Per Bylund on Entrepreneurship, Austrian Economics, Cryptocurrency, and Intellectual Property

I had the opportunity to talk with professor, Per Bylund, about entrepreneurship, Austrian economics, cryptocurrency, and intellectual property on the podcast. Listen below.

Continue reading “Per Bylund on Entrepreneurship, Austrian Economics, Cryptocurrency, and Intellectual Property”

Remembrances of Thomas Szasz with Anthony Stadlen

I had the great opportunity to interview one of Thomas Szasz’s close friends, Anthony Stadlen. Anthony is a psychotherapist working in London. It was a great honor and privilege to talk with Anthony. He was a close friend of Szasz. He has an incredible depth of knowledge and understanding of Szasz’s ideas. Listen below.

Continue reading “Remembrances of Thomas Szasz with Anthony Stadlen”

Joker the Movie; A Szaszian Interpretation

By Scott McLain

(Warning: spoilers )

Despite its very positive reception from audiences and critics – including a deafening 8-minute ovation at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival – the film Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, has not been without its detractors. Several commentators and critics, predominantly from the English-speaking world, have called the film dangerous, irresponsible or insensitive towards people with mental illness. Such disapprovals reveal the ubiquity and centrality of the concept of mental illness itself in our society and, therefore, the corollary that mental illness should be categorized and treated like any other illness. No one seems to question this current dogma or even raise the possibility that what we call “mental illness” is rather a socio-political, legal, economic and spiritual phenomenon that is outside the field of medicine.

The controversial Hungarian-American libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz (1920-2012) openly challenged this concept with the publication of his book The Myth of Mental Illness (affiliate link) in 1961. Szasz’s main thesis is that the term “mental illness” is a metaphor, since diseases are sensu strictissimo physical injuries of the body human, whether of its organs, its tissues or its cells. Such injuries can be measured with objective scientific evidence. However, when we refer to “the mind” or “the mental” we are referring to abstract and immaterial concepts, which, by definition, are outside the field of physical sciences. For example, you can buy or sell a house but you cannot buy or sell a home, except in metaphorical terms. By analogy, a brain is an organ that can get sick – eg Parkinson’s, epilepsy, neurosyphilis, etc. – but a mind cannot. When we use the term “mental illness” in reality we are referring either to “vital problems” and “internal and external conflicts”, which every human being knows too well, or to “extreme and socially disapproved of preferences and behaviors”.

My interpretation of Joker is Szaszian, since I interpret the acts of the eponymous protagonist as adaptive and intelligible behaviors when we take into account the gruesome tragedy that is his life story as well as his socioeconomic background. As soon as we reduce the character of the Joker to a series of neuronal synapses and chemical reactions, we dehumanize him.

The film begins by introducing us to Arthur Fleck, a lonely and very poor middle-aged man who lives in a hovel with his older mother. The Gotham City of this film could perfectly be the New York of the 70s of works by Scorcese like Taxi Driver or Mean Streets. Fleck is stuck in mandatory therapy sessions with a social worker. Both the “therapist” and the “patient” understand that the real purpose of this charade is to provide Arthur with prescriptions for his seven psychiatric “medications” whose function is to stun him at their harsh reality. His mother is constantly sending letters to Thomas Wayne, CEO of Wayne Industries and his former employer, 30 years before the start of the film. She firmly believes that he will remember her and that he will provide the means necessary to bring her and Arthur out of their hardship. Throughout the film, Arthur experiences periodic bouts of involuntary laughter, a condition called “the pseudobulbar effect.” We will return to this point later.

The existential predicament that Arthur finds himself in exacerbates over time. His boss fires him because of one of his co-workers who “lends” him a revolver for his “protection.” In one of the film’s most cathartic moments, Arthur is assaulted by three young financial workers on the subway during one of his fits of laughter. Once pushed to the limit, Arthur pulls out the revolver and takes out his assailants. Although not Arthur’s intention, this murderous act serves as a catalyst for a new bloodthirsty social movement whose slogan is “eat the rich.” 

