People can be a bit like water.


(I wrote large parts of this post while unable to read, so I apologize for any areas I might have left unfinished or confusing.)

I was talking to a friend recently, who was confused about why it was that people encouraged her to become more assertive, and yet became angry when she actually was more assertive and it conflicted with their wishes.

Which reminded me both of a lot of my own experiences, and of one of my favorite passages from the first Harry Potter book:

Neville stared at their guilty faces.

“You’re going out again,” he said.

“No, no, no,” said Hermione. “No, we’re not. Why don’t you go to bed, Neville?”

Harry looked at the grandfather clock by the door. They couldn’t afford to waste any more time, Snape might even now be playing Fluffy to sleep.

“You can’t go out,” said Neville. “you’ll be caught again, Gryffindor will be in even more trouble.”

“You don’t understand,” said Harry. “this is important.”

But Neville was clearly steeling himself to do something desperate.

“I won’t let you do it,” he said, hurrying to stand in front of the portrait hole. “I’ll — I’ll fight you!”

Neville,” Ron exploded, “get away from that hole and don’t be an idiot –”

“Don’t you call me an idiot!” said Nevile. “I don’t think you should be breaking any more rules! And you’re the one who told me to stand up to people!”

“Yes, but not to us,” said Ron in exasperation.

Anyway, what I said in response was that people seemed to be a lot like water. Water spreads out to take up whatever space the container it is in allows it to take. People, also, seem to spread out in a similar way in terms of what actions they view as okay for them to be doing. And they rarely notice all the space they are taking up, until some person or event makes it clear to them. It just feels ‘natural’ to take up as much space as they’re allowed.

So Ron Weasley sees Neville being bullied by Draco Malfoy. And he sees this isn’t good for Neville, so he encourages Neville to stand up for himself and stop being a doormat.

At that point in time, though, Ron is not even imagining all the things he himself does, that Neville might object to. The space that all his actions take up, and their effect on Neville, and Neville’s possible opinions of them, are totally invisible to him. So he is not even thinking about that when he tells Neville to grow some backbone and stand up to people more. He is thinking only of the actions of other people. He is outside of those actions, and therefore more readily able to see their effects on other people. It’s much harder to see those effects of your own actions.

So Ron is used to taking up a certain amount of space with his actions, and to Neville not resisting in any way. When Neville does resist, and relates it back to Ron’s encouragement to assert himself, Ron is totally surprised and not at all pleased. Aside from the urgency of Ron’s actions at that point in time, Neville is now forcing him not to take up all the space he’s accustomed to taking up.

Neville is later awarded points by the headmaster for what he did there:

“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.

And that is why Neville was one of my favorite Harry Potter characters from the first book onward.

Anyway, the fact that people take up so much space without being aware of it, is also apparent in how people handle power relationships in general. And it explains a good deal of the seemingly bizarre effects of people with less power or privilege in a certain area standing up to people with more when demanding equality and justice. It’s pretty often that the people with more privilege in whatever area is being discussed, are completely nonplussed and view demands for equality as actual attacks on whatever group of people have more power in general.

I wrote about this in an old post, What Happens When You Ignore Power Relationships. It was regarding a psychologist’s review of Irit Shimrat’s book Call Me Crazy. In the book, Shimrat had talked about many genuine abuses of power in the psychiatric system. Things like solitary confinement, torture, forced drugging, degradation, humiliation, and in general being treated like a lower caste of humanity. Things that are human rights violations by just about any standard.

Sheila Bienenfeld, the psychologist reviewing the book, said:

As a psychologist who for several years (eons ago) worked in a psychiatric hospital, I had some trouble with this seeming wholesale dismissal of psychology and allied professions. It was a bit of an injury to my professional narcissism. But one of the motifs of Call Me Crazy is that Shimrat and many of her fellow “survivors” feel that in their times of personal crisis they were treated by psychiatrists and psychologists, social workers and nurses, as incompetent or simply bad: their value as human beings was derided and their opinions dismissed. My feeling of being discounted and unfairly stigmatized in this book parallels what Shimrat and her colleagues often felt as patients.

The emphasis in bold is my own. Bienenfield is used to taking up a certain amount of space, at the clear expense of psychiatric patients. When Shimrat pushes back in attempting to regain her humanity, Bienenfield makes the ludicrous assumption that her experience of having her feelings hurt (as well as having it asserted that she as a professional ought not to be allowed to take up space at the expense of the human rights of psych patients) is equivalent in any way to Shimrat’s experience of captivity, degradation, and torture.

As I wrote in my last post at the time:

Am I to assume then, that Irit Shimrat and her co-authors locked Dr. Bienenfeld in a small room and would not let her out until she renounced her profession? Did they put her in a building where her every movement, statement, and feeling was noted and controlled by anti-psychiatry activists who repeatedly put pressure on her to stop practicing? Is she unable to practice her preferred profession or even state it openly for fear of housing, educational, and job discrimination? Do the police watch her more carefully when they find out that she is a psychology professor?

Are there a constant stream of articles in “reputable” newspapers that imply that violent criminals tend to be psychology professors? Does Bienenfeld lack any sort of standard recourse when Shimrat publishes her views on people like Bienenfeld? Does Bienenfeld have to worry, when she publishes opinions like this in a book review, that people will not take her seriously anymore, and may even discriminate against her?

Would it be possible for most people to truthfully relegate Bienenfeld’s views to a relic of the seventies (even though they’re being expressed in the nineties) and totally dismiss what she has to say on that basis? Is psychology treated like a joke by people with the real power? Would Bienenfeld have to struggle to get a book published about her views on psychology and keep it in print? Would it be close to the only psychology book out there, and then fade into obscurity almost as soon as it was published? Does she have to constantly have to remind people she’s not a cult member?

Those are the things the reviewer is blissfully unaware of when she equates the fact that she is being asked to do a few things differently in order to avoid hurting others (that is, the space she’s unfairly taken up in the past is being pointed out to her), with all the experiences above that Shimrat and those like her actually have had because of people just like the reviewer.

But, as I noted to my friend, I’ve been on the other side of this one too, and when you are, you really can’t always see at the time how ridiculous you’re being. Unfortunately I can’t recall all the details. But I remember at some point realizing that some viewpoint that I had held, and acted upon, for quite some time, was part of a racist pattern that had severe negative effects on other people. Nobody told me directly. I figured it out while reading a book by women of color. But I realized that my attitude, and actions, had directly and indirectly harmed people, and would have to change.

My first reaction, though, was not “Oh good, I’m glad I know this so that I can change it.” My first reaction was more on the order of, “Oh come on. I’ve been doing this the same way most of my life. Who does anyone think they are to tell me to do it any different? There’s a significant chunk of the space I’m taking up that people are telling me is harmful to them and that I need to stop doing. But I’ve always taken up that space, I’m used to taking up that space, I want to take up that space, and they are encroaching on my right to do whatever I want, if they say otherwise.”

