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Saturday, November 23, 2013
On the care and feeding of Madmen
Nothing so points out the inadequacies of Profit Driven “Health Care”, as the sad history of Mental Health.
Admittedly, Mental Health has been abused in many societies, including our own, to justify many horrors...from the Nazis, to the Corporate State...but there is, nevertheless, empirical evidence for the existence of “Mental Illness”...and folks who suffer from these illnesses deserve our compassion, and our help, as much as the old lady with the broken hip, and the kid with leukemia.
I made mention yesterday of St Ronnie's 20 year crusade against psychology(1)....and the horror it ensured for millions of tortured souls.
My Great Uncle was one of them.
He was, as near as I can tell, Schizophrenic, and epileptic...and who knows what else.
My paternal grandmother(his sister) told stories of sitting on him in the back of the buckboard wagon, on the way from Dust Bowl Kiowa, Oklahoma, to Houston...to keep him from hurting himself during one of his “fits”.
She reluctantly took me along to visit him in a mental ward,once, when I was around 4-5....she had been pressed into babysitting duty on visiting day, for some reason.
I remember the peculiar shade of green of the porcelain tile walls....the flickering fluorescent lights...and the antiseptic listerine smell....and there was my Great Uncle: propped up in a hospital bed in green institutional pajamas that matched the walls...chain smoking...and incomprehensible. I remember that he seemed excited to meet me....and the Vibe I got from him was Kindness, coupled with an undefined Danger. My Grandmother was embarrassed about the whole thing...especially about having to take me along on her weekly or monthly(?) visit. The Vibe she gave me was one of Shame, and Love, and Hopelessness.
I'm still pretty unclear on the details, and on the timeline...but my Uncle had been institutionalised in Austin...at the State Hospital on North Lamar.
It had been closed, at some point...either before or after my visit...and he had been just sort of suddenly pushed out the door. They found him all but beside himself, wandering the streets of Austin with his little suitcase, and $5.
Many years later, when I was 17, or so, my trips to Austin began....the Drag(Guadalupe) was the Hip place to be...not least because of the “Wildlife”....meaning the often Crazy People, living in alleys, and begging for change, and engaging passers-by with antics and music, and street-performances.(Hence, “Keep Austin Weird”)
When I finally moved there, my wife at the time worked at the convenience store on the corner of 24th and Rio Grande....which was where the “Dragworms” would purchase beer and cigarettes. Since I am always habitually early...and wife was always habitually late...I spent a lot of time just hanging around down there....and, being open to experience, I got to know many of the Street People there.
(Indeed, my first real Protest activity was advocating against Austin's draconian Homeless Ordinances, circa 1993)
I'd often buy beer, and hang out with them...there's a particular tree, a block from that store, that is known among the Dragworms to this day, as “Joe's Tree”...although no one now remembers where that came from.
About a third of these colorful folks were disaffected youth...runaways and ne'er-do-wells...Punks and Neo-Hippies, and Anarchists; purposefully rejecting the Mainstream, in order to live Free, on the Streets. Another third were Veterans...mostly of Vietnam...suffering from untreated PTSD...unable to keep a job...drunk...on drugs...(Support the Troops, my white ass...)
The other third were former Mental Patients....having Visions, talking to trees, and occasionally freaking out and hurting themselves and others.
The latter two groups comprise what I have long considered Reagan's Legacy.
Folks who We...as a Civilisation...should have cared for...but didn't...because of Free Market Mythology, and Government Hating Selfishness.
The first group...the Wild Kids, with metal studs in their noses and lips and dreadlocks, and colorful clothing...are indicative of another, much abused and confused aspect of “Mental Health”, as practiced in the US....the “Political Abuse of Psychiatry”(2)..... the de facto prohibition on Weirdness, justified by the Priesthood of Psychiatry, in service to the Corporate State.
There's definitely something to that critique...I've been there, after all,lol...but I think that it's different than the Anti-Communist Propaganda would have us believe.(4)
I place Psychology...and especially Psychiatry...somewhere akin to Economics.
It borders on Pseudoscience...yet attempts to describe real phenomena.
The Problems, with both, arise when the practitioners,on the one hand, join up with the Powerful...be they Corporate or Governmental....and on the other, when they lose their Humility...and fall into that Certainty that I'm always on about.
The fact is , is that we just don't understand the Human Mind....hell, we can't even locate it, let alone define it.
This errata leaves such disciplines open to political abuse...as with the long term inclusion of Homosexuality in the DSM....or the ADHD controversy regarding “Unruly Children”...or my own Anomalousness.
But this tendency does not in any way disprove the Reality of Mental Illness.
Nor does it negate our responsibility to at least attempt to help folks who suffer.
My offhand comment , yesterday, regarding the co-incident emptying of Mental Wards, and the Rise of the Reagan Revolution, should in no way belittle the seriousness of the issue.
I do think that the concurrent rise of Anti-Psychological Sentiments on the Political Right, with the increasing Dysfunction of the Society they then built is curious...and maybe not as much of a coincidence as we (and especially they,lol) would like to think.
Shrinks with Delusions of Priestly Status, and worse...Shrinks in the Service of Empire...have not helped, of course.
As usual, there should be some Middle Way...an attempt to Help Folks who need help, coupled with Humility...and an awareness of our own Limitations regarding such things as Mind, and its Dysfunction.
I also firmly believe that the Stigma surrounding Mental Health Issues is well past it's sell-by-date....and should be discarded in favor of Compassion for our fellow Humans.
In that light, Provision of Mental Health Care is a Case in Point of why we need Single Payer/Medicare For All...and of why the Profit Driven Way has no business being involved in Health. It is in all of our interest...Collectively...that folks get the care they need.
(5) (unrelated, but what's playing on Track 3 of my Mind, atm:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Xe15-Ayf4)
Howl is about, in part, the use of Psychiatry to enforce Conformity, and to Oppress the Weird, and the Different, and often one's Political Opposition.