“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” 1
Albert Camus’ opening sentence to his work The Myth of Sisyphus, unmistakably emphasising the eminence of the topic at hand, is a fitting start to the thoughts and considerations to follow. For this sentence imbues the reader with an ethical dilemma: it confines suicide to the philosophical realm, thereby negating manifold alternate reasons which necessitate its rumination. How does one decide how to act if one’s reasoning is philosophically incoherent yet psychologically lucid? Or philosophically incoherent yet circumstantially logical?
In this essay I seek to trace the lines of suicide through small excerpts of literature from the past century which grasp the zeitgeist of post-war peace; a century in which individualism, elsewhere favourably labelled self-determinism, has been reproachfully dismissed as the crude fetish of several generations. Finally, in assembling the loose ends, I will seek to rethink suicide in times of technological advancement, consequently liberating it, as an autonomous act by a self-determined agent, from philosophical, moral and medical chains of restraint. Herein I will come to a different conclusion to Camus, and ultimately reject his call to refuse suicide2 on the basis of revolt: an individual’s perpetual confrontation with their own absurdity, which is in essence an eternal, futile search for clarity and worldly meaning of the human condition.3
“Consciousness and revolt, these rejections are the contrary of renunciation. Everything that is indomitable and passionate in a human heart quickens them, on the contrary, with its own life. It is essential to die unreconciled and not of one’s own free will. Suicide is a repudiation. The absurd man can only drain everything to the bitter end, and deplete himself. The absurd is his extreme tension which he maintains constantly by solitary effort, for he knows that in that consciousness and in that day-to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth which is defiance […] One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt […] Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences which are my revolt, my freedom and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death — and I refuse suicide.” 4
Contemporary discussions on suicide are often limited to assisted suicide or euthanasia: (assisting in) ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal somatic illness. It is commonly accepted that such a somatic illness liberates the individual from upholding the aforementioned responsibility — what difference do a few more weeks make? Envisioning a bedridden person gasping for breath and wincing with discomfort, I believe many will be able to identify with the words of Wolfgang Herrndorf, a German author diagnosed with glioblastoma (a very aggressive, incurable brain tumour) in 2010. He documented his last years on a blog:
“What I need is an exit strategy. With Cornelius I had already begun, but that was in times of mania, where I was completely sure that it could only be a weapon […] to be able to put it behind me not in a moment of desperation, but euphoria — and without problems. The condition was that no more than a tenth of a second could lie between decision and execution. Even a hand grenade wouldn’t have been possible. The fear of that three-second delay would have killed me. Likewise pills, with their protracted procedure of swallowing and waiting. For at no point did I want to die, nor do I want to die now. But the assurance of having it in my own hands was an essential part of my mental hygiene from the start. I find googling unspeakably difficult, a practical know-how nowhere to be found. Friends be informed: in case anyone knows of ways and means or is in possession of such things — the first MRI is on 21st June. By then I need something here. Whether I have the discipline to actually go through with it at the end is a different question entirely. But as I said, it is a matter of mental hygiene. I need to know that I am the master in my own house. Nothing more.
[…] Meanwhile, the solved exit strategy has such a resoundingly calming effect on me that it is unclear why my health insurance doesn’t pay for it. Globulins yes, bazooka no. Idiots.” (tr. MR) 5
Three years later Herrndorf decided to act upon this exit strategy. The epilogue to his blog was concluded with the following:
“Wolfgang Herrndorf did it how it should be done. At around 23:15 on Monday 26th August (2013) he shot himself in the head with a revolver on the bank of the Hohenzollern canal. He aimed at the brain stem through his mouth. The weapon’s calibre was 9 mm. Herrndorf’s personality had not changed as a result of the illness, but his coordination and spatial orientation were impaired towards the end. It was probably one of the last days on which he was capable of the act.” (tr. MR) 6
Suicide as a means to ending chronic suffering due to terminal somatic illness merely scratches at the surface of the discourse to follow. Yet even here, in the shallow waters of debate, public outcry against suicide is not uncommon. Arguments range from fears for the social climate — in that the acceptance of suicide initiates a ‘slippery slope’ for greater pressure on those not seeking to end their life, despite individual circumstances which may be deemed unworthy of continued life by others — to a cardinal opposition to anything besides natural, non-induced death. The latter can be traced back to the Christian doctrine of life as something that is given, datum, “over which we have the right of use, usus, but not governance, dominion.”7 These tensions shine a different light on Herrndorf’s plight. Do the arguments against suicide in the case of a terminal somatic illness such as glioblastoma constitute a universal philosophical, if not moral opposition to his act?8 An act which did not just alleviate his suffering in the final instance, but served as a pivotal aspect of his mental hygiene in his final years of life?
