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This essay deals with a concept that at least on the surface may be quite alien to most people, or should I say, to most people who live in a modern democratic republic. The topic is social control. We are all controlled to some extent by institutions or entities that in certain cases are easily identifiable; while growing up we are under the direct control of our families and other authority figures such as teachers, doctors, policemen and religious figures. While growing up, we are also molded and controlled by traditions, expectations and the dreams that our families make known to us, whether these expectations are expressed verbally or not. So to, are we controlled by our peer groups; of friends, other students, or members of the same ethnic group to which we belong. We are socialized with the mores of our culture, bombarded by the messages in fairytales, textbooks, advertisements, and even by the discourse that every citizen maintains during the course of his daily affairs.
This however is not the concept of social control to which I refer in this article. There is another level of social control on the societal level that begins with laws made by men with the aim of providing for a fair discourse, fair commerce, decent existence and habitation for all whom are members of that very society. It is in this milieu, in this domain, that another facet of social domination, of social control unfortunately develops in some societies. It seeks to change the balance of the ‘social contract’ of which Rousseau spoke of, that Jefferson and Payne and so many others throughout history have contributed to; so many in fact, that many have been forgotten and remain nameless in the discourses of civilization, whether eastern or western.
One living in a modern democratic society expects to be treated in egalitarian terms and with certain rights that are protected by laws and observed by all citizens in that society. We recognize the importance of our constitution and the fundamental need of contributing to that society with our labor, our ideas, and our participation. Indeed this is what participatory democracy means, how it is defined.
This alteration in the balance of power codified by the social contract is achieved through social control and it has taken many forms and been called many things; conquest, empire, manifest destiny, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Fundamentalism, and more often than not, it comes to us in its true guise—as Tyranny. It seeks to dominate, enslave, appropriate, and it inevitably must in its wake—destroy. It destroys that which it deems a threat, an obstacle, abhorrent to its values, or simply misunderstood because it is different or resistant to control. Absolution from its violence can only be obtained through bribes, by complicity in its crimes against humanity, or most often by the silence of collusion that takes the form of; hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. But always it is accomplished by violence to human integrity, dignity, fairness. It was this recipe that made possible Hitler’s rise in Germany of the 1930’s.
Once tyrants achieve power, they invariably identify the people of their society as a threat to that power, to the legitimacy of arbitrary power that changes the balance of power of the social contract into one that divests the citizenry from the rights that all democracies represent in their constitutional framework. Thus it is the movement of the fulcrum of this altered balance, that changes the social contract to benefit the few rather than all, and that creates methodologies for controlling the citizenry leading to the totalitarian, and tyrannical regime.
The methodologies of such regimes, seeking to either establish or maintain total control, always use brute force, never rationality, because reason is a threat and an enemy. That is why one can never reason with a conqueror, or an oppressor. The Polish could not reason with Hitler, the Russians could not reason with Stalin, and the Chinese could not reason with Mao. Hitler had the luxury of utilizing the means of mass extermination, since the concept of genocide, was rather new to the ‘modern world’, he thus was able to deal with his threats in the bold way that came to be known as the Holocaust. Later regimes dealt with the issue of control in a new way, it would come to be known as political psychiatry.
Psychiatry deals with abnormal behavior, it is an applied science that since the development of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, identified the root of abnormal behavior in the human psyche. It was not a somatic malady to be treated with drugs. With the discovery of psycho-surgery, that behavior could be so altered and with the advent of psychotropic drugs, psychiatry took on a new direction. Behavior could now for the first time in history be easily altered, controlled, and molded. Drugs could be used to alter ‘deviant’, ‘abnormal’ behavior, however it is the psychiatrist who subjectively arrives at the definition of deviant or abnormal.
“…Soviet psychiatry subscribed to a harsh biological determinism. The psychiatric physician was an absolute authority while the patient’s words mattered little more than raindrops at sea… part of soviet psychiatry involved the well known use of psychiatry as an instrument for political ends…political dissent was interpreted as a psychiatric disorder, a difficulty in reality testing, which justified confinement in a mental hospital. Such niceties as due process, length of stay and an appeals process meant nothing.”
Dr. Irwin Savodnik, UCLA
“The official psychiatric literature in China unequivocally records that in many cases since the late 1950’s, however, detained dissidents, non-conformists, “whistle-blowers,” and other dissenters have additionally been subjected to forensic psychiatric evaluation by the legal authorities, found to be criminally insane and then forcibly committed to various types of psychiatric institutions (the term forensic psychiatry refers to the field of cooperation between psychiatrists and the police or judicial systems).” Human Rights Watch Report, Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today, 2002.
Western democracies, at least the public citizens of these nations, came to know about the abuse of psychiatry, when atrocities committed in the Soviet Union were made public after the stories began to leak to the west concerning dissidents and other political activists who were being treated as deviants. In 1983, as a result of world pressure on the USSR, concerning such cases, that state withdrew its membership from the World Psychiatric Association. (An interesting footnote here should be mentioned, that the first President of the WPA was Dr. Ewan Cameron, who for many years was an employee of the CIA, who conducted mind altering experiments on psychiatric patients in Canada, as part of project MKULTRA which was initially launched in 1953. Hundreds of patients “treated” by Dr. Cameron at a psychiatric Institute associated with McGill University, had their memories erased and supplanted with other thoughts. The resulting effects produced great harm and led to lawsuits that still are in Canadian courts. Recently in October of 2004, a decision, fifty years after the atrocities were committed, was rendered in favor of the patients and promises remuneration for the damages.)
Soviet use of psychiatry for political ends, came to the forefront mainly as a result of the Koryagin case. Dr. Anatoly Koryagin, a psychiatrist residing in the Soviet Union was arrested in 1981 by the KGB and given a twelve year sentence for documenting the Soviet practice of interning dissenters in mental hospitals and then “curing” them of their views with powerful drugs. His account was smuggled to the west and made public.
In 2001 a similar declaration of state involvement in the arbitrary use of psychiatry for political ends surfaced in China. Human Rights Watch and the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry issued a report in 2002 entitled Dangerous Minds that documented the use of Political Psychiatry in the Chinese nation. Although the use of psychiatry for such ends was mainly used during the period of 1966-1976, its continued use is cause for concern and has spurned renewed international interest in such obvious human rights violations and abuses committed by state authorities. According to the HRW report as many as 15% of residents in Chinese mental asylums have no legitimate reason for being there.
“After the founding of New China, the Party and the People’s Government made great efforts to improve the health of the population…the country was plunged into deep disaster. Every aspect of official life in China suffered the noxious consequences of their doctrines, and the damage wrought in the field of psychiatry was certainly no less serious…” Dr. Yang Desen, Hunan Medical College 1978, HRW report page 9 ( from the Preface).
Those whose fate is determined in this way, in Chinese society, are sent to ‘Ankang Centers’ short for “peace and health for the mentally ill,” where inmates are beaten and mistreated in varied ways. The HRW report further documents the following account written by a former detainee, Mr. C., (page 77) at one of these centers;
“SUMMER 1969: After I was arrested as a counterrevolutionary, I was interrogated three times. I did not want to accept any charge for a crime that I had not committed, nor did I want to name any person as having committed any crime. Therefore I was sent to Jiangwan Number 5 [in Shanghai]. This place was known as the Institute for ‘Diagnosing Mental Disorder’—the setting of my most terrifying experiences during my entire 16 years of imprisonment.
The whole ‘institute’ was a large cage from which one could not see the skies. Inside this large cage there were many small cages, which were only half as high as an average person. One could only squat or lie in them, and I had to crawl in and out of mine. All those detained in the ‘institute’ were suspected of mental disorder, but being there would truly drive a mentally normal person insane. There one could constantly hear frightening screams. The wardens tried to stop people from screaming and, when failing to do so, would administer drugs to cause people to lose consciousness and thus become silenced. Once awakened from the drug, one felt very dull, depressed and uncomfortable.
People sent to this ‘institute’ were mostly those who had committed serious counterrevolutionary crimes such as shouting anti-Mao slogans in public…I did not know how long I would be treated like an animal in a place where fear alone could suffice to drive a person crazy. Many of the inmates I met had been imprisoned there for over twenty years. Worse still, when an inmate was diagnosed to be a normal person, he or she would either be executed, given a more severe sentence, or shut up in a cage forever as a ‘politically insane’ criminal.
I was there for only about 100 days. A good hearted warden knowing that I was a College student from reading my personal files, secretly released me. I hid for awhile, then was arrested again soon after.” ( Excerpts from An Interview with Mr. C., Human Rights Tribune, Vol. 1, N. 5, October 1990)
The Human Rights Watch report reaches the following conclusions;
“Excuses and rationales can always be found to explain why doctors become involved in human rights abuses of various kinds such as in physician-assisted executions, ‘medical supervisions’ over torture sessions… and also politically repressive psychiatry… All these practices entail, however, a fundamental corruption of the basic tenet of medical ethics—notably the principle that medical skills should be deployed only for the improvement of life and health, as summed up in the Hippocratic injunction ‘Do no harm...’
Chinese psychiatrists [have] become active partners in the political corruption of their profession.
…[A] difference, rather ironically, between the two systems [ China and the U.S.S.R. ] was that whereas the Soviets never admitted that psychiatric abuse had been practiced, the Chinese profession acknowledged that it had frequently occurred during the Cultural Revolution…
In conclusion, we return to the question of whether or not those dealt with in China as being dangerously mentally disordered, political or religious offenders really are, as the authorities claim, suffering in significant numbers from any recognizable form of mental illness. Ultimately, this is an irrelevant question to be asking in the ostensible context of the practice of forensic psychiatry…” (HRW report, page 177)
In 1989, the World Psychiatric Association, of which the United States and China are members, adopted a resolution which stated: “A diagnosis that a person is mentally ill shall be determined in accordance with the internationally accepted medical standards…Difficulty in adapting to moral, social, political, or other values, in itself should not be considered a mental illness."
In 1991 the United Nations ratified an International Agreement, Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care. In it, the member nations ratified among other provisions, this basic tenet: “Every patient shall have the right to be treated in the least restrictive environment and with the least restrictive or intrusive treatment appropriate to the patient’s health needs and the need to protect the physical safety of others [ Principle 9 ]."
This year, the United States government is embarking in a new direction, it is preparing to mandate mental health testing and evaluation for every school age child as well as every woman who is bearing child. Those deemed ‘abnormal’ will be mandated to accept treatment with psychotropic drugs. Parents will no longer be able to exercise their current right to question such treatment or even refuse it for their children or for themselves. The prospect for massive mind control, for 'iron-grip' societal control, promises to soon become a part of the ‘normal’ social fabric of America, and thus the tangible prospect for the implementation of political psychiatry dawns for all of us in this ‘New American Century.'
V.Saraiva / Editor
Posted December 3, 2004
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