At another key moment in the film, Arthur surreptitiously opens one of the letters his mother had written to Thomas Wayne. In it, Arthur discovers that according to his mother he is actually Wayne’s illegitimate son, the result of an affair between Thomas and his mother when she was still employed by him. When Arthur confronts Wayne directly during a Wayne Industries benefit gala, Wayne explains that his mother lost her job and was confined to the Arkham Asylum asylum due to her psychological instability. To make matters worse, Wayne claims that Arthur is actually adopted. Arthur refuses to believe it, but travels to Arkham and takes over his mother’s case file and discovers that everything that Thomas Wayne told him is true.

At this crucial moment in the film we see Arthur begin to transform into the Joker, the iconic incarnation of chaotic evil. He suffocates his mother in her hospital room. He murders in cold blood his former co-worker who loaned him the firearm. On national television, he blows the brains out of a famous pushy comedian who invited him on the show only to humiliate him in public. In one of the last scenes of the film, we see Arthur posing triumphantly atop a burning police car in front of tens of thousands of devoted admirers as he paints a malevolent smile with his own blood: Arthur Fleck is dead, he has born the Joker.

From my point of view, Arthur Fleck’s actions were entirely voluntary and instrumentally rational. In fact, the director makes us see how Arthur’s perceptions begin to sharpen more as soon as his access to his “medications” is cut off.

Could it be that Arthur suffered from a disease that science has yet to identify that has overruled his total free will and forced him to murder at will? It’s an unnecessarily complex explanation: human tragedy and human conflict serve to elucidate Arthur’s motives. If we reflect on this a bit, Arthur’s behaviors make sense, at least to him. Why does Arthur kill young people on the subway? Because they humiliated and assaulted him. Why does Arthur kill his mother? For revenge, for hatred, for betrayal. Why does Arthur kill comedian Murray Franklin? He says it himself explicitly: “you just wanted to make fun of me, just like the others.”

The observant viewer will notice the care and calculation with which Arthur acts throughout the film. He shows a lot of intelligence and planning to get close to Thomas Wayne, to dodge the police in the subway, and to kill Murray Franklin, for example. When it is revealed to us that his courtship with his neighbor Sophie was a “delusion” in his imagination, we note that Sophie’s imaginary presence does not interfere with the instrumentality of Arthur’s actions. After all, a delusion is a psychiatric term to refer to a false belief. But who does not have or has not had comforting false beliefs at some point in their life? In any case, we fully understand why Arthur would want to imagine having a girlfriend.

It is telling that the actor who plays the role of Arthur Fleck, Joaquin Phoenix, rejects the label of mental illness for his character. In an interview with the newspaper Abc Phoenix he states:

Personally, I don’t see Arthur as mentally ill but as a narcissist. In his head there is an idea of ​​his place in the world and he does everything possible to achieve it [1]

I consider the greatness of Joker to be how Phillips and Phoenix make the viewer understand why the villain behaves the way he behaves, and in a beautiful, spectacular, dramatic, cathartic and uncomfortable as well as seductive way. I firmly believe that it is the great works of art, and not scientistic reductionism, that really helps us understand what at first appears to be unclear. Let’s remember, then, an unforgettable quote from the best screenwriter in history: “Although everything is madness, he does not stop observing method in what he says.” [2]



Originally published at:

An Interview with Jeffrey Schaler, author of Addiction Is A Choice

IN 2000, psychologist Jeffrey A. Schaler published a book that shook the foundation of the powerful addiction industry. His thesis was simple: people consume drugs and alcohol because they want to, not because they have a disease. The addiction industry, with annual revenues in the tens of billions of dollars, fought back ferociously against Schaler. Some former heavy drug users and drinkers also attacked Schaler for challenging the belief that their drug use was a biological compulsion, not an act of free will. Many in medicine and criminal justice — institutions wedded to the addiction theory, came not to praise Schaler but to bury him. But 20 years after its publication, Addiction is a Choice is still in print and stimulating discussion. In a review, Steven Slate, a researcher fellow with the Baldwin Research Institute, calls the book “a brilliant work, and…a serious must-read for anyone seeking the truth about this behavior we call addiction.” Dr. Schaler consented to an interview by Nicolas S. Martin on the 20th anniversary of the publication of his classic book.

