Friday, July 15, 2011

Madness as the new "Other"

Greetings, Citizens.

Tonight, I present you with another potential re-hash of many old ideas in a new form. Hopefully it will stick in your craw in a new way and leave you inspired. It is derived from many of the ideas utilized in my theory on Marxism and Mental Illness. It is an exploration of the deployment of "Mental Illness" by the Status Quo as the new "other."

The fact of the matter is, the Status Quo has been demonizing an "other" as part of its standard operating procedure since the dawn of mankind. From women, to people from different countries, to people from different cities; heathens, Jews, Puritans, barbarians, you name it. There has always been a scapegoat for people to blame all of their problems on; some nebulous "other" who, by virtue of being "other," exist as a sort of barrier that defines, by exclusion, who the status quo "is." "We are (insert group name here), and we're not like (insert "other" name here); we're better than them." These days, we are finding less and less obvious cases of this kind of dichotomy, but that isn't because the behavior has gone away; it has merely taken on another aspect.

To be sure, this kind of bald-faced othering DOES still exist. In today's culture, 7/14/11, many Americans view Immigrants this way, as do they view people who are gay. The term "homosexual agenda" is testiment to this fear of the "other" and what "they" will do if allowed "their way." This fear is a principle ingredient in constituting a sense of identity for the Status Quo, by providing them a common enemy to unite against.

On a subtler level, we see the same thing take place with Mental Illness. We are the ultimate other; those of us with a mental illness have something about us that it is institutionally valid to fear, discriminate against and outright judge. You see, for many rational-thinkers, it is no longer sufficient to take part in the identity-forming fears of immigrants or gay people or Jews or pagans; such individuals are, more or less, institutionally justified. This does become a complicated issue of semantics, but the bottom line is, you're not SUPPOSED to judge those people any more. That's not "PC."

But it is "PC" to judge the Mentally Ill. Even if is not PC to judge them as "bad" (though it certainly is a common practice, especially in the media), it is definitely PC to judge them as unfit, unsound, and generally not worth the same amount of attention as a person who is not Mentally Ill. In short, a Mentally Ill person is a second class citizen, via official Psychiatric sanction.

Now, there may well be some people who fall under this classification who probably should be treated as second-class citizens; vicious murderers and worse, people with absolutely no moral backbone and no hope for redemption. But this is just one type of person found under the category of "mentally ill," along with individuals like myself, and even milder-mannered people who simply have "depression." People who are doing their best to be good, who care about goodness, who feel they care about it more than anyone else around them. But despite this, our cries go unanswered, or dismissed as "mentally ill."

Whenever medical personnel agree with me, I am a bright young boy. When they disagree, I'm manic. It really does seem to be that simple; no one will admit it, but the number of times I've seen it happen is staggering. Mental Illness is used to excuse complete ignorance and persecution of dissenting ideals. And Psychiatry is getting away with it because humans seem to have a built-in need for there to be an omnipresent "other" to fear and reject.

It's despicable on so many levels, even a purely utilitarian one. Madness is just humanity's way of trying out new ideas; evolution is a process of mutation and selection. If we worship the status quo of Psychiatry as much as we do now, we do not allow for mutation; only selection. This cannot possibly lead to any real growth of the human spirit. Many of the world's most brilliant inventors and creators have been retro-actively diagnosed (a pathetic project on Psychiatry's part to "universalize" their modern findings, granting them additional agency by making it seem like "bipolar" has ALWAYS existed and isn't something they basically invented to categorize a behavior pattern) with a "mental illness," and it has often been attributed as a major source of their inspiration. If this is true, I can only assume that their inspiration would have been completely devastated by the medication and therapies of the modern approach.
This otherization of mental illness is not just bad for those who are different, but for the species as a whole. Humanity NEEDS us to keep on being mad to supply the energy for our own self-revolution. At least that's my take on it.

Hope you found something to agree with, Citizens. See you next week.



