Madness, Disability, and Abolition: A Call for Movement Solidarity


From It’s Going Down: “Abolitionist histories offer essential insights into the so-called nature of progress, as it occurs under racial capitalism. Just as the convict leasing system arose in the post-Civil War era, today’s abolitionists must remain vigilant against ‘alternatives to incarceration,’ including house arrest, electronic monitoring, and community assisted ‘treatment’ programs. In today’s fight against false alternatives, mad and disabled communities carry profound wisdom – because we know that the current mental health system is not an acceptable ‘alternative’ to mass incarceration or state violence. If abolitionists simply replace prison bars with hospital walls – or give social workers bulletproof vests and arm paramedics with lethal doses of ketamine – this doesn’t change anything.

The struggle requires incremental changes because police, prisons, and psych wards aren’t going to disappear overnight. This is why prison abolitionists talk about ‘non-reformist reforms,’ which lay the foundation of our revolution. But where and how do these changes occur, in actuality? This is an open-ended question, and one that requires acts of imagination. We are, after all, dreaming new worlds (back) into existence.”

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    • Just for the record, there are uses of the word “mad” (and I don’t just mean “angry”) that do not imply insanity. “Crazy” comes from the little cracks that appear in the patina of a glazed piece of pottery as it ages. So being “crazy” means having an interesting array of fine detail that transcends the original design.

      But I do understand what you’re saying. No one has to identify as “disabled” to attack the status quo.

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      • There are varying uses of the word “mad” but in terms of what we’re talking about here it is an internalization and acceptance of psychiatric labels which have been renamed and reconstrued as something “positive,” and threatens to turn the AP movement into yet another arena for identity politics and, in effect, eugenics. People who “identify” as “mad people” rather than oppressed people confuse the real issues surrounding psychiatric oppression. It is a major factor holding back progress towards defeating psychiatry and amounts to a romanticization of psychiatric “othering.”

        And NO ONE means that when they say crazy, please don’t encourage the whole “reclaiming” thing, it’s too late at night.

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        • Speak for yourself luv. I’m as mad as a hatter.

          I quite like calling myself the names my oppressors call me. It takes the sting out and shows society that their standards are just ideas that can and are constantly remade.

          There is a strong disability rights movement that says peoole are disabled because of society excluding people with impairments. The antipsychiatry movement could be seen as part of that just as it could be seen as part of the prison abolition movement.

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          • Call yourself anything you want if it feels good. You’re still not a separate species. If one person is “mad” everyone is, at one time or another. Everyone is confused or sad at one time or another, that doesn’t make their identity “confused person” or “sad person.”

            Practically and scientifically speaking, however, the anti-psychiatry movement has NOTHING to do with disability or “disability rights” (other than disability created by drugs, ECT, etc). In fact the “disabled” label is the primary means psychiatry uses to disempower people, by seeing their reaction to oppression as a defect, rather than a sign of their humanity being intact.

            We are much closer to the prison abolition movement, in fact intertwined with it, though this is not yet universally recognized.

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  1. That is a really interesting article. Thanks for publishing it. It makes the link between prison abolition and psychiatry abolition very nicely.

    What it points to is how psychiatry mainly oppresses the poor. It is a tool of capital to keep a lid on dissent.

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  2. “we know that the current mental health system is not an acceptable ‘alternative’ to mass incarceration or state violence.” The “mental health system” is state sanctioned violence, it’s just done behind closed doors, instead of on the streets.

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