Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness


Throughout history, societies have existed with far less coercion than ours, and while these societies have had far less consumer goods and what modernity calls “efficiency,” they also have had far less mental illness. This reality has been buried, not surprisingly, by uncritical champions of modernity and mainstream psychiatry. Coercion—the use of physical, legal, chemical, psychological, financial, and other forces to gain compliance—is intrinsic to our society’s employment, schooling, and parenting. However, coercion results in fear and resentment, which are fuels for miserable marriages, unhappy families, and what we today call mental illness.

Societies with Little Coercion and Little Mental Illness

Shortly after returning from the horrors of World War I and before they wrote Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall were given a commission by Harper’s Magazine to write nonfiction travel articles about life in the South Pacific. Their reports about the islands of Paumoto, Society, and the Hervey group were first serialized in Harper’s and then published in the book Faery Lands of the South Seas (1921). Nordhoff and Hall were stuck by how little coercion occurred in these island cultures compared to their own society, and they were enchanted by the kind of children that such noncoercive parenting produced:

“There is a fascination in watching these youngsters, brought up without clothes and without restraint. . . . Once they are weaned from their mothers’ breasts—which often does not occur until they have reached an age of two and a half or three —the children of the islands are left practically to shift for themselves; there is food in the house, a place to sleep, and a scrap of clothing if the weather be cool—that is the extent of parental responsibility. The child eats when it pleases, sleeps when and where it will, amuses itself with no other resources than its own. As it grows older certain light duties are expected of it—gathering fruit, lending a hand in fishing, cleaning the ground about the house—but the command to work is casually given and casually obeyed. Punishment is scarcely known. . . . [Yet] the brown youngster flourishes with astonishingly little friction—sweet tempered, cheerful, never bored, and seldom quarrelsome.”

For many indigenous peoples, even the majority rule that most Americans call democracy is problematically coercive, as it results in the minority feeling resentful. Roland Chrisjohn, member of the Oneida Nation of the Confederacy of the Haudenausaunee (Iroquois) and author of The Circle Game, points out that for his people, it is deemed valuable to spend whatever time necessary to achieve consensus so as to prevent such resentment. By the standards of Western civilization, this is highly inefficient. “Achieving consensus could take forever!” exclaimed an attendee of a talk that I heard given by Chrisjohn, who responded, “What else is there more important to do?”

Among indigenous societies, there are many accounts of a lack of mental illness, a minimum of coercion, and wisdom that coercion creates resentment which fractures relationships. The 1916 book The Institutional Care of the Insane of the United States and Canada reports, “Dr. Lillybridge of Virginia, who was employed by the government to superintend the removal of Cherokee Indians in 1827-8-9, and who saw more than 20,000 Indians and inquired much about their diseases, informs us he never saw or heard of a case of insanity among them.” Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, in his 1980 book Schizophrenia and Civilization, states, “Schizophrenia appears to be a disease of civilization.”

In 1973, Torrey conducted research in New Guinea, which he called “an unusually good country in which to do epidemiologic research because census records for even most remote villages are remarkably good.” Examining these records, he found, “There was over a twentyfold difference in schizophrenia prevalence among districts; those with a higher prevalence were, in general, those with the most contact with Western civilization.” In reviewing others’ research, Torrey concluded:

“Between 1828 and 1960, almost all observers who looked for psychosis or schizophrenia in technologically undeveloped areas of the world agreed that it was uncommon…  The striking feature… is the remarkable consensus that insanity (in the early studies) and schizophrenia (in later studies) were comparatively uncommon prior to contact with European-American civilization… But around 1950 an interesting thing happened… the idea became current in psychiatric literature that schizophrenia occurs in about the same prevalence in all cultures and is not a disease of civilization.”

Yet Torrey is an advocate of the idea that severe mental illness is due to biological factors and not social ones, and he came to be responsible for helping build the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) into a powerful political force. How does Torrey square his ideas that mental illness is due to biological factors with his own research that shows that severe mental illness is highly associated with European-American civilization? For Torrey, “Viruses in particular should be suspect as possible agents.”

Torrey’s suspected biochemical virus agents have never been found, and so why has he not considered the toxic effects of coercion? Torrey is a strong advocate of coercive treatments, including forced medication. And so, perhaps his blindness to the ill effects of coercion compels him—even after discovering the strong relationship between European-American civilization and severe mental illness—to proclaim that mental illness could not be caused by social factors.

While Torrey researched records in New Guinea, Jared Diamond has actually worked with the New Guinea people for nearly a half century, spending extended periods of time with different groups, including those hunter-gatherer tribes in New Guinea (and other small-scale societies) whose parenting creates an abundance of nurturance and a minimum of coercion.