  1. The problem with explaining to people that the "mentally ill" are treated as "other" is that many people see the term "mental illness" as the means towards fixing this problem. "This person doesn't have a reality different from my own. S/he's just ill, but s/he's getting help to make him/her normal." There is stigma against individuals who are simply going to therapy, using medication, and so on and so forth. The stigma increases when you are "non-compliant" and do not choose to see yourself as "ill" or use the psychiatric system for "support."

    I think there are two kinds of "other" in the mental health world.

    1. The compliant other. This is someone who is essentially experiencing similar stigma that someone with a physical disability would experience. For example, a person with depression who can't drink alcohol because of meds or a person with an anxiety disorder that requires them to take a test outside the classroom. Being "other" in this sense is pure discrimination against something people have no real control over.

    2. The non-compliant other. This is someone who does not agree with the way society is being run, who looks to larger roots of his/her problems than a simple chemical misfire. In this case, we aren't dealing with an issue of pure and classic discrimination. We are dealing with political, social, and moral dispute. Though I hate to draw this analogy, it's similar to the type of flack anti-porn feminists get. Men who watch porn might say they like women and do not discriminate against women, yet when a woman starts to challenge them for watching porn or suggest that their behavior is inconsistent with that philosophy, that woman is treated more "other" than the average woman would simply by virtue of being female. In this situation, as in the situation of the "mad," much of the hate that is received derives from the fact that by existing, they demand change from the status quo. Demanding change (even if you cannot help it by virtue of your needs) is not a completely passive action. The problem comes in when you consider that one side of this moral debate has privilege and the other does not.

  2. One could easily say "well Mr. Psychiatry and Mr. Mad are both asking each other to resign and/or change their beliefs and morals and so they are both on an equal playing field." The problem herein comes from the fact that ultimately only Mr. Mad knows how he, as a mad citizen, wants and needs to be treated. Yet only Mr. Psychiatry has the credibility to dictate this.

    I've thought for a long while that discrimination needs to be dealt with in a way that deals with the root problem. You mentioned that so many groups fall under the "don't insult them, it's not PC" umbrella. People are just hearing that discrimination is bad and stopping because they don't want to look bad. People need to actually, legitimately understand that the behaviors that the mad recognize as wrong are actually legitimate problems that affect EVERYONE. A naive, uncaring approach to sex is harmful to more than just a trauma survivor or sex addict. Unhealthy peer pressure surrounding alcohol can be dangerous even to someone not prone to alcoholism. Unfortunately, in most cases people hear the person with a "mental illness" say "knock it off" and assume that the person with the "mental illness" is only making that request because s/he has special needs. What needs to be acknowledged is that a sexual trauma survivor demonstrates the problems that can derive from unhealthy sexual attitudes just like a brain trauma victim represents why we "normal" people should probably wear helmets when we ride our bikes. It's just not reasonable to say that only the people directly suffering need to heed the warning, yet that's what's happening now.

    The mad aren't really "other" to the extent that people think they are, because the problems many of them deal with are real threats to everyone (not just the mad) and I think that needs to be acknowledged by damn near everyone.

    Sorry for going on a bit of a rant. Good post as usual.

  3. I completely agree with the concepts you've put forth here and appreciate the expansion you've allowed. I feel the need to clarify that when I say the Mad are viewed as "other," just as countless other groups have been throughout time, I am not talking about "actual" difference. I think you are striking at this issue as well; if you take Race as an example, it is now scientifically understood that there is little to no basis for a breakdown of people based on Race, but socially, it exists as an institute and so there is a de-facto difference between people of different races. I think that something similar can be said of the concept of "mental illness" - the differences between the Mad, the mentally ill, and the "normal" are actually dictated far more by social circumstance than anything else, and are in many cases deliberately fabricated just to reinforce the Status Quo vs. Other dichotomy.

    Thanks again for this very insightful commentary, Ella.

  4. I was in a generally bad mood last time I commented so if I sounded like a jerk I apologize, but thanks for responding. It's an interesting idea that the difference is more based on people enforcing things rather than that actually being a huge difference inherently.