NM: Addiction is now commonly understood to be a biologically-based compulsion, but you disagree. Could you summarize your view of addiction.

JS: As I’ve asserted for over 20 years, addiction is a choice. I’ve asserted, based on the core meaning of the word, that “addiction” means to say “yes” to something, to move towards it. And in my book I cite hundreds of years of usage in this sense. it just means you want to do something; it has nothing to do with compulsion, disease, or involuntariness. All of that was never considered — especially applied to drugs.

It was only in the early part of the 20th Century, in the movement that lead to the temperance era, that the meanings of addiction or alcoholism changed. People said that addiction meant loss of control, or involuntariness, as if a behavior could be done involuntarily, the way a person has an epileptic seizure. They also asserted that alcohol was an addicting substance like other drugs. With the federal narcotics act of 1914, all of these were asserted to be addictions caused by the substance itself. So, the remedy for preventing problems associated with abusive use was to make it illegal to possess and use the substance.

We must speak about the terms behavior and disease because they are also key to refuting the ideas that alcoholism and addiction are diseases. What does the word disease mean? It means a cellular abnormality, something in the physical structure of the body. A behavior is deportment, or the way one carries oneself, and is necessarily voluntary. Your behavior is what you choose. So, right off the bat, based on these operational terms and definitions, a disease cannot be a behavior. If we think about smoking, for example; smoking cigarettes is a behavior, but some of the possible consequences may be lung disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Those are diseases because they are abnormal changes in the cells of the body. They are certainly not choices.

Another thing to keep in mind as we go along with this discussion is that giving up destructive drug use is a matter of choice. When somebody decides to stop, they choose to stop. It’s the only way to stop. So, you have to think back to how a person began drinking or using drugs. They began by choosing to use drugs, which may have been a very irrational or self-destructive decision. There’s no doubt about that. And there also are many people who continue to use illegal drugs in meaningful ways to them. This use is a choice, not a disease. If it was a disease you couldn’t control yourself, and that’s what people are saying drug users can’t do. But as we talk I’ll elaborate on the research that shows that people have always been able to choose to stop or moderate their use of drugs for reasons that are important to them.

NM: You refer to the early part of the 20th century, which corresponds roughly to the Progressive Era, when there was a profound reversal of American opinion. It had previously been autonomy-based and transformed into paternalism. That change, which is one of the most important in American history, opened the door to the redefinition of drug use as addiction.

JS: I agree. And I think it is important to understand the context within which that emerged and developed. People were very unhappy. There was a lot of poverty, and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots was striking. There were terrible problems with the quality of food that was sold throughout the 19th and early part of the 20th century, particularly dairy and meat products. The incredible scientific work by Harvey Wiley, and the birth of the Poison Squad, met these problems head on. It you study some of the problems arising from food consumption, from the 1900s well into the 20th century, people were dying all over from tainted food. It was horrendous. Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, documented this and shocked the public. You have to look at the whole environmental context within which people viewed food and drugs, and how their attitudes about drugs and alcohol were shaped. It was easy for them to find a scapegoat and say, “the drug made you sick.” Food made thousands of people sick. Also, many men were drinking very heavily and beating up their wives, breaking up their families, losing their jobs, and this was a terrible problem, after the Civil War and just prior to the temperance movement The Women’s Christian Temperance Union and similar groups, along with many ministers, were out to change the world. I can’t say that I blame them because they were upset. What they came up with is the idea that if you cut off the drugs or the alcohol, you would stop the problem. But they couldn’t do that: Prohibition was a complete failure. Tied to the idea that the substance caused the problem, was that the substance would make anyone who used it diseased. So, this idea of involuntariness associated with the alleged addictive quality of the substance became key to the new ideas about alcoholism and addiction that developed throughout the early 1920s and 1930s, leading to attitudes today.

