Cultural Caviar

Singing for Sanity

March 03, 2018

Szasz was a brilliant man, and there was an important element of truth in what he said. It is certainly true that almost all unwanted human behavior, whether that of oneself or others, is now deemed to be psychiatric. If you add up all the prevalence rates given for all the conditions in the preposterous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, you might conclude that the average citizen suffers from two and a half psychiatric conditions per year. Szasz once published a satirical paper in The Lancet (the only such paper I have seen in it during my professional lifetime) to the effect that, henceforth, happiness should be regarded as a mental disease, insofar as it was (a) rare, (b) it was unjustified, and (c) the person suffering from it was out of touch with reality.

On the other hand, Szasz—to be consistent, and he was nothing if not consistent—would have had to say that the mother I have described above ought to have been treated by the law just like any other murderer, and this surely defies common sense and is utterly lacking in compassion.

My acquaintance with Szasz taught me a lesson, or at least confirmed something I already suspected: that a man with too consistent a view of the world may prefer to preserve his view than acknowledge the messiness of reality. As Hippocrates put it some time ago, life is short, the art is long, the occasion fleeting and judgment difficult. Szasz’s view was an attempt to obviate the necessity of judgment by means of a clear and unequivocal doctrine because judgment has so often been wrong in the past. But the need for exercising judgment—for example, between the woman I have described and other cases—is an unavoidable consequence of being human.

Communal singing, by the way, was shown in the paper perhaps to do some good, perhaps not. Further research is therefore needed; it always is.

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