Faced with a multi-billion dollar business that has subtly bought the doctors, universities and the media, it is virtually impossible for the civil society to see what is happening. Just as in Heinroth’s time political actions were covered up in medical garb when the ideals of the Revolution were in the air, after the rebellion of the 1960s psychiatry reacted by covering itself more and more with the clothes of hard science, the paradigm of our days. In 1999 Professor Leonard Duhl of the University of California defined mental illness and poverty in the most perfect sense of the ideologists of the Great Confinement of the 17th century: ‘the inability to command events that affect one’s life’.
The consolidation and enlargement of the psychiatric power continues in the 21st century. The tenfold increase in the use of neuroleptics in minors since the mid-1990s to the first five years of the new century, which is done with the publicity stunt that they are ‘at risk’, shows the cynicism of this marketing design.
Heinroth was a great visionary. He foresaw that drugs could be the prisons of the future. Although the neuroleptics had not been invented, Heinroth already spoke of ‘pharmaceutical means of restriction’ and ‘restrictive surgical means’, anticipating the lobotomy that Moniz would develop a century later.
Since the regulations that would define the policies of the psychiatrists were enacted in the 19th century, the expansion of the chemical Gulag meant that long-term involuntary hospitalization changed to long-term voluntary (or involuntary) drug addiction. Psychiatrists, of course, would say things differently. They say that in the treatment of mental illnesses the most outstanding event of the 20th century was the capability to synthesise these substances in laboratories. But this is one of the allegations of scientific progress that, analysed closely, is discovered fallacious.
In psychopharmacology there are no biographies of John, Peter or Mary when they are prescribed neuroleptics, neither when they are prescribed antidepressants, when stimulants are prescribed, or when tranquilizers are prescribed. There are no people in biological psychiatry, or biologicistic psychiatry as I prefer to call it, only biochemical radicals that have to be normalized by other chemical substances. In an age that seeks easy solutions to the problems of the world, it is not necessary to delve into the past. Just calculate the dose of ‘happy pills’, be it Prozac or any other.
This also happens with the abuse of illegal drugs and the only difference is that the psychotropic drugs are legal. Approximately thirty million people have taken Prozac (fluoxetine), a drug that Newsweek has advertised with cover articles. The situation points more and more to the scenes of Brave New World of Aldous Huxley where, at the request of the State, every citizen consumed the drug called soma.
(First edition in the United Kingdom of Huxley’s famous novel.) In the medical profession the environmental factors that prick our souls have disappeared from the map. If the philosophy of the biologicistic psychiatrists is right, all our passions, traumas and conflicts, loves and fears, are not the result of our desires in conflict with the external world, but of the swings of small polypeptides in our bodies that are transformed into despair.
In the preface to some editions of the DSM it is said that the future will completely erase the ‘unfortunate’ distinction between the popular concept of mental disorder and physical illness. On January 1, 1990, California became the first American state to accept the main dogma in psychiatry: that mental disorders are, in reality, diseases originating in brain dysfunctions. For example, it is claimed that a high dopamine causes madness, and a low serotonin, depression. (This reminds me that for Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry, insanity was caused by low blood circulation in the head.) But in real neurological science the dopamine and serotonin claims have been debunked.
Bioreductionist psychiatry is anything that sees supposed biological abnormalities in the body rather traumatic events in the family or the environment. It is like studying trauma not as a reaction to an outrageous act, say, the incestuous rape of Dora [mentioned in the online book], but rather studying the temporal lobe of the raped girl, where the treatment is headed. The drugs, or the hammer of the electroshock, are the result of the medical axiom: ‘He who only knows how to use the hammer treats all things as if they were nails’.
I am not caricaturising the profession. In November 2002 I had a long discussion with Dr. Miguel Pérez de la Mora, an experimental cell physiology physician of the Department of Biophysics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and director of the Mexican Academy of Sciences. In the discussion with Pérez de la Mora I was struck by the fact that, when I mentioned the mental state of the inmates in the concentration camps, my contender immediately jumped to the subject of the amygdala and the anxiety that he studied in his laboratory: an anxiety understood in a strictly biological way.
In our surreal discussion, I took a long time to make the obvious point to the doctor: that the cause of the mental stress of the inmates were the brutalities in the camps. But even granted this point Pérez de la Mora added—without laboratory tests—that only those inmates in the fields who presumably had a genetic predisposition could have been the ones who became upset. For this neurologist and his colleagues, the concentration camps were a mere ‘trigger mechanism’ for the disorder of a prisoner whose biology, presumably, was already defective!
I must clarify the concept of ‘trigger mechanism’ of a supposed latent mental disorder.
