“Robin Williams: Why Funny People Kill Themselves”

This is the best video I’ve watched thus far having anything to do with Robin Williams’ suicide and depression. His insight into the role of comedy in the lives of severely depressed people appears so right on.

On witch-hunts, hysteria, and modern psychiatry (an excerpt from the book “The Manufacture of Madness”)

Decided a few weeks ago to look through my books for information contained therein about “hysteria” or “histrionics” after recognizing the latter as an updated term loosely referencing the former which does indeed span back several centuries. Helps to keep in mind that one reason among many for why feminism originally sprang into existence had to do with combating that very label (hysteria) and the interventions used to “cure” witches (in this case, primarily women) of it.

Looking to Dr. Thomas Szasz’ book The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement (1970), beginning on page 69:

Perhaps unintentionally and unwittingly, the new vocabulary of psychoanalysis was thus combined with the traditional vocabulary of psychiatry, generating a rhetoric of rejection of hitherto unparalleled popularity and power. The result was that everyone’s conduct—living or dead, primitive or modern, famous or infamous—became a fit subject for the psychopathologist’s scrutiny, explanation, and stigmatization.

To be sure, by adopting this approach, psychoanalysts threw fresh light on certain important similarities between dreams and mental symptoms, the behavior of primitive man and his civilized descendant, myth and madness. In these ways, the psychopathological perspective enriched and extended our understanding of human nature and personal conduct. There was, however, a serious danger in this approach, which soon manifested itself. Because the observers and interpreters were psychiatrists, and because there were impressed by a need to make psychopathological diagnoses, all kinds of human behavior tended to be perceived and described as manifestations of mental illness; and various personalities, historical and living, tended to be seen and diagnosed as mentally sick individuals. The view that witches were mentally ill persons is an integral part of this psychiatric perspective.

The possibility that some persons accused of witchcraft were “mentally ill” was entertained already during the witch-hunts, notably by Johann Weyer. In his dedication of De Praestigiis to Duke William of Cleves, Weyer writes: “To you, Prince, I dedicate the fruit of my thought . . . none so agrees with my own [view on witchcraft] as does yours, that witches can harm no one through the most malicious will or the ugliest exorcism, that rather their imagination—inflamed by demons in a way not understandable to us—and the torture of melancholy makes them only fancy that they have caused all sorts of evil.”

Is it a coincidence that the suggestion that witches are mentally deranged comes from a physician opposed to their persecution? Or is this hypothesis itself a weapon in the struggle against the witch-hunts? The evidence strongly suggests that it is the latter: that, in other words, madness is an excuse for wrongdoing (witchcraft), put forth by an authority (Weyer) on behalf of oppressors (inquisitors) deaf to all pleas but this one (insanity). Many contemporary psychiatrists openly profess this aim. Instead of protesting against the death penalty itself, they promote the concept of insanity as a “humanitarian” protection for defendants who, without the insanity defense, might be put to death.

This ostensibly lofty aspiration of saving the defendant from execution was the motive behind the important M’Naghten decision, in 1843. Known as the M’Naghten rule, this decision has ever since provided the medicolegal basis for the insanity plea, the insanity defense, and the insanity verdict. In modern psychiatric texts the insanity defense is thus invariably attributed to the “discoveries” of “scientific” psychiatry; and its recent burgeoning popularity, in this and other Western countries, to the long-overdue legislative and judicial appreciation of the supposed “contributions” of psychiatry to the administration of the criminal law. This view is completely at odds with the facts. More than three hundred years before M’Naghten, when there was no such thing as “modern medicine,” much less anything that could even remotely be called “psychiatry,” the insanity defense was an accepted plea in witch trials before the Spanish Inquisition.

“The insane were recognized as irresponsible,” writes Lea, “and were sent to hospitals. . . . In the enlightened view taken by the Inquisition regarding witchcraft, instructions of 1537 indicate a disposition to regard reputed witches as insane . . . Barcelona at the time had on hand a witch named Juanita Rosquells, whom the physicians and consultors considered to be out of her mind; not knowing what to do they referred to the Suprema, which ordered her discharge . . .” This outcome, however, was unusual. As a rule, persons declared insane were incarcerated in a monastery or hospital.

