Thoughts on Society and Mental Disorders

What is mental disease? When we see someone who is mentally unwell, do we immediately recognize their dysfunction? Do they recognize their dysfunction? Do we appeal to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders?

I don’t believe in mental disease, per say. That may raise a lot of eyebrows, but I’m looking to transcend the conventional wisdom (in truth, wisdom is common knowledge that has grown uncommon, so the idea of conventional wisdom leaves me skeptical). I’d like to take a broader, grander view of things. I don’t believe in mental disease for the same reason I don’t believe in, say, God. Both are manufactured, their cause and effects, by society.

Let me elaborate.

Everything we know about anything we have inherited from nature and our social culture. I would argue that, given the social forces of cultural influence, as well as an absent relationship with nature, people know more about societal values, its fabricated and historical values, than the absolute values discovered within nature and in themselves.

All perceptions are biased. The loss of ego is the loss of values, the loss of perspective, the loss of an etiology that structures significance and meaning.

What is mental disease? I believe mental illness is manufactured by society: civilization is a disease. I’m not the first to propose such a caustic claim, just one to reemphasize the fact. Socrates, Diogenes, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Freud, and many many others pointed out civilization’s detrimental assault on man’s psyche.

I posit that mental illness arises due to the oppression of an individual’s self. The self, or perhaps you could say the ego, is the seat of consciousness that structures experience in a meaningful way. It regulates its point of view as the subjective in which the objective web of the world is woven around. In order to operate functionally and efficiently, the self needs to be strong and healthy. I would argue that the self develops as the world around it affirms its nature. In this way society, our family and peers, dictate who we are, they literally dictate who our self is through their perception of and reaction to what they believe they see us to be. Think Bourdieu’s habitus.

Mental illness is the result of an unhealthy self. It is a self that cannot effectively structure experience around its “self” in a meaningful way. It therefore cannot coin meaningful associations with the phenomenal objects constituting experience, whether these objects are other subjects (people) or simply “things” incorporated into our environment.

Man is a social creature. He has evolved to such a degree that relationships with other subjects are integral to his conscious life experience, and the propensity for these relationships has found a way to forge endless webs of relationships with experience itself. The conscious experience is simply not a conditioned response. It is a relationship with a reality embedded with a key feature, that of change. Hence the continual need to communicate with the external world in order to adjust and adapt.

I believe that mental illness is a byproduct of a societal forces being impressed on the self, our reflective consciousness, by undermining the personal experience of the self, by forcing it to contort to unnatural expectations and artificial values that are incongruent with our first hand experience.

Is mental illness genetic? I believe there are aspects of mental illness that are. But what is mental illness? A behavior that deviates from the norm? An unconventional disposition that leaves you feeling unusually more or less than your fellow man, to such a degree that is unnatural, or abnormal? Is it a disease to feel too much? or too little? Society would have us believe so.

Could it be that, without an integrating support system provided by institutions like family or community, society’s abstract value’s literally destroy the self, leaving us incapable of making sense of the world, leaving our mood to vacillate uncontrollably, and forcing the self to assign values to unusual features of experience?

We look at mental disease, observe it through imaging technology, through scans and sensors, and denote a marked difference for the “normal” control group (however, whatever that “normal” actually is is beyond me). So, yes, there is something going on here. But what is the disease? It is purely psychological, purely a phenomenal product of a mind that has grown maladapted to its world. What caused this maladaption? Is it genetic? I’m skeptical. Genome research is showing that while our genetics play a tremendous role in our development, it is our environment that expresses these genes as a means for our organism to adapt to environmental demands. So that while we might observe the manifestation of behaviors and locate a physiological origin, I would argue that this observation is simply an effect, a symptom, of external demands, of environmental stimuli or trauma.

When we find ourselves bleeding, we do not simply say that the body is the cause. We ask ourselves what caused the gash, and index some sharp object we may have encountered. In the same way, when we observe a set of unusual behaviors, we do not say the mind is the cause. We look for some proper cause, some first cause that preceded the manifestation of the psychological symptoms.

We do not need prescription drugs to alleviate our bizarre reactions to an even bizarrer culture. We need support and discourse, love and kindness. More importantly, we need recognition. We need a world that acknowledges the self for something more than it believes it is, more than it was told. This is where love comes in, the all important quality that instantiates the ultimate relation between man and his world.

Most mental illness occurs on the fringes of society. Celebrities are not immune, for they occupy a space that is so elevated above the common psyche, even they have trouble seeing their self at such altitudes. This incongruence yields a break down. The homeless? Did they develop their mental malaise before or after their predicament? Did they come from a loving, supportive home with healthy relationships that respected and valued one another for who they were? Or did they become maladapted after the fact?