Fortunately my conscience stepped in at some point to intervene, because my first reaction was harmful, counterproductive, and racist in itself. It was basically saying “As a white person, who racially is pretty much always at the top of a power hierarchy, who is allowed to take up way more space in that area than just about any other kind of person, then I’d rather throw a hissy-fit about my ‘right’ to take up space that belongs to others (and to cause significant harm to them in doing so, even if it just feels like a “little thing” to me), than give up a tiny portion of that space so that other people can take up their own space in the world without fear of certain consequences. And even though it would not harm me at all to just stop doing this, I’m going to act like it does, even though my doing this causes actual tangible harm to other people. Since it has little effect on me, it must have little effect on everyone else.”

The reason I’m going into great detail about it is not to justify it. It’s unjustifiable. It’s because just about everyone has this reaction about something, given that just about everyone has some degree of unfair power in some area. Just about everyone takes up some degree of undeserved space in a way that harms other people and encroaches on their own space. And it seems like an unfortunate fact of human nature to notice when other people do things like this, but to have trouble seeing it in ourselves. This happens in personal relationships, but it also happens in wider contexts involving institutionalized power.

Unfortunately, our society has tended to equate terms like racism with Nazis or KKK members, and therefore people equate it with “calling people a monster”. But it has nothing to do with being a monster. It has to do with being a member of a society that (yes, still) puts some people at an unfair advantage because of the color of their skin, the shape of their body, or the country many of their ancestors come from. And being immersed in that as someone with that advantage is like being a fish in water, you don’t notice it all around you, and you don’t notice when you’re acting on things you ought not to be acting on.

Like the time I explained, politely I thought, to a parent, that describing a developmentally disabled child as not becoming a real adult contributed to widespread harm of disabled people. I explained about the ‘eternal child’ stereotype, and the problems it has caused for many disabled people: Being denied the right to marry, live on our own, have and choose our own sexual relationships, hold jobs, etc. Even being forcibly sterilized. The idea that we don’t become adults has serious consequences, and I pointed out that broadcasting that idea all over the place, even with good intentions, still contributes to the stereotype, and to the harm it causes.

At that point, I was told that the parent in question was only honestly expressing her feelings, which she had a total right to do. In other words, she had a total right to take up that space at the great expense of other people. Her emotions were more important than other people’s uteruses. And if she didn’t intend to contribute to all that negative stuff, then she wasn’t contributing at all to it, right? And I was calling her a monster who didn’t care about people, right?

Well, no. I wasn’t. I even wrote a post trying to explain that I wasn’t making people into good guys and bad guys. And even that I’d been on the other side of this one, I’d been told that it was wrong to say things like this about one of my brothers. Things I’d been taught were okay to say, and never questioned. And that when someone did tell me it was wrong to say it, I listened and I stopped saying it. I pointed out that there are ways to discuss these feelings without condoning them. All the person had to do was explain why, while these were feelings, they weren’t the reality, and treating them as the reality could cause real harm to some people. Or else they could refrain from discussing it altogether.

Both of those are small actions that take very little effort, but both of those were more effort than the person was willing to make. Even though it took far more effort and energy to attack the messenger who told them the harm these ideas could cause. Lots of people popped up to reassure the person that I was just angry and not worth listening to, and didn’t understand or care about the situations parents faced. And I eventually gave it up as pointless.

But that’s a good example of the “You’re saying I’m a monster!” response. It’s also how a weird little twisty thing works, where if you talk about how certain actions dehumanize disabled people, you can be accused of such things as “demonizing parents”, and being full of hate, while all the while the person is actually stirring up hate and against you. That one always turns my mind into a pretzel, but it basically runs that pointing out something is wrong is calling someone a monster and hating them, and that it’s then okay to hate the person who’s supposedly doing that. Or something.

Also, people say that discussing this is just some kind of attempt to make people feel guilty. Well, it isn’t. Sitting around feeling guilty doesn’t help anything. Changing the way you act, does. In fact, changing the way you act is generally both more helpful and less painful than sitting around wallowing in guilt, hostility, or resentment about being made aware of a situation that those most negatively affected by are already well aware of.

But understanding the roots of these attitudes explains a lot of things. It explains why there are a number of people in the world who believe it’s special treatment or unfair advantages when people of color, disabled people, women, or whoever, begin getting even a fraction of what other people get by default. Because it actually requires other people to give up some of the unfair advantage they’ve been immersed in (and taught to view as — at least for them — normal) their entire lives, and that just about everyone but them is painfully aware of. It forces them to stop taking up space that never belonged to them in the first place. And going from having a ton of unfair advantage, to having less of it, feels, to them, like other people gaining unfair advantage.

When I put it like this, my friend related it back to a post she had made on her own blog. It’s called On Flavors of Privilege and it’s well worth reading. It’s about when she found out that her roommate in college initially distrusted her because she was white. And it details a lot of her less-than-productive responses at the time. She’d expected more of “the usual”, which meant, more people telling her she was scary or standoffish. I’ve bolded parts I find especially relevant:

I didn’t get “the usual”. Instead, I got an admission that I made her nervous because I was white.

This completely shocked me. I sputtered something like, “But I’m not racist! Why would you even think that?”

I don’t remember what my roommate said in response, or how that conversation eventually resolved — but nevertheless, things were much better afterward. We actually ended up getting along quite well for the rest of the time we shared a room. Still, though, it wasn’t until several years after graduating that I was able to see the illusory nature of my moral high horse.

She actually decided that her roommate had been the one who was prejudiced, and that she’d “gotten over” that prejudice:

My mistake had been in presuming that my roommate and I were actually on a level playing field to begin with as far as our backgrounds went — meaning that (in my mind, at the time) her reaction had been “paranoid” until she’d gotten a clue, whereas mine had been “reasoned”.

If that wasn’t a privileged assumption on my part, I don’t know what is.

In describing what kinds of advantage she has and hasn’t got — what areas she automatically, water-like, flows into and takes up space in because the space has been taken away from others for her benefit whether she likes it or not:

Sure, I might get looked askance at by some due to my “odd” body language or fleeting eye contact or idiosyncratic, inconsistent use of language — but in general, I don’t have people making cracks within (or outside) earshot about how I and my family are probably “illegals” who ought to be deported.

In general, if I walk into a store, the clerks aren’t looking at my skin color and raising their vigilance levels due to a perception that people who look like me tend to be thieves.

I don’t constantly hear speculations about how people of my ancestral background are probably less intelligent, more aggressive, or less honest — and that somehow “statistics show this, and anyone who doesn’t believe it is just being PC”.

I might hear other speculations, all of them equally misguided, but that doesn’t make the ones that get applied to others and not me “not my problem”!

The part about “not my problem” reminds me of the actions of some parents towards autistic self-advocates, including in the situation I described a little bit further back in this post. Parent-advocates are used to being on the wrong end of certain kinds of discrimination themselves. They are used to being treated by professionals as if they don’t know anything. They are used to fighting back against this idea.

Unfortunately, some parents carry their “fighting back against professionals” mode into their interactions with autistic self-advocates. The advocacy world is heavily parent-dominated, and autistic and other disabled people have had to fight our way in to have a voice at all. But many parents adopt a mentality that says that they are always at the bottom of any hierarchy in this situation. And when autistic people’s views are not the same as the views of these parents, they fight back as if autistic people are oppressing them, as if parents are on the bottom of this hierarchy as well. And that is not true, rather the opposite. (I’m speaking in generalities, and well aware there are autistic people who are also parents.)

