The Myth Of Mental Illness

If you believe you are Jesus or that the Communists are after you, then your belief is likely to be regarded as a symptom of schizophrenia.

In less enlightened times, these children were called lazy. But, today a boy who can’t sit still is sent to a psychiatrist, and he is instantly branded as a case of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But, what if these children simply don’t like sitting still? As Bryan Caplan observed, “No one accuses a boy diagnosed with ADHD of forgetting to play video-games.”

When I was a teen, I was taken to psychiatrists many times because I read while having food, did not sleep on time, and bunked classes—and because my parents had a hell of a time raising me. But, what if I liked to read while having food, wanted to sleep when I felt like and did not like being lectured to? And what if the problem was with my parents and not with me? You never know.

Once an intelligent man (and I have not seen many intelligent men) told me: “If people do not have a prejudice against you, they will have no issue with the things you do. It does not matter how crazy it is. But, if they are prejudiced against you, they will find everything that you do crazy. I won’t tell you his name, but there was a famous cricketer who had the habit of running naked on the field before a match. But, his team-mates and the authorities did not have issues with him. They were so tolerant.”

The view that people are so different has never received a fair hearing, even in psychiatric circles. Human beings are more heterogeneous than people think. This is often a large source of confusion in interpersonal communication and intellectual inquiry.

Read this passage. From Manu Joseph’s “The Illicit Happiness of Other People”:

“The society of neuroscientists does not recognize mass delusion as a psychiatric condition. What does this mean? This means, the society of neuroscientists would admit that all evidence points to the fact that God is a figment of man’s delusion, yet believers in God, who form most of humanity, cannot be considered delusional. This is a ridiculous position. From the point of view of neuroscience, sanity is a majority condition, and a mass delusion is not a delusion but merely human nature. I don’t agree. I have never agreed. What they are saying is that if there is a pandemic and all of mankind is infected, that must be considered normal and a healthy human a freak. That is rubbish. That is why I fought for the inclusion of mass delusion as a part of neuropsychiatry, but I failed. I was ridiculed. Why did I fight, Ousep? Because I believe that there is absolute sanity, there is a human condition that is perfectly sane. But it is a minority condition, which means, from the point of view of neuroscience, it would be in the spectrum of insanity. Somewhere in this world there are people who are in an extraordinary mental state, an extraordinary state of sanity. And they would be considered odd.”

I find this a very interesting view. This looks like a very rational perspective on sanity. When this bloke observed that irrational behavior is not always branded insane, he decided that the definition should be broadened. But, most people would find this really crazy. And this is indeed crazy. This is not just crazy. This is nonsense.

Insanity is not a majority condition. Some people have damaged brains, and can’t function normally, but they are not many. But, having a brain damage is “physical illness”. “Mental illness” is a false categorization. Human mind can’t have any disease. Much of what people call mental illness is just weird behavior that stems from weird preferences. These people can spring out of it, if they want to. This is true not just of addictions and eccentricities, this is true of even delusions and hallucinations.

Even if it is true that eccentrics or deluded people have different brains, it does not prove that they mad. It just proves that they have different brains. There are no constrains on their function except their own tastes and preferences. When people call someone insane, they are often passing negative judgments on him.

As the late Thomas F. Szasz, a great critic of psychiatry argued:

“If you believe you are Jesus or that the Communists are after you (and they are not) – then your belief is likely to be regarded as a symptom of schizophrenia. But if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God or that Communism is the only scientifically and morally correct form of government – then your belief is likely to be regarded as a reflection of who you are: Christian or Communist.”

“Psychiatric diagnoses are stigmatizing labels phrased to resemble medical diagnoses, applied to persons whose behavior annoys or offends others. Those who suffer from and complain of their own behavior are usually classified as neurotic; those whose behavior makes others suffer, and about whom others complain, are usually classified as psychotic.”

This is one of Szasz’s pioneering contributions to the philosophy of mind. But, I do not recall any reviewer of his novel pointing out this. It is hard to overestimate the intellectual incompetence of “literary critics”. It is easy to get away with such nonsense in this country.

Post Script: Tyler Cowen’s “The Age of The Infovore” argues that many creative men have the cognitive strengths and weaknesses of Autism. But, what if talented men often find it hard to read social cues because they are so different from normal people, and because they grew up without a peer group? And what if the eccentric behavior of creative men are often rational, but socially unacceptable preferences? What if their excesses are often a normal reaction to an abnormal situation? You never know.

Judith Harris has an interesting explanation in “The Nurture Assumption”:

“The prodigy is an interesting case; many of these kids seem to come with their own built-in motivation. If it isn’t there to begin with, I doubt a parent could provide it. In fact, often it is the child who is the prime mover and the parent who becomes the servant of the child’s consuming interest. Intellectually gifted children receive certain things from their parents that less gifted children do not get—books, computers, trips to the museum—but they get them because they demand them. It is not the parents who are pushing: it is the child.

The danger in raising a prodigy is that many of these kids lack a peer group—they miss out on normal relationships with other kids their age. Children who do not have normal peer relationships are at risk of turning out peculiar. Though garden-variety gifted children generally fare very well, the true prodigies—the ones who are off the chart—have more than their share of psychological problems. Sometimes there is not much a parent can do: some kids are so intellectually advanced that they have nothing in common with their age-mates. Some kids really don’t want to do anything except practice golf or gymnastics or chess. But if parents were more aware of the importance of peers, perhaps they would try harder to see that their kid had some.”


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