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'the Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Antipsychiatry Movement' by @Dronemodule on @Libcom

'the Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Antipsychiatry Movement' by @Dronemodule on @Libcom

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Home / Blogs / sometimes explode's blog
The eclipse and re-emergence of the antipsychiatry
Brief introductory post outlining what antipsychiatry is and the need
for its renewal.
As part of their birthday celebrations Libcom decided to expand their blog
section, so I decided I’d put my foot forward to do a bit of writing on mental
health. While I know Ramona already writes on mental health, I figure it can’t
hurt to have someone else contributing to promote the complexity of mental
distress within the anarchist community. As such, I’m going to try not to let
this blog become too theory-heavy or to use language that might alienate
people who aren’t comfortable with the philosophy of mental health. At times
this will mean sacrificing conceptual complexity for clarity of communication.
I’ll be happy to address any theoretical points in discussion in the comments
section. At the outset I should also disclose that I am a trained mental health
nurse about to start working in the substance misuse field, in case people feel
that this might be an important blinder to how I see thing. For now, I want to
begin by emphasising why I want to write about mental health on an anarchist
site at all.
There are countless analyses and arguments about the effects of capital and
the state on human beings, the environment, and their ecological
interdependence. They often focus on state power, authoritarianism, and the
organisation of work, economic inequality and moral injustice. Too infrequently
do we find considered and nuanced understandings of the relationship
between the state, capitalism and mental distress. Often, it appears in a list
of other negative consequences of life under late capitalism as a sort of
footnote or, even more commonly, statistics on suicide rates will be deployed
to bolster arguments about the human cost of capital. Those who seek to
make the links and establish the mechanisms of the psychic fall-out of
capitalism are rarely widely read and seem too often to be considered “anti-
psychiatric” throwbacks to an earlier historical period. The argument is that
we’ve matured beyond the point of being anti-psychiatric, and perhaps we
have. Yet that doesn’t mean that the project and legacy of anti-psychiatry is
any less important than it was at its height. Anti-psychiatry remains relevant
for two reasons: it helped to establish contemporary psychiatric practice, and
its critique remains unfinished.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s a slew of psychiatrists and militant
intellectuals began to critique the psychiatric establishment on the basis that
its treatments were doing patients far more harm than good. The term itself
was coined by the South African Marxist psychiatrist David Cooper. It was
Cooper who helped put together the famous Congress on the Dialectic of
Liberation that brought together Herbert Marcuse, RD Laing, Paul Goodman
and Stokely Carmichael of the Black Panthers. Radical credentials verified,
anti-psychiatry’s other celebrities included the aforementioned Laing but also
Posted By
sometimes explode
Oct 1 2013 19:22
health and medicine,
mental health,
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Thomas Szasz and the
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means the loss of an
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idealist sense. Here,
alienation means a
state, a psychological
form of suffering, that
has its roots in a new
escalation of
Franco 'Bifo' Berardi
Attached files
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About this blog
sometimes explode
Mental health nurse blogging on anti-psychiatry.
Short critical introductions to key figures,
events, and ideas of the past and present.
Notes towards the second wave of anti-
Après moi le déluge! Fossil fuel abolitionism
and the carbon bubble - part 2
In part two of this two-part article, we look at
the parallels between fossil-fuel abolitionism
and the abolition of slavery in the 19th century
United States.
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figures as varied as American libertarian Thomas Szasz, French thinker Michel
Foucault, and Italian psychoanalyst Felix Guattari. What united these diverse
figures was their contention that psychiatry amounted to a form of violence
and held that rather than seeking to heal or to cure the “therapeutic” function
of psychiatry was really a thinly-veiled mode of social control.
To risk obliterating the very marked differences between some of these
figures, we can summarise a general anti-psychiatric outlook or attitude. First,
it rejected the idea that psychiatric illness was an exclusively biological
phenomenon; it rejected the idea that psychiatric diagnoses were normatively
neutral descriptions of illness states; it often rejected the use of neuroleptic
medication; it saw the asylum/hospital/clinic as establishing a physical
apartheid of the mad and the sane; it saw psychiatry as trying to regulate the
behaviour and psychic life of whole populations along the lines of that
apartheid through processes of “normalisation”; in doing so psychiatry was
seen as depriving people of liberty and autonomy on spurious grounds;
psychiatry’s history was revealed as one of constant brutality and violence
grounded in pseudo-scientific discourses, infamously including the idea that
homosexuality was a mental illness up until DSM-III was published in 1980.