Unfortunately, it is very hard to discuss this, even with many parents who view themselves as allies of self-advocates. Because we are supposed to be working together as equals. They mistake pointing out of the inequality here, with creating the inequality. They are unaware of the inequality until someone says something, so that person must have actually caused the inequality, and we would go back to equality if that person would just shut up. (Echoes of “you’re just being too PC”, which is not a valid criticism, merely a blanket dismissal.)

But unfortunately, shutting up just promotes that inequality. Acting like everyone has equal power doesn’t make it so, and can in fact perpetuate inequalities. It’s a good goal, but we’re not there yet.

If I could provide a list of things to be aware of around this stuff, it would be something like this:

1. Just because you can take up certain space, doesn’t mean it’s right. Often it means that other people are prevented in some way from taking it up themselves.

2. People aren’t always right if they are saying something’s wrong with what you’re doing. But it doesn’t mean your defensive reactions, complete with obliviousness to the space you’re taking up, are right, either. And those reactions can cause more harm sometimes, not less. So try to rein them in and really listen.

3. If someone points this out in one area but can’t see it in another, it doesn’t mean they’re a hypocrite and shouldn’t be listened to, but just that they have the standard cognitive biases most people have.

4. Taking up space you don’t deserve doesn’t make you a monster, and doesn’t mean you’re supposed to feel awful or guilty or something. Doing the wrong thing sometimes is human. Everyone abuses power sometimes without realizing it. It’s also still wrong and worth correcting when you’re both aware of and capable of it. This also means it’s not okay to consider someone else a monster just for engaging in this stuff.

5. Often it’s a lot easier — and a better thing to do — just to stop doing something and apologize, than to stir up a big fight about how you’ve got a right to do whatever the heck you want to.

6. Recognizing power inequalities isn’t the same as making pointless euphemisms like “specially challenged”, and therefore doesn’t deserve the label “PC”. Calling these things “PC” is just a way to ignore them.

7. Recognizing these things doesn’t mean you have to be absolutely sure you never do anything remotely wrong and focused on every single last possible detail of yours or anyone else’s actions. It’s just something to be aware of and keep in mind in general. Becoming focused on every little possible detail that could ever come up, is usually counterproductive to that aim.

8. Righting power inequalities isn’t the same as causing them, even if it looks the same to someone who finds the existing ones invisible. Having to pay attention to these things when you never had to before, is not “oppression”.

9. Pretending inequality isn’t there doesn’t make it disappear, any more than the outside world disappears when you’re asleep. This is the big fallacy in things like “colorblindness”.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

43 responses »

  1. Thanks for writing this, Amanda.
    I think it’s a candidate for the library. That would give it a more permanent and easier-to-remember URL. I think this essay will be useful to link to, in situations where people are trying to identify and reclaim “flooded space”.

  2. I agree — this post deserves its own permanent link. Just the list alone is very good, and could maybe be a stand-alone post (with a link to the rest of it for people willing to read further).

  3. Is this in response to my comment, which you did not publish? (I’m not sure whether you refuse to publish it because I disagreed with you, or whether it just got accidentaly deleted by your spam filter)

    I agree with most of what you’ve said here. However,if you WERE posting in response to my comment, I will say this – I don’t have power over other chronic psych patients. All I want s the power to get the therapy and meds that keep me alive. If you ran the world, I know I would be dead, because you would ban pschiatry and I could not stay alive without it.

    I don’t condone the ciil rights abuses done to Shimrat and countless others. That doesn’t mean the practice of psychiatry should be illegalised. Simlarly, I don’t condone police brutality. That doesn’t mean that the police force ought to be abolished. There are situations where it’s the only thing that can save a peron’s life.

    So, when I accept psych services, I am NOT taking away from people who are incarcerated against their will. I’m taking space which I need to stay alive. The fact I choose to take meds that help me doesn’;t force anyone else to take meds that hurt them.

    If you disagree, fine. Just tell me why explicitly. I can’t tell whether analogy is a direct reposte to me.

  4. Pingback: The Injurious Nature of Asserting Your Voice « Questioning Transphobia

  5. Thanks Amanda. I got email-flamed this morning after making the mistake of letting a blogger on the site know that he might not be aware that many people find the words “retard” and “retarded” offensive. Your post helped me understand why. (And your blog and Dave Hingsburger’s blog taught me not to use those words myself, not so long ago).

  6. I have left two comments on this blog. They have either been eaten by your spam folder or deleted by you.
    If they were deleted, please tell me why. I don’t think I meet your definition of “predator”. Maybe you find my comments off-yopic.

  7. The answer is eaten by my spam folder.

    As I have said repeatedly, please do not leap to conclusions about why comments are not published.

    The absolute most common reason is the spam filter.

    The second most common reason is that the comment appeared to be directed at me alone (as in, people who leave comments because they can’t find my email address) and/or contains personal contact information.

    The third most common reason is a direct violation of my comment policy, which can be found on my “about” page. This is still pretty rare.

    The absolute least common reason is that someone is being predatory, which I have only had to use on a tiny number of people. If you were one of them you would know it. I can count them on one hand. I don’t use that term lightly, and I don’t use it on people who merely disagree with me.

    It is never because they are “off-topic” unless they are so off-topic (i.e. they look like viagra ads) as to be easily confused even by me with spam.

    The spam filter appears to have picked you up because of the number of links posted in your original comment. At least, that is the only reason I can figure out at all. It does the same thing to Andrea Shettle all the time, for the same reason. It seems to have latched onto her as a spammer and rarely lets her comments through, so I have to go through manually and look for them, which I am not always able to do.

  8. In answer to your first comment here:

    I don’t run the world, though. And I have no desire to run it. I don’t understand enough of it to do so, if anyone does.

    My position on psychiatry is different than the one you think it is, though. I think that the current system is so broken, power-wise, that it will have to be replaced by something else. I also think that people in severe distress for any reason ought to be able to get whatever help they need in order to survive.

    If that help includes taking some kind of drug (whether that drug is one currently viewed as psychiatric, one currently viewed as medical, or even one currently viewed as illegal) then they ought to have safe access to that.

    If that help includes learning better ways to live, that can be taught by various people who are trained in that stuff, then they ought to have safe access to that too.

    If that help includes talking to people who have been there and finding out their own strategies for living life, then they ought to have safe access to that too.

    I don’t think psychiatry as it’s currently constituted provides safe access to that for enough people.

    I don’t think psychiatry as it’s currently constituted is actually a scientific discipline in the same way medicine is, even though it attempts to use the same language as medicine.

    I think that when psychiatry as it’s currently constituted actually works for someone, it’s more often a result of specific people in the system doing a far better-than-average job, than that the system usually has any clue what it’s doing at all.

    And I think that psychiatry as it’s currently constituted, will eventually have a few different things happen to it.

    Some of it will be turned into a part of neurology.

    Some of it will be turned into a part of cognitive science.

    And some of it will be turned into a part of something else that I can’t yet envision, but which has to be both safer and more scientific than what we’ve got now.

