insanity defense

R. D. Laing, Thomas S. Szasz, and Mental Patients’ Liberation

Maverick psychiatrist Ronald David Laing once defined madness as follows: “Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” This speaks to the theoretical divide between R.D. Laing and his contemporary, fellow psychiatrist Thomas Stephen Szasz. His attitude towards Laing, from the beginning, was that of almost a visceral rejection, but on the grounds that Laing was, in his eyes, dissolute or lacking in moral fiber. This sort of symbolizes the distance between these two figures often falsely associated in the public mind.

Laing was a seminal thinker for the decade that came to be known as “the turbulent sixties”. Thoms Szasz was an emigre from a Hungary that fell under the soviet orbit following WWII, and thus reflected an older and more established world view, although similar claims could be made there, too. Szasz disputed the idea of mental illness, and approved, when it came to treatment, only of a therapist client sort of arrangement, an arrangement that jived with free trade. Laing wanted to throw off the divisions between patient and therapist in his unstructured and freer environment, the experimental therapeutic community, or residence.

What Szasz saw in Laing’s therapeutic setting, in his social experiment, was collectivism, of which, regardless of whether you are looking at communism or monasticism, he violently disapproved. Laing, on the other hand, recognized some of his clients “issues” as situational and social rather than imaginary and isolated. The theory is simple, you put some plants in one environment, and they are going to shrivel and die, however, if you transfer the same plants to another environment, they thrive. Animals, specifically the human animal, must be pretty much the same way.

There were other differences between the two, the stance of Szasz was moral. He was against forced treatment, and being against forced psychiatric treatment, he opposed the insanity defense as well. Laing, despite his social experiment, would never go so far as to oppose psychiatric force across the board. Power was something, for him, a psychiatrist might ruminate about, melodramatically, without relinquishing. He also was not beyond using the insanity defense, of which Szasz disapproved, in testimony before a court of law. Laing was operating under a mandate to live one’s life completely, and in so being, he would not be restricted by such moral constraints.

Another issue Szasz attacked Laing over was his use of psychiatric terminology, disease language, which he rejected. If “mental illness” was a myth, we shouldn’t speak of “problems in living”, as Szasz saw them, as “diseases”. Laing thought the disease theory, merely a theory, and not one that he necessarily subscribed to, but one he was not beyond utilizing in the interests of research and treatment. Basically it boils down to this. Laing served as an inspiration to those in favor of alternatives to forced and conventionally harmful treatments while Szasz served as an inspiration to those who would abolish forced treatment. Szasz’s approach to treatment focused more on accepting personal responsibility for one’s actions rather than evading that responsibility.

Thomas Szasz’s most famous book, in which he first expounded his views, The Myth of Mental Illness, was published in 1961, a year after he had published a landmark essay by the same title. R. D. Laing’s entrance into the published world began with The Divided Self, arguably his most famous book, in 1960. Kingley Hall, the first Laingian experiment, operated in London from 1965 – 1970. The mental patients’ liberation, or psychiatric survivor, movement began in 1969/1970 with the launch of the Lunatic Liberation Front in Portland, Oregon. The mental patients’ liberation movement, in so far as it existed, before becoming almost totally co-opted by federal financing, was against force and for “alternatives”, and thus, could be said to have been influenced and inspired by both figures.

So You Want To Be A Mental Patient


I recently crossed paths with a Huff Post piece entitled 5 Real Ways To Combat The Stigma Around Mental Illness.

Stigma, here, means territory, doesn’t it?….

Okay, let me back up a little space, and let’s look at these 5 counter stigmatism measures and strategies mentioned.

Numero uno. “Make sure “going to the doctor” includes going to a therapist, if needed.”

Just to clue you in here, by therapist the author means mental or behavioral health professional specialist. Let me modify the above statement by saying that if you don’t want to be treated as nutso when you go to see the doctor, perhaps it would be a good idea NOT to request such a therapist.

It’s a good thing we don’t have 5 organs of evacuation, isn’t it?

This brings us to number two. “Train community leaders on how to screen for the signs of depression.” One could broaden this statement to include all sorts of nutso. Is your neighbor nutso? He or she should be screened, shouldn’t he or she? The more screening there is the more possibilities for nutso there are, and so on.

With number 3 we’re at a loss from the beginning. “Emphasize mental health, not mental illness.” Mental health in this case is something all mentally ill people have. Go figure…

Hmm. I wonder if all mentally healthy people have a mental illness?

Alright. Number 4. After you’ve called in the head shrinker or the behavioral therapist, after some trained community leader has found you out with a sanity test, after you’ve started to emphasize the health of your illness… “Recognize that friends and families can be powerful allies.” When it comes to being nutso, friends and family are always a big “help”. To make a ‘how much wood could a woodchuck chuck’ out of the matter, friends and family can always help a nutso notso much. Or it is that they can always help a notso nutso much? Anyway, whatever it is they can do, they’re there for you, kiddo.

Number 5 is the most curious of the bunch. “Own it.” By this the author means acknowledging that we are all effected by mental illness (i.e. nutso-ness). If only mental wellness were so influential, huh? We might then have many more people around are who were notso nutso, but you’ve got to deal with what you’re given, and if that’s nutso, well, there you go. Anyway, if you buy nutso, it must be your nutso. Got, er, own it. There are a heck of a lot of gullible people out there in this big world of ours, or not so big as the case may be, and what some them are gulled into is absolutely nutso.

If only it were notso.

I had a pet mental illness once, but I let it go. I imagine somebody else has it now. On the other hand, if it died out there on the road somewhere, I wouldn’t be sorry. I can only take this moaning over road kill business so far.

This Huff Post piece says some 18.6 % of the US population are “mentally ill”. There are other sources that give a higher figure. The Kim Foundation, for instance, puts the figure of people with mental illness at 26.2 %, or more than 1/4 of the population. In other words. if nutso is common, notso nutso is pretty common, too.

While you are mulling the matter over under your thinking cap over there, buddy, maybe there are better things to be than nutso.

A Few Words About The Church Of Psychiatry

“Mental illness” is the cardinal belief of the Church of Psychiatry. Converts to the Psychiatry faith are expected to believe in it the way Christians believe in Jesus Christ, son of God and miracle worker. Skeptics and disbelievers have been fully discredited for rashly stigmatizing both clergy and laity, doctors and patients, of this religion.

Although Jesus Christ has been credited with doing good, “Mental Illness” has been credited with doing much harm. It is seen as a negative and unstoppable force. What’s more, it adds coins to the Psychiatry Churches coffers. You’ve got a church built upon a fervently held confidence in human self-destructiveness.

The idea of “Mental Illness” presupposes its opposite, the idea of “Mental Health”. This concept of “Mental Health” is not really a consolation to people of the faith. “Mental Health”, for people in the Psychiatry religion, is rather like the idea of the Anti-Christ in Christianity. When people “get better”, the church is in jeopardy.

Fortunately, where faith is strong, “Mental Health” is on hiatus, perhaps permanently. There are no shortage of converts among the laity. It helps when you have a Eucharist of the sort that the Psychiatry Church possesses. The body of “Mental Illness” is the toxic drug regimen that so many among the converted find themselves so readily consuming, not just on Good Friday, but on periodic occasions everyday of the week throughout the year.

Psychiatry is an Evangelical faith and, as such, it has experienced enormous success converting heathen in recent years. Fully one fourth of people throughout the civilized world are said to be devotees of this religion, and it is spreading at breakneck speed. Low level Evangelicals are recruited from among the laity to serve a quasi-clerical missionary function in promoting the faith to good effect.

Although the enemies of “Mental Illness” are rumored to be many, the Psychiatry religion has been triumphant in keeping them at bay. When “Mental Illness” is “serious”, “Mental Health” keeps his distance, and all sorts of rituals, including the partaking of the Eucharist, mentioned above, ensure that this arrangement is held to be sacrosanct. “Mental Illness” keeps converts coming and coffers filled.

It is hoped, among the faithful, that someday soon every state in the advanced world will get around to officially recognizing Psychiatry as the state religion that it already is off record. Official recognition will help converts dispense with the archaic notion of freedom, and the rationalism that goes along with it, that has been such an impediment to the advancement and spread of this Church and its catechism.

The Threat Within

Mental health (mal)treatment, as it is now practiced, has become a serious challenge to the freedom and privilege associated with democratic government. School children are being targeted for psychiatric labeling and drugging after the occasional odd act of mass violence perpetuated by lone gunmen. This targeting seems likely to lead to continual oppressive surveillance and monitoring of a substantial proportion of the population over the course of entire lifetimes.

Both our prison population, and our population of people with psychiatric labels, are growing substantially. While we recognize, to a certain extent, the loss of rights that come of breaking the law of the land, we tend to gloss over the fact that we are taking rights away from people in the mental health system, too. When these rights are not restored, and those populations grow even more dramatically, eventually they lead to a more restrictive society blatantly divided along caste lines.

Mental illness is an illusion. No mental illness has ever been proven for a fact to exist. Diseases are physical or they aren’t diseases. Certainly there are things going on in people’s lives that cause them to act in bizarre and incomprehensible, at least to other people, ways, but to call strange behavior the result of disease is to take a leap beyond the known. Organs disease, people misbehave, and a troop of wild cowboys is not the same as a groaning row of patients on a hospital ward.

Using media accounts of violence as an excuse to beef up your mental health system is just asking for trouble. Mental illness, the illusion remember, rates are reported to be at epidemic proportions now. If anyone were in their “right” mind so-to-speak they would be looking for ways to quell this epidemic rather than to escalate it. Paying more for it, in this sense, is merely a way of spreading it. What the mental health system is manufacturing is a steady supply of patients labeled chronically ill.

When the illness is dependency, subsidization is not the answer. Dependency, so-called “learned helplessness”, is one of the results of long-term institutionalization. Given a new stage of development, our total institutions are being replaced by a number of transitional institutions from which there is no real transit. The institution with walls gives way to the institution without walls. Joe Taxpayer pays public insurance to pay Big Pharma, and for outpatient facilities and residences, the secret lunatic bins, that help make up the growing mental health ghetto.

Either we change the documents this nation was built on, or we come back to the need for respecting and preserving rights and liberties, not just of the rich minority, but for everybody. Eventually we are going to have to recognize the humanity of people who have endured mental health maltreatment, and other forms of imprisonment, too. If we don’t, well, we have two choices, revolution or tyranny. The possibility also mounts that creeping autocracy could easily corrode any valid vision of social justice entertained beyond recognition.

Oh oh, here we go again

The latest high profile killing event, the Santa Barbara stabbings and drive by shootings, have escalated misguided efforts aimed at curbing violence through mental health reform. Preventing violence through mental health reform, in my book, is as dubious a venture as has ever been proposed. This effort has kept me busy though commenting on news stories that would blame the recent violence on folks with “mental illness” labels.

E. Fuller Torrey, PhD, psychiatrist big wig and developer of the cat flu theory of schizophrenia, in a National Review piece, Addressing Serious Mental Illness, couldn’t seem to separate criminal actions from “mental illness” symptoms, and so I thought I would try to help the poor man out.

Murder is a crime. Multiple murder is a series of crimes. Murder is not a symptom of any illness anywhere. I read recently where about 5 % of the population who commit violent acts are said to have “mental illness” labels. This is curious indeed as about 5 % of the entire population have been labeled “severely mentally ill”. I think there is only one possible conclusion to be drawn from this information, namely that “mental illness” does not cause violent crime. If “mental illness” does not cause violence, all these efforts aimed at solving the violence problem by beefing up the “mental health system” are misplaced.