Specific critiques also outlined how psychiatric discourse actively constituted
specific passive subjectivities (Foucault) or outlined how the psychiatric ward
was more like a concentration camp than a genuinely therapeutic environment
(Goffman). Crucial to almost all of these critiques was the notion that
psychiatry is a pseudo-science.
These critiques all remain true today, so why haven’t we seen the emergence
of an emancipatory and genuinely therapeutic approach to care for those
suffering from mental distress? In part, I would say this is because the anti-
psychiatric critiques- written off by the orthodox psychiatry of the day- was
fully assimilated into the very structure of psychiatry itself. That is to say, the
radicalism of the anti-psychiatrists was recuperated by the system it was
attacking. This can be seen in the fact that psychiatry now prides itself on its
emphasis on deinstitutionalisation and community care, its rhetorical embrace
of the recovery movement, and its tokenistic inclusion of “service-users” into
its hierarchy.
The attack on psychiatry’s pseudo-scientific nature led to the aggressive
adoption of the biological model of mental illness at the same time that training
programmes for psychiatrists, nurses and other service-workers began to talk
about a “biopsychosocial model”- talk that has yet to manifest in any real
practical upheavals of psychiatric care.
Alongside this is the adoption as orthodoxy of one of RD Laing’s most
controversial ideas. In the 1970s Laing conducted studies on the language
patterns and communicative interactions of people diagnosed with
schizophrenia and their families. His startling conclusion was that these
linguistic interactions could actually make the schizophrenic experience worse,
causing relapses into psychoses and prolonging their frequency and duration
(chronicity). At the time, Laing was accused of blaming families for causing
schizophrenia and was cemented as a dangerous and callous man. However,
that very same idea has been integrated into the heart of “evidence-based”
psychiatry in the form of the concept “high-expressed emotion”. One of the
most radical challenges to biopsychiatry was dismissed, destroyed and then
recuperated. In practice this has cashed out in terms of some people being
offered systems family therapy, but the radical idea that experience has a
social rather than purely biological basis has been dropped.
None of which is to claim that the experience of mental distress isn’t
biologically mediated. We are bodies and our experience is embodied- there
is no “mind” floating independently of our physiology. At the same time
though, psychiatry remains unwilling to accept that our embodiment exists in
complex ecological relationships that includes our sociality.
Similarly, none of this is to claim that the original critiques of the anti-
psychiatrists were unproblematic. For instance, Szasz’s critique was
motivated by his right-wing libertarian philosophy and included the desire to
see people stand trial for acts they committed while experiencing distress,
acts they may not otherwise have performed.
Foucault’s position in some of his work seems to embrace a kind of
romanticism of mental distress, while Laing expressed some dubious ideas
about “schizophrenia” as a shamanic journey of self-discovery. Many of the
anti-psychiatrists also rejected the benefits of therapy and medication as if
these were evil in-itself, in a move that would remind many anarchists of
primitivism’s rejection of technology.
Too few of those involved in the original anti-psychiatry movement were
revolutionaries, most of them being radicals or hyper-liberals who can offer us
a lot of helpful work but themselves didn’t situate that work as part of the
supersession of capitalism and the state (Guattari is the only one that really
seems to have had this as a goal and he is, ironically, the one anti-psychiatrist
most often neglected from histories of the "movement").
As we begin to see a raft of reports on increasing suicide rates, depression,
anxiety and eating disorders, along with the related rise in prescriptions for
psychiatric medications, and more and more fears about the “pathologisation
of everyday life”, I think it is time for anarchists to become more involved in
the return to anti-psychiatry. Clinical psychologist Richard Bentall has (not
unproblematically) heralded the need for a new ‘rational anti-psychiatry’ while
people like Pat Bracken are spear heading a ‘critical psychiatry’. Yet without
linking this to thorough analyses of the relationship of mental health and
psychiatry to corrosive powers of capitalism and the state such a renewed
anti-psychiatry is pointless. The critique has been swallowed whole by the
system and turned into the justification for today’s aggressive colonisation of
our lives by that very system.
It seems to me that the “mentally ill” have always been among those subjects
to be proletarianised. Today, this proletarianisation has always gone hand in
hand with social exclusion, impoverishment and the social death that
economic proletarians face. In conditions such as our own, these two versions
of proletarianisation are united into a common face.