    I also think that in any system, even a system that is as fundamentally broken as psychiatry, some people will be able to squeeze some kind of help out of it. I don’t mind that at all, it’s called survival. I’ve checked myself voluntarily into psych wards, not because I thought it was a good place to be, not because I thought they were scientific in any way, not even because I had much illusion that it was even safe. But because I knew that in the state of severe distress I was in, I needed someone watching me, and nobody I knew was around to do it on short notice.

    Of course, even though I tried to admit myself voluntarily, they threw an involuntary hold on me, lied to me about why they did it, and later laughed at me when I repeated back to them what they’d told me, which was that it was only for insurance reasons. And that is very common.

    I’ve also noticed a common trend towards people who come in with a depression diagnosis seeing the best of the system. I’ve watched the same professionals treating patients totally differently based on their diagnosis, level of “compliance”, and whatnot. I am sure that some of the places that I saw the most brutality, were seen by some people as great places, because they didn’t see what was happening in the back rooms where they kept the “worst” patients. I did see what was happening back there and it scared me and does to this day.

    I also, aside from about 9 months of that time, kept the same psychiatrist who diagnosed me with autism at 15 and iatrogenic PTSD at 20. Until he retired. He was, as psychiatrists go, pretty decent, and was able to assist me in getting services I needed.

    The difference between theory and practice is that it’s only in theory that there’s no difference between theory and practice. The world is a complicated place and I don’t pretend to have all the answers about every part of it. I also know that even if I totally disagree with a system in theory, it can be beneficial to me and others in practice, in certain areas.

    I’m also aware that there is more than one way in the world to do things. Some people imagine that those of us who don’t like psychiatry as it is now, just want it removed and nothing put in its place. That may be true of some people, I don’t know. Personally I would like to see it not just reformed, but replaced by something better (as well as parts of it being handled by those other fields better suited to it), because as it stands now… its foundations are too unstable and it needs new ones, and the form that involves institutions causes what psychiatry-now calls complex-PTSD in alarming rates.

    In the meantime, I see nothing wrong with people doing whatever they have to do with the crappy system that does exist, if it helps them survive, nor do I see anything wrong with seeking out the better people in that crappy system, because there are a number of them out there if you get lucky.

    And I also think that it’s too easy to think that because something worked, then it’s the only thing that could have ever worked. I tend to be fairly cautious about what I say “This is the only thing that could have saved my life” about.

    For instance, when I was in a mental institution, a woman from the VNA walked by while I was lying on the floor choking from a bad drug reaction. The nurse and psych techs had all seen the reaction starting, known exactly what it meant, told me off, and then left the room. I am pretty sure from that and other things their intention was to let me die and claim it was an accident.

    Now, the VNA person did unquestionably save my life. She made it clear to them that someone from the outside was watching and would report them if they didn’t save me.

    But it could have happened some other way.

    My parents could have gotten into the building somehow.

    Another patient could have found out what was going on and called 911 (there was a pay phone there).

    The reaction could have stabilized. I’ve since heard of that happening to some people with the same reaction to the same drug.

    The creepy nurse involved with this could have decided a death on her shift was more than she wanted to deal with.

    My doctor could have visited, and I know he’d have immediately seen what was wrong. (Unfortunately, the whole event was misreported to cover people’s asses, so he didn’t know until I was more able to articulate what had happened than I was at the time.)

    The point being, one person saved my life, but a lot of other people or events could have also saved my life. That one person might not have been as necessary as I thought.

    And in at least my ideal world, people would have access to the same things that saved your life, but in a very different form than psychiatry takes today, and with more options available to people going through the sort of thing you went through.

    You talk about police… and I don’t think the prison system works very well either. I don’t doubt that it has saved lives. I don’t even doubt that there are some people whose actions have to be restricted to keep them from hurting people. I also know that the prison system is brutal on the mind and body both, at least as heavily given to power abuses as psychiatry is, run on an extremely racist and classist basis, and leads to a high rate of ex-prisoners re-offending to get put back into the system because it deprives them of the skills and community ties they need to survive outside of it. It also all too often turns people who committed crimes of desperation into hardened criminals, and in general just warps things in a way that does not help people.

    And while I think we need some means of keeping people safe from each other, this is clearly not the best way to do it. What the best way is, I don’t know. I hope someone figures it out, because what we have now is terrible, not because of isolated instances of brutality, but because of systemic injustice and oppression that creates entire patterns of brutality, much like the power structures in psychiatry do.

    But saying that I want that to change, doesn’t mean I want it to be replaced with something worse, nor that I want some kind of vacuum left where it used to be. Whether it’s the “justice” system, the psychiatric system, or whatever. There have to be better ways, not just the absence of what is there, but the presence of something better.

    And what those things are is only partially clear to me. I do happen to believe that things can change, though. They don’t have to be either what they were in the past, or what they are now.

    There are always more options than we know existed. And that idea right there is what gradually led to my own severe depression going away. I watched new things happen in my life that I would never have thought up, and learned that in fact most of the world is things I have never thought up. There are always more possibilities, than it is possible to imagine.

    So when I talk about taking something away, I don’t mean leaving a vacuum, I mean replacing it with something better. And when I talk about something being overall bad as it is, I’m not condemning people who use whatever options exist now, nor saying that every single aspect of it has every single possible bad effect on every single person.

    Also… this post had nothing to do with you. I didn’t even see your comment until I got your third one. This post had everything to do with what I said it had to do with: A conversation I was having with my friend Anne about how people encourage her to be assertive but then get mad at her when she is. And then it had to do with a lot of tangents that both of us went off on during that conversation. None of which were about you.

    You might also be interested to note that Irit Shimrat’s book talks about her own prejudices against people who did use the system sometimes, and how she eventually got over them.

    And… thanks for posting. It’s always hard for me to make similar posts, when I think that someone else believes something that would have gotten me killed. (Which does happen — sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong, though.)

    I hope that my answer was not too long or confusing. I have a habit of swamping people with words. I think it’s because my views are hard to say to begin with, there’s no simple way of putting them, and they seem to change a good deal over time. I might have once condemned you for the choices you’ve had to make, especially when I was about 19-21ish. Or I might not have, I don’t know. But I don’t now. I don’t understand most of the world, and I think the best test of something isn’t whether it fits in with a model or theory or a worldview, but what practical effects it has in that particular situation. (Although it can be very hard to tell whether one thing or many things solved a problem, and also hard to tell what effects it has on people other than just that one person.)

    I don’t know if you’ve read Politics, Ethics, and Mental Widgets, but if you haven’t, it might explain more of how I think about things. One thing that I have trouble doing, is holding onto something like, an “anti-psychiatry widget”, where I have to have this entire connected-up ideology about the matter that matches some sort of pre-defined party line. I don’t think like that. Doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone, I just can’t think like that in the long run.

    So a person can look at what I say and see “Oh, she doesn’t like psychiatry.” And then from that, could easily conclude that I subscribe to every single belief that is commonly thought to be held by the “anti-psychiatry movement” in general. Then, if I appear to hold a belief that the “anti-psychiatry movement” in general does not believe, then it can seem like a contradiction of my first belief.

