Back in grad studies I finished a paper by saying that cultural perceptions of madness and mysticism, not precluding a transcendental element, amounted to “states of mind and minds of state.”
I thought that was a clever way of ending my essay. It suggested that our interpretation of what’s going on inside is informed by social and political forces outside the self.
I’m not sure the erratic professor who marked my paper understood what I was getting at. They gave me an “A” in the course but later changed their mind about supplying postdoc letters of recommendation.
And so ended my academic career in a chilling flash of darkness. If you’ve ever been shafted or given the proverbial “pink slip” after many years of hard work and success, you’ll know just how upsetting that can be.
However, I am still interested in this oft overlooked topic and recently found three articles that I’d like to look at today.
The first comes from Mad In America, a site that critiques psychiatry which initially seemed a bit too extreme for my liking. However MIA seems to be coming along nicely. Contributors like Jenny Logan, whom I link to below, write like so many hot air academics do not—tight, informed and to the point.
The second piece caught my eye and I couldn’t help but think, if she wasn’t making money from this, would people say she was nuts?
And then we have the third piece. I didn’t post this for obvious reasons. Boing Boing’s cavalier treatment of the story seemed bordering on vulgar and some might add racist.
The point of all three of the above linked stories – without writing another academic treastise like mine of 30 years ago – is that psychiatric diagnoses are argubly culture bound or in some instances, subculture bound. With this last video, it seems everyone in the room is taking the idea of demonic possession very seriously. But to outsiders, these events may seem strange or even comical.
A key ingredient in keeping away the proverbial white bus (an old metaphor for being carried off to a psychiatric facility) is power. Those who are alone and economicaly poor are far more vulnerable to being victimized by the system. If you belong to some group, say a church or have clients who pay you, you are less vulnerable.
It’s as simple as that.
However, in all cases, a similar internal dynamic could be taking place. The ideas may be sane or crazy. As Emily Dickinson realized so many years ago, social power usually determines what happens.