If the original anti-psychiatry helped to shape the current form of psychiatry
then it is clear it can’t simply be reactivated, but it is also clear that it must be
repeated in a new way to challenge its violence and its psycho-political
management of populations. Part of the purpose of this blog will be to discuss
this renewed critical stance to psychiatry and to do so from an anarcho-
communist perspective.
Initially, I will be posting critical short introductions to key figures, events and
ideas from antipsychiatry's history and its afterlives. I aim to do this with a
fairly regular schedule, as well as submitting sporadic posts in response to
current events that touch on relevant issues. I’d welcome feedback and any
requests for topics to be covered.
sometimes explode's blog | login or register to post comments
Oct 1 2013 21:40
Great introductory blog post, I'm really looking forward to future submissions.
These are topics we are keen to have more of on libcom!
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Oct 2 2013 03:39
what about SPK ?
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Oct 2 2013 04:06
This was an excellent read; I look forward to future submissions.
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Juan Conatz
Oct 2 2013 05:30
I don't know much about any of this, but am glad to see you on board, and
I'm very interested.
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Oct 2 2013 06:39
There are lots of useful references and links to resources as well as another
decent intro to anti-psychiatry in an article from an old issue of Datacide here:
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Oct 2 2013 07:20
Looks like its going to be a great blog!
Looking forward to hearing more.
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Oct 2 2013 07:47
Comrade wrote:
what about SPK ?
yeah, something on them would be interesting at some point!
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Oct 2 2013 08:01
Interesting, thank you for the post.
I think there may be another facet of anti-psychiatry of interest, that being the
movement against forced and coercive psychiatry. This particular prong of
attack, while not explicitly political in itself, has been successful enough to be
included in United Nation reports on torture, inhumane and degrading
treatment. A reasonable amount of information on this movement, including
links to original UN reports, can be read here.
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Oct 2 2013 08:32
Yeah, great blog, sometimes explode. Really looking forward to more.
Something on cognitive behavioural therapy would be nice, since that seems
to be the dominant psychotherapy at the moment (I have a couple of books by
Aaron T Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy). (I've also been reading some
stuff about cognitive theory recently, but didn't get very far and had to put that
aside for the moment for something else. I'm not in any way involved with
psychotherapy, just interested.)
Also, systemic therapy looks interesting, but I don't know much about it (from
wiki: "Systemic therapy is a form of psychotherapy which seeks to address
people not on individual level, as had been the focus of earlier forms of
therapy, but as people in relationship, dealing with the interactions of groups
and their interactional patterns and dynamics.") [ETA: which you briefly
mentioned above! Sorry, I read the blog last night, and forgot about that.]
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Joseph Kay
Oct 2 2013 08:31
Yeah thanks for this, I'm looking forward to future installments. Anti-psychiatry
is one of those things I'm kinda aware of via secondary sources, but i've
never really read any directly. I think this stuff is really important as mental ill-
health is so widespread today.
In fact, often one of the barriers to collective organisation at work is the fact
just surviving work without burning out or breaking down is a challenge. While
organising could perhaps change that in the medium term, in the immediate
term it's more thinking about work when you just want to hit the sofa and/or
the bottle and zone out.
The social aspect of the critique seems really important. Even if medical
professionals are schooled in critical, social theory, their options are limited.
Like, a sympathetic GP can give you a 'fit note' that signs you off with stress,
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but your employer can still sack you, and ATOS will still strip you of benefits
for not being disabled enough. So even when e.g. work is the direct cause of
distress, people still need to work, so it's likely they'll end up prescribing
meds to allow people to function.
When I was in that position I was basically a zombie. The GP recommended
time off, but they sacked the previous people off with stress as 'not team
players'. They recommended CBT (which has its own problems, especially as
work stress is not irrational), but i'd had to fake a sports injury to get an
appointment cos time off wasn't really allowed (hence the stress), and it was
only available in work hours. So they stuck me on meds to regulate mood and
help me sleep, not cos they had a reductive bio/neuro model of mental health
(afaik), but cos that's all that was possible given the structural constraints.
Tech developments look set to exagerate this pattern, e.g. the Guardian
reports that neural implants look set to supplant SSRIs as the reductionist
intervention of choice for churning out functional worker-zombies. Obviously,
not all mental distress is directly related to work in that way, but that just
makes social critique more important imho.
sometimes explode
Oct 2 2013 11:44
Comrade and Steven wrote:
The graffiti in the embedded image is from the SPK. I'm planning to include
something on them, esp. because their radicalisation of the concept of illness.
