Thomas Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz

Thomas
Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz
1920
2012

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

As the dominant social ethic changed from a religious to a secular one, the problem of heresy disappeared, and the problem of madness arose and became of great social significance. In the next chapter I shall examine the creation of social deviants, and shall show that as formerly priests had manufactured heretics, so physicians, as the new guardians of social conduct and morality, began to manufacture madmen.

If he who breaks the law is not punished, he who obeys it is cheated. This, and this alone, is why lawbreakers ought to be punished: to authenticate as good, and to encourage as useful, law-abiding behavior. The aim of criminal law cannot be correction or deterrence; it can only be the maintenance of the legal order.

It becomes logical to ask where the idea originates that the rules of the game of life ought to be such that those who are weak, disabled or ill should be helped?

Mental illness, of course, is not literally a "thing" ? or physical object ? and hence it can "exist" only in the same sort of way in which other theoretical concepts exist. Yet, familiar theories are in the habit of posing, sooner or later ? at least to those who come to believe in them ? as "objective truths" (or "facts"). During certain historical periods, explanatory conceptions such as deities, witches, and microorganisms appeared not only as theories but as self-evident causes of a vast number of events. I submit that today mental illness is widely regarded in a somewhat similar fashion, that is, as the cause of innumerable diverse happenings. As an antidote to the complacent use of the notion of mental illness ? whether as a self-evident phenomenon, theory, or cause ? let us ask this question: What is meant when it is asserted that someone is mentally ill? In what follows I shall describe briefly the main uses to which the concept of mental illness has been put. I shall argue that this notion has outlived whatever usefulness it might have had and that it now functions merely as a convenient myth.

Psychiatrists classify a person as neurotic if he suffers from his problems in living, and a psychotic if he makes others suffer.

The basic ingredients of psychotherapy are religion, rhetoric, and repression, which are themselves mutually overlapping categories.

The notion of mental illness thus serves mainly to obscure the everyday fact that life for most people is a continuous struggle, not for biological survival, but for a ?place in the sun,? ?peace of mind,? or some other human value. For man aware of himself and of the world about him, once the needs for preserving the body (and perhaps the race) are more or less satisfied, the problem arises as to what he should do with himself. Sustained adherence to the myth of mental illness allows people to avoid facing this problem, believing that mental health, conceived as the absence of mental illness, automatically insures the making of right and safe choices in one?s conduct of life. But the facts are all the other way. It is the making of good choices in life that others regard, retrospectively, as good mental health!? 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.

We achieve active mastery over illness and death by delegating all responsibility for their management to physicians, and by exiling the sick and the dying to hospitals. But hospitals serve the convenience of staff not patients: we cannot be properly ill in a hospital, nor die in one decently; we can do so only among those who love and value us. The result is the institutionalized dehumanization of the ill, characteristic of our age.

What the psychiatrist calls a “delusion of persecution” is one of the most dramatic human defenses against the feeling of personal insignificance and worthlessness. In fact, no one cares a hoot about Jones. He is an extra on the stage of life. But he wants to be a star.

[Autonomy] is freedom to develop one’s self – to increase one’s knowledge, improve one’s skills, and achieve responsibility for one’s conduct. And it is freedom to lead one’s own life, to choose among alternative courses of action so long as no injury to others results.

[Growing up] is especially difficult to achieve for a child whose parents do not take him seriously; that is, who do not expect proper behavior from him, do not discipline him, and finally, do not respect him enough to tell him the truth.

“To believe your own thought,” observed Emerson, “to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius.” But to impose what you believe is true for you upon all men, indeed upon a single individual – that is despotism.

In contemporary America [mental health] has come to mean conformity to the demands of society. According to the commonsense definition, mental health is the ability to play the game of social living, and to play it well. Conversely, mental illness is the refusal to play, or the inability to play well.

Keeping another person waiting is a basic tactic for defining him as inferior and oneself as superior.

Mental hospitals are the POW camps of our undeclared and unarticulated civil wars.

Mental illness is a myth, whose function is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations.

The fundamental conflicts in human life are not between competing ideas – one of which is true and the other false, but rather, between those that hold power and use it to oppress others, and those who are oppressed by power and seed to free themselves of it.

The fundamental error of psychiatry is that it regards life as a problem to be solved, instead of as a purpose to be fulfilled.

The less a person knows about the workings of the social institutions of his society, the more he must trust those who wield power in it; and the more he trusts those who wield such power, the more vulnerable he makes himself to becoming their victim.

The psychiatric profession’s most distinguishing feature… the deliberate, systematic dehumanization of man, in the name of mental health.

The scapegoat is necessary as a symbol of evil which it is convenient to cast out of the social order and, which, through its very being, confirms the remaining members of the community as good.

The less a person knows about the workings of the social institutions of his society, the more he must trust those who wield power in it; and the more he trusts those who wield such power, the more vulnerable he makes himself to becoming their victim.

The psychiatric profession’s most distinguishing feature… the deliberate, systematic dehumanization of man, in the name of mental health.

The scapegoat is necessary as a symbol of evil which it is convenient to cast out of the social order and, which, through its very being, confirms the remaining members of the community as good.

What the psychiatrist calls a “delusion of persecution” is one of the most dramatic human defenses against the feeling of personal insignificance and worthlessness. In fact, no one cares a hoot about Jones. He is an extra on the stage of life. But he wants to be a star.

Author Picture
First Name
Thomas
Last Name
Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz
Birth Date
1920
Death Date
2012
Bio

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