[Marxism] Comments from a psychiatric nurse [holy man sues anelk...?]

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Thu May 6 18:57:10 MDT 2004

On Thu, 06 May 2004 18:39:35 -0500 Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu> writes:
> Jim Farmelant wrote:
> > [clip]
> >  
> > Symbolic interactionists, including labeling theorists, hold
> > that self-Image is constructed through interactions with others:
> > in other words, the self is a social construct, as George
> > Herbert Mead had held long ago.
> > 
> > Labeling theorists draw a distinction between what they call
> > primary deviance (behavior that's a product of biological, 
> psychological,
> > social factors) 
> [clip]
> Notice, assuming the correctness of this, the _result_ of this 
> "social
> construct" is physical change in the brain. And since the self-image
> necessarily exists in the circuits of the brain, even though it is
> socially constructed it can be affected by physical happenings in 
> the
> brain. (The effect of alcohol is only the most obvious.)
> So even if a given mental illness is the result wholly of social 
> causes,
> it can still be affected either by chemical intervention _or_ 
> further
> social interaction (e.g., therapy, higher pay, escape from a 
> burdensome
> marriage) or both.

There is as more than one critic has pointed out something
idealist about the symbolic interactionist/labeling theory
approach to deviance.  Back in the 1960s and 1970s
when this approach became popular, it provided a necessary
corrective to earlier analyses of deviance but as you imply
one failing of the labeling theorists is that they don't pay
sufficient regard to the fact that human beings are biological
organisms.  If the earlier approaches underemphasized
the importance of secondary deviance and of the societal
reaction to deviance, labeling theory seems to push the
stick too much in the other direction, often underplaying
the importance of primary deviance, which in many cases
may be due to biological factors including genetic heritage.
There appears to be a need for a more materialist approach
to the study of deviance, that will offer us, what one dare to
call, a more dialectical analysis.

It should be clear to us that human psychic suffering, whether
we want to call it mental illness or "problems of living," to use
Szasz's phraseology can have many different but interacting
causes.  Clearly certain illnesses like Alzheimer's and many
of the dementias seem to have clearly organic cause.  Other
diseases like schizophrenia seem to have a genetic component,
but the etiology of that disease does not appear to be exclusively
genetic (after in the very twin studies that were used to show
the role of heredity in schizophrenia, it was found that for many
pairs of identical twins, only one person would develop the disease,
while their genetically identical siblings would not, indicating that
environment plays an essential role as well).  

Likewise, it seems equally evident that much of human psychic
suffering is due directly to the stresses of living in a society
characterized by alienation and exploitation, racism, militarism,
and a deteriorating social safety net.  These sorts of things can
stress out people even if they have evident genetic
predisposition to mental illness.  And in any case, capitalist society,
makes life hard for people regardless of whether their problems
are due to genetic factors or to environmental ones, or  as
probably in most cases, interactions of the two.

> Carrol
> Carrol
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