Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cosmetic Psychiatry

These are just a few random thoughts I've been kicking around since I read Estee's post The Difficulty of Knowing and the related discussions of medication on other blogs last week.

The problem with medication is, of course, that it is the province of psychiatrists. This is what I think of the accumulated wisdom of psychiatrists and other so-called autism experts: If I can get a heap of it delivered to my back gate, I'll shovel it onto my garden and grow some nice big juicy
tomatoes.

It's not that I have any religious or philosophical objections to altering the natural state of the brain. (A couple of beers can do that, after all.) But our society treats the psychs like infallible wizard-kings who have a divine right to wave a magic diagnostic wand and instantly transmute millions of healthy and productive citizens into disordered mental lepers, banished to the fringes of civilization unto eternity.

Nobody should ever have that sort of power. Ever.

But what if psychiatrists occupied a social niche similar to that of plastic surgeons, other providers of cosmetic procedures, and bartenders? What if their medications, instead of being coercive implements of social control and rigid conformity, were designed to enable their clients to express whatever cognitive and personality traits the clients felt like expressing at a particular time?

Let's fast-forward a few decades to a time when all medications are individually compounded, after thorough genetic testing and metabolic profiles, and have few or no side effects. (I firmly believe that the people of the not-so-distant future will be aghast that we ever did anything as primitive and dangerous as using mass-market pharmaceuticals.) A geeky guy may want to take a dose of a drug that enhances social behavior, so that he can become more gregarious for a few hours and enjoy going to a nightclub with friends. Meanwhile, another guy who is usually a "party animal" may choose to take a drug that temporarily suppresses his social inclinations and enables him to focus intently on a project that he needs to finish for work or school. These prescriptions are not based on a diagnosis of a mental disorder; in this world, diversity of brain structure is considered as normal as any other form of diversity. Psychiatric drugs are viewed as temporary enhancements, not as treatments for illnesses or defects.

One of the arguments I've seen against allowing brain-altering drugs to be used without a diagnosed mental disorder is that there would be rampant "cheating" at school and in the workplace. Our current standardized tests would be useless if all test-takers could pop a few pills and instantly have perfect recall and excellent concentration. Hiring managers couldn't get an accurate snapshot of an applicant's personality in an interview if all job-seekers could take drugs to improve their conversational performance.

And to that I say: It's about damn time.

What eugenics-spewing Industrial Age robber barons were responsible for indoctrinating us with the idea that we should be in constant competition to pass tests and impress the corporate bosses, anyway? Until quite recently, education and work were not dependent on how closely one's cognitive characteristics matched those of the ruling class. Instead, parents taught their children at home, placed them in one-room schoolhouses where they could progress at their own natural pace, or apprenticed them to master craftsmen. Skilled workers were hired on the basis of their portfolios and reputations, not how glibly they could chatter.

I'm not suggesting that all children should be homeschooled or that we should return to a medieval apprenticeship system, but our schools need to focus on actually educating students, rather than churning out compliant test drones and job-interview monkeys.

Yes, I know that's a hard concept to get through the dense skulls of our conformity-driven school officials and the shamelessly pandering politicians who pull their strings.

Maybe they all need a new drug.

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10 Comments:

  • Excellent post Abfh.

    After reading it, the Huey Lewis song "I want a new drug" starts going through my head, but I change the last lines to, "One that makes me feel like I really want to be....when I'm alone with me."

    I like your look to the future!

    By Blogger Do'C, at 11:17 AM  

  • I have always done well in job interviews with parents, but not as well in interviews for more formal jobs, like the one I have now (secretary).

    This one, I got because they decided to overlook that I rolled my eyes at every question (apparently they haven't heard about how when you're trying to remember information you look up and to the side, and I guess I process from one side to the other faster than most people) and didn't answer one of their questions properly (they asked me how I would make the place welcoming, and I talked about the building; apparently they meant how I, personally, would make people feel welcome in the place). I think because I had an excellent reference from one of the parents I worked for two years.

