Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg and a New Birth of Freedom

One hundred fifty years ago today, two massive armies arrived and began to slaughter each other at a small crossroads town in Pennsylvania. One eventual result of the Battle of Gettysburg was that men came to be considered more equal in their rights to live and to be free than they had ever been imagined to be before.

Equality in freedom and the universal individual responsibility which it demands are actually a huge problem. They mean we must ultimately communicate with our fellows, come to agreements with them, and understand them. For too many of us such a task seems ignoble. When we have certainty that a thing is right, why should we have to explain it to others who fail or refuse to see the truth? Perhaps those others are slightly less human than we are; perhaps we simply cannot communicate with them to any productive effect.

In state nuthouses where "patients" are involuntary and "doctors" force them to take drugs which gradually disable and dehumanize them, we see essentially the same institution of slavery that derived from the Confederate world view refuted at Gettysburg. Tom Szasz wrote a whole book about this.

In George Orwell's Animal Farm, the single great commandment evolved: "All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others." Those who were "more equal" (pigs) carried whips.  At Elgin Mental Health Center, the watchword is collaboration. But some people (patients) are required to collaborate more than others.

The world view refuted at Gettysburg was consistent with the idea that mental health or ill-health, though defined and evidenced only in interpreted behavior, is a genetic/biological issue. In Antebellum America some people were inferior by nature and were best suited as forced laborers. They often "had drapetomania" and tried to run away. In today's America, some people "have schizophrenia" and don't believe that antipsychotic drugs help them. We conclude that some of us must control others with force and coercion, and we pretend it's for the best.

But our nation will never see a new birth of freedom so long as the people believe the orthodox medical psychiatric myths, that insanity is brain disease and human beings are just animals. Those honored dead, who gave the last full measure of devotion on Little Round Top and Cemetary Ridge, will have died in vain.

It is for us, the living ... to outlaw all forced treatment, to ban the insanity defense, and to separate psychiatry forever from the state. Then and only then shall human dignity itself not perish from the earth.