I am an insane person because I have self-respecting humane reactions to being forced to do, think, and feel things I do not want to do, do not believe, and do not want to experience.
“Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness“, by Bruce Levine, Ph.D., writing in Mad In America:
Throughout history, societies have existed with far less coercion than ours, and while these societies have had far less consumer goods and what modernity calls â€œefficiency,â€ they also have had far less mental illness. This reality has been buried, not surprisingly, by uncritical champions of modernity and mainstream psychiatry. Coercionâ€”the use of physical, legal, chemical, psychological, financial, and other forces to gain complianceâ€”is intrinsic to our societyâ€™s employment, schooling, and parenting. However, coercion results in fear and resentment, which are fuels for miserable marriages, unhappy families, and what we today call mental illness.
Once, when doctors actually listened at length to their patients about their lives, it was obvious to many of them that coercion played a significant role in their misery. But most physicians, including psychiatrists, have stopped delving into their patientsâ€™ lives. In 2011, the New York Times (â€œTalk Doesnâ€™t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapyâ€) reported, â€œA 2005 government survey found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to all patients.â€ As the article points out, psychiatrists can make far more money primarily providing â€œmedication management,â€ in which they only check symptoms and adjust medication.
Since the 1980s, biochemical psychiatry in partnership with Big Pharma has come to dominate psychiatry, and they have successfully buried truths about coercion that were once obvious to professionals who actually listened at great length to their patientsâ€”obvious, for example, to Sigmund Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents (1929) and R.D. Laing (The Politics of Experience, 1967). This is not to say that Freudâ€™s psychoanalysis and Laingâ€™s existential approach always have been therapeutic. However, doctors who focus only on symptoms and prescribing medication will miss the obvious reality of how a variety of societal coercions can result in a cascade of family coercions, resentments, and emotional and behavioral problems.
Modernity is replete with institutional coercions not present in most indigenous cultures. This is especially true with respect to schooling and employment, which for most Americans, according to recent polls, are alienating, disengaging, and unfun. As I reported earlier this year (â€œWhy Life in America Can Literally Drive You Insane, a Gallup poll, released in January 2013, reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become, and by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. Critics of schoolingâ€”from Henry David Thoreau, to Paul Goodman, to John Holt, to John Taylor Gattoâ€”have understood that coercive and unengaging schooling is necessary to ensure that young people more readily accept coercive and unengaging employment. And as I also reported in that same article, a June 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have checked out of them.
Unengaging employment and schooling require all kinds of coercions for participation, and human beings pay a psychological price for this. In nearly three decades of clinical practice, I have found that coercion is often the source of suffering.
In all societies, there are coercions to behave in culturally agreed-upon ways. For example, in many indigenous cultures, there is peer pressure to be courageous and honest. However, in modernity, we have institutional coercions that compel us to behave in ways that we do not respect or value. Parents, afraid their children will lack credentials necessary for employment, routinely coerce their children to comply with coercive schooling that was unpleasant for these parents as children. And though 70% of us hate or are disengaged from our jobs, we are coerced by the fear of poverty and homelessness to seek and maintain employment.
In our society, we are taught that accepting institutional coercion is required for survival. We discover a variety of waysâ€”including drugs and alcoholâ€”to deny resentment. We spend much energy denying the lethal effects of coercion on relationships. And, unlike many indigenous cultures, we spend little energy creating a society with a minimal amount of coercion.
Accepting coercion as â€œa fact of life,â€ we often have little restraint in coercing others when given the opportunity. This opportunity can present itself when we find ourselves above others in an employment hierarchy and feel the safety of power; or after we have seduced our mate by being as noncoercive as possible and feel the safety of marriage. Marriages and other relationships go south in a hurry when one person becomes a coercive control freak; resentment quickly occurs in the other person, who then uses counter-coercive measures.