And Herrndorf’s case leads to another consideration: No matter how one may judge his decision, what about those suffering from an equally chronic and incurable, yet by no means terminal somatic illness? Or an illness not primarily somatic, but psychological? Or, extending the argument to the other extreme, an individual not suffering from an illness at all, but merely voicing a wish to die; a wish to be in control of oneself as a self-determined agent? There are no simple, universal answers to these questions. To inhabit this void the immanent nature of suicide requires reflection. Consider this passage from Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf:
“As every strength may become a weakness (and under some circumstances must) so, on the contrary, may the typical suicidal person find a strength and support in his apparent weakness; indeed, does so extraordinarily often. The case of Harry, the Steppenwolf, is one of these. As thousands of his kind do he found consolation and support, and not merely the melancholy play of juvenile fantasy, in the idea that the path to death was always open to him. It is true, as with all men of his kind, that every shock, every pain, every unfavourable predicament at once gave rise in him the wish to withdraw himself through death. Out of this tendency, however, he gradually fashioned himself a philosophy that was actually conducive to life. He gained strength from the idea’s familiarity that the emergency exit stood always open; it made him curious to savour his suffering and dire circumstances, and if he felt miserable he would sometimes experience, with a grim, malicious pleasure: ‘I am curious to see all the same just how much a person can endure! If the limit of what is bearable is reached, I have only to open the door to escape.’ There are many suicidal people onto whom this thought imparts an exceptional strength.” 9
Hesse’s protagonist inverts the negative connotation habitually associated with suicidality. In doing so, he liberates it from a long-standing societal taboo. Proceeding along these lines: is it not the very capacity for suicide that makes us human? Building upon ideas of Jean Améry, Edouard Levé and E. M. Cioran, Simon Critchley highlights the following:
“To be human is to have the capacity, at each and every moment, of killing oneself. Incarceration, humiliation, disappointment, disease — the world can do all of this to us, but it cannot remove the possibility of suicide. For as long as we keep this power in our hands, then we are, in some minimal but real sense, free.” 10
This capacity, this freedom, of autonomy’s jurisdiction to extend to the outermost seconds of life, namely death, is an innate part of humanity and thus consciousness. At this point it seems instructive to divert from a discussion solely on suicide as an inducer of death, to likewise consider death as such. In his seminal work Being and Time, Martin Heidegger reflects on ‘Dasein’ as Being-towards-death:
“The more authentically Dasein resolves — and this means that in anticipating death it understands itself unambiguously in terms of its ownmost distinctive possibility — the more unequivocally does it choose and find the possibility of its existence, and the less does it do so by accident. Only by the anticipation of death is every accidental and ‘provisional’ possibility driven out. Only Being-free for death, gives Dasein its goal outright and pushes existence into its finitude. Once one has grasped the finitude of one’s existence, it snatches one back from the endless multiplicity of possibilities which offer themselves as closest to one — those of comfortableness, shirking, and taking things lightly — and brings Dasein into the simplicity of its fate […] If Dasein, by anticipation, lets death become powerful in itself, then, as free for death, Dasein understands itself in its own superior power, the power of its finite freedom, so that in this freedom, which ‘is’ only in its having chosen to make such a choice, it can take over the powerlessness of abandonment to its having done so, and can thus come to have a clear vision for the accidents of the Situation that has been disclosed.” 11
Heidegger’s understanding of death brings the discussion of suicide as an inducer of death full circle.12 Accepting death as a possibility embraces the finitude of our existence. Thus Heidegger propagates a way of living in relation to the conscious prospect of the certainty of death, while simultaneously accepting an indefiniteness of its time point. Herein lies the meaning of the phrase anticipation of death. The value of this is highlighted by Heidegger’s use of the term ownmost possibility: In anticipating and ultimately accepting indefinite death, and thereafter, in light of this prospect, Being-towards-death, the integrity of an individual’s life is initially tangible. Death is the one aspect of life that cannot be delegated. For the same reason, it is the one aspect of life in which the totality of all of my possibilities and consequent undertakings can be given a finitude of meaning by myself; it is the one aspect in which I may appropriate the public meanings of all of my actions in an integrated and coherent way.13 This one aspect of life cannot be delegated to another individual. Consequently, as Heidegger claims, death individualises Dasein.
Being and Time was published almost a century ago in 1927. In this past century humankind has been obsessed with the overarching aim of technological advance. As a result we are now the first biological (organic) species that populates the face of the earth capable of creating a technological (inorganic) civilisation — and appear determined to do so.14 Regardless of whether this postulate is realistic or far-fetched, whether it arouses fear or excitement of the unknown; the constituents and conditions for life, and in particular death, are changing, with unprecedented consequences for suicide. Yuval Noah Harari briefly foreshadows this development in Sapiens:
“[According to the myth] when the gods created man, Gilgamesh had learned, they set death as man’s inevitable destiny, and man must learn to live with it […] Disciples of progress do not share this defeatist attitude. For men of science, death is not an inevitable destiny, but merely a technical problem. People die not because the gods decreed it, but due to various technical failures — a heart attack, cancer, an infection. And every technical problem has a technical solution […] True, at present we cannot solve all technical problems. But we are working on them. Our best minds are not wasting their time trying to give meaning to death. Instead, they are busy investigating the physiological, hormonal and genetic systems responsible for disease and old age. They are developing new medicines, revolutionary treatments and artificial organs that will lengthen our lives and might one day vanquish [death…] The leading project of the Scientific Revolution is to give humankind eternal life […] How long will the quest for immortality take to complete? A hundred years? Five hundred years? A thousand years? […] Nanotechnology experts are developing a bionic immune system composed of millions of nano-robots, who would inhabit our bodies, open blocked blood vessels, fight viruses and bacteria, eliminate cancerous cells and even reverse ageing processes. A few serious scholars suggest that by 2050, some humans will become a-mortal (not immortal, because they could still die of some accident, but a-mortal, meaning that in the absence of fatal trauma their lives could be extended indefinitely).” 15
The premise introduced through Harari’s discussion of the quest for eternal life engenders a paradigm shift with a bleak outlook: What if we are heading towards a future in which we must all choose the time and place for our own death? A future in which Camus’ demands ironically require infinite revolt ad absurdum; a future in which the Heideggerian anticipation of death is no longer innate, and thus fails to serve as a liberator from the ‘they’ 16 in favour of the eminent possibility of oneself as an individual — of one’s ownmost being. Hence, a future in which suicide is the only path to the ‘natural’ end17 of life, that has remained as the limiting constant for all of humanity’s biological past thus far, and is only now, in the potential wake of a technological civilisation, conceivably blocked. Must we oppose suicide? Or rather embrace it as our final freedom; as the last inducer of death?
The title of this essay is hereby acknowledged. If death’s certainty as a ‘naturally’ attainable end disintegrates, then an individual is no longer Being-towards-death. Yet if death remains the desirable, natural end to life, then this may only be reached for an individual Being-towards-suicide.
To conclude, the argument being made is not one which holds only if the premise of a-mortality is perceivable. Rather, it is the deliberation which this premise necessitates that is primarily of use, for it rescinds the aforementioned anticipation of death. By consequently distancing ourselves from the obsession around naturalis — death pertaining to nature — as the only point of reference for a legitimate inducer of the natural end to life, self-determination shifts into focus. Thus it is not a matter of finding a philosophically or otherwise coherent answer to the fundamental question of whether life is or is not worth living. It is another question that must be answered: Does the state have a right to override an individual’s basic convictions about the meaning and facticity of life and death?
