Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Structural violence and the roots of inequality.

“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, and said "this is mine," and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”                                          

Jean Jacques Rousseau, The origins of inequality 1754

What is structural Violence?

Structural violence is a term used to describe social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way. The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of society itself. They are violent because they cause injury to people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Structural violence is a high cause of premature death and unnecessary disability.

The annual death rate attributed to structural violence is between 10 and 20 million per year, which is about ten times the death rates from suicide, homicide, and warfare combined.”

The cause of structural violence in today’s world

The underlying causes of all structural violence in the world today are “capitalist private property rights”, property rights that ‘legally’ allow for the elites to privatise the “fruits of the earth” depriving the mass of humanity their right to direct access to that which Mother Nature provided freely to sustain all human life on the planet.

A history of genocide and occupation

The genocide and deprivations visited upon indigenous people’s that resulted from European colonialism was seen as necessary in order to clear the way for the privatization/ monopolization of the land. While indigenous people were forcibly removed from the land, the citizens of the colonial invaders had their right to land stripped away by stealth. This was facilitated by indoctrinationing the youth as early as possible into obeying authority figures and accepting the validity of the institutions of class rule used to deprive them of their most basic rights, including unfettered access to that which is required to sustain life itself.

The Prussian education system introduced in the west in the late 18th century, is often used as a derogatory term for education in the service of nation-building, i.e. teaching children and young adults blind obedience to authority and reinforcing class and race prejudice.

 Mother Nature naturally provides ample sustenance for all living creatures born of her womb, how else could they flourish? What man has the right to make claim as his own that which all depend upon to survive, that which is given up naturally by the earth itself? What essential contribution has he made, what essential role did he perform in the production of the sustenance that he should with justification claim that it belongs to him alone?

No other creature on the planet is subjected to such deprivation, no other creature would tolerate such deprivation.

The Enclosure Movement

Australian Award winning author and Academic Dr Susan Hawthorn explains how Land privatization, or to be more precise, theft, first started with the English Enclosure Acts passed in the 1500s and 1600s.

“This was the period that heralded the Agricultural Revolution that required that the land of the wealthy be fenced in– that is, enclosed by fences.

The fencing off of these properties meant that peasants no longer had access to the forest foods and fruits, and to the game they traditionally hunted such as rabbits, hares and game birds….they were forcibly cut off from that which was required to sustain life itself.

Enclosure Act in Scotland gave rise to the English calling Scottish Highlanders “savages” – which in turn is derived from the Latin word Silva meaning forest – as the Highlanders were forest peoples. There are no longer any forests that remain in the Scottish Highlands; the forests were decimated in the interests of English shipbuilders so that they could go out and conquer the world and plunder the resources of other lands.

Europe was also progressively enclosed, and what had previously been known as the “commons”– owned in common by the community – was now the private possession/property of the wealthy who too fenced off the land claiming exclusive ownership to the fruits of the earth and the game of the forest for themselves.

The Enclosure movement resulted in mass extermination through starvation, and mass migration to the New World.The refugees became the colonial “masters” of the New World, and in turn privatised and dispossessed the Indigenous peoples of the land and their rights to the fruits of the earth on which their survival depended, by means of coercion and finally by acts of genocide.

The land that had been held “in common” by Native Americans, Indigenous Australians and many others was now the private property of the few.

Consider just one man claiming 3 million square miles of land on behalf of the Crown. This was the job of Captain James Cook, who was not arrested as a criminal, but instead is glorified as a national hero.” The convicts that were sent to Australia were utilized in providing the slave labour necessary in building the latest colonial acquisition.

The US declaration of independence gave voting righs to white land owners only, who were the elites that controlled all commerce and from whose ranks all presidental candidates were selected.

The appropriation of the land and its resources by elitist cabals constitutes genocide and the greatest crime committed against humanity in all of history and continues to be the cause of the horrors and deprivations of the wars in the Middle East, the slave labour in third world countries, the starvation visited upon the African masses and the hardships faced by the working peoples of the industrialized nations.

