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Nap Time!!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Teh crazy is crazy

I find myself in the unusual position of largely agreeing with a craziness advocate:
Berkeley students come to this university aware of the rumors. Berkeley is competitive, unsympathetic, and for many students, it's far away from home. To be stressed at Berkeley is normal, as though there is no alternative in order to be a successful student. If you're not stressed, you're not working hard enough. If you are stressed, you just have to suck it up.

But this shouldn't be normal and it certainly isn't healthy.
Many folks come to Cal wearing their stress as a badge of honor, bragging about how stressed they're going to be (before they've even seen classes). Perhaps they want to seem "prepared" and not naive, so they talk about how they know they'll experience an enormous amount of stress, without having any clue about how things will actually play out.

In what seems like a remarkable coincidence, those who come wearing their "Cloak of Anticipated Stress" are also the ones who end up stressed. Those who didn't, on the other hand, seem to get by much easier.

But then, this really challenges the external craziness concept. It sure looks like folks are choosing to be stressed. They pound and rip at their minds with the same quasi-religious fervor as Medieval Flagellants, seeing it as some kind of penance for... something. The lord it over their fellows as if doing it makes them somehow superior. Is it really any surprise when these folks then get a case of the crazies?

We don't call for an awareness week for those who constantly stab themselves in the eye with a needle to show how much better they are then the rest of us, and then mysteriously go blind. We don't talk about their blindness being beyond their control.

In general, I don't accept the construction that we are somehow separate from our bodies. Something that happens to our bodies happens to us. My heart, my eyes, my arms, and yes, my brain, are all part of me. Those "chemical imbalances" are my chemical imbalances, and the behavior that follows is mine.

To refuse to judge a crazy person is not an act of sympathy or kindness. It's a denial of her agency, freedom, and very humanity. When those who act or believe differently than you are "broken," somehow, it becomes extremely easy to deny them freedom, because you've separated them from their bodies. You can restrict what their bodies can do without affecting the "person" you see as separate, somehow hidden by the vulgarities of a functional organic system. You don't see it as denying their freedom, because you're only restricting their body, not "them."

There's an entire field of research which seeks to define one's political opponents as mentally ill, so that their opinions can be discounted without consideration. The scramble to figure out how "those flyover people" think after the 2004 election was comical in its revelation of how little thought the coastal elites had given to the possibility that maybe those who disagreed with them were, in fact, genuine in their beliefs.

If you're not comfortable with that approach to political governance, perhaps you can understand why many continue to judge the crazy, and reject efforts to destigmatize them. I won't accept the dehumanization of the crazy, because I don't want to prostrate myself before the prevailing notion of "normal" in order to claim my own humanity.

posted by Beetle Aurora Drake 2/19/2008 01:05:00 AM #
Comments (6)
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but there is a distinction between compulsive behavior and rational choice. someone who is crazy (for example, someone who has what might be diagnosed as schizophrenia) does not act out of weighing pros and cons or debating reasons. the reasons for acting one way or another are beyond their ability to introspect, and are not curable in the same way that having a bad habit is.

there is a distinction between things like habit or personality and disorders. i agree that stress addicts here are generally responsible for their stress, but I dont think that tells us anything about mental disorder in general.

to refuse to judge a crazy person seems to be just a recognition that the action done wasn't reached based on rational choice, but was a result of compulsion beyond that persons ability to control. sure it was *their* action, but that fact alone doesn't warrant negative judgment on certain behavior.
Very little of what we do is truly motivated by rational desires. Fun is not rational, but is nevertheless a foundation of our behavior. The same is true of pride, and dignity. The obsession with rationality as the determining factor of whether a person is "choosing" to do something or not makes little sense to me. Our personal, irrational concepts of rationality can just as easily be used to deny freedom and humanity, and the standard doesn't strike me as anything but another flavor of dehumanization.
When a person speaks about rational action, you could take it to mean rationalizable. It may not be the case that most of our actions are the result of rational deliberation, but at least they could be followed up with rational explanations for the reasons why we acted one way or another.

A crazy person is often not able to rationalize previous actions, and I take that to show that we ought to conceptualize the agency of someone with a psychological disorder entirely different from someone with the capacity to do something as simple as give reasons why they acted in a certain way.
I suppose we could use a rule to say people who can't rationalize their actions aren't human and have no bodies, but I certainly won't. What use is freedom if you have to justify your actions to the satisfaction of the powers-that-be in order to exercise it?
"There's an entire field of [ wacko] research which seeks to define one's political opponents as mentally ill"

Thus the stress.... the real stress of spiting that garbage out on tests. .......
the problem is that the berkeley student culture sees stress as a proxy for success/good grades. [insert hypothesis about overbearing (asian) parents here.]
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