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[Back to Essays]

Tweedledee or Tweedledum? Contrariwise!

Among the mad mirrors in our culture are the two apparently opposed schools of psychotherapy. I refer not to the various approaches (talk vs. drugs, directive vs. non-directive, etc.), but to two radically opposed public personae that might be called the Dionesian and the Apollonian - the wild and the controlled.

The "controlled" are the shrinks who define sanity as the state of being controlled by socially acceptable compulsions and phobias. This is the psychiatrist who doesn't try to free people from their madnesses, but to channel the manic energy into socially acceptable madnesses, including, if necessary, the silence of catatonia or death, that is, the socially acceptable state of being quiet and out of the way of the busy world.

The wild shrink says that people suffer from social oppression and must be wrenched from their social compulsions and phobias by being persuaded to yield to their anti-social compulsions and phobias - for example, to indulge in drug use and promiscuous sex (preferably kinky) and acts of liberating violence.

The first type publishes monographs addressed to other members of the profession, lobbies legislators, governors and judges, sits on boards of directors, administrates institutions and channels funds. The second type publishes articles in magazines for the general public and feel-good best-sellers, keeps celebrities stocked with the most fashionable medications and titilates the audiences of talk shows.

Neither of these incarnations of psychiatry believes in the possibility of sanity. The first fears that people, freed of their insanities, would be "out of control" and dangerous - as they would be to such as he. Though the second argues that people freed from their anti-social compulsions, would be boring automatons, really he fears that such people would be too strong for his manipulations and would condemn his own weird behavior - for he indulges in all the crazinesses his theories justify.

Though one stands for "control", the other for "freedom", really these cronies complement each other, each, with his work and theory, realizing the other's fears and proving the necessity of the other. Seeing the results of the second's "freedom" - for example, the proliferation of grotesque "alternate lifestyles" (drug addiction, child abuse, etc.), we turn to the first for discipline and medication. Seeing the results of the first's use of shock and other "therapies" to subdue symptoms - a world of tremulous spasmed shadow-people - we turn to the second for hugs and medication.

A few practitioners aim at leading their patients to a sanity that is free of compulsion and phobia, but their practice is tainted by the "technology" of their colleagues, not only by the absense of any precise understanding of the causes of insanity and the means to handle these, but by an aversion to the notion that technology of any sort can free. After all, most of the "workable" technology in psychiatry is aimed at controlling (suppressing symptoms), not at freeing. Thus technology has a bad name among those who would free. Freeing people, they say, is an art, meaning they don't know how they do it, when and if they do - and they won't find out, since they are certain there is nothing that can be found out. The very possibility would cheapen their art.

Besides, these people are licenced by types one and two, who hold most of the powerful positions and lines of communication in psychiatry. Anyone who knew how to free people into increased responsibility would never keep a licence.

Thus, for practical purposes, the fate of psychiatry and its patients (all of us - or so the mental health industry would like us to believe) lies in the hands and electrodes and scalpels and hypodermics of those who would shuffle us toward acceptable insanities and those who would dance us the other way into a hectic parody of freedom called irresponsibility.

The apparent opposition of these two groups dissolves like magician's smoke when one looks more closely at their activities, discovering the distinguished researcher who (like Ewing Cameron in his Montreal lab, head of the World Mental Health Organization) runs LSD research (accompanied by electroshock, drugs and attempts to implant thoughts) on his patients without their consent - financed by the CIA; meanwhile, the flamboyant rebel (like Timothy Leary, an -ologist rather than an -iatrist, but no less psycho) creates his LSD cult partly with funding from that same stodgy old establishment CIA.

The hype of the hip doesn't change the type of the trip. The basic assumptions of both groups are identical: That we are animals who cannot take responsibility for our own actions, but must be manipulated for our own good by stronger, wiser animals - themselves. Type one says we must control these dangerous animals to protect society from their bestial behavior. Type two says, hey, beasts, why don't you enjoy your bestiality, since that's all there is? Type one, selling discipline, rapes his patients. Type two, selling freedom, manipulates his patients. Type one says, "Take your medication; it will help you sleep". Type two says, "Here's a really cool trip". Type one says, put those hyperactive kids on strong addictive amphetamines (Ritalin) to keep them quiet. Type two dispenses strong addictive amphetamines (speed, etc.) to energize the tranquilized.

How well they agree, Tweedledum and Tweedledee! Poor confused Alice - crying won't make you more real, you know.

Copyright c. 2004 by Dean Blehert. All rights reserved.


Last updated: December 13, 2004