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I tend to think that any *concept* -- including "mental illness" -- exists mainly in the mind of the society that created it and teaches it to its members. From that point of view, I can see a society that says that mental illness doesn't exist.

What can't be gotten away from, whether one believes in the concept of mental illness or not, is that there are a lot of suffering people in the world. Some of those people are suffering because their mental/emotional workings make it very difficult for them to succeed in their society. Sure, one might put it another way: their society is terribly narrowminded and only allows a narrow range of behaviors to lead to success -- far narrower than the full range of human behavior.

An ultimate solution would be to create a society that is able to fulfill the needs and wants of all people without any people being mistreated.

But I think to approach the ultimate solution is going to take decades, if not centuries, and is going to take the talents of some very particular kinds of people. Not everyone in this society is capable of being a culture-changer, a revolutionary, or even a political educator of the kind that will be needed to achieve that society.

In the meantime, there are people suffering. Sometimes they need to choose to reduce their suffering. Sometimes those choices end up not challenging the exploitative classes/industries, or even helping them.

I don't think individuals should be negatively judged by others for making such choices.

I do prefer it when people are educated on the potential negative results of their choices. That means I make an effort to express my opinions about such results sometimes, and I like it when people are willing to listen to and think about such opinions.

I also prefer it when people are willing to take into account the potential negative increase in societal ills when they make their choices. But I don't think those negatives should be the *only* criteria they use.

(Slight tangent) I'm not Jewish but I have always been interested in interpretations ofJewish law and how some Jewish law incorporates exceptions for unusual situations. For example, my understanding is that the law says that you shouldn't work on the Sabbath, but if your cow falls into a ditch on the Sabbath, it's OK to drag it out even though normally that would be considered work. Also, someone once told me that the law says you shouldn't eat or drink on Yom Kippur, but it also says that if fasting makes you very sick, you *should* eat or drink. (Not just that you can, but that you are obligated, as part of the law, to avoid fasting if it makes you very sick.)

That's got something to do with how, intellectually, I approach the issue of individual choices that end up contributing to overall societal oppression, corporate profit, and so on. Avoid it if you can, but you also have an obligation to your own wholeness.

Emotionally, I am sometimes upset when I hear about certain individual choices. For example, I am upset when I hear about women getting cosmetic surgery. I know that in some careers having a surgically altered body is all but a requirement, but it bothers me. I know that some people would rather risk a lifetime of ill health than be fat and they get their stomachs stapled. I am upset about that too.

I'm personally not terribly upset by people who take antidepressants or seek other institutional help because they feel very unhappy with life. But I can see how that might upset some people for the same sorts of reasons I'm upset by body alterations for the sake of conforming.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 8th, 2001 05:51 pm (UTC)
Your idea of mental illness as "learned" makes a lot of sense to me... however, I would draw some lines there... I work at an AIDS Organization and many of our clients are dual-diagnosed. We deal with many folks who have FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) which manifests itself in a "mental illness" - and that's not learned... I suppose you could argue that it's created by Society because we created alcohol - but that's a bit of a stretch. I guess my point is - that while I'm the first one to agree that people need to "choose" to make their lives better - I also know first hand that there are many people who deal with problems that can't be "chosen" away :)

I guess I'm a middle of the roadie heheh - because I also feel about cosmetic surgery that sometimes I can understand it... if people are made so unhappy by the way they look - that it makes their lives horrible - what harm does it do. I have a big head heehehehehhe but I wouldn't change it even if there were a head -minimizing surgery! LOL - although I wouldn't mind it if some people made bigger hats!
Mar. 9th, 2001 12:33 am (UTC)
I think there are chemical states of the brain and brain damage that can change behavior. What I think is "learned" is the concept of calling this "mental illness." (In some cultures, some people with different ways of thinking/behaving are considered holy, not ill.)

I don't think problems can be "chosen away."

I also understand choosing cosmetic surgery even though it upsets me.
Mar. 9th, 2001 01:17 am (UTC)
Oh I see what you mean - hmmm - that kinda fits withe what someone else once told me - that anxiety etc. were once normal instinctual behaviours... ie. we used to run away from predators etc... only now- we don't - and we still have all this anxiety built up in us...
Mar. 9th, 2001 07:58 am (UTC)
I know just what antelope feel like, whenever I see a police car at the side of the freeway. ("Act casual. Don't stand out")
Mar. 8th, 2001 06:23 pm (UTC)
I am mentally ill, and I have a "whatever it takes" attitude toward succeeding in the mainstream world. I cannot change the world, so I seek to change myself to succeed in it. I use meditation, qigong, exersise and medication to keep my illness in check, and don't feel the world owes me to slow down to my mentally ill pace. I have to adapt.
You cannot change the fact that humans create cultures and cultures narrow the range of acceptable behaviors. I feel no loyalty to our culture, but I do not pretend it doesn't exist either.
As to plastic surgury, I would much rather go under the knife than have a paunch or a turkey wattle neck. And the instant an effective cure for baldness comes out, I am doing that too. You can get mad at the world for being looksist...but it is, so it is better to go with the flow than to fight it. In an ideal world, looks wouldn't matter, even to me, but they do and as such I have to adapt to that too.
Mar. 9th, 2001 12:38 am (UTC)
It's kind of funny which of the alterations made available by society bother me and which ones don't. I think it's based in personal history but I haven't yet figured out exactly how that works. I know that plastic surgery bothers me more than antidepressants. Maybe I think fixing one's brain is more likely to produce an interesting result.