I believe that the only point of relevance is the personal and autonomous wish to accept or else induce death at any given time. I sympathise with Herrndorf’s need for mental hygiene and the Steppenwolf’s utilisation of suicide as a personal aide imparting strength. Further, I agree with Critchley’s belief that the capacity for suicide is inherently human. This does not make suicide a necessity, for one is always free to choose, but legitimises it as an individual recourse. For any remaining doubt, let me conclude with this comment by Ronald Dworkin:
“Making someone die in a way that others approve, but he believes a horrifying contradiction of his life, is a devastating, odious form of tyranny.” 18
- Albert Camus — The Myth of Sisyphus (Penguin Modern Classics, 2000, translation by Justin O’Brien, p. 5) ↩
- Camus distinguishes between physical suicide, i.e., clinical death, and philosophical suicide, i.e., a ‘leap of faith’ embracing religious or other metaphysical ideas and hopes. I am referring to both forms here. ↩
- This is a stark simplification of Camus’ ideas, sufficing for the purposes of this essay. For a more detailed exposition I recommend both The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel as primary literature, or David E. Cooper — Existentialism: A Reconstruction (2nd Edition, Blackwell Publishing, 1999, pp. 139-144) and Introduction to Camus: The Absurd, Revolt, and Rebellion as secondary literature. ↩
- Albert Camus — The Myth of Sisyphus (Penguin Modern Classics, 2000, translation by Justin O’Brien, pp. 40-48) ↩
- Wolfgang Herrndorf — Arbeit und Struktur (Rowohlt Berlin, 2013, pp. 50, 79) ↩
- Ibid. p. 445 ↩
- Simon Critchley — Notes on Suicide (Fitzcarraldo Editions, London, 2015, p. 21) ↩
- In addition to the legal formalities which make a dignified suicide very difficult. ↩
- Hermann Hesse — Der Steppenwolf (Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 1975, pp. 53-56). Note: the translation by Basil Creighton and Joseph Mileck has been used as a template here, although I have slightly altered certain parts for better readability. ↩
- Simon Critchley — Notes on Suicide (Fitzcarraldo Editions, London, 2015, p. 72) ↩
- Martin Heidegger — Sein und Zeit (Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen, 2006, p. 384). Note: the english translation by J. Macquarrie and J. Robinson has been used here (Blackwell, 1962) ↩
- For a detailed discussion of these concepts see David E. Cooper — Existentialism: A Reconstruction (2nd Edition, Blackwell Publishing, 1999, pp. 112-116 and 133-139) ↩
- Ibid. pp. 137-138. Here Cooper also quotes from Charles Guignon. ↩
- I discuss this in an earlier entry on isolatarium.org (1/2018 — ‘On the perils of an artificial superintelligent species’). ↩
- Yuval Noah Harari — Sapiens (Vintage, London, 2015, pp. 297-302) ↩
- The ‘they’: anonymous, communal character of society; the political and social conditions, the ready-made, widespread schemes of beliefs and values prevailing in societies, exerting power over an individual. See David E. Cooper — Existentialism: A Reconstruction (2nd Edition, Blackwell Publishing, 1999, pp. 109-116). ↩
- Disregarding the discussion on the possibility of afterlife for this essay. ↩
- Ronal Dworkin — Life’s Dominion: an argument about abortion, euthanasia, and individual freedom (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1993, p. 217) ↩
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.
Suicide is not a choice, it is a psychological necessity.
“Death then is the cure and the salvation and not
just a last, worst stage of a disease. The cock-crow at dawn
also heralds resurrection of the light. But the victory over
disease and the new day begins only when the ambition
for it has been abandoned upon the altar. The disease
which ttte experience of death cures is the rage to live.
This disease is phrased best in the medical-statistical
term ‘life-expectancy’. Hoping, ‘expecting with desire’,
is justified statistically; one has the right to a certain
quantity of life. This hope tends to entangle physician
and patient in hoping for the wrong thing. They hope for
more of the life that is already known, that is, for the past.
Hope of this kind is hardly for salvation or even for new
beginnings. It is regressive because it prevents the challenge of death. It is egotistic because it asks for more of what one was. This is hardly the hope Paul describes
which is not seen and where ‘getting better’ would mean a
quality of being, not an approach to the normal. One is
led to believe that the desire to be free from illness means
in truth to return to what one was before the illness, to the
status quo ante. When the physician joins the patient in
hoping to restore or return him to health with a speedy recovery, they move against the flow of time, the process of ageing, and the reality of death. Their joint hope denies
the morbidity of all life. ”
“Does the state have a right to override an individual’s basic convictions about the meaning and facticity of life and death?”
Silly question. Who is the state? Our overlords? God? Or just the one who fills your pay check?
My answer to that would be there are at a least (!) a thousand ways to die and the 50 ways to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4xoHjNjxus
Is the last b/w picture one of a homeless bum at a cemetery smoking and possibly drinking, with an amazon drone in the air? Is it an invitation for the “mentally ill” to f**k off and die?
They tried it in the late 30’s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aktion_T4
Now they sublimely try to convince you. SUICIDE. It’s your right!! Don’t let the STATE stop you!! Philosophy says so. It’s your only chance of asserting yourself!
Bob Whitaker (one T, not 2) has developed OCD because of Donald Trump. Why you may ask? It’s hard to face the truth, you start shaking and develop a compulsion. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
Removed at request of poster.
This was taken at a cemetery in San Francisco, where the photographer met a group of film-makers trying out their new drone. He spent several hours with them and took this picture, amongst many others. So far as he remembers neither the cemetery as a personification of death nor death as such were the focus of the time spent there, and nor was any motion of mental illness. The reason I chose this picture is a personal association I made when seeing it, an emotional response which, in my opinion, builds nicely upon the thoughts discussed in this essay
I would do everything in my power to prevent someone from suicide, aside from seeking psych “help.” That would make them far more likely to kill themselves. Some even do it while locked up.
