Comment on a history of madness

12 01 2010

An article once again posted from Wufila’s blog, from the New York Times. An excerpt:

No one would suggest that we withhold our medical advances from other countries, but it’s perhaps past time to admit that even our most remarkable scientific leaps in understanding the brain haven’t yet created the sorts of cultural stories from which humans take comfort and meaning. When these scientific advances are translated into popular belief and cultural stories, they are often stripped of the complexity of the science and become comically insubstantial narratives. Take for instance this Web site text advertising the antidepressant Paxil: “Just as a cake recipe requires you to use flour, sugar and baking powder in the right amounts, your brain needs a fine chemical balance in order to perform at its best.” The Western mind, endlessly analyzed by generations of theorists and researchers, has now been reduced to a batter of chemicals we carry around in the mixing bowl of our skulls.

An excerpt from my own comment:

And the final aspect I would address is the the relationship between holiness and what we would call insanity. St. Benedict Joseph Labre was certified, Grade-A loco, as were all of the fools for Christ in Russia and other places. What we would now call “shamanism” was probably presided over by people we would now put in rubber rooms. Modern civilization thinks “normalcy” is akin to godliness. Even our Christian hertiage doesn’t necessarily agree with this.


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3 responses

13 09 2013
baking chips

Wow, incredible blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is magnificent, as well as the content!

18 01 2010
JCW

Michel Foucault mentions in his work, ‘Madness and Civilization’, that a priest who has gone mad cannot be removed from the Church. Is this true?

12 01 2010
+Wulfila

It didn’t come out until I replied to Ed Heil’s comment, but my most significant criticism of that article is how the author assumes that the abnormal psychological states of non-Westerners are actually pathological, just differently pathological from Western abnormal psychological states. He implies it at the beginning of the passage you quoted (Western science has “advances” [presumably against “illnesses”] from which non-Westerners might benefit) but is much more explicit about this earlier on in the article where he claims these things are diseases and distinguishes between general psychopathology (experienced by everyone) and specific psychopathology (the culturally-constructed forms of “disease” that general psychopathology creates). This is very questionable. Why assume any of this is disease instead of, say, holiness? (More in comments over at my place).

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