Saturday, June 23, 2007

Thomas Szasz: The Untamed Tongue (1990)

  • Parents teach children discipline for two different, indeed diametrically opposed, reasons: to render the child submissive to them and to make him independent of them. Only a self-disciplined person can be obedient; and only such a person can be autonomous.

  • The concept of disease is fast replacing the concept of responsibility. With increasing zeal Americans use and interpret the assertion "I am sick" as equivalent to the assertion "I am not responsible": Smokers say they are not responsible for smoking, drinkers that they are not responsible for drinking, gamblers that they are not responsible for gambling, and mothers who murder their infants that they are not responsible for killing. To prove their point -- and to capitalize on their self-destructive and destructive behavior -- smokers, drinkers, gamblers, and insanity acquitees are suing tobacco companies, liquor companies, gambling casinos, and physicians.

    Can American society survive this legal-psychiatric assault on its moral and political foundations?

  • Drug prohibition is unwise social policy for many reasons, most obviously because forbidden fruit tastes sweeter: that is, because one of the easiest ways for a person (especially a young person) to assert his autonomy is by defying authority (especially arbitrary and hypocritical authority).

  • A hundred years ago, a person could legally purchase -- in the free market -- all the pure and safe opium he wanted. Today, he can illegally purchase -- on the black market and for a large sun -- a negligible amount of impure and unsafe opiate. This is what the anticapitalist mentality combined with the therapeutic ethic have brought us.

  • Predictably, the War on Drugs has failed to curb the use of illegal drugs; however, it has succeeded in obliterating, in the public mind, an elementary distinction concerning self-medication. Thomas Jefferson used legal opium to preserve his life. John Belushi used illegal "drugs" to destroy his. Like any behavior, self-medication may be disciplined or undisciplined and self-destructive. Most (illegal) drug use. like most use of other things, is, of course, neither self-preservative nor self-destructive.

  • Voltaire is supposed to have said: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." But who will say today: "I disapprove of what drug you take, but I will defend to the death your right to take it"? [...] In a free society, it is none of the government's business what idea a man puts into his head; it should also be none of its business what drug he puts into his body.

  • Insanity defense: 1. Formerly, a tactic for classifying/legitimizing the defendant as the type of malefactor upon whom the state cannot (legitimately) impose a death penalty. 2. Today, a tactic for classifying/legitimizing the defendant as the type of malefactor whose management should be diverted from the criminal justice system to the mental health system. 3. One of the sacred rituals of psychiatry, often confused -- especially by the public, the press, and psychiatrists -- with the scientific search, by a lay jury, in a court of law, for the ultimate causes of human (mis)behavior.

  • Formerly, Americans charged with murder were considered innocent until proven guilty; now they are considered insane until proven sane.

  • People, especially liberals and psychiatrists, say that the two main causes of crime are mental illness and poverty. Insanity is therefore a defense in the criminal law. If we really believed that poverty caused crime, we would have a 'poverty defense' as well, attorneys calling professors of economics to testify in court whether a particular defendant is guilty of theft or not by reason of poverty.

  • Gastroenterologists cannot ascertain what was in another person's stomach days, weeks, or months ago; but psychiatrists can certify what was in his mind days, weeks, months, or even years ago.

  • [A] person who believes he should kill someone has only two choices: he must control himself and not do so, or he must kill himself. The defendant's alleged motivation for the murder -- say, the claim that God commanded him to kill -- should be irrelevant to the charge against him.

  • Policemen receive bribes; politicians, campaign contributions.

  • Ideologue: A person who uses ideas as incantations. True believer: A person who accepts incantations as ideas. Skeptic: A person who assumes that ideas are incantations until proven otherwise.

  • Mathematics is a language without metaphors. That is why it is the perfect language for covering precise meaning -- and perfectly useless for inspiring people.

    Music is a language with nothing but metaphors. That is why it is the perfect tool for moving people (as in religious or martial music) -- and why it is perfectly useless for conveying any precise meaning whatever.

    Religion and the jargon of the helping/hindering professions are comprised largely of literalized metaphors. That is why they are the perfect tools for legitimizing and illegitimizing ideas, behaviors, and persons.

    Ordinary language combines all of these qualities. It can be used literally and precisely, to convey meaning; metaphorically or poetically, to move people; or "religiously," to blind and numb people, making them feel elevated or debased.

  • The Greeks distinguished between good and bad behavior, language that enhanced or diminished persons. Being intoxicated with scientism, we fail to recognize that the seemingly technical terms used to identify psychiatric illnesses and interventions are simply dyphemisms and euphemisms.

  • In the natural sciences, language (mathematics) is a useful tool: like the microscope or telescope, it enables us to see what is otherwise invisible. In the social sciences, language (literalized metaphor) is an impediment: like a distorting mirror, it prevents us from seeing the obvious.

    That is why in the natural sciences, knowledge can be gained only with the mastery of their special languages; whereas in human affairs, knowledge can be gained only by rejecting the pretentious jargons of the social sciences.

