I became an apprentice spiritual healer among the Nacirema-Orue in 1986 and was considered culturally competent to assess and treat community members by 1992. Although I’d been reared among them, my training as one of their healers was very intense, occasionally severe. I was frequently evaluated by elder healers, compared and contrasted with other apprentices, and often strongly critiqued, sometimes even publicly rebuked, for my lack of conformity. Eventually, I passed a self-defense ritual, and this culminated in my being fully initiated to a higher caste of healers within their society.
The Nacirema-Orue believe the person is more important than his or her family lineage or community. Even so, each individual culture member must remain constantly vigilant to adhere to tight community norms and standards. Individual behavior is regulated and scrutinized in relation to the ancient religious belief that one is born defiled and damaged due to the sins of one’s ancestors. Thus, although the person is considered more important than their family or community, he or she is presumed to be born defective in some way or another.
A strong emphasis is placed upon personal freedom and self-expression yet to succeed in this culture requires induction of a chronic preoccupation with conformity. Nacirema-Orue do abuse many of their children, physically, sexually, and through the use of shaming, but this is mostly a secret activity because it’s frowned upon as unlawful, despicable, and un-beautiful. Children are also held to education standards that suppress creativity and will prepare them to complete boring, repetitive tasks as future workers. On the one hand, how the developing child thinks, feels, and behaves is considered an important determining factor as to whether he or she will be considered a future candidate for prestige. On the other, the overarching determinant for success in Nacirema-Orue society pertains to how one appears to others, rather than how one actually thinks or feels in one’s inner self, and children learn early that ‘putting on positive appearances’ is much more important than what is actually occurring inside their ‘celebrated’ selves.
Being less than ‘fine,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘productive,’ and ‘stable’ at all times is taboo in Nacirema-Orue culture. This culture celebrates personal adornment, physical charm, the acquisition of wealth symbols and real estate, and sexuality. The majority lighter skin tone commands social and economic privilege, while darker skin tone is considered far less beautiful and undermines the obtaining of many forms of privilege (although it is sometimes eroticized and rewarded). The idolized bodies of women of all skin tones are frequently sculpted and painted to sustain an impression of ageless youth and fertility.
The Nacirema-Orue warrior culture compels boys and men to compete intensely to gather wealth, prestige, and dominance over one another in order to attract the female (I’m depicting the heterosexual case—homosexuality is tacitly accepted but equated with femininity and loss of status). Men are socialized to be highly territorial and to use wealth, physical strength, and violence to demonstrate their power and control over the social and material environment. Women have become more accepted to initiation into this warrior path over recent years, but many must utilize their sexual idolization to succeed. There are some prestigious women leaders but few signs of matriarchy. Nacirema-Orue practice patrilineal descent for both social privilege and name-giving, although one encounters females occasionally who have appended the name of their father’s family to their husband’s name as a means of asserting self-identity.
Culture members often develop different types of suffering demarked by inner self-hatred and self-revulsion but will work very hard to appear happy and beautiful in their presentations to anyone outside their immediate families. For example, the “How are you?” traditional greeting (a type of superficial check-in with another’s self-preoccupation) is expected to be responded to with a correspondent ‘fine’, ‘very good,’ ‘happy’ or ‘beautiful.’ Deviations from this social format create an undesired social obligation on the part of the greeter to listen to complaints or other self-referents from the person they’ve greeted. Close friends and family members may be an exception, but such bonds tend to be devalued in favor of working hard, using time efficiently, and constantly cultivating one’s separateness and self-differentiation. Belonging and cooperation are also very much devalued, particularly for men, except when they increase productivity, time efficiency, or success in warrior games. This approach to life generates numerous secret longings which often lead to misery, occasional violations of deeply-held social taboos, and the creation of popular songs.
Ironically, Nacirema-Orue community members unable to bear their secret misery and/or otherwise maintain strong productivity, efficient use of time, or chronic separateness risk rejection and shunning by others. They are presumed to be deficient or otherwise impaired. Some are merely ostracized from important social circles and opportunities, while others may be left to wander the community, camping out and begging for food and coins. This form of misery or ‘dis-ease’ is considered an illness or sickness which makes the affected person socially undesirable, even untouchable. Affected individuals are viewed as an economic and social burden and are pressured to seek the intervention of a spiritual healer. If they resist, they may be forced to see the healer by others or abandoned and treated as though they are invisible.