Diamond, in From the World Until Yesterday (2012), reports how laissez-faire parenting is “not unusual by the standards of the world’s hunter-gatherer societies, many of which consider young children to be autonomous individuals whose desires should not be thwarted.” Diamond concludes that by our society’s attempt to control children for what we believe is their own good, we discourage those traits we admire:

“Other Westerners and I are struck by the emotional security, self-­confidence, curiosity, and autonomy of members of small-scale societies, not only as adults but already as children. We see that people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplied by outsiders, such as television, videogames, and books. We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children. These are qualities that most of us admire, and would like to see in our own children, but we discourage development of those qualities by ranking and grading our children and constantly ­telling them what to do.”

Emotional and Behavioral Effects of Coercion

Once, when doctors actually listened at length to their patients about their lives, it was obvious to many of them that coercion played a significant role in their misery. But most physicians, including psychiatrists, have stopped delving into their patients’ lives. In 2011, the New York Times (“Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy”) reported, “A 2005 government survey found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to all patients.” As the article points out, psychiatrists can make far more money primarily providing “medication management,” in which they only check symptoms and adjust medication.

Since the 1980s, biochemical psychiatry in partnership with Big Pharma has come to dominate psychiatry, and they have successfully buried truths about coercion that were once obvious to professionals who actually listened at great length to their patients—obvious, for example, to Sigmund Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents, 1929) and R.D. Laing (The Politics of Experience, 1967). This is not to say that Freud’s psychoanalysis and Laing’s existential approach always have been therapeutic. However, doctors who focus only on symptoms and prescribing medication will miss the obvious reality of how a variety of societal coercions can result in a cascade of family coercions, resentments, and emotional and behavioral problems.

Modernity is replete with institutional coercions not present in most indigenous cultures. This is especially true with respect to schooling and employment, which for most Americans, according to recent polls, are alienating, disengaging, and unfun. As I reported earlier this year (“Why Life in America Can Literally Drive You Insane, a Gallup poll, released in January 2013, reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become, and by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. Critics of schooling—from Henry David Thoreau, to Paul Goodman, to John Holt, to John Taylor Gatto—have understood that coercive and unengaging schooling is necessary to ensure that young people more readily accept coercive and unengaging employment. And as I also reported in that same article, a June 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have checked out of them.

Unengaging employment and schooling require all kinds of coercions for participation, and human beings pay a psychological price for this. In nearly three decades of clinical practice, I have found that coercion is often the source of suffering.

Here’s one situation that I’ve seen hundreds of times. An intelligent young child or teenager has been underachieving in standard school, and has begun to have emotional and/or behavioral problems. Such a child often feels coerced by standard schooling to pay attention to that which is boring for them, to do homework for which they see no value, and to stay inside a building that feels sterile and suffocating. Depending on the child’s temperament, this coercion results in different outcomes — none of them good.

Some of these kids get depressed and anxious. They worry that their lack of attention and interest will result in dire life consequences. They believe authorities’ admonitions that if they do poorly in school, they will be “flipping burgers for the rest of their lives.” It is increasingly routine for doctors to medicate these anxious and depressed kids with antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs.

Other inattentive kids are unworried. They don’t take seriously either their schooling or admonitions from authorities, and they feel justified in resisting coercion. Their rebellion is routinely labeled by mental health professionals as “acting out,” and they are diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. Their parents often attempt punishments, which rarely work to break these kids’ resistance. Parents become frustrated and resentful that their child is causing them stress. Their child feels this parental frustration and resentment, and often experiences it as their parents not liking them. And so these kids stop liking their parents, stop caring about their parents’ feelings, and seek peers whom they believe do like them, even if these peers are engaged in criminal behaviors.

In all societies, there are coercions to behave in culturally agreed-upon ways. For example, in many indigenous cultures, there is peer pressure to be courageous and honest. However, in modernity, we have institutional coercions that compel us to behave in ways that we do not respect or value. Parents, afraid their children will lack credentials necessary for employment, routinely coerce their children to comply with coercive schooling that was unpleasant for these parents as children. And though 70% of us hate or are disengaged from our jobs, we are coerced by the fear of poverty and homelessness to seek and maintain employment.

In our society, we are taught that accepting institutional coercion is required for survival. We discover a variety of ways—including drugs and alcohol—to deny resentment. We spend much energy denying the lethal effects of coercion on relationships. And, unlike many indigenous cultures, we spend little energy creating a society with a minimal amount of coercion.

Accepting coercion as “a fact of life,” we often have little restraint in coercing others when given the opportunity. This opportunity can present itself when we find ourselves above others in an employment hierarchy and feel the safety of power; or after we have seduced our mate by being as noncoercive as possible and feel the safety of marriage. Marriages and other relationships go south in a hurry when one person becomes a coercive control freak; resentment quickly occurs in the other person, who then uses counter-coercive measures.

