THOMAS SZASZ’S IMPACT ON POLITICAL ISSUES
EXAMPLES FROM GERMANY
Before I start I would like to say a few introductory words about myself:
The only reason why I am able to speak to you today is because I lied to US-immigration officials that I had never been diagnosed with a mental illness.
For me however this was not a lie because thanks to a Professor of Psychiatry, Thomas Szasz, I have the definite confirmation of my conviction that there is no such thing as mental "illness".
Thomas Szasz has also reset the political agenda and in particular determined a new point zero in the political coordination system. He fundamentally redefined the concept of mental experience and of the mind as an entity.
In doing so he has forced another form of language and understanding that is different to all other physical and objectifying phenomena and as a consequence his approach has caused fundamental shifts in the definitions of the political topography. His demand for the inalienable right to one's own body, a radical realization of the prohibition of torture, seriously alters the relation between the State and its citizens.
In the first place, the State loses its therapeutic privilege. However, this augments the citizens's status as a legal subject. And to my mind it is the possible implications of these changes - mostly only imagined - which result in the embittered opposition against it.
To repeat and emphasize this point: Thomas Szasz only wants to be a psychiatrist whereas in fact he is a people's tribune. His work focuses on legal changes. In a constitutional state these changes are the product of political discourse resulting in a majority in a parliament.
As I do not want to continue on the abstract level, I shall now move on to describe in how far this topos is reflected in political practice. Here are two examples of our efforts in Germany:
1) In my country a decisive breakthrough was achieved at an insignificant point and ultimately the brittle system of coercive psychiatry cracked. Germany's legal basis is perhaps comparable to that of other countries so I shall give a more detailed account of our model which could then be applied somewhere else.
In Germany a so-called subsidiary principle applies which means that if a private organization takes responsibility for certain social and welfare measures, the State withdraws its support. In fact, private organizations are given priority over public ones.
The same subsidiary principle was individualized at a very specific point. Since 1st of January, 1999 a new legislation has come into force which stipulates that no care can be administered if the person in question has granted another person power of attorney in order to act on their behalf. This applies in the case of a person being declared medically incompetent such as a coma patient or a person who has suffered severe strokes.
We, the "The Lunatics Offensive" have made use of this amendment. Together with a lawyer we have made use of this legislation to grant power of attorney among ourselves, mainly to ensure that no psychiatric measures can be taken against us. Should an attempt be made to do this, externally power of attorney comes immediately into force, whereas internally we make up a contract stating that the authorized person must not agree to any enforced or involuntary psychiatric measures, such as detention in a closed psychiatric ward, restraint or involuntary treatment.
On the contrary, as soon as such a measure is about to be administered, a charge will be brought against the institution or the medical professionals involved, either for wrongful deprivation of personal liberty or the causing of bodily injury. We faxed details of this procedure and the new legal situation to all senior psychiatric doctors in Germany and we are able to prove that they were informed about these changes.
Thus, by mutually granting power of attorney, hospitalization against someone's will becomes impracticable.
Only if a criminal act was committed could the person be detained in a "normal" prison, an aspect which is exactly what Thomas Szasz demands. In this case, we strongly advise people to remain silent during a psychiatric expertise by a court order, so that the psychiatrist, provided he is honest, can only state in his report that he was unable to examine the person. At least, this would increase the chance of being thrown into a "normal" prison instead of being detained in the forensic psychiatry for an indefinite period including coercive and torture-like treatment.
In Germany, special mental health acts are part of the Family Law and courts dealing with matters relating to guardianship make the decisions. According to federal legislation, accommodation under civil or private law provided by a caretaker has priority over care that comes under public law and mental health legislation of the State. As a result, the granting of power of attorney, which has priority over the application of caretaking measures, can be considered as the more forceful law than the mental health acts leading to forced detention. In Germany, Federal Law breaches State law.
Since a lawyer on our side, who functions as the last authority controlling the affairs of the person threatened by detention, represents German administration of justice, no court can overrule the power granted to the authorized person and the controlling lawyer. Only if the authorized person abuses the regulation can the lawyer impose a decision.
You see that the application of our model is indeed completely sound.
Of course, the procedure described can only be an intermediate step towards total abolition of all laws concerning special psychiatric measures until we have a situation when psychiatric force and diagnostic libeling can only be applied when it is authorized by positive psychiatric advance order of the person concerned. There can be no doubt about the fact that no one should be forbidden to be detained or to be flagellated or to get his nipples pierced and weights hung on them. Self-authorized torture has to be permitted and with relation to criminal law, a positive psychiatric advance order also creates a safe basis for medical professionals who administer compulsory treatment.
