One of the time-honored methods of dealing with dissent has been to pathologize it. In the fifties, anyone who refused to blend into the grey political conformity the age demanded was dismissed as a neurotic.
Contrary to popular belief, the fifties didn’t invent the pathologization of dissent. It has a long and rich history. That eighteenth century genius Dr. Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry, diagnosed anyone suffering from an “excess of the passion of liberty” as suffering from a mental disorder he called anarchia.
A major breakthrough in the diagnosis of dissent came in 1851 when a Louisiana physician diagnosed slaves who fled towards freedom in the north as suffering from drapetomania, while diagnosing those who didn’t squat and ask “What Color?” every time their masters said “Shit!” as suffering from dysaethesia aethiopis.
Throughout our history mental health has been defined as the willingness to submit to authority, and our physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists have been in the forefront of the battle to cure Americans of their dissent and unhappiness. Because let’s face it, George, dissent is unhappiness. A person rebels because they lack the tools to accept the subservient position the oligarchy has assigned them.
Unfortunately, this effort to create a happy, well-balanced society lacked one important component—a Big Pharma ready to push meds that could cure dissent in all of its manifold manifestations. There was no pill that could make a man lose his passion for liberty, no pill that would make the slave happy in his oppression, and no pill that would make him “snap-to” every time he heard his master’s voice.
Well, praise God, that has changed! Now we have pills for everything.
It has long been known that dissent begins with the young. We saw a tragic example in the rebellion of the sixties, which was largely student driven. Teenagers have long been associated with rebellion. Hollywood has glorified it in such movies as Rebel without a Cause; it has given rise to musical idioms from rock to rap. All of this was happening because we didn’t have the proper meds, and without the meds, we didn’t have the proper diagnosis, because we are now in an enlightened age of biological reductionism in which meds determine the diagnosis.
As always, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has come to our rescue. They have come up with a new diagnosis that pathologizes youthful rebellion. Now, instead of being a “rebel without a cause”, a young person is suffering from oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). They describe this disorder as a “pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior.” The beauty of this diagnosis is that a teenager doesn’t even have to break a law to have this diagnosis slapped on him.[i]
George, do you see the opportunity here? If we were to expand the diagnosis of ODD to include all the progressives who agitate for peace, justice, an end to poverty, universal health care and all that other shit progressives are always carrying on about, political oppression could be reduced to a process of writing prescriptions. Whenever AlterNet published one of its leftist screeds, we could dismiss the writer as suffering from oppositional defiant disorder. In this golden age of political medication, diagnosis would replace debate and discussion.
I can see it now, George, a brave new future devoid of long-haired acid heads pumping their subversive lyrices into the malleable brains of our children, an age when a well-adjusted Jon Stewart praises you to the heavens and acutually means it.
It looks as if Huxley was more of a prophet than he realized. The Age of Soma is upon us, and you will be a much more efficient leader because of it. Soon, we will be a nation of happy, smiling rebels.
[i] This letter is a riff on an excellent article, “How Teenage Rebellion Has Become a Mental Illness” by Dr. Bruce E. Levine, which can be found at the above link. --cw