Albert Einstein (1949)

“Most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones.

The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature.

The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.”

Oscar Wilde (1891)

Converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member of the community. It will, in fact, give Life its proper basis and its proper environment, there are a great many people who, having no private property of their own, and being always on the brink of sheer starvation, are compelled to do the work of beasts of burden, to do work that is quite uncongenial to them, and to which they are forced by the peremptory, unreasonable, degrading Tyranny of want.

These are the poor, and amongst them there is no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or civilisation, or culture, or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life. From their collective force Humanity gains much in material prosperity.

But it is only the material result that it gains, and the man who is poor is in himself absolutely of no importance. He is merely the infinitesimal atom of a force that, so far from regarding him, crushes him: indeed, prefers him crushed, as in that case he is far more obedient.”

"The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem and know the life – educated men who live in the East End – coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.

There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.

We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it. As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute.

Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.

Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less. For a town or country labourer to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and rebellious, is probably a real personality, and has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy, and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid. I can quite understand a man accepting laws that protect private property, and admit of its accumulation, as long as he himself is able under those conditions to realise some form of beautiful and intellectual life. But it is almost incredible to me how a man whose life is marred and made hideous by such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance."

Money as exploitation

The appropriation of the land having been facilitated, it is the introduction of money as payment that allows for the exploitation of our labour.

Each day we go to work and work their machines, producing goods using their raw materials, whereby the finished product is once again claimed as their “private property.” Labour is socialized, as vast armies of workers toil day in day out, often under harsh oppressive conditions, but the goods produced as a result of our collective labour are once again privatized, alienating us from the fruits of our efforts.

Instead we are allocated paper vouchers that represent a fraction of the value that we create, and barely enough to allow us to make ends meet, while the remainder of the value of our collective labour is appropriated by the capitalist and is how obscene fortunes are accumulated by the few while the majority live pay check to pay check.  

The capitalist further exploits the difficulties he has created for us in the form of the banker, who is willing to advance us enough vouchers to be able to put a roof over our heads and provide the bare necessities to sustain life, at an obscene rate of interest that renders us their indentured slaves for life.

Crisis as an internal contradiction of their system

The international competition between rival states puts a continual downward pressure on wages, and employers are continually cutting wages, hours, benefits as a result, until they have diminished to the point where we can no longer purchase the goods we produce. This triggers a sharp down turn and a cycle of layoffs followed by even more severe wage cuts that further diminishes purchasing power, triggering further layoffs….until crisis occurs, and it must occur by the very nature of the system itself.

As wage slaves, we have no alternatives to selling our labour, working their machines and subjecting ourselves to their super exploitation. And we fulfil our part of a very poor deal in working as required and paying back the debt we have incurred. However when "their" system breaks down and they can no longer provide us with work to maintain debt repayments they then take our homes and the remainder of the value of our labour embodied in the property. The fault lies within their system and once again we pay for it. Yet, when the same bankers who have repossessed our homes face bankruptcy due to dodgy lending practices and crisis, they avail themselves of our taxes in the form of bail-outs (theft) to pay out their debts*, we are then subjected to severe austerity because there is no money left for essential services. (*42 billion in bail-outs in Australia).

As they maintain their wealth and privilege off of the sweat of our labour, and more of us find ourselves camping out on the streets each passing day, they have the temerity to tell us that it’s time for a reality check...."the age of entitlement is over". Suck it up, life wasn't meant to be easy.

Australia the Plutocracy

An article by Economics ProfessorPaul Frijters of the Uni of Queensland and Gigi Foster Associate Professor of Economics at the University of NSW, gives an insight to the degree to which Australians are being robbed blind by the privatization of ‘the commons’. According to the article, over 80% of the wealthiest Australians have made their fortunes due to favourable government concessions.The list abounded with mining magnates and CEOs of superannuation funds banking and finance who benefit from government guarantees locking hundreds of thousands of people into doing business with them. The largest group of all are property developers who rely on rezoning and other favourable political decisions.

