Friday, December 31, 2010

The cultural definition of insanity

"I once witnessed an ironically enlightening instance of the cultural definition of insanity, and of the power politics of psychiatric social control. At the time when I was on the staff of a New Jersey State Mental Hospital, a strange man appeared on a street corner in Trenton, wearing a long white sheet and quietly muttering "gibberish". His very presence threatened the certitude of sanity of the community at large. Fortunately, for the sheeted man's own good, a policeman was called by the some saner citizen. So it was that this poor man was able to be brought under the protective lock-and-key of his local Asylum.

His efforts to explain his strange behaviour were offered in vain, since it was clear that he was a loony, or to be more scientific, he was diagnosed into that catch-all garbage can of a syndrome known as Schizophrenia, Chronic Undifferentiated Type.

...Fortunately, for the white-sheeted, gibberish-muttering patient in question, the hospital Visitors' Day began the very next morning. Evidently he had called home and made his plight known. That morning twenty other people wearing white sheets arrived at the hospital. Equally strangely clad, they were also equivalently incomprehensible to the psychiatric staff. It turned out that these men and women were all members of the same small rural church sect, a religious group who defined their identity in part by clothing themselves in the purity of white cloth, and by being divinely inspired to talk in tongues.

...The patient was released that afternoon. One such man is a lunatic. Twenty constitute an acceptable and sane community."

Page 94, 'If you meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him', by Sheldon B.Kopp

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