Szasz and Beyond: The Spiritual Promise of the Mad Pride Movement

Seth Farber, PhD
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 Dedicated to the memory of Thomas Szasz

In 1961 The Myth of Mental Illness by psychiatrist Thomas Szasz was published. No one knew it then but it would turn out to be one of the most important books of the second half of the 20th century. In the Preface 50 years later Szasz wrote in hindsight about the book. “I insisted that mental hospitals are like prisons not hospitals, that involuntary mental hospitalization is a type of imprisonment not medical care, and that coercive psychiatrists function as judges and jailers not physicians and healers…”  http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig10/szasz4.1.1.html The main thesis of the book was that mental illness was “a myth” (non-existent); the mind is not a material entity, as the brain is, and thus ipso facto  cannot be subject to illness, just as a circle could not consist of 90 degree angles. 

Twenty years later psychiatrists implicitly acknowledged Szasz was correct by changing their paradigm—the new dogma is that various psychiatric symptoms (still called “mental disorders”) were manifestations of brain disorders not “mental” diseases. In other word it is now claimed that actual (physical) illnesses (i.e., brain disorders) cause psychological symptoms. From a Szaszian perspective this at least made sense. But Szasz argued that psychiatrists are bluffing; in all but a few cases there is no evidence of brain disorders. They did finally concede quietly that they had not found any evidence—but they claim it will be found soon. (The check is in the mail.)

Yet the term mentally ill is still used by psychiatrists. The term mental illness always had a patina of credibility due to prevalence of emotional suffering. But Szasz contended that to attribute emotional suffering to mental illnesses is ludicrous.  Emotional pain results from contending with “problems in living.” To attribute it to mental illness is to obscure the fact that problems in living are universal features of human existence. They do not require a postulate of imaginary entities like “mental” illnesses.

Szasz argued that all of the so called mental illnesses, even those considered most “serious”—e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar (manic-depression) etc– were manifestations of problems in living. Szasz’s incorporation of the phenomena dealt with by the psychiatrists—unhappiness, anxiety, despair, social deviance– into a completely different cultural metanarrative led to the transvaluation of the protagonists: The psychiatrists were oppressors, not benefactors; they were Inquisitors, slave master, not doctors. (A metanarrative is a culturally sanctioned narrative that is comprehensive in scope which seeks to make sense of the whole of reality.)

In the 1980s a former Szasz student, psychiatrist Peter Breggin, jumped into the fray: In book after book he argued that “anti-psychotic” drugs or neuroleptics were toxic agents that damaged and disabled the brain. Thus they transformed life crises into chronic problems— drug induced brain disorders.  Neuroleptics were first introduced into mental hospitals in the mid-1950s in order to make patients docile and easy to warehouse. In the 1970s Breggin allied himself with the only popular force fighting Psychiatry: the mental patients’ liberation movement (see below). In turn he became one of their heroes. In 1991 Breggin’s book Toxic Psychiatry was published. This was less technical than his previous books, and attracted a larger more mainstream audience for Breggin.  Breggin explained that in the late 1970s the American Psychiatric Association was undergoing a financial crisis and decided to change their rules so they could accept and solicit drug company money.  This event marked the birth of the psychiatric-pharmaceutical industrial complex. Its goal was to make as much money for the drug companies as possible, to get more Americans on drugs, and to establish the bio-psychiatric metanarrative with its root metaphor of brain disorder as the new reigning paradigm.

Szasz’s books had virtually no effect upon policy in the mental health field—although he provoked considerable controversy. Yet within 2 decades Szasz had revolutionized the way many schizophrenics saw themselves.  The Myth of Mental Illnesss was the Communist Manifesto of the “mentally ill” and Szasz became the Karl Marx (not an analogy Szasz  would like—as he was an uber- capitalist free market libertarian) of  the emerging movement of mental patients.

Laing and the Counter-Culture’s Critique of Normality

R. D. Laing, the radical British psychiatrist famous for his first book, The Divided Self, joined the camp of psychiatric dissidents in 1967 with the publication of The Politics of Experience.  Unlike Szasz, Laing, a British psychiatrist, was identified with the sixties’ counter-culture and the New Left. Unlike Szasz, Laing was critical of modern secular capitalist society. Laing wrote: “Normal men have killed perhaps 100 million of their fellow normal men in the last 50 years. The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man.” He was troubled by the Cold War and the arms race.  “We all live under the constant threat of our own annihilation. Only by the most outrageous violation of ourselves have we achieved our capacity to live in relative adjustment to a civilization apparently driven to its own destruction.”  Laing denounced every suspect of modern society which he like Max Weber he saw ultimately as a result of our loss of the sense of the sacred, our estrangement from God.  In the absence of these values all that was left was a competition to get ahead of the one neighbor.  The Politics of  Experience was a jeremiad in the name of the values of the 1960s counter-culture. Laing wrote, “The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal.” (Farber, pp30-1).

On the other hand, schizophrenics, Laing claimed, were spiritual pioneers, bold explorers of the inner world to which modern man were oblivious.  Laing wrote: “We respect the voyager, the explorer, the climber, the space man”. He wondered why we do not respect the ad who are often exploring “the inner space and time of consciousness.” Madness, Laing believed, might be a pathto hypersanity.  He wrote: “If the human race survives, future men will look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable Age of Darkness… The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break in the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.”  Virtually overnight The Politics of Experience became a campus best-seller and made Laing into a counter-cultural icon and a hero of the New Left.  Although Laing wanted to make common cause with Szasz, Szasz would have nothing of it. Although Szasz wanted equal rights for psychotics, and he wondered what was wrong with our society that enabled it to tolerate the injustice of the mental health system, he had no sympathy for the counter-culture. He did not see normal society as fundamentally flawed– whereas to Laing it was outright insane.

Laing viewed schizophrenia as an altered state of consciousness and had several different explanations of its etiology.  In The Politics of Experience for the first time—and the last—he interpreted it not as pathology (as he had in previous books) but as (frequently) a higher state of consciousness.  In the counter- culture of the 1960s, Laing had been swept up by the Romantic zeitgeist and viewed schizophrenics as comrades of the cultural Resistance; when the dust settled Laing exchanged the persona of the revolutionary for that of the psychiatrist and philosopher.  He continued however to be a professional gadfly, constantly making provocative criticisms of society and the mental health system. He abandoned but did not repudiate the idea that schizophrenics were spiritual pioneers. He continued to maintain that they were unusually sensitive, and often unusually insightful. He decried those psychiatrists who regarded them as mentally deficient.  

The Politics of Experience was in effect the first Mad Pride manifesto of the 20th century. But it was 35 years ahead of its time. There was no mad pride movement then that invited Laing to become the theoretician of a mad revolution. The mental patients liberation movement that emerged in the 1970s was focused on gaining equal rights and on ending coercive treatment. Laing did not take much interest in this.  What was the point of integrating schizophrenics into an insane and self-destructive society? As Laing became a new age speaker, pioneer of innovative therapy and advocate of the individual mad person, Szasz accepted graciously the role of the theoretician of mental patients’ liberation, a movement that demanded equal rights for the psychiatrically labeled—and reform of the mental health system– but did not seek to otherwise change society. Szasz’s libertarian capitalism was tolerated grudgingly by patients’ who tended to be left-wing and who often remained, at least temporarily, dependent on the government’s financial help of which Szasz disapproved.  Although many patients had been influenced by Laing, his ideas were not incorporated into the movement. Why? In this initial phase of the movement the emphasis was on the similarity between so-called schizophrenics and normal people. Laing’s emphasis on their distinctive albeit admirable traits was only an obstacle to the movement. Former patients wanted to demonstrate that they were as rational as “normal” people. (This was similar to the black and gay movements for equal rights which in their initial phases tried to be as conventional as possible.) One of the former leaders of the patients’ liberation movement whose story was recounted in my first book became enraged with me when I told him I was writing a book about Mad pride. “If you call us mad they will view us as irrational” he protested. But by then the younger generation was ready for mad pride, and tired of trying to seem normal.

Mental Patients’ Liberation Movement and the Szaszian Metanarrative

In early 1970s the mental patients liberation movement was spontaneously launched in America. The movement was organized by people who had read and embraced the theories of Thomas Szasz.  Mental patients’ liberation organizations started in Portland, in New York and Boston in 1970 and 1971 and spread up and down the coasts and even to parts of the heartland. Reading Szasz’s books made it possible for the “mentally ill” to redefine themselves in ways many of them could not have imagined before Szasz – as survivors of psychiatric oppression, as heroes in the anti-psychiatric Resistance.  Linda Morrison, a patients’ rights activist and a sociologist, brilliantly describes in Talking Back to Psychiatry (Routledge, 2005) the impact of social narratives upon the patients’ movement. However Morrison underestimated the influence of the new Szaszian metanarrative. She focused in on the individual patient’s challenges to psychiatric dominance in the hospital ward but tended to underestimate the impact of the broader cultural metanarratives that informed both psychiatric practice and the new liberation movement, respectively.

Szasz’s hermeneutic code transformed the nature of “reality” for his followers. For example, in his metanarrative “mental illness” denotes not an illness but a false allegation, analogous to the accusation of witchcraft during the Inquisition. In the Szaszian metanarrative as modified by the liberation movement the moment of existential rebirth is when the patient divests herself of the false persona of schizophrenic, stops taking psychiatric drugs and assumes the role of liberation fighter against psychiatric oppression.  Morrison did not seem familiar with the psychiatric and cultural metanarrative about mental patients at that time. The psychiatric metanarrative did not merely confer upon persons the identity of the chronic mental patients.  More specifically patients were inducted into identities of chronic schizophrenics or incurable bipolars. Having spent 16 years in the public mental health system as a therapist,from 1976-1989, before my opposition to psychiatric drugs made me unemployable, I know that the character of the schizophrenic—at that time–  as interpreted by professionals was so lacking in existential worth and so odious it could only be compared to that of  the untouchable caste in India 100 years ago. The extraordinary feature of the mental patients’ liberation movement is that it was comprised not of the “healthier” classes of patients- -for example of formerly depressed or suicidal patients–but of the “sickest,” the ostensibly incurable schizophrenics. Such was the power of the new metanarrative that many of those who would have been languishing in back wards in 1950s became the leaders of a major social movement a decade or so later.

The movement was given a boost with the publication in 1978 of On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System by Judi Chamberlin, who quickly became a leader and movement icon. (Judi was the one spokesperson who had not been a “schizophrenic.”) By the end of the 1980s the term mental patients’ liberation was considered too conservative and the movement became the “psychiatric survivors’” movement. (The original patients’ movement had also spawned a more conservative movement of psychiatric consumers but that lies outside of the scope of this commentary.) The movement’s two main goals, Judi Chamberlin wrote in a retrospective in 1990, were developing self- help alternatives to traditional mental health treatment and securing full citizenship rights for those labeled mentally ill—in particular this meant opposing the widespread practice of the confinement and involuntary treatment of mental patients in violation of their constitutional rights. The movement had little political impact. It did not reform the system, and although a number of patient-run drop-in centers were funded by the government, by the end of the century it had not achieved the goals Chamberlin aptly described as its priorities.

The movement had started in the early 1970s when its prospects seemed roseate but by the mid-80s the psychiatric system had merged with the drug companies. Once this merger occurred the survivors’ movement was doomed. By 1980 the NIMH had stopped funding alternative treatments for psychotics that did not require them to take drugs. In the 1970s the movement had attracted many sympathetic civil libertarian lawyers and won some significant victories. But while judicial decisions by higher courts often affirmed patients’ right to resist treatment, lower court judges continued to defer to the “expertise” of mental health professionals and ignored higher Court rulings.  By the 1990s it became clear that the goal of ending forced treatment would fail.  By the mid-1990s there was a push for out-patient commitment law—which mean primarily involuntary administration of psychiatric drugs. They were eventually passed in all but 3 states.  The movement scored a number of individual victories against forced treatments that took on great symbolic significance.

But in one way the movement was extraordinarily successful.  The mental patients’ liberation movement demonstrated the power of a (new) metanarrative to transform peoples’ lives. The former mental patients proved Szasz was right: “schizophrenia” was a social construction. David Oaks is the one person whose story was told in my first book in 1993 Madness, Heresy and the Rumor of Angels (Thomas Szasz wrote the Foreword to this book) — and then again in my recent book, The Spiritual Gift of Madness. By the time I wrote my recent book 15 years later, David had attained iconic status within the movement. Despite David’s “schizophrenic” breakdowns and five hospitalizations in the mid to late 1970s, he graduated Harvard cum laude in 4 years and in  subsequent years went on to build up the largest radical organization of mental patients – now called psychiatric survivors –  that had ever existed, Mind Freedom International. David’s unconventional Horatio Alger story was an outstanding example of the power of the new metanarrative.

However whatever threat the movement might have posed to the psychiatric narrative was vitiated by the merger of psychiatry with the multi-billion dollar drug industry. Psychiatrists, Madison Avenue and the drugs companies combined their efforts in the 1990s to market new illnesses along with the drugs to treat them. The new bio-psychiatric meta-narrative was promulgated  by all the media: The number of people on psychiatric drugs increased exponentially—they were all convinced they had bio-chemical imbalances, a claim refuted by Breggin and Robert Whitaker, and quietly acknowledged as unfounded by  the APA itself.

The Bush Years and the New Political Normal

During the Bush years the prospects for progressive change in general began to look dim. The trend in psychiatry was reproduced everywhere—ethical considerations subordinated to financial interests. The events on 9/11 permanently altered the political landscape of America, although in some significant ways it had really only accelerated trends that had begun two decades before, under Reagan.  In 1999 it was possible for progressives to be optimistic. In the next decade the world became far more ominous. The state almost completely abdicated its role as the protector of the public interest/ regulator of corporate interests, and became increasingly a tool of  these corporate interests. Despite Obama’s Presidential campaign that promised to restore the integrity of the political sphere, Obama continued to erode the autonomy of the state and to remove barriers to its subordination to corporate interests.

Occupy Wall Street protested the subordination of the government to the 1 per cent but failed to confront the most serious aspects of these developments:With a government in tow to private interests, there was no one to protect the environment. EPA’s mandate was far too narrow, even had it not been captured by the very interests it was supposed to regulate.  Since the corporations were exempted from any financial or legal liability for the costs of any environmental damage due to global warming they caused (“externalities”) the population was without any protection—and in denial.  The planet is heading towards a catastrophic environmental crisis—global warming is only one of the manifestations of the environmental crisis but undoubtedly the most ominous. Climate scientists have reached near consensus that in the absence of any efforts to mitigate global warming we will face a massive “die-off”— and perhaps the annihilation of humanity– by the end of the century. Global warming could very well also render the earth uninhabitable for millions of years as breakdowns of energy systems due to massive flooding could lead to meltdowns in nuclear power plants releasing amounts of radiation equivalent to that of a nuclear war.