We can coerce with physical intimidation, constant criticism, and a variety of other means. Such coercions result in resentment, which is a poison that kills relationships and creates severe emotional problems. The Interactional Nature of Depression (1999), edited by psychologists Thomas Joiner and James Coyne, documents with hundreds of studies the interpersonal nature of depression. In one study of unhappily married women who were diagnosed with depression, 60 percent of them believed that their unhappy marriage was the primary cause of their depression. In another study, the best single predictor of depression relapse was found to be the response to a single item: “How critical is your spouse of you?”

In the 1970s, prior to the domination of the biopsychiatry-Big Pharma partnership, many mental health professionals took seriously the impact of coercion and resentful relationships on mental health. And in a cultural climate more favorable than our current one for critical reflection of society, authors such as Erich Fromm, who addressed the relationship between society and mental health, were  taken seriously even within popular culture. But then psychiatry went to bed with Big Pharma and its Big Money, and their partnership has helped bury the commonsense reality that an extremely coercive society creates enormous fear and resentment, which results in miserable marriages, unhappy families, and severe emotional and behavioral problems.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Fantastic article, Bruce. It says it all about why so many people are so miserable, angry, addicted, alienated and isolated.

    It seems that all too many people see more power as their priority rather than good relationships and minorities like women, blacks, Latinos, gays and others suffer much more oppression and injustice due to such power differences attributed to bogus stigmas like depression rather than their reality.

    What do you think of claims by the authors of such books as The Narcissism Epidemic, Why is It Always About You?, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, The Culture of Narcissism, What Makes Narcissists Tick?, Freeing Yourself From the Narcissist In Your Life, Children of the Self Absorbed, When You Love A Man Who Loves Himself and countless others about this seeming great increase in this chronic personality disorder? There is now even a description of injuries suffered by victims or targets of narcissists.

    How do you think this making of or focus on narcissists ties in to the coercive practices typical of industrialized cultures if at all? There is a great deal of focus on psychopaths or sociopaths as well as you’ve indicated in one of your posts, which is a more malignant form of narcissism.

    I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

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    • Thank you Donna for your kind words.

      Yes, I agree with you that modern civilization, in addition to having more coercive institutions, also creates more self-absorption, and this is destructive to our emotional well being, relationships, and community.In Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic, I wrote about this. And yes, the more a society legitimizes coercion, the more we are worried about being coerced, and this invites more self-absorption. And I would add that beyond the obvious iatrogenic effects of psychiatric treatments — e.g., the drugs, ECT — other mental health professional treatments, including some talk therapies, create more self-absorbed, narcissistic people incapable of forming satisfying human relationships and community, which are important antidotes to severe emotional problems.

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      • Hi Bruce,

        Thanks for your response. Here’s an interesting video by an author of a book on heroes with the theory humans are wired to be selfless and not selfish:!55988106-1F44-4251-A7AD-430E721139AE

        Her talk includes the famous Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s recent attempts to create “heroes” willing and able to overcome the well known nasty “bystander effect.”

        Dr. Zimbardo is also famous for his famous Stanford Prison experiments that how who some people can become evil, which he calls the “Lucifer effect.” This web site gives people tactics to be aware of and counter such effects that can be unconscious or the result of manipulation by evil people/psychopaths.

        If our dog eat dog capitalism is driving us crazy as the famous Dr. Gabor Mate has shown in his talks, articles and books, it would seem this would bring about much more emotional distress if the majority of humans are either forced to ignore or refrain from their best inclinations or actually punished for them by the most selfish, narcissistic people.

        With biopyschiatry adding insult to such injuries by treating the distressed person as a commodity to be stigmatized, scapegoated, poisoned and destroyed for greed and profit, this seems a prescription for never ending trauma, retraumatization and more crazy making.

        This talk also highlights that groups that are more altruistic survive better than those who are not, which may also account for increased emotional distress with the jungle mentality promoted by corporate cronyism.

        I just thought these ideas fit in quite well with the points you are making about coercive, nasty, traumatizing cultures causing a great deal of emotional distress, anger, hatred and war while the opposite cultures cause opposite positive effects.

        It’s quite infuriating that biopsychiatry has not only done nothing to help societies overcome such destructive trends, but rather, just keep adding more fuel to the fire with their destructive, stigmatizing, coercive, life destroying agenda for their own greed, power, status and profit. It’s the good old divide and conquer approach to distract citizens from the real causes of misery and inequality.

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          • “the term “minority” is used to refer to categories of persons who hold few positions of social power.”

            If you (ANY you – not you personally, Donna) see it that way. I don’t. And I’m glad not to.

            I don’t believe in elite people. I don’t believe in illuminati. I don’t believe in the “top 1 percent”. I don’t believe in atheists. I don’t believe in minority / majority. I don’t believe in power structures, in the way that others do. I also disagree with definitions and meanings of some words and terms. But that’s just me, “non-conformist” (whatever that means).

            In my eyes, EVERYONE IS EQUAL. But it isn’t realized and it certainly isn’t lived.

