Happy New Year!
I was recently ruminating on a handful of apparently separate conceptual or artistic inputs, which I instinctively feel might relate to each other. I’ll try to make this coherent by the end of the article.
First input, The Morning Show.
I am SO ENTRANCED by this new, 10-episode Apple+ TV series! Before I started watching it, I was aware that it might have a “#MeToo” theme, and that made me think it would not be very interesting, there’s just been too much about that. My daughter claims that she predicted I would like it if I watched beyond the first two episodes, and she now says she told me so. (But of course there’s no way I ever remember that one of my children told me so!)
The series is promoted as, “An inside look into the people who help Americans wake up each day, exploring the challenges faced by the people who work in morning television.” It features big time stars, wonderful acting, and some of the best writing ever. The first season plot is about sexual abuse in the context of unbalanced power relationships.
The appeal for me is the realistic depiction of a common phenomenon. In high-powered, high-stress work environments, a tight-knit group of people may soon end up all having had sex with each other. (My wife says “all” is an exaggeration. Maybe, but not by much....) This always becomes a problem, because of course, the complicated relationships distract individuals from their jobs and their first loyalty to the purpose of the group. Thus rules, thus sexual morality, etc.
There’s an amazing scene, in Episode 4, I think, where the “independent investigator” and the new anchor are asking questions to get to the bottom of what happened, how the predatory behavior of a previous star on the show could have gone unchecked, what part the culture of the group may have played, etc. It becomes obvious that many people had known about what was going on. They could all pretend they didn’t know, and many of them had good reason to so pretend. The phrase uttered by one victim with much emotion was, simply: “Everybody knew.”
Second input, a Thomas Szasz quote: Understanding a person and coercing him are mutually antagonistic and incompatible functions and roles, and we all know it.
It seems to me that an implication of this is, sexual abuse or coerced “seduction” is not much fun for either person on either side of a power imbalance. A sexual relationship feels like understanding, a bodily understanding that’s often overwhelmingly wonderful. Any coercion involved, even subtle and complex coercion like what’s depicted in The Morning Show, would cut against understanding and dull the feeling. (So I relate the Szasz quote back to the TV series.)
Szasz was author of the most influential historic criticisms of psychiatry; however, he was obviously not a #MeToo spokesman. The quote was certainly aimed at coercive (“forensic”) mental treatment which yet requires understanding for any success if a human being is supposed to be helped. I.e.: any program for an individual’s mental/emotional/behavioral improvement must eschew coercion at all costs. This does not mean criminals or violent people shouldn’t be controlled. It only means we shouldn’t pretend our main purpose is to help them when it’s not. We shouldn’t give “help” a bad name.
The thing that happens if we pretend we’re helping people when we are really controlling them is, we build up entire corrupt and destructive bureaucracies like the Illinois Department of Human Services, which runs plantations using psychiatric slaves for about a billion dollars a year of the taxpayers’ money. People like James Corcoran, Richard Malis, Syed Hussain, Mark Roberson and others think patients are owned chattel: they don’t respect human rights, they don’t report abuse, they don’t take any responsibility or know anything.
I know many good people who work at Elgin Mental Health Center, Chicago Read Mental Health Center, Chester Mental Health Center, etc. They entered their profession at least partly because they wanted to help people. But they were confronted with the truth all too soon: understanding a person and coercing him are incompatible, and they all know it.
Third input, “Lake Shore Drive” song by Aliotta, Haynes & Jeremiah.
I recently instructed a friend from elsewhere, who needs to understand the unique importance of Chicago as culture, to listen to this song at least six times a week for a while. (I actually was driving south on Lake Shore Drive, heading into town, when I gave her this instruction. It was a glorious day, blue water on the driving side, so I spoke with inspired, natural authority!)
Many years ago, there was a party in my apartment overlooking Lake Shore Drive. Skip Haynes of Aliotta, Haynes & Jeremiah was there for some reason (I didn’t know him), snorting cocaine in my bathroom! Being enthusiastically opposed to drugs, this was an embarrassment to me, similar perhaps, to part of the lyrics of the song: ...slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound!
Alloying the natural beauty and the pure elation of driving south on the real Lake Shore Drive — the spectacular architectural wonderland of the city rising up as you come around the curve past Belmont Harbor — with such a spiritual atrocity as a psychedelic drug trip, is an example of the trademark psychiatric alloy, help with control. LSD was after all a psychiatric invention, and it is being pushed newly as “treatment” for depression, now that SSRI’s are such a proven failure. With no latest-and-greatest drug cure psychiatry could hardly claim to be a medical specialty.
That song came out when I was in college, young, dedicated to brown-eyed girls and saving the world, and wonderfully overwhelmed.
So... The Morning Show, Tom Szasz’s quote about coercion and understanding, and “Lake Shore Drive” coalesce into this feeling for me, that we humans are basically good creatures, sexy and creative; but we’re screwing things up and we must evolve. We must especially evolve as ourselves — without drugs, and for godsakes without psychiatric coercion.
I almost forgot... the reason for the title of this article. (Hmmm...)
I’m told that spies have to tie disparate things together to analyze situations. They have to love and hate, arbitrarily trust people to remain human and constantly distrust everyone to remain alive; they have to search for beauty and thrive on a daily breakfast of ugly. They have to know well what a person is, beyond or despite all brain science, all mechanics, and all force.
Watch the TV series, get an honest job, listen to the music. The sun shines fine in the morning time, tomorrow is another day.