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On "witch hunts," and unity for human rights in psychiatry

by David W. Oaks — last modified May 03, 2010 02:48 PM

Working for human rights in mental health can have a lot of side effects. For instance, you can be named a "witch" publicly on a strange web site!


Well, it's finally happened.

Someone has actually publicly claimed I'm a "witch." First of all, I'm not.

But what is strangest is that the individual making the claim is apparently from what I can tell - among their nearly incoherent prose - a critic of psychiatry. However, the individual somehow feels that other critics who do not share his or her religion are, well, "witches." Of course, the writer maintains anonymity.

So this is a teaching moment about how critics of an oppression can tend to divide.

Let's back up for a moment for the historic context, understanding that MindFreedom International is open to a huge diversity of faiths and beliefs, and we are against bigotry over anyone because of their religious point of view.


From MM to DSM


For years I've noticed how psychiatry's label bible - the Diagnostic and and Statistical Manual (DSM) - is, of course, similar to the Malleus Maleficarum.

What's that? That is the book that was used in the middle ages to decide whether women were witches, and what to do with them. 

In fact, I have even bought my own copy. It is eerie and chilling, because two of supposedly the most brilliant priests from the Middle Ages wrote it, and they applied their intelligence to making the book very 'organized,' very 'scientific' looking, with tons of arguments (bizarre and ridiculous arguments, but arguments nonetheless). 

Szasz of course pointed out that this "Hammer of Witches," as the titles translates into, has echoes in the DSM, including its look and feel. So when you say that someone given a psychiatric label is a victim of a "witch hunt," you may have some historical basis for your claims.

For those new to the Malleus Maleficarum, you can read about it on Wikipedia here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malleus_Maleficarum

Though, I find just diving in and reading a few excerpts will help you see the point about the MM and DSM similarities, and that something that looks scientific and rational may not be!

You can read English translation of the whole Malleus Maleficarum here:

http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/


My Virtual Witch Trial


Okay, so how I was recently called a "witch" on the web?

My crime was apparently writing an essay where I question the language used about those of us with a psychiatric diagnosis, including the DSM. This is an ongoing essay where I look at better phrases to substitute for "mentally ill," which I would prefer not to be called. You may read the essay on this web site here:

http://bit.ly/not-mentally-ill

So apparently, a religiously-based critic of psychiatry read my essay, but felt that I was an example of a critic of psychiatry that didn't "get it" in terms of following his or her particular brand of religion. Oh, and the writer calls me a "witch." Repeatedly.

You can read how the "Christian Clarity Review" - whatever that is - uses witch-labeling against me here:

http://christianclarityreview.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/babel-keeps-dividing/

Yes, of course it's laughable.

In fact, here's a quick chuckle. The blog has the word "clarity" in it, and here's one of their 125-word convoluted sentences about me:

This post by David Oaks, a witch who is posing as a mental / intellectual /emotional savior for those who are deceived that freedom of will is the default state of human existence and from that foundation all of life must fit within the confines of the spirit / concept of ‘free will’, seeks to supposed bless those who are ‘mentally ill’ ( people who have bad reactions to hearing they are sinners and on their way to the lake of fire minus new birth in Jesus Christ: they are deceived they have free will BUT can’t make it work properly to get what they want..) by changing the terms ( again ) to reflect a better social standing of …the terms… used to describe ‘mentally ill’ persons.


Great clarity.


A Lesson About Unity


You know, I had relatives in the previous century who were targeted by the "witch hunt" of anti-Communist infamy. I did have some great relatives. My grandmother marched in front of an anti-hunger march as it entered Chicago, carrying the banner. But speaking out has a consequence. An uncle lost his printing job just because he had played a musical instrument a party organized by communist youth!

To this day, there are areas of the world where people - still usually women - are hunted out of their huts by neighbors and killed for "witchcraft," see Wikipedia for examples here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt

Strange. I'm being named a "witch" not for any particular spiritual point of view, though privately I tend a bit toward paganism. I'm being named a "witch" by the Christian Clarity Review, because of my criticism of psychiatry. Even though they are critics of psychiatry. But you see, my criticism doesn't meet their criteria for correct criticism.

I would usually ignore something like this. But I think it's a great illustration about how those seeking deep change in the system can end up fighting one another.

My question back to Christian Clarity Review, is to name the people the individual thinks are okay, that is "not witches." I'm guessing the author has about one person on his or her list, himself or herself - with some major doubts about that listing!

In other words, hate-based authoritiarian organizing ends up blowing up at one another. We don't need to all be in the same organization, but we ought to be able to unite "in a spirit of mutual cooperation" as MindFreedom's mission begins, or else we'll find that the authorities can pretty easily take us over.

In fact, in history you can find a good example from early Christianity, and this is not meant as a criticism of anyone's personal belief. When Christianity became the official Roman religion, the Roman authorities found an enormous amount of dispute among the early adherents. Who to give those tax breaks to? Christian leaders were fighting with each other quite a bit, sometimes literally. It took a huge amount of resources of the Roman empire to wrestle adherents into something resembly unity. Historically, that's how they came up with the Nicene Creed. Now, believe what you want but don't force it. The Nicene Creed ended up being forced on people.

For those interested, I highly recommend the book "A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Christian State" by Charles Freeman. along with his earlier book, "The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason."

You'll discover that when Roman emperor Theodosius decided to truly enforce the Nicene Creed, with state violence, he issued an official decree throughout the Roman empire. And in that infamous document Theodosius said all those who did not believe in the Nicene Creed were "demented and insane."

Hmmm... I think I'm seeing a pattern here, from Theodosius to Malleus Mallificarum to DSM and now to a blog by Christian Clarity Review calling me a "wtich." I guess I'm in good company.

In MindFreedom International we have all kinds of participants. We help unite people who are Democrat and Republican, Libertarian and Socialsist. We have Christian and atheist, and all types of religions. Psychiatry has been a unifier. But can we stayed unified, enough? Will we find the basic principles of freedom, mutual support, and the need for alternatives, are enough to bring us together to win?

I guess that's a decision up to each and every one of us. So thanks for the teaching moment, Witch-hunter, whoever you are! I'm glad we are not meeting up in the Middle Ages.


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Mary Ann Ebert - New York State Activist

Mary Ann Ebert of Mental Patients Liberation Alliance of Syracuse helped found MindFreedom International's Support Coalition and provided early technical assistance to get it off the ground. Mary Ann has worked for decades to support human rights and alternatives of people in the mental health system. (Photo by Tom Olin.)
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