    But it’s not a contradiction. I look at specific aspects of reality and draw conclusions about them. I don’t believe that any web of abstractions can be anything like as complex as the real world. And I try to focus on the real world. So for instance… I can tell that there are some things incredibly wrong with the education system, and I take what some would see to be an extreme line on that. And yet I also know people where school was their only refuge from abuse at home. Am I going to try to claim that’s not true, just because school does not seem ideal for the learning process in most people in general, just because I’d rather see education take a radically different format? Absolutely not.

    All those things just show, to me, the limitations of human abstractions. Unfortunately in the English language I seem forced to use at least some of them.

    I again hope this isn’t too long or confusing. I just don’t want to promote the idea that anything in the world is simple, or that I know everything about how things should work. Because it’s not, and I know so little it frightens me sometimes to be putting my views out in public at all.

  9. I don’t condone the ciil rights abuses done to Shimrat and countless others. That doesn’t mean the practice of psychiatry should be illegalised. Simlarly, I don’t condone police brutality. That doesn’t mean that the police force ought to be abolished. There are situations where it’s the only thing that can save a peron’s life.

    Okay, let’s put it this way. I’m trying to come up with an analogy that works. This is probably not the best analogy I can come up with, but it’s the best I can hack out of our brain, pre-coffee.

    Suppose that somebody, somewhere, back in a time period in history when most countries were ruled by hereditary monarchies, started talking about terrible things that had happened to them and other people they knew under the rule of a particular king, in the country they were from.

    And say, also, that they talked about how they and many others had concluded from what happened that hereditary monarchy was a really bad idea– how it just had too much inherent potential to abuse power, too few checks and balances, and too large a gap between those with and without power, so that the ruler never truly had a good idea, at any time in his life, of what it was like to be a subject. And how the whole idea that power was something that was inherited from one generation to the next, and how this forced people to resort to violence if they wanted to attempt to change things or get rid of a really corrupt ruler, was a terrible idea.

    And when they started talking about this, people said to them, “But you can’t ban hereditary monarchy! If you did, there would be no government! It’s sad that abuses happen like they did in your country, but look at all these nice things we have, like roads, aqueducts, an army to protect us, and so on! If it weren’t for monarchy, we wouldn’t have any of those things! What do you want, for the country to disintegrate into total anarchy with no one to govern it, no roads and aqueducts built with tax money, no army, no police, no law and order? Because that’s the world we’d have if we outlawed hereditary monarchy like you think we should.”

    Obviously, from a 21st-century perspective, this sounds ridiculous (I hope) to most people. We look back on it and say, “Well, getting rid of a monarchy doesn’t mean everything automatically degenerates into anarchy and no government. You can either get rid of the monarchy or make the king/queen/emperor/etc a figurehead, and the real power of the country will lie in the hands of a democratically elected government.”

    But a lot of people who had lived their entire lives knowing no other form of government, would think exactly that. If they had never heard of the idea of representative government, or had thought of it but decided it would be impossible to actually set up in practice, then the only choice they’ll think exists is accepting monarchy, with all the bad and all the potential abuse of power it entails, or throwing it out in favor of no government at all.

    That’s what it’s like when a person says that psychiatry “has” to be kept because it helps some people and the alternative to not having psychiatry in its current form is not helping anyone, ever.

    I haven’t ever heard Amanda say no one should be helped. I can’t remember her talking about outlawing anything, except stuff like institutions that torture people. I definitely don’t think no one should be helped. One of the reasons I *am* in favor of alternatives to conventional psychiatry is because I’ve known people who really wanted them at times in their life. I know someone who had an experience where he heard a voice in his head telling him to kill and mutilate cats, and that he would be a bad person if he didn’t do it, and was extremely upset about this, but knew he could not talk to any therapist or counselor about it, because he’d almost certainly be diagnosed with a “psychosis” and put on neuroleptic drugs, which he did not want. He spent a lot of time reading stuff on the websites of groups like the Hearing Voices Movement, and managed to eventually come up with ways to deal with it (it involved “talking back to the voices,” I think). Theoretically, if he had actually wanted to take neuroleptics and decided that they helped him and wanted to keep taking them, I wouldn’t have been against that either.

    But again, about the abuses of power: I’ve also known people who found talking therapy useful but were forced to take drugs they didn’t want in order to be allowed to continue having it (by a clinic, doctor, whatever), people who had one drug they found useful but were denied it or forced to take a lot of others along with it in order to have that one, etc, or wanted to stop taking one but were forced to check into psychiatric wards to do so. The system can also screw over people who find benefit in some aspect of it.

    I’m in favor of people who want all these things and find them useful to be able to have them. But saying that in order for any of those people to be able to have any of them, you must keep psychiatry in its current form, and if you don’t like psychiatry in its current form, it means you want to ban all of those things and you don’t want anyone to be helped by anyone ever– that’s like saying that in order to have any of the benefits of a well-run government, you must have a hereditary monarchy, and if you don’t think it’s the right way to govern a country, it means you must advocate anarchy with none of the benefits of government at all.

    There needs to be a way to help people that doesn’t place the power in the hands of “experts”– and I’m not talking about the kinds of things that currently get called “empowering psychiatric consumers,” either. I don’t object to things like the Hearing Voices Movement, or people who’ve had the experience of going mad helping out people who are now experiencing it (some of the people I know who’ve gotten the MOST help got it that way). But a power hierarchy which gives absolute power, including that of life or death, to those at the top, and none whatsoever to those at the bottom, is not a good way to do anything.

  10. …also, I think I commented at the same time as Amanda about the same thing (I’m not against helping, it’s just that the system is too broken), but I think it got spamfiltered. Woops. Her reply was a lot more detailed than mine, though.

  11. It’s been fished out of the spamfilter now.

    But all this is making me wonder how much else is getting eaten up by it.

    And… yes. Count me in as another person who’s had incredibly distressing experiences in my own head, and has not been able to get help from psychiatry for those experiences. At all. Because the “help” could have killed me in itself, and my last experience of institutional psychiatry left me even more sure that I would not survive long-term “care” in such a place, and also sure that my reactions to being placed in such an environment would lead to me not being let out very readily. I am very lucky to have known some of the sorts of people I have known, including several people who calmly walked me through regions of my mind that even the best psychiatrists I’ve met have seemed totally unaware of the existence of.

  12. Just to confirm: Amanda did mention the idea of writing a post on this subject to me the other night (via text chat), and in the context of that conversation, we were indeed referring to times when we’d either been in a position of power/privilege and not realized it until later, or confused by an apparent unwillingness of others to accept what we were trying to communicate even after they’d seemed to want us to be more assertive, etc.

    And re. psychiatry: I think there’s a difference between psychiatry-as-dogma (or widget, perhaps) and specific components that may be helpful to people that are currently subsumed under the mantle of “psychiatry”. Right now a major problem with psychiatry is how often people aren’t able to get the help they actually need without that help being attached to all kinds of weird strings and conditions. I see a psychiatrist now and do take one medication that helps me — however, I dread ever having to switch doctors because it is so difficult in general to find a psych. that actually understands my brain. I’ve had some really bad ones too that I have felt quite endangered by.

