DIVERGENT and conformist


I slipped into my seat, the darkened room concealing my embarrassed attempts to merge into the shadowy forms of Birmingham’s spotty youth. An old dear, clad in colourful leggings and Dr Marten boots, wishing she were eighteen years old and not a product of the jowls of middle-age. The film began and the audience and I disappeared.
I confess…I have never read best selling dystopian, YA novel, Divergent. Thus, watching the film on Wednesday I entered this particular post-apocalyptic realm for the first time. Seduced by the propaganda surrounding the novel and the film, were my expectations fulfilled?
Divergent is a masterpiece of formulaic invention. A perfect crafting and unison of the conventions of two of the most popular literary genres. It works…and it appeals to something within many of us. To the young, it reflects a desire for self-expression, to be recognised as the individuals they truly are. To those, slightly older (like me!), it constitutes a hymn to a time when being oneself was more important than escaping from oneself.
The ideological subtext of the film (and presumably the novel) equates divergence with freedom from labels and strata, but warns the audience that divergence/difference is punished and that those who dare to embrace it will be cast out of mainstream society. This idea is about as revolutionary as using a cassette recorder in the digital age. However, it appeals to the unsullied mind. The attraction of outsider status is as conformist as the mechanics of Divergent. At eighteen years of age, only the genuinely different do not long to be.
I left the cinema, clicking my pink boot laces and rustling a carrier bag, flanked by an ocean of fresh-faced hoodies, who all go to university and all look the same.

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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.

I am not an ism!


Hitherto rejecting the central tenet of postmodernism which professes the demise of metanarratives, my former selves embraced the grandest of narratives. Over the years I have identified as many kinds of “ists” and supported numerous “isms.” Driven by the search for meaning, I regularly argued with eloquence and conviction that it was preferable to follow a belief system than walk the path of nihilistic individualism. I am, now, beginning to rethink my position.
My huge, death defying social conscience has always influenced and, I hope, will continue to influence my attitudes and beliefs about the social whole. However, I have begun to question my sub-conscious motivation for clinging to certain prescribed ideas and ideologies. Subjectivity is lonely when one does not fit-in. Was I imprisoned in a crowd by myself, yielding like-minded others to enter? Was I committed to social change, or merely at an earlier stage of a mission to change within? Maybe I am a bourgeois individualist with thin skin. Whatever the truth and which ever side of me wins, I reject all labels; I am no longer an “ist,” I am LOUISE! Read my words and hear me breath.

Fantastical Elements: Mainstreaming Subversion


The western world, 2013 may be caught in a web of depression and economic austerity but popular culture is dominated by escapist genres and narratives, embracing elements of fantasy. Formerly designated to sub-cultural interest groups, fantastical fiction and film have become part of the mainstream. This development has not occurred overnight and, I would suggest, has rather evolved as a reactive process to changes in the nature of social reality.
Arguably infrastructural changes are reflected in the superstructure of a society. Popular culture, like ideology, is a facet of the superstructure and is not an autonomous movement; not only is it shaped by the superstructure but it, also, helps shape the superstructure. The relationship is one of reciprocity; in my world one way causation is mythical!
I wish not to resort to a vulgar form of Marxism and would, thus, centralise the role of the individual as the human agent of change and the producer of cultural meaning.
We as writers, readers and viewers have embraced an alternate cultural universe in which vampires and zombies, spirits and wizards represent our hidden desires, supressed by our empirical roles as women and men interacting with and surviving the turmoil of the life process. Thus, the ascension of sub-genre fiction, film, etc should be applauded by the educated masses and accepted by the establishment as a counteraction to outmoded cultural snobbery and a positive consequence of the new cultural world order.

Would you get into Bed with a Tory?


It was announced today that, Margaret Thatcher, Lady of the iron heart, had vacated her mortal coil and moved to pastures new. Whether these pastures caress her soul in eternal fire or cleanse her spirit as the purification of redemption, will remain unknown to those left behind; left behind to gather the remains of a country undermined by the politics of selfishness and free market ideology. A country, whose downfall I would trace back to the 1980’s, when she resided as Prime Minister and the devil incarnate. I would like to believe, however, in the existence of divine justice; what goes around, comes around. She who shits on beauty will drown in her own detritus. Thatcher shat on the values I hold dear, her legacy remains in the fragmented Britain of 2013.
Her death could not have been more useful to The State than if the Conservative Party, themselves, had planned it. For, it diverted the country from the much more pressing political issue of today, the introduction of a new welfare benefit to replace Disability Living Allowance. I mentioned benefit cuts in a previous post and their effect upon sick and disabled people; significantly, this was my least viewed post. Disability is not cool or sexy…and neither are politics. Politics, however, determine the nature of social reality, which we all re-produce-even those, like myself, who have denied its existence. Thus, I believe, that we should activate our ability to choose and opt to build a better, more egalitarian State, led by the will of the people and not a political party, which represents bad faith.