Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Bruce E, Levine, Alternet - In The Sane Society, [Erich] Fromm wrote, "Many psychiatrists and psychologists refuse to entertain the idea that society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. They hold that the problem of mental health in a society is only that of the number of 'unadjusted' individuals, and not of a possible unadjustment of the culture itself."

Is American society a healthy one, and are those having difficulties adjusting to it mentally ill? Or is American society an unhealthy one, and are many Americans with emotional difficulties simply alienated rather than ill? For Fromm, "An unhealthy society is one which creates mutual hostility (and) distrust, which transforms man into an instrument of use and exploitation for others, which deprives him of a sense of self, except inasmuch as he submits to others or becomes an automaton." Fromm viewed American society as an increasingly unhealthy one, in which people routinely experience painful alienation that fuels emotional and behavioral difficulties. . .

The essential confrontation for Fromm is not about psychiatric drugs per se (though he would be sad that so many Americans nowadays, especially children, are prescribed psychotropic drugs in order to fit into inhospitable environments). His essential confrontation was directed at all mental health professionals -- including non-prescribers such as psychologists, social workers and counselors -- who merely assist their patients to adjust but neglect to validate their patients' alienation from society.

Those comfortably atop societal hierarchies have difficulty recognizing that many American institutions promote helplessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, alienation and dehumanization for those not at the top. One-size-fits-all schools, the corporate workplace, government bureaucracies and other giant, impersonal institutions routinely promote manipulative relationships rather than respectful ones, machine efficiency rather than human pride, authoritarian hierarchies rather than participatory democracy, disconnectedness rather than community, and helplessness rather than empowerment.

In The Sane Society, Fromm warned, "Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man. The specialists in this field tell you what the 'normal' person is, and, correspondingly, what is wrong with you; they devise the methods to help you adjust, be happy, be normal.". . .

It is my experience that psychiatry, Scientology and fundamentalist religions are turnoffs for genuinely critical thinkers. Critical thinkers are not so desperate to adjust and be happy that they ignore adverse affects -- be they physical, psychological, spiritual or societal. Critical thinkers listen to what others have to say while considering their motives, especially financial ones; and they discern how one's motivation may distort one's assumptions.

A critical thinker would certainly not merely accept without analysis Fromm's and my conclusion that American society is insane in terms of healthy human development. . .

A critical thinker would most certainly point out that there have been societies far less sane than the United States -- and Erich Fromm made himself absolutely clear on this point. In the barbaric German society that Fromm fled, disruptive children who couldn't fit into one-size-fits-all schools were not forced to take Adderall and other amphetamines, but instead their parents handed them over to psychiatrists to be euthanized. Fromm, however, knew that just because one could point to societies less sane than the United States, this did not make the United States a sane, humanistic society.

Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green, 2007


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