The physicians most responsible for classifying witches as mental patients were the celebrated French psychiatrists Pinel, Esquirol, and Charcot. They were the founders not only of the French school of psychiatry but of all of modern psychiatry as a positivistic-medical discipline. Their views dominated nineteenth-century medicine.

Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) believed that witches were mentally sick individuals, but he did not dwell on this subject. In his Treatise on Insanity (1801), he asserts, without discussion or demonstration, that “In a word, demoniacs of all description are to be classed either with maniacs or melancholics.” And he dismisses Weyer as a victim of the belief in witchcraft: “The credit attached to the impostures of demoniacal possessions in the writings of Wierus [Weyer] are not to be wondered at, when we consider that his works were published towards the middle of the seventeenth century, and bear as much reference to theology as to medicine. This author . . . appears to have been a great adept in the mysteries of exorcism.”

Jean Etienne-Dominique Esquirol (1772-1840), Pinel’s student and intellectual heir, did more than any other man to establish the view that witches were mentally deranged persons. The most influential psychiatrist of his age, Esquirol believed not only that witches and sorcerers were mentally ill but also that (all or most) criminals were similarly afflicted; and he advocated that lawbreakers be treated by incarceration in mental hospitals rather than prisons. Modern psychiatric historians and forensic psychiatrists have borrowed these ideas from him. “These conclusions,” writes Esquirol in 1838, “may appear strange today; some day, we hope, they will become popular truth. Where is the judge today who would condemn to the bonfire a deranged man or gypsy accused of magic sorcery? It has been a long time now that the magistrates have sent the sorcerer to an insane asylum; they no longer cause them to be punished as swindlers.”

Esquirol’s views on witches were widely accepted by nineteenth-century scholars. Thus, Lecky, his his classic History of European Morals, repeats Esquirol’s diagnoses as if they were self-evident truths. He characterizes witches as “decrepit in body and distracted in mind,” and attributes their frequent suicide to “fear and madness [which] combined in urging the victims to the deed.” Describing a victim of the Spanish Inquisition in 1359, Lecky writes: “The poor lunatic fell into the hands of the Archbishop of Toledo and was burnt alive.” Commenting on the witch mania and on “epidemics of purely insane suicide,” such as occurred sporadically in Europe between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, even Lecky blandly asserts that these problems “belong rather to the history of medicine than to that of morals.” Nothing, in my opinion, could be further from the truth.

In the hands of Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), witchcraft became a problem of “neuropathology.” In his obituary of his great teacher, Freud writes: “Charcot . . . drew copiously upon the surviving reports of witch trials and of possession, in order to show that the manifestations of the neurosis [hysteria] were the same in those days as they are now. He treated hysteria as just another topic in neuropathology . . .” Like Esquirol, Charcot took the witches as he found them defined by their tormentors, and proceeded to study their “neuropathology.” And so did Freud. In his hands, however, witchcraft becomes a problem of “psychopathology.”

In his obituary of Charcot, Freud proposes “the theory of a splitting of consciousness as a solution to the riddle of hysteria,” then reminds his readers that “by pronouncing possession by a demon to be the cause of hysterical phenomena, the Middle Ages in fact chose this solution; it would only have been a matter of exchanging the religious terminology of that dark and superstitious age for the scientific language of today.” This is an astonishing admission: Freud acknowledges that the psychoanalytic description of hysteria is but a semantic revision of the demonological one. He thus tries to legitimize his metaphors by claiming that they form a part of the language of science when, in fact, they do not.

The demonological conception of hysteria, and Charcot’s quasi-medical reinterpretation of it, made a profound impression on Freud. He returned repeatedly to this theme. “What would you say,” he asks Fliess, in a letter dated January 17, 1897, “. . . if I told you that the whole of my brand-new primal theory of hysteria was well-known and had been published a hundred times over—several centuries ago? Do you remember how I always said that the medieval theory of possession, held by the ecclesiastical courts, was identical with our theory of a foreign body and a splitting of consciousness? . . . incidentally, the cruelties make it possible to understand some symptoms of hysteria which have hitherto been obscure.”

We see Freud here taking the decisive leap into psychopathology: he accepts the officially identified patient as a patient and proceeds to examine her for symptoms. First, he lays proprietary claims on the psychopathological interpretation of possession developed by the French school of psychiatry; then, he proceeds to disregard the cruelties inflicted on the witches as indications of the human character of the persecutors, and of the social nature of the times, and interprets them instead as part of the symptoms exhibited by the “patients.”