To be invisible has special implications in Nacirema-Orue culture and is experienced as worse than death. In a culture placing such emphasis on the self and the individual, this is the most severe of punishments. Some of those who come to feel invisible manifest visionary experiences that are considered further evidence of their defilement. Those who sense their own invisibility may eventually take their own lives, which may increase their visibility to loved ones for a time. Loved ones must quickly resolve their grief because preoccupation with death and loss interfere with productivity, efficient use of time, and the overall health of the Nacirema-Orue economy. Both the bereaved and abused in Nacirema-Orue culture carry similar risks of being made invisible and being viewed as defiled, deficient, or impaired.
The economic system is currently dominated by a very small class of extremely wealthy individuals who frequently pass along their status to their young. This class subsidizes the high caste of Nacirema-Orue spiritual healers in their quest to identify, categorize, label, and treat those who are viewed as defiled, deficient, or impaired by having ineffective, unproductive, and non-beautiful selves.
I was trained to administer ‘treatments’ which consist of aiding the affected community member toward resolving their inner self-hatred and self-revulsion through highly-specialized symbolic patterns of listening and speaking felt to bring gradual relief. In recent years, the interests of the wealthy class turned toward producing and marketing complex and dangerous elixirs and synthetic herbs which tranquilize, sedate, or hypnotize the afflicted community member rather than doing much with self-hatred or self-revulsion. This new Nacirema-Orue healing theory presupposes that such individuals actually have damaged brains which these elixirs correct. This new way has been promoted as superior to the older specialized speech/listening approach in restoring them at least to productivity and efficient use of time.
I was forced by this change to flee to the fringes of this society as my older form of Nacirema-Orue training fell into disrepute. I came to work with other indigenous cultures during my flight, which was life-changing and very rewarding. However, I was frustrated to discover that I was completely unprepared for the differing values I encountered pertaining to belonging and cooperation. I found myself questioning all I’d been taught, developing new ideas about human beings, and this created terrible awkwardness, cognitive dissonance, and self-questioning.
When I brought these experiences back toward the community of Nacirema-Orue healers, however, I found myself maligned and denigrated as not understanding fully that the practices of these other societies were inferior for the most part or could be easily accounted for and integrated into their new, dominant ideas. In short, the Nacirema-Orue high caste spiritual healing community does not believe that other cultures have much to offer in regards to healing. To my mind, this same caste is similarly affected by their own culturally-valued, deeply-held need to perpetuate their inner selves and now wishes to do so internationally.
Since I began questioning ideas about ‘dis-ease’ in Nacirema-Orue culture and suggested they may have to do with the culture itself, I’ve become viewed as culturally-incompetent by the mainstream of their spiritual healers. I’m not sure what the full ramifications are, but I’m already excluded from presentations, celebrations, social gatherings, and other events. I have not been allowed to depict these differences within their sanctioned literature so had to turn to the use of ‘fiction’ (www.tessasdance.com), which seems a great irony.
I’ve been able to make a living applying my now-antiquated ways with certain interested but disenfranchised clients, but I must still participate in certain forms of categorizing and labeling. My living remains dependent on the same wealthy class who subsidize a dominant healing viewpoint I abhor and oppose. I’m viewed even more as a non-conformist, on the outside periphery of what is sanctioned, than I was when I commenced my training.
I even occasionally have the sense of being shunned or ostracized. I’m writing this blog post because I’m afraid of being made invisible.
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.
Any community that ostracizes you is no community of mine!
Thanks for your comment, madmom I’m betting the ‘community of the ostracized’ will be the last one standing eventually…
Not a single word was wasted in this piece!
This post of yours feels like a healing sand painting but made of pixels on computer screen . But it can be saved and looked at again and again and maybe it will spread and help shift us into reality if it has not already done so.I intend to read your books of ‘fiction’. We are blessed to have you posting here . It’s amazing how the invisible can sometimes see each other .Thank You, Fred
Thanks for your comment, Fred. I feel blessed to be able to share my thoughts. I watched a beautiful sand painting get created by Buddhist monks in Detroit years ago, and you’ve brought back a wonderful memory. If we get a solid plasma hit from the sun one of these days, we’ll all be back to landlines and reading books. Nothing’s permanent…
As someone who has been ‘ghosted’ by my community I can relate to what you have written David.
There are reasons to fear the process, and I now understand why many subjected to the process take their lives. There are unrecognised advantages to being invisible. Being able to appear and disappear at will confers great power on an individual.
I can think of no better example than “Ghost Dog”.