  • "He who excuses himself, accuses himself," says a French proverb. In other words, the person who speaks in the language of excuses -- advancing disability, illness, mental illness, ignorance, or poverty as an excuse -- has lost half the battle for self-esteem before he has begun to fight it.

  • An old proverb cautions the would-be lawmaker not to prohibit what he cannot enforce. Modern American lawmakers follow the opposite rule; they are most zealous to prohibit that which they cannot enforce.

  • If the person who break the law is not punished, the person who obeys the law is cheated. That is why lawbreakers ought to be punished: to encourage law-abiding behavior as useful and to authenticate it as virtuous.

    The aim of the criminal law cannot and must not be correction; it can only be, and must be, the maintenance of the legal order.

  • For the mental patient's family and society, mental illness is a "problem"; for the patient himself, it is a "solution". This was Freud's only discovery. Psychoanalysts now ignore it, and psychiatrists deny it.

  • The search for the neuropathological correlates of mental illness is based on a fundamental misconception: namely, on viewing complex social performances as if they were simple reflex movements, like a grand mal seizure. We use terms such as 'schizophrenia', 'manic depression', and 'psychosis' to identify enduring patterns of human behavior that so-called patients exhibit and which the patients -- or, more typically, their families and psychiatrists -- find troubling and undesirable. Accordingly, psychopathological terms do not resemble neuropathological terms such as 'grand mal seizure' or 'locomotor ataxia', but instead resemble evaluative terms such as 'great statesman' or 'sadistic criminal'. Whether a person 'is' a statesman or a criminal depends partly on what he does and partly on our judgment of it as virtuous or wicked. Since the very phenomenon for which we seek a neuropathological correlate is an opinion -- like whether a particular work of art is beautiful or not -- it is prima facie absurd to look for 'its' neuropathological correlate. For what is the 'it' supposedly caused by a brain dysfunction?

  • Financial analyses of the behavior of the stock market stand in the same relation to the behavior of the market as psychoanalytic interpretations of individual behavior stand to the behavior of individuals. Each is a fantasy of the interpreter/expert: attractive and plausible, if it appeals to the observer and confirms what he believes to be the case; absurd and ridiculous, if it repels him and disconfirms what he believes to be the case. Neither kind of analysis possesses the power to predict -- whether the behavior of financial markets or of human beings; yet it is precisely a belief in this predictive power that makes people interested in such analyses.

  • If you don't listen to yourself, you won't hear what others say.

  • The stupid never forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.

  • Although his behavior may be utterly hypocritical, the man who professes unwavering belief in God and conventional wisdom is looked up to as a pillar of society; whereas the man who acts with absolute integrity but scoffs at religion and conventional wisdom is looked down on as a dangerous cynic.

  • Conservative: 1. An autocrat -- in the name of morality and tradition. 2. A believer in small government -- just big enough to successfully impose his own values on others.

  • Liberal: 1. An autocrat -- in the name of equality and social justice. 2. A believer in big government -- just big enough to ensure fairness.

  • Libertarian: 1. A political oxymoron. 2. A believer in a government strong enough to protect people from external and internal enemies and weak enough to not threaten the autonomy of free and responsible individuals.

  • Christianity was invaluable for raising man's moral sensibility and laying the foundation for individualism and freedom, but was worthless for advancing man's understanding and mastery of the physical universe (including his own body). Science is invaluable for advancing man's understanding and mastery of the universe, but is worthless for raising, or even maintaining, man's moral sensibility (or for helping him cope with novel ethical problems).

  • When you hear an American politician running for office say: 'I want to serve my country', remind yourself that what the man really means is: 'I want the country to be at my service.'

  • Most people cannot accept the human condition -- that is, the actual physical and spiritual nature of man. Man's inability to accept himself as a physical being is manifested by the denial of death and the affirmation, as a reality, of life in the hereafter. Man's inability to accept himself as a spiritual being is manifested by the denial of human diversity and depravity and the affirmation, as a reality, of the fundamental uniformity and decency of human nature (spoiled only by demons or mental diseases). Not until educated persons accepted the finiteness of their physical selves could anything resembling a science of medicine come into being. Mutatis mutandis, not until most educated people accept the spiritual diversity and potential depravity of human beings, can we begin to contemplate a civilized and peaceful ordering of society -- maximally tolerant of personal differences and scrupulously protective of individual rights.

  • Psychiatric expert testimony: Mendacity masquerading as medicine.

  • The business of psychiatry is to provide society with excuses disguised as diagnosis, and with coercions justified as treatments.

  • Psychoanalysis: 1. The trade name of a certain kind of conversation (just as Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken are trade names of a certain kind of soft drink and fast food). 2. The name of a body of speculations about life and human relations put forward by the originator of the trade name. 3. The only medical specialty in which one must be a patient before one can become a therapist. (Which is like requiring that a physician be a cancer patient before becoming an oncologist, or that he be a dead patient before becoming a pathologist. Although such a requirement is alien to medicine, it is familiar to religion. The strength of Christianity, Christian Science, Alchoholics Anonymous, and other religious movements rests heavily on their recruiting members from among those saved by one or another of these sects.)