NM: They focused more intensely on alcohol than on drugs because alcohol was much more detrimental socially.

JS: Right.

NM: What were the consequences of unregulated drug use prior to the 20th Century? Was there social decadence and crime?

JS: I don’t think there was much drug-related crime because crime associated with drug and alcohol use was and is a product of prohibition. Make something illegal and you create a criminal class. In the 19th century, especially during the Civil War, people were miserable, and if they could make themselves feel better by drinking, of course they would do that. Alcohol use was considered a sin before it was widely considered a disease. That hardly stopped people from drinking heavily. The Civil War brought terrible misery to the lives of people from the North and South, during the war and its aftermath.

The idea that alcoholism is a disease originally came from Benjamin Rush, a prominent physician in the 18th century and signer of the Declaration of Independence, who proclaimed that drinking alcohol was a disease. But he also called any number of socially abnormal and problematic behaviors diseases. For example, he said that lying was a disease. One of his most famous proclamations was that having black skin was the result of a disease that he claimed was a congenital form of leprosy. A Black slave by the name of Henry Moss, who had white spots appear on his skin, was brought to Rush for examination. A physician today would call that vitiligo, which is a genetic disease, but Rush proclaimed that Moss was experiencing the spontaneous cure of his blackness. He said that all healthy, natural skin was white, and Black people had a disease that he named “negritude.” That diagnosis was used by Rush to advance the idea that Blacks and Whites should not intermarry because the disease would be spread. It was medicalized racism. We know that Rush’s ideas were nonsense, but it’s important to realize that this was the sort of thinking at the time. Benjamin Rush was a very influential speaker and rhetorician, especially in Philadelphia. He was taken seriously, even by Thomas Jefferson, but he was absolutely wrong. Rush had no scientific basis for his pronouncement. Thomas Trotter, a physician who attended the same medical school as Rush in England, also said alcoholism was a disease. But again there was no scientific evidence for the pronouncements by Rush and Trotter.

NM: Rush is known as the Father of American Psychiatry.

JS: That’s right. His portrait is still on the official literature of the American Psychiatric Association. This tells us something about who the people are who consider someone like this a hero today. Rush was a complete quack, and despite his claims — that he loved Black people and even the name “Africa” — he was a racist.

NM: I was reading historian Will Durant’s book, The Life of Greece, and came across this quote; “No civilization has found life tolerable without narcotics or stimulants.” Do you share Durant’s view?

JS: Yes. I’m not saying that life is tragic, but there certainly is a world of suffering that we’re all living in, and people find different ways of coping with that suffering. Religious belief, alcohol and drug consumption are ways of dealing with existential angst and suffering.

NM: James Madison, often called “the father of the constitution,” said that there hasn’t been any society in which people did not indulge in intoxicating substances like alcohol and opium.

JS: I agree. I think there are lot of myths about the Chinese opium war, for example. I don’t think it caused the disaster that some people have claimed. But why did and do people turn to opium and narcotics? To make their lives more bearable. Frankly, the rule, not the exception, is that most people have always been able to moderate their use of drugs like opium, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana. Obviously, there are people who self-destruct using drugs and do too much, but there are also people who self-destruct and do too much in all walks of life. As you know, Nicolas, I have long argued for the complete repeal of drug prohibition. I personally would not think it such a bad idea to return to opium dens here in the country, the way it was in New York in the early part of the 20th Century, where people could go to relax.

