Wednesday, July 27, 2011

So Says Thomas Szasz

Voluntaryist Issue 22 contains an article called, “The Psychiatric Will,” that introduces fascinating theories and ideas about mental illness that I have never heard previously.

I had heard of Thomas Szasz before in passing, but did not really know much about him at all. Just reading the Wikipedia entry about his views gives me many new things to think about in regards to society’s views on mental illness as a “disease.”

Szasz does not believe in mental “disease,” and he says it is a myth and a metaphor which has (and I presume still does) caused a lot of damage in the past. As I understand it, he says the disease concept developed at least partly because of a desire to control the behavior of others that some found to be undesirable or uncomfortable.

Two historical examples that helped me understand what he means are “hysteria” as a mental problem for women who were not behaving in the way men wanted them to and homosexuality, again as a mental disease for not behaving in the way some in society wanted people to behave.

I’m not sure how I feel about mental “illness’ and “disease” but I do wonder how our continuing efforts to learn about the brain will affect Szasz’ theories.

Szasz has written many books and articles so you can access plenty of information if you want dig deeper into his views but let’s discuss the purpose of this particular article. In this piece Szasz is proposing an idea intended to address the conflict that results from involuntary hospitalization and treatment due to a diagnosis of mental disease.

He wants to respect both the “psychiatric protectionists,” individuals who believe mental illness exists and fear consequences and problems as a result of psychosis and the “psychiatric voluntarists,” who don’t necessarily agree with current psychiatric premises and practices and do not want to see forced hospitalization and compulsory treatment.

Here’s how Szasz describes the two opposing viewpoints:

Psychiatric protectionists
“Many people (and virtually all psychiatrists and other mental health experts) fear the danger of a "nervous breakdown or psychotic illness." These persons believe that mental illness exists, that it is like any other illness, " that it is amenable to modern psychiatric treatment, and that the effectiveness and legitimacy of such treatment are independent of the patient's consent to it. Accordingly, such persons seek protection from life-threatening mental illness and support the use of involuntary psychiatric interventions."

Psychiatric voluntarists:
“On the other hand, some people (including a few psychiatrists and other mental health experts) fear the literal danger of psychiatry more than the metaphoric danger of psychosis. Some of these persons also believe that mental illness does not exist and that psychiatric coercions are tortures rather than treatments. Accordingly, such persons seek protection from the powers of psychiatry and advocate the abolition of involuntary psychiatric interventions.”

Szasz’ solution to this conflict is the creation of a Psychiatric Will, similar to traditional wills and living wills. So to protect the desires of the individual who wishes to prepare for a possible future inability to state his or her desires concerning the possibility of psychiatric problems, the competent individual can state their wishes and desires in writing, which would avoid conflict and indecision of those left to deal with the situation.

Szasz believes individuals have the right to determine their possible future treatment of “mental disease,” just as they do for physical disease and should not be coerced into any treatment.

Of course we can see that individuals wouldn’t necessarily even consider such a possibility. I certainly didn’t before reading this article. So Szasz takes this one step further by saying that society should accept that any individual who does not specifically say he or she WANTS psychiatric coercion in the case of mental problems, would automatically be assumed to prefer liberty over psychiatric coercion.

I really like how Szasz worked to develop an idea that respects everyone, no matter where they stand on the issue of mental illness:

“The use of psychiatric wills might thus put an end to the dispute about involuntary psychiatric interventions. Earnestly applied, such a policy should satisfy the demands of both psychiatric protectionists and psychiatric voluntarists. Surely, the psychiatric protectionist could not, in good faith, object to being frustrated in their therapeutic efforts by persons competent to make binding decisions about their future —specifically, decisions to prohibit personally authorized psychiatric assistance. Nor could the psychiatric abolitionists object, in good faith, to being frustrated in their libertarian efforts by persons competent to make binding decisions about their future—specifically, to authorize, under certain circumstances, their own temporary (or not-so-temporary) psychiatric enslavement.”

