If we have our why in life, we shall get along with almost any how. Man does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does that. (Nietzsche, TI 12.)
Anchored misery, misery that has something external to the sufferer as as both its cause and its object can, in some ways, be easier to bear. At the end of her penetrating essay ‘Joy’, Zadie Smith quotes Julian Barnes on the subject of mourning: “It hurts as much as it is worth.” If we have a ‘why’ of suffering, it doesn’t diminish it or make it any lighter to drag around with us, but it does give it a place and an importance in our ethical lives. Misery is the appropriate response to loss of something valued, whether that is a person, a relationship, innocence or even a rosebush. Continue reading
(Continued from here https://thebeetlebox.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/two-genealogies-of-madness-part-one/)
If our concepts of ‘madness” are socially constructed and as such don’t latch onto to an independent reality, it does indeed seem like a death knell for them. They are just fantasies, and worse than that, fantasies which were created to serve a malign social purpose- that of separation, ostracisation and false-reassurance.
This is where the above discussion of Nietzsche becomes important. The genealogy of morals succeeds in undermining the value of the “value-judgements good and evil” at least partly because Christianity cares about truth, and it cares about it’s value system being tied to some external truth about the world. But we do not need to see the conceptual framework behind the practice of psychiatry in this problematic way, as descriptive of a purely scientific phenomenon which is distinct from us and our own mode of life and flourishing .
In my experience people tend to mean one of two very different things when they claim that mental illness is socially constructed.
The first of these is that broader social, economic and historical conditions make people mentally unwell in certain ways. This idea arguably found its most famous express in the work of the philosopher/psychoanalyst pairing Deleuze and Guattari; the rough summary of their work being that the contradictions of capitalism cause people to become schizophrenic.
This kind thought is interesting, complex and something which I obviously have a lot of time for. However it is the second meaning which I want to focus on in the remainder of this post. This meaning is perhaps better expressed as the claim that “mental illness” is socially constructed; that our concepts and understandings of mental illness are ones created through our social history and as such do not tie onto any objective external reality. The conclusion drawn from this often ends up being that we should recognize them as fraudulent and rid ourselves of them. Continue reading
Oh I wanna walk with Christ my savior For he’s the one that’ll guide me on All through my life I’ve been a sinner Now I’m right with God so I’m travelling home.” Bill Monroe, River of Death
In the early 1970s the psychologist David Rosenhan carried out an experiment to determine the validity of contemporary psychiatric diagnoses and practices. He and seven associates gained “secret admission to 12 different hospitals” (Rosenhan, 1973) complaining of the single (and fabricated) symptom that they had been hearing a voice which seemed to pronounce the words ‘empty’, ‘hollow’ and ‘thud’.
However being discharged proved much harder; despite the fact that after admission they were instructed to say that the voice had disappeared, length of hospital stay ranged from 7 to 52 days. His ‘patients’ soon found that the only way to be released was to agree with the psychiatrists’ judgement: to admit that they were in fact ill, and agree to co-operate with them in order to get “better”. Continue reading