A Declaration of Interdependence for the Era of the Murphy Bill

Ron Bassman, PhD
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How we think about health, happiness, and self-fulfillment, and a myriad of issues including suicide, inexplicable violent acts, and the influence of technology/information glut, ecology, the impact of war, poverty, the inequitable distribution of wealth and power and how they are linked with flawed systems of government has been assigned to the domain of social scientists.  The most influential of those are the psychiatrists who have been given the government-mandated power to diagnose, incarcerate and forcibly drug those who are perceived to have a form of mental illness. I believe that such power is arbitrary, unjust and frequently harmful.

Madness defies explanations that prize uniformity.  It is a dynamic chaos without boundaries that is unique to the individual.  Yet madness contains enough common features to seduce our thought leaders to create all-encompassing theories.  At its simplest, madness may be a reaction to pain, suffering and confusion in which the individual attempts to use all of his or her resources to find a way out of ever-shifting mazes. Too many of others’  attempts at help, where force is used without regard to the person’s wishes, needs, and timing that is so important to the individual, often serve to make the maze’ s walls more confining and impenetrable.  . 

I have been trying to generate outrage about the new iteration of the Murphy Bill.  Unfortunately the response has been more of mild agreement – that it is not good – rather than what I hoped would be enough outrage to mobilize actions.  NAMI, if it has not already, will be calling on its huge network to generate a response that would make the Bill look like it is mandated by a public majority.

Today I got a surprise call from a dear friend, Tom Olin, whom many consider the premier visual documentarian of the disability rights movement.  He said he had just come from Tennessee and had visited the Highlander school where we had first met.  While talking to people there, they asked him if he could get a copy of the statement we created there in 2000, so that they could display it next to a photograph of his that was already hanging there.  Tom asked me if I still had the statement and if I did to send it to him.  I dug it up and read it over.  It brought up great memories of the comraderie of that meeting, and how thrilling it was to be part of that historic site of civil rights activism.  But too soon I felt sad, realizing that what we had fought to change back then had not changed much.  And now, more disturbing, is the potential damage to our rights, dignity and ultimately our freedom if the Murphy bill is passed.

Once again I thought about how the pressures and inequities of modern life defy the simple formulas that many crave.  When those too-simple solutions do not work it is easier to assign blame to the outliers, the bad, the evil, the differently endowed, then to examine how developed countries offer their citizens grossly unequal support and opportunity.  The majority have very little control in a game rigged in favor of the advantaged while teasing the disadvantaged with unrealistic expectations of attaining “the good life.”

How we best limit the rights of individuals, when necessary, for the good of the community in a way that does not elevate conformity to an exalted position – at the expense of the seers – is a conundrum.  For communities to operate efficiently, interdependence is paramount.  I wonder how the lofty goal of interdependence can be flexible enough to value and sustain diversity. Our instinct to be wary of difference, the not us, does not serve us as it once did when it was an alert to threat.  With our devastating ability to decimate those we objectify as “other,” and our capacity to damage our planet, it is imperative that we overcome our instinct to see danger in the not us, and most importantly to develop the ability to see the potential gifts of those who are different in some way from the “chronically normal.”  Social justice may be elusive, and rife with seemingly insoluble dilemmas, but we cannot abandon its pursuit.

Freedom and the right to choose is precious. I ask us to stop closing our eyes to the insidious chipping away of our freedom and subscribing to the need to suppress and dominate the not us.  We cannot afford to sacrifice any more of our already limited freedom and privacy for the tenuous illusion of safety. The anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 years ago will be celebrated this summer.  The rights of people with disabilities was a hard fought battle probably best illustrated by the pictures of massive protests – most notably pictures of people leaving their wheelchairs and crawling up the steps of the Washington capital building.  Words can inspire us to actions but I believe that it is with our actions that we provoke progress. The struggle to defeat discrimination and advance disability rights is not over.

I believe the Highlander Statement of 2000 remains all too relevant.

* * *

The Highlander Statement of Concern and Call to Action

March 25, 2000

In the tradition of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and thousands of men and women concerned about social justice and progressive change, thirty people with long histories of fighting for human rights in mental health gathered for three days at the Highlander Center in Tennessee. We argued, came to consensus, and then quietly shared our pain, our concerns, our fears, and our hopes for the future.

We came to understand that our personal stories have power and that they must be heard. We must tell them to other people who have been damaged by psychiatric treatment, to the public, to lawmakers and to political candidates as well. We are compelled to share our collective struggle and claim our place as a civil rights movement along side of those who have been similarly discounted, disenfranchised, and marginalized: people of color; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people; people with physical disabilities; women; people belonging to religious, ethnic, and linguistic minorities; Jews and others now at risk for ethnic cleansing; and people forced to live in poverty amidst the great wealth and abundance of corporate America.

In the Highlander tradition, we came away from those three days on the mountain determined that we will not allow anyone to do for us, to discount us, or to pat us on the head instead of looking us in the eye. We came away invigorated and ready to act individually and collectively to insure that selfdetermination, respect, ethical behavior, and humane voluntary services and supports become the foundation of a reinvented mental health system.

We came away ready to make this a reality.