  13. I don’t know about Amanda, but in my case, if I’m responding to someone in particular in a blog entry, I say so. If I’m responding to something that isn’t publicly available, I’ll say so in general terms (eg “on a listserv I frequent, a guy was saying the words ‘misogynist’ and ‘racist’ were equivalent to ‘nigger’ and ‘retard'”). If the guy who made that comment saw my blog entry, he’d probably know I was talking about him, as would others on that listserv. If someone posted a comment I found offensive and wanted to comment on in a blog entry, I’d publish the original comment (or, since I don’t moderate things, not delete it), then write my own reply to it, while outright stating that I was replying to that comment.

  14. This is a truly awesome post. As always, your writing blows me away. And your long comment is, in itself, one of the best posts about psychiatry ever written, and could easily be reposted as a new post in itself, and still be among your best posts. It certainly expresses my views on the subject more fully and more clearly than i could ever do in my own words.

    Your Harry Potter reference reminds me of a Firefly episode, “Jaynestown”, in which an upper-class father arranges an appointment with a sex worker for his son, to “make him a man”, which he equates with standing up for himself etc. The father despises the son for being “weak” and not taking initiative, but at the end of the episode he defies his father, who is enraged with him, and he says something very similar to what Ron said in your Harry Potter example.

    Thanks for reminding me to write a few posts that i’ve been meaning to write for a long time, too…

  15. I think of people who spread out like water and take up a lot of space in terms of people who make their presence known in obvious ways. Such as, they speak loudly, they are aggressive – perhaps bullies – they sit with their legs stuck out, they are histrionic – drama queens – they enjoy being the centre of attention. Online they are trolls. They take up a lot of physical, psychological and emotional space. I don’t think of it in terms of power relationships or privilege as such.

    Water can freeze or boil. So people can freeze with fear or boil over with rage. The flow of water can be restricted by being squeezed through narrow channels. So some people have less power than others.

    Often there are competing powers. For example, there were white people who opposed the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s in terms of states rights. They claimed that they were standing up for the rights of the states and local communities against the power of the federal government. They did not regard themselves as racists. Poor white people in say Alabama, who supported George Wallace, believed that middle-class white liberals who lived in predominantly white areas, were using their political power against them. That is not to justify opposition to civil rights for black people.

    It is possible to be anti-racist and left-wing, and believe in maximising the power of the states against the federal government. The Vermont Second Republic movement wants that state to secede from the Union.

    Psychiatry claims to be a scientific discipline. There are libraries upon libraries of books on every aspect of psychiatry. One textbook describes psychiatry as “that branch of medicine which studies disorders affecting thought and emotion, and arising out of these, behaviour.”

    There are critiques of psychiatry from what I would term radical perspectives: anti-racist, femininist, survivors of mental institutions, civil liberties etc.

    You wrote: “some of [psychiatry] will be turned into a part of something else that I can’t yet envision, but which has to be both safer and more scientific than what we’ve got now.” I guess that most, maybe all psychiatrists, would claim that psychiatry is now safer and scientific than it was in the past, and that they want it to become safer and more scientific.

    In any relationship between a mentally ill person and their doctor or nurse (whether or not that is a psychiatric doctor or nurse) there is inevitably a power inbalance. The so-called antipsychiatrists of the 1960s argued that they wanted to get rid of psychiatric power in institutions and the doctor-patient hierarchical authority structure.

    Elaine Showalter discusses the antipsychiatry movement in her book ‘The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980’. She writes: “For women, antipsychiatry seemed to offer important new ways of conceptualizing the relationship between madness and femininity. […] Madness itself became intelligible as a strategy, a form of communication in response to the contradictory messages and demands about feminity women faced in patriarchical society.” However in antipsychiatry, “the typical patient – the misunderstood or mislabeled ‘schizophrenic’ – was female, and the women’s role remained that of patient rather than doctor.”

    I don’t know to what extent antipsychiatry is a mental widget, however it is still psychiatry. I don’t know how much of the ideas and attitudes of antipsychiatry informed or inspired those of the mad movement/psychiatric survivors movement.

  16. I’m not using most of those words to mean the things you’re using them to mean, so it is extremely difficult to comment on what you have said at all. (I would have to comment on at least one significant set of words per paragraph and explain how each one differed from what I meant.)

  17. Philip, veryone spreads like water sometimes, though. It isn’t just the bullies, drama queens and trolls. Yeah, some people take up all the space they can because they don’t care who they’re crowding, or because they like to watch other people being squeezed. And nearly everyone, at some point, takes up space they think is empty, or unwanted, or really just their fair share, and ends up squeezing someone out.

    To get less metaphorical, power imbalances happen. And one of the consequences of power imbalances is that it’s very easy to accidentally use your power against someone in an unfair way. Easy enough that the chances of not doing anything of that sort are almost none. Good psychiatrists, good doctors, and good nurses, with the amount of power over people the current system gives them, and the lack of power given certain kinds of patients, are going to hurt people. Men in sexist societies are eventually going to do something that unintentionally reinforces sexism. White people are eventually going to do something that unintentionally reinforces racism. It’s not a matter of how good you are. It’s being put in a position where it’s difficult to not hurt people.

    Where how good you are comes in is how you deal with this. Someone who does their best to let people who are unfairly deprived have the power they deserve, someone who’s willing to give up some of their own power when it’s unfair or hurtful, and someone who’s willing to think about their own power, acknowledge when they’re wrong, and work to improve to the best of their ability can honestly claim goodness. Someone who picks their own comfort of not having to think about it over the well-being of the powerless can’t.

  18. Your comment intrigues me. I would very much like you to explain how words I have used differ from what you meant. But of course that is entirely up to you.

  19. First of all, I apologise for assuming that this post was about me when there was no real evidence it was.
    Secondly, I apologise for over-simplifying your views.
    I am not sure what I think anymore. But thanks for not losing your temper. I understand what you’re saying. I need to do more thinking before I decide if I agree.
    Thank you for your patience.
    You should get new anti-spam software. I hope this gets through.

  20. Thanks for this insightful post, and for your fair-mindedness in examining the mindsets of those who wish to reclaim mental and societal space and/or bring about greater inclusion, and those who initially resist such changes. Thanks also for your courage in admitting your own need to examine your own prejudices and behaviors.

    I help edit and publish a literary and cultural webzine called Synchronized Chaos – and we’d love to crosslink your blog or publish some of your writing. You’re welcome to check us out anytime at

    Thanks again for your post and the honest self-critique it inspired.

  21. Philip, where you say this at the start of your comment:

    “I think of people who spread out like water and take up a lot of space in terms of people who make their presence known in obvious ways. Such as, they speak loudly, they are aggressive – perhaps bullies – they sit with their legs stuck out, they are histrionic – drama queens – they enjoy being the centre of attention. Online they are trolls. They take up a lot of physical, psychological and emotional space.”

    If I’m correctly interpreting what Amanda was saying and what you’re saying here, I don’t think the two of you are using the metaphor of “water” in the same sense.

    The kind of people you’re talking about I think are “occupying space” in a much more conscious and deliberate way than what Amanda is talking about. They occupy space because they’re convinced they have a specific entitlement to more space than anyone else, even when they KNOW that part of the space they occupy actually belongs to other people, or at least would belong to them in a more equitable world.