Had the threat of global warming reached these proportions fifty years ago efforts certainly would have been made by both political parties to take emergency action but due to the complete dysfunctionality of the political sphere nothing is being done—not in the US, unlike Europe. As Chris Hedges former war correspondent for The New York Times wrote, “We face a terrible political truth. Those who hold power will not act with the urgency required to protect human life and the ecosystem. Decisions about the fate of the planet . . . are in the hands of moral and intellectual trolls . . . ” “Our corporate and political masters are driven by a craven desire to accumulate wealth at the expense of human life. The leaders of these corporations now determine our fate. Their greed has turned workers into global serfs and our planet into a wasteland.”(Farber, p387)

I bring this topic up because it is a defining existential reality. How can one speak of “progress” in any area when the survival of humanity can no longer be taken for granted? In 2007 when in the thick of these changes I started writing my recent book, I felt the psychiatric survivors’ movement had become too narrowly focused. It should have expanded to adapt to the changes (for the worse) in the world. Their website stuck rigorously to “their” issues, with no discussion of the general social crisis, e.g., the war in Iraq, the new repressive policies of the Bush Administration, the threat of a catastrophic ecological crisis due to global warming or the acidification of the oceans. There was nothing unusual about this—it is in fact the way organizations usually function. However  arguably these facts are more relevant to the mad than it might seem at first. What if the mad were having a unusually difficult time coping, and what if their increased stress was a response to the increasing insanity of the world —  this was a reason for expanding the topic discussed on Mind Freedom website;

The Icarus Project

I had been inactive for  a few years—except for counseling persons and rescuing them from psychotic wards– partly due to personal issues.  So it was a surprise in 2007 when I discovered The Icarus Project (TIP) had been formed in 2004.When I first read TIP’s 2004 Mission statement I was stunned. The document could have been written by R D Laing. It read: “We are a website community, a support network of local and campus groups. . .  created by and for people living with dangerous gifts that are commonly diagnosed and labeled as ‘mental illnesses’. We believe we have mad gifts to be cultivated and taken care of, rather than diseases or disorders to be suppressed or eliminated. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world.” They rejected the idea that they were mentally ill, “While we respect whatever treatment decisions people make, we do not define ourselves as essentially diseased, disordered, broken, faulty, and existing within the bounds of DSM-IV diagnosis. We are exploring unknown territory and don’t steer by the default maps outlined by docs and pharma companies. We’re making new maps.”  It even picked up on the theory of Laing and John Weir Perry that madness could be regenerative: “We recognize that we live in a crazy world, and insist that our sensitivities, visions, and inspirations are not necessarily symptoms of illness. Sometimes breakdown can be the entrance to breakthrough.” Laing had been the first person to make the association of breakdown and “breakthrough.”

I called up the co-founder of TIP, Sascha DuBrul, and he agreed to meet. I was shocked when he told me neither he nor his co-founder, Ashley (now “Jacks”) McNamara had ever read anything by R D. Laing. They were both in their 20s when they wrote TIP’s Mission statement in 2004. Neither was attracted to Mind Freedom. They both felt a new language would provide new tools for self-expression and lead to greater tolerance for the non-conformity of the mad.  It was clear we are now in the second phase of the movement, the Mad Pride phase: The focus had shifted from emphasizing how the patients were similar to “normal” persons to affirming and validating the distinctiveness of the mad.

But how could two people who never read Laing have written such a Laingian document? The key may lie in Jung’s theory of compensation.  Paul Levy—a Mad person and author I interviewed in my book–writes, “When there is an unconscious imbalance or disturbance in the field, a co-responding and reflexive compensatory process becomes activated . . . invariably resulting in an archetypal, healing figure incarnating in human form—whether we call this figure artist, shaman, healer, seer, or poet. The intuitive human beings who become channels for this process are tuned into and sensitive to the underlying unified field in a way that helps the field to unify.  To quote Jung, ‘Whenever conscious life becomes one-sided or adopts a false attitude, these images ‘instinctively’ rise to the surface in dreams and in the vision of artists and seers to restore the psychic balance, whether of the individual or of the epoch.’” (The Artist as Healer of the Epoch, quoted in Farber, p19)

Sascha and Ashley were the “intuitive human beings” who had sensed the imbalance in the mental patients’ liberation movement. It was comprised of intensely spiritual people yet it was a purely secular movement. It was comprised of people alienated from the insanity of the world, yet there was no public venue for the expression of their alienation—their criticism not merely of the mental health system but of modern America. There were several reasons for this silence. The first reason I discussed above— the strategic value in emphasizing their similarity to “normal people.” This was the necessary foundational phase of the mental patients’ liberation movement –as it sought full rights as citizens for psychiatric survivors. Another reason is the movement against coercive psychiatry included people who were not spiritual— some were atheists with no spiritual beliefs. David Oaks and the leaders of Mind Freedom not want to alienate these people by emphasizing spirituality—which was irrelevant to the goal of the organization.  Finally as the founders of mental patients’ liberation movement saw it they had no reason not to focus on the single issue most relevant to psychiatric survivors: involuntary treatment.

The problem was that Mind Freedom failed to attract many people who were spiritual, and who sensed the world was in crisis. Younger mad people yearned to be able to come out of the closet spiritually; they wanted to express their alienation rrom society, their social discontent. Looking through their writing on TIP venues many of them were profound social critics—like Laing himself.  As DuBrul wrote, “There are so many of us out here who feel the world with thin skin and heavy hearts, who get called crazy because we are too full of fire and pain, who know that other worlds exist, and who are not comfortable with this version of reality… A lot of us have visions about how things could be different, why they need to be different, and it’s painful to keep them silent…”

Like Laing DuBrul criticized the lack of community, the pressure to conform to 9 to 5  jobs in in the “rootless lonely monoculture.”  “Some of us can’t handle the modern world no matter how many psych drugs…or behavior modification programs we’ve been put through.”   TIP represented a more mature phase of the Mad movement. It had reached a higher degree of self- confidence, although its members were younger and thus paradoxically less mature in other respects.  It felt no need to convince the world the mad were normal. TIP freed the mad from the pressure to be normal. TIP put spirituality in the center of their identity, thus seeking to restore the psychic balance. They expressed without reservation their alienation from the world.  The extent to which this was necessary for the self- actualization of the mad was revealed by reading TIP’s famous Internet discussion forums: They teemed with discussions of spirituality and the insanity of the world.

TIP was not in conflict with Mind Freedom. They complemented each other. Mind Freedom put its emphasis on protesting forced treatment but it also had begun to sponsor  their own Mad Pride events (Farber, pp. 86-99). And TIP increasingly became involved in protests against coercive treatment. Mind Freedom continued to lead the way in the critique of bio-psychiatric propaganda, a discussion TIP preferred to avoid. It continued to “occupy” Psychiatry with the message that psychiatric survivors were disabled by psychiatric drugs.  As an NGO in the United Nations it effectively made many people aware that involuntary psychiatric treatment was a human rights issue, a violation of the UNDHR. Mind Freedom held aloft the Szaszian banner. It continued to affirm the full citizenship rights of the “mentally ill.”  However considering the power of the psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex it as not surprising that Mind Freedom was losing in the battle to restrict psychiatric power. Nevertheless on a symbolic level its existence belied the metanarrative of psychiatry.

TIP on the other hand gave those in the movement more space to be themselves , it sought to increase tolerance for “diversity”—it engaged in a broad affirmation of madness. It did not embrace the Szaszian patients’ liberation narrative. The typical TIP member did not see herself primarily as a survivor of psychiatry who was now an activist.  She was a mad person, a non-conformist, an artist, someone who had learned to walk the razor thin line between brilliance and madness. The mad person was a “crooked beauty”—to borrow the title of a brilliant film about Jacks McNamara by Ken Paul Rosenthal. New role models were co-created with which the mad could identify.

But TIP did not merely affirm the spiritual traits of the mad. It adumbrated a mad pride metanarrative, as indicated above. The distinctive traits of the mad—“mad gifts”—enabled them to “inspire [the] transformation” of the world. This motif was repeated in much of the literature. McNamara wrote in one essay that her mania gave her access to visions of “the wholeness” of the universe and “the interconnected nature of love, access to a sense of time and space that allows one to discern what is and what is not important.”   “Is it possible that the very pieces of ourselves that get labeled pathological could also be like keys in the dark, their edges barely glowing, like silver question marks too easy to overlook?” The idea of madness as a key is followed in the next sentence with the suggestion that her mad imagination gave her “a wide open vision that reconsiders the role madness can play in our culture and imagines big possibilities”(Farber, p259). The “key” then opened up new possibilities in a moribund culture. Repeatedly DuBrul and McNamara stated or suggested in their blogs or essays that madness is not only personally regenerative but it can save and transform a world that is it itself damaged, if not insane.

Here was the sketch of a metanarrative with unprecedented possibilities. Yet it was not surprising that it was soon abandoned. The next step would have been to explain how madness, and mad gifts, could be used to change the world. TIP had a strategy for affirming mad people and for starting self-help groups but did the leaders (a staff of four who did not like to call themselves “leaders”) or the members want to take on the world? If the Mission statement was more than just ennobling rhetoric, TIP would have to think about how to organize its members to use their mad gifts to change the world—the world outside of the mental health system. 

DuBrul affirmed this prospect on his blog in unequivocal but in vague terms in early 2008. (Farber, pp214-22) In March he wrote, “I have faith in the power of the mad ones because they’re the only ones that are crazy enough to think they can change the world and have the outlandish visions and drive to be able to do it.” But that train of thought came to an abrupt stop when DuBrul had an unexpected crisis—after 7 years– and ended up back in the psychiatric ward in Bellevue for a week. For some reason DuBrul believed that his relapse was evidence that the idea that the mad could be a cultural vanguard, let alone a messianic force, was ill-conceived (Farber,2012, pp 240-50).  Although he remained a dedicated activist in the movement, he now rejected the “mad gifts” theory.  He contributed a final statement to my book in 2011before it went to press: The mad were suffering from the effect of trauma  and TIP’s alternative narrative, according to DuBrul, was now about alternative forms of healing. Although he no longer saw madness as a potential gift, TIP;s accomplishment was to create a new language that validated non-conformity and diversity.

I was surprised to see that DuBrul had followed unknowingly a trajectory similar to R. D. Laing’s. Once the excitement, the “mania” of being part of a new creation had faded, they tended to distance themselves from their original messianic vision in order to accommodate themselves to the zeitgeist of modern culture—while remaining on society’s margin as dissidents.  And there was a political rationale in DuBrul’s case for this retreat: TIP was expanding.  10,000 persons were registered on its discussion forum. It was becoming a vibrant self-help organization that offered an alternative to thousands of people, most of whom had no desire to become messiahs or even social activists, many of whom were never even mad—just subjects of the bipolar labeling mania of the psychiatric establishment in the late 1990s and thereafter  which tried to capture as many new clients—particularly children– for the drug industry as possible.

If TIP in its current phase of affirming diversity represents the second phase of the patients’ liberation movement, I am proposing here a third phase—a Mad Pride organization based on a messianic metanarrative like TIP adumbrated in its first few years but more overt and consistent—more political and more messianic (see below). Not as a replacement for what TIP is now, but as a third option for those who believe as I do that a messianic-redemptive transformation is the only solution to the problems of the world.  In my book The Spiritual Gift of Madness I argue Mad Pride should be based upon a messianic-redemptive metanarrative. This vision may not be appealing to the majority of the increasing number of psychiatric clients in America but it will appeal to some, particularly among the mad (the “psychotics.”) My distinctive Mad Pride perspective is based on my conviction that the mad can make a unique and indispensable contribution to saving the world.

R D. Laing put the matter more bluntly than anyone had before him when he stated (emphasis added by me) in 1967 in The Politics of Experience, “The well-adjusted bomber pilot may be a greater threat to species survival than the hospitalized schizophrenic deluded that the Bomb is inside him. Our society may itself  have become biologically dysfunctional, and some forms of schizophrenic alienation from the alienation of our society may have a sociobiological function that we have not recognized.” Laing wrote this at the heights of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. Many of us lived in constant fear that one country would drop the Bomb— as almost happened during the Cuban missile crisis. To Laing the arm race (with its strategy of MAD—mutually assured destruction) epitomized the insanity of the modern world.  Laing never explicated how he thought schizophrenics could serve a sociobiological function but obviously he was implying that the mad had the ability and inclination to do something to protect the survival of the human species. But how? How can their sociobiological function be fulfilled?  To be more direct the obvious inference is that the mad can act redemptively. How? To answer this question we must first determine what it is that makes the mad distinctive–what is the basis for redemptive action. What is the basis of Mad Pride?

The Messianic-Redemptive Perspective

Messianism is I submit the strongest basis of Mad Pride. It is the messianic traits of the mad which enable the mad to make a major contribution to saving the planet. These are among the greatest “mad gifts.” Before I discuss the messianic sensibility I feel compelled to say a few words in defense of the messianic perspective.

The term messianic is often disparaged in the modern Western world; it is particularly at odds with the postmodern sensibility with its militantly secularist stance. Most persons do not know that many of the most eminent philosophers and theologians since the Enlightenment had an explicitly messianic (or utopian) perspective, although it is less common today. If we exclude those messianic thinkers who are spokespersons for a religious tradition we are still left with the tradition of European philosophical idealism such as Hegel and Schelling  as well as the entire (virtually) Western Romantic tradition –including such titanic figures as Novalis, Schiller, Marx, Blake, Coleridge and Shelley. (Abrams, 1971).  Or I might mention some renowned if not iconic messianic figures in American history (mostly Christian): Theodore Parker, William  Lloyd Garrison, John Humphrey Noyes, Charles Finney, Walter Rauschenbusch, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr and Herbert Marcuse (described by The New York Times as “the ideological godfather of the New Left”). Among leading Christian theologians the German socialist Jurgen Moltmann, founder of the theology of hope, led the way in reviving messianism in Christianity.(Moltmann was a protégé of the messianic Christian-Marxist atheist, Ernst Bloch.) In America two modern outstanding messianic theologians were John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. The  Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, one of the leading modern Christian historians, is another modern figure who has affirmed the messianic interpretation of Christianity. Among Catholics there are some liberation theologians and Johann Baptist Metz.  I have argued Sri Aurobindo is the greatest messianic philosopher- seer of the modern age (Farber, 2012). The messianic vision has been embraced by some of the most formidable minds in modern Western thought. It is however often disparaged today due to its incompatibility with secular liberal and scientistic thought.  On the other hand the emergence of non-materialistic paradigms in modern physics has made messianism more credible (Laszlo and Currivan, 2008).

For the messianic thinker the historical movement of humanity follows a spiral trajectory from simple unity (with nature, with others, and in religious thinkers with God) to alienation and conflict to a higher stage of unity—a recovery at a higher and more conscious level of the unity lost in “the Fall” (as it is called in Christianity). In the Christian narrative the cause of the conflict is humanity’s rebellion against God. But apart from Biblical literalists and fundamentalists, whose view of God is misanthropic, Christian theologians do not believe that suffering and death is inflicted by God; rather it is a consequence of man’s estrangement from God, the source of spiritual sustenance. “God in his compassion does not abandon his creatures under any circumstances. Man has fled and is called upon to return.”(P. Nellas,1987, Deification in Christ p177). Redemption is achieved when union is restored, union with God and with others. But the union at a higher stage of development is a differentiated unity based upon the full development of human individuality.

While many Romantic thinkers viewed the messianic state as an inevitable product of evolution, most messianic thinkers today would note the almost intractable human resistance to a society that require a profound shift in priorities. The Romantics tended to be “cosmic optimists.” But such confidence is harder to maintain now almost 2 centuries later. We have witnessed the demonic forces within the human soul; the horrors of the 20th century are still imprinted upon our psyches. In the last few decades neo-liberalism has unleashed the forces of unbridled capitalism. In the last decade we have seen that even the specter of the destruction of the earth by global warming is unable to mitigate the greed of the capitalists, or to arouse within our political leaders any sense of responsibility to the common good. Writing in October 2012 the ominous predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists seem to be coming to pass. Yet the messianic thinker is never warranted in trading hope for resignation.

I think Sri Aurobindo, whose philosophy transcended religious divisions but who drew most often upon Hindu archetypes, was able to most persuasively describe the messianic-redemptive ideal: “The ascent of man into heaven is not the key, but rather his ascent here into the spirit and the descent also of the spirit into his normal humanity and the transformation of this earthly nature.” This, and not “some post-mortem salvation,”Aurobindo tells us, is “the new birth” for which humanity waits as “the crowning movement” of its “long, obscure and painful history.” Society will  be based on a sense of the unity of humanity. “There [will be] a growing inner unity with others. Not only to see the Divine in oneself, but to see and find the Divine in all . . . is the complete law of the spiritual being. ..Therefore too is a growing inner unity with others. . . . [Man] will seek not only his own freedom, but the freedom of all, not only his own perfection, but the perfection of all” (Farber, p374).A society in which each person is guided by an intuition of unity would be a harmonious society.  In Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri he calls this messianic state the union of heaven and earth, the marriage of the eternal bridegroom with the eternal bride. It is the victory of love, the conquest of death.