There is going to be more covered than I mentioned...I'm planning on this
being a long-term project.
vajramrita wrote:
I think there may be another facet of anti-psychiatry of interest, that being
the movement against forced and coercive psychiatry.
I'm going to include stuff on that. In fact, it's really a major thread running
through most of anti-psychiatry, post-psychiatry and critical
Omen wrote:
Something on cognitive behavioural therapy would be nice
I plan to write on that, too...including the newer third wave versions of CBT
that incorporate criticisms of Beck's model (DBT; ACT; CBT-mindfulness).
It seems like it might be a good idea to write intros to figures, ideas, events,
movements and forms of therapy with separate titles (idea, my next post
would be called Figures from Antipsychiatry: Thomas Szasz; a future one
could be called Interventions: CBT; and those main titles would be kept w/
different subheadings).
Omen wrote:
systemic therapy looks interesting,
I'll go more into it, yeh. It's going to come up when I write about Laing.
Systems Family Therapy has become very popular in Scotland at the moment.
Systems theory is fascinating (esp, Luhmann).
Joseph Kay wrote:
In fact, often one of the barriers to collective organisation at work is the fact
just surviving work without burning out or breaking down is a challenge.
While organising could perhaps change that in the medium term, in the
immediate term it's more thinking about work when you just want to hit the
sofa and/or the bottle and zone out.
I'm quite keen on developing a "political therapeutics"; a kind of theory of a
politicised therapy that would be a making therapeutic of political action,
rather than reducing politics to a therapeutic moment (for example, as Franco
Berardi does). Part of my own anti-psychiatry comes from the idea that mental
distress, exhaustion, depression, anxiety seem generated and/or used to
keep the working class from organising itself, whilst also pitting latent
proletarians ("the middle class") against the working class- psychotherapy is
usually a middle class phenomena, while psychiatric patients in hospitals are
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almost always working class.
So even when e.g. work is the direct cause of distress, people still need to
work, so it's likely they'll end up prescribing meds to allow people to
I'll be going into the research on medication at some point, much of which
seems to show it as effective only ever as a short term measure- with long
term use producing all kinds of negative effects up to and including the
symptoms they're meant to treat and mortality (this is esp. so with
As far as I can see, and I'll try to argue this, medication is used in exactly this
way in a number of cases. Whether it is people intentions or not- as you say,
there are always sympathetic professionals- is irrelevant; the systemic effect
is a kind of "psychopolitical" management of workers.
"Joseph Kay"]not cos they had a reductive bio/neuro model of mental
health (afaik), but cos that's all that was possible given the structural
Again, whether or not individuals are more or less reductionist almost doesn't
matter. The structure of psychiatry is reductionist and this definitely place
limits on possible treatments and therapies. I'll be addressing this point over
and over again I think, possibly to the point of boredom.
Tech developments look set to exagerate this pattern,
Yep. As neurology and applied neuroscience advance we get closer and
closer to the possibility of a neurototalitarianism. I'm aware this could be seen
as scare mongering but I really want to emphasise that its a possibility, I'm not
suggesting for a moment it's likely and still less necessary. On that point, this
is a very interesting blog post.
Thanks for all the comments and interest, always helps to keep a body going.
Oct 2 2013 12:11
I am very pleased that someone else has brought this up, I have been trying to
get people in my local afed group to do stuff around mental health for the last
year (with not much luck!) most anarchists seem to hate psychiatry so much
that they won't even talk about it!
It would be good if anarchists could target psychology as a whole and not just
focus on mental health; the number of critical psychologists are increasing and
their views are so similar to that of anarchists, all they lack is the
understanding of anarchism and activism! I am currently studying psychology
and I am planning of doing my research on anarchism and psychology, mainly
as a way to get lecturers and students talking about anarchism!
check out Dennis Fox an American psychologist who is trying to get anarchism
more involved in psychology.
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the croydonian ...
Oct 2 2013 12:25
Just to co sign everyone above pretty much, this blog looks to be quite
interesting. Here is some related articles I have had bookmarked which were
really good.
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Oct 2 2013 12:40
Interesting, looking forward to more of these.
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sometimes explode
Oct 2 2013 15:57
star8uck wrote:
check out Dennis Fox an American psychologist who is trying to get
anarchism more involved in psychology.
Dennis Fox is a good source, and I agree that there is convergence with
anarchism and critical psychology...on this there is also the work of David
Smail. He is perhaps more Marxian than avowedly anarchist but his work (and
the manifesto from the group he works with) is brilliant.