It  was calculated that some 60% of the increases in house prices following rezoning in Queensland flowed onto politically connected developers, which can be seen as a direct tax on the rest of the population, who would otherwise benefit that much more from rezoning.

The story is the same when it comes to high bank fees, high mortgage costs, high school fees, high health costs, high legal costs, high administrative burdens in various sectors, and high food prices: in each of these cases, political capture by a small group (such as university administrators, over-paid medical specialists, and bank CEOs) enables these groups to divert disproportionately large margins of our society's economic surplus to themselves.

In short, the economic power derived from political connections in our society makes life for the unconnected much more expensive than it should be. The end result is the few benefit greatly from favours due to political connections while the vast majority are kept poor and less educated than they should be.

They said, “Seeing what should be done is not the hard bit. The hard bit is the politics. Solutions will be bitterly resisted by the plutocrats who personally gain so much from keeping the population ignorant of their parasitic feasting.”

“The first step is to get the population to wake up and realise the massive degree to which they are being fleeced, and to feel outraged because it does not have to be this way.”

Private property and war

It's time to stop whining, being selfish and unrealistic, as our nation needs us and we are called upon to respond.

Barbarians are at the gates, barbarians that have no respect for life, who wish to spread their barbarism, misogyny and religious extremism throughout the entire world. Our culture, our freedoms, our way of life is at risk. We cannot afford to wait, we must strike first before its too late…remember the sacrifices of the ANZACS, it is now our turn to spill our blood to preserve our Christian way of life for future generations.

And so we heed the call, we spill our blood and defend our glorious democracy and our way of life, yet after risking our very lives and facing the horrors of war, we have no right to the spoils of our grisly task (oil, gas, resources that have been usurped as private property by competing elites) and instead must be satisfied with bits of tin and ribbon pinned on our chests and a pat on the back for a job well done, as our leaders who have risked nothing take all.

All wars since WW1, and all the horrors and death entailed, have been fought over the acquistion of resources that have been held as the private property of groups of ruling elites. The Bolsheviks revoked private property on coming to power during the Russian revolution, in order to end conflicts and returned the land to the people. Russia was invaded in 1919 by the west desperate to halt the spread of Bolshevism, and while they did not completely snuff it out, it decimated the country and paved the way for the dictator Stalin and the slide into despotism.

And so we continue to sacrifice our lives and work our butts off for their profits, and fire walling the lifestyles and privileges of our politicians through even the worst crisis, while we are left vulnerable and suseptible to the vagaries of an unstable economic system. We can lose our jobs, even our homes and find ourselves out on the streets and without sufficient vouchers to feed ourselves. And if we should become so desperate as to dare to take sustenance without a voucher, we are then hauled in front of a magistrate for our crime. (A magistrate whose wages and privileges are only possible by virtue of our productive labour, as are the wages of the police, clerks and sundry bureaucrats in attendance, while we must pay exorbitant fees for legal representation. Productive and unproductive labour)

The magistrate never fails to remind us of the very seriousness nature of the charges against us and passes moral judgment upon us, lecturing us for our shameful, selfish behavior that puts an extra burden on law biding citizens during these difficult times. We are then sent off to prison to be rehabilitated as productive, respectful members of civil society.

Crisis and repression

And as the crisis deepens and they have taken all we have to give and there is no more to take, they are concerned that we may start to dissent, to challenge the system that provides them their privilege itself. Unlike the mass of workers, who have little understanding if any of the history of crisis and what is to come, our overlords are acutely aware of the history of the struggles that have erupted between labour and capital during crisis, as they step up the propaganda campaigns. Distraction and fear mongering in the form of horrendously exaggerated threats of terrorism, of Islamic extremism, of paedophiles around every corner....propaganda vilifying single mothers, the unemployed, welfare cheats and asylum seekers as a parasitic drain on the treasury that are forcing the cuts in services, and turning us one upon another, "divide and rule".

