Psychiatric Dehumanization

Animalism is the opposite of humanism. It is treating man as though he were an animal. Science, medicine, and especially psychiatry are often guilty of animalizing man. The theory and practice of conventional psychiatry are, at bottom, the expressions of this tendency. Mental illness is a distinctly human affair. But the more we in­sist that it is an “illness”-and the more we prove this by producing “experimental neuroses” in animals and by curing human neuroses by means of drugs and shocks and surgery-the more we bestialize, animalize man. Having reduced him to the level of animal, we expect him to act like one-unconcerned about past failures, misdeeds, and wasted opportunities and heedless of the future; in short, unreflective and “happy” – a veritable anti-Socrates.

– Thomas Szasz, Heresies

3 thoughts on “Psychiatric Dehumanization

  1. Hi. I like Thomas Szasz a lot. I’d go even further than his assertion that the sciences – hard and soft, and the least scientific of all, psychology – does more than animalise people, they objectivise us. In fact, the more I think about it, it is the objectivisation of human beings that is at the heart of our society, from banking, government, corporation, pharmaceutical companies…on it goes. I’m aware, of course, that this will sound extreme. But it only sounds extreme because we have, all of us, normalised this objectivising process to such a degree that we seem to have lost an original reference point in real human to human relating.

    I wrote a little about Buber today and was reminded of his I-Thou – something I studied in depth in my college days. Are you familiar with him?

    All the best

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your thoughtful conversation. I read what you wrote on Buber. I am somewhat familiar with his ideas, I have only read secondary literature about him.

      I agree with what you are saying. Although sometimes I believe it is right to be objectified. For example, when a doctor performs surgery, I would prefer he treat me as an object to fix rather than a human to relate to. But, your point is well taken. Szasz said something similar to what you are saying in his book, Words to the Wise, he writes:

      We use things, but we relate to persons. Because we do not and should not use persons, we cannot properly speak of abusing them. Instead, we ought to speak of relating to them lovingly or hatefully, honestly or dishonestly, forgivingly or revengefully. Phrases such as “child abuse,” “wife abuse,” “elder abuse”—modeled linguistically after terms such as “alcohol abuse”—reveal how deeply disrespectful we are toward the personhood of children and other powerless persons whose best interests we allegedly seek to protect.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there, yes absolutely. I agree with Szasz there. Our lives are so filled with these objectivising terms, and the political correctness movement seeks to enforce its petty rules in response, when the real problem is the conceptualisation that underlies these terms, not exclusively the terms themselves. People then use different terms in conformity to PC, but from the same foundation of objectivisation.

    I take your point about surgery and wouldn’t argue. As Buber says, he isn’t advocating I-Thou over I-It and sees the necessity of I-It as I recall. I think his point is that we tend to objectivise people when we could relate to them as Beings, which is what we are. We aren’t objects, at all. Buber believes that the I-Thou relation is where we find God in the mode of relating. I agree with him on that point. The problem with medicine is that it tends to be almost exclusively I-It in its application, forgetting the person entirely sometimes. And for a variety of reasons that it may not be helpful to get into here (otherwise I’ll end up writing an essay!)

    Liked by 1 person

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