    Whereas, what Amanda is talking about are people who don’t even SEE that the space they occupy is so much larger than the space other people occupy, or that some of the space they’re in really should belong to others. They’ve always had about this much space and they’re used to occupying it. Because they’ve always had this space, and no one else has tried to claim it before they assume it must surely all belong to them. Because, otherwise, they wouldn’t be occupying it–someone else would have already been using it all along.

    It’s only when other people stand up to them that they become conscious that someone else thinks they have a right to occupy a certain proportion of the space that they’ve been occupying for a long time, maybe their whole life. This is when they might become belligrant or upset — not because they think they’re entitled to seize and occupy other people’s space but because they don’t even *UNDERSTAND* that the space they occupy doesn’t actually all belong to them. So when others try to reclaim their space, they don’t understand that they’re simply asserting their right to space that already belongs to them. They think the other people are trying to steal space that rightfully belongs to them.

    It would be as if you bought or inherited a plot of land thinking that the outermost boundary of this land was marked by a particular stream that is beyond a fence (perhaps you were told, by someone who really did believe what they were saying, that the fence was just put there to keep the children who used to live in your home from playing in the stream without supervision).

    So you go and use the land between the fence and the stream, and in the stream itself, blithely assuming the whole time that it belongs to you. Say for the sake of argument that you’re using this space in a way that makes it impossible for anyone else to use the space, at least in the same way. For example, perhaps you consume all the berries that grow there, leaving none for anyone else.

    Then 20 years later, suddenly your neighbor asks you to stop doing this and tries to claim that the land between the fence and the stream (and all the berries) belongs to them, not you. If you really believed the land belonged to you, then you’d be pretty upset. Even after they try to show you an old map that shows very clearly that this is where the property boundary is, then at first you might honestly assume that it must be wrong, or an outright lie. So you try to fight against it until there is such a perponderance of evidence against you that you’re forced to realize you’ve been using land all along that just didn’t belong to you. But until then, you might be hostile — even if you were the one telling the neighbor to be more assertive about claiming their own property (perhaps they were having problems with the neighbor on the other side of their plot of land, so initially their increased assertiveness didn’t affect you).

    Hope this helps.

  22. Wow! I just came across your blog tonight, aimlessly surfing the blogosphere. This is amazing! Both, the post and your comment. I agree, the comment deserves a post on its own. It reminded me, not to be too judgemental – unfortunately there’s still this ego somewhere inside me, ready to jump on people, violating their space…

    You mention neurology, cognitive science, and something you “can’t yet envision, but which has to be both safer and more scientific than what we’ve got now” as replacements for psychiatry. Personally, I envision free access to safe places where people are allowed the space to be (themselves), that they were denied elsewhere, which caused their problems. Places like Soteria-Houses, for example.

    Thanks for a great reading-experience and some insights!

  23. andreashettle, your analogy (if that’s the right word) of a plot of land and my perception of the extent of my ownership of it, is helpful.

    However as Amanda is writing about privilege and power relationships, I want to explore the question of how I, or my ancestors obtained the land. It may have been acquired legally, but not morally, by methods approved of by the dominant society to which we belonged. Such as if the original owners of the land were part of a despised and exploitated ethnic group whose land was being stolen from them. Let’s assume that we thought of this as being entirely legitimate, in fact morally right. We certainly did not regard ourselves as being racist.

    Or the original owners of the land may have fallen on hard times and owed I, or my ancestors, money which they were unable to repay. So we told them that we would buy their land from them (which was worth a good deal more than their debt) at a rock-bottom price in return for forgiving their debt. We did not see anything wrong in our action, nor was it regarded as wrong by the dominant ideology of our society.

  24. I’ve studied a lot of Taoism and always feel there’s a need to balance. Balance in terms of myself as well as others. Other’s need to do this too. Going from doormat to courageousness is a hard act. It’s why I too enjoy the Neville Longbottom exchange and still, I feel like people *still* look down on him in spite of standing up….like he did it at an inappropriate time. I think it was great for Dumbledore, in his wisdom, to award him and not share in that superiority pedestal position.

    What I am troubled by though sometimes, is not equality, but it’s how much inequality is created in fighting too much for it. I feel fighting must be tempered and so must also, the deeply emotional apologetics for those who feel like victims, be tempered. Temperance is a very subtle yet important virtue IMHO. This is a very thought provoking article and it makes everyone think twice…which is probably a good thing overall.

  25. A quote from Freedom by Irit Shimrat:

    My friend Barb has been locked up six times in the last three years. She was in the same condition each time: flippy and confused. Five of those times, she got the standard treatment: needle in the bum, locked cell. That was in the city.

    One time, Barb was taken to a small, rural hospital. There were no psychiatrists — just psychiatric nurses working with regular medical doctors. The nurses talked to Barb the whole time. They didn’t give her a needle. They didn’t lock her up. They stayed with her, and were kind. They laughed at her jokes.

    She remembers, after several hours, saying to one nurse, “I really like you, but your husband’s a jerk.” After she’d gone on about this for a while, the nurse said, “You know, I don’t have a husband.” Barb suddenly realized that the person she thought she’d been talking to, wasn’t the person she’d been talking to. She felt very tired. The nurse said, “Maybe you should get some sleep.” And then she fluffed the pillows and tucked Barb in. Barb slept for 36 hours. When she woke up she was lucid, and they let her go. She told me that when she dies she’d like to leave a lot of money to that hospital.

    That’s a good example of a group of exceptional people making something work out for someone in the system.

    I totally agree that there need to be places to go. After I’d decided I no longer, ever, wanted to be in a psych ward again, I had friends who let me stay with them if things got really bad. I’m very aware how many people don’t have friends who are willing or able to do that for them, and I think it would be great if there were just places people could go during times of crisis, that would not be authoritarian and/or medicalized in the way that not only the psych system, but most “alternatives” to it, continue to be.

    (I have noticed that a lot of “alternatives” replicate the negative aspects of the power structures very accurately, which is unfortunate. A book by Judi Chamberlin described her discomfort with the work of people like R.D. Laing, who claimed to be against psychiatric power, but who still used it, just in different ways. I have noticed people like psychoanalysts and scientologists trying to fill that hole, and that sounds like an awful idea to me. Some of them even want to go back to the refrigerator mother stuff! And I often think that the psychoanalytic/scientology stuff is just people upset that psychiatry is getting attention and busines that could go to them, so I am quite wary of it.)

  26. My sister and I always toss red herrings at each other when we fight (“yeah, you do it too!”) It doesn’t make either of us right. Because of these diversionary tactics both of us have decided to allow each other unacceptable behavior. I’ve recognized this and started pointing things out recently, but I don’t listen to her when she comments about it. I’ve always been the dominant one.
    Being Jewish, this post also makes me think of Israel. The Israeli Jews treat the Palestinian Arabs exactly as Jews were treated before and during the Holocaust. Yet anyone who offers the opinion that Israel should back down, or even compromise, gets branded as a neo-Nazi. Muslim behavior is ridiculed in the news, but I bet that there are just as many crazy Jews policing each other. They just don’t get mentioned because of our victim status.

  27. I came here from cripchick’s blog. I had found your writing before, but lost all my links in a hard-drive disaster.

    Anyway, I’m glad I found your blog again. This is a fantastic piece of writing and I will be thinking about the issues you raise and the way you raise them for a long time. I really like the way you describe your own thought processes as you try to change your own behavior.