            I wouldn’t give Obama any more or less respect than he would give me. It matters NOT to me that he is a president. In my eyes, he is just another human being. That’s how I see EVERYBODY. In FACT, I had enough power that I caused the White House’s Facebook page to fall SILENT, and that silence lasted around an hour. There was only one person talking, and that was myself. Oh, what was happening? The united states threatened that social security payments might not be made. It wasn’t MYSELF I was thinking of. It was all the people that I KNEW would take that very seriously, would believe it and were likely having friggen PANIC ATTACKS and probably ended up in an emergency room somewhere to get their tranquilizing pills. I was PISSED OFF. It was THOSE PEOPLE I came out swinging to stand up for, fight for – when I knew VERY WELL that hell yes those payments WOULD be made (and, THEY WERE).

            I hold no college degree, no special license or certificate. I’m not ordained or officiated in ANY CAPACITY of the structured, organized “professional” world. Hell, I’m not even employed. I receive Social Security Disability. What EMPOWERED ME to raise up my voice in such a way as to SILENCE EVERYBODY on that page? And just who the hell do I think I am, and just who the hell do other people think I am.

            I’d give a crack dealer EXACTLY the same sort of respect that I’d give Obama. And that’s no joke.

            In my eyes, all are evil – but I have my favorites; those I like and those I love.

            Again, in my eyes – the masses DO have power. EVERYBODY has power (and for many, their “power” is unrealized and unlived).

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          • Article, “The Obesity Era” by Aeon

            Higher levels of female obesity correlated with higher levels of gender inequality in each nation

            “Many other aspects of the worldwide weight gain are also difficult to square with the ‘it’s-just-thermodynamics’ model. In rich nations, obesity is more prevalent in people with less money, education and status. Even in some poor countries, according to a survey published last year in the International Journal of Obesity, increases in weight over time have been concentrated among the least well-off. And the extra weight is unevenly distributed among the sexes, too. In a study published in the Social Science and Medicine journal last year, Wells and his co-authors found that, in a sample that spanned 68 nations, for every two obese men there were three obese women. Moreover, the researchers found that higher levels of female obesity correlated with higher levels of gender inequality in each nation. Why, if body weight is a matter of individual decisions about what to eat, should it be affected by differences in wealth or by relations between the sexes?”


            Such social disparities are not caused by the choices of people who see and treat people equally for sure. But, there is no denying they exist.

            Sadly, we do not live in an ideal, utopian world as some would wish, but a very unjust world where the most wealthy and powerful prey on and exploit the less wealthy and powerful.

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          • “obesity is more prevalent in people with less money, education and status.”


            I’m curious if you’re aware of any information regarding the connection between insanity (sexual disease) and obesity.

            Two appetites: sexual appetite and nutritional appetite. Could it be that a sick / dysfunctional sexual appetite is a primary cause or significant contributing factor of obesity (and likely, anorexia and bulimia) in some people?

            And what about coercion itself, is that behavior a manifestation of insanity?

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          • This seems highly relevant to coercion:

            “The bourgeois ideology has a strong demand that adolescents, having reached sexual maturity, be repressed in sexual abstinence. To justify this sad privation, which is the basis of their unhappiness, all sorts of unscientific and ridiculous justifications have been made up.[10] This doesn’t happen, anthropological cross-cultural studies have shown, in many contemporary societies which don’t have a marked patriarchal ideology (an ideology pushed by the bias of technologies like intensive agriculture and mechanization,[11] and which are therefore controversially termed “primitive” by westerns).”


            I was cloud busting last night and found Reich. WOW, that man was absolutely insane.!

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        • “jungle mentality promoted by corporate cronyism.” Check carefully your words Donna. The mentality promoted by corporate cronyism has nothing to do with how life works in the jungle. Instead of “jungle” mentality you should use “civilized’ mentality. Our civililized “gentle manners” are based on corporatism values not on what is scientifically observed of the behavior of animal species in the jungle.

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  2. “minorities like women, blacks, Latinos, gays and others”

    Because I am a non-conformist by nature, I have no idea what a minority is. I don’t think of or see women as minorities. In fact, they’re pretty abundant. Or black people (abundant). Or anyone at all. I honestly don’t know what a minority is. I never use that term.

    I understand POVERTY and disadvantage. But minority, I don’t understand that. *shrug* Maybe because I grew up with Hispanic neighbors and had an excellent mix of white, black, Hispanic and Indian kids in my elementary school. Plus, I’m the mother of a Dominican child (I remember thinking, omg – what if she’s black? LOL). Actually, her father told me that the Dominican people were attempting to advance their race to world dominance. Good luck with that.

    I have absolutely no idea what a minority i$.

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  3. Minorities may have a great number of people in their group with almost no power, privileges or other perks of society, so the minority aspect refers to their status and power and not their numbers. For example, there used to be many, many black slaves owned by whites, but their numbers never increased their power until some fought back with abolitionists for freedom. You are probably aware that blacks got the vote before women, right?