The abused, the downtrodden, the castaways, the  people who come from broken families, that come from families with broken values: these are the people who experience “mental illness”. The people who cannot properly develop a self because they have no functional or loving relationships to reaffirm the worth of their self. As a result they cannot adequately integrate their subjective self with the objective world. It becomes a problematic endeavor, especially when challenge and obstacles arise. The lack of self produces a lack of will power, a lack of authenticity that asserts an individuated self.

The self is a disposition that orients the external world in a way that elicits a given response, a mood, that produces a consciousness that gives rise to thoughts.

Society has grown to its vast proportions due to a division of labor. Men are no longer reliant on the whole of their organism to achieve balance with their world, to sustain their life. They are required narrow physical or mental aptitudes that serve a circumscribed function within a greater organizational structure. The division of labor creates casts and forces man into those casts, requiring him to subjugate what other feelings, or thoughts, or talents, or skills, or passions he might possess. We are assigned a job and stamped with a title. Just like that we have grown inward. To define is to confine, and no other place will you fine both of these than in an ornate industrial system like the one we call home.

Those with mental illness, I am sure, developed in an environment that was oppressive, that dictated the value of a self that was less than the value they perceived themselves to possess. It is not simply being oppressive, for discipline is a form of oppression that encourages growth towards very specific ends. In the case of discipline, the individual believes in their value, in the possibility of attaining the end, and exists in an environment that expects or supports the achievement of that end.

The oppressive environments I’m referring to are those where relationships exist only to diminish your value, and perhaps elevate theirs at your expense. It is a form of judging that sentences you with a self valued next to nothing you can comprehend through personal experience. Perhaps this arises because the environment is abusive. Perhaps the environment refuses to acknowledge that person’s self, and therefore provides no context in which to integrate into.

I would argue that those people without a web of relationships with others that orient themselves around the subject as an appreciable aspect of their experience cannot create meaningful sense from their world. That is, their lack of significance within a web of relationships, within system of interpersonal references, leaves them dispossessed of a structured order of experience. In a word, they have no subjective self because they exists in a world that refuses to affirm it. Without a self, without a reflective consciousness that constitutes a subjective individual, there can be no relationship with the world. Every relationship begins with the subjective, ends with the objective. The more developed the subjective, the more relationships can be developed among and between the objective world, whether they are other beings or things.

Culture manufactures mental illness. When discussing mental illness, what matters is our values and the lack of authentic communication about things that matter. No where else in the world do you find the level of mental illness exhibited here in the US. Mental illness is due to a culture that capitalizes off of solving people’s problems, whether they are real or perceived. The only problems people have is relationship problems. “People” are not the problem. Their brains are not the problem. It is a world, a culture, a society, that has forgot how to engage in mutually beneficial relationships, meaningful relationships that are reciprocal, that engage each other with equal vested interest. Instead we have a society of exploitation, of one sided dialog, of oppression. This has lead to minds that do not possess a clear idea of what it means to have original feelings, or novel thoughts: authentic experience.

There is an absence of authenticity, of autonomy, because no one possesses an actual self. Their self has been imposed on them, sold to them, by culture, through the mass media, the proliferation of icons, the repetition of signs and symbols that impress and embed themselves into our psyche, our self; and all the responses accompanying that self are acquired from outside of itself, in the world, the same place that sold them the idea that they were an individual self.

Imagine the mind like a plant. Imagine that food was the soil, and that sunlight was our sensory stimulation. In order to grow, we need to find the most sunlight. Now imagine that above our plant a disk has been placed to block the sunshine. The plant would naturally grow out and around this disk. Imagine a cylinder has been placed around the plant on all sides, with only a small opening at the top. The plant could not grow out, so it would grow up until it pierces the hole, then grow out wide (perhaps this analogy resembles the saying: if you want to make the rules, you must first play by the rules).

My point is this: society is the shade, the disks, the blockades that shade the sunshine, the stimulation afforded to our minds. It imposes artificial restraints on our potential and capabilities, on our value and possibilities. As a result, the mind, just like the plant, may grow weak and whither, or develop in a erratic way, or be forced to grow in an unnatural way.

Perhaps this is simply survival of the fittest. Perhaps exploitation is a fundamental inescapable feature. But I insist that equality and collaboration yield the greatest, most universal perspective and utility. This has been demonstrated time and time again when people are seen as equal. But maybe the system of collaboration is imperfect and everyone cannot be included due to the size? I would say that this system should be trimmed, that any system that too large to accommodate equal individuals is inefficient and ineffective.

Or perhaps I’m being too creative with my criticisms.

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