American psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl, in his book, The Protest Psychosis, examines the incidence and diagnosis of schizophrenia in the US. Up until the 1950s, most US patients diagnosed with schizophrenia were women who were unwilling, or unable, to look after homes and families or were seen, for one reason or another, as an embarrassment to their husbands. However, after the 1950s, this all changed. Instead of schizophrenia being a malady of the dissatisfied or dissolute woman, it has come to be disproportionately diagnosed in young, African-American men. Metzl describes this change within his description of the scope of his work, “I integrate institutional, professional, and cultural discourses in order to trace shifts in U.S. popular and medical understandings of schizophrenia from a disease of white docility to one of “Negro” hostility, and from a disease that was nurtured to one that was feared.”(1)
Metzl also makes a case for a link between clinical changes in the understanding of schizophrenia during the 1960s and 70s and the rising civil rights movement in America. Referring to this he says, “[I]n its worst moments, (the medical establishment) treated aspirations for liberation and civil rights as symptoms of mental illness.” (2)
It is easily provable that what we believe to be true is influenced by what we “believe” in the first place, and it is equally easily provable that this human inclination has caused both individual and societal problems throughout history. There is no denying that we see in others is what we already believe, rather than the other way around.
This human predisposition is neither good nor bad, it is just one of several “facts” about being human, and as is the case with all our default instincts and capacities, we don’t need to eradicate it but rather simply train it. We’d never, for example, tell our children to ignore their hunger. Hunger plays a very important function in human survival and we know this, therefore we train our children to eat properly in order for them to get the most benefit from this instinct.
In the same way, we can look at our tendency towards viewing the world through conscious and unconscious conceptual frameworks, and rather than trying to eradicate this practice, we can develop it. By making these conceptual frameworks conscious, we can better construct them as useful ways for viewing and understanding the world. These “lenses” then can help us to gain deeper understanding as they allow us to be in charge of our instincts rather than vice versa. Once we are conscious of them, our conceptual frameworks can act as maps that really help us as we try to make progress both as individuals and societies. The lenses we use to look at the world will do more than just cut the glare, they will dictate our actions and, thereby, ultimately create the world in which we live.
(1) Jonathan M. Metzl, The Protest Psychosis, p.11
Patricia “Trisha” Rainsford lives in Ireland and used to be a Classics teacher (amongst other things) before she became a full-time writer. She has published two novels, The Knack of Life and A Secret Place. Trisha also co-authored four other novels, which were also published, as well as having written countless other things including a TV series that was in development for a while but then cancelled (c'est la vie). Still writing today, a lot of her work is focused on the generation and application of knowledge for human development. Read more from Trisha on her blog, Creating Reciprocity.
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