Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Mania for Pathology: The Science of Behavior and American Governance

Every culture has its own orientation--that framework from which it understands the reality around it, and which serves as a basis for choices about the form of social organization that are constructed from out of it. For some, religion supplies the compass for navigating and organizing reality. For others, process determinism of some sort helps. For Americans, the last great product of Enlightenment sensibilities, it is science that has come to order reality. This is particularly the case with respect to the construction of the normal individual as a complex nexus of expected behaviors of utility to the individual. . and more importantly perhaps, to the community of which she is a part. For that purpose, the science of medicine
In all societies the ability to manipulate healing can be used to reinforce selected social relations, classes, and ideologies. While this is most obviously the case in psychotherapy, which entails premises about what behavior should be, numerous studies demonstrate that the way in which other forms of medicine can be involved in the management of society. . . . Therapies may align themselves with the interests of specific classes and groups of a given society, may mediate and reinforce certain ideological elements. They are created within a given social order, but also reproduce that order.
Leith Mullings, Therapy, Ideology and Social Change: Mental Healing in Urban Ghana 1 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984). Medicine provides the referent of a reality then maintained through law. Society, organized on scientific principles, tends to reflect the realities of the normal extracted from a science of individuals that in turn reflect and reproduce the forms of social organization and individual responsibility within it. That connection between science and behavior, between law and social expectations, is well evidenced in the law of sexual behavior and gender role modelling. See Larry Catá Backer, Raping Sodomy and Sodomizing Rape: A Morality Tale About the Transformation of Modern Sodomy Jurisprudence, AMERICAN JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW 21:37 (1993); Larry Catá Backer, Emasculated Men, Effeminate Law in the United States, Zimbabwe and Malaysia, YALE JOURNAL OF LAW & FEMINISM 17:1 (2005).

But the parameters of this turn in the disciplines for ordering society have been well understood for a generation. See, e.g., Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud (1966); Philip Reiff, Sacred Order/Social Order: My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority (2006); James L. Nolan, The Therapeutic State: Justifying Government at Century's End (New York: New York University Press, 1998). "Truth, tradition, morals, and manners have been kicked aside to make way for the dogma of dogmas: “It all comes down to me, and how I feel about me.”" Richard John Neuhaus,Philip Rieff has died at age 83… First Things, July 10, 2006. The therapeutic might well have even overcome the religious framework of ordering reality in the West: "People who try to practice orthodox Christianity and Judaism today, [Reiff] says, inevitably remain trapped in the vocabulary of therapy and self-fulfillment. “I think the orthodox are role-playing,” he says. “You believe because you think it’s good for you, not because of anything inherent in the belief. I think that the orthodox are in the miserable situation of being orthodox for therapeutic reasons.”" Id.

And the implications of the science/medicine centering of reality for social organization for social control--through law and habit--have also been well developed, through notions of the "disciplines" those self reinforcing and self executing habits that serve as minutely and compelling structures of behavior far more intimately connected to the individual than the traditional control through the imposition of law. See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Alan Sheridan, trans., 19977, NY: Vintage Books 1995)). The great glory of a therapeutically based disciplinary society is that law can be reduced to a gesture--the real work of social control is focused below the level of instrumental statements from institutional actors to a complex set of ideas about normal conduct which are to be absorbed by individuals who then police themselves. Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XI: Mass Democracy and Shareholder Democracy ConvergeLaw at the End of the Day, June 30, 2008.

It was with this in mind that I watched a media segment meant to instruct its audience on the appropriate attitude toward shopping (in this age of greater financial scarcity). The focus was on shopping--and the language was therapeutic. Joy Levy, Bad Habits: Soft Addictions can Wreck Havoc on You and Your Relationships, ABC News 20/20 Program, Aug. 28, 2007.
Michelle Espy couldn't stop being a slob. Mindi Hartman couldn't stop shopping and Uche Odiatu couldn't stop arriving late. So what did Espy, Hartman and Odiatu have in common? A bad habit they just can't break. According to educator and life coach Judith Wright, almost all of us have bad habits or what Wright calls "soft addictions." . . .