Meanwhile they have been preparing to secure their rule by force if necessary and have spent over 30 billion dollars of our money in the training and acquisition of manpower and hardware to crush any opposition that may emerge to their rule, including the inacting the use of lethal force with impunity. (Australian government seeks new military call-out powers)

With more police state repression, they build more and more holding facilities and structure them so that they become profit-creating centres to exploit human misery. There we are  dehumanized and beaten down until we completely compliant, obedient citizens ready to rejoin ‘civilized’ society.

Capitalist consumer society; of dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest, where greed, exploitation and dishonesty are rewarded with riches and power, and honesty, dignity, principles, courage, empathy and generosity are worthless sentiments there to be exploited....A rapacious culture that loathes culture, that loathes individual thought, imagination, spontenatity and everything it is to be a fully functioning happy human being....because fully functioning human beings would not tolerate them for a second. Instead we have an army of brainwashed adherents ready to defend the system that enslaves them.

The privatization of land was historically obtained through acts of extreme violence, murder and often genocide and has been maintained by “legalised” state violence and coercion that the wealthy utilize to leverage the desperation of the poor to realize further profits- that amounts to further genocidal structural violence.

The “psychopathic” exploitation of the working class, the environment, and the like, in the pursuit of profit is an assault against all of humanity that can only be solved by the people coming together as one class with the same needs and interests in the restoration of the natural order of things, by returning the land to its rightful owners… all suffering humanity.

Nationalism is nothing but a cult, and like all cults it is used to gain control over the individual rendering them obedient, compliant loyal slaves to the psychopathic leader.                        

Every cult comes to a grisly end, as the aim of the psychopath is to control, manipulate and then destroy. The only survivors are those that wake-up in time and escape.

"You can sum up the communist manifesto in one sentence, abolish private property"

Frank Sinatra

Three hundred years of useless charity, wars, reforms, more reforms, more wars, more useless charity as the poor get poorer and more die. Instead of biting the bullet and dealing with the disease, we have been putting band-aid on top of band-aid trying to treat the symptoms and insanely repeating a failed method again and again.

Are we too stupid to band together and take what belongs to us by simply revoking the laws that deprive us of this right? OK, yes we propbably are, but can't we just try and go against our natural insinct for doing the easiest, but most inneffectual utterly stupid thing possible....just for a change, it's not like there won't be plenty of time to be stupid again afterwards!

The Lie We Live

Capitalism is Just a Story

What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire

Dr. Harriet Fraad: How Capitalism Shreds Our Personal Lives

Capitalism and Mental Health: How the Market Makes Us Sick


The Structural Violence of Capitalism and the question of mental health

Capitalism & Mental Illness: Reflections on the Human Costs of Profit

Protected by the largest military in all of human history, the economic empire of the United States has grown into the most advanced capitalist system that ever existed. But in spite of a relatively high standard of living & unprecedented wealth, the US has also managed to develop the world’s highest rates of mental illness. In 2009, the World Mental Health survey found the US at the bottom of world mental health chart with 47.4% — almost half of the population — displaying symptoms of a mental disorder. According to the massive WMH survey, nearly 1 in 3 US citizens struggle with anxiety disorders and a bit more than 1 in 5 suffer from depression, bi-polar, or other mood disorders.

Melancholy & the Marginalized In the Gardens of the US Empire

Stolen shamelessly from ( FYI, suing me is likely to cost more than I’ll ever pay you… )

Although psychological well-being is a pretty complicated thing to measure ( especially on such large scales ), research on depression in the US clearly shows that looking for areas of high poverty will show you areas with high rates of depression. Being poor is, of course, an excellent reason to feel sad but, if poverty caused widespread depression, we would find the highest rates of depression in the poorest places. And that is not what we find. The prevalence of mental illness in Mexico, a country with a per-person income 1/3rd of that in the USA, was just 26% according to the same WHM study — and symptoms of poor mental health affect only 12% of Nigerians, who earn a mere 1/10th of what people in the US do!

