Sep 082003
Authors: Shannon Baldwin

Those car commercials that celebrate the driver who is daring, different -who strays from the paved road and makes his own rules. The individual (just like everybody else) who marches to the beat of their own drum and refuses to color between the lines is desirable.

But just try explaining that to the police officer who snared you in that darn speed trap -clocking you at 20 mph over the limit. Perhaps it is just a hoax of marketing clashing with the realities of rules placed down for our own safety (not unlike the USA PATRIOT Act), or perhaps it is an indication of a bigger reality of society. Normalcy.

If Jesus were to have come to his ministry in this age, rather than 2,000 years ago, I am convinced he would not have been crucified. He would simply have been institutionalized; drugged and theorapied until he came to realize that challenging the established and accepted norms was just plain crazy.

What is this need our society has to enforce conformity to the accepted norms? Whether it is more formal controls including an actual medical diagnosis and medicinal treatment of the mindset or behavior, or that of social discipline and rejection, deviants outside the perimeters of the accepted behavioral spectrum are subjected to the confinement of reason. Or as J.S. Mill put it, “the tyranny of the majority.”

It is a strange byproduct of time that in one age in society an aspect or behavior of a person would be inexcusable, in the later age it would upgrade to being treatable, and then perhaps to just being different.

Homosexuality has had a strange path in the western consciousness, and in parts of society and the world all of these views still exist. In ancient Greece and Rome it was an integral part of society, then changed to a bane and a punishable sin in Christendom (among others), then to a mental illness to be treated in the middle of the last century, to a separate part of society, some of which wish to legislate against, some of which are accepting, some of which are completely indifferent to the situation.

Michel Foucault writes of madness in past ages, where idleness (in a society with protestant work ethics) was considered the door to unreason and beggars were rounded up and forced to work in the city sewers; chained and made productive to society. “If the wild beast can be broken to the yoke, it must not be despaired of correcting the man who has strayed” was a popular motto of dealing with the ‘insane’ in ‘prisons of moral order’.

Perhaps now we do not consider the state of poverty to be equivalent to madness. Although the way some complain about the leeches of society who live through government social programs, perhaps there are still remnants of that thought lurking behind a slightly different deviant label: laziness.

Labels are very important in being able to control the fringes of society. Without labels, it would be more difficult to rally an agreement on the acceptable management of the deviation.

Not to make light of mental conditions where the individual is a real danger to others, it is an interesting thing to watch the progression of diagnostics of mild deviations such as ADD and Autism. I never paid attention in elementary school, was horribly unorganized and forgetful, and a shy recluse to those I was not very familiar with. If I were a child today, would they medicate me? I can’t help but wonder at the tale time will tell of our swift action to correct the ‘problems’, which in western medicine really means placating the symptom.

With Autism, a ‘disorder’ characterized by an uncanny attention to detail with a distinctive lack of affection and emotion, would years ago just have been considered generally odd, and left alone. Perhaps there are cases which benefit from the treatments devised for the condition, but perhaps our tendency to diagnose (label) and correct every ‘misstep’ over an evanescent social line is more an indication of a general desire to control and eradicate differences.

The time of Don Quixote has passed -that age where ‘madness’ was almost celebrated (and culture exploded with innovation from deviant thinkers) or at least ‘fools’ allowed to wonder freely as they pleased. The marketplace of ideas is ever narrowed and restricted.

There is no impossible dream, so stop dreaming and take your pills.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.