Elsewhere I've been developing a theory of bodies, and Smail is particularly
good for this too.
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Oct 2 2013 20:43
I was involved peripherally with an anti psychiatry group in Toronto (Canada) in
the late 70's early 80's...put out a mag, Phoenix Rising, some of whose issues
are available
here( http://www.psychiatricsurvivorarchives.com/books.html )...also they ran
a second hand shop called the Mad Market... I've had varied experience with
psychiatrists & therapists over the years
....with the left at that time in Toronto most just avoided the issue(s) ....not
feeling particularly comfortable around the "crazy" it seemed...the ones who
had a passing familiarity with the anti psychiatric literature would go around
telling all and sundry to ditch their meds, usually with unfortunate
consequences....some of us do need chemical help once in awhile....anyway..
...I look forward to further postings...check out the mag referenced above for
some thoughts by the mad about dealing with the mental health profession..
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Oct 2 2013 21:16
Could you do something about "special education" and therapy in relation for
youth and teens?
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clinical wasteman
Oct 3 2013 19:05
Great start on something urgently needed; future plans look even better. The
image at the top led me to hope that that the SPK (who still exist) would show
up at some point. Looking forward to that part in particular and also to any
thoughts you might have on the recent ascendancy of neuro-everything: eg.
the public squabble between the DSM editors and their neuropsych critics,
but also in a broader social sense, eg. 'neuroeconomics'* and general neo-
Lombrosianism in sociology, 'criminal justice', etc.
(Thanks also to commenters above for pointing out stuff I was unaware of
despite longstanding obsession with all of this.)
*For anyone wise enough to have avoided the smarmy tract, Nobel-prize tag
(or Nudge?) team Akerlof & Shiller assert in their 'Animal Spirits' that 'brain
imaging' proves that we all love inflicting punishment.
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Oct 3 2013 20:38
One other thing I think could be useful to cover at some point would be
Oppositional Defiance Disorder - when I was travelling around the US a few
years ago I met quite a few young anarchists who were diagnosed with this as
kids, for no other reason than that they disliked arbitrary authority.
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Thanks for putting more info about what you plan to do with the blog, it
sounds really exciting. And TBH it looks like it could make a good book (or e-
book at least!) eventually - Anti-Psychiatry for Dummies or something of that
Oct 3 2013 21:27
Bloody hell - complicated for me, but still very interesting! I'll definitely re-
read. Cheers for posting
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sometimes explode
Oct 4 2013 09:02
Clinical wasteman,
I'll definitely be covering the neuro-everything phenomena. I'm fairly interested
in some of the developments in neurology but I definitely think that orthodox
psychiatry is fetishising it. The 90s had been called "the decade of the brain'
but its only now that the applied elements are coming into their own. One of
my biggest targets is the eliminativist materialism of people like the
Churchlands- brilliantly set into fiction by RS Bakker in Neuropath.
In particular, I will (at some point) be looking at how charges of pseudo-
science against psychiatry from the 1940 up to the 1980s really helped the
biopsychiatrists to gain dominance. Relating that to now, we could argue a
similar process is underway with the emergence of a neuropsychiatric
I will be looking at contentious diagnoses and the nature of diagnosis itself (I
hope people will feel in a more nuanced way that diagnoses=bad or not real).
Both oppositional disorder, adjustment disorder and intermittent explosive
disorder will be on my horizon for that.
At the moment its beginning to look like there is a lot to explore, and pacing
could be an issue. I'll also be doing additional research as there are some
important aspects that I don't know too much about, such as Basaglia- none
of whom's work appears in English (except one short text from early in his
career). Basaglia was one of those responsible for the abolition of asylums in
Italy and founded the democratic psychiatry movement there, so it'd be a
shame not to get something up on his work.
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Oct 5 2013 01:07
I’m very excited about this blog and want to put a few requests in early and
observations that you’ve almost certainly thought of anyway.
sometimes explode wrote:
One of my biggest targets is the eliminativist materialism of people like the
Churchlands- brilliantly set into fiction by RS Bakker in Neuropath...
None of which is to claim that the experience of mental distress isn’t
biologically mediated. We are bodies and our experience is embodied-
there is no “mind” floating independently of our physiology. At the same
time though, psychiatry remains unwilling to accept that our embodiment
exists in complex ecological relationships that includes our sociality...
Elsewhere I've been developing a theory of bodies, and Smail is particularly
good for this too.