Again, I don’t think people are hooked uncontrollably and biologically to opium or narcotics; people can and do quit when it is important enough for them to do so. I’ve proven that for myself. Not that I used narcotics for pleasure, but I was prescribed methadone for 15 years because of a serious back problem that I had. I had tried everything after a failed back surgery, and I couldn’t walk. I was a professor. At times I could not stand before my class, I couldn’t walk from class to class; the pain was absolutely horrendous. I had cortisone injections and every kind of pain drug you can imagine. Finally, a very good pain doctor prescribed methadone. I was on very high doses of methadone for 15 years because everybody develops tolerance. Over time it just doesn’t work as well is it used to, and I was up to 14 milligrams of methadone a day. Some people are on up to 100 milligrams of methadone a day. Then, this past December I said, “this is enough, I’m going to stop using this,” and some of my doctors said, “be careful, methadone is one of the worst drugs to get off of.” Many former heavy heroin users given methadone to try and wean off of heroin have said that giving up methadone was far, far worse than giving up heroin. I weaned myself off the drug in the course of about three months, and I quit completely. I had and have absolutely no craving, no desire for methadone, and it was easy to stop. However, I did have severe withdrawal symptoms, which I did not anticipate. Symptoms seem to vary from person to person. But I went through those. One of the worst was an inability to sleep for several weeks. I had crying episodes and severe gastrointestinal problems. My blood testosterone level went very low and I had to go on testosterone supplements, which have helped to restore needed muscle strength and stamina. I made it through and I’m glad I’m off it. One of the things I’ve learned is that methadone inhibits the healing of wounds, and my doctors confirmed this. I had a non-healing wound on my shin for 10 years. The top dermatopathology experts at Hopkins and everywhere were useless — nobody could help me. We confirmed it was not cancer, but they couldn’t understand why it was happening. Since I stopped the methadone this wound has been healing remarkably fast.

My point again is that users can get off of drugs that other people say are so addicting that it isn’t possible to stop or moderate. But remember, there are many things in life that are challenging and difficult. I’d never go back to my adolescence, it was too difficult. Going to school, going to graduate school, getting married, going through divorce, raising children — life is full of challenge, dealing with serious illness, and that’s when everything is going well. So, we should not say or believe that giving up a drug is too hard because it’s uncomfortable to do so. We go through all kinds of uncomfortable things, and we accept this as life.

Read the rest of the interview at:

Kanye West on dancing to the beat of a different drummer

In short, where psychiatric historians see stories about terrible illnesses and heroic treatments, I see stories about people marching to the beats of different drummers or perhaps failing to march at all, and the terrible injustices committed against them, rationalized by hollow “therapeutic” justifications. Faced with vexing personal problems, the “truth” people crave is a simple, fashionable falsehood. That is an important, albeit bitter, lesson the history of psychiatry teaches us.

Thomas Szasz, Preface to Coercion as Cure

We call coercing a woman to submit to a sexual act “rape.” We call coercing a person to submit to psychiatric defamation and confinement “diagnosis” and “treatment.”

Szasz, Thomas. Words to the Wise (p. 67). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Mental illness is the name of a category of alleged “conditions” that has no members. There is no mental illness. There is a diversity of human behaviors, some socially approved, others socially disapproved. In modern societies, many people prefer to view some disapproved behaviors as diseases and call them “mental illnesses.”

Szasz, Thomas. Words to the Wise (p. 106). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Electroshock (ECT): True Story of Kenny

Psych Survivor YYC

Here’s a link to a testimonial of someone that underwent electroshock treatment.  He is a friend of a friend of mine.  At 21, he had 30 rounds of shock. (He’s 28 in this video.)  If you are uncomfortable clicking links, google “Kenny electroshock video”.  Although the doctor kept insisting that the shock would help, he says he would never wish it on his worse enemy.