According to Aurobindo the “laws” of nature, will be transcended by newer ones more conducive to human happiness (Farber, p12). The “laws” of nature are really habits of nature which will spontaneously change once we have recovered the sense of unity.  In Isaiah also the idea is conveyed that the laws of nature will change. The world will become peaceful. Men will give up war; the lion will lie down with the lamb, the predator with the prey. The recovery of paradise which has haunted the imagination of humanity for millennia will be realized. From the messianic perspective what we considered to be natural laws are products of our fallen state—our estrangement from each other and from God.

Human beings cannot create a perfect society on their own. They depend upon a supernatural Intelligence—God, in theological terms—to which they must surrender. But neither can God create such an order without human cooperation and participation. God cannot override human beings, or manipulate them like puppets. The Kingdom of God seeks to break into the profane world and to transform it. Rudolph Otto, the philosopher, wrote in The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man, “Jesus did not bring the Kingdom. The Kingdom brought Jesus.”  God is continuously seeking to save the world.  It is up to us to cooperate with the divine initiative.

The Christian idea of the incarnation is a mythical representation of this reality, of the redemptive drive of the Transcendent, of the eternal mercy of God. But orthodox versions of Christianity underestimate the redemptive will and force of the Transcendent.  They depict the incarnation as a single unique messianic event.  I argue there are many messianic events throughout history. The messianic event is the ingression of the Transcendent into the profane; its goal is the union of heaven and earth, the transformation of the earth.  It is only because of the recalcitrance of the human heart that it has not yet succeeded, that Jesus was executed.

Today we are faced again with the same choice that Jesus presented: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  This starkness of the alternatives, the threat of God’s wrath/ the promise of his benediction, is clear to those who are willing to honestly face the facts. Even in America the majority of citizens are aware of the threat of ecological catastrophe. But few have had the kind of messianic vision described by Sri Aurobindo, by Isaiah, by Jesus, or by Serine the “bipolar psychotic” whose post I saw on TIP forum (see below). Few persons have the messianic sensibility that is so common among the mad. “Most of us don’t even acknowledge the existence of God,” Serine said.  But “the time will come when we will know God, the Spirit that flows through all things.” In order to make a choice humanity needs to have both options placed before it. They need to attend to the visions of the mad.

Jung said that God is seeking to incarnate now through all of humanity. Paul Levy describes it, “Christ was the first attempt by God to incarnate and transform itself. Now humanity as a whole will be the subject of the divine incarnation process” (p146).

It is my contention that the Kingdom is now seeking to enter history, to incarnate, through the psyches of the mad. This is the unprecedented messianic event of 21st century. There are others with this messianic sensibility –e.g., visionary activists; some Christians; new age authors– – who are sane by conventional criteria, but my focus here is on the mad. For the mad are among the first to awaken. There is a greater percentage of persons with a sense of mission among “schizophrenics” than among any other group in the country.  “All great changes find their first clear and effective power and their direct shaping force in the mind and spirit of the individual or a limited number of individuals,” wrote Aurobindo (Farber, p.372). It is the mission of the mad to share their messianic vision.

Those with a messianic sensibility could change the world—if they prepare themselves for the mission.

The Messianic Sensibility 

The overtly messianic sensibility has three salient features. First, as the quote from Laing on the Bomb suggests, it confronts life without blinders. Laing wrote this not long after the Cuban Missile crisis and he certainly must have met mad people who claimed the Bomb was inside them. Today the mad person would be more likely to say she can hear the screams of the earth.  Laing believed that the “metaphorical” images of the mad were a potent means of communication. Laing of course realized that the mad person took his metaphors literally, but nonetheless the mad person was aware of realities normal people preferred to avoid. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, dismissed their statements as meaningless symptoms of pathology.

Of course not everyone with a messianic sensibility is mad, but madness often accompanies messianic experiences. In those cases the subjects speak in this unusual discourse—one might call it the language of dreams, of poetry. The psychiatrist would dismiss it as gibberish or “schizophrenese.”  I contend that the ability to speak in this manner is another mad gift. It serves the messianic-redemptive function—when people are listening. The fact that the mad person takes her metaphorical statements literally is not a cause for concern: Madness is not pathology. It is an altered state of consciousness.

A second characteristic of the messianic sensibility is that the person feels she has an important mission, a mission from God. The first mad person I became friends with told me when I met her in 1972 that she was “the mother of the new messianic age.” The author Anton Boisen a “recovered schizophrenic” in the 1920s (when recovery was highly rare) became a chaplain in a psychiatric ward. He was a man of profound religious insight. On the basis of years working in psychiatric hospitals he concluded that the idea that one is going to play an important role “in resolving a world catastrophe arises spontaneously in completely different historical eras in persons who are going through a profound inner struggle.” This sense of a social mission Boisen discovered is characteristic both of psychotics in “hospitals” and of  men of “outstanding religious genius.” In other words, contrary to the claims of many theologians, the sense of messianic mission is not a product of an apocalyptic culture—it arises in all kinds of cultures, and seems to be an artifact of typical “psychotic episodes” which both Laing and Jungian psychiatrist John Weir Perry believed were potentially regenerative experiences.  This sense that one has a mission is the mark of the messianic or prophetic calling. (Of course it can be specious.) In psychiatric terms it is considered a symptom of narcissism, grandiosity etc. But during messianic ages in history messianic expectations have been common and mania has been the prevalent mood of the masses.

The third trait characteristic of the messianic sensibility has been described aptly by the Jungian psychiatrist John Weir Perry. “Almost always within acute psychosis lies a messianic vision of a new world order.” This is characterized by a sense of unity, of oneness. “The vision of oneness is expressed in the messianic ideation, along with the recognition that the world is going to be marked by a style of living emphasizing equality and tolerance, harmony and love. This hope is almost universally seen in persons in the acute [psychotic] episode.”  (Farber, p. 375)

The Second Great Awakening: The Kingdom of God as a Force within History

During the 2nd Great Awakening in the early 19th century America was “drunk on the millennium,” as one writer put it. One could also say they had a “mania” for the messianic age. During that period virtually all Americans were evangelical Christians—but that was a very different animal than it is today.  H. Richard Niebuhr (brother of Reinhold) captures the popular mood well in The Kingdom of God in America, written in 1937, “[A] great wave of expectancy came over men. . . . A Christian revolution was evidently taking place; a new day was dawning.” The expectation of the coming kingdom on Earth was “nurtured by the continuing [religious] revival until it became the dominant idea in American Christianity.”  (Farber, p311)

As discussed in my book because it became the dominant idea in American Christianity—and in American history at that time (in the North, not in the slavocracy) –it became socially volatile: it fueled what today would be called progressive activism. The idea of the imminence of the Kingdom of God on earth engendered the greatest reform era in American history, including most prominently the abolitionist movement. Numerous historians believed that the sweeping movements for radical changes in this era would not have occurred had not the messianic expectations been ignited (Farber, pp. 306-324). John L Thomas attributed the social activism (e.g., abolitionism) of the period more generally to the Romantic faith in human “perfectability” which spread across “the whole spectrum of Protestantism.”

Perfectionism was the opposite of the doctrine of original sin. (Farber, p309).  It must be emphasized that Evangelical Christianity was completely different than it is today—it was spiritual, populist and to use an anachronistic term it was politically progressive.  It underwent a great reversal in late 19th century—the epitome of its reactionary trajectory was its embrace of the bizarre doctrine of dispensationalist premillennialism (including the “rapture”) which was antithetical to perfectionism. Since Jesus’s own teachings were relegated to the distant future, it effectively destroyed Christianity.

The kingdom of God entered history through the miracle of the mass conversions of the 19th century; this produced a transformation of collective consciousness. H Richard Niebuhr, the Christian theologian wrote in 1937 “This gospel of the coming kingdom which began with men in their solitariness became definitely social, for it had social effects in mind. It insisted it needed to appear and would appear in the whole common life, in science, art, agriculture, industry, church and state.” (p148)

Theodore Weld was a stellar example of the fusion of the personal and political dimensions represented by the awakening. He was a convert to evangelical Christianity who became one of the leading abolitionists. He went from town to town preaching against slavery and braving the wrath of pro-slavery mobs in the Midwest. Weld was passionately convinced that the abolitionists would triumph because ending slavery was the “cause of God.” The days of slavery are numbered, he asserted, “in this land of liberty and light and revivals of millennial glory.” It was the same spirit that led Edward Beecher to cry out in 1865, “Now that God has smitten slavery unto death, he has opened the way for the redemption and sanctification of our whole social system.”  Weld  regarded the revivals, moral reform, temperance, women’s rights and the anti-slavery movement as part of one whole—the  realization of God’s kingdom on earth  (Niebuhr, p158).

This period  combined left-wing political radicalism (one is compelled to use modern terms in order to make comparisons) with messianic expectations. It was a unique phase in American history yet it has been mysteriously occluded from the American imagination.  Perhaps because the reversal of evangelical Christianity after the Civil War makes it difficult to conceive that Evangelical Christianity was at one time the opposite of what it is today. What took place during the Second Great Awakening was a popular theological revolution. Christianity was democratized, Christians en masse rejected their Calvinist past: the burden of original sin, the bondage of the will. Instead it affirmed the perfectibility of every person and the freedom to prepare the condition for the realization of the messianic ideal. This was a mass based theological revolution—a paradigm shift (Farber,Ch.15).  But the Christian revolution had no impact upon Christians in the South—they were too corrupted by slave-owning, even though most could not afford slaves.

Metaphorically speaking, after the Civil War Satan took over evangelical Christianity, and wiped out the memory of its progressive past.  In the Gospels. Jesus had made his followers pledge to practice forgiveness, non-violence, and universal love. Post-war evangelical “Christianity” preached religious exclusivism, national chauvinism, guns and vengeance; it cultivated a perverse romance with the military, and the American killing machine.  Tragically as a result of the reversal of Christianity after the Civil War, progressive political activism was sundered from the kind of messianic vision that had such a galvanizing effect on political and social activism in the first half of the 19th century.

This is precisely why I argue that the messianic sensibility of the mad has such a potentially transformative power—it could reintroduce the messianic dimension into political activism.  Messianic themes emerged spontaneously in the counter-culture of the 1960s—in the music, in the political manifestos– but they were isolated images:  The metanarratives that dominated were primarily secular, unlike the 2nd Great Awakening when Christianity was still a revolutionary force. We need to revive a messianic-redemptive metanarrative.

Mad Messiahs in Search of Mad Pride

In 2007  I came across the following statement on  a TIP forum: “I am a 31 yr [sic] old single mom, and I have BP [“bipolar disorder”] with psychosis. When I go into mania, I have conversations with God and He has told me how He plans to bring together the plan for the ages. Or how he is going to bring about global awareness. And of course it is something that I have to do. Now every time I go into mania, I am consumed by it, when I come out I am ‘normal’ but still believe it. I mean what better thing is there to believe than God has chosen you to do an earthly mission for Him. Anybody else out there in the same boat? What do they call it. . . . Grandious [sic] delusions?”

Was this woman mad or is this a messianic call? Both. What if Mad Pride became a force for encouraging people like Serine to become prophets? I wrote her immediately in 2007. I told her I was a renegade psychologist and that I believed she was right– God had chosen her for a mission. I don’t think she believed  I was a psychologist. She asked me if I was also a bipolar psychotic. I said I had never been locked up or labeled psychotic. She wrote “The reason I asked if you had a mental illness is because of your ideas. I will continue thinking you do [have a mental illness] and if what you teach is correct it should be considered a good thing.” (I think she meant my teaching would be a good thing despite my mental illness.) I was amused that she thought I was “psychotic.” I tried to disabuse her of the idea of being cured of her “mental illness,” but the pressure from her parents and her psychiatrist was too great.

There are thousands of people like Serine — they become incorporated into the psychiatric metanarrative and they learn to view their messianic calling as a symptom of mental illness.  When I said to her “Serine, you are called by God” that was evidence to her that I too was mentally ill.  I became incorporated also into the psychiatric metanarrative she had internalized.   It was a vicious cycle. I might have been more successful had she lived near me and I met her in person. Or if we had a Mad Pride organization based on a messianic narrative.

Serine also had the two other traits of the messianic sensibility. She was aware of the evil in the world—and the fact that it manifests itself socially, not just in the individual psyche.  She wrote me “Do you know only 15% of humanity have a roof over their head, food, clothing, and a violence free life? What we should be doing is to free our people from the tragedies of the world.  Jesus’ victory was partial. He did not defeat Satan on earth.” She’s right, I thought! Her perspective was what Christian theologians call an “inaugurated eschatology.”  From this perspective Jesus did defeat evil but his victory was partial. It was up to the Church to carry on his mission since his victory has not been consummated. But in my experience the Church—any of the major Churches– has no interest in doing this. It had accommodated itself to the world. We can’t depend upon the Church.  “We are and always have been the very Messiah we have been waiting for.”  (Levy, pp138-9)

Serine beautifully described the final goal. “When the time comes, our eyes and hearts will be opened, and we will see what is Love, our hearts will be filled with fire, to light that darkness, and the 2 commandments (love God above all things) how could we not with a direction relationship with Him!!  And love your neighbors as ourselves (we will have no more war) I was being told to gather earth children, and all that, there was many people around who were in on the conversation, we were speaking telepathically,  as they were in different countries, and spread all over North America.  Jesus is coming to establish his kingdom, and I think there will be a huge awakening.  I think that we will no longer feel pain, and no longer feel any evil thought, or disappointment, we will be able to speak to all things.  We will do different things on earth, different desires will come into play, God’s desire. The time will come, I tell you, we will be aware of the most prominent parts of ourselves, our spirit, and we will know God, the spirit that flows through all things.”(Although Serine’s panentheistic  (yes the word is spelled correctly) theology was similar to many Christian mystics I had read  I knew in her case it was derived exclusively from her own experiences.

Serine was clearly mad: She was in an altered -and inspired– state of consciousness. And yet had she said something like this during the 2nd Great Awakening, she would have seemed perfectly “normal” because many people during that period were “manic” or mad. Here we have a perfect illustration that “mania” can become a statistically normal characteristic, and that further it can be socially adaptive.  But to talk about being chosen to inaugurate the Kingdom of God to a psychiatrist in America in 2006 was not socially adaptive. She was alone in a small town—although the Internet mitigated her isolation. Her experiences of the divine constellated complementary experiences of the demonic—these terrified her.  The demonic is a reality, otherwise the desire for money would not prevent our leaders from immediately restricting the burning of fossil fuels which threatens to destroy humanity. Although there were a few others on TIP forum who told Serine they had similar experiences, I was the only person trying to present her with a messianic-redemptive metanarrative that valorized her experiences. (I was the only person who wrote her privately.) But I was on the other side of the continent.  I was not able by myself to empower Serine. The mental health system was the only organization offering to help her allay her anxieties.  After holding out, she succumbed: She took psychiatric drugs and suppressed her spiritual visions.

I want to see the creation of a Mad Pride organization based on a messianic-redemptive narrative that will help budding prophets to become catalysts of messianic transformation. After Sascha’s retreat he told me in 2011 that he repudiated any messianic beliefs and embraced a narrative of healing; I told him that they were not mutually exclusive (Farber, pp 250-9).