Poverty is a part of it — but it’s obviously not the whole story…

The Links Between Income Inequality, Marginalization, & Mental Health

Other studies show a strong correlation between high income-inequality & rates of mental illness — particularly the depressive disorders. This is true at an international level, as well as the level of individual counties & US states. Symptoms of mental health disorders are reported at higher rates in densely populated urban environments, black & brown communities, & among women in general ( regardless of race ), all of which are historically among the most-exploited in capitalist modes of production.

Explaining why we observe such counter-intuitively high numbers of people in poor mental health at the very center of the wealthiest society in history does not take a particularly imaginative leap from here. And — since this is an opinion article & not a scholarly tome to submit to the sociological canon — it is well within my rights as a writer of very limited notoriety to make that leap…

The Result of Capitalism & Liberalism Should Depress You

Late-stage capitalist societies — like ours in the United States — clearly produce the ideal environment for mass psychological — or, if I may use a less-popular word — spiritual crisis. This analysis is not new — Marx himself predicted capitalism would result in these kinds of crises. This is called alienation. He believed our species-essence was not just to obtain food, water, shelter, & sex but also to produce or co-create the world around them. And the free choice to make their world by their own labor fulfilled the human being’s species-essence. Since, under capitalism, the value of a person’s labor is extracted by whoever owns the tools & materials used to create our environments, he predicted we would become increasingly alienated from our lives & dissociated from the society around us.

We would feel disconnected from the things we do because we did not choose to do them.

Real mental health disorders do exist, of course. But — as someone who was diagnosed with a number of them at a young age — I wonder if many of our so-called dysfunctions, both my own & those of others around me, are really just the appropriate & completely sane reaction to a set of insane circumstances.

After all — why would I not feel a deep sense of tragedy when confronted by the fact that my country is dragging our ecosystem into a chasm of irreversible climate change?
 And should people not be kept up at night by anxiety or vague, urgent, instincts that something is deeply wrong with how all of us are expected to get up, clock in at work, come home, watch TV, drink, consume, & repeat?
 Is a person truly “sick” because they become convinced this is not at all how it is supposed to be or that their reality is being shaped by irrational forces beyond their knowledge & control?

These are important questions to consider — because maybe they’re right. Maybe, like Alice finding herself suddenly in Wonderland, it really is the world — not them — that has gone insane.

In solidarity,
John Laurits

Mental illness and the sickness of capitalism

Mental illness has become incredibly widespread because capitalism is a fundamentally alienating and sick system, argues Chris Breen

Over the next two years the Turnbull government will cut over $140 million from mental health services for young people.

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher says, “Headspace’s six early psychosis centres… have been told their budgets will be cut by 25 per cent on 1 July and by 70 per cent the year after that.”

The cuts are not a result of any improvement in mental health. In Australia there are around 3000 suicides a year, roughly double the road toll. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics around one in every five Australians will experience a mental disorder in any given year and 45 per cent will experience a mental disorder in their lifetimes.

Those are staggering figures. The figures are similar in the US and only slightly lower in other developed nations.

How do we explain this? Mental illness is a symptom of a society that breeds unhappiness and anxiety. Another answer is that the definition of mental illness has expanded, as drug companies promote the idea it is an illness that drugs can cure.

As Susan Rosenthal, Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University, writes in her pamphlet Marxism and Psychology:

“Capitalism is a sick social arrangement that damages physical and mental health. And, by expanding the definition of mental illness, more people can be labelled sick and more profits can be made from selling them treatments”.

If there was ever a question about the social roots of mental illness the Australian government has unquestionably answered it with the horrific experiment of offshore processing of asylum seekers.

A 2014 report by International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), who run detention health services, found that around half the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru suffer from significant depression, stress or anxiety.

Australian of the Year and psychiatrist Patrick McGorry rightly called them “factories for producing mental illness”.

We have known for a long time that mental illness has social causes; links with poverty, unemployment and homelessness are well established.

This is one reason the