    But, mjk, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Would you please list the best, well known female presidents, supreme court justices, CEO’s with the highest power, compensation and influence and other great powerful women worldwide when you get around to it? Are these I the majority or minority?

    Great book is Dr. Phyllis Chesler’s Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman on how women harm other women. Another is Women: The Best of Friends, the Worst of Enemies. Still another is In the Company of Women. You can check these out at Amazon, etc.

    I used to be a great believer in “sisterhood is powerful” until I realized that many women used such good motives to play both sides to gain maximum advantage while harming those they exploited and conned, especially other women.

    Have a nice night.

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    • “so the minority aspect refers to their status and power and not their numbers.” … “Would you please list the best, well known female… ”

      So mass numbers of not-the-best status makes a minority but a best well-known woman makes a majority?

      Jenna Marbles (who holds a Masters of Education in Sport Psychology and Counseling from Boston University) is the best, well-known female on YouTube. With 10,530,699 subscribers, that goes to show who some of the powerless minority masses pay attention to. In fact, SHE is empowered … by THEM.

      I simply do not share the same mind-set and structure (thank God) with people who think in terms of minority / majority (which can also be seen as best worth and least worth and dang, I like Jews).

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      • Actually, I can see how Jenna IS a majority because she’s not just herself – she’s herself PLUS those 10M subscribers. And of course, those subs are also empowered by her. If someone pulled the plug and she suddenly stopped doing what she does, 10M people would be negatively affected.

        Just like Ben on his channel, with 120,764 subs. If he stopped doing what he does, I guarantee there would be a problem. Ben is an example of idol worship and it hasn’t been entirely benign. Aside of idol worship, what Ben does is vitally important to a growing number of people and we are dependent on the service he provides.

        Light workers recently came under attack (accusation of being “deceptive”), causing some light workers to ditch the title. I know the value of light workers and so it wasn’t difficult to stand up for them and defend them. My response:

        “i always presumed light worker to mean bi-polar, in the eyes of psychiatry (i’m a life-long psychiatric slave). but i think there’s validity to “light worker”.

        people who put forth and offer up GREAT positivity, uplifting, encouragement, inspiration are light workers. what they do is VERY important. without them, the world WOULD be much darker, heavier, bleaker. we pay attention every day to the crisis and chaos and struggling and strife in humanity. we NEED these “light workers” to keep doing what they do. if they stop, you’ll see their importance.”

        I don’t think it’s bad or wrong for others to think in terms of majority / minority (in other words, I wasn’t being judgmental which, stating that is the motivation for this comment right now). I always, always, always think in terms of mass, collective population: 7+ billion people globally, 310+ million people, nationally. That is ALL I ever see.

        I think technology and the internet has a LOT to do with growing isolation. Life in the new world (which to me is the internet itself) is powerful. We are still VERY easily affected by each other – our energies CAN be perceived directly through the screens. We don’t have to be in direct physical presence of one another.

        To finish off what may seem to some as off-topic, irrelevant (your call to make, I suppose – not mine) I will say that it saddens and frustrates me that channels like Harvard get significantly less subs & views than more popular (and thereby, powerful) channels.

        The masses DO have power, in my eyes.

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  4. Oh dear, your arguments are an easy to read, much less tortuous reading but essentially similar to those elucidated by Guy Debord in Society of the Specticle.

    It’s yer basic anarchism, init mate?

    I forsee another political argument on MIA. Oh dear, I’ll bow out now.

    However, I hope to never work in another office with bitchy people who tear each other into shreds everyday. I’d rather be a lonely gardener.

    I find the kind of rich social life you describe in these South Sea Island communities evolves when I attend therapuetic retreats or sometimes on well organised protest camps. Places where caring for each other and understanding are emphasized and encouraged. It isn’t the norm. The norm is work, produce, consume, die. Produce money for The Man, do not question your role.

    Bio-psychiatry took off as neo-liberalism took off under Reagen and Thatcher. Most psychiatry was always bad but it got completley drug obsessed and then reached out to become mass drugging in the 1980’s. Taking the breaks of big business allowed it to become completely out of control. All power to the markets reduces humanity to comodaties. The mantra is that our problems will be solved by commodities. In psychiatires case the commodities are psychiatric drugs. In a free market the solutions will be provided for perfectly, or so the free marketeers tell us. But the solutions are commodities when the problems are about coercive relationships and the answers are love, understanding and resisting coevcive power. So the medical profession becomes the product delivery system for the multinational drug company and the patient is the consumer of the false solution to a misery that neither the patient or anyone else really understands. Alienation becomes standard. Alienation in both the personal (because the diagnosis and the drugs stops us from thinking through what has caused our distress and finding effective solutions) and the Marxist sense (Alienation (Entfremdung) is the systemic result of living in a socially stratified society, because being a mechanistic part of a social class alienates a person from his and her humanity. A quote from Wikipeadia)

    To allow the kind of world that we have developed we have to have traumatised our children to a frightening extent. Otherwise we would not allow this state of affairs to exist. Coercian is the norm and it’s psychiatric drugs or violent repression from the state if you step out of line too much.

