Only the Sheeple Are Sane
This post is about an issue that is by now a bit dated (though the topic as such certainly isn’t), but we have only just become aware of it and it seemed to us worth rescuing it from the memory hole. In late 2013, the then newest issue of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short) defined a new mental illness, the so-called “oppositional defiant disorder” or ODD.
As TheMindUnleashed.org informs us, the definition of this new mental illness essentially amounts to declaring any non-conformity and questioning of authority as a form of insanity. According to the manual, ODD is defined as:
[…] an “ongoing pattern of disobedient, hostile and defiant behavior,” symptoms include questioning authority, negativity, defiance, argumentativeness, and being easily annoyed.
Every time a new issue of the DSM appears, the number of mental disorders grows – and this growth is exponential. A century ago there were essentially 7 disorders, 80 years ago there were 59, 50 years ago there were 130, and by 2010 there were 374 (77 of which were “found” in just seven years). A prominent critic of this over-diagnosing (and the associated over-medication trend) is psychologist Dr. Paula Caplan. Here is an interview with her:
Allen Gregg in conversation with psychologist Dr. Paula Caplan
As MindUnleashed notes:
“Are we becoming sicker? Is it getting harder to be mentally healthy? Authors of the DSM-IV say that it’s because they’re better able to identify these illnesses today. Critics charge that it’s because they have too much time on their hands.
New mental illnesses identified by the DSM-IV include arrogance, narcissism, above-average creativity, cynicism, and antisocial behavior. In the past, these were called “personality traits,” but now they’re diseases. And there are treatments available.”
There is an obvious danger involved with such loose definitions such as the one employed in identifying the alleged illness of “ODD”. A chilling example was provided by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. In a 1959 speech, Nikita Khrushchev made the following remark:
“Can there be diseases, nervous diseases among certain people in the communist society? Evidently there can be. If that is so, then there also will be offenses which are characteristic of people with abnormal minds. To those who might start calling for opposition to communism on this ‘basis,’ we say that now, too, there are people who fight against communism, but clearly the mental state of such people is not normal.”
Obviously, questioning the best socio-economic system ever devised had to be a sign of insanity, and after Khrushchev’s speech Soviet psychiatrists immediately went to work to discover and institutionalize all those mentally ill “communism deniers”.
The road to what followed had already been paved in 1951, when in a joint session of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences and the Board of the All-Union Neurological and Psychiatric Association, several leading neurologists and psychiatrists were accused of pursuing an “anti-Marxist and reactionary” deviation from the teachings of Pavlov. The session took place on Stalin’s behest so as to “free Soviet psychiatry of Western influences”.
The psychiatrist who wrote the policy report associated with this purge was Andrei Snezhnevsky, who invented (err, “discovered”) a new mental illness, which he termed “sluggish schizophrenia”. After Khrushchev’s 1959 speech, the term was widely adopted and the illness was diagnosed throughout the Eastern Bloc. The symptoms of the alleged “illness” were such that even the slightest change in behavior patterns could henceforth be interpreted as a sign of mental derangement. Political dissent was for instance considered to by a symptom of “sluggish schizophrenia with delusions of reform”.
Snezhnevsky personally signed a decision declaring several prominent dissidents legally insane – among them also neurophysiologist Vladimir Bukovsky, who was the first to expose and criticize the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union and spent altogether 12 years in prisons, forced labor camps and locked up in psychiatric hospitals for his efforts.
Snezhnevsky’s theories became the only ones acceptable in Soviet psychiatry, and it was obviously held to be quite dangerous to oppose them. Ironically, in 1970, one year before Vladimir Bukovsky managed to smuggle out 150 pages that documented the silencing of political dissenters with the aid of psychiatry in the Soviet Union, the American Psychiatric Association named Snezhnevsky a “distinguished fellow” for his “outstanding contribution to psychiatry and related sciences” at its annual meeting in San Francisco.
Money and the Invention of new Categories of Disease
There is a basic problem with psychiatry and psychology: they are largely thymological, as opposed to natural sciences. If you break your arm and visit 10 different medical doctors, you will get the same diagnosis from every single one of them – they will all tell you that your arm is broken. A standardized treatment exists for dealing with a broken arm.
Make a list of psychological problems you are experiencing and visit ten different psychiatrists, and chances are very good that you will receive 10 different diagnoses coupled with 10 different proposals for treatment (including prescriptions for very powerful psychotropic drugs). Genuine severe mental disorders may be connected with chemical imbalances in the brain to some extent (no conclusive proof for this actually exists), but by and large there is little that can be objectively “measured”. The psychologist or psychiatrist must largely rely on the same ability that also characterizes the work of the historian – i.e., what Mises called “understanding”. They can only judge behavior.