For example when patients are immersed in their madness they sometimes need support and guidance—healing. But there is no need to prevent them from assuming greater responsibilities in accord with their talents.  For years the transpersonal psychology movement embraced the psychoanalytic idea that the ostensibly damaged ego of the “schizophrenic” needed to be built up before she should explore the spiritual world.  But transpersonal psychologists use this analogy to support their dogmas. If a talented pianist had a breakdown, playing Bach’s concertos before an audience would be contributing to the audience’s inner life and reviving the musician’s inner strength simultaneously.  It would not help the healing of the ailing pianist to avoid exercising her gifts. For a person with a messianic calling to share her inspiring vision is analogous to playing  Bach. Paul Levy writes, “Each of us is being asked to incarnate the truth of our being in a particular unique way.  If we refuse this calling we give away a part of our power and dis-own a part of ourselves. If we are not willing to step into our truth, we literally become part of the problem”  (Levy, p.166)  One grows strong through exercise, using one’s gifts–even if one is in a state of trauma. The mental patients’ liberation movement of the 1970s showed that political activism was therapeutic and empowering for so called disabled schizophrenics. Eventually thousands of schizophrenics embraced the Szaszian metanarrative and became highly competent and effective political activists.

What if Serine and other mad persons are channels for the divine, what if Laing was right, that their madness has a “sociobiological function”: to save humanity from extinction by well-adjusted bomber pilots, well-adjusted CEOs and well-adjusted politicians, including our well-adjusted President?  Clearly such messianic powers should not lay fallow.  The mad person who becomes a messianic catalyst in a secular society must undergo a growth process.  This requires emotional support and spiritual validation. In the absence of this support the mad will not be strong enough to resist being incorporated into the psychiatric metanarrative.

The messianic consciousness typically appears spontaneously in the experience of madness. But so far it has not been fully and consciously affirmed as a foundation for any Mad Pride organization. 

We could create today a Mad Pride organization determined to support and cultivate mad prophets who will recreate (what kind of activities is a question for another essay) the messianic Zeitgeist that existed in 1830, and cultivate the expectation that it is within the power of human beings to act as conduits for the Kingdom of God, to make it a living force within history that will overcome with its message of eternal love and salvation the power of those who are destroying the earth in pursuit of money, power and vengeance.  This would not be a substitute for political activism to abolish coercive psychiatry, to curb corporate power ( in psychiatry or elsewhere); to the contrary, it would inspire and infuse such political activism. It would make it possible to stop living in denial and confront the fact that this may be our last chance to save the earth, that the worship of Mammon is leading us into the bowels of hell.

Vaclav Havel said in 1991, “Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better and the catastrophe towards which this world is headed will be unavoidable.”

Both Mind Freedom and TIP have shown that they could offer the mad and many other psychiatric survivors a viable alternative to a life as chronic schizophrenics or chronic depressives. Their greatest social accomplishment was to provide vehicles for the spiritual growth of mad persons. That was a major social accomplishment. But the Mad Pride movement today can and must go further, not for its own sake, but for humanity’s.

If we cannot save the planet from being destroyed does anything else matter?

I see Mad Pride as a force that will empower and inspire many of the mad (even just a few hundred persons could make a difference) to be catalysts for a new Great Awakening which could be the first major step towards ushering in the Kingdom of heaven on earth, thus saving humanity and our sacred mother earth from destruction.

References

Morris Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (Norton and Co., 1971)

Peter Breggin, Toxic Psychiatry ( St Martin’s Press, 1991).

Seth Farber, The Spiritual Gift of Madness: The Failure of Psychiatry and

the Rise of the Mad Pride Movement (Inner Traditions, 2012).

Seth Farber, Madness, Heresy and the Rumor of Angels: The Revolt against the Mental Health System (Open Court, 1993).

R D Laing, The Politics of Experience (Pantheon, 1967).

Erwin Laszlo and Jude Currivan, 2008 Cosmos: A Cocreators Guide.(Hay House, 2008)

Paul Levy, The Madness of George W.Bush (AuthorHouse, 2006)

Linda J Morrison, Talking Back to Psychiatry  (Routledge, 2005)

H.Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (Harper and Row, 1937

Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Mental lllness (Harper and Row, 1961).

Thomas Szasz, The Manufacture of Madness (Dell, 1970).

Robert Whitaker, Anatomy of an Epidemic (Crown Pubishers, 2010)
Seth Farber is the author of “The Spiritual Gift of Madness: The Failure of Psychiatry and the Rise of the Mad Pride Movement

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45 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this brilliant history and call to arms. When I reached the story of “Serine” I got to thinking.

    I said to her “Serine, you are called by God” that was evidence to her that I too was mentally ill.

    There is yet another way that people are beginning to look at so-called mental illness, and that is through exploring quantum physics. Since I’m no physicist, I can’t even begin to explain what I am formulating in any depth, but isn’t Serine, not just called by God, but the essence of God, a particle of God? I am not arguing this from a religious perspective, – call “God” a higher power, if you will. Serine, like so many true “schizophrenics” or “bipolars” gets this quantum physics puzzle on an intuitive and physical level. Science just hasn’t caught up with her yet.

  2. Seth, thanks as always for your exhaustive work in connecting the dots as you have. The Spiritual Gift of Madness is on my list of recommended reading when I do my seminars, “Our Own Personal Voice of Well-being.” It substantiates well what I am teaching, how to own all of one’s life experience–the good, the bad, and the ugly, so to speak—as the guide to our spiritual essence and light.

    I know we disagree on whether or not ‘mental illness’ is real. For me, I considered myself ‘mentally ill’ when my head was filled with chaotic fragments of obsessive thoughts–mostly negative and anxiety-inducing–which impeded my ability to focus in a way that I could not function to my satisfaction either socially and professionally. To me, this is all relative to my own standards, what satisfies ME, not anyone else. In essence, it is ‘between me and my God.’ What I fought against and proved in my own experience, is that these are neither inherent physical nor chronic conditions, but reasonable responses to abuse, oppression, and neglect of one’s spirit, which can be healed completely.

    As far as the spiritual nature of our reality, from what I’ve learned going through my own particular journey, Heaven on Earth is here and has been always. We have eclipsed ourselves from this physical dimension with our rational intellectual ego selves. We have practiced limiting thoughts and beliefs all our lives, for generations, so this has become our neuron-trained habit. Breaking these habits of thought require a focus away from the intellect, and toward synchronizing heart, mind and spirit. When we connect with our spirits through our hearts, and focus on the Divinity of our true nature and creative abilities, then we are in the Kingdom of God, and we automatically create this further around us. As each individual connects with their true nature, away from the intellect and ego, the shift in focus causes a shift in vibration, which, in turn, creates awareness of a new dimension of reality–in short, awakening to higher dimensions. The Kingdom of God is merely a higher dimension of reality. It is here now, for the asking of it.
    Best always,
    Alex.

    • p.s. The shift between dimensions, indeed, is the *madness* to which, I believe, you refer. With limited awareness and negative focus, it can be a torturous, anguished-filled experience. But with a postive/neutral/Divine focus, and an inherent sense of self, it is the thrill ride of a lifetime! To me, mental well being comes from knowing our responsibility in choosing how to focus our experience. This is always where our power lies.

  3. Well I’m still working my way through your piece Seth, not sure if I agree or not, or whether I might even get to see things in a different way, which is always helpful.

    Your comments about RD Laing (I’m Scottish and have read a lot about him, tried to get into his writing and struggled with it, maybe because I’m a woman?) are interesting. I’ll have to look what you say about him again. On first reading it didn’t seem to be the way that I had perceived him. Here is a write up about him by Phil Barker and Poppy Buchanan-Barker that I like ‘The caring focus of RD Laing’:
    http://www.clan-unity.co.uk/Writing%208.htm

  4. Most Christians miss a very important statement made by Jesus. It is found in the Gospel according to Luke. I forget the chapter and verse but Jesus said to his disciples that the Kingdom of God is among us. It is already here, waiting for us to discover and honor it. Also, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the mystical sides of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity agree that each and every one of us is God. This is a pretty hefty idea to deal with and one which sets many religious people to gnashing their teeth.

    If this is true, then perhaps people who are labeled as schizophrenic or bi-polar are the ones who discover this and their experience with mania and psychosis is the attempt to integrate this into their life experience. There is a famous British Buddhist philosopher from the 1970’s who said that when a psychiatric patient states that they are God, or Jesus Christ, or the Mother of God, that instead of pathologizing their idea,the psychiatrists should honor it because it’s true. He also said that even though it’s true you probably don’t want to go around stating it because you will end up smack dab in the middle of a psychiatric ward!

    I’ve come to accept and believe this since I’m Buddhist. I decided to put it into practice in my work. I’m a peer guide in the Admissions Dept. of a state hospital. I work there to try to plant the seed of hope at the very beginning of peoples’ hospitalization. When people tell me that they are God or Jesus I agree, not because I’m humoring them but because I believe that what they say is true. It’s amazing to see the effect this has on people. When I agreed with one young man he stopped talking and just sat looking intently at me. Slowly a smile appeared on his face and it grew until he was literally “beaming.” He said, “You are one of us!” Then he stood and opened his arms. I stood and we embraced. We stood back and he said, “I can see your wings now!” It was one of the most profound experiences of my entire life. Of course, it caused a huge stir among the other staff because “touching” is not allowed because “you know how some of these mental patients are, always trying to be sexual or to manipulate you.” It took some time for the rest of the staff to settle down but I quelled further questioning and statement making when I answered their question about what happened with the answer that “the two of us had shared a religious experience!”

    Of course, I’m persona non grata among most of the psychiatrists because of my beliefs and behavior where people like this young man are concerned. My refusal to label them as delusional doesn’t set well.

    This made me go and buy Seth’s book!

      • Stephen, it sounds like you do some beautifully radical work. I love the story you tell, here.

        I totally agree that Kingdom of God is here, and for me it appears when my heart, spirit and intention are aligned and in synch. Being grounded and aligned is a different world that living in a body/mind/spirit split, as our world is accustomed to being.

        When I identified with the diagnosis of bipolar I had been given, I know now that I was stuck in the split between dimensions. I had a larger consciousness reality/awareness that did not match the norms of my community, and of course, I accepted the diagnosis because I had a belief that if I was out of synch with my community, something must be wrong with me. So I took medication so that I could work, socialize and simply ‘be’ like everyone else, trying to ignore the ‘crazy’ thoughts—that is, beyond normal awareness–so that I could fit in and seem ‘normal’ (of the norm, literally). My true spirit voice, however, knew that I was squelching truth, and as a result, my unconscious would battle with my misguided and spirit-invalidating intention to ‘fit in.’ My belief was that, otherwise, not only was I was weird and therefore, an object for ridicule and personal embarrassment, but also that I would fail in the world. These were the beliefs that I grew up with, all around me, which of course I internalized as we do. This split between what I knew in my heart to be true and what I was pretending was true to avoid the feeling that something was wrong with me and I was doomed for failure, is what made me crazy, insane, and totally mad.

        It is after shifting radically what I believe about myself and the world, releasing the issues and emotions that accompanied such false and self-stigmatizing beliefs, and got a handle on my spiritual nature, that I calmed down tremendously, and realized my place in society, in the world, and my purpose in life. I no longer identify with a diagnosis other than being a human being with my personal set of issues to navigate the way I wish, and I’m creating exactly the life I want now, no longer in that chronic wheel of irreconcilable truths. Took a while to go from Z to A in this journey, but there’s everything to learn–and un-learn–inside of it. Initially aligning with a diagnosis only fueled the pain and discomfort of the madness. Whatever we call it, however, ceased to feel like madness when I learned how to align with Heaven on Earth.

        Cheers,
        Alex.

          • Thanks, Stephen. I only hope to somehow convey light with what I share. Indeed, language is limited (especially via internet). Examples of my personal healing and transformation successes are my best teaching tools, I have found. Happily, I convinced 35 peers in Humboldt County, CA last week, with the healing and empowerment workshop I’ve developed. My program is totally outside of convention, and most of them actually got the new paradigm, from the evaluations I received. Exciting time, lots of new hope and permission, thanks to all of these ideas finally getting through, and all the success stories coming forth. Such courage we show, collectively. Personally, I think this movement is moving along great, everyone in the collective is contributing significantly, individually, from what I read in this thread, in particular. It can be slow to perceive the effects of it on a large scale, but I think it’s there. Thanks again for the validation. I always enjoy reading what you have to say, as well. Cheers!

    • Hi Stephen – that’s right, Jesus did say that the Kingdom of God was among us, in the gospel of Luke. As a Christian I find this encouraging. And it’s good to hear about you identifying with the people you work with, as a peer worker. I think this is what it’s all about, us all being as equals. Getting alongside folk. It’s what Jesus did. And it’s what I try to do.

    • Your comment about the philosopher suggesting psychiatrists honor the patient’s belief that they’re God reminds me of one of Ram Dass’s escapades. Apparently, his brother was hospitalized at one point with the belief that he was Christ. Ram Dass visited him and pointed out that he was right to believe that he was Christ; however, he was making a big mistake by not recognize that so is everyone else(!) Apparently, this realization resulted in his brother having a profound epiphany and some kind of healing/integration, followed by his being allowed to leave the hospital shortly thereafter and presumably movement towards a more wholesome way of experiencing and understanding himself and the world.

      Paris

  5. Thanks Seth, for this inspired post!

    I think many of us are struggling with how to talk about these huge subjects: massive social problems, individual trauma, madness in the sense of being lost, and also the redemptive flip side, the mad discoveries, creativity, and/or spiritual transformations etc.

    One problem is just trying to find words for it all. It’s confusing that we use the same words for the process of falling apart or being broken, and the discoveries that can happen when we have been “destroyed” and yet we are still there, the redemption, (redemption is a spiritual word,though some people experience it and don’t use spiritual words at all…..)

    We definitely need people exploring outside the cultural blinders, whether they get there by falling through cracks or being pushed outside by trauma and abuse, or set out on deliberate adventures. At the same time such exploration is dangerous, both to the individual who may in their disorientation be deceived into seeing as salvation something which is deadly, and to the society, which may be harmed by misguided “mad” individuals or which may be influenced by “prophecy” that is more harmful than helpful (“spiritual” visions are not always helpful in this world!).

    An idea from older societies is that visionaries need to be encouraged, yet also supported and protected, and the support and close connection to the community makes such exploration safer, it helps people interact with “the good spirits and not the bad” or generally helps people come to a better perspective.

    I think we need both individuals who know how to support their own visionary process, and a society that knows how to support and protect visionaries and especially young people who don’t yet know their way around. This will help us have more access to the helpful side of madness, while protecting us from the deceptions and darkness that are also associated with it

    • You’ve made many good points Ron, thanks. About madness and being somehow lost or disorientated, the spiritual transformations, the world and its problems (global warming, peak oil, extremes of weather, social issues etc), and the interesting challenge that we need to encourage visionaries.

      Now that I’m older, with more life behind me than in front of me, so to speak, it seems that the world is moving at a very fast pace. And becomes more and more difficult to keep up, to keep standing and to retain a sense of self in the midst of it.

      So, as a mother and grandmother, I want to see a transformation of the psychiatric system and creation of alternatives for people in mental distress, preferable peer led. And am working towards these in my own small corner of the world. Like all of us who are doing the same. As an old Scottish toast says “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us!”

    • The First Nation peoples, commonly referred to as Native Americans, knew how to do this and carried it out on a community wide basis. Of course, they had less emphasis on individualism and a total community approach. I have often wondered whether our obsession with individualism causes some of these issues and problems that labeled people deal with.

  6. Initially, it was suggested that this article should be posted along with formal responses that were invited by others in the field; but then it was agreed to simply post it in this more ordinary “op-ed” format, with others responding in a more spontaneous manner. Anyway, I still have a copy of my “formal” response, so I’m putting it in here:

    I’ve been asked by Seth to write a brief reaction/response to his essay, and I’ll preface this by saying that I haven’t had a chance to read his most recent book yet (though I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as I get the chance).

