Thomas S. Szasz

Closing speech



Let me say that I found these three days very inspiring and I thank you again, I thank Mr. Talbot and all of you for beginning what - let us hope - will be a serious impact in what I see as an endless struggle but optimistically a kind of a historical advance because despite all the terrible things which have happened in this century and in the last century for that matter also, or throughout history, history has been a steady advance from situations in which the majority of mankind were more or less - usually more - enslaved, deprived of liberty, to where more and more people have been at liberty.

So if we take a very long look, the situation is really quite promising. After all, it wasn´t all that long ago that virtually all of mankind had no freedom - only a few aristocrats, kings, priests and everybody else was enslaved and persecuted and in fact as I described in several books, in "The manufacture of madness" and in my book "Ceremonial chemistry", which was also translated a long time ago into german. (I think it´s out of print now.)

It seemed to me - and this is a kind of anthropological observation, probably not altogether original - societies are perhaps a little bit like, or not a little bit, quite a bit like organisms that have to live on other organisms. After all, we all live on other living matter. Society seemed to need scape-goats and traditionally there was no problem, because there was a huge reservoir of scape-goats. Traditionally, slaves were a huge reservoir of people who could be taken advantage of and of course, as everyone knows, women were in this class more or less, children and then as religion became more organized, society said: "heretics" and "witches" and then of course in christian societies people always had jews. That´s not a nazi mention but jews as "Christ killers" were always persecuted in christian societies, which in some ways has a kind of internal logic.
Since the end of the war, all of these traditional scape-goats have become culturally "verboten". You can´t persecute any of these people and [hold your habit]. You can´t be against women, against jews, and so on... So what has society done? Now actually it has generated one alltogether new scape-goat and one which is not new but relatively new, which is mental patients. But mental patients have been given a new life as scape-goats, because up until this century, even up until the 2nd World War, there were relatively few people who were incarcerated and many of these people were actually homeless poor people who sort of had a life of their own in the mental hospitals.

As you know, the large mental hospitals in this century before the 2nd World War were sort of like plantations, in which a large number of patients really ran the hospital and it was very easy, nothing was easier than to escape. In America, for example, there were some hospitals which had 10, 15 thousand [...] patients and maybe only 4 or 5 doctors and a few dozen attendants. All you had to do is walk away and if you walked away and you were gone, they didn´t send the police after you, they were very happy that you´d dissapeared. After 30 days they said: (there was some term, which meant that you were now cured) "in remission", because you´d dissapeared.

This was the situation until then. Now, since the end of the war, we have two new classes of scape-goats: mental patients and of course, drug-addicts. But this is really one and the same group. As you very well know - and this was mentioned during the conference - the drug situation has become very malignant because a lot of people can´t get the drugs they want and if they get them, then they are considered mental patients and criminals and a lot of people get the drugs they don´t want.

This is in some ways part of the new persecution: instead of making people work in the fields like in the old days, slaves, or making women work or have sex when they don´t want to, the idea now is to poison people and call it treatment and withhold drugs from people who want them, especially cancer patients, people who are dying and so on... There is all this talk about people who can´t get the drugs they want.

Why can´t they get the drugs? This is another subject! But in America especially - I don´t know if this is quite as bad in Germany, I don´t think so - doctors are terribly afraid of prescribing narcotics because if they prescribe, now everything is computerized and so the computer authorities know how many narcotics doctors prescribe and if you prescribe more than the average, the government comes and asks you questions and you are a "dead duck", you are in big, big trouble as a doctor. So average doctors don´t prescribe narcotics, because it´s no advantage to them, the patients suffer but that doesn´t matter to them - they protect themselves. Well, to end this long story, it seems to me that in some ways, for some impact on society to ask the question: "Why should people be deprived of liberty, who do not injure other people, who are sick?" So this would be a way of really concentrating, of not getting into the issue of perhaps anti-psychiatry or diagnosis but accepting for the sake of the argument that society wants to call some people "mentally ill", because it seems to me, for the moment, I don´t think that can be attacked very successfully, but if it is an illness, in what way does that entitle society to deprive people of their liberty? Now, this is very, very important because in point of fact the idea - especially in the U.S. and I think here too - the idea that you can be sick an reject treatment has tremendous momentum in the U.S. especially with respect to old people, who you know are becoming older - there are more and more old people in society and of course, once you are old, you have some kind of sickness. In fact everybody has some kind of illness all of the time! The idea that people are healthy is completely nonsensical. There probably no-one in this room who doesn´t have something wrong with him! So, the idea that sickness justifies depriving someone of liberty, I think may be the door which we should push open, and I look for a word and I hope that with your energy and devotion and enthusiasm you will persevere! Thank you very much!

Impressum