    And I have some problems with the job here and there, but overall I think they're impressed with my performance and are glad they hired me. And I quite like it here. But people with such a poor understanding of behaviour and semantics shouldn't be doing job interviews.

    By Blogger Jannalou, at 2:25 PM  

  • Hello there - new guy here. Can I just say that from what I've been reading of your blog, you have the best one among all the autism rights blogs out there. I am of course a huge admirer of such figures as Amanda Baggs and Michelle Dawson et al for all they have done and said but you seem to have something they largely lack - a clear political perspective which is against the establishment and the ruling elites who seek to impose their profit-driven priorities on all of us.

    By Anonymous rocobley, at 8:28 AM  

  • Hi rocobley. Thanks for the compliment. I wouldn't describe Amanda Baggs and Michelle Dawson as lacking a clear political perspective, though. They have a different focus, and I think that's good, because we need to express our views in a variety of ways if we're to be effective in reaching a wide audience.

    Some people can't relate to my political rants, but they're very moved when they read Amanda's personal stories. Some people think I'm too manipulative, but they're very impressed with Michelle's uncompromising pursuit of truth. What's important, as I see it, is that more people are reading our side of the debate and thinking about the human rights issues, instead of blindly accepting the propaganda in the mass media.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:26 AM  

  • All very true abfh, but what I meant is that the movement needs a clear perspective on why it is that autistic people, and indeed 'disabled' people more broadly, are discriminated against and marginalised in our society. Certainly Amanda's and others personal stories are important but the problem I have with her perspective is that there is little real analysis as to *why* except apart from a generalised implication that non-autistic people are just prejudiced towards autistics. I suppose its because of my background as a socialist that I see a need for a materialist analysis of these issues.

    By Anonymous rocobley, at 8:23 AM  

  • It's not just an issue of socialism vs. capitalism, though. Although disability prejudice can be described as one of the historical consequences of the rise of capitalism, Karl Marx and his concept of the ideal worker also contributed to it, and certainly this sort of prejudice is not limited to capitalist countries.

    The stereotypes have become so ingrained that sometimes non-autistic people *are* just prejudiced towards autistics.

    Sweden, for example, which has had a democratic socialist government for many years, was sterilizing autistic people into the 1980s, and Swedish social workers recently put Leif Ekblad's premature baby in foster care for no other reason than having autistic parents.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:38 AM  

  • Hmm, aren't all countries capitalist these days? I'm not sure of this 'ideal worker' business - sounds more like another Stalinist distortion to me. It's certainly true, however, that many socialists would be opposed to us. I have had arguments with curebie socialists myself. Nonetheless I do believe that to understand why autistic people and 'disabled' people face such discrimination one has to start by analysing how capitalism seeks to control and exploit people.

    By Anonymous rocobley, at 1:12 PM  

  • I'm working on another post about disability prejudice. It's mainly about the origin of prejudice in prehistoric tribal behavior (fear of The Other), but I'll throw in a bit of corporation-bashing just for you.

    ;-)

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:28 PM  

  • "...but our schools need to focus on actually educating students, rather than churning out compliant test drones and job-interview monkeys."

    Educational psychologist here.

    I agree entirely with that.

    David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending)
    Kotka, Finland

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:34 PM  

  • My issue is Zyprexa which is only FDA approved for schizophrenia (.5-1% of pop) and some bipolar (2% pop) and then an even smaller percentage of theses two groups.
    So how does Zyprexa get to be the 7th largest drug sale in the world?

    Eli Lilly is in deep trouble for using their drug reps to 'encourage' doctors to write zyprexa for non-FDA approved 'off label' uses.

    The drug causes increased diabetes risk,and medicare picks up all the expensive fallout.There are now 7 states (and counting) going after Lilly for fraud and restitution.

    --
    Daniel Haszard

    By Anonymous Daniel Haszard, at 4:30 PM  

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