It’s extremely hypocritical for shrinks to oppose suicide under the guise of “compassion” when the profession has always been about involuntary euthanasia and sterilization of those they deem “unfit.” Their “treatments” are nothing but a slow, agonizing death sentence. After 25 years of “help” I can barely leave my house most days.
Now some shrinks support “assisted suicide.” Totally voluntary–but we all know for those labeled “SMI” the word voluntary means absolutely nothing for us.
If someone really wants to destroy him or herself they don’t need a doctor to do it. Ending a life is way too easy. I think that’s why Szazs mocked Jack the Dripper Kavorkian.
Let me clarify. By “always” I meant generally and from the beginning. Ever since Francis Galton cooked up his theory that crimes were due to “bad breeding” and certain families of “moral degenerates” were less than human.
After World War II killing/sterilizing the unfit became unpopular. Even among psychiatrists.
Recently they found they can transform people into cash cows through the drug induced “bipolar” epidemic. Since they can’t milk dead cows they oppose suicide–assisted or otherwise.
My fear is since shrinks are notorious for forcing their own will on patients that euthanasia–once permitted–would NOT be truly voluntary. They can force AOT on people after all.
Why not say, “Your honor, Erma Jones thinks she wants to live. This is only due to lack of insight into the severity of her condition. The only humane thing to do is permanently fix her schizoaffective/BPD/agosognosia by mercy killing. If she screams and pleads for her life remember it’s just her illness talking.”
For now, in America, they find it more profitable to slowly destroy our brains and other organs.
When people are having their awareness of injustice turned into a self-improvement project, then it would seem that suicide is radically more likely.
As Foucault had explained, the state used to have to wield the threat of execution to keep people in line.
Now they don’t need that. They can keep people in line merely by withholding permission to die.
I feel that he was referring to this Moral Improvement / FYOG model which Psychotherapy and Recovery operate on.
“awareness of injustice turned into a self-improvement project”. It is worth to remember this thought.
We will all die eventually and I find the suicide wars so mentally exhausting. It should absolutely be the right of the individual to take their own life and it is as personal a decision as whether or not to marry or have children or any other major decision in life. Ultimately the individual has to decide if their life continues to add value to the world and if living is what they want. Conflating suicide with mental illness is just another way to control people and take away that last bit of agency over their own existence.
By the way, this was a very good blog and quite timely as I’ve been revisiting my favorite existentialists just the last few days. Clearly I need to take a dive into Camus.
We must not be torturing people into suicide, via psychiatry and psychotherapy.
Hey PD, we agree on a lot of individual points regarding capitalism and the middle class family, but I find your attacks on psychotherapy offensive.
In a world where no one really cares anymore, I am thankful I have the option to pay someone to listen and pretend to care about my struggles. If you want to change the world, how about starting by changing the need for support rather than suggesting you’d take away the last form of support some people have.
“We must not be torturing people into suicide, via psychiatry and psychotherapy.”
What do you mean by this?
Both Psychiatry and Psychotherapy try to convince people that it is better to go on existing, not really living, just existing, without public honor.
As this is torture, it often does result in suicide.
Not sure I follow your point. Imagine the opposite — if psychiatric professionals didn’t propagate the advantage of continued life, then surely suicide would be even more common?
And the torturous path you mention: are you not disposing the responsibility of each individual, who often seeks psychiatric help and not the other way round?
Milan, Continued life means standing up for your honor.
Psychotherapy and Psychiatry and based on life without honor, and based on making people believe that it is they who are the cause of their own problems.
Milan Röhricht, Psychiatry is totally bogus, and so is psychotherapy.
Money spent sending survivors to Psychotherapists so that they can talk themselves out and thus be reduced to a highly vulnerable state so that they can be pressured into accepting an honorless vegetative existence.
This money would be far better spend sending survivors to law school.
Removed for moderation.
Milan, personalizing problems is one of the main ways that the mental health system, as well as the middle-class family and capitalism, perpetuate themselves.
“Not sure I follow your point. Imagine the opposite — if psychiatric professionals didn’t propagate the advantage of continued life, then surely suicide would be even more common?
And the torturous path you mention: are you not disposing the responsibility of each individual, who often seeks psychiatric help and not the other way round?
Capitalism depends upon the Middle-Class Family, and this operates via the Self-Reliance Ethic. What backs it up, an enforcing arm of the state, is the mental health system.
So the mental health system advances the self-reliance ethic by making people feel that they are responsible for problems they encounter in life. It is rather like if you had someone who was angry because they were enslaved. A mental health professional would be called in to make that person believe that it is right that they are enslaved, converting an angry slave to a happy slave.
The one who has thought this through the best is Michel Foucault. The state used to have to wield the power of execution to keep people in line. But now, all it has to do to keep people in line is refuse to grant them permission to die.
A mental health professional is a licensed officer of the state. Their primary function is to convince people that it is morally superior not to try and redress wrongs, not to try and punish perpetrators and not seize reparations for survivors. They are committed to convincing you that submission to the state is morally superior to reclaiming your public honor.
And so, existence without honor often does lead to suicide. I can’t even call such an existence life.
The desire to utter great words and perform great deeds is evolutionarily developed, because with public honor, you are valued and the tribal group will work with you, help protect you, and often follow your lead.
Someone ends up in the mental health system because their life has been derailed. The mental health system is licensed to discourage you from striking back in order to restore your honor. It wants you to accept abuse and injustice, and just to go on existing.
Suicide is likely when someone is forced into to this.
This looks good:
and he has earlier books too:
2019 Foucault’s analysis of modern governmentality : a critique of political reason / Thomas Lemke ; translated by Erik Butler
This Judith Butler, I think she is the one who really goes into how to fight against BioPolitics and BioPower.
Judith Butler, born 1956, now at UC Berkeley
This video is also good:
Foucault is important because he is the one who shows that modern social control works not with physical coercion, but it works between the ears, by making the subject believe that they are obliged to conduct themselves certain ways.