2) The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation has authorized a Russell Tribunal on Human Rights in Psychiatry. It seems to me that the revelatory function of the Russell Tribunal could lead to the exposure of psychiatry - the disguise will be discovered and the Emperor, as in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, cannot but be recognized as that which he is, namely stark-naked.
In 1967 Earl Bertrand Russell, the teacher and "opponent " of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Jean Paul Sartre organized the first Russell Tribunal. The issues discussed were war crimes committed by the US Government in Vietnam. Hence, the Tribunal had taken place before the student uprisings started. The US Government was asked to defend itself but decided to ignore the Tribunal. In my opinion, the Tribunal considerably encouraged the students’ protests. The moral power of such a tribunal to shatter "the crime of silence" must be highly valued.
The accused is the World Psychiatric Association. During their last world congress in Hamburg, participants received information about the planned Russell Tribunal through handouts.
The tribunal will convene next year in Berlin, on June 30th and July 1st, next year. Apart from the presentation of the indictment, the main emphasis will be put on the history of psychiatry.
Historically, in Berlin the final stage of psychiatry's inner logic found its completion. I am referring to the systematic mass killings in psychiatric institutions - the invention of the gas chambers as "shower rooms" in the so-called "Action T4". Personnel, technology and the same ideology were later to be exported into occupied Poland for the establishing of the extermination camps. The Nazi-specific Holocaust, the gas chamber mass murders, originated in psychiatry. It was a medical crime and as such it was already described by Thomas Szasz in 1977.
In short: "It was not the Nazis who needed the doctors, it was the doctors who needed the Nazis" (Ernst Klee)
The date of the Tribunal was deliberately chosen to coincide with the 7th World Congress of International Biological Psychiatry which is also to be held in Berlin.
It is planned that after Berlin the Tribunal will move on to New York, where the United Nations, as guarantor of human rights, has its headquarters. There, the main focus will be on juridical issues. The final session of the Tribunal will take place in Jerusalem, and discussions are to center around Ideology and Belief, Censorship and Stigmatization. Thomas Szasz would probably call this the "Theology of Medicine", and psychiatry its inquisitorial department. In Jerusalem, where three world religions intersect, a verdict should be reached.
As I said before, the logic of Thomas Szasz’s political agenda calls for serious political and social changes, while apparently the State "only" loses its therapeutic privilege. Personally, I infer four political prospects from Thomas Szasz's work:
a) A rigorous realization of the right to one's own body puts compulsory military service into question. Why should individuals be forced into risking and giving their lives for the State? Another central sphere of control and authority would loose its legitimate status and, consequently, advance civilized culture as opposed to military culture. Which name is more appropriate for our Tribunal than that of the pacifist Russell?
b) By taking up a position against a biologically determined explanation of mental processes, the inherited ideology of parenthood comes under attack. Thus, the thought occurred to me to define parenthood primarily in social terms. Every child should be adopted by its parents who only have a priority option with respect to their biological child. After the child is born, during a period of decisionmaking the parenthood is created by a declaration of commitment to the newborn infant. This is an act of free will, which will then manifest itself in a signed birth contract. Parental authority thus becomes parental duty.
c) In his work "Cruel Compassion" Thomas Szasz employed the term "parasite". In a private conversation with him three years ago, I asked how his use of the word "parasite" should be understood. His spontaneous answer: "You have to love your parasites". He had hit the nail on the head.
I invert the parasitic into a positive meaning and claim that due to an ever-increasing productivity only the parasitic offers the possibility for the free market economy to continue to develop.
Otherwise the economy will increasingly go mad and will need more and more occupational therapy. In Germany, we are currently about to start a campaign promoting the idea that the willingness to work should cease to be a criterion to receive state benefits indefinitely. The requirement to work should be revoked.
Or, in short: Thou shalt eat, even if you refuse to work.
d) The most far-reaching consequences are perhaps the following:
It could turn out that the foundations of the theology of science are built on quicksand. If in principle there is no such thing as „mental illness", then all experience has to be valued in equal terms. Experience may be impractical but must not be subject to discrimination. That, however, is exactly the case in the natural sciences, which hold a dominant position not only concerning mind-brain.
Experience is only validated if it is deemed non-hallucinatory experience. Hence, the sword of power has divided experience into the insane experience of the madman and the sane experience of the others. However, as soon as the distorting lens of power starts to crack, natural science loses its firm standing and begins to fall.
Reality without psychiatry becomes lyrical and leaves the standardized categories.
With all these stimulating ideas and social imagination offered by Thomas Szasz, I assume that he has also remained a very European thinker. Is it not true that he changes the world by his interpretation of the following quotation of Karl Marx?:
„The free development of the individual is the condition for the free development of all."
Thank you very much for your attention.