Thirty years after publishing his obituary of Charcot, Freud returns to the similarities between the demonological theory of possession and the psychoanalytic theory of hysteria. “We need not be surprised,” he writes in his essay on “A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis,” “to find that that, wheras the neuroses of our own unpsychological modern days take on a hypochondrical aspect and appear disguised as organic illnesses, the neuroses of those early times emerge in demonological trappings. Several authors, foremost among them Charcot, have, as we know, identified the manifestations of hysteria in the portrayals of possession and ecstasy that have been preserved for us in the productions of art. . . . The demonological theory of those dark times has won in the end against all the somatic views of the period of ‘exact’ science. The states of possession correspond to our neuroses . . . In our eyes, our demons are bad and reprehensible wishes, derivatives of instinctual impulses that have been repudiated and repressed.”

Here Freud asserts that the cultural climate in which people live determines the overt symbolic form of the “neuroses” they develop; but he stops short of entertaining the possibility that they also determine which persons assume dominant roles as persecutors, and which are cast into submissive roles as victims. He thus shuts the door on a broader, cultural-historical perspective, not only on “mental illness,” but on psychiatry itself; and on the view that society not only shapes the symbolic forms of the madness it creates, but determines the very existence, direction, force, and output of this manufacturing process itself.

[Italicized emphases his; bold mine. Footnotes omitted.]

Stopping there on page 75 today.

“Financial Terrorism Exposed!! – Thomas Sheridan (Psychopaths in Public Life)”

Just finished watching this video this evening:

Scientology Weirdness (Jason Beghe’s interview)

Stumbled across another scientology “documentary” (if it’s to be taken that seriously), and it tripped a thought of Jason Beghe’s interview on his involvement in scientology. Watched it a couple years ago and am now rewatching it tonight.

Scientology looks likes some weird Hollywood-promoted act. It’s a play on religion constructed with new-age, sci-fi, pseudoscientific “logic.” That’s why it takes on psychiatry — that’s its competition.

But then sometimes I wonder if scientology isn’t a clever attempt to demonstrate the absurdity of both religions (the dogma, not the spirituality religions were originally meant to help connect people with) and the fields of psychiatry and psychology when invested with so much power to decide the narrative applied to the entire population despite lacking evidence to support their basic premises.

The main premise being that humans’ psychological states deserve to be classified and treated as if “disorders,” frequently employing the metaphor “mental illness.” Yet who defines what “order” is by comparison? Is “order” simply what people with Ph.D.s and M.D.s say it should be? Is it what suits a functioning society, nevermind that our government is unarguably corrupt and that what we have going on today will prove unsustainable in the long-term? Why should we want to adapt to this unsustainable fantasy that is proving psychologically unhealthy? Because it makes living easier? No it doesn’t, not when so many people are living this deluded and/or depressed, having trouble finding meaning in a life that revolves around a paycheck or a salary and that has us pitted so bitterly against one another, locked in competition, communities and families destroyed in the process. We’re constructing a bizarro world in the U.S., and we feel discontent because so much of our time is preoccupied with bullshit. Welcome to modern times.

But anyway, back to scientology. What if it’s a cleverly orchestrated acting job intended to make a mockery out of both religious cults and pseudoscience? Because even if it’s not intended to suit that purpose, it’s sure doing a fine job. Interviews like that above also demonstrate just how easily people can get caught up in what they want to believe; like Beghe said, once people have invested time, money, and ego, it’s made all that much harder to turn back and critically assess the situation. Folks don’t like feeling like idiots. I don’t either, but I realize I am one.  lol

What interests me, though, is how deeply people are craving new narratives to follow. And I can relate to the yearning. Life is crazy, life is mad, to quote an Enigma song. But L. Ron Hubbard’s narrative proved to be—aside from being full-blown batshit—just another pyramid scheme and ridiculous hoop-jumping contest. But people buy it for reasons similar to why they buy into Evangelical Christianity. They want to belong to a community that appears to be leading the way. They want to direct their energies at something they wish to believe in.

And don’t we all, in one way, shape, or form?

The folly of science-worshiping

A number of people today are science-worshipers.

