The Cat in the Straitjacket

So, between news of ambassadors getting assassinated and wingnuts screaming it’s because Obama apologizes too much, this catches my eye today:

British schools now do a better job than American schools of lifting students up the social ladder, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a report published Tuesday. In Britain, a student whose parents never graduated from high school has a 60 percent chance of attending college, while in the United States the odds are just 29 percent, one of the lowest levels among the 34 countries with advanced economies that make up the O.E.C.D., which is based in Paris. —NYTimes

This is another nail in the coffin to this nation’s  asshats’ argument  that talk about “American Exceptionalism,” and consider any statement that suggests there is a non-American nation/culture — European, Asian, Romulan — that has a better record of so-called American values such as education, health care, social mobility, etc., is heresy.  Look at the facts, folks.  We’re falling behind.  Stop grinding down the middle class – that’s our strength!

Anyway, fuck all that.  I want to bid farewell to one of my favorite madmen, a guy whose books I read, whose thoughts I parsed, and whose attitude I loved.  Too bad he was just all wrong:

Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist whose 1961 book “The Myth of Mental Illness” questioned the legitimacy of his field and provided the intellectual grounding for generations of critics, patient advocates and antipsychiatry activists, making enemies of many fellow doctors, died Saturday at his home in Manlius, N.Y. He was 92.

Dr. Szasz published his critique at a particularly vulnerable moment for psychiatry. With Freudian theorizing just beginning to fall out of favor, the field was trying to become more medically oriented and empirically based. Fresh from Freudian training himself, Dr. Szasz saw psychiatry’s medical foundation as shaky at best, and his book hammered away, placing the discipline “in the company of alchemy and astrology.”  NYTimes

Back in the day, this mad Hungarian was my hero.  A shrink himself, he fucking trashed the so-called psychiatric profession, calling attention to its complete lack of scientific method in favor of focus on empty ideology.  This was even before drugs!

He wrote about 30 books on this theme.  I gave up after six, including Ideology and Insanity and  The Manufacture of Madness, and was relieved to learn from a respected source with whom I was studying at the time that essentially, it was the same book over and over.  I had reached the same conclusion.  I just looked: still have his books, right next to my autographed copy of Freeman and Watts, Psychosurgery.  Scariest section of my library.

I saw Dr. Szasz speak just once.  It was the 70s, and there were about 200 people in the audience.  The Philadelphia Bar Association invited him to discuss issues pertaining to individual responsibility and diagnoses of mental illness.  Szasz’s view, stated generally, was that there’s no such thing as mental illness, and we’re all responsible for our actions.  Prosecutors and cops liked this, shrinks and defense attorneys didn’t.  You can see why.

But what was really cool was all the mentals in the audience.  Druggies, psychotics, street people. garden variety nutcases.  During the question and answer period, they approached the microphone one by one to berate the professor for his complete and utter grasp of the nature of mental illness and its dynamics, citing themselves as examples, and calling him out for his own refusal to face the obvious.  They cursed his ass and threatened him with violence.  Dr. Szasz just stared, shaking his head sadly.

zOMG, what a circus.  What a show.

Anyway, he’s gone now, and his amazing body of work is all but forgotten.  As unpopular as personal responsibility  was then, it became exponentially more so as the years passed.  Besides, drugs came along to make the whole issue moot, and Dr. Szasz irrelevant.

Ah well.  There’s always Dr. Seuss.  At least exceptional Americans can understand him.

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This entry was posted in Gen. Snark, Maj. Snafu, Corp. Punishment, People Who Died, Died. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Cat in the Straitjacket

  1. julesagray says:

    fuck me..did you really use ‘zOMG’?
    there goes my erection.

  2. Libby Rae Shone, Ph.D. says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Szasz several times, and attended many of his presentations. He was both brilliant and dynamic, but ultimately, I believe, quite mistaken in his bedrock belief that mental illness is a myth or fabrication. Where his insights continue to have benefits today is in the way the counseling, medical, and legal professions address persons with mental illness. Practitioners like myself have progressed considerably, no doubt in part thanks to Thomas Szasz.

  3. odtley says:

    i never met this particular guy but plenty of shrinks i dealt with over the years used to talk shit about him like maybe if he left hisoffice once in a while and saw the kinds of shit we see day dealing with these whackjobs and druggies hed understand what mental illness really is which looking back might be true because we were truly a sick bunch expecially the ones who depended on those drugs they gave us to cure us which didn’t work except for the drug companies bottom lines

  4. "Esq." A Lawyer says:

    Szasz was a very smart operator. I saw him in action many times. He sold his line of goods real well, finding sympathetic ears among libertarians, cops, and prosecutors who either wanted for ideological purposes to believe his weird version of human agency, or found it useful in advancing their own careers.. But any educated layman, let alone a trained logician, could poke holes in his argument pretty easily, and many did. That didn’t shut him up, of course, he just doubled down. Much of what he claimed was eventually set aside, leaving mostly the conclusion that the mental health industry is a racket mismanaged by its leaders to put profits before patients. No news here, people. Nothing to see. Just keep moving.

    • Inquiring Mind says:

      “the mental health industry is a racket mismanaged by its leaders to put profits before patients”

      And this is differant from the rest of the medical community how?

  5. odtley says:

    actually when years later i read some of what dr szasz babbled on about i got to see that he was probably as obsessed and mentally ill as the people he claimed were not and there was no such thing so maybe his whole career was just him slapping back against other people who realized what a whack job he was

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