the Psychiatry empire.

It's sort of like this - Psychiatry allows you a form of social currency. Consider a hypothetical Polis and neighboring Colony that have different forms of currency. The Polis invades the Colony and takes away their form of currency, substituting their own. Eventually, the strictness of the Polis' presence declines, and the Colony is allowed to use its own form of currency again, but it has been without said currency for so long that it is difficult to find any, difficult to understand how to use it; moreover, citizens of the Polis have moved to the Colony to help "civilize" it, and they don't accept non-Polis coin. So even though you are technically "allowed" to have your own money, it is difficult to use even among your fellows, and citizens of the Polis will not do business with you.

The only way to use Polis money is to become a citizen of Polis and be ruled by all of its laws for citizenship.

The only way to be accepted by the Psychiatric empire is to accept the language of "mental illness" and be ruled by those laws.

I submit that the Mad would have a much stronger currency if we weren't fighting with Psychiatry for the right to even have one. I think that there would be many new and valid ways of discussing distress, deviance and madness, ways that are invigorating, not invalidating, ways that inspire change, rather than enforce the status quo - if we could just have a chance to establish a culture for ourselves.

But the one unique thing about the Mad colony is that we have never been allowed to have a public culture. Like many marginalized social groups, science and medicine have been working diligently to never allow us to coalesce into a working community. GLBT individuals have begun to remove themselves from the Mad category through hard work and advocacy, but the category still exists. It has existed for all time. And for a very, VERY long time, it has been the subject of imperial authority: if not from psychiatry, then from its predecessors; the asylum of Charenton, and Bethlehem. (Pronounced in a cockneyed accent, "Bethlehem" sounds like "Bedlam," which is where the term comes from).

We have never been given a chance to make a culture on our own terms. I hope to live to see the day when we are given that chance properly.


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