This following essay, by one of the organizers of MindFreedom South Africa, was written in the wake of the Mad Pride 2007 vigil in Cape Town South Africa. David Robert Lewis calls for a broader social movement that includes cognitive rights, as well as bodily and psychological integrity, so that South Africans can feel safe and secure about their freedom.

Screw the labels, let’s have MindFreedom

Author: David Robert Lewis

Source: MindFreedom South Africa

Like any heurism, MindFreedom carries with it, a set of assumptions about human behaviour and the way people perceive each other through the rose-tinted glasses of language. This is no semantic game, but rather an attempt to get to grips with a problem faced by anybody involved in any one of the various traditions, movements, therapies, and modes of experience geared towards human transformation and the evolution of society as a whole.

Firstly, the problem of user-survivors and consumer-survivors who are both marginalized and stigmatized by their association with psychiatry and mental health, and mental health professionals. Surely, what they/we desire is a lot more than simply psych-rights, patients- rights, and an effective constitution?

The problem is also compounded by the presence of cross-disability groups who have a similar interest and focus – starting with marginalisation and stigmitisation, and ending with the disability label.

It is not enough to simply allow oneself to be relabled and repackaged within a conservative or progressive tradition that though willing to dish out alms, is at pains to show the world that it is not brushing aside the disabled, but rather, putting disability on the agenda of radio and “the telly” — there for the whole world to gawk at. The Oprahfication of health has its hazards, and the chief of these is that, like talk radio, it follows a format dictated by media executives who want to see instant talk-cures, audience participation, and ratings based upon contact with a particular product or brand name.

While we may all desire assistance with our particular dysfunctions, quirks and foibles, there are those who are loath to discuss individual disabilities in public, or at least to participate in such a discourse without first posing the problem of what to do about those who are just plain maladjusted i.e different or eccentric. What about those of us labeled “abnormal”. Do we rate as disabled? The poverty of our language in our inability to portray the human condition in anything other than psycho-medical-legal terminology, is surely a factor of the global village and is compounded by mechanistic ideas about the way the universe works or ought to work.

Then there is the South African condition, which has given us a society constructed out of racial classification and pseudo-scientific/ethno-genetic labeling. Our experience is a lot more complex than it would appear at the outset, since 40 years of social engineering followed by a relatively short “transformation” process and crash-course in democracy, has produced civil structures that are still evolving and a developmental state that while outspoken, is incredibly weak when it comes to policy.

Do we force the dystopic non-contenders for societal acceptance, i.e., society’s rejects, into aversion therapy along with the politicians who insist on labeling us? Do we contain the behaviour of the pariahs, the ignored and the neglected, by building a ring-fence around disability or a moat around difference? One is reminded of the leper colony that once existed on Robben Island, along with the General Infirmary and Mental Asylum.

Breaking down the walls separating us from our freedom is what MindFreedom is, and should be, all about. The same cognitive rights given to intellectuals, artists, poets, writers and politicos, should be given to ordinary members of the public. We should all have licence and be free to express ourselves within the constraints of human rights, but what of public opinion, ordinarily accepted conduct and social etiquette, etc, and, what of those who break the rules? Surely, all these terms are relativistic and the transgressors, either cognitive outlaws if you will, or psychonauts who need to be accommodated within reason?

We cannot simply rule out-of-bounds, behaviour or thought patterns that we find illogical, or absurd, simply because they are not easily understood. Ideas must be allowed to manifest, and process must evolve. In fact we should strive to accept those who make an effort, along with the misguided, the over-enthused and the dispassionate, since the reverse is to turn people into lepers.

Supposing one made a mistake? Committed a social faux pas? If we leave no room for error, then we have turned into a society of fools, only able to play by the rules, and without the capacity for scientific breakthroughs, innovative academic discourse/s, leaps of faith, different realities and of course, humour. Without civil disobedience during the period of apartheid, we would still be living in a dark place without capacity for emotion nor the ability to engage in social change.

If we cannot allow for life’s imperfections, then we have isolated ourselves from nature, from life’s mystery, from the unconscious. As psychoanalysis reminds us, the Freudian Slip is a well-known example of the way odd words pop out of our mouths. What is said, is not always what is meant and vice versa.

The need for a wider social justice movement that includes psych-rights, the unconventional and supposed “deviance” along with an appreciation of so-called “mental disability”, is both an objective of groups such as MindFreedom, as well as Libertarians, Anarchists, Internationalists, Leftists, Progressives and even Radicals.

A South African MindFreedom, might contain a diversity of people drawn from all walks of life, and concerned with upholding freedom, and supporting the freedom of others.  It might congress out of the user-survivor network, the consumer movement, and even networks of health professionals and practitioners of alternative therapies, modalities, discourses.

It is not enough to simply protest against forced electro-shock, involuntary commitment and to demand psych-rights for all. What we need are treatment alternatives to recovery, a more humane approach to life issues than coercive psychiatry, the acknowledgement of difference as a crucial factor in both the individual and the collective psyche, and the means to deliver therapy on demand to the masses, who should be allowed to explore the mystery of life, free from state intervention or religious or psychological coercion.

Now more than ever, we need a broader social movement where South Africans can feel safe and secure about their freedom. We need to know that our members will not be detained nor incarcerated, that our access to jobs and social welfare is secure, and that we are not “twitching away the good drapery” as the English writer Will Self once said, in response to a question as to why he was coming out about a particular addiction to over-the-counter medication.

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