Recreational drugs, when used constantly to produce an escape from reality, do bother me in a way similar to plastic surgery.

I guess what bothers me is flight into superficiality.

If a person has some superficial tendencies but balances out with other tendencies that aren't, that's OK to me. (I consider myself to be that sort of person.)
Mar. 9th, 2001 02:52 am (UTC)
Well, a lot of the girls who have been heavily operated on have had a lot of the texture ironed out of them. But then, that is probably the result of poor aesthetic choices on thier part or that of the doctor than a fault of the technology. I am sure that a savvy patient can make choices that don't make them look like the "assembly line blonde", but then most people don't have an artists sensibility or a leaning toward understatement.

Believe it or not, violent computer games bother me. I am not sure I could turn pro as a game designer and not have my ethics botherered by it. But then, a lot of people will take the easy way and deal with thier problems in a non-constructive way (drinking, drugs, TV, violent computer games, or even working long hours to avoid dealing with the challenges of relationships and family life) than in constructive ways. Perhaps dealing with one's problems head on can be taught....but it requries sufficient people who DO deal with thier problems to be the teachers.

If you have been reading the posts of the past few days, you will know that I have been wrestling with my own superficialities. My superficialities might be different from yours (HBB with attractive partners, recreation involving airplanes and motorcycles, lots of cool art programs), but I don't call them any less materialistic and superficial than the guy who wants something more conventional. But then, if you didn't have superficialities, there would be no room in one's moral universe for anyone other than saints and those with nothing. And given that a lot of those with nothing would have something if given half a chance, they are probably suspect as well. Superficialities allow one to relate to the rest of humanity without finding oneself so unbelievably superior that you are a complete pain in the arse. So I would suggest not worrying TOO much about them, just don't give them top priority or everything they ask for.
Mar. 9th, 2001 08:05 am (UTC)
I think you're on to something when you point out that it is probably possible to have plastic surgery that doesn't make you look like a clone. I don't mind some forms of body modification and maybe that's part of the reason why.

What bothers me (and I'm not saying no one should do it, just that it *bothers* me) is when one all but has to go under the knife to engage in one's chosen career.

It also bothers me that doctors are required to go through a residency that involves 72 hour shifts. The ability to survive 72 hour shifts is not related to the ability to diagnose and treat someone using Western medicine.
Mar. 9th, 2001 11:47 am (UTC)
Well, those that require it are usually "people pleasing" professions (sales, acting, working in a strip club) An IT professional can look like hell and no one thinks too much of it. Most professions above the McDonald's level have some part of it that is unreasonable.
Although I agree with you about interns. The thought of some sleep deprived intern operating on me after I am pulled out of a car wreck gives me the willies.
Mar. 8th, 2001 11:04 pm (UTC)
Well, there are mental illnesses that actually result from chemical imbalances or damage to the brain, and then there are just unusual or ill-fitting behaviors that we label "mental illness." And I'm not too sure that chemical imbalances are a cause, rather than a symptom.

But -- to respond to your point about negatively judging people who participate in the industrial/exploitative society -- I think it's a bad idea, too. UNLESS those people have been exposed to rational, comprehensible information about why they ought not to participate in or support exploitation, but they choose to continue to do so anyway. Then I think you can start making judgements about their motivations for doing so. Laziness, apathy, basic mean-spiritedness, etc.

I'm talking about the kind of people who say "yeah the world is fucked, but there's nothing I can do about it (not true), so let's just do whatever we want and damn the consequences." Bleah, I hate that kind of cheap nihilism.
Mar. 9th, 2001 12:40 am (UTC)
If I have a good sense for someone's motivations, I sometimes judge them. (I agree about cheap nihilism.) I do try to be careful not to assume that I know more about their motivations than I actually do. And I also try to stay aware that my motivations aren't exactly pure all the time, either.
Mar. 9th, 2001 03:07 am (UTC)
I define mental illness as a lack of synchronization between the outer world and the inner model of it that produces an inablility to successfully predict and manipulate the outer world. Of course by this definition, we are all somewhat menatally ill at various times in our lives. But then, it is the chronic extremities of this definition that seperate the true nutcases from the merely mildly disturbed.
As to participation vs non-participation in the system. Well, choosing not to participate is very difficult. Perhaps homesteading in Alaska might be one way to do it (I saw a TV show on this). I don't even call homelessness true non-particpation, as the homeless are usually urban and live off of the handouts and leavings of "the system". Perhaps from the point of view of the Buddhist tradition it is, but to me "leaving the system" involves restoring one's relationship with Nature to that of before civilization. But then, given my condition, that relationship would quickly involve becoming food for Nature's creatures as soon as my medicine ran out. So, I have no choice but to participate.
And as to working a more humble job than a more exhaulted one so that I remain "pure", well, finding my peace with "The System" involves having enough money that I can have food and medicine and pursue Art and the Greater Good without the moral compromises that commerce brings.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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