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The Method of Autonomous Psychotherapy

From The Ethics of Psychoanalysis by Thomas Szasz:

Psychoanalysis is not a medical treatment, but an education. It is not like getting cure of a disease, but rather like getting to know another person well or learning a foreign language or a new game. How long does each of these take? It is with this kind of human experience that analysis must be compared. Thus, it can be understood why the analytic enterprise , by its very nature, precludes speed. This does not mean, however, that, to be useful, every analysis must last three, four, or more years. There is another fundamental misunderstanding in the expectation that, with greater knowledge and skill, analysts ought to be able to increase the speed of analyses. It lies in not realizing that the duration of a particular analysis depends, neither on the nature of the patient “mental illness” nor on the efficiency or inefficiency of the “treatment” used (though this plays a part), but rather on the patient’s needs and wishes to continue to receive “analytic education.”

Perpetual graduate students do not necessarily make the best scientists nor always the worst. Conversely, students who drop out of school early or who complete their education rapidly may do much or little with what they have learned; some may continue a process of self-education, whereas others may soon forget whatever they have learned. The situation is similar in psychoanalysis. Some analyses last long and ought to last long because of the sort of person the patient is; others are and ought to be relatively short. It is a grave mistake to link the effective- ness of analysis with its duration. In fact, the two are nearly unrelated. Some persons learn more rapidly than others, whether in school or in analysis. The same is true for analysts; some work more quickly than others.

In sum, the duration of a particular analysis reflects two things: the needs of the patient and the personal styles of the analyst and analysand as analytic game-players. We should expect this and not superimpose on analysis concepts and values alien to it. Only under such conditions can psychoanalytic treatment be an authentic and autonomous encounter between analyst and analysand.

Discovering Thomas Szasz with Scott McLain

I had a chance to ask a fan of Thomas Szasz, Scott McLain a few questions about Szasz. Scott is author of a recent review of the movie, Joker, which he writes about from a Szaszian perspective. You can listen to an interview with Scott on the podcast Stories We Live By.

How did you discover Thomas Szasz’s ideas?

I first heard about Thomas Szasz and his ideas through Bryan Caplan on his blog, EconLog.

What did you think when you first learned about Szasz’s ideas on mental illness?

Shock and disbelief. In our culture experts, scientists, spiritual leaders, celebrities and laymen have all taken for granted that phenomena like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and the like are “diseases just like physical diseases”. The phrase “the myth of mental illness” sounded to me like “the myth of the round earth”.

How long did it take for you to understand what Szasz was saying?

Once I started reading Szasz’s books and listening to lectures and debates I gradually came to a greater understanding of his views. I then spent a year reading dozens of his books and articles as well as listening to every lecture he gave and debate he had with opponents and it was really in this period when I came to fully agree with him. Disease is an abnormality or malfunction of the human body. The mind is not an organ of the body and as such cannot be diseased except in a metaphorical sense. It’s not really that difficult to grasp.

What do you see as Szasz’s main idea?

Human suffering of the inner/emotional/existential/spiritual/religious kind as well as deeply disturbing behaviors are very real phenomena, but they are not properly located in the domain of medicine, and in medicalizing human problems in living we sacrifice not only our political freedoms but also our personal dignity

What do you find most compelling about Szasz’s ideas?

The idea that clear thinking requires courage, not intelligence. So intellectually easy to understand, yet so emotionally difficult in a society predicated on ignoring the elephant in the room.

Do Szasz’s ideas help you in everyday life? 

Absolutely. Szasz emphasized personal responsibility, the equal dignity and worth of all persons, and their ability and duty to courageously cope with their problems in living. These simple yet powerful ideas have provided a unique and necessary existential succor in a society constantly trying to find newer and more sophisticated ways to convince each other that they are victims and that their plight is due to forces completely outside their control.

What resources would you recommend to someone trying to understand Szasz? Books, Podcasts, or video?

Of his books, the one that best explains his position is Insanity: the Idea and its Consequences but for those with less time I would recommend the below interview with his longtime colleague Jeffrey Schaler, followed by the book The Medicalization of Everyday Life which is a compendium of some of Szasz’s greatest essays and articles intended for popular audiences (affiliate links).