Foucault developed these skill as a teenager when he had to endure a nationally prominent psychoanalyst whom his parents had sent him to.
You raise some interesting points and objections, but I see things very differently.
With regard to your more general aversion towards those working within the mental health system — the ‘enforcing arm of the state’, the ‘licensed officer of the state’, those who ‘want you to accept abuse and injustice’ — I think you are making it too easy for yourself by asserting a simple good vs. bad generalisation.
Picking up on your metaphor: it seems you are judging a person’s stance on the notion of slavery according to a certain category, and not their belief. As ants are enslaving bees, all ants must be of the belief that slavery is, ultimately, beneficial. It matters not to you whether the individual ant in question shares that view, or if, in fact, the polar opposite is true — what you are saying is: if an individual is an ant, then they must be in favour of slavery. Nothing else is conceivable.
The same thus applies for the mental health system: your aversion seems to run so deep that it is inconceivable for an ‘enforcing arm of the state’ not to ‘want you to accept abuse and injustice’. I don’t agree with this.
And another thought: where does Foucault fit into this? As a trained psychotherapist, was he, too, not thereby a ‘licenced officer of the state’? Or Tosquelles, Oury, Lacan, Basaglia, even Cooper, Laing and Huber?
With regard to the more specific notion of personal responsibility, I completely agree with your emphasis on the problematic status quo, perhaps a neoliberal tendency, of reducing the causality of individual suffering to a personal responsibility — what you call a ‘self-reliance ethic’. This diminishes the impact of political and structural conditions which are as relevant for mental health as anything else.
But, and I think this is the point at which we diverge, I don’t think the argument should be made as an either / or situation: the political and structural conditions must be addressed whilst simultaneously accepting a personal responsibility inherent to each human being.
And that leads back to suicide: the discussion of suicide in this essay has not been specific to mental health. I have tried to argue for the individual right to self-determination — even if an individual wants to use this right to end their life — regardless what the reason is.
“general aversion towards those working within the mental health system”
I am not averse to the mental health system, I am 100% opposed to it.
Yes, Foucault was a licensed psychotherapist. He was actually the first person in France to earn such a license, as they had just created that new class of license.
But that was a long time ago, at the early part of his adult life, before he wrote most of his critical works. I am sure that he did not continue to practice as a psychotherapist.
Well, slavery and other types of racial injustice have gone on longer than they otherwise might have, because many of those being oppressed aided the oppressors. In France such persons would be called collaborators. In the US we have a different term.
The mental health system creates a delegitimated class of persons, so it is like slavery.
The mental health system does not create justice, it perpetuates oppression. Someone who did not want to do this would not be part of the mental health system. I am not averse to it, I am in open opposition to it.
Someone who helps perpetuate gross injustice is culpable. After Nuremburg this is settled international law.
The mental health system tries to make people believe that their distress originates from their own short comings. For the most part the are able to achieve their objective.
The Self-Reliance Ethic is important here, being really a broader version of the Work-Ethic. Astute observers have long noted that in order for Capitalism to have been accepted, there has to be something like a cosmic debt which people were made to believe in. Well basically this is the religions doctrine of Original Sin.
And then in most cases where someone is made to believe in ~Mental Illness / Brain Chemical Imbalance~ or ~Autism/Aspergers / Neurological Difference~ it is the Middle-Class Family which is in play. It exists in order to exploit and abuse children, in order to make them conform. Most of the time this works as intended. But when it doesn’t, you have Mental Health Enforcement and you have Neurological Difference Enforcement.
All of these things originated in the Mental Hygiene and Eugenics Movements, and these are resurfacing now because they are most useful for the currently popular Neoliberalism.
Foucault is the one who recognized the problems with this and best explained them first.
“Personal Responsibility” is just pedagogy, lecturing to people as though they were children. Must show no tolerance towards this.
When one is being influenced by the mental health system, suicide becomes more likely because they are trying to convince you that it is better to live without honor. That kind of a life does not deserve to be called life, it is just one small step above a vegetative existence, living in the very small social space which the abusers have left, living in the therapist’s office.
Removed for moderation.
Therapy and Recovery are based on the premise that life is hard and you feel distress because of things which happened long ago.
I say that this is mostly just distraction. While we do want to bring to the surface what memories we can, this is difficult. And besides therapy and recovery are using a rotten model of cognition.
The real reason that life is hard today is because a survivor does not have a legitimated biography. They are existing without honor.
And time spent in the therapists office does not change this. In fact, the more weeks you spend with your life revolving around therapy and recovery, the further developed becomes a narrative of defect and disorder. It makes it look like you don’t even understand the concept of honor.
The reason that survivors have no social and civil standing is that when people abuse us, nothing happens to them.
I helped three girls get their molester father a long term in our state penitentiary. And his entire fundamentalist church had been standing behind him, making the daughters wrong.
Removed for moderation.
“Foucault is the one who recognised the problems with this and best explained them first.
“Personal Responsibility” is just pedagogy, lecturing to people as though they were children. Must show no tolerance towards this.”
I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing. What I mean by ‘personal responsibility’ is very different to how you are describing it. This is a nice illustration of what I mean, taken from an article by Camille Robcis (who is currently writing a book on Institutional Psychotherapy), where the idea of ‘personal responsibility’ can be substituted for ‘holding someone accountable’:
“According to Tosquelles, [Hermann] Simon’s greatest contribution was to change the attitudes of doctors and nurses vis-à-vis the patients. Work was not simply a distraction for the patients and it certainly was not a “moral treatment”. Rather, work was a way to hold the patients accountable: “holding the patients accountable for Simon meant trusting them and trusting the existence of a general law of all living beings, a ‘logos’ that regulated and ordered everything.” This general law was not a morality, Tosquelles insisted, but more like an ethics, a way of life. As Tosquelles put it, “the point was not to ‘make patients work’ to alleviate this or that symptom but to make the patients and the staff work to cure the institution.” It is this ethical — and fundamentally social — understanding of psychiatry that Tosquelles brought to Saint-Alban and that was particularly influential for thinkers such as Jean Oury and Félix Guattari.”