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  5. Great article, Bruce. Thank you.

    With respect to Fuller Torrey, I agree he’s hard to figure out. I’ve seen old, old quotes from him that make him sound almost Szaszian. I don’t know what “turned” him but I suspect it has something to do with generous funding from the Stanley Institute. In any event, he is one of our biggest threats.

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    • Heh, some of these current biopsychiatrists have some strange articles or interests in their past. For instance, Henry Nasrallah was interested in Julian Jayne’s theory of bicameral mind (The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind):

      Nasrallah, Henry (1985). “The Unintegrated Right Cerebral Hemispheric Consciousness as Alien Intruder: A Possible Mechanism for Schneiderian Delusions in Schizophrenia”. Comprehensive Psychiatry 26 (3): 273. doi:10.1016/0010-440X(85)90072-0. PMID 3995938.

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      • By the way, I read that book from Julian Jaynes in my youth, and it greatly shifted my thinking. Today I would be much more critical about the work, but i still can’t deny that the book is one very original and even inspirational one. I think I’ll have to read it again with a new mind, and with great respect to now deceased Julian Jaynes.

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    • Thank you, Francesca. Yes, Torrey is, from what I’ve seen from his book Schizophrenia and Civilization , a strange character. To see the same data that many critics of modernity see — how civilization is associated with so much more so-called mental illness — but to blame it on some phantom virus — very strange. The cynical view of him is that he knew how to get butter on his bread, but who knows for sure his psychology of why he has such denial and blindness to the social and interpersonal components of serious emotional problems — Bruce

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  6. Tutukane – Weaving a Coconut Hat

    I first heard Don Ho sing this song in 1967 at Duke Kahanamoku’s Nightclub in Waikiki. I was just a single flake in great bank of “Hawaiian Snow”, the sailors in white uniforms standing in the back of the room at the last show of the night which was always free, and packed.

    I thought about that song and how it has always stuck with me when I read this piece by Bruce Levine.

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  7. The word for the sort of coercion the author is looking for is “Hegemony.” If the ideas and Ideals being promoted are good, and are promoted in non-harmful ways (for instance, with critical thinking being a must), then Hegemony is helpful. However, if the ideas and Ideals are evil, and are promoted in harmful ways (i.e., irrefutable Dogma), then Hegemony is evil. It is a tool that can be used either way. How many times a day are we American men reminded that doing some things is ‘wrong,’ because it is not how a man ‘should’ act? Being vegetarian, gay, and Neo-Pagan, as well as only 5’6″, average looks, etc., I used to get a huge amount of bluntly negative Hegemony (which still assaults me daily from my television), until I told various people, like the real man I am, to “stfu” and let me live my life. P.S. I have had to be treated for depression since my late teens because of this stress, along with the PTSD of literal assaults.

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  8. Thank you for writing this. I have read often about how difference societies raise their children. One thing that ties into this is that many of these societies do not coerce and thus also do not have the physical punishment – “spankings” and other ways to make children comply. I do think it is ties altogether the rates of violence and “controlling” mechanisms.

    As a parent of a toddler I am saddened to read so much by other parents about how to “control” their children. It is not an invitation to participate and become part of the group (which people naturally do) it is done in a forceful way that affects people mentally and emotionally. I think it must be immensely damaging in the first decade of life when their emotional and social self is being fully developed. The only folks who seem to question this are the “attachment” parenting or gentle parenting groups of folks out there as well as those who tend to be part of the “free-range” movement.

    Thank you for writing this.

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  9. Re mental health in non-Western societies, the New York Times is currently (Oct 2015) running a series about mental illness in West Africa that presents psychiatry and psychopharma (in the hands of evangelical organizations and supported by U.S. psychiatry) as a beacon of modernity, progress, and healing.

    Mental health ANYWHERE is a complex subject; but I find this NYT series especially simplistic and shallow. Maybe some lives are being saved through the import of Western psychopharma, ideas, methods, and more; but it won’t be that simple by a long, long shot.

    I would be interested to see Bruce Levine or MIA authors critique the series from a more critical and multidimensional perspective than the NYT [beholden to pharma ad dollars and RARELY critical of pharmaceutical corporations, pharmaceuticals, or psychiatry] is able to offer.

