Thomas Szasz died this weekend. Although I discovered his work relatively recently (and haven't read most of it yet), his challenging questions in the field of psychiatry have reformed what was otherwise fast becoming an arm of government – for political oppression.
Inspired by Szasz's talks that I heard last night on youtube, I decided to listen to him some more today. I'll get to his work later (which will require me to first finish the huge number of books I've been constantly purchasing and downloading), but his next talk that I listened to – a short while ago – is even more dramatic in impact and clarity than the one I shared with you last night.
I must admit that I've not been challenged by anyone so deeply as I've been by Thomas Szasz's ideas.
Interestingly, in my current draft version of DOF I've landed on a position that is fairly close to Szasz's views about individual responsibility. In particular, I dislike the idea of people escaping responsibility for criminal acts on grounds of mental illness.
But on the other hand, I suffer from some of the indoctrination of the "standard" psychology literature. For instance, I have a fairly extensive background in abnormal psychology, which I studied for my IAS exam. Thus I read more than 30 post-graduate books written in the 1960s and 1970s. True, I also know that psychology has changed dramatically (but haven't kept pace with the change – except to read Seligman and the like).
Listening to Szasz has also made me more opposed than ever before to the idea of doctors being empowered to "prescribe" "medicines". Powerful unions of doctors and psychiatrists have created a sweet gravy train for themselves even as they provide TOTALLY UNACCOUNTABLE "services" to the "masses" like us. The very idea of someone being empowered to "legalise" a drug is now on the line, in my mind.
Disclosure of the effects of a drug, yes. But then we must be free to decide whether we want it, and whether we will pay for it. Legalisation (and therefore handing over control to some "professionals") is a dangerous power game. Pure politics. "Legalisation" is the obverse of making it ILLEGAL for you and I to get the medicine without handing over our hard earned money to unaccountable "doctors".
In brief, I've rarely come across a clearer-headed person in my life than Thomas Szasz. Enjoy this talk, below. I will, time permitting, have much more to say about his ideas and work.
His 1961 book The Myth of Mental Illness (see an essay by Szasz on this topic here) is considered an all-time classic by many. Unfortunately, I had either not heard about him in the past or had neglected his work. I first paid attention to his work only a few years ago, when I read Jim Powell's Triumph of Liberty.
Not to be under-done, lest anyone fail to understand what he stands for, he wrote the aggressively titled Psychiatry: The Science of Lies as recently as in 2008. Over 90 now, he has now acquired a well deserved reputation not just as an eminent psychologist but as a man of liberty.
Powell writes: "His writings inspired the movement to restore civil liberties of patients".
Szasz sharply distinguishes between (a) disease (b) behaviour and (c) crime. Disease is a medical condition that can be observed and measured objectively, and scientifically tested. It is a PHYSICAL condition. Behaviour is NOT a disease, and just because someone (e.g. a child) behaves in a particular way does not mean that such person has a disease. Finally, crime is a subset of behaviour – that harms others in a manner deemed to be criminal.
Psychiatry has been used as an instrument of the state to coerce those who have NOT committed any crime. Locking up innocent people in "mental asylums" was the norm till Szasz began his work. Szasz argued that the state could NOT imprison someone who had not committed any crime, but merely behaved differently – or even strangely.
There is nothing like a lecture by an excellent professor to teach us useful insights. As usual, a quick search of Youtube led to outstanding lectures/ snippets by Szasz. The first of these, below, is a 1 1/2 hour lecture (with questions) given in 1994. Every minute of it is worth paying attention to.
This second one, below is a short summary of his ideas about how children are being poisoned by "psychiatrists":