    First, I was struck by Seth’s skill in wrapping up the general history of the “psychiatric survivors”/”mad pride” movement in such a tidy nutshell. I enjoyed his big picture perspective, which added a few more colors to my own picture of our movement.
    I also found myself really appreciating Seth’s willingness to dive headfirst into taboo material—material that is generally even somewhat taboo for many members of the mad pride movement itself, which says a lot(!) He asks some hard hitting questions and is not at all timid about presenting some answers that are sure to invite discomfort and controversy from all sides.
    One of the big questions Seth is inviting us to grapple with can be captured as something like, “How do we—the ‘mad,’ the consensus-reality challenged, the mental health care dissidents and revolutionaries—want to define ourselves?” Seth takes the stance that we should set our sights much higher than simply psychiatric liberation and aspire to utilize our “mad gifts” for the purpose of complete world liberation. In particular, he suggests that we hold proudly one of the most common forms of extreme states of consciousness—what I have generally been referring to as “messianic striving,” and what he calls “messianic sensibility”—and allow this experience to provide both our fuel and our direction. After all, he does have a point that’s difficult to dispute. Messianic striving is very common within extreme states, and by definition, it is a state of consciousness that is loaded to the hilt with fuel and vision.

    I have to admit that I find this line of reasoning contains a certain compelling quality to it. Seth is almost certainly correct in his assertion that the human species is accelerating very rapidly towards its own demise. The sheer desperateness of our situation demands a desperate answer; and what more desperate and powerful intervention can we imagine than an army of “mad messiahs” Hell-bent (or rather Heaven-bent) on bringing about the transcendence of humanity from a species being driven primarily by greed, fear and ignorance, to one driven by love, compassion and tolerance; in other words, moving towards a species-wide shift of consciousness, from the species-wide madness we see today to a species-wide messianic consciousness. After all, what have we got to lose? As “mad” as it sounds, why not? This is such an interesting and important question, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs playing out some of my own reasoning on this issue by taking both sides.

    In favor of the “messianic transformation” stance, even though what Seth is suggesting may sound “mad” even to many of those who are self identified as “mad,” according to many and perhaps most indigenous societies (in other words, the societal roots of all of us), the role of the shaman/healer/seer/visionary is generally very highly regarded. The evidence is quite robust in demonstrating that, historically, one of the most essential roles of a healthy human society appears to be the presence of one or more individuals who experience the world outside the confines of that society’s consensus reality. I think it’s relatively safe to say that one of the most important aspects of this role is that the existence and honoring of such individuals helps to ensure that a given society won’t become entrenched in dogmatic thinking and self-destructive habit patterns.

    It seems likely that many of those labeled “psychotic” or “mad” in our society today would likely be the same individuals honored as shamans, healers, etc. within indigenous societies. What we so often find in these individuals are qualities such as very high sensitivity and the mixed blessing of having a relatively unstable and/or flexible experience and understanding of the world. It’s not difficult to see that, on one hand, such individuals are set up very naturally to act as something like a canary in a coal mine, being the first to be affected by toxic belief systems and behaviors, whether they be within one’s family system or within one’s society. On the other hand, these individuals also, by definition, naturally think “outside the box.” For the “well adjusted” member of society, it can be very difficult to think outside the box of consensus reality. So, when a society (or an entire species, as appears to be the case with us) has become entrenched in a belief system and “normal” behavior patterns that are clearly self destructive, those most likely to be labeled “mad” really are in the unique position of being able to sound an early alarm as well as offer particularly creative solutions for the radical change of direction that the system needs in order to maintain its existence.

    Now to look at the other side of the coin. First, while I do appreciate Seth’s invitation to embrace one’s “messianic sensibility,” and especially the qualities of a spirited striving towards love, peace and harmony, I believe that there are some dangers that should be heeded. For one, when one is in the grips of such intense striving (as I can personally relate to somewhat), there can be the tendency to develop a one track mind. Blinders can cover our peripheral vision, we can lose a sense of healthy skepticism with regard to our own belief system, and we can become oblivious to any harm that we may cause as we charge ahead on our given mission (I think that the “bull in the china shop” metaphor is apropos here). I believe that there is also the tendency while in this state of mind to continue to propagate the kind of divisive thinking (“good” vs. “evil”; “us” vs. “them”; “the elite” (messiahs, in this case) vs. “the minions”) that I believe has led our species to the brink of extinction in the first place. Human history is full of bloody revolutions consisting of one group of self proclaimed righteous individuals toppling the dictatorial elites only to become the next generation of dictatorial elites.

    So, what do we do? It’s clear that the spirit of Seth’s push towards “messianic consciousness” is rooted in the desire for all of us (everyone, not just the “mad”) to awaken to the profound interconnectedness of the world. This is clearly a very noble aspiration in that such awakening would hopefully result in a strengthening of the qualities of love, compassion and tolerance that our species so desperately needs. And I believe Seth has a point that those who often reside outside the realms of consensus reality (those so often labeled “mad”) are often in closer contact with the more fundamental qualities of the world, such as the qualities of profound impermanence and interconnectedness. However, the question is, can we maintain the striving for such noble values and aspirations—love, compassion, tolerance, equality—without paradoxically succumbing to the divisive thinking that is so contrary to these? In other words, as a fallible human being, can I consider myself as being in contact with “messiah consciousness” without losing sight of the fact that such consciousness also resides within everyone else, even though it may be deeply buried beneath woundedness or ignorance? As someone who has been severely pathologized and labeled as inept or even irrelevant (i.e., those labeled “mad” or “mentally ill”), how hard is it to resist the temptation to turn the table and consider oneself to be of much greater worth and importance than others? Speaking for myself, even though I realize that this is not Seth’s intention, the very word “messiah” conjures up such elitist connotations, and I find myself wondering if as a movement, given the simple fallibility of our humanity, we have what it takes to utilize such ideology in a mature and helpful way.

    Having said all of this, I want to say that I am glad to see Seth open up such important and far reaching dialogue. These are very important questions, and I have no doubt that he’s touching into some very core issues related to both the evolution of the “mad pride” movement and humanity in general. The very fact that someone has the courage to bring up such controversial ideas, and that others are willing to seriously engage with them, points to what I believe humanity really needs if we are to avert self-destruction–authentic dialogue and respectful tolerance for the views of others, no matter how far outside one’s own construct of reality they may appear to be.

    Taking Seth’s invitation to heart and connecting to my own “messianic consciousness,” I find myself strangely compelled to take a moment on the “messiah soapbox,” so here goes: As a model for shaping our own mad pride movement and our society in general, I would encourage everyone, regardless of how one identifies—whether “mad” or “sane”—to connect with their aliveness, in whatever form that may take, in a way that doesn’t intrude on the freedom of others to connect to their own aliveness; to explore one’s feelings, values, and aspirations (one’s own “messiah consciousness,” to use Seth’s words), while not becoming too rigidly attached to any particular construct of one’s self and the world; to really listen to one another’s perspectives and take the time to try to really digest them; and to appreciate that abundant diversity combined with tolerance and respect for that diversity are perhaps the most important components of any healthy living system, whether it be a forest ecosystem, a social movement, or the entire human race. By fostering the conditions necessary for the healthy existence and authentic expression of all beings, I don’t believe that the world can do anything but delightfully flourish.

    Okay, who wants to step up on the messiah soapbox next?

    Paris Williams

    • Wise words. I particularly appreciate your point about what you shared in the Ram Das story, about the fact that everyone is a messiah, even those whom we don’t like and find it very difficult to agree with about anything. This is the Buddhist concept also about all of us being one and the same because we are all connected by the one, universal, transcendent Consciousness. It’s difficult for me to admit that the psychiatrists where I work who are drugging people to the gills right and left are me, and I am them. It just sticks in my throat, but unless I can come to terms with this and eventually accept it, everything else is for nought. Thanks.

  7. Paris I’m going to comment. Firstly by saying I don’t like the term “messiah” soapbox but soapbox is OK. Probably because I’m a Christian and the term “messiah” means something special to me, in the context of my faith.

    We have a saying in Scotland which is “don’t talk about religion, politics or football”. That they bring about divisions rather than unity. Religion as in types of, politics as in party, football as in it’s like a religion to some people and what they live by. History can testify to the division brought about by these topics.

    I started off reading Seth’s post and found it very interesting and informative, regarding his take on the history of mad pride and other groups, also mention of Szasz and RD Laing who I know only a little about (although 60yrs old I’m new in mental health activism but over 30yrs a community development worker), but admire parts of their writing, if not the whole.

    However once Seth started to comment about history in respect of Christianity and the bible, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, well this is something I have been studying for 31 years, and am very familiar with. In 1982 I studied to be a lay preacher in the Church of Scotland, a presbyterian denomination, then throughout the 80’s did a variety of missionary work through the church in my local community. And since then have been involved in many Christian activities, teaching children and young people, leading bible studies, working in schools, leading worship in church, most recently responding to a call to ministry in the church.

    For me being a Christian is about faith and life, it’s who I am, and is the reason now for my being involved in mental health activism and campaigning. To see justice and a transformational change in the psychiatric system, so that human rights abuses cease, which means seeing an end to forced treatment and alternatives for people in mental distress.

    Also, I am a mother and grandmother, so want to see change for the sake of my sons and grandchildren. I’ve had to engage with the psychiatric system for over 40yrs, personally and through family members who got entangled. This is therefore also personal.

    I like to take part in the Mad in America community so as to keep on learning, to be informed and hopefully to inform also. Therefore it’s about the sharing of experiences and information. I’m also interested in spiritual experiences in madness or times of distress. I’ve had 3 psychotic episodes and they were spiritual experiences, altered dimensions and realities, sometimes scary. But the most scary was the psychiatric treatment.

    I hope this is helpful in some way. It’s been useful for me to write it down.

    Chrys

  8. God! Its about time we had this conversation, here on MIA?

    Thanks so much for this profound essay Seth:))

    Its one of the few essays here that seeks to answer Micheal Cornwall’s equally profound question “if madness is not what psychiatry says it is, then what is it?”

    My own simple answer to Micheal’s question is, “nature acting out, just as so-called normality is, nature acting out.” Hence that so-called crazy notion that the Kingdom of Heaven is imminent, is as relative today as it was for the early Christians. I like the reference to bomb inside the unique sensitive who try’s to articulate metaphors of existential meaning, which become classified as madness by the over-objective, eager to diagnosis, lost in “cause & effect” logic, medical profession. As you say;

    “The Messianic Sensibility

    The overtly messianic sensibility has three salient features. First, as the quote from Laing on the Bomb suggests, it confronts life without blinders. Laing wrote this not long after the Cuban Missile crisis and he certainly must have met mad people who claimed the Bomb was inside them. Today the mad person would be more likely to say she can hear the screams of the earth. Laing believed that the “metaphorical” images of the mad were a potent means of communication. Laing of course realized that the mad person took his metaphors literally, but nonetheless the mad person was aware of realities normal people preferred to avoid. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, dismissed their statements as meaningless symptoms of pathology.”

    Is the BOMB inside us all, the potential for Realization? Does the Mad Pride movement need to cause a Revolution or Fall into its own deeper Realization, beneath the limits of “objective” language? Consider Ronnie Laing’s thoughts on the limits of language, when speaking about modes of experience beyond the norm;

    “I’m going to attempt what is literally impossible, to try to use words and syntax to speak about modes of experience where the distinctions enshrined by language haven’t yet been formed. Since language proceeds by the dilineation of contours, we can’t use it directly or in an unequivocal way to describe a state of affairs before contours have been formed. Yet at the same time, if I’m not going to whistle or dance it, Iv’e got to use language, in a sense, against itself to convey that its not conveying what it’s purporting to convey. And I’ve got to do this in such a way that isn’t what’s usually regarded as total schizophrenese.

    I’m trying to talk about what some people talk about more directly, and hence are regarded as psychotic for doing so. I might not succeed in this. I’m not without my anxieties on both sides, that if I say too directly what I’m trying to say, then you’ll regard me as mad but interesting; on the other hand, if I say what I’m trying to say too deviously, you will regard me as sane and dull. As long as you don’t think I’m being clever…” _R.D. Laing.

    Consider another view of the limits of our overly “objectified” languages and our mismatched narrative’s of Self-Interpretation;

    “The Limits of Language:

    At present we only have a rudimentary language for connecting sensations, affects, and words, for connecting bodily processes and a conceptual understanding of them. The further development of such language requires an attention to the pathways of sensation in the body. We need to formulate bodily knowledge more accurately and increase the rapidity of human understanding. Extending knowledge in this way is the reverse of gathering it by “objectification,” or studying bodily processes disconnected from living sensory attention. (p, 153.)

    Extending knowledge of sensation, following it further along its pathways, means extending consciousness into the body, infusing it with the conscious understanding from which it has been split, by a subject/object orientation. That split has hardened with the sealing of the heart as an organ of sensory reception and transmission, yet it has also come under examination in all the practices and knowledge’s that, taken together, presage the resurrection of the body.

    Some of these systems of knowledge already nestle in the arms of objective science, especially those focused on the complex systems of both body and brain, while others are found in more ancient, holistic health systems. What these systems of healing have in common with the study of the body and its complexity, is the notion of systems–of language and communication, insofar as a biochemical chain or a DNA sequence can be structured like a language in another medium. (p, 154.)

    The more conscious we become of what we repress in our subject/object orientation (remembering that primary repression is the repression of unprocessed sensory information) or ignore, the less we think in projected and judgmental terms. But such conscious consciousness is only possible when we invent or reinvent the words to say it with. The transliteration into language from the minutia of sensory knowledge and its sifting, may be processes entirely unknown to present day consciousness.

    Extending consciousness sensation, finding the words or images, means grasping the nuances of fleshy grammar and alphabets. It means describing and accounting for sensations, which entails translating them into the everyday currencies of speech and so extending the range of their visualization. What our subject/object ego orientation represses is not available to consciousness. This ego and its repressions, present themselves as disordered flesh, when in fact the ego and its repressions are the cause of such disorder. Disorder is not inherent in the body or the flesh, which loves natural regulation. The body thrives in health when its real needs are respected, as distinct from the ego’s imaginary anxieties. (p, 155.)

    Excerpts from “The Transmission of Affect” by Teresa Brennan, PhD.

    “Knowledge’s that, taken together, presage the resurrection of the body,” and other such reading over the last five years, led my own “The Messianic Sensibility,” to the transpersonal realization that “Life is the resurrection.” All that Light Matter Energy sacrificed to create Life, with the evolutionary imperative of a Cosmic need for Eternity? As in, “how does the Universe save itself from becoming a dark and silent place?” By evolving into a form which acts upon itself, that form is you Seth Farber, and your children’s, children’s, children for ever and ever, Amen! Or Language to that effect?

    In my own efforts to decipher the meaning of euphoric mania, during my last three six week long “psychoses” (no offence intended to those hung-up on the literal interpretation of words), natures urge for “existential meaning” has so far culminated in somewhat of a lengthy chapter of an online memoir;

    “The Door & Key to Self-Revelation: My Existential Journey?

    Nature’s unconscious urge, in the creative symbolization of existential meaning?

    Born in 1951, at beginning of the second half of a 20th century. A period infamous for its carnage and loss on a truly global scale, and the birth of the nuclear age. An age which has begun the pressure for a more enlightened view of our predominately, tribal existence. For illogical and objectively irrational reasons I have held the belief since childhood that this period of human history, was in fact the prophesied Armageddon of the Christian Bible. I have always been drawn to the existential meaning of the Biblical stories and their possible interpretation on differing levels, of our daily existence. Metaphor, Myth & Meaning, fascinate me and fire my sense of curiosity like no other field of human interest. And of coarse it was a prayer to God about my deep desire for a new existential reality, which first triggered my thirty two year journey, of mental illness experience and recovery. Why has this sense of Biblical metaphor and meaning, plagued me since childhood, and been central to my experience of euphoric mania, whether on or off, psychotropic medications? And what does my experience have to do with Biblical prophecy and a public debate about mental illness and its treatment?