    Liz Sydney

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  10. This reminds me of a story I read by a Roman Catholic missionary in Africa. He had a large territory to cover and drove from one village to another to celebrate the Eucharist (say mass). It was a time consuming endeavor because in the particular area of Africa where he was stationed the people had a way of finding out if everyone in the village was in consensus with everyone else. Their thinking was that if the celebration of the Eucharist was symbolic of people being bound together into the Body of Christ then everyone better be in consensus. They had a ceremony called the “passing of the grass”. When the priest showed up he would the leader of the village would pluck a sprig of grass and pass it to the person next to him. This sprig of grass had to pass from hand to hand until it was brought back to the leader. If someone was not happy with the person passing the grass to them they did not have to accept it. If the grass didn’t get back to the leader the priest was not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist, which is symbolic of the binding of the community into the One Body. And we wanted to call these people primitive!

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  11. I agree with the theme of this article.

    I see an direct link between unresolved trauma of disrupted child mother bonding processes mandated by our biology, and the subsequent coping mechanisms and the emergence of coercion, which repeats the traumatisation modality, with each generation growing up and being influenced by the environment of their parents psychology, and how that can become institutionalised over time, in an essay on the origins of organised religion, and have outlined this in a short video.

    and – Loss of self empathy and the urge to power

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    • I read your article. You miss an important focal point of Biblical religion: mother and child, as exampled for us, in Mary and Christ. Mother and child are like God and creation.

      Mary is . . . the ‘Prototype’ of the Church, as the idea of the Church is originally realized in her person and in the most perfect manner. Since she herself belongs to the Church and at the same time forms the head-member as root and heart, the idea of the Church as a supernatural principle assisting Christ also obtains its full, concrete and living figure.

      “From an evolutionary viewpoint, Imposed Hierarchical Religion can be seen as an evolutionary mismatch.”

      I have to wonder if you’re saying that humanity should have outgrown religion by now, as if religion were a fault of human history.

      People are free to refuse to live religious lives but after alcoholism has set in and one needs rescue and help, they might find themselves sitting in the basement of a church, attending an AA meeting. There is a reason AA is associated with the church. Of course, there is help in the secular world but those people are highly likely to be medicalized, diagnosed and prescribed – often by court order.

      “The history of sectarianism within religions and ideologies is all too often bloody and brutal evidence of this.”

      I can assure you that all of these human traits and behaviors are also found outside of religion,

      Sectarianism can be displayed in:

      jokes and little asides
      chants and songs
      verbal abuse
      physical violence
      domestic violence

      “The loss of self-empathy leads to a loss of empathy for others, which can also be described as a loss of empathy for all that nurtures one, or a sense of disconnection from all that nurtures one.”

      To me, that is more of an American culture dysfunction as a result of the 60’s (sex, drugs and Rock n’ Roll) and television. I was born in 1976 and am a child of parents who grew up and partied in the 60’s (I am the rotten apple that the 60’s produced). I grew up in the 80’s, and like countless others, I experienced bullying. Bullying was “normal” back then but it has become deadly now. If I say “fuck you” to you I am assaulting you. But there are less people who would recognize “fuck you” to be an assault than those who would roar with laughter at anybody who complains that somebody swore at them. It’s because we have a lack of divinity, and a lack of morality, that we’ve descended into severity. See, another word for religion is divinity. Using the word divinity furthers one’s understanding of the existence of religion.

      “Likewise the Catholic Pope’s record on dealing with widespread child abuse within Catholicism, and the stance of so many Catholics in protecting both the Pope and the Institution of The Vatican.”

      Child sexual abuse is historic, multi-cultural and found within all major religions (Islam, Judaism, Catholic and Christian). Humanity does not know why it has been such a tremendous focal point of the Catholic religion. They’re corrupt and there is no doubt about that, but the Catholic church is divine and needs its own rescue. Evil has infiltrated EVERYTHING: government, religion, culture, society, family, and even planetary matters (such as, digging to the core of the earth, which is absolute mindless evil at work).

      “Evolution of life on Earth is more about interdependency, co-operation, mutualism, nurture than it is about competition, mere survival, hierarchical or linear growth. Religiosity is clearly of the latter stream, and is an evolutionary mismatch.”

      We do not have evolution right now. We have collapse, disintegration, degradation, depravity, the rise and reign of evil, and de-evolution (regression). We are in a chronic crisis state, globally, as the planet itself is literally falling apart. Biblical scripture reveals (a popular word in the world today, for obvious reason) what is to be expected during the end times which we are currently in. Each “punishment” poured out on humanity is meant to cause repentance. It is preparation for the Chastisement, the ultimate supernatural event of the Terrible Day of the Lord (which is a major cosmological, religious event). Only after we all go through it will there be reconciliation between God and creation.

      As for self-empathy and empathy, this is the reality of end times,

      Matthew 24:12 The Voice (VOICE)

      11-12 The love that they had for one another will grow cold because few will obey the law. False prophets will appear, many will be taken in by them, and the only thing that will grow is wickedness. There will be no end to the increase of wickedness.

