Heartbreaking.jpg~c200One of the most important examinations of oppressive double standards historically embedded in the medical model of psychiatry I’ve read all day  😉 :

“Implicit in a great deal of biological psychiatry is an asymmetry of explanatory principles. Normal (or healthy) forms of consciousness are assumed to be, to a great extent, under one’s intentional control and, in addition, to operate according to rational principles and to be oriented toward the objective world. While these normal mental processes are certainly assumed to be correlated with physical events occurring in the brain, seldom are they viewed as being mere causal by-products of such events, since the meaningfulness and directedness they exhibit seem intrinsic to the psyche, to the realm of meaning rather than of physical event. But abnormal modes of consciousness, at least those characterizing the insane, have often been seen very differently: as involving a ‘fall into determinism’, a lapse from dualism whereby the malfunctioning physical processes (in brain and nervous system) disrupt the mental or psychic stream, depriving it of its intrinsic rationality and meaningfulness.”
– Louis Sass

Above is the quote I have been contemplating for the last hour. To elaborate, I have been reading Madness and Modernism by Louis A. Sass. Here are some tangents which have emerged from an evening of reading and thinking:

Why is my experience of love or creativity or my choices in music seen to be mine – belonging under the blanket of individual personhood, when if I experience a projected image on the wall that others don’t see, or hear a voice others do not hear, or feel emotions more or less intense than the majority of people in the room – I am suddenly deemed to be at the mercy of my “broken brain?” Sass’s question written above is a compelling one. On the other hand, there are obvious pitfalls to thinking that my suffering or my difference is simply who I am, and that this variation in experience is in fact “me,” or at least these pitfalls are oft reported in many ineffective anti-stigma campaigns, wherein one is encouraged to separate oneself from the source of suffering or stigma, to say “I am not ‘my illness.’” But if one addresses this question with the level of careful analysis it deserves (or at least what is required to move forward and to come to any reasonable conclusions), one might find – as I am finding, that there are a lot of holes in the particular notion that we are in any way, a divided self.

For one, it features a great deal of western philosophic and pedagogical bias. The idea that this form of dualism is helpful likely stems from dominant historical assumptions in the western world, about the role of the rational mind to overcome emotional or irrational turmoil. We divide the person into two parts in this case – if we are “healthy”, we are assumed to be able to dominate the id with our ever-powerful egos.

So then, the divide between brain and self is not unlike this ongoing anxious battle to coax a part of our ‘irrational” selves into submission; only in this new, flashy, “anti-stigma” model, we attempt to say that we are somehow something more than our brains. More than our broken egos (or biological regulatory mechanisms – however you want to look at it). But what then, are we? Are we what we think only sometimes, when it looks good to us based on the opinions of others and doesn’t elicit oppressive or stigmatizing responses from the masses? Is this rational/brain piece exactly who WE are when it is convenient and when it provides congruency with society (at times, not necessarily a healthy society) and when it falls out of congruence, it is somehow NOT US? You can perhaps see why these anti-stigma campaigns aren’t so effective; they are based on some inherent flaws of simplistic dualistic thinking.

So what about alternatives? How about, I don’t know, acknowledging that we are holistic complex beings with minds and aliveness who interface with the world, and brains that reflect and respond to our environments and our minds and our aliveness and just about everything else we can imagine. How about acknowledging that these forms of duality are all western philosophic and religious inventions that in fact do not exist?

Yet, it is important to mention that many forms of dualism are part of how humans often come to experience the world. It is through my study and practice of Buddhist meditation that I have been empowered with some of the tools required to scrutinize the prevailing dominant views of good and evil, bad and good, sick and healthy. Inside this eastern context lies the realization that all human beings have delusions – that some are more in line with the masses, and some are not. One principle delusion that many societies suffer from is this delusion of separateness, or of dualism itself – that there is a self and an other, that we are not in fact interdependent and not constantly changing at such a rate at which we are at no point the same person than we are at any other point in our lives. No, this delusion is that we are discreet, finite beings with firm boundaries between us.

No wonder psychosis then, is so threatening to the dominant western establishment; when one’s boundaries with the outside world begin to dissolve, when one become acutely aware of oneness, or impermanence, of the absence of a self, when one is “inconsistent” and not following the social mores or cues of the pack, then the rules of western dualism are broken. And what better way to respond to people who challenge our fundamental beliefs (when we are in fact clinging to them to affirm our identities, because we have an inflated and delusional sense that a static self and identity are real things) than to cast them out, call them mad, crazy, deviant, dangerous, defective, essentially affirming our sense of dualism even further, because we are afraid that nothing we have thus deemed bad can be at all a part of “us.”

So our notion of good and bad, of dualism, IS the inherent problem – not who fits arbitrarily into the good and bad camps as being defined in one way or another as they go in and out of fashion. It is only in realizing that we are not fundamentally separate from anyone else on this planet (an admittedly difficult thing to do) will we then have enough empathy to save us from an endless cycles of mutual oppression and harm, or not much better – a hyperactive game of feminist standpoint bingo, wherein some people just don’t have the right education card to avoid being relegated to the loser/oppressor/evil capitalist sympathizer category, and thus creating more politically correct divisions between in groups and out groups.

As those who have experienced madness, and particularly those who live with experiences that threaten long held “boundaries” of reality like psychosis, we need to shake off this blanket of shame that surrounds some of our most central sources of revolutionary knowledge, and realize that there is in fact a place for us – not as those relegated to the sick and defective category, but as those who remind the rest of the world through the evidence our experience has rendered – that we are in fact not divided into ANY categories inherently, because WE are constantly changing and therefore do not exist. For some non-Buddhists, (and even among Buddhists themselves) this might be threatening, and of course we may be some distance away from transforming society with the empathy and compassion inherent in this notion. But the sooner we take the risk to work with our own minds, to ask hard questions, to pull apart the foundations upon which all of our stigma and assumptions rest, the sooner we will come to a place where someone with exceptional life experiences who therein reminds us of unity and impermanence – will manifest as the ironic beacons that they are. It starts with our own minds; by loosening the shackles of who we think we are, of who we think others are, we might make some room for these age-old wounds to breathe, and begin a process that can finally begin to resemble healing. Night folks ☺

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