    A public debate which is now raging in America, where there are grave concerns about an epidemic of mental illness. Arguably, America leads the world, as the dominant cultural-tribal force, and carries the Christian Bible deep within its own cultural bosom, often perceiving itself as a nation of historical destiny. Consider this passage from Wikipedia, on the history and influence of Armageddon theology-mythology;
    “Influence: The idea that a final Battle of Armageddon will be fought at Tel Megiddo has had a wide influence, especially in the US. According to Donald E. Wagner, Professor of Religion and Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University, Ronald Reagan was an adherent of “Armageddon theology,” and “seemed to blend his political analysis with his Armageddon theology quite naturally.”

    At first glance, my linking of what to many is an outdated and tribal religious history, will have no connection to the science and humane treatment of mental illness? Our current consensus reality in first world countries, is generally one of mutual exclusivity, when it comes to comparing religious metaphors with objective science. Understandable reactions will be an assumption of simplistic emotional associations, in my presentation here? Many will no doubt see a confirmation of psychotic thinking and delusion?

    Yet the very premise of my argument here, is to show a fundamental mistake in our highly subjective, consensus reality, with denial as the core stimulus need in our socialized sense of self? A fundamental confusion about the primary process reality of the body and the secondary process subjective nature of the mind. Our socialized and idealized sense of self, confuses emotionally energized states of mind, with the fundamental nature of our existential reality, our body? We do this because human society’s civilization process demanded a denial of our evolved nature, stimulated by a deep fear of chaos and anarchy? Our social consensus reality, based on a denial of our true nature takes two major forms, either objectification or mystification of the human condition?

    And what does my experience have to do with Biblical prophecy and a public debate about mental illness? Existential Crisis? The experience of mental illness can be judged as a biological disease process, in line with our current consensus, or perceived as a profound challenge to an individual’s existential reality, in what it really means to be a functioning human being? “Your out of your freaking mind!” Is often the harsh judgment of psychotic experience, while failing to acknowledge how our adult state of mind is based on a suppression of innate affect/emotion, beginning in the second year of life? We suppress our own evolved nature, for the sake of social harmony? We think and we say the word EVOLUTION, yet we fail to fully embody it, we deny its felt reality by suppressing sensation, and we fall into the trap of unconscious trauma conditioning, through our learned denial?

    Is it time to face up to our Denial & The Damage Done?
    As we look at our fellow human beings at the beginning of this 21st century A.D. There seems to be a deep yearning and rising desire for a return to the ancient wisdom of an embodied sense of self and an honoring of our organic nature, as truly immersed within the reality of our planets biosphere. In this chapter I hope to show you the qualitative difference in depth of self-awareness, between our everyday survival needs and our capacity to perceive our true-self. There are two distinct levels to our sense of self? Further-more I hope to open the door to a self-revelation that was always meant to be, in the natural evolution of our human consciousness? As we continue to fall into the self-realization of this Chemical Universe within? Consider;

    From Object Like Self-Definition to Chemical?

    “Evolving definitions
    The concept of an “element” as an undivisible substance has developed through three major historical phases: Classical definitions (such as those of the ancient Greeks), chemical definitions, and atomic definitions.
    Classical definitions
    Ancient philosophy posited a set of classical elements to explain observed patterns in nature. These elements originally referred to earth, water, air and fire rather than the chemical elements of modern science. The term ‘elements’ (stoicheia) was first used by the Greek philosopher Plato in about 360 BCE, in his dialogue Timaeus, which includes a discussion of the composition of inorganic and organic bodies and is a speculative treatise on chemistry. Plato believed the elements introduced a century earlier by Empedocles were composed of small polyhedral forms: tetrahedron (fire), octahedron (air), icosahedron (water), and cube (earth).
    Aristotle, c. 350 BCE, also used the term stoicheia and added a fifth element called aether, which formed the heavens. Aristotle defined an element as:

    Element – one of those bodies into which other bodies can decompose, and that itself is not capable of being divided into other.”

    Neuropeptides: Our Chemical Elements Within?
    Neuropeptides are small protein-like molecules used by neurons to communicate with each other, distinct from the larger neurotransmitters. They are neuronal signaling molecules, influence the activity of the brain in specific ways and are thus involved in particular brain functions, like analgesia, reward, food intake, learning and memory.

    Neuropeptides are expressed and released by neurons, and mediate or modulate neuronal communication by acting on cell surface receptors. The human genome contains about 90 genes that encode precursors of neuropeptides. At present about 100 different peptides are known to be released by different populations of neurons in the mammalian brain. Neurons use many different chemical signals to communicate information, including neurotransmitters, peptides, cannabinoids, and even some gases, like nitric oxide.

    Peptide signals play a role in information processing that is different from that of conventional neurotransmitters, and many appear to be particularly associated with specific behaviours. For example, oxytocin and vasopressin have striking and specific effects on social behaviours, including maternal behaviour and pair bonding.”

    http://www.born2psychosis.blogspot.com.au/p/blog-page_23.html

    I’m sure the purist’s of social revolution will balk loud and long, at my seeming “reductionism” about the human condition, yet as the late and truly great Joseph Campbell points out;

    “If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor.” _Joseph Campbell.

    Also please consider Aldous Huxley’s brilliant and profound insight;

    “Nothing in our everyday experience gives us any reason for supposing that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen; and yet when we subject water to certain rather drastic treatments, the nature of its constituent elements becomes manifest. Similarly, nothing in our everyday experience gives us much reason for supposing that the mind of the average sensual man has, as one of its constituents, something resembling, or identical with, the Reality substantial to the manifold world; and yet, when that mind is subjected to drastic treatments, the divine element, of which it is in part at least composed, becomes manifest.”

    Huxley’s wonderful summation of our everyday experience and the nature of its constituent elements, prompted me to write;

    It seems to me that we mislead ourselves with language of self-interpretation, using external object analogies to describe our own makeup, as if we are an elaborately assembled French clock? We seem to think and communicate in a narrative of a parts like description, which reflects our instinctual awareness of duality?

    A mind-body split which has become dangerously lopsided in our intellectualized, cultural zeitgeist? Is it time for a brave new world to embrace a new idea? That it really is a chemical Universe and we can learn to feel it within, if we can change our metaphors of self-awareness and stop trying to sanctify the mind? That self-deluded Emperor, with no clothes?

    Thanks once again Seth, for this wonderful essay that really sets the cat amongst the conservative pigeons, so to speak, people who fear inner sensations and are unconsciously driven by the fear of LOSS.

    Sorry, that comment about conservatives and lack reminds me of Lacan;

    “Affect and Ego:
    Lacan dates the era of the ego from the late seventeenth century, while Foucault assigns an intensification of knowledge as the will to power, to the same period. Both are aware how the passion to control the other, causes a person to seek knowledge as a means to control, and that the exercise of such knowledge is aligned with discipline from without, or “objectification.” Taken to its objectifying extreme, this process leads to our present madness, which is the destruction of future life, even our own, for the sake of immediate gratification.

    Yet, to understand this, we need to see how the “negative affects,” cohere as an egoistic constellation, and why judging (diagnosing) or “projecting” affects onto others and the self is fundamental to why that egoistic constellation solidifies in the Western centuries progress. Unconscious affects bear on the ego by repressions and fixations as forms of judgment. Judgments based on images, memories, and fantasies about avoiding pain and increasing pleasure. (p, 106.)

    For Lacan, the interlocking of self and other, is an imaginary space, which is imaginary in that fantasies (assumptions) interlock within it. Yet by the power bodily affects, these interlocking fantasies are also physical, just as the force of the imagination is physical. In this respect, they can be something the self does to the self, energetically speaking, or something directed towards the self by another’s goal-seeking aggressive projections. (p, 109.)

    For the ego, comparison is effected by and mediated through images of others and fantasies concerning them. The history of an imaginary slight–in envy or wounded narcissism–can be built into a fantasy or psychical memory, and that history can be conjured in an instant together with its affective associations. This is why we can speak of these “affective” states as passionate judgments. The passionate judgment is what gives the other or the self a negative image, embodying the objectification of narcissism or the contempt of envy. These judgments are at odds with the soul, or actualization drive. (p, 110.)

    Excerpts from “The Transmission of Affect” by Teresa Brennan, PhD.

    God bless,

    David Bates.

  9. I came back to post my response to this essay and found that David B. had contributed his usual treasure trove of insight and reference. Thanks so much for your perspective and your recognition of the limitations of language in interpretation and expression. I appreciate the blend of philosophy and psychology and the dash of neuroscience is a welcome reality.

    Anyway, here is my initial response:

    Hi Seth – This is a great little overview of history and ideas. I appreciate the insight on the history of the movement(s) and their respective areas of focus.

    I am relatively new to these circles of dialogue and am consistently aware of how difficult it apparently is for different factions to “get on the same page,” so to speak.

    The recent focus on human rights – in regard to both non-coercive/forceful treatment AND the right to self-determination in mental diversity – seems to be a good opportunity to reinforce complimentary interests and actions.

    In my thinking, the right to spiritual freedom is a human right that is often sorely denied those who meet perceived diagnostic criteria and most mental health systems are woefully incompetent in areas of spiritual compassion or guidance. There is some work being done in California to create a more spiritually accomodating culture of mental health care, but I am not sure if what their approach is to “psychosis” which has a strongly messianic component. It seems that the approach to such intense spiritual experiences (even in “alternative” practice) is often to help a person to “get over” their “delusions” or to help them to package their state of grace in a way that is palatable and non-offensive, to focus on spirituality as a tool in recovery.

    It is difficult to conceive of how “we” could establish an accepted paradigm which affirmed people’s sacred experiences in madness as being both real and vitally important.

    I see that you are proposing a new organization, a new movement, an offshoot of the more general Mad Pride movement.

    How would such an organization persuade the public that it was more than some “wingnut consolation prize for the god-gifted loonies?” (<- this is not a real quote, just something I can imagine someone who is sarcastic and cynical saying from the smirking perspective of the culturally typical mind.)

    I am – as you know per our previous dialogue – one of those people, a mad person who came to the heartfelt conclusion that somehow the multiverse – an "ecosystemic God force" – was communicating with me and through me.

    Like many people in the grips of a deeply personal spiritual enlightenment, I made a sincere effort to find someone to listen to me, to help me figure it out.

    I called churches and synagogues, wrote professors and newspapers. As you know, I even tried to email the Pope.

    It is difficult for me to articulate how crushing it was to realize that very few people care much about the visions of the purportedly mad, or the messages that they believe they may have gleaned from the workings of the world.

    I have found little space for such discussion within the movement, save for a few individuals who themselves know the gravity of a divine calling and live within the strangeness of knowing their own shadow script, cued by synchronicity, sense, circumstance, and small signs abounding.

    Hardly anybody talks about this reality that so many people must try to somehow fit into their lives.

    In spite of the fact that the content of my "psychosis" was expansively benevolent and deeply compassionate, the confusion and emotional upheaval that came about by witnessing what I still believe was/is God divined by the skies and the trees, and the insects and the radio and strangers and timing, well…it has been a bit of a difficult time, as such things often are.

    I am still trying to find my footing. Unlike many other people, I chose to keep my belief that the world works in old ways and that I am somehow privy to those workings (as are we all, whether or not we realize or appreciate it).

    (Note: I don't actually feel that I had much of a choice, as it was made clear to me that if turn from what I know, I will be bound to a small and conflicted life that I would slowly die within, a death that would contribute to the thwarting of a better possible future in the world.)

    Sound dramatic? Oh, it's all very dramatic…life and death and past and future.

    It would seem to me that a particularly valuable function of an organization that sought to support people in their realization/interpretation of purpose and experiences of metasense might be simply offering a safe space for people to share their ideas and realities, without fear of scorn or disregard.

    Some of this may already be happening within the Hearing Voices Network. I don't feel that Icarus is a consistently safe space for such discussions, as I have witnessed people being told that their sense of god-calling is 1) very poetic and 2) the work of the devil. Sometimes the really far-out posts are simply ignored or answered with something along the lines of, "Hope you feel better and can get some rest! Mad love!"

    I do not appreciate it when I speak of things that are very real to me and they are dismissed as metaphor or "fuckery."

    Still, as you know, I hold significant reservations about any movement that seeks to define one's experience for them.

    Who are "we" to say that a person must claim their vision as a true-to-god messianic calling?

    While prophets are lauded in the centuries following their deaths, being labeled a modern-day prophet – having not only a divine right, but also divine responsibility – could conceivably be just as isolating, punishing, and alienating as being labeled a "chronic schizophrenic." Prophets are notoriously treated poorly while they are living…laughed at, run out of town, burnt at the stake and what not.

    Maybe the word "prophet" isn't the correct word?

    Visionary?

    Seer?

    This brings up the issue of role expression and expectations. Would these Mad Messiahs – or whatever they might be termed – be expected to lead great rallies and offer boldly inspired sermons on ecosystemic unity? Would they offer quiet and holy consult to the troubled of the world? Would they stand quietly and hold their hands out to the sky? Would people watch?

    What, exactly, do you envision us doing, Dr. Farber? Should we become great organizers, agitators, activists? Or should we hold a sign out by the mall, "They Say I'm Psychotic. I Say God Loves Me!" ?

    Would we have to adopt a unified, panentheistic (not sure if that's spelled correctly) view of God?

    What if God as interpreted is the pronomially male God of Christianity or Islam? What if someone believed that God was speaking to them through David Letterman's side comments?

    Would you tell them they are wrong in their thinking?

    What about the deeply inspired and deeply wounded individual that feels the power of the world and the weight of calling and, in the context of their experience and worldview, decides that they are called to do something that might actually be destructive.

    These things, sadly, do happen. Perhaps if people had more resources to safely discuss what they are experiencing such unfortunate outcomes may be avoided.

    In any event, I am not sure how one might even begin to operationalize your vision of a Mad Spirituality movement. As I said, nobody listened to me when I tried to explain the very same things you write of in your book. In fact, they were cruel and condescending when I spoke to them about the sense I felt.

    I understand that it would be a wonderful thing in the world to have masses of mad people – redeemed "schizophrenics" and "bipolars" and "depressives" – rise up in a cultural wave of peace, wisdom, and evolutionary clarity about what is and is not important. I understand how fantastic it would be if mad folks could inspire people to adopt an ethos of love, humility and stewardship.

    Goodness knows I've daydreamed those happenings myself.

    In a world that worked as it was intended we'd all listen to the wise ones, whomever they are. As you well know the world is currently not structured to work as it may have been intended.

    I think it is worth noting that while madness can have a regenerative effect (like being reborn or coming back to oneself)I think it is also worth noting that many people do not have the opportunities to gain the skills and experience that may help to utilize their mad gifts. While the madness process does (for some) seem to bring some strengths to light and forge new directions, it is not as if everyone who experiences a sense of calling knows what precisely to do with that calling or how it might best be responded to, nor do they necessarily have the social/cognitive/emotional/spiritual skills necessary to handle the burden of truth and the tasks that it bears.

    Oh, it could be said that the world works in such a way that everything we've been through taught us everything we need to know and I suppose in a perfect world that might be true. It is not, as we all know, a perfect world and many people who experience madness have also experienced horrific trauma and the fact is that it is not easy to live caught between exalted vision and old wounds.

    I think that it is possible that when we are honest and true to our best possible selves, as shown to us by God (by any name), that whatever we do will serve the world well. Sometimes I like to think that just be staying alive and feeling deeply and sharing love where able…well, I like to think that might be enough. Other days, it feels like nothing will ever be enough.

    ***
    I appreciate Chrys' mention of the role of quantum mechanics in the manifestation of spirit sense and David's acknowledgement that our experiences may be affected by our specied neurochemical components of affect.