And then Robcis’ footnote (35) at the end of this quote is interesting:
“It is in this sense that Michel Foucault referred to Anti-Oedipus as “a book of ethics, the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time.” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia)”
Most schools of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis frown upon suicide. And most civilized countries prohibit it.
It thing it was Binswanger who said it was okay, or was it Jaspers?
If so I am not really disagreeing with them, its just that I guess most people see suicide as just a senseless tragedy and waste. I also see it this way.
Suicide is absolutely not a senseless tragedy. It’s the last act of rebellion some can manage. The surviving “family” and “friends” who tut tut and wonder what they could have done are covering for their own complicity.
“I am not averse to the mental health system, I am 100% opposed to it.”
What do you propose in its stead? And I mean this question completely sincerely, for I think we do share a common notion of rejection of the status quo, and I am open to the necessity of radical, institutional change
Well I think the mental health system has always been bogus. Today all it does is create a vast amount of pain and suffering, as well as a giant underclass.
So first I call for a hard line stance, No Drugs, No Psychotherapy, No Recovery Programs. It is important that people take this stance, so that they are not bound into the system.
Then we build political organizations and act. We get the drugs off of the market, we eliminate all forced treatments, and we start putting some psychotherapists out of business and end the government licensing of psychotherapy. We also get the government out of the Recovery and Salvation businesses.
We protect children as we try to now, but supplemented by setting up things like the Children’s Home in an Israeli Kibbutz. We can’t eradicate the middle-class family, but we can do better in mitigating it. Children must have back up places to go and back up places where they visit regularly and already feel welcomed. This takes the place of Foster Care. And so we also have voluntary universal day care and preschool, as they have in France. Everybody uses it, because it is so good.
The United States is just about alone among industrialized nations in that it allows people to disinherit their children. Legal scholars have tried to show the absurdity of this. But here it is. And it has gotten worse, as the one exception had been Louisiana, but in the mid 90’s they changed their laws and even amended their state constitution. But I talk to people online who live in other countries where the laws are different, and they seem to have no idea what the laws are even in their country. Well, things have started to change in the Common Law Countries, staring with the 1938 Wills Variation Act in the British Parliament. And then in the Civil Law Countries, Western Europe, Latin America, and now some on the Pacific Rim, there has always been such protection. Not even necessary to have a lawyer. So in the US, things need to change. Can’t use children as the family scapegoats.
And then we have to look at what is really creating this huge underclass in the industrialized nations, and especially in the US. We live and work with advanced agricultural technology, advanced industrial technology, and advanced information technology. And we have increasingly these boom and bust cycles. First was around 1873, and then the 1930’s. And then after Ronald Reagan, I have lost count. The reason is simply that most of our economy serves very soft needs. We do not anymore need a very large work force. But the way that is being dealt with is by labeling people as ~Addicts~ ~Alcoholics~ ~Mentally Ill~ or ~Autistic~. I think it could go next to internment camps.
What Buckminster Fuller wrote was that because of advances in agriculture and industrial technology, we now have the ability to take care of every single person even better than royalty had lived in past centuries.
Now true, much of this technology of the 20th Century had been developed for killing people. But we can use it differently. We already produce more than enough of everything we need. But as Fuller explained, “The reason we don’t see this is that we expect everybody to prove that they can earn a living.”
Seeing the carnage of two world wars, in 1947 Georges Bataille wrote his “Accursed Share”. It is that share which creates wars. Bataille instead envisioned a Gift Economy.
Seeing produce left to rot on the ground and livestock being buried, because market prices were too low to pay the transportation costs, and seeing vast unemployment and mortgage foreclosures, in 1934 Upton Sinclair ran for Governor of California. His platform was called production for use, because it is overproduction and over consumption which creates the busts.
Our society and our economic system need to change. Right now one of the most destructive things we have going is the Work-Ethic, which is the basis of the Middle-Class Family. Most of those in this underclass have been deeply effected by this teaching.
And then a broader version of this, the Self-Reliance Ethic, seems to be the basis of the Autism Industry.
So what to do, the most promising thing now seems to be Universal Basic Income, along with Medicare for All and a strong public housing offering along with free college. This goes a bit beyond what Andrew Yang has written, 2020 Democrat for President:
Political involvement is always the replacement for the therapist’s couch.
So who wants to align themselves with the hard line stance:
No Drugs, No Psychotherapy, No Recovery Programs!
From there we start taking political actions. The hard line stance is necessary so that we are not feeding into the logic of mental health, psychotherapy, and recovery.
If people can agree on some minimum standard for resistance, No Drugs, No Psychotherapy, No Recovery Programs, then we can stop debating about healing, therapy, and recovery, and instead we can start fighting for redress.
Right now, we have no social or civil standing. Why?
Its because when people abuse us, nothing happens to them.
^^^^^ So then people say that the abuse is not abuse, that it was necessary FYOG.
Restoring Social and Civil Standing by legal means.
Not Recovery, Healing, or Therapy.
For several reasons I don’t agree with the ‘hard line stance’ you outline. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with some of your arguments (although frankly I’m not really sure I understand some of them), but they lead me to different conclusions.
At the end you write: “political involvement is always the replacement for the therapist’s couch”. The essence of a political struggle into which mental healthcare is embedded shouldn’t be overlooked in any reform, however radical it may be, where a common ethic, or morality, or notion of humanism is at the forefront of our aims and actions — this, I completely agree with you, should always be what necessitates change. And I agree that a greater emphasis on the social nature of mental suffering would surely diminish much unnecessary, perhaps even harmful treatment.