This makes me hopeful that you will find a place to discuss the type of
materialism which will frame your outlook or form part of its core
presuppositions. I’m interested in how you reconcile the same old paradox of
one reality existing in two places, internally in the brain and simultaneously in
the ‘outer’ world. I’ve never really understood how anyone can take seriously
the hypothesis that the experiences we have of events in the world, including
of our own bodies, are all occurring as representations in our brains or as
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neural correlates or states or whatever the current buzzword is. If asked to
point to the keyboard I’m writing this on I would not point at my head. As I
type this it seems to me that I’m feeling the keyboard in my fingers and that
for the most part my direct experience or consciousness of the keyboard is
occurring in my fingers, not in my head. When I see the stars it never occurs to
me that my skull exists beyond them and that everything else I have ever
experienced is a miniature perceptual replica within my unknowable real head.
If I did have this sensation I’d think someone had slipped something
interesting into the Jamesons.
Even the simplest perceptual mechanisms of standard materialisms make
absolutely no sense. Kepler’s intromission theory of vision explains everything
about it except how we actually perceive the world: the lenses in both of the
eyes produce small upside down and left-to-right images in both of the
retinas, but we don’t see anything like these two separate things when we
look at an object. The rays reflecting from a mirror seem to come from a point
behind the mirror because the eye/brain ‘imagines’ that the rays intersect
when produced backwards. Come again? How does it do this imagining and
how does it ‘produce the rays backwards’? In what way can the visual cortex
be said to possess sight? How powerful must it be to follow certain versions
of neuroscience in trying to squeeze perception into some passive virtual
reality display inside our computer-brains if in the process we can’t even
account for how we see stuff, let alone explain all our other conscious
experiences? Our perceptions seem much more integrated with our
behaviours than this fantasy suggests.
And finally, after such an extended period of research on the molecular details
of nerve cells and their connections, the synapses, there is a large body of
evidence that habituation, one of the most fundamental types of memory,
occurs in single celled organisms which possess no synapses. And as has
been repeatedly demonstrated, despite the almost complete dissolving of the
caterpillar’s nervous system in metamorphosis, the moth remembers
everything the caterpillar learned. How does this work, materially? There is
also a huge body of evidence that learned habits are retained after the
associated areas of the brain are destroyed. Is there any corresponding
evidence that brains store memories as permanent molecular traces in the
manner of computers? If so, how does mine manage to remember my
partner’s birthday given the fact that with the exception of DNA all the
molecules in our bodies have a turnover rate of at most a few months? Is her
birthday part of my genetic makeup, as Chomsky might have it? How do the
molecular retrieval systems recognise these memories in the first place in
order to retrieve them? If a systems approach involving millions of nerve cells
responding to electromagnetic fields in the brain gives a better description,
what for example does it mean materially that memories are stored in a
distributed manner like the interference patterns of a hologram? And if the
brain is really where it’s at, how does the synapse or connections model
explain the functioning of the brain of the man who received a first-class
honours degree in mathematics from Sheffield University who’d had
hydrocephalus as a child which had left him with almost no brain at all and
whose skull was lined with a thin layer of brain cells about a millimetre thick, a
few percent normal brain size, the rest being filled with fluid?
Particularly on account of the entry of the computer metaphor into this domain
of knowledge I can’t escape the feeling that neuroscience is just a load of old
rubbish churned up in capital’s unending drive to control and pacify bodies for
work. It gives me the heebiejeebies
sometimes explode
Oct 5 2013 12:55
Really interesting reply. I've been working on answers to these questions on
other blogs and in a few papers. First though, I'd say that this might not be the
place to concentrate on answering thee questions. The intention here is to be
as accessible as possible and these concerns are ones where I can't help but
become less than that..not least because we suddenly need to include
neurophenomenology, E4A cognitive science, and so on.
As an initial response, I completely reject either materialist reductionism or any
of the varieties of Cartesian dualism that constantly return. Psychiatry is
riddled with such dualism, takes it as its foundational decision (there might be
a path for a non-psychiatry here in the same way that Laurelle's work on non-
(standard) philosophy has developed.