The Highlander Call for Action:

We call upon all people committed to human rights to organize and fight against the passage and implementation of legislation making it easier to lock up and forcibly drug people labeled with psychiatric disorders, legislation that is creating the backwards of the twentyfirst century not just in hospitals, but also in our own homes.

We call upon all people committed to human rights to work together to build a mental health system that is based upon the principle of self-determination, on a belief in our ability to recover, and on our right to define what recovery is and how best to achieve it.

We call upon people who have used mental health services to heal each other by telling our stories.  We call for the creation of literature and other arts that use our truths to educate, to inform, and to validate our culture and our experience.

We call upon elected officials, political candidates, and those with power over our lives to recognize and honor the legitimacy of our concerns through their policy statements, legislative proposals, and their actions; and we hereby give notice that we will do whatever it takes to insure that we are heard, that our rights are protected, and that we can live freely and peacefully in our communities.

The Highlander 30: Laurie Ahern, Patricia Deegan, Ken Schlosser, Judi Chamberlin, Tom Berendt, Carla X Cubit, Celia Brown, Anne Krauss, Ron Bassman, George Ebert, Mary Ann Ebert, Linda Morrison, Janet Foner, Tom Olin, Lawrence Plumlee, Gayle Bluebird, Cookie Gant, Vicki Fox Wieselthier, Mickey Weinberg, Beverly Jones, Loren Mosher, Ty Colbert, Jay Mahler, Kris Yates, Sally Zinman, Ted Chabasinski, Lynda Wright, Sue Parry, Linda Sisson, David Oaks

9 COMMENTS

  1. Just a few days ago, there were 25 protests against shock treatment in 9 countries. There is nothing stopping our movement for human rights to carry out more actions like this, many more. We just need the will to do so. I think in many ways we have become demoralized because of the powerful forces we are up against, and by the money spent by the mental illness system to buy us off.

    It doesn’t have to be like this. Even without money, even without much of a structure, we have pulled off a historic action, which can be done many times in different ways, again and again. It is time for less talk and more action.

  2. I think we have to confront what is going on here. The mental health system is being described as “broken” because of incidents of multiple murder involving people who had been given psychiatric labels. This, in turn, generates cries for reform, out of which you get a legislative proposal, the Murphy bill. ABC, nothing happens in a vacuum.

    Psychiatric profiling, scapegoating, is at the heart of the matter. There should be no confusing of criminal activities, multiple murder, for instance, with medicine. Murder is not a symptom. A “fixed” mental health system, in these deluded officials eyes, would catch multiple murderers before they commit their crimes, making mental health intervention more effective crime prevention. This is also how the mental health system expands, and how more people, more people than are killed and maimed by the occasional multiple murderer, are maimed and killed by the mental health system.

    It is this scapegoating, blaming people in the mental health system in general for the violent acts of a very few in particular, that would excuse mistreating people with psychiatric labels. The mental patient, as ever, is the scapegoat’s scapegoat. I don’t think it any wonder that psychoanalysis was developed by a Jew. Nor do I think it any wonder that so many of the psychiatrists operating in the west at this time were born in India or the middle east. Nor is it any wonder that Hitler prepared for his final solution by murdering psychiatric inmates. Mental patients are still the scapegoats of scapegoats, the perfect target, consigned to a realm of general condemnation, and mistreatment.

    Hmm. Maybe it’s time for a another Highlander type meeting and ‘call to action’ statement. What do you think? Thanks for this post, Ron, and may it lead somewhere.

  3. You would think that living in Dr. Murphy’s district I could do something about him and vote him out of office. The sad thing is he is in a protected district that is overwhelming ONE PARTY, so much so NO ONE EVER runs against him! I asked a politically active friend of mine what would I have to do to run against him. The first things was to bring ONE Million Dollars t the table. That is the buy-in so the party will take you seriously. After that it would take another 10-20 million. Murphy is backed by Big Pharma and the Republican political machine so my or anyone else ‘s chances are almost zero. He’s basically there for life.

    This bill will not go away, he will be bring it back, he will use the next tragedy to get it passed. The result will be yet another weapon for the government to use against the people. If you believe in God, don’t believe in macro-evolution or global warming then you are delusional and in need of “help” If they can’t throw you in prison they will lock you away in a “hospital” all for your own “good”

    • Hi Duane,

      How do we get any politician to support this since as many comments have rightfully shown, they aren’t motivated by facts? Perhaps showing that this this type of bill would be less costly in the long run? Or maybe focus on the issue of psych med abuse in kids since as Ted has rightfully said, the average public person relates to that? I think you have a good idea but I am trying to figure out the best way to make this a reality.

      • Large amts of people, from several groups, such as psych survivors, veterans, parents of young children, alternative medicine practitioners, family members of nursing home residents, counselors, therapists, religious organizations, non-profits…. Large numbers are seen as votes (kept or potentially lost).

        Duane

  4. “The opening of the United States Declaration of Independence states as follows: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

    Why is psychiatry’s belief system of stigmatizing and torturing people with drugs even legal in the US? Truly, this country has been taken over by the wrong “people.” Thank you for what you are doing and I agree with Frank, “Maybe it’s time for a another Highlander type meeting and ‘call to action’ statement.”