Anchoring our discussion to this shared premise, I can respect the fact that you personally disagree with any deviation from the ‘hard line stance’: no drugs, psychotherapy, or recovery programs. But how can you be so sure that this stance applies for everyone else, too? How do you know there aren’t people who actually profit from precisely these therapies? The use of drugs is a good example: if I have a stomach ache I can take a PPI, if I have a headache paracetamol. Likewise if I can’t leave the house as I’m too anxious or depressed, the voices return or sleep just won’t come — there are medications which can help to alleviate certain symptoms in the short term. These are not usually long-term solutions, and we shouldn’t pretend that they are, but they are tools which enable a sustainable change. To be opposed to drugs no matter what is, in my opinion, not just counter-productive, but ignorant as to what it means to be necessarily embodied, and science’s progress and insights into many aspects of this basic fact.
More fundamentally — and now forgetting for a brief moment everything institutional, medical, and political — I think your argument of abolishing the mental health system forgets the one aspect of mental health treatment which we should never forget: the fact that it is built upon a basic human need of discussing emotional hardships with others. You may argue that we need not institutionalise this need. But I think that disregards the reach of an institution, especially one which is governmentally supported and especially when considering the astounding forms of isolation which society generates.
Psychiatry generates its own astounding form of isolation in the form of disabling drugs and psycho surgeries and labels to tell communities who to shun and segregate. 🙁
And the fact that the government not only allows but helps maintain psychiatric tyranny over vast swaths of the population–forcing them into extreme poverty, alienation, and premature death–is troubling.
You acknowledge drugs are not long term solutions. I agree and applaud this statement. But psychiatry does not. They are the sole tool “mental health” centers say is absolutely essential. All other services are disposable. But life long drugging–the more the better–is essential according to all community centers I have attended.
Maybe you live where counseling is not subordinate to druggings and is not just telling you repeatedly how hopelessly sick and crazy you are and don’t forget your “meds.” I speak solely from what I see and have experienced in my state and communities.
I agree when people say we don’t need a “replacement for psychiatry” because psychiatry has itself replaced everything I enjoyed when seen as a human being and not an SSI. It has replaced my hope of a career with $780 a month to serve as a lab rat. It replaced my friends with therapists and my hopes for a family with casual acquaintances passing through “day treatment” like me.
After my Haldol induced seizures and odd behaviors due to grief I couldn’t process and label of SMI caused everyone to turn on me I first thought of suicide. Now that I’m free I can mourn, enjoy friendships again, can write and learn marketable skills. Guess what? No longer suicidal.
Hope and love cured me. 2 things not to be found anywhere near any psych center I have been in.
Rachel777, how do you feel about the Mad In Italy people talking about:
“a clear shift from a biological and hospital-based model to a community-based system is not happening, although the path was paved a long time ago. In this context, the Italian mental health system, like the majority of them around the world, struggles with accepting a model based on principles of Recovery, which highlights individual and communal mental health needs, social determinants of emotional distress, integration of physical and psychological care and quality of life. As it can be inferred from what has just been said, we will address on MAD IN ITALY critical issues interfering with the shift to a community-based recovery system of care. In our efforts to conduct an honest and transparent alternative scientific discourse, we will post and publish material and information grounded on reliable evidence.”
I mean, where I live it is already exactly like he describes. Most poor and homeless people are already under the care of the mental health system, and that means drugged, or they are in recovery or salvation programs. This politically neutralizes the poor, as local leaders of government and finance continue to portray the poor as a social hygiene menace. And always in all of their plans, ~mental health~ is at the forefront.
I have never seen anything in R.W.’s “Mad in America” or “Anatomy of an Epidemic” which gives any endorsement to any replacement for psychiatry, for psychotherapy, or for recovery. Rather, he masterfully shows how harmful the drugs are and how much they are the reason for the ~mental illness epidemic~. But he does not ever mention any of these other things.
Okay, but once you clear that space, watch out. This forum is loaded with Psychotherapy and Recovery people, and also with those who want to perpetuate psychiatry.
How about just FU to all of this stuff? The people we should be hearing from are the attorneys who are filing the strategic lawsuits. That is how we are going to finally get some justice and some chance at restoring our public honor. And it will also benefit survivors far more to be involved in such legal and political efforts, than to be discussing our affairs with non-comrades who sit in big armchairs and collect fees.
I mean the head of our county’s mental health and substance addiction dept. brings people to all day long meetings with Born Again Outreach Ministries, and then concludes by pledging how much she and her people are committed to a “Recovery Model”. This recovery model just means that survivors are not seen as survivors of injustice, but are seen as a morally defective social hygiene menace. There will be no redress, just endless healing and recovery. I guess it goes on until the state finally gives us permission to die.
Every year, technology advances and so less and less people are needed in the work force, but welfare recipients are pilloried. Our national politics seems to be about little else.
Sami Timimi writes about this, Neoliberalism meaning the willingness to fund welfare running out, but that being replaced with disability money for ~Autism~ as their national health system tries to get as many people as possible ~assessed~.
And then you look in book stores and the offering in multi-color picture book pedagogy manuals continues to increase. And then always more kinds of doctors that people can send their children too. And now a “radical neurodivergence” program to send them too. And then the proliferation of test preparation courses and private tutors.
It’s like I told a friend recently, children, the children of the rich, they live under the whip.
And I listen to local office holders talk about all they are going to do so that “kids will be doing well in school.”
Children are being exploited, adults who refuse to take responsibility for their own lifestyle choices are living off of them. But never is there any justice at the end, just denial systems being perpetuated.
“The essence of a political struggle into which mental healthcare is embedded shouldn’t be overlooked in any reform, however radical it may be, where a common ethic, or morality, or notion of humanism is at the forefront of our aims and actions — this, I completely agree with you, should always be what necessitates change. And I agree that a greater emphasis on the social nature of mental suffering would surely diminish much unnecessary, perhaps even harmful treatment.”
I say we should not do anything which in anyway legitimates ~mental health~ ~psychotherapy~ or ~recovery~
People need to be disabused of the idea that there ever has been anything like ~mental illness~ or that ~psychotherapy~ or ~recovery programs~ have ever been a good way to deal with issues they encounter.
Name your situation, there are always better ways to respond than ~mental health~ ~drugs~ ~psychotherapy~ or ~recovery programs~.
And you don’t discuss emotional hardships with people who are not proven political comrades. No reason to do so. It would amount to just asking for problems.