Ontologically, I begin from the Stoics. Their corporealist physics offers the
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basis for a non-reductive way to talk about bodies as that which exists that
doesn't reject incorporeal things (such as mind) without reifying them or boiling
one into the other. From their the obvious move is through Deleuze in his
treatment of corporeals as actuals and incorporeals as virtualities..this
language and ontology helps to clarify things but I prefer to retain the Stoic
terms simply because of their emphasis on the embodiedness of all existing
entities. This emphasis of then proceeds through a strange mixture of
phenomenology (specifcially, Merleau-Ponty) onticology/machine-oriented
ontology, the work of Stacey Alaimo and- when it comes to humans- a little of
Ernest Becker and Otto Rank's corporeal-existential psychoanalysis. These
are also set into machinic connection with the concepts of Umwelt, as well as
choreographic concepts of autopoesis and/or metabolic conjunctions of
specific bodies with other bodies and their environments in order to trace how
these umwelts emerge. The question of the umwelt is grounded empirically in
the work of extended, embodied, affective cognition and the
neurophenomenology of dynamic action-perception systems.
All of this comes down to a particular body being a kind of ensemble of other
bodies, making up an ensemble that is a larger body, so that "body" is to be
understood as an assemblage. This assemblage (a la Delanda, but not quite)
is coupled with other bodies and the world in its capacity to act, to have
actions and to limit the actions of others. For bodies that have perceptual
systems this is can be augmented to a theory close to the JJ Gibson theory of
affordances: what shows up in a body's perceptual system isn't surfaces and
lines, colours and sound, textures and scents, but only those ones that are
significantly important to increasing or diminishing that bodies capacity to act
(this is also linked to a theory of post-nihilist praxis). Eventually, I return both
to the Stoics and to Merleau-Ponty in their respective ideas of weave and
This need mighty unpacking but this isn't really the place for it, or at least not
yet. The question of memory might be along the lines of memory existing as
an incorporeal subsistence or virtual capacity of the body that operates as an
immanent organisational "logos" in specific neural circuits, communicating
with wider cns systems and (by extension) the environment. Memory isn't "in"
the brain in that sense but is a circulating set of rules for material morphology.
Alzheimer's disease, that dementia that involves slow morphological changes,
would destroy the memories not by deleting them but because it reorganises
the materiality of brain structures; this renders the operation of the perceptual-
action system of the human being as different, new priorities emerge while
other are displaced and this reinforces the redistribution of memory. In this
kind of picture, its not that memory is in your brain or DNA but that it would
necessarily be distributed across your fleshly systems and the world that
shows up for your body's material hermeneutics of its environment.
The computer metaphor is just a bit of nonsense. Computers compute + my
brain computes= therefore my brain is a computer. This misses the onto-
specificity of this particular brain as compared to that one, let alone the onto-
specificity of this brain compared to that computer.
A lot of this work that I'm doing with others elsewhere relies on neuroscience. I
don't think we can just reject it. The issue is to recognise that even within
neuroscience there is diversity of research programmes, commitments and so
on. For instance, I've conducted some research into the possibility that
schizophrenia is a disorder of embodiment (a kind of disruption in one's being
one's own body; from this you get breakdown/slippage in self-other
distinction; you get muscular coordination problems; you get strange
interioception; in other words, the basis of a lot of schizophrenic symptoms
seems to be related to a disruption in auto-affection that further disrupts
body-environment action-perception couplings). To do this research, I read a
lot of neuroscience...almost all of it confirming that schizophrenia isn't a brain
disease or a "mental" disorder, if we're taking the "mental" for the Cartesian
res cogitans.
Anyway, this is a pretty messy reply and probably a less than satisfying
one...so I'll draw it to a close here.
Oct 5 2013 14:54
On the contrary it will keep me reading for a month. I haven't read the Stoics
for ages. You probably know it but Alva Noë's Out of Our Heads: Why You Are
Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness is a great
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Oct 7 2013 11:57
Enjoyed this article. Found it to be a clear and strong overview and look
forward to any others that come of it. A couple of thoughts though occurred to
me reading it.
My first thought comes with your occassional use of the term 'mental health'
which is a little more suspect than your other term 'mental distress'. 'Mental
health' for instance implies 'mental illness' and a binary separation between
valid and invalid existences. The question of what constitutes a mental illness
is therefore a question of authority and aquiescence to definitions.
A second thought concerns the idea of an emboded mind which - like
anything if you take Foucault seriously - must also have its historical
geneology. It seems to me that any contemporary certainty that the mind is
embodied is itself the product of a questionable order of things. The idea of
'mental illness' as a chemical problem disconnects us from the idea that it
might be a spiritual problem and makes supersitious witches of any approach
to mind that proposes alternatives to a physical machine. At its extreme you
see the kinds of collision that the West has say with Congolese exorcisms.