Now, what do I mean by that term? A science-worshiper is someone who places a tremendous amount of faith in science and scientists to save humanity from itself. What do I mean by that? Well, have you been listening to people out and about in our society? Many seem to be laboring under the illusion that scientific advancements automatically should be equated with “progress.” Many of these same people can go on and on about all the innovations and luxuries we enjoy today that wouldn’t have been possible without science, arguing that scientific exploration has wrought more benefits than harm and always will.

When I interject to say it’s unwise to assume future success will automatically follow past successes, this is dismissed. When I question whether these advancements have truly, aggregately, done more good than harm, I’m considered a loon. Why is that? Because people are blinded by science. The latest in technology. Some people apparently can’t handle their precious adoration of all that is scientific being scrutinized by “Luddites” like myself who wonder if it isn’t such a good idea to run headlong into the future without any pause to ponder what it is we’re trying to do here exactly. The science-worshiping attitude seems to be that all problems that will arise can and will be remedied by the application of newer and better scientific innovations. Cased closed. Luddites everywhere be damned.

But no, the case is not closed simply because some folks choose to approach the vast topic of living in a decidedly scientific era through a largely uncritical lens. That is their blind spot, which they can’t see because they’re in attack mode and out to ridicule anybody and everybody who isn’t as madly in love with all that is scientific as they are.

I do love scientific exploration. Always have. BUT, doing so doesn’t require me to be devoted to defending all that is scientific as if we have some sort of war on. The war’s already been won. Didn’t you get the memo? Science won out. It’s here to stay, folks, assuming we don’t somehow knock ourselves into a new Dark Age. There’s no need to defend it tooth and nail against anyone who wishes to critique what technologies are being used to do and how they’re altering our world in ways that aren’t uniformly positive.

I, for one, pay attention to how our technologies have come to alienate us from one another (in conjunction with other cultural realities, including population density, globalized communication and trade, grand economic imperatives that all are subjected to, etc.). The swift transitioning of life at this point in time is mind-boggling for nearly everybody, because we’re having to learn so much for our own selves, the old ways being on the way out and rendered obsolete in the new world we’re helping co-create. Wisdom of old stands no chance in a topsy-turvy age that has us redefining our values and tolerating lifestyles that are basically imposed upon us.

So where does the new wisdom come from then? From one another, from the wider collective, from the greatest number of people capable of reaching some sort of consensus. People like to bat around the term “democracy,” but what they’re really getting at is majority rule. On one hand people will argue that we each have rights and voices that deserve to be respected, YET when it comes to what impresses most on us, it boils down to what the majority of people have come to expect from one another.

And this leads back to my criticism of science-worshipers. Many of these people seem incapable of comprehending how much they’re accepting as if it’s granted. And how do they know so much? Because they read it in a journal somewhere, or in the newspaper, or saw it on television or in a documentary, or learned it in school. Where else would they get all this information that they claim to know?

See, we’re relying on what others tell us, yet again, this time scientists and so-called “experts.” And who are they? Employees of institutions mostly, which can and does lead to conflicts in interest. Because scientists, like everybody else, are trying to earn a living here. And like everybody else, they aren’t impervious to personal biases or being ego-driven or simply being wrong at times. They are human beings, not superheroes. Scale ’em back down to reality and have a closer look. Take notice of how the FDA actually operates and how much overlap there is within it and corporations backing research tied in to the economics game. How much truly independent research do we think is really going on out here?

And even if most scientists prove to be decent, upstanding people with sharp minds and boatloads of integrity, they aren’t oftentimes in control of how they’re findings wind up being used by others, namely the institutions they work for. So you see this isn’t simply about bashing scientists or science here, not for me; it’s about following the money and trying to remain realistic about what’s actually happening within the realm of scientific exploration, rather than just focusing on some idealized set of events we wish were taking place.

Now, here’s the real kicker. We common laypeople (some of whom may be “experts” or scientists in one field or another, but all of us are laypersons when it comes to everything outside of our own individual focus) are trusting information handed down by scientists. Which scientists? Typically the ones backed by their peers. But what if the majority of persons—all persons, including scientists—are laboring under popular illusions?