“People need to be disabused of the idea that there ever has been anything like ~mental illness~”
If this is the outgoing position from which you base your arguments then I think we have reached an irreconcilable point in our discussion. From all conceivable points in my imagination and experiences so far, both personal and professional, I disagree with you.
Sure, I can’t offer you any kind of proof to support this, and I understand that all of my own beliefs and consequent arguments are anchored within explanatory models that remain just that: models, always falling short of an absolute truth. And so while I’m in so way sure that I won’t turn out to be wrong, and will always try to remain open to this possibility, I can only argue based on my own conceptions of humanity, and hence every discussion on the institutional, or philosophical, or political backdrop of mental healthcare in which I engage takes the acceptance of mental illness as a tenable phenomenon for granted.
With this in mind, I don’t think there’s any point in a continuing discussion, which now appears devoid of a common language.
So how would you define a “mental illness,” Milan? How would you distinguish it from “normal suffering?” That’s the part I really struggle with. Plus, if your distress is caused by abuse and oppression around you, is it an “illness” to be upset about it? Seems like a pretty strained concept, even though you’re right, there is lots and lots of agreement about it.
Mental illness is just an idea invented to delegitimate a portion of the population.
After Toxic Psychiatry 1991, Peter Breggin wrote Beyond conflict : from self-help and psychotherapy to peacemaking 1992. Drawing from Foucault he explains that the original reason which psychiatry was invented was to come up with ways of arresting homeless men who were panhandling but not otherwise breaking any law.
Psychiatry and Psychotherpy are just ways of getting inside someone’s head and then delegitimizing them.
And the reason this in in hyperdrive today is simply because of the dictates of neo-liberal capitalism.
So I say we must eradicate the entire mental health system, and that we must use whatever means are necessary in order to do this.
As NeoLiberal Capitalism reaches its natural crisis, we have an increasing portion of the population just shut out.
This is what the Mental Health / Psychotherapy / and Recovery segments work to hide, by legitimating that this segment of the population is defective. It all serves to legitmate a huge underclass.
Comrades in the trenches, not in the therapist’s office.
We all have great challenges to face, challenges which are necessary for our survival. And made all the more so as we have been fodder for the ~Mental Health~ or ~Autism / Neurodiversity~ industries.
But we all grow and learn the fastest when we can enter into worthy struggle, rather than just trying to fit in, known as ~healing~ and ~recovery~.
The Good Fight
“So how would you define a “mental illness,”? How would you distinguish it from “normal suffering?”
This is an ancient question which many have tried and largely failed to answer, both personally and collectively. For this reason I can’t give you a universal definition, only my own understanding of this temporary condition.
In an important book for the psychiatric reform movement in Germany from the 70’s, ‘Irren ist menschlich’ (which can’t really be translated, but ‘Mad to be normal’ comes close, and that’s probably where they took the Laing film title from), the authors offer this definition:
“A mentally ill human is a human who, in attempting to solve an age-appropriate task, gets stuck at a dead end. This result we call illness, affront, disturbance, suffering, deviation. It is a universally humane possibility; that means it is, for all of us under certain inner or outer circumstances, a means of expressing that a situation ‘can’t go on like this’. Hence this possibility is internally accessible and fundamentally known to us all.”
I think they’re onto something with this. And importantly, it addresses the notion of external abuse and oppression which you highlight: Why is it an ‘illness’ if the circumstances are oppressive? Why is it an ‘illness’ if the cause is man-made?
The ‘illness’ is the personal reaction expressing that a situation can’t go on like this. And regardless the cause, this is not primarily an expression on a societal, or communal, or even familial level, but deeply personal: I can’t go on like this. It is the personal suffering, taken as a prerequisite for any definition of mental illness, that comes to light.
To ensure change, I think it is helpful to name this temporary condition. Sure, we can then argue about which term is best used, but first we need to agree on the phenomena we are trying to elucidate, and I think ‘mental illness’ goes a long way in enabling such a common language.
We all have great challenges to face, challenges which are necessary for our survival. And made all the more so as we have been fodder for the ~Mental Health~ or ~Autism / Neurodiversity~ industries.
But we all grow and learn the fastest when we can enter into worthy struggle, rather than just trying to fit in, known as ~healing~ and ~recovery~.
Milan, people can get overwhelmed in trying to solve problems, and sometimes they can even be pushed to nervous breakdown.
But this still does not mean that there is any such thing as mental illness.
The way the mental health system works is by getting people to personalize problems, and to turn them into medical issues and self improvement projects. That way they can no longer have comrades, they are politically neutralized.
Many types of abuses, especially childhood abuses our society is in total denial about. So once one has suffered such, they no longer have a biography, no longer have a public identity. And they won’t have this until they find ways to politically organize.
No, there is no such thing as mental illness, there are only people who are getting stepped on in this denial based world.
Going back before my time some, I had thought that suicide attempts were what landed one in a mental hospital.
Cordelia, close friend of the protagonist, she is the one who exposes the crazy world of denial that the family is. She cannot take it, so suicide attempts. Eventually a mental hospital.
Talks about how women got locked in psychiatric hospitals, and she calls it the “White Coat Trip”.
I have heard accounts of this, how women were pretty much sent by the family to mental hospitals.
Millett calls the whole thing, “Calling 911 to win a family fight”.
To me it does seem like this determination of mental illness, whether the parties actually understand this themselves or not, does seem to come form the family.
As I see it, psychotherapy and recovery, asking people to live a so called life which is without honor, will tend to increase the number of suicides and suicide attempts.
And again, Matthew Warren, 27yo, youngest son of SaddleBack Church founders Rick and Kay Warren.
CA Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announce legal action on immigration
Do you consider psychotherapy to be non-harmful? And do you consider your position to be supported by a belief which is rational or is irrational?
Do you consider that psychotherapy works much like religion, it depends on accepting irrational beliefs.
Do you consider psychotherapy to be a form of regulation and control, like the tables that police handcuff people to in their interrogation cells?