There is freedom in having nothing to lose. A kind of freedom I sometimes long for…
Great comment! Although I have not heard of Ghost Dog, I can identify with your experience of being ‘ghosted.’ I feel that my daughter was ghosted but I’m betting that she has the will and spirit and love to free herself from this arrogant, harmful pseudo scientific psychiatric oppression we call the ‘mental health system’ and find a community that will nourish, protect and honor her for her experiences. She has traveled far and wide through this incredibly wide and infinite universe in her mind and seen things and heard things that would terrify and possibly destroy me. She has been labeled ‘psychotic’ yet she is alive and standing and found a way to be forging, loving and kind. She is amazing.
Maybe that is similar to the ancient practice of shapeshifting. Behave like one of the ‘invisible’ and listen, observe, and learn from other human beings who are not aware that the ‘invisible’ have eyes and ears too. One may develop a sense of ‘how not to behave.’ There are likely many, many more realities that we are aware of with our arrogant reductionist worldview, which I used to embrace before I understood how cruel it has made human beings like me. I have recently learned how it is important to be impeccable with one’s word and not make assumptions about ‘reality’. You never know when an ‘invisible’ being is listening!!
It’s as if we are becoming increasingly like a factory producing human widgets and the reject pile is growing larger and larger and larger. ‘Normal’ is disappearing. When are we going to realize that our culture is not simply dying, it’s dead already. Dead as a doorknob and somehow we ‘rejects’ have to organize and communicate with one another to build new communities for rebirth and survival: new life sustaining economies, new languages for nourishing and healing, new religions and new ‘gods’ that raise up the human spirit and all life forms, not destroy them. We should be enriching people’s lives with stories and myths that reward healing, sacrifice, and love, not spreading punishment and shame. Three cheers for David Walker for starting this conversation!
Great blog, great responses. I love this community! I challenge everyone who read David’s blog to share it with a friend!
Yes, it is time for us to begin banding together into real communities once again, where everyone is respected and valued as unique individuals who have something valuable to contribute to the ongoing process of community. Our communities must listen to the voices of the mad for they are the ones who have pierced the veil and stand between two worlds.
Thanks for your comment, boans. Apparently, youtube won’t let me access this, so I watched a few other clips. I haven’t seen this movie but have been told about it for years. It’s now on my ‘urgent’ list. Thanks for the recommendation!
Awesome description of our not some awesome culture. Sadly it’s so true…
Thanks for this, B!
Beautiful. Here’s to the Invisible.
I, my family (a former ethical 2% Nacirema banking family), all my friends, my entire life, everywhere I’ve ever lived, were declared “invisible” (“irrelevant to reality,” “w/o work, content, and talent” and a “credible fictional story”) by these new Nacirema-Orue healers, to my face and in their medical records.
I became a target of theirs, due to my Naitsirhc beliefs, rather than belief in their “bible,” the fact I did not react well to the Nacirema-Orue healers’ new “wonder” elixirs, and other deplorable reasons that aren’t appropriate to mention in polite society.
And, oddly it seems, my husband’s relatives who wrote the legalese in Nacirema, have an unusual definition for “legal fiction.” They’ve declared anything assumed to be true in a court of law, such as medical records, to be “legal fiction.” Which would imply the beliefs, and writings, of the Nacirema-Orue healers are also “legal fiction.”
So it seems, I’ll likely have to write the “credible fictional story” my life has become, at the hands of these Nacirema-Orue healers, as a “fictional” story, too. How odd life becomes, however, when reality is turned to fiction, and fiction becomes reality. It’s enough to make a sane person question their sanity, don’t you think?
Creative “fictional” piece, Dr. Walker, thank you.
Personally, however, as an intuitive fine artist I’ve painted the Nacirema flag as not just backwards, but upside down, too. Let’s hope and pray for a return of common decency, respect for all, and logic.
Thanks for your thoughts, Someone Else. Again, I love your handle–it makes me think I’m sending my reply toward you but just missed. I think that art and fiction are more powerful than academic journals in changing consciousness, and it’s the poets who keep the closest vigilance over the rest of us.
I do see consciousness slowly changing, and you’re right, it’s being led by the independent creatives. Youtube is filled with brilliant and creative viewpoints. Let’s hope the awakening continues. And I think the realtors say “follow the artist” for good reason. We are insightful and try to create beauty, then others see and follow the beauty.
But, I’m not quite certain why the psychiatric professionals target us, and find them an annoyance to reality. I guess our insight and creativity is a threat to their limited worldview. Live and let live, a little wisdom, psychiatrists.