This is one of the main mantras of the psychiatrist, and exemplifies what I have called bioreductionism. For the bioreductionist, the human rights and psychological trauma are located in the background, and the only thing that matters is the genome project and the search for the ‘gene’ responsible for the disorder (or another strictly biological line).
The specialty of Pérez de la Mora is studying anxiety disorders in the laboratories of the UNAM, and during our discussion he confessed that the firm that manufactures the psychiatric drug Valium had financed his research. I pointed to Pérez de la Mora that a research financed by the same drug companies produces results with a clear biological bias. The eminent scientist told me that researchers rarely sell themselves to companies.
The reality is that the way that the pharmaceutical multinationals buy the scientists is infinitely subtler than direct bribery. Roche, which manufactures Valium, simply finances professionals who postulate biological hypotheses, and no other. Never Roche or the competition would give us a penny to those who investigate psychological trauma. Our line of research is a proposal that requires social engineering and changes in the nuclear family to avoid mistreatment of the children. But in our world nobody wants to finance the researcher who puts the parents in the dock.
For example, no institution funded the research to write this online book. On the other hand, the medical model promotes the drugging of the abused child without changing the parental mistreatment that caused the mental distress in the first place. Only in this way does the field enjoy the approval of society. If the anxiety that Perez de la Mora studies, or panic, depression, addictions, phobias, mania, obsessions and compulsions are the result of an abnormal biology, the human and existential content that has caused these experiences becomes irrelevant.
The thinking of our time is being confined to a one-dimensional world as far as mental health is concerned. Bioreductionism, the ideology of the medical doctors with blinders that do not want to see the social sides, is a doctrine whose conceptual frame is quite simple: determinism and reductionism (‘Your biology is your destiny’). But as psychiatrists present this doctrine to us with all its scientific sophistication, the matter apparently is complicated. The following Szaszian analogy illustrates how simple, at the bottom, biopsychiatry is.
The primitive witch-doctor, who tried to understand Nature in human terms, treated objects as agents: a position known as animism. The modern witch-doctor, who tries to understand the subjectivity of man in terms of Nature, treats agents as objects: a position known as bioreductionism. Primitive man has been demystified in our scientific era. Who will demystify psychiatry doctors?
There is a small group of thinkers who can do it: those who know how to distinguish between good and bogus science.
 Leonard Duhl, quoted in Szasz: Pharmacracy, p. 95.
 See Valenstein, Blaming the Brain.
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6 replies on “From the Great Confinement of Louis XIV of France to a Chemical Gulag (part 5)”
C.T., you’ve previously said that you have no quarrel with the paradigm that sees all animal behavior as the result of genes interacting with environment. How then does this not lead to bioreductionism? For in order for it not to, it seems to me you’d have to postulate a third force (e.g., free will), in order for the gene/environment interaction not to be deterministic. In other words, assuming you think it is, what makes the gene/environment interaction non-deterministic?
That’s an old philosophical discussion: determinism vs. free will. I hate Sartre when he said that we are absolutely free and enjoy absolute liberty. He was nuts of course.
But here I restrict myself to the obvious: concentration camps may drive you mad. Or extremely abusive parents. Drugging the victim child with neuroleptics only re-victimises the victim. That’s the whole point: restricting this discussion to biological explanations within psychiatry. No philosophical discussions beyond what I wrote fifteen years ago (my online book).
If my above examples are not enough, remember an article at The Occidental Observer: a British woman wanted to mess with the brain of racists with meds. She cannot conceive that we may be sane. No. She’s a bioreductionist in the sense that she’s seeing racism as a brain pathology somewhere in our biochemistry and wants to modify our behaviour.
That’s the bio-reductionism that must be challenged.
You can challenge the value judgement that racism is a pathology, but I don’t think you can challenge bioreductionism selectively Either human behavior can be reduced to a matter of biology (i.e., genes and environment) or it can’t. If it can, racism or any other human behavior is susceptible to pharmacologic attack. Whether such an attack should be made is a completely different question.
I am challenging bio-reductionism in psychiatry, not talking about what in the philosophy of the mind is called ‘materialism’ (that the mind is ultimately the brain). So it’s better to set semantics aside. The issue here is the medical model of mental disorders vs. the trauma model.
In the medical model, the brain of a raped girl by her father is blamed and she is medicated with psychiatric drugs (she’s ‘re-victimized’).
In the trauma model, the perpetrator is removed from the home.
The pharmacologic attack on racism is also a two-edged sword. If racism is controlled by certain chemical and neurologic pathways, then it can be intensified as well as lessened. Imagine the chaos to the system that would result if a Dr. Peters-like figure released a virus that made everyone ten or a hundred times more racist than they otherwise would have been. If they were serious, this is the sort of thing that WNs could be working on.
Testosterone/Dopaminergic pathway has some correlation with racism. The opposite is a passive SSRI addicted obese man.