      I know how extraordinarily difficult it is to fall in love with Scripture, when people are so heavily cultivated in their hatred toward religion. But I cannot encourage it enough, fall in love, quickly!

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      • No church is divine.

        And the Roman Catholic Church needs to be taken to greater task than it has over the pedophile scandal. Priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and even popes have hidden the trauma done to children by priests who think it’s perfectly ok to sexually abuse kids. They’ve tried to sweep everything under the rug and pretend that all these priests did nothing at all to be upset about. Priests used to be able to lord it over everyone simply because they were ordained. Today, too many people sitting in the pews on Sunday have wised up and refuse to be led by the nose by these corrupt and arrogant people.

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  12. In my ideal world, there would be no coercion and no mental health issues. And, for that reason, I want to understand what causes such things. But, as everyone knows, correlation doesn’t inevitably prove causation.

    Still, causal links can be proven (and disproven). In fact, research has already discovered many of them. We do know that malnutrition, heavy metal, and parasites directly cause or contribute to numerous issues of neurocognitive development and mental health.

    Lead toxicity, in particular, is one heck of a doozy. Besides physical health problems, it causes depression, ADHD, learning disabilities, impulse control, aggressive behavior, etc. Urbanized and industrialized populations will obviously have higher toxicity rates than, for example, tribal people on small islands.

    Even more interesting are some of the parasites. Consider toxoplasmosis gondii. It infects the brain and alters its functioning—in many cases, leading to: depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. This is the origin of the crazy cat lady stereotype. It is contracted from cat feces, and infection increases with childhood contact with housecats which are more common in the industrialized West.

    The physical and environmental sources of mental health are very much real. But that doesn’t disprove the connection to social and cultural factors. It’s just that the latter are hard to prove, especiall in terms of all the known and unknown confounding factors.

    There is also something to be wary about in non-physical explanations. Culture, in particular, has been a favorite tool of the political right to bash over the heads of minorities and the poor. It is often argued that an inferior culture is to be blamed for the problems and struggles of impoverished and oppressed. It is conveniently ignored that thee populations live in unhealthy environments (e.g., toxins) and have limited access to quality affordable healthcare.

    I don’t doubt that cultures can become dysfunctional under conditions that are far from optimal. Yet that leaves ultimate causes unclear.

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  13. Yes, back in the first half of the 1970s, some of us DID listen. I worked in a big `old mental hospital’ and we had a unit (granted, only one) where we talked to our patients, their families and friends and attempted to figure out what had happened and how to fix it. Crisis intervention we called it. Not always possible but we tried, and we kept drugs to a minimum. The sort of precursor to the Open Dialogue approach which I recognised when I first read of it.
    Minority includes women? Half the human race? And the disadvantaged? Women and children among others! Are the only advantaged people in this world those with a Y chromosome? You’d think so when you look around. Girls: not educated, parceled out to the highest bidder in marriage, used for sexual adventures and profit, bringing up children alone, paid significantly less for the same work, kept out of major decision-making organisations like governments and big business, beaten and killed by angry, jealous men with impunity, living in poverty, and on and on. Most likely to be depressed and treated with Electroshock and drugs, you bet! 85% of psychiatrist who prescribe shock are men! 95% of psychiatrists who perform shock are men. You guys talk about it but you cannot image how patronising so many `helpful’ men are, especially doctors. How many of you have been asked by the doctor, “could I have a look at your `tummy'”, when you’re a 70 year old university professor, or a lawyer, or a physicist and you’re not female? Aarrgh! I look at my little grandsons and I think, how lucky you are to be born with balls. Sad, isn’t it, because my great nieces are at least as capable, but probably won’t get the same chances, even in my so-called equal opportunity society. Equal opportunity exists for white European males excluding `minority’ males and WOMEN!

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  14. Oh and that’s not counting the rest of the world, where females are covered up in all weather because their society doesn’t expect men to be responsible for their own behaviour involving women. Where a girl can be set upon and raped and killed because she is there, or wearing something that provokes them. Where women are mutilated so they won’t want sex, where religion insists that they bear a child every year, where they are not permitted to walk the streets without a male, even a male child, with them, to drive, to read, to speak without invitation, to vote, to work except in the most menial of jobs. Yet, when a charity wants to improve a society, it turns to the women knowing that with support they will feed their community and educate their children. If the aid is given to the men it goes on alcohol and toys. What a world!

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    • The missionaries and entrepeneurs of the “First World” are actually responsible for quite a lot of the oppression and poverty of the “Third World,” yaknow. From European Evangelicals training African students to be homophobic, to military interventions (before the coup of Iran’s democratic government and subsequent 1979 revolt, women had attained quite a lot of social power!) to colonial economic policies that keep women destitute (The IMF actively blocks minimum wage hikes and worker organizing in Haiti and elsewhere!) …so we should be careful about who we see as backwards…

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