“CRAZY” OR RIGHT-WING: THE DEPOLITICIZING EFFECT OF PSYCHIATRIC LABELS AND THE PROBLEMS FOR THE LEFT
|So not helpful...|
With the left caught supporting a president who continued disastrous wars and bailed out the banks but not those losing their homes, it’s no wonder the US has seen a right-wing populist backlash—with Tea Party rallies in the streets and the return of the Republicans in the House. The backlash is definitely right-wing and racist, but it is not “crazy”.
Similarly, when Toronto’s mayor David Miller attacked striking workers, and left councilors were silent, they opened the door to a right-wing backlash that catapulted Rob Ford into office. Ford articulated a right-wing populism that spoke to people’s anger and misdirected it towards each other rather than at the corporate system responsible for the recession. He is not a “lunatic”, he is the local face of global austerity. He is certainly racist, homophobic and pro-privatization, but he’s not “crazy”.
Medea Benjamin shot back, arguing that loudly opposing war is not irrational, but she also relied on the issue of "sanity":
“So let’s get this straight: people who were so horrified when the U.S. invaded Iraq that they joined millions of others to protest are not sane?... It was because of this insanity that we began to interrupt the war criminals during their public appearances, shouting — yes, shouting — for an end to the madness. It was because of this insanity that we put fake blood on our hands to represent the hundreds of thousands of innocents who died as result of their lies...Jon Stewart says he wants to restore sanity to Washington. So do we.”The derogatory use of "madness" not only buttresses the status quo, it reinforces the stigma of other groups labeled “crazy”. Would the left tolerate Stewart calling the Tea Party “gay” in a derogatory way, and launching a “Rally to restore straight”? A blogger recently posted an article “Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's rally to keep ableism alive”, explaining the problems of Stewart’s focus on “sanity”:
“'Crazy' and 'Insane' are words used to describe people with mental disabilities. When someone uses these words in a negative context, to describe a person or idea they disagree with, to put someone down, or to try and make some political point, it is ableist and it harms people with mental disabilities.”The recent experience of the political left is a glimpse into the history of madness.
With the rise of capitalism, people who could not fit into narrowly-defined norms of labour productivity, either because of physical or psychiatric differences, became pathologized. Since then mad people have been subjected to diverse methods of “restoring sanity”, such as institutionalization, electroshock, and “the chemical prison industry” of Big Pharma.
At the same time, labels of mental illness have been more widely applied to any groups deviating from social norms. In the 1850s slaves who fled their masters were pathologized as suffering from “Drapetomania”, while women who disobeyed their husbands were institutionalized for “hysteria”. Until the 1970s homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and being transgendered is still labeled a “gender identity disorder”. Dissidents in state capitalist regimes in Russia and China were also labelled mentally ill and institutionalized.
Too often Hollywood has reinforced the stigma of mental illness, with “crazy” villains whose evil nature is rooted in their psychiatric deviance—from Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, to Hannibal Lecter, to various Batman villains (all of whom have at one time or another been incarcerated in Arkham Asylum). A noted exception is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which famously depicted some of the repressive conditions of psychiatric institutions. This film was made in 1975, during a rising movement against the oppression of mad people.
|Toronto Mad Pride, 2007|
"Mad Pride is a movement quite like Gay Pride, it started from a need for a stigmatized segment of our community to be given respect and equal rights… We need to join the Crazy, the Sane, the lay person and professional to come together to break down the walls of hate, fear, stigma, and stand up for Mad Pride…Because we are all a little mad!”
As we build campaigns against right-win and reactionary policies, it’s important not to reinforce the stigma of oppressed groups who are also fighting for a better world. This means rejecting the derogatory use of “crazy” and “insane”, and instead building alliances with our mad sisters and brothers.