Hartman said she shopped because she's bored. "We live out in the country. We have nothing but land and cows to look at."She knew how upset Kirk got with her shopping, so she hid the bills."It causes a lot of tension at the end of the month when the bank statements arrive," Hartman said. "I usually find the bank statements [hidden] in the back of a cabinet, behind a whole bunch of other stuff," Kirk said. What upsets him the most is that she is not telling him the truth. Wright worked with Hartman and found that she was shopping to fill a void in her life. That's often the case for most soft addictions. "We keep going to them, hoping that they'll give us what it is we need. If I just have enough designer dresses, then I'll be loved. Or if I just gossip enough, then I'll have a connection with another person," Wright said.Hartman related that emptiness in her life to her husband. "He just needs to be around more often." She said that her shopping addiction worsened when her deepest feelings of loneliness started.

Id. The latest media version of this spotlighting appeared on the ABC television morning show--The Today Show. These addictions are both psychological and biological--there is a reference to the mood heightening effect of engaging in pathological activity through the release of dopamine. There is also a transmutation of old fashioned moral/religious guilt/sin into internal contradiction, evidenced in symptoms of anti social activity (in the case of shopping soft addiction by hiding purchases, depression, minimizing the anti social effects of the activity, angry families, feeling guilty or forgetful, etc.). See id. One can't control oneself but

The object was to change behavior by making such change both necessary and legitimate on the basis of the scientific truth of normal (compulsory and legitimate) and irrational (anti-social and deviant) behavior. The language of the program meant to popularize the latest therapeutic rationality--"soft addiction." The face of soft addiction is Judith Wright, who has become the transmitter of this knowledge through the great American media outlets (themselves the most significant sources of legitimization in current American cultural circles). See, e.g., Judith Wright, The Soft Addiction Solution (Tarcher, October 19, 2006). The editorial review of that work is telling:
Have you ever wondered how you might carve more meaning and purpose out of your crowded days? . . . . As Judith Wright reveals . . . many of us are addicted to seemingly harmless and socially sanctioned habits such as shopping, watching TV, and gossiping-robbing us of our time, clouding our clarity of mind, and masking our deeper longing for lasting joy. According to Wright, soft addictions are seductive because they satisfy powerful desires-and we easily become hooked because they are perceived as "normal" behavior, behavior that doesn't seem to demand the extraordinary measures of a drug or alcohol addiction. Yet soft addictions . . . are so damaging.
Id. More interesting still is the web site devoted to behavior control through systems of judging appropriate and deviant minor behavior and correcting the "bad." See Judith Wright WebSite.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. But it is interesting to note the way that social presumptions have been made for a population now trained to absorb the lessons of behavior--personal and political governance--from the modern sources of social, economic and political ordering. No longer sources in religion, philosophy, morals or ethics, but in the therapeutic, an ostensibly scientific medicinal system of intimate self governance. And thus the increasing importance of "unofficial" sources of control over individual and communal behavior--not in law but in micro management of behavior and a susceptibility to acceptance of the sourcing of that management in therapists legitimated by powerful media sources. To control the state apparatus today requires less control of the instrumentalities of the state--and its law making/enforcement capabilities--than control of the elaboration of constructs of individual self management and its media mouthpieces. Thus, and ironically enough, the apparently individualistic focus on psycho therapeutic theories masks a strong communal and controlling framework.
In all societies, then, psychotherapies function to mediate between the individual and the society, between personality and the culture through bridging contradictions. They provide answers to the problem of selfhood and its articulation to society. . . . Therapies create order ad bridge contradictions in accordance with a theoretical framework, implicit and explicit values that have reference to the dominant class of a given socioeconomic formation.
Mullings, supra., at 195-196. By focusing on individual self control in patterns, social control on a vast scale is possible at very little cost. If everyone becomes her own policeman, the state has less to do. To control the levers of self fulfillment is to control the communal order.

No comments: