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Psychiatry, freedom, and noninterference

January 11, 2010

I was just reading another thought-provoking post at Biodiverse Resistance, in which shiva offered some good observations on Drugs, anti-psychiatry and cognitive liberty: transcending “social vs. biological”. I commented there:

Some excellent points here!

In fact, as a generalised maxim, about the only thing [or class of things?] that i think is inherently “wrong” is that which is done to sentient beings without their consent. I also think that’s about the only usefully workable definition of the concept of “evil”.

Well stated. Humans have been entirely too good at creating “evil” for themselves. Trying to jam reality into a near-endless set of false dichotomies only helps with that. :/

This reminds me of Kaosu’s recent post on Activism and Mind/Body Dualism. That seems to tie in with (and help underpin) the “social”/”biological” one. People relying on these fall into very similar cognitive ruts.

From the focus I’ve taken in my blog so far, it might be easy to mistake me for one of the anti-drug True Believer crowd. What really bothers me is coercion, rigidity (on both sides of that dichotomy), and lack of true informed consent. Thus the observation that critical thinking is good, if exceedingly rare in this case. 🙂

I thought I should also clarify my thinking here.

I’m largely opposed to the way psychiatry has been operating, not because of the drugs themselves, but because of the coercion and the way pretty much all aspects of human behavior get pathologized. I get very frustrated and sad that so many people do not know that there are other options, sometimes far more effective ways of dealing with their emotional distress. I think that a lot of very understandable–and potentially useful–distress from social conditions is treated as an individual problem, to be medicated and/or talk-therapied into submission, and that this saps a lot of strength and attention away from the need for real change.

Shiva linked to a Ballastexistenz post which also deals with this: “Basically, this ‘therapism’ has taken over mainstream American culture to the point where everyday situations are becoming more and more medicalized over time, and solutions of course, are more and more individual and less and less political.”

In my own case, psychiatric medication did harm, and I have been focused here on trying to let people know that there are other options.

Like the penicillin example from my Biopsychiatry and critical thinking post, some people may well gain benefit from psychiatric medications, in certain circumstances.

The important bit? Everyone should be able to make an informed choice. Each individual person has to decide what really works for them–and have the freedom to figure this out on their own. I don’t have any more right to decide for them than someone else has to inject them with Haldol. Or to tell them horror stories about what will surely happen if they don’t do as someone else wants, which can happen on either side of this false dichotomy!

This also applies to any sort of self-medication, as another commenter there pointed out. Everybody has to evaluate risks vs. benefits for themselves–based on accurate information about the different options–and find what works for them. Look at the long-time ridiculousness and arsiness over the medicinal use of cannabis, for example of ideology trumping reason.

It’s hard to make responsible decisions if other people try to take away your capacity for informed decision making–not to mention clouding real responsibility, which is based in freedom. Even with good intentions, that can be very disabling.

For me, it all comes down to not interfering with other people’s will. Michael Garrett summed this up well in The Cherokee Full Circle:

The highest form of respect for another person is respecting his or her natural right to be self-determining. This means not interfering with another person’s ability to choose, even when it is to keep that person from doing something foolish or dangerous. Every experience holds a valuable lesson–even in death, there is valuable learning that the spirit carries forth. Noninterference means caring in a respectful way. And it is the way of “right relationship.”

Interfering with the activity of others, by way of aggression, for example, cannot and should not be encouraged or tolerated. This is not only disrespectful, but it violates the natural order of harmony and balance in which each being has to learn and experience life in his or her own way. Each person, each living being on Mother Earth, has his or her own Medicine that should not be disrupted or changed without that
person choosing it. . .

“Pain” is really nothing more than the difference between what is and what we want it to be. To be respectful of all things, we often must sacrifice expectation. This is the real beauty of noninterference. It gives us the ability to release some of the things that would otherwise bind us or weigh us down and disrupt our own natural flow…Besides, what others choose is none of our business, and we should never assume that it is. This shows lack of wisdom and respect. It also shows a lack of trust in others’ ability to choose, to experience, to learn.

Here, the author is not talking about not warning someone they’re about to step off a cliff, nor failing to keep a child from toddling into a fire. If we see someone engaging in potentially harmful behavior, all we can do is point out that it might hurt them, and that there are other things they could do instead, and different ways of doing almost everything–in fact, that’s a responsibility. We have a responsibility to keep them from hurting other people through the least restrictive means. That includes the responsibility to keep other people from hurting them. We don’t have a right to stop them nor otherwise control their behavior “for their own good”.

This is another example of how pragmatism and a balanced approach to life are crucial. Otherwise, people can get snared in oppositional dualism, which just doesn’t help.

I also just found a post which illustrates some of the further lunacy inspired by Cartesian duality: The Sociopath’s Guide to the Universe. Part 2. It ties in.

My second comment to shiva’s post:

Oh yes, I have also been disturbed by the ways I’ve seen blanket anti-drug folks treat autism. Just as much so when it’s treated as somehow completely different from “mental illness”.

Just a few days ago, I got particularly frustrated by an example of cognitive dissonance there. Amongst some very reasonable observations on the “epidemic” of childhood bipolar diagnosis, the same blogger regurgitated environmental-toxin “autism epidemic” stuff. (Huh?!) The same person went on to blame childhood bipolar, ADHD, etc. diagnoses on bad parenting. Autistics are just brain damaged, apparently. Same dichotomy, only throwing in an extra dose of Us vs. Them.

Feeling very little urge to poke at a hornet’s nest in someone else’s comments, I’m not linking there!

Again, try to cram observable reality into a set of false dichotomies, you quickly get cognitive dissonance going.

I am still not linking there, because the original posts are not the important bit. Letting Divide and Conquer cloud our judgments is.

Edit: Not long after posting this, I saw a link to an excellent piece at Beyond Meds: Will Hall on psychotropic drug use, applying more pragmatism to the “is this particular choice the necessary one?”. All we can depend on is experience, and relative usefulness in a given situation.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 5:48 pm

    This is very similar to how I think of such things despite being pigeonholed otherwise.

    • urocyon permalink
      January 18, 2010 2:50 pm

      That has always been the impression I’ve gotten from what you’ve written. Unfortunately, I can see how an awful lot of people would miss that, interpreting things through their own mental filters!


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