  • Psychoanalysis is a religion disguised as a science: As Abraham received the Laws of God from Jehovah to whom he claimed to have special access, so Freud received the Laws of Psychology from the Unconscious to which he claimed to have special access.

  • Beware of the psychoanalyst who analyzes jokes rather than laughs at them.

  • Intelligence tests: Hocus-pocus used by psychologists to prove that they are smart and their clients stupid. The general acceptance of these test suggests that this claim may not be without foundation.

  • The psychotherapist who calls his conversations with clients 'patient-interview' and tape records them is like a traveler who calls strange places and people 'tourist attractions' and 'native' and photographs them. Each puts a technological barrier, a gadget, between himself and his own experience, thus attenuating or killing it, while at the same time telling himself that he is trying to preserve it for a more perfect future recall.

    But by objectifying and recording his experience each destroys precisely that which obstensibly he tries to preserve.

  • People with personal problems often behave like the proverbial drunk who looks for his house key under the streetlight, not because that's where he dropped it, but because that's where the light it. Should such a person consult an autonomous psychotherapist, the therapist's job is not to try to find the key, but to suggest to the patient that he light a match or borrow a flashlight from a neighbor and go look for his key where he dropped it.

  • The most popular and financially successful psychotherapists in the United States today are the faith healers -- the Oral Robertses, the Jerry Falwells, Jim and Tammy Bakkers. Far more money pours into the coffers of clerical than clinical healers. Indeed, the clinician in the psychotherapy business is to the entrepreneur in the guru business as the chef in an elegant French restaurants is to the owner of a chain of fast food restaurants.

  • The American Constitutional doctrine of the separation of Church and State means simply that religion and government are free and independent of each other. But freedom is a burden as well as an opportunity: in this case, the burden is that religion must manage without the suppose of the government, and government without the support of religion. It is not surprising, then, that this lofty principle has been under steady attack, along with two main fronts: taxation and psychiatry. By granting tax exemption to churches, the Internal Revenue Service functions, in effect, as a Federal agency, legitimizing belief systems the government recognizes as religion, and illegitimizing, as 'cults', belief systems it does not so recognize. Mutatis mutandis, by defining membership in a religion as a manifestation of mental health and membership in a cult as a symptom of mental illness, psychiatry functions as a quasi-federal agency legitimizing what it recognizes as a religion, and illegitimizing what it does not as a cult.

  • One cannot be an individual, a person separate from others (family, society, and so forth), without having secrets. It is because secrets separate people that individualists treasure them and collectivists condemn them. As keeping secrets separates people, so sharing them brings them together. Gossip, confessional, psychoanalysis, each involves communicating secrets and thus establishing human relationships. Traditionally, sex has been a very private, secretive activity. Herein perhaps lies its power for uniting people in a string bond. As we make sex less secretive, we may rob it of its power to hold men and women together.

  • When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him.

  • It is fashionable nowadays to assert, in the manner of Kant, that if one person 'uses' another, the rue humanity of both is violated; and hence that, in a morally proper relationship, a person should not use another. This is idealistic humbug. People always use each other. Human relationships are good or bad, moral or immoral, depending not on whether people use each other, but on how they do so.

  • Articulate persons argue. Inarticulate persons quarrel.

  • People can stand each other for only a limited period -- hence they protect themselves either by ceremonial distancing or by physical escape. Insular societies with limited space, such as Japan, exemplify the former; continental societies with seemingly unlimited space, such as the United States, the latter.

    In Japan, social conflict is managed, as a rule, by ceremonial separation: wife is kept at a distance from husband, worker from manager, and generally, subordinate from superior, not by physical distance, but by social distancing. This requires establishing discrete existential spaces for the contestants.

    In the United States, social conflict is managed, as a rule, by physical separation: the Indian is exiled to the reservation, the young man goes West, husband and wife divorce, the mentally ill are segregated. This requires establishing discrete geographical spaces for the contestants.

  • In science, it's dangerous to lie: it discovered, the liar is cast out of the group as a faker and fraud.

    In religion, politics, and psychiatry, it's dangerous to tell the truth: if discovered, the truth-teller is cast out of the group as a heretic and a traitor.

  • Drug addiction, alcohol addiction, tobacco addiction, sex addiction, relationship addiction -- diseases one and all. Surely, we are in the grips of a medical fundamentalism no less bizarre or extreme that the religious fundamentalism of the Iranians. Ironically, we belittle the behavior of religious fundamentalists as irrational, when in fact they recognize their behavior for what it is: religious fundamentalism; whereas we deny that our behavior is a species of fundamentalism and insist that is is science blended with compassion.

  • Conservatives want to make people virtuous; liberals want to make them healthy. Both believe that using the state to accomplish their aim is legitimate. That is why both conservatives and liberals favor anti-drug laws, psychiatric coercions, and other assaults against individual freedom and responsibility couched in therapeutic terms.
    Thomas Szasz
    The Untamed Tongue:
    A Dissenting Dictionary

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/23/2007 01:10:00 AM | write me | | | HOME | MAIN SITE

Ed Fitzgerald

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