This point is most clearly demonstrated when we turn to the pseudoscientific realm of psychiatry. It’s come to receive widespread support within American society, going so far as making people out to be lunatics who speak out against what it’s doing. This is a field that donned a scientific veneer so as to be taken as seriously as medical science, but without actually curing a thing and possessing no diagnostic tests that clearly tell us much. So the MRI scan shows the brains of these children to light up in places that differ from the “normal” majority of other kids? So what? That still doesn’t tell us much. Techniques of this nature are being used to lend credence to a field that makes money through aiming to “correct” non-conformists, whether that be active children or adults unwilling to slap on a smile and perform for others in this collective delusion pretending life is dandy, just peachy keen.

Because a field of study utilizes scientific techniques, that still doesn’t qualify it entirely as a full-fledged science. Anyone can make up a scheme and set about trying to find evidence to support it, but if the evidence is incapable of being falsified (either because there’s not enough information available to go on or because the wacky scheme was hatched rather as an attempt to garner support for what’s ultimately being used as a social engineering project), it isn’t science. Not if that word is to maintain any value.

On the topic of psychiatry, I’ll link to external sources that can break down the situation in greater detail:

Let me say briefly that my own attitudes toward the fields of psychology and psychiatry were shaped growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, witnessing people around me taking these prescribed psychotropic drugs and learning how easy it is to get them (even general practitioners hand them out like candy). So my viewpoint on this has been shaping up for a long time on its own, but then a few years ago I stumbled across the works of Dr. Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist who was critical of his own field. And what I find when I talk to people on this subject is they are quick to dismiss Dr. Szasz because he was a voice pushed to the fringe and drowned out by the vast majority who work in the field and sing its praises. Why overlook the concerns of that man? Simply because his views ran counter to what the majority wants to believe. I speak his name and promote his books because they provide a very interesting way of understanding how the psychiatric field has come into being and what it has historically been used for. His arguments strike me as very compelling. But why would they compel someone who’d prefer to believe the opposite is true?

And this is the crux of it, folks: oftentimes we believe what we want to believe. We tend to seek out sources that bolster beliefs we already have and to be resistant to contradictory evidence and arguments. Many, many people go along to get along. They will accept what the majority is up to, uncritically. If this many people believe something is true, it’s not likely to be wrong. Right? Wrong. And history has shown us this again and again. People are wrong all the flippin’ time, even scientists (and decent ones are willing to admit this). Life involves trial and error. Human biases have a tendency to get in the way. Plenty of the most influential seekers of truth up through history were viewed as heretics in their communities, and some were killed as a result. We know this. And yet many continue fallaciously making appeals to the majority. Why? Probably because it feels like the safest bet. And it requires less legwork out of us, because information corresponding with popular viewpoints is pasted everywhere.

People believe what they want to believe. And they also believe who they want to believe. Based on what? Personal biases. Conformity pressures. None of us are immune to this. But it still comes down to beliefs, because we laypersons aren’t conducting these experiments for ourselves — we’re trusting what others claiming to be more knowledgeable put forth. We’re placing faith in them to use proper methodology and to not be biased by political and economic pressures. We’re placing faith in them to know better than we do because they claim access to information the vast majority of us aren’t privy to. That is a form of faith. What is faith but an enhanced level of trust?

People can argue all day that this and this is verifiable, but if we can’t personally verify it for ourselves, it’s just chatter. It’s big talk that we can’t back up. Because, in reality, most of us just don’t know. We trust the doctors and scientists to know what we don’t know and to act on that knowledge in our best interests. How is that not a leap of faith all unto itself? Especially when it comes to the latest findings or highly abstract subject matter. How does this differ all that significantly from people centuries back placing faith in priests who also claimed to know on matters that the common people couldn’t access and comprehend for themselves (in the times before the advent of the printing press)? People today will argue that “one is true while is the other proved false,” but hindsight is 20/20, folks. How can you be so certain that what you strongly believe today won’t prove false someday as well?

And what reason is there to assume that scientific exploration alone can provide the full picture? What does science teach us about morality and philosophies? How far can it really go in helping us create lives infused with meaning?

With modern life in hyperdrive and new technologies being spit out daily, how can we pretend to know so much? When I contemplate it seriously, all of this demonstrates to me is yet another way in which we humans are growing increasingly dependent, in this case on “experts” and the explanations and arguments they hand down.

This blog entry was read and recorded and then uploaded as a video on YT: