The American Insanity
Why postmodernists have a difficult time recognizing the consequences of ideology.
As Walter Williams famously noticed, “The welfare state has done to blacks what slavery couldn't do, and that is to destroy the black family.” The same could be said about what the field of psychology has done to psychiatric patients. The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in America has done to them what asylums couldn’t do, and that is kill them. About 250 homeless die every season in New York because they are insane and psychologists have lost the moral fortitude to diagnose a patient with that word. Even more tragic is that New Yorkers will have no choice but to witness the insane die in the street---not before they brush their urine-soaked rags against them on the subway. How many people need to publicly defecate for there to be a public defecation problem? Not too many more than one.
It didn’t used to be this way. Asylums were built to keep our insane alive if not help them. By the mid-1800s, Western civilization became rich enough to care about the mentally ill. In the beginning, the admissions process at an asylum was simple. If you did something anti-social---like walk down the street with your pants around your ankles---without being able to grasp why it was anti-social, then you were placed in a cell for your remaining days to be poked and prodded by graduate students.
The beginning of the end of this experiment occurred when Nellie Bly, a proto activist journalist, waxed maudlin of a few incidents in which the patients in these asylums were beaten. This sounds bad but anyone who has worked in a psychiatric hospital for more than a few days is horrified by the violence of the patients and so the sometimes jostling nature of the work. Though the supposed abuse did sound bad, and sounding bad is all it takes for especially white people to start feeling guilty.
In conjunction with the sob stories, psychology rode the wave of the burgeoning postmodernism trend. During the mid-20th Century, the new intellectuals were implementing their ideas throughout culture. Governments were expanding in power because the individual only had an identity to the extent others gave him an identity. Novels were written that had no plot or characterization, because these were arbitrary ideas that had no basis in reality. Art became indistinguishable from the dirty apron of the artist. Philosophers formulated ethical credos that rested on little more than a feeling or “moral intuition.” Legislators ramped up social welfare because productivity became an accident divorced from morality. And psychologists began to question whether mental illness even exists in the first place. There cannot be mental illness if there’s no such thing as truth. Therefore, we have no right to keep mental patients in asylums against their will, no matter how many times they walk down the street with their pants around their ankles. After all, as the postmodernist refrain goes, pants are only a social construct.
The psychiatrist Thomas Szasz made this point unapologetically in the introduction of his landmark book, The Myth of Mental Illness:
“Mental illness is the product of the observer’s construction and his definition of the behavior of the persons he observes as medically disabled individuals needing medical treatment.”
A disorder ceased to be something that existed in a patient---rather it was something wrong with the way psychologists viewed a patient. If we couldn’t point to it on an X-ray, then it’s only a figment of our imagination, like morality or individual rights. The side that takes the blame will inevitably be the one with the power, however that’s loosely defined, because that’s how the zero-sum premise of brute materialism plays out.
It’s this loss of the moral high ground that must occur before any profession, or society for that matter, destroys itself. The only reason psychologists diagnose patients at all anymore is for insurance purposes.
Yet the insane continue to die on the streets as Mayor de Blasio plans to deinstitutionalize 4,000 more patients and open up 90 more homeless shelters, one of which will be in the former Park Savoy Hotel, one block south of Central Park. It’s yet another attempt to experiment with the miasmic theory of poverty.
The degradation of the mentally ill by eschewing responsibility speaks to the obstinate nature of ideology. As certain as two homeless will die today---and as certain as a New Yorker will confuse a schizophrenic for an escaped zoo animal---psychologists will continue along with the idea that mental illness is a social construct. Ideology, however, is invisible, which is why postmodernists in particular have a difficult time recognizing the very real consequences of it.