Monday, August 2, 2010

Neil Steinberg on the non-fungibility of people

Kudos to Neil Steinberg in today's Chicago Sun-Times! His column is entitled, "Racists live in a world of interchangeable people." He points out that unlike money (one $20 bill is worth the same and has the identical use as any other $20 bill), people are individuals, and totally non-fungible.

Biological/medical psychiatric theory and practice are in fundamental conflict with this fact of life. The clearest statement I have ever read about this was 23 years ago, by Pulizter winner Jon Franklin: "We will have to turn our backs on the duality and, with it, the faith of our fathers.... We will have to look into the mirror, surrender illusion, and make peace with the fact that we're staring at a machine. We are mechanisms, pure and simple, explainable without resort to the concept of soul."

Machines are fungible, built from finite, interchangeable parts, lacking any free will, useful and valuable only to the extent that they are predicted and controlled. They are dead. This is how psychiatry sees people. As historians have often noted, psychiatry is also fundamentally racist.

It is vitally important however, to recognize that the general character of a field of theory and practice cannot be automatically applied to every practitioner in that field. I say that psychiatry is an essentially racist field, but I do not that say Dr. C is a racist, or that Dr. J is a racist. In fact, these individual psychiatrists, whom I know personally, are basically good people. Why they do what they do is a long and complex tragedy which will only end when that central understanding, so well-stated by Neil Steinberg today, becomes universal.

Individual people are alive. Minds are not brains. Emotion, behavior and human society will not actually be improved, and mental illness will not be cured, by fine-tuning neurochemistry. Jon Franklin was wrong, NAMI is wrong.

This is a problem: confront it!

1 comment:

  1. Jon Franklin is so unimportant, he doesn't even have his own wikipedia page. However, I did find the article from the web archives that won him a Pulitzer. It was written over 25 years ago and all of the pie-in-the-sky claims it made are still unfulfilled. Psychiatry's just as confused and as ignorant in 2010 as it was in 1984.

    I think the argument boils down to the individual versus the group and who gets to define what is right. What's right for one individual may not be right for another. I have no right to impose my belief system on you, just as you have no right to determine what is right for me. As long as no one's bleeding, nothing's on fire and every thing's maintained at a pleasantly dull uproar, each of us should have a right to go out and define what is right for himself. It's what an education is supposed to do.

    Psychiatry has always seemed to feel that it has the authority to define what is appropriate and healthy, to use some of its favorite adjectives. The Axis report they use seems to be only concerned about whether the patient is being a good little unit of production-slash-consumption and whether or not he's upsetting the other sheep. As long as we have these moral busybodies wanting to impinge on the lives of others they feel defective, we will never have a just and vibrant society.