Thomas Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz

Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz

Hungarian-born American Psychiatrist, Social Critic of the Moral and Scientific Foundations of Psychiatry and Professor at the University of New York Health Center

Author Quotes

Addiction, obesity, starvation (anorexia nervosa) are political problems, not psychiatric: each condenses and expresses a contest between the individual and some other person or persons in his environment over the control of the individual's body.

Courage is the willingness to play even when you know the odds are against you.

In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.

Judges and prosecutors, lawyers and psychiatrists, all protest their passionate desire to know why a person accused of a crime did what he did. But their actions completely belie their words: their efforts are now directed toward letting everyone speak in court but the defendant himself ? especially if he is accused of a political or psychiatric crime.

Not surprisingly, the more aggressively I reminded psychiatrists that individuals incarcerated in mental hospitals are deprived of liberty, the more zealously they insisted that ?mental illnesses are like other illnesses? and that psychiatric institutions are bona fide medical hospitals. The psychiatric establishment?s defense of coercions and excuses thus reinforced my argument about the metaphorical nature of mental illness and importance of the distinction between coerced and consensual psychiatry.

Religious and medical propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, I hold some simple truths to be self-evident. One of these truths is that just as the dead do not rise from the grave, so drugs do not commit crimes. The dead remain dead. Drugs are inert chemicals that have no effect on human beings who choose not to use them. No one has to smoke cigarettes, and no one has to shoot heroin. People smoke cigarettes because they want to, and they shoot heroin because they want to.

The first fact is that there is no mental illness?. Although mental illness might have been a useful concept in the 19th century, today it is scientifically worthless and socially harmful.

The self is not something that one finds, it is something that one creates

Whenever masses of people, especially educated people, know something- and when what they know is something they greatly fear because they believe it affects virtually everything they do or want to do?.

Adulthood is the ever-shrinking period between childhood and old age. It is the apparent aim of modern industrial societies to reduce this period to a minimum.

Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions.

In the natural sciences, language (mathematics) is a useful tool: like the microscope or telescope, it enables us to see what is otherwise invisible. In the social sciences, language (literalized metaphor) is an impediment: like a distorting mirror, it prevents us from seeing the obvious. That is why in the natural sciences, knowledge can be gained only with the mastery of their special languages; whereas in human affairs, knowledge can be gained only by rejecting the pretentious jargons of the social sciences.

Knowledge is gained by learning; trust by doubt; skill by practice; and love by love.

One answer is obvious: this is the game typically played in childhood. Every one of us was, at one time, a weak and helpless child, cared for by adults: without such help we would not have survived and become adults. Another, almost equally obvious answer is that the prescription of a help-giving attitude toward the weak is embodied in the dominant religions of Western man.

Self-respect is to the soul as oxygen is to the body. Deprive a person of oxygen, and you kill his body; deprive him of self-respect and you kill his spirit.

The gist of my argument is that men like Kraepelin, Bleuler and Freud were not what they claimed or seem to be ? namely, physicians or medical investigators; they were, in fact, religious-political leaders and conquerors. Instead of discovering new diseases, they extended, through psychiatry, the imagery, vocabulary, jurisdiction, and hence the territory of medicine to what they were not, and are not, diseases in the original Virchowian sense.

The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself. In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim.

Why do children want to grow up? Because they experience their lives as constrained by immaturity and perceive adulthood as a condition of greater freedom and opportunity. But what is there today, in America, that very poor and very rich adolescents want to do but cannot do? Not much: they can "do" drugs, "have" sex, "make" babies, and "get" money (from their parents, crime, or the State). For such adolescents, adulthood becomes synonymous with responsibility rather than liberty. Is it any surprise that they remain adolescents?

Aided and abetted by corrupt analysts, patients who have nothing better to do with their lives often use the psychoanalytic situation to transform insignificant childhood hurts into private shrines at which they worship unceasingly the enormity of the offenses committed against them. This solution is immensely flattering to the patients -- as are all forms of unmerited self-aggrandizement; it is immensely profitable for the analysts -- as are all forms pandering to people's vanity; and it is often immensely unpleasant for nearly everyone else in the patient's life.

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.

In the past men created witches: now they create mental patients.

Like Karl Kraus, [Wittgenstein] was seldom pleased by what he saw of the institutions of men, and the idiom of the passerby mostly offended his ear?particularly when they happened to speak philosophically; and like Karl Kraus, he suspected that the institutions could not but be corrupt if the idiom of the race was confused, presumptuous, and vacuous, a fabric of nonsense, untruth, deception, and self-deception.

Our adversaries are not demons, witches, fate, or mental illness. We have no enemy whom we can fight, exorcise, or dispel by "cure." What we do have are problems in living ? whether these be biologic, economic, political, or socio-psychological. In this essay I was concerned only with problems belonging in the last mentioned category, and within this group mainly with those pertaining to moral values. The field to which modern psychiatry addresses itself is vast, and I made no effort to encompass it all. My argument was limited to the proposition that mental illness is a myth, whose function it is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations.

Since it seems to be the nature of man that he wants to go to hell as quickly as possible, it is not surprising that effective base rhetoricians can greatly accelerate this process for millions? Many individuals try to drive men into slavery, as if they were cattle, but only a few succeed. These we hail as ?great historical figures.? I submit that we cannot judge the noble rhetorician by this standard. Since he urges men to be better than they are, the noble rhetorician cannot possibly succeed in changing those who prefer to remain as they are or become evil. Indeed, because his task is to bring men to themselves, not to him, the noble rhetorician ought not to be judged by his manifest effect on others at all. Rather, he ought to be judged by the clarity and steadfastness with which he proclaims his counsel. Should not a single person heed his advice, the noble rhetorician would still have to be judged successful in proportion as he succeeds in perfecting his own language? In the final analysis, what Karl Kraus sought was to purify himself by purifying his own language. He achieved his goal. He dies a semantic saint in a semantically satanic society.

The great shift? is the movement away from the value-laden languages of? the ?humanities,? and toward the ostensibly value-neutral languages of the ?sciences.? This attempt to escape from, or to deny, valuation is? especially important in psychology? and the so-called social sciences. Indeed, one could go so far as to say that the specialized languages of these disciplines serve virtually no other purpose than to conceal valuation behind an ostensibly scientific and therefore non-valuational semantic screen.

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Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz
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Hungarian-born American Psychiatrist, Social Critic of the Moral and Scientific Foundations of Psychiatry and Professor at the University of New York Health Center