As usual, the article itself goes into much more depth that I do here, so if you are interested, read the entire piece.

I think it just might blow your mind, but in a good way.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How Would (Insert Issue Here) Work in the Free Market?

The last item I want to mention from Issue 20 is a short piece titled "Meeting Practical Objections to the Free Market." Everyone who wants to move away from government coercion eventually gets asked questions about how ___________ (name your issue) would work in a free society. This article by Carl points out how helpful it is to respond by asking the person how he or she thinks it could work.

I can think of many reasons why this is a good idea, one big one being that asking questions gets me to just shut up and listen.

But I really like this because it puts both people in the conversation on the same team, working together instead of trying to refute the other person's points.

What could likely end up as another dead-end argument now has the potential to turn around into a discussion where both parties end up brainstorming together on possible ideas. And society is not going to change until we start working together to formulate possible alternatives to using government coercion.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Robert LeFevre: Truth-Seeker

(Holy Moly, it's been almost a month since I've written a post for this blog. I've been busy with various other projects and I've also been traveling. My husband and I went to New Hampshire, partly to attend the Porcfest Freedom Festival. We really didn't do the Porcfest thing right though, we stayed at Rogers Campground Motel for one night and though we did get to attend a few activities, we did not really "feel" the experience. The setup is more tailored to campers. Also the weather was horrible during the time we were there. I was glad to meet a few people I had only interacted with online, so that was cool. Anyway I'm back and will be posting more often.)

In Issue 20, dated July 1986, we learn that Robert LeFevre died in May. I've written about him several times already as I've moved through the issues because had a big influence on the libertarian movement. (Here's one I wrote last September.)

Interestingly, LeFevre died while on a return trip home after attending Carl's wedding to his wife Julie.

Carl considered him one of his closest friends and LeFevre even asked Carl to write his biography. He gave Carl a 2000 page manuscript which Carl pared down. LeFevre was able to comment on the first 3 drafts of the project before he passed away. Carl did end up publishing the biography which is titled Truth Is Not A Halfway Place: The Story of a Freedom Philosopher.

I found a review of the book on FEE website. It's not particularly flattering but it is interesting and the reviewer also knew LeFevre personally, though mostly as a student of his from what I can gather. One interesting tidbit I discovered when reading this review was that LeFevre ran for Congress and lost in the Republican Primary to Richard Nixon! What might be different today had he beaten Nixon in that race?

Carl shares highlights of LeFevre's life in this issue and both the review mentioned above and Carl's article mention LeFevre's deep involvement in a religious movement known as "I AM" which is described in both writings as a cult. I found this news somewhat disturbing and yet I know that it is often the total result of all of our life experiences that make us who we are in the end. Carl notes that there was a good message from this group: the understanding that each individual controls himself.

In his article, Carl also shares two paragraphs that he read at a memorial service, which includes the following:

"Bob was a truth-seeker, one of those rare people one meets, oerhaps a few in a lifetime. Part of his greatness was his ability to stand alone intellectually; another was his consistency. He insisted on thinking ideas through to their conclusions. If there was a choice between being popular and holding to the truth, he always chose the truth. He knew that truth is not a half-way place."

July 14, 2011 update: I received this additional information from a reader:
"Dear Debbie,

Perhaps you were not aware that Bob also published an autobiography of his life. I have a copy. It is much more extensive and detailed than Carl's version, and for that reason I found it more interesting. It is called "A Way To Be Free" and consists of two volumes. He also published a summary of his philosophy called "The Fundamentals of Liberty" and left behind a set of video tapes of his last presentation of the lectures he delivered at the Freedom School in Colorado. Bob had worked for a traveling company of actors during his youth and had obtained training as an actor, and I think this helped make him a good speaker. He also was involved with real estate in San Francisco for a time. He had quite a colorful life.

Lewis S. Coleman"