I want a Nacirema upside down flag! My MindFreedom bumper sticker is starting to flake off my bumper!
Oh, good idea, madmom. Maybe I should finish the painting and turn it into bumper stickers. I’ll let you know when I do. And thanks!
As a fellow nonconformist I applaud your words and empathize with your struggle. The Nacirema-Orue way of life is designed to create a fundamental brokenness in the development of human beings. People being bathed in cognitive dissonance so intensely that to recognize it (and worse to question it) breeds contempt from the masses. It takes courage to stand in your truth despite such heavy opposition. I have found that my ability to do this is what makes me effective with other Nacirema people who are seeking validation for their existence, rather than serving as my crutch it has allowed me to release from the system by attracting like minded people who need a nonconformist spiritual healer.
Thanks so much for your comment, JenA74. I so agree with you in standing your truth. I’d like to share back that when I came to work with the Yakama Indian community in 2000, my fair skin appearance caused me to hide my Missouri Cherokee family roots. They became gradually discovered by my native friends. At one point, I mentioned being aware of my grandmothers’ Cherokee pride since I was a little boy. A Blackfoot elder made the following ‘intervention’ with me: ‘Then why not follow her? Do you need a federal card to do that? You may be part-Irish or part-English. If you’re Cherokee, be all Cherokee. If your blood runs red, own it. It’s a way of life.’ This set me on a journey in which I was grateful to be assisted and during which I took apart my graduate training and socialization in order to become a real person again with others I was trying to assist. In the process, I reclaimed my forgotten grandmothers and families during sweatlodge in 2001. I’ve never felt any push-back from my indigenous brothers and sisters about all that, only certain Nacirema-Orue, especially those who do not know me. I’d always had conformity issues in the mental health profession, and 2001 is also the time I began to truly see how so many Nacirema-Orue beliefs I’d been raised to were destroying human beings. The Yakama Indian community is very poor and chronically beset with problems related to intergenerational oppression and cultural destruction. Yet some of the strongest people I’ve ever met live among them, and I am forever grateful they chose to help me with my mental and emotional confusion, especially when I was the one who was suppose to be ‘helping’ them.
My Great Grandmother on my Mother’s side was 100% Cherokee. Her Daughter was my Grandma. When my grandmother was 3yrs old, she contacted spinal meningitis. She ran a very high fever, as a result, she lost her hearing. She never learned how to speak. Therefore, she was a deaf mute. When I was 3yrs old, my grandmother came to stay with my family. I was told not to speak to her. The first morning with my grandma, she wanted water, flour, cereal boxes, and she wanted me to get it for her. I had no idea what she was doing. Soon she wanted newspapers? So, I got them. My parents had said that there was something wrong with my grandma because she was violent if she got pissed. So, by now I was a little scared what she was going to do next. Soon she was mixing the flour with the water to make a paste. Next, she was taking cereal boxes and breaking them down. Next thing I knew, she was making me paper dolls from the wedding announcements in the paper. They were so cool. Everything about my Grandmother was so beautiful. I love her so much. Not only was she talented, she could make anything she saw, if she wanted to. She loved me too. We had a great friendship. She was a georgeous woman. She was extremely clever and so talented. I totally understood everything she said to me by the end of the first day with her. It made me extremely sad and upset time, and again, throughout my life to see the way that my Grandma was severely abused and mistreated. I always thought that my Family was ashamed of Grandma, and wished Grandma would literally “disappear”, because they were embarrassed to be seen with a Woman who was an American Indian. Sometimes I know that when the abuse got severe and my Grandpa’s drinking and abuse escalated, they would commit her for years at a time to the same hospital Jack Nikolson filmed “One Flew Over The Coo’Coo’s Nest”. When I would see my Grandma twice after a long stay at that hospital in the early 70’s, she was not the same person I knew. I thought that my grandma was one of the other pateints who was inadvertently released by mistake, instead of my grandma. I did not think she was really my Grandma, and I thought she was still in the hospital by mistake. My Grandma could never speak for herself though when she tried, and they abused her even more and more. I hope whatever my grandma is doing right now that she is herself, and content. I’m sure she is. People who suffer mistreatment, continuously with no love or attention in this life so much become very brave and strong and wise eventually. But, it is such a long and painful process. My children were taken from me when I had my daughter 2 years later. I continued to deal withe the Services For Children