    Thank you for publishing these words of yours online where people can find them.

  28. Andreashettle: “Then 20 years later, suddenly your neighbor asks you to stop doing this and tries to claim that the land between the fence and the stream (and all the berries) belongs to them, not you”

    In fact, there’s a fair bit of property law that deals with exactly this sort of issue. Unfortunately, little of that law is applicable to human relations….

    Amanda: Can you add me to your little list of folks the spam-filter hates? I mutated my name for this comment, we’ll see if that helps.

  29. I agree. Psychoanalysis is not the answer. You might even say, that both psychoanalysis and those among the different schools of psychology that have taken over analytic theory, especially the idea of the Oedipus complex, more or less uncritical, are as oppressive as psychiatry itself. Seeing nothing but disease – if it’s biologically or psychologically/developmentally caused doesn’t make a big difference in this context – that needs “treatment”. Biopsychiatry uses drugs and ect, analysis and things like CBT uses discipline: “Get in control of your (by definition) “bad” drives!”

    Loren Mosher studied Laing’s Kingsley Hall, saw the flaws, and created in Soteria an alternative both to psychiatry and Kingsley Hall. The idea was, as in the example you quote above, just to be with people. There was no “therapy” at Soteria.

    What I see today, are “alternatives” that have Soteria-elements integrated into them. While they at the same time continue to make use of oppressive “treatment”-measures, that were banned at Soteria. Not much of an alternative. I hope, Soteria Alaska will go in another direction, and be a more true replica of the original. All in all, I think we need to get rid of the professional know-alls, that maybe allow us a little influence here and there where it’s of minor significance, but won’t allow us to design and run our own alternatives.

    Scientology… Bruce Levine has a great blog entry on the matter:

  30. “It’s pretty often that the people with more privilege in whatever area is being discussed, are completely nonplussed and view demands for equality as actual attacks on whatever group of people have more power in general.”

    Indeed, this is true. As a feminist, I run into this problem all the time, even at home. My own partner thinks I’m a ball-breaker, when the truth is just that I see no reason why I should have to do all the housework and I expect him to get off his butt and pitch in. He believes, and takes for granted that he is entitled to the privilege of sitting around and doing nothing he doesn’t want to do after work in the evening. Never mind that his privilege infringes on my rights. And I know this is just a really piddly example.


    Anyway, I’m enjoying your blog and your Youtube videos. Your site is much more educational than others which purport to be a resource for learning about autism. I will admit, I knew next to nothing. Well, God bless the internet!

    Hope you’re having a good day. :)

  31. “My own partner thinks I’m a ball-breaker, when the truth is just that I see no reason why I should have to do all the housework and I expect him to get off his butt and pitch in.”

    Makes me wonder why he’s still your partner.

  32. Hi Ballastexistenz,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while; not always, just sometimes. Some of your posts I understand, some of them I don’t. This one I understood, I think, and I just want to say thanks for posting this. I’ve been diagnosed Aspie but I’m not sure if I actually am. Three involuntary commitments but overall I’ve been pretty lucky. I especially appreciate what you said about “colorblindness isn’t a good idea because ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.” I have more to say about this but I’m really tired, it’s 1 a.m. I’ll be back tomorrow when I’m more coherent, merry Christmas or Hannukah or whatever else, peace…

  33. I new a Neville,felt sorry for him and tried to give lots of time to him, to include him and such and he turned into a Milfoi, a real little bully. People are very complicated.
    Any small lack on my part with him was for him an example of my complete lack of ability to sympathise or work together withothers converted me into a complete narcisist or sociopate, how do you deal with someone who has ideas about their own rights that are enormouse and is good at saying you have trod on his space using any moment of failure as an example of your short comings. Bullies use the arguements that should be the ones that control them.

    I suppose that Neville did not so much step on Rons space as try to protect him. Oritectuion can be very imprisioning. It needs a certain self confidence to contradict others so as to protect them. Stepping on his space would have been ignoring him which is cornering him as if you are ignored you have no place there or useing him. In the story the group cold shouldiers Neville and in that whay take away his space, they don’t give him a chance and at the moment you mencion there is not any way time to explain, belatedly to him all the thought processes they have gone through to reach the conclusion that they must take the risk, so they just anhilalate him, instead of including him and letting him make an informed choice.
    It is not in doing something momentary as Neville did to Ron that you take up anothers space it has to be a long drawn out taking up of space pushing them into a corner to constitutes a real offense, as you mencioned with the ddoctor whose short little painfull moment could not compare to the hours of suffering that patients had suffered. I saw a police report of a man kille dby police and they said it would have needed a big blow quickly or a lesser force for a long time. THe time for which people suffer is vrey important if one is to judge how destructive thigns which dont actaually kill you with one blow can be.
    Angeli jolie did a film when she was a girl in a psychiatric centre. What i noticed about the film was the girls in the centres complete isolation. No one was going to take them seriously or listen to them, to their own opinion, they might make them talk and draw conclusions but not give them the respect that comes from weighing up the girls opinion, they were completely destitute. Seperated from human kindness. It was tremendouse

    on prejudiced behavior,
    I have had people relating with me who longed to teach others how not to be racist or cruel. HTis is in reference to Amandas bit about how she had herself thought things that where damaging to people of color. People who want to take others to task for some social ill, who search for any frase that allows them to think that you might be a candidate for their lessons and then you get subjected to such an insulting list of you supposed prejudices as leaves you doubled up in pain. They are people who wont let you talk for fear you will cheat them and pretend you are what you aren’t and it is terrible not to be able to defend anti rascist ideas ideas you blieve in passionatley or yourself or that past self who was kind though they don’t want to know her. These people are more interested in teaching than finding like souls, so they don’t notice any of your graces and i have sufferded on ocasion for things like the people of other race and it is bitter and tremendously painfull to be attacked as a racist. This is to talk of the other side of the coin, there is the usefullness and the destructive ness of those who want to learn others.
    Here in Spain i complained that women where under educated and i got called abusive but the very people who called me abusive for supposedly attackin¡g spainish women made no bones of criticising arabic peoples for not giving their women all the advantages that i Spainish woman thinks they should have.
    The most important thing is for people to go through these difficult subjects slowly till they can get through all their ins and outs quietly. Normally people flair up if they feel they wont have time to explain themselves . You have to get good education for women, so you have to say something also if you odn’t ppointy out its abusivnes how do you start to get the men to treat women as equals but you may get attacked for it and you will offend. rose macaskie.

  34. Pingback: Privilige and Entitlement 101 « Sugar and Slugs

  35. Pingback: Privilege and Entitlement 101 « Sugar and Slugs

  36. OP writes:

    “But many parents [of autistics] adopt a mentality that says that they are always at the bottom of any hierarchy in this situation.”

    …and then writes:

    “They mistake pointing out of the inequality here, with creating the inequality.”

    It’s wonderfully ironic that the OP wrote these two sentences–practically right next to each other, even–and didn’t make the obvious connection.

  37. Pingback: Linkspam! | A world that loved monsters

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  39. Pingback: Self-determination is a fucking joke and widgetry harms real people | A world that loved monsters

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