I want to tell you a story…


Tom was one of nature’s gentlemen; he wore an old school tie around the neck of his many faces and always opened doors for ladies of the night. Peeping from behind his curtains, he watched Mrs Castle bustle past his house. “She’s put on a few pounds…glad she hires out her mind and not her body.” Like a polar bear, Tom awakened in the winter, gestating in the heat of the summer sun. As incongruous as an icicle, he melted his load, beneath the blankets of a creaky single bed.
With autumn about to dawn, Tom’s scowls had evolved into a smile. And anticipating the glory of the impending chill and the pleasure of the shiver, he had nearly said, “Hello,” that morning, to his next door neighbour. He was, however, determined not to succumb to the commonality of spontaneity and human speech. Tom turned on his TV and unwrapped a takeaway fish supper. The smell of grease caressing his nasal hair, like Lancombe’s finest, to a fastidious perfumer.

LET THE SHOW BEGIN

Bursting through the TV screen, the theme music announced the change in season. As perennially as trees shed their leaves, the X Factor filled his Saturday evenings with delight, so deep, that he, sometimes, hummed a tune sung by one of the contestants. When Tom watched the X Factor, he felt real. Sharon Osborne had returned to the judging panel; she was an unusual animal, part feral, but formed from plastic. Loose as knicker elastic and tight as Simon Cowell’s arse. Did Louis swing the other way? No, he was merely paternal.
The screen swallowed Tom whole, he merged with whitened teeth and seductive pixels. In the presence of cameras, he came alive, engaging in banter with the pretty American one and batting his eyelashes at the fat bloke from Take That, who was, really, rather dull. Then, arrived his opportunity to sing.
Tom was magnificent. He owned the stage, like a born professional. Thrusting his hips, he reinvented Elvis Presley’s song. Rock n roll for the hip hop generation, his rapped version of Suspicious Minds ignited Louis’ fire and Sharon was overcome with tears.

WHEN THE MUSIC DIES WHAT BECOMES OF THE SINGER?

Tom rubbed his eyes and realised that he had missed most of the show. “Oh, well, it’s repeated tomorrow afternoon. I think I shall try singing something more contemporary, then…maybe a dub version of Piccadilly Palare.” He entered his kitchen, opened a tin of cat food and walked upstairs into his attic. Bound to a chair, a young woman lifted her head. Tom took off her gag and spooning out the cat food smiled, “Dinner, dear.”

The Myth of Thomas Szasz


As young person growing-up under the ideological constraints of 1980’s-1990’s Britain, I became reactively interested in a bygone age. The 1960’s ostensibly offered me a model of society in which freedom had seemed, not purely conceptual, but achievable. Thus, I became immersed in the residue of counter-cultural products of a decade, at odds with the ideological emphases of the period of my own youth. During this time of my life, I first became acquainted with the notion of anti-psychiatry, the work of R.D. Laing and David Cooper awakening me to consciousness. It was during this time that I first read, The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz. Having recently heard of Szasz’s death, I promptly revisited his iconic work.

WHAT DO WE DO, WHEN OUR IDOLS BECOME OUR ENEMIES?

“Modern psychiatry dehumanises man by denying…the existence, or even the possibility, of personal responsibility of man as a moral agent.” The Myth of Mental Illness, Szazs (1961)

When I was 20 years old, I longed for the day when humankind would be free from the forces of oppression. When I was 20 years old, Szasz’s text told me that man was inherently free. Why, I asked myself, if we were free, was self-expression punishable by The State?
Szasz distinguishes between physical and mental ill health. For him, mental health issues derive from the mind’s interpretation of the problems of life. Thus, mental illness becomes a metaphor for our inability to cope with the demands of reality. Grounded in, “The real,” distress becomes our escape mechanism.
Today, I understand why Szazs’s ideas attracted me. Man is a moral agent and the focus for change; we are greater than The State. Psychiatry has been utilised as a tool to undermine the powerfulness of our true nature and assaults our basic human rights. The psychiatric patient is not beyond reason, she is subject to the coercion of The State.

However, my more mature mind has prompted me to reappraise his arguments. Now, when I read his work, I am aware of the reactionary behind his libertarian guise. For separating physical and mental health, not only sets up binary opposition but, supports right wing notions about personal responsibility; if those experiencing psychological distress are not ill, they are as accountable for their actions and behaviour as all others. The logical conclusion to this argument is that people affected by mental health issues should not be entitled to State benefits or even treated differently by the judicial system.
As a liberal, these ideas are repugnant to me. I believe it somewhat ironic that one time arguments of the idealistic left have been appropriated by the repressive Conservative government of today.
Reading Szasz again, has reminded me of the importance of his contribution to moral philosophy and my own naivety at the age of 20.