As a third remark, I'd say the idea that 'mental distress' can't be romantic has
its place in power insofar as it places a taboo on saying 'mental distress can
be romantic'. What are the reasons and effects of creating this taboo? I reckon
there is a whole load of scope in this assumption to question how power is
working. A mental distress without romance is to some extent more romantic
due to that very lack of any positive value. At the same time, if we do say it
has no romance, then we are also saying it has no use which sees a greater
pressure for its regulation/annihilation. There are good reasons for sufferers to
take back their sufferings in a positive light.
Finally, I also wonder about the notion of 'anti-psychaitry' given that psychiatry
seems today to be a tool more than a well defined power-sign. The sign of
psychiatry has many users now - nurses, judges, politicinas, CBT marketeers,
neuroscientists, psychoanalysts, Carl Rogerite humanists etc. The sign can as
likely undermine the legal process and a person's 'capacity' as it can be used
in terms of social control and dispossession from certain forms of behaviour.
Capitalism seems to move us toward ever more fluid notions and ever more
diffusse experiences of power rather than precisely concentrating them. This
may well have been anti-psychiatry's original meaning - that it made
psychiatry more fluid and prepared it for atomised
communicaiton/interpretation. By this measure, isn't anti-psychiatry obsolete
and isn't it more prudent to think in terms of subverting its various uses?
Or maybe a genuine anti-capitalism requires greater conceptual concentration
- requires we give psychiatry and more precise meaning. Genuine anti-
capitalism probably requires greater concentrations of power and meaning, not
their diffusion.
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Oct 11 2013 05:56
Great read. Mental health practitioner (and long time libcommer) here from
I would really enjoy a suggested reading list and/or resource list (i.e. websites,
mailing lists etc.). Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts or references to
antipsychiatry perspectives on neurology and behaviorism (w/o reducing them
to "strawmen").
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the croydonian ...
Oct 16 2013 13:28
InNegative wrote:
As a third remark, I'd say the idea that 'mental distress' can't be romantic
has its place in power insofar as it places a taboo on saying 'mental distress
can be romantic'. What are the reasons and effects of creating this taboo? I
reckon there is a whole load of scope in this assumption to question how
power is working. A mental distress without romance is to some extent more
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romantic due to that very lack of any positive value. At the same time, if we
do say it has no romance, then we are also saying it has no use which sees
a greater pressure for its regulation/annihilation. There are good reasons for
sufferers to take back their sufferings in a positive light.
In what sense of the word are we using romantic here?
Oct 21 2013 22:44
This was really interesting, though I don't know much about the history of anti-
I noticed the new DSM V has had a quite a bit of coverage, including the All In
The Mind podcast this week and a very funny and disturbing review at New
'This mad project is so overwhelming that its originator can’t even tell that
they’ve subsumed themselves within its matrix. We’re dealing with a truly
unreliable narrator here, not one that misleads us about the course of events
(the narrator is compulsive, they do have poor insight), but one whose entire
conceptual framework is radically off-kilter. As such, the entire story is a portrait
of the narrator’s own particular madness. With this realization, DSM-5 starts to
enter the realm of the properly dystopian.'
Thinking Allowed podcast had also did a bit on anti-psychiatry a year or two
ago. It's a while since I listened but I remember it being treated like a a quaint
idea; not entirely damningl nor a ringing endorsement.
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Oct 22 2013 07:01
Hi, just to echo the poster above who suggested you put together a reading
list to accompany this blog.
I think that would be really useful. Something in the style of one of the libcom
reading guides (http://libcom.org/library/libcomorg-reading-guide) would be
great, ideally a general mental health of psychiatry reading list - you could also
include some of the articles you write in this list as introductions to different
Just a thought…
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Empire Logistics - Strike at world's
largest sports shoe maker in Dongguan,
Out of the Woods - Après moi le déluge!
Fossil fuel abolitionism and the carbon
bubble - part 2
StrugglesInItaly - Narrow-minded?
Bologna’s PD council tries to evict
Atlantide social centre
Global Uprisings: Pieces of Madrid
Alabama prisoners to launch strike, IWW
to offer support
Support Care UK Strikers
Working class autonomy and the crisis -
Red Notes
High seas adventures: ocean crossings
in search of the revolutionary Atlantic
Flying squad pickets and the need for
independent workplace groups
Factory committees in the Russian
revolution - Rod Jones
Ben Fletcher, IWW organizer
Developments and workers' struggles in
the Greek textile industry, 2005
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