    Those lines of inquiry are well-aligned with the conclusions I myself came to about "how it all works."

    However, that's another topic entirely.

    Thanks again for your work, Dr. Farber. I hope that the vision is somehow realized.

    • A beautiful piece of writing. You point out many important things to think about. I do find what you’ve shared dramatic but not in the sense that you were probably thinking of. I see it as being powerful. I accept it as you’ve stated it and I appreciate it. Your experience of not being able to find anyone who would listen to your experience and honor and value it is something that I see numerous people experiencing in the state hospital where I work. I maintain that what people see and hear, whether I see or hear it, is real and must be dealt with. I don’t have the right to judge the validity of peoples’ realities, although the psychiatrists seem to have no trouble at all of setting themselves up as the arbiters of such things. I am in the very tiny minority of staff. Stating this can get you into very hot water in lots of ways.

      You’re correct in pointing out that sometimes these experiences lead to unfortunate results. When I was working on my clinical training as a chaplain in a university medical center I had a young man on my burn unit who’d locked himself in a car, doused himself with gasoline, and then set himself afire. He did this because he said that there was a war going on between God and the Devil and the only way to assure that God was going to be the victor was by setting himself afire and sacrificing himself. I had to be very careful in dealing with this young man because, for him, I represented the Good side in the battle so what I said would have to be weighed heavily. Once his extensive burns were healed he was whisked away to a psychiatric unit somewhere and I lost contact with him.

      You also point out a something that interests me. How do we reconcile all of the different interpretations of God of all these “messiahs?” Some of the people I’ve dealt with can be very adamant in demanding that everyone conform to their vision of the Divine. Also, how do we help those “messiahs” who have few resources to utilize what they’ve discovered. We will lose what they have to offer since they have no way to process and offer it, if that makes any sense.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for your kind comments Faith:))You do, like other sensitive and special women here, write particularly well and inspire many true hearts, who crave a new way forward. Perhaps women understand process better than we men, who seem to be forever results oriented, missing the essence of the journey along the way?

      Some work from my morning reading, which may add some simple meaning to the conversation here, although I must confess that I’m disappointed that Seth has not responded to a single comment yet.

      “Buddhist Teaching & Sensing God Within:

      The sole purpose and objective of this teaching is “liberation from suffering.”

      “I teach only that which helps us to find the Way. That which is pointless I do not teach. Beyond the fact of whether the universe is finite or infinite, temporary or eternal, there is a truth that must be accepted: the reality of suffering. Suffering comes from causes that can be understood and eliminated. That which I teach us attain detachment, equanimity, peace and liberation. But of that which does not help us find the Way, I do not speak.” _Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. (Prince of Sense-Ability.)

      Obviously what is of concern here is not physical suffering, or the Buddha would have gone down in history as a Doctor.
      Clearly what we are dealing with is “mental suffering.”
      In other words, the Buddha was a “psychologist.” (As was Jesus and all the great teachers, who sought to relieve our self-inflicted, mental suffering)

      Suffering, has been traditionally defined as “the human condition.”
      Buddha’s First Noble Truth, states: how widespread suffering is.
      But what produces suffering?
      The Buddha’s answer: a false vision of reality.

      The Buddha proposed an alternative: a vision of reality and a pattern of behavior capable of giving us serenity, peace, laughter, joy and love.
      In other words, well-being and happiness.

      “You are intelligent children and I am certain that you can understand everything I tell you and put it into practice. The Great Way that I have discovered is subtle and profound, but whoever is willing to commit his heart and mind will be in a position to understand it and follow it.” _ Buddha.

      Tradition has turned it into a “theory.”
      In fact, it is a “practice.”

      “My teaching is neither a theory or a philosophy, but the fruit of experience. Everything I say comes from my experience and you can confirm it through your own experience. Words do not describe reality: only experience shows us ‘true face‘.” Buddha. (Porges, “The Polyvagal Theory,” and a third branch to our autonomic “neural” innervation of the heart, he calls the face-heart connection? Siddhartha’s serene face?)

      The practice proposed by the Buddha consists of achieving five powers, which we each already possess, but simply do not use.
      They are: control of the mind, being in reality, awareness of change, non-attachment and universal love.

      Every human being has the nature of a Buddha.

      Our serenity does not depend on situations, but our reaction (reflex action) to them.

      The Buddha is not considered a diety, even in the Buddhist religion, which sees him as an advocate of liberation from the slavery of re-births. (Each passing moment & unconscious nervous system, reactions, and the mental suffering, of rationalized reflex motor acts?)”

      Excerpts from “HOW TO BECOME A BUDDHA IN 5 WEEKS: The Simple way to SELF-REALIZATION” by Giulio Cesare Giacobbe. (In brackets, mine.)

      “The motor act is the cradle of the mind – The capacity to anticipate and predict movement, is the basis of what consciousness is all about” _Sir Charles Sherington.

      “We are exquisitely social creatures. Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others. Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling – not by thinking” _Giacomo Rizzolatti.

      “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe to match your nature with Nature.” _Joseph Campbell.

      “We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.” _Joseph Campbell.

      God lies within and if we want to change the world and ourselves, should we take in Joseph Campbell’s advice and change our “metaphors” of self-interpretation? Is the word God, a metaphor for this “chemical universe” that is as much within us, as is outside us?

      God bless,

      David.

  10. Dr Thomas Szasz had strong *libertarian* tendencies.
    Dr Peter Bregginis not only an advocate for *empahy – but also *freedom* and *personal responsibility*.

    IMO, this is the “political thought” needed to take this movement to the next level. This is the stuff of “radical” change.

    Duane
    discoverandrecover.wordpress.com

    • Good points Duane. It’s made me think, of change being within us, not about getting a group or movement together.

      As a community worker for 30yrs or more it was always about working with groups, as in empowerment. Not so much about leading, although being a natural leader it was useful for getting things going, then letting folk get on with it.

      Freedom and personal responsibilty, I like this, and always have wanted to be free, from control of another. And to be responsible for my own actions. I think it’s what being a grown up and human is all about. And as a mother I wanted my sons to have this. The tension was always in protecting while also giving freedom to grow and become independent. Flee the nest sort of thing. Which two of them have done, the other, being the youngest, will eventually get round to it.

      I’m not keen on movements that want to sweep me along with them. That’s not for me. I want to be free. Which is radical thought I suppose. Society seems to be all about belonging, to this or that. Joining up and making our pledge, like when young and in the Brownies (a girl’s group where we said our pledge “to do our duty to God and the Queen ….”). And now as an adult my pledge is not that different.

      Thanks Duane

      • Chrys,

        Thank you for your comments.

        I too was in the scouts – a Boy Scout in the Texas Hill Country. I thought, at first, it would be all about camping, fishing for large-mouth bass, canoeing, boating, water skiing… and it was.

        But it was *also* about “making sure the campsite was cleaner than the way we found it” – being good stewards of nature; learning good life skills and living a sound, moral life.

        The things I learned in scouts have helped me be a better husband and dad, although I’m still learning every day, with a ways to go.

        Duane

  11. Many problems here:

    1.) Although Dr. Farber does not get into Christology, the nature of Christ, he is denying the necessity of grace to bring salvation through the God-man Christ.

    Arian Salvation: Christ taught us the way to, like Himself, become morally and spiritually like God. He does not save by Grace, but by example and teaching. http://www.onearthasinheaven.com/7councils1.html

    The anti-trinitarian movement is alive today in the Jehovah Witness community. All Christian churches reject this teaching. No true christian can have anything to do with this new ‘vision’ of mad pride. This has the makings of a cult.

    2) The issue of pride. It we become Christ in the world through our own efforts (which would include private revelations that do NOT bring the seer into relationship with the Creator through the only divine means given to mankind, the cross of Christ) what is to keep the seer from the treachery of pride? Pride is the barrier to the reception of the gift of Grace. A living relationship with God demands humility on the part of a creature relating to his/her Creator.

    Black Pride gave birth to the Black Panthers. Pride is poison to the Spiritual life. Forgiveness, bitterness, towards our oppressors will leave us under our own power, in our own strength, far from the Heavenly Kingdom. Only a real relationship with God through Christ can open us to the power to forgive as Jesus for gave his crucifiers from the cross.

    Our movement should be based on liberation, not pride. I understand those who cannot go to the point of forgiveness. This is a supernatural grace to see our persecutors as fellow human beings.

    3.) Another point, this movement to be based on faith in all religions. This is Masonic theology which I have watched hinder both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

    When I say Masonic, I am not referring to the groups that meet in you local communities. Those individuals are innocent, harmed perhaps by the Babylonian based rituals, but they are not evilly intended people.

    I’m talking about the big players, the 32 degree Masons and up. Many powerful people are members of elite lodges. There aim is world domination. They are hostile to the Church of Christ.

    Remember Pope John Paul I? The Pope that died just thirty three days in office? Once in office, he surprised everyone by, first thing taking action against the Masons in the Vatican and cleaning up the Vatican Bank. Here’s a quote from this web site. http://www.prose-n-poetry.com/display_work/10583/

    “Many Roman clerics were hostile towards Luciani (John Paul I). It was rumored he was deliberately elected by cardinals keeping secrets that he was too weak to bother them and his health would cause him to die prematurely in office. However, to the surprise and consternation of those very same cardinals, Pope John Paul I immediately investigated the Vatican Bank and wanted to clean house of any prominent prelates who were Freemasons.”

    Luciani’s death was very suspicious. Was he poisoned? He was the first pope to be cremated, which was banned in the Catholic church in earlier eras and is still banned in the Orthodox Church because we believe in the actual resurrection of the body.

    Watching John Paul II travel the world celebrating religious services where he did not proclaim Christ, but partook in non-Christian, sometimes pagan, and even out right demon worshiping services. His ecumenical day of prayer for peace in Assisi had many Catholics up in arms. He lifted the anathama on belonging to the Masons for Catholics.

    From http://www.traditioninaction.org/ProgressivistDoc/A_072_JPII_Masonry.htm He received public acknowledgement for adhering to the ideals of Masonry. He wisely refused it.

    “Pope John Paul II will return to the Grand Orient of Italy Masonic Lodge the decoration of the Galileo Galilei Order granted to him for his contribution in spreading the ideals of fraternity and understanding. These ideas, the lodge stresses, are the same ones defended by Freemasonry. ”

    I could go on to Farber’s unfortunate connection to a small, community of Orthodox believers, the OCA, that has a very loose connection to traditional Orthodoxy and has strong connections with Masonry, (contact Fr. George Brooks of DeQueen, Arkansas, ex OCA priest for more information,) Also I could question his devoted admiration of Fr. Alexander Schemann, who attempted to push the church towards change based on criticisms he made in the history of both liturgy and recognized saints that undermine its faith. I won’t do it here.

    4) Farber has gone the way of Leo Tolstoy. UNHOLY MADNESS is an inspired book, if you discount his vehemence against the emperor/saint Constantine who ended the early martyrdom of Christians..This dislike of Constantine comes straight from Schmemann. I had come to a similar conclusion as Farber’s to develop non-drug facilities for the mad within the community of churches. However, his concept of messianic madness inspiring a reformation of the planet he has developed drawing from all faiths,ie Masonic, is much like what Tolstoy did, and he did fairly successfully.

    Tolstoy started his youth communes based on love. All religions had love at it’s center. Do away with church, government. He even wrote a whole version of the Gospel replacing the word ‘pharisee’ with Orthodox Church.

    One of his first books was the epic War and Peace. It is a tremendous Christian, Orthodox Christian novel. Love, forgiveness, repentance, even the glorious church services were all in there. But there was one clue he would come to the fatal flaw. His main character was a Mason. It is clear Tolstoy was very familiar with their rituals. and political utopianism. He had not bought the religious universalism yet. But I am not surprised it came.

    By the time he wrote Anna Karenina, he had lost reverence for church and its sacraments.

    Tolstoy used to visit a monastery, Optina, where the elders had spiritual gifts of healing and clairvoyance. They could read hearts and tell people their sins. He even talked about becoming a monk. He would even go there and spew his Gospel at them. One elder was noted as saying Tolstoy was very proud.

    Tolstoy was excommunicated by the church he criticized so harshly. He of course stopped going to Optina.

    One day, not more than a year before his death, he rode his horse to Optina. He got off his horse and walked around the perimeter. He was not allowed to enter the church, but he could have gone through the gates to the elders’ lodgings. He did not.

    Another day, his wife and he had a spat about his fortune. He was leaving everything to the movement, except for a few things. She wanted rights to his novels she had transcribed. He left. He got on a train with his physician.

    He took to being very sick. He sent a telegram to Optina for Elder Joseph to come. Tolstoy was dying.

    Elder Joseph was too ill to travel. The elders decided to send Elder Barsanuphius. They decided Tolstoy needed to make a public apology for misleading so many young people.

    Well, Tolstoy was surrounded by his followers. His daughter, Sasha, and his closest adviser, Chertkov stopped the Elder from entering the death chamber. He was told he was not needed. The last thing the movement needed was a deathbed reconciliation between Tolstoy and the Church.

    Tolstoy was the first person in Russian history to be buried without a religious ceremony. He was buried in his homestead’s garden.

    Elder Barsanuphius was deeply trouble every time he would hear the name Tolstoy. He said, “Tolstoy (Leo means lion) put steel chains around himself so strong that his lion’s jaws could not break them.” These details you can read for yourself in Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, by Victor Afanasiev,

    I must make this point. Orthodox teaching does not claim that one must be a member to find salvation. It does teach that once you have entered and been recipient of the graces of the church, to leave her is eternal disaster.

    I have experienced two very clear visions of the supernatural, one of a demonic face, and one of a serene bearded face. I was almost confined for my life for reporting the face in the sky to a psychiatrist. I wanted him to tell me who it was. All of the rest of my symptoms has been either drug induced, street or psych drug, or has been under the extreme pressure of messianic drive to save the world. I have hurt myself and once my husband under this kind of phenomena. I consider it dangerous and evil. It is a sinful temptation. I go to my confessor if and when it comes up.

    I would much rather proceed in a rational frame of mind to the work of changing our unjust circumstances. The Orthodox people are called ‘the rational flock’. I aspire to deserve this name.

    David Oaks and Patch Adams are fine. I think identifying myself as maladjusted is not a bad idea. Proud? No.

    I don’t have to work with spiritual people or just Christians either. I am going to work on getting the Church involved, but I don’t push that mission on anybody in the survivor movement.

    I end with this Scripture,

    1 John 4:3
    And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

    Having a Christless ‘messianic’ spirit is the spirit of the antichrist. Being inspired by Christ has no strife. It is peace.

    Your sinful servant,

    Maxima
    or Marion Brooke Kolitwenzew

    http://healingmentalillness.com/

    • Maxima,

      Grace saved this kid’s life more than once, In fact, too many times to count. I would be lost without the *gift* of faith.

      I like to keep it simple – remebering that faith is a gift; being grateful for each day. Loving humanity is not a great challenge. Getting along with the loud next-door neighbor, the obnoxious co-worker, the driver who cut me off in traffic… that’s the tough part.

      Duane

  12. The mad are expressing the toxic fear and hate of the culture. The “Sane,” are denying it while destroying our chance of living but denying that they are.

    Alice Keys elsewhere on this site writes of the destructive force of capitalism on the provision of healthcare. This writer touches on the destructive force of capitalism on life itself.

    The mad always express there madness in the metaphors and preoccupations of their culture. Both the mad and the sane who go along with the power elite or the power elite themselves are expressing trauma.

  13. Another thing bothering me about this post is the reference to Judi Chamberlin and the work she did, which I think had, and is still having, a big impact. I didn’t know Judi personally but I have heard and read lots about her, quotes she said, articles she wrote and I do believe her memory lives on. That is surely all about having a ‘political impact’.