And Families. The reason I fell into the hands of the Evil Mental Heath System (Agenda Gone Wrong), was because I was upset that my brother had done something terrible to my 3yr old son. I could not eat, nor drink, or sleep for 3 weeks. I was hospitalized at 23 as a single widow with a little boy (who was further abused by many other members of my immediate family for 8 more weeks, while I was in the hospitalized for 5 weeks, then my mother was given temporary custody of my son for 3 more weeks after I was released from the “Psych Hospital”, Services For Children And Families thought that it would be good for my son to stay with my Mother for 3 more weeks. Really, they Insisted! I had no choice of coarse, because I was such an incompetent mother for being sick because my son was molested by members of my immediate family. Although I reported all of these events with my son and my family to Church Authorities, Police, Counsellors, “Services”(what?) For Children And Families, and basically everyone i knew. The consensus was always the same one. Put her in the hospital now. I totally agree with your views of our twisted culture and it’s social agenda and everything else you say about it. Just think, if we set up our own homes like a psychiatric hospitals, and did to our precious little children the same as they do to us in psychiatric hospitals, what would the black market business Services For Children And Families do then? They would really have a reason to call us unfit parents, and sell all of our precious children like the Gestapo they are. They who are the truly SICK of this world, and weak individuals of POOR character, who FORCE and make others SUFFER. Those who consider themselves any MORE special than any other person. Those who truly have “delusions of grandeur” about being important and professional people because they have a license to call you sick for being human, then decide that you are therefore, an unfit person to you own children and family. Those who like to FORCE. Those who have nature like of a serial killer. Those who bring Death And Suffering to us with a smile on their face and a padded bill for all of the working class to pay. Those who oppress us by deciding our fate and our live should be horrible. Those who dare to even consider that some people are unfit to have jobs, families, lives, freedoms and a lively hood which would be so much better if not damaged by our social systems. But, rather those who are instead in a financial position to help us all be free. Those who consider themselves any more special than any other person. And we all know who I’m talking about! Those who have the audacity to judge another person. Stronger people are able to add to other peoples’s lives, and first do no harm. THOSE WHO ARE TRULY THE ONES WHO ARE NOT ONLY DANGEROUS, BUT OUT OF THER MINDS. Those who consider themselves Psychiatrists, and such, Are Truly The Ones Who Are Of Poor Moral Character, REALLY should be “Weeded Out” of society (like they did to us). And the dogs of our social system. But the won’t be weeded out by us because we are too kind and wouldn’t turn the tables on them. Because we are lucky that we are better people. STRONGER people than they are. Really what knowledge have the even accrued from this life except how to FORCE others and decide that they have the RIGHT to DO THAT at ALL. Those who oppress others in this life will truly be unfortunate when they realize that Karma IS REAL. those who vicimize and force and do harm, will seriously be the unfortunate ones some time in the future. AND it WON’T be FUN or PRETTY. Also, I can truly say that i’d rater Be Oppressed than TO Oppress Others if I had to Choose. Labeled Sick, or unfit, or whatever it may be. I could go on like this for days. And if some sick person decides that we are To Be Forced To Do Anything (including taxes, war, death,or anything else on their twisted agenda, THEY’RE WORSE THEN WRONG, BECAUSE IN THE LONG RUN, THEY WILL TRULY PAY FOR ALL OF THEIR CRIMES THEY HAVE COMMITTED AGAINST HUMANITY. AND IT WON”T BE EASY. ~I write this, not because i am more clever than the average mental patient or”HOPELESS CASE” as I was many times referred to as, But I Say These Things Because THEY ARE TRUE! Also the Psychiatrists and Doctors, etc. and “authorities” are the same type of people who Committed So Many Unspeakable Crimes Against Humanity and The Holocaust Of The American Indians, and all the other mass mushers that have taken place on the earth from the beginning of time. ~Thank You For All Of Your Efforts For Speaking Out Against Psychiatry.
Thank you for your passionate and compelling comment, MsEmpowerment. I appreciated learning about your story and strength–particularly in learning about your wonderful grandmother. Look to her memory and continue to take good care of yourself.
I have always thought of my Grandma often, But usually my thoughts of My Beautiful Cherokee Grandma are Fun. As I mentioned, She Was A Lovely Woman, And the only problem my Grandma had was “Sick People Around Her Wanted Her To Become Invisible”. She Taught me how to communicate with a person without speaking when i was 3 and she made perfect sense. She Still Does. I Love Her So Much! ~Sarah Blair
I Also Love Chief,
I Feel Like MR CRAB~
I See Our People.