I’m sure I didn’t get very far with E. Fuller Torrey in the endeavor, but then that’s a matter for specialists in the field of Harebrained Psychiatrist Disorder, and that is, unfortunately, a subject somewhat outside the scope of my expertise. Anyway, if anyone does have any expertise in that field, please, get this man the help he needs soon. I fear for the nation if he doesn’t receive that help.

The News Tribune, sounding sufficiently imperial for a Tacoma Washington news rag, had it’s own solution to the dilemma, UC killings:  Sick angry men must be flagged, and I tried to flatter them by way of congratulations. “When in Rome”, as the saying goes. I hypothesize enough intelligence in the reader, at least in some readers, to fill in the blanks.

Yeah, like let’s become a psychiatric police state, and recruit community members as spies for the federal government. That’s really going to decrease the level of violence nationally, isn’t it? Of course, government violence will be on the rise, but so what? Maybe we will be able do something about the obnoxious neighbors in the process. Sig heil, News Tribune!

Wouldn’t you know it! Even the national news services had to jump into the fray. Here is my response to a story on CBS, Mental illness in spotlight after UC Santa Barbara rampage. This headline I find rather confusing. I don’t know how you could get a “mental illness” in the spotlight, unless maybe that “mental illness” was the cat flu virus under an electron microscope lens. Oh, well, what can you do? I imagine if somebody put an ad in the paper a bunch of people might show up, but people and illnesses remain rather dissimilar, if anybody has seen germs under magnification, by a long shot.

Young men have better things to be doing with their lives than murder/suicide. Apparently this message was slow to reach one Elliot Rodger. Calling murder/suicide a “sickness” is not suggesting any of those better things. If a life is a terrible thing to waste, not to mention 7 lives, how do we drive this message home? I, for one, don’t think consigning lives to the junk-heap of the mental health system necessarily represents an improvement. Certainly drugging a person isn’t redeeming a person. What’s more, it’s a lie. People don’t commit murder/suicide because they’re “sick”, people commit murder/suicide because they undervalue human life. We can’t afford so many repeats of this kind of folly before wisdom strikes. The demon “mental illness” didn’t do it. The fool Elliot Rodger did it. There are a lot of other fools out there who can’t seem to make this basic distinction. Another thing. Why is this young man so doggedly “serious”. I’d really like to see some silly. One wants to shake him, and say, lighten up, man. Life is for the living, not for the taking.

Finally, where NPR is peddling another mental health reform bill, Rep. Murphy aims for mental health bill to pass before next shooting, I have to put my heel to the brakes. This is going way too far, folks, and I, for one, ain’t a-going over the edge of that cliff.

Multiple murder is not a mental illness. Multiple murder is a series of crimes. You don’t punish law breakers with “mental health” treatment. Bottom line, murder is a violation of the law, not a symptom of a disease. Endless mental health reform is part of the problem, not the solution. Say you reform the mental health system, and another series of crimes breaks out; what do you do? Reform the mental health system some more? The point I’m making here is that you don’t really deal with the problem by scapegoating an innocent segment of society as Tim Murphy would do with his proposed legislation. Multiple murder is a criminal justice issue. Multiple murder is not, and never will be, a mental health issue.

Faulty logic though is not going to go away through wishful thinking. Watch out! Y is not G unless proposed by N, and N has a large following. Did I say “watch out”? Duck! One thing you can count on, like death and taxes, is bad news. I wouldn’t count on stopping that bad news through more and more mental health reform though. Anybody got a calculator? Isn’t that kind of like compounding bad news with bad news? Since when did bad news plus bad news equal good news? I leave you to judge. Scoot over. If The Terminator is an indicator of a bleak future, he should be here any moment now.