    Psychiatric transformational change is as much about the process as the outcome, maybe even more about the process or the doing of it. In my opinion. And who’s ever going to know the impact of our democratic action. Apart from the one who’s outside looking in. And all of us, as far as I am aware, are the ones inside looking out.

  14. “Rossa Yes I think they are complementary. Man is the Messiah as well as the son of God, the human is created in “the image of God.” In the Vedic myth the seeker goes looking for God only to discover “Tat twam asi,” i.e., “That thou art,”—that he/she is God. Serine expresses a vision that is both mystical(vertical dimension) and messianic (the horizontal dimension). She astutely says Jesus’s victory is only partial because people are starving—therefore the need for messiahs. (BTW scientists in quantum physics are increasingly spiritual but science cannot prove, or disprove, the existence of God.) But as children of God, one of our divine obligations must be to save, to redeem, just as God seeks to redeem. St. Athanasius said “God became man so that man could become god.”

    Are we yet, fully human? Are we still evolving towards the realization of God within? Are we in the seventh millennium, since we began to constrict our human sensory capacity down to sight and sound, as the move towards our current urbanization began, away from eons of hunter-gatherer groups who were more immersed in nature, than we are in this 21st century A.D.

    Are we nearing the end of six thousand year period of denial of the body and its evolved sensory capacities, in order to sanctify the mind, “the emperor with no clothes?” Consider the wisdom of Joseph Cambpell;

    “The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.” _Joseph Campbell.

    “There’s nothing militant about Jesus. I don’t read anything like that in any of the gospels. Peter drew his sword and cut off the servant’s ear, and Jesus said, “Put back thy sword, Peter.” But Peter has had his sword out and at work ever since.” _Joseph Campbell.

    “It may be a species of impudence to think that the way you understand God is the way God is.” _Joseph Campbell.

    “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.” _Joseph Campbell.

    “When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die..” _Joseph Campbell.

    “How teach again, however, what has been taught correctly and incorrectly learned a thousand thousand times, throughout the millenniums of mankind’s prudent folly? That is the hero’s ultimate difficult task.” _Joseph Campbell.

    “What we’re learning in our schools is not the wisdom of life. We’re learning technologies, we’re getting information. There’s a curious reluctance on the part of faculties to indicate the life values of their subjects.” _Joseph Campbell.

    Denial! IMO Is our denial of the word “evolution” and our true nature as children of the Universe. If we can let go our constant need for certainty within the mind, “I think therefore I am,” and come to understand that certainty we crave, is a feeling within the body, security cannot be found within the mind. Even as we seek the “attachment” fantasy “as if my father were in heaven?”

    A fantasy seeking to mobilize the metabolic energy of secure attachment, to overcome our primary instincts for survival & the “autonomic” activity of “freeze/flight/fight” defenses? The feeling of a secure base within that enables our sense of creativity.

    Denial?

    “However, there is an almost violent schism lurking in our cultural zeitgeist. Lets face it; the fight against evolution by the proponents of “creationism” and “intelligent design” is not really about professed gaps in the fossil records; its about whether or not we are basically animals. (p, 225)

    In fact, the word instinct is rarely found in modern psychological literature. Rather it is purged and replaced with terms such as drives, motivations and needs. While instincts are still routinely drawn upon to explain animal behaviors, we have somehow lost sight of how many human behavior patterns (though modifiable) are primal, automatic, universal and predictable. (p, 231)

    In the Beginning, before the Word, was Consciousness.
    The primal consciousness in man is pre-mental,
    and has nothing to do with cognition.
    It is the same as in the animals.
    And this pre-mental consciousness remains
    as long as we live the powerful root
    and body of our consciousness.
    The mind is but the last flower, the cul-de-sac.
    _D. H. Lawrence. (p, 236)”

    Excerpts from “In an Unspoken Voice.” by Peter Levine, PhD.

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him”

    Six Thousand years ago, as we began to develop language, so began the “birth of God,” and this evolving journey towards the realization of the Universe within?

  15. In this age of non-authority and self-responsibility, it would seem to me that the messiah is the collective consciousness. In essence, we are all our own authority, by nature. As we awaken to our own individual higher consciousness, we move society toward collective enlightenment. At some point during this process, I imagine society would cease to feel resistant and toxic (or whatever one wants to call what we’ve been experiencing as corrupting to nature) and would, in effect, turn into a *sound* teacher to and influence on its individuals. I also imagine that as each individual awakens to their Divine consciousness, they will be in their truth, and like energies will come together without effort to create healing and social movements and societies, etc. At some point, the uncanny design of the universe would influence all of this, as a response to the call for global social enlightenment, once and for all. That would be my personal vision of a messianic society.

    • Want to add–‘awakening to higher/Divine consciousness’ is, admittedly, a daunting task in a cynical world. Taking the hits during that transition as Divine information and guidance can be quite the challenge. But I think that’s where the really profound messianic lessons are: how to stand in your truth when it is cruelly judged and invalidated by others, as so many courageous truth-speakers have faced always. Eventually, that truth will shine as light.

  16. I don’t categorize Icarus and MindFreedom so distinctly into separate compartments — Icarus does the spiritual and MindFreedom does the protests. I believe, as Ghandi did, advocating for human rights is a form of here and now spirituality in action. I see and experience MindFreedom doing a lot to deprogram people from the mh propaganda and how it has defined us, in other words, clear a lot of mental junk out and make room for something new and better. I think suitable companions are important to personal and spiritual growth, and so much better than hearing “You’re the only one who thinks that way, so that proves there must be something wrong with you.” Thanks, Seth and also to Paul Levy for opening up discussion on these topics. I don’t know if those who have opened the doors of perception are destined to change the world and make it more humane and compassionate. I only know that the Messiah (or Messianic Age) will not be until it is time for it to be.

  17. Personally I think its great to have a hopeful and positive message for people who experience madness, even if saving the world seems a little far fetched. (imo not all mad people are particularly pleasant or creative for that matter, myself included).

    imo the goal of any movement should be to get societies to stop “beating us up” simply because it is the wrong way to treat other humans.

    Bringing religion and party political politics into it just muddies that water and potentially alienates as many people as it might attract.

    Apologies to those who will find that pragmatism to simplistic for their personal tastes.

  18. I very much enjoyed reading about the development of the mad pride and anti-psychiatry movements, in the context of our current historical moment and especially in relation to the earlier work of Laing and Szasz. Although I am a spiritual person, I have to admit I skipped over the latter portion that advocated for a “messianic” movement in the mad pride movement. It sounds like a nice idea, but is not sufficiently inclusive of alternative viewpoints which will never embrace the idea of god or spirituality.

    Part of this is undoubtedly connected to my belief that the most successful mental health consumer groups ever, all have “anonymous” at the end of their title. Despite this success, I am of course in complete agreement that there is urgent need for fundamental systemic reform regarding how we view “mental illness.”

    I distinctly remember being in a bookstore around the time I started work in mental health advocacy, seeing Szasz and Laing on the shelves and dismissing them out of hand as dangerous and wrong. As I take meds, part of this was fear that in reading them I would stop believing in medication and suffer another bout of “madness.” Thanks in part to Mr. Whitaker, I now have a bit more perspective on things and acknowledge how sad and closed-mindedness my view was then.

    Besides my fears both of death and madness, I wonder after reading this essay, if my position in society as a straight, white, upper-middles class man led me to end up in the more conservative, pro-pharma camp. If we fail to address of how our varying identities and biographies inform our experience of both madness and recovery, the movement will not only fail to achieve change in psychiatry, but may well replicate existing inequalities in treatment of those labeled mentally ill as well as society at large.

  19. I agree with you about Thomas Szasz and the counterculture. There is, and remains, a certain generational divide in the perspective he took. That said, I have a bigger problem with the position taken by R. D. Laing and many of his co-horts, namely, in not being consistent at condemning psychiatric coercion. As I see it, much prejudice and discrimination, what is referred to as “stigma”, stems from the fact that you have a law, in violation of many laws, to lock people up who have broken no law. R. D. Laing, as pointed out by Szasz, in his memoir rationalized involuntary institutionalization, seeing it almost as if it were a fact of life, rather than as a development within a historical context. Thomas Szasz criticized, probably implicitly aimed at R. D. Laing, glamorizing madness. Madness itself has been such a target of abusive maltreatment that it could use more than a little glamorizing. Thomas Szasz supported the abolition of coercive psychiatry. R. D. Laing’s position is much more nebulous. I have to side with Thomas Szasz on this matter. Not coming out, in no uncertain terms, against forced treatment, is as good as colluding in forced treatment, something Laing had been accused of doing. Thomas Szasz, in this instance, had justly taken Laing and some of his contemporaries, if posthumously, to task. Laing was buying into the mental illness myth when he rationalized forced treatment, and given the role he assumed at Kingsley Hall, and elsewhere, this makes him something of a hypocrite. Szasz, on the other hand, remained consistently on the side of freedom and opposed to force. In so far as R. D. Laing and any of his contemporaries and successors supported the psychiatric plantation system, I have to oppose them, too. R. D. Laing once characterized Kingsley Hall as a ‘whole way house’ in conversation about a person who advocated for half-way houses. True enough, liberation of the mental patient is not going to come in halfway measures. No, that is reform, the indefinite mire, and a problem in and of itself. You can’t reform slavery without upholding the institution of slavery, you can only abolish it. Ditto, coercive mental health maltreatment.

  20. I stumbled across this essay today. I picked up Seth Farber’s book as well; the fact that he’s a fan of Aurobindo Ghose was the deciding factor for me. His quasi-Christian poetical vision of schizophrenia also caught my attention: he clearly seems to espouse an essentially panentheistic vision of things, much as myself. And he thinks that people affected by “madness” are ideally situated to serve as prophets of this God. The Kingdom is a domain of pure presence underlying time; and this world makes itself known by irrupting into concrete existence through creative events—events to which the mad mind may be espcially sensitive. This is a good interpretation of the idea that God became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth; it’s also analagous to how an artist’s vision becomes incarnate in his creative work. I think this entire theology hangs together well, and I appreciate its imaginative power and aesthetic coherence.

    But I see real dangers here, insofar as Dr. Farber is trying to implement his poetical vision at a social level. In particular: he’s calling for a “messianic metanarrative”, in which “mad people” (I’ll just say “schizophrenics” here, because I think they exemplify the relationship between madness and prophecy) are to serve as the vanguard of a social movement. So, the schizophrenic would be both a visionary prophet and a social leader. That is, he would be the figurehead of a cult. What I think Dr. Farber is really calling for is a religious movement which replaces the metanarrative of postmodernism with its own metanarrative—a story in which God reveals himself to schizophrenics, and the latter then become responsible for saving a world engulfed in sin. There’s a difference between saying that the schizophrenic has a “dangerous gift” on the one hand, and saying that he is responsible for saving the world on the other. The clear implication in the essay is that the schizophrenic prophet is not just a creative artist or free spirit, but that he is also called by God to be a socio-political revolutionary.

    When I say the word “cult”, I don’t mean it with negative connotations; I’m using the term in a strictly descriptive way. After all, Christianity itself was a cult, in the beginning—and Jesus was its revolutionary prophet. But it may be instructive to pay a little attention to what happened as Christianity developed over the course of history. Obviously, it turned into everything Jesus himself had opposed. I’m inclined to agree with Fyodor Dostoevsky that the Church accepted the third temptation of Satan and went for political power over spiritual power—and that if Jesus were to return today, he would be condemned by the very religion which carries on in his name. From its genesis, Christianity was completely torn apart by internal schisms: divergences began with conflict between the Original Twelve and Paul of Tarsus, and they’ve been raging ever since.

    What I want to say is: if Dr. Farber were to start a cult, then this cult could be fully expected to face all the tragedies which occur within the development of any religious organization. Assuming that it isn’t violently eradicated from the start, it will probably end up becoming its own worst nemesis. For example, Dr. Farber seems to have a very specific idea of what God is, and what sort of vision a schizophrenic prophet should have as a result of accessing this presence. If the prophet deviates from this vision, then the temptation will be very great to suggest that the person is actually a false prophet. But according to this paradigm, prophecy is a gift associated with schizophrenia. So, would it logically follow that these false prophets are not actually schizophrenic, either? Or again: perhaps the “original” prophets of the movement—the ones who preach the panentheistic gospel—will be canonized, while the deviants who come after will be condemned for heresy.

    Insofar as a messianic vision informs Dr. Farber’s own personal vision of the world, it is poetical. But insofar as it informs a social movement which would presumably like to “convert” all of society, it becomes ideological. And the consequences I have outlined above would naturally follow from this, because that’s just what ideology does. The original creative spark becomes ossified into dogma; and a vision which was meant to liberate the world just becomes a new vehicle of enslavement. More generally, this may be a problem with any social movement which is informed by a singular poetical vision. An artist’s strategy for bringing others into his vision is seduction: he creates an object which is hopefully so beautiful that it will draw others into the artist’s world. In contrast, a revolutionary’s strategy may well degenerate into coercion: either people accept his vision—or else. A prophet who invites others to partake in his creative vision of the world is an artist; a prophet who forces others to take his utterances seriously is a tyrant.

    In this context, I think I have great respect for Sascha DuBrul’s shift to the “healing narrative” for the purposes of organizing social movements. Here’s what he says (quoted in Dr. Farber’s book): “Let our Mad Pride movement be grounded in humility and kindness for each other in our diversity of life experiences, a recognition that social movements need good communicators and organizers more than charismatic leaders and messianic visions.” What I find beautiful about this statement is that it leaves the door open for people with a plurality of different visions to nevertheless come together for the sake of pursuing shared projects and fulfilling shared desires. For example, one person in this social movement may well think that schizophrenia is in fact literally associated with the gift of prophecy; however, any number of other persons could think any number of other things, and this would also be acceptable. In short, this would be a social movement rooted not in ideology (or “metanarrative”) but rather in concrete healing practices. In this sense, it would have much in common with the counter-globalization movement as described by the anarchist David Graeber.

    Finally, I want to call attention to the great importance of guarding against what Friedrich Nietzsche has called ressentiment. The idea is roughly the following: the Jews were given a pretty lousy lot in life; they kept bouncing from one misfortune to another. So, they felt themselves to be “losers” in this world. As a result (so goes the theory), they invented a different world in which they were the people chosen by God, and therefore ultimately the “winners”. So, they were able to convert their practical misfortune into moral/spiritual merit. This could parallel the situation of some schizophrenics. The schizophrenic may find that he has trouble functioning in society; but then, he may believe that he can speak to God—and that his trouble is therefore a mark that he is “chosen”. Does the schizophrenic have trouble in the sinful world because he truly can speak to God; or, does he invent his God in order to justify the fact that he has trouble in the ordinary world? A very difficult question. What I find troubling, in any event, is the reversal from a position of inferiority to a position of superiority. On the other hand, ressentiment is unlikely to become an issue if a person is committed instead to dissolving such hierarchies altogether and developing a vision of spiritual equality.

    I actually have a lot of sympathy with Dr. Farber’s poetical vision—but only insofar as it is an individual poetical vision. (And this is primarily why I bought his book.) But insofar as it is meant to serve as the ideology of a social movement, I don’t care for it at all, because I believe that all such ideologies are inevitably totalitarian. I’m suggesting that Dr. Farber’s theology is actually a form of artistic expression—and as everyone knows, art has a profound capacity to move human hearts. But the modus operandi of at is fundamentally different from that of ideology; and if this line is crossed, then what begins as the creative expression of an individual will degenerate into the ideological foundation of a cult. Also, as a closing note, I want to suggest that it is important to not confuse the categories of madness and creativity: there is a correlation, for sure, but it’s not a matter of identity. Not all schizophrenics are creative, and not all artists are schizophrenic. A more fleshed-out conceptual map of the relationship between creativity and madness would be helpful for navigating this terrain. I think writers such as Søren Kierkegaard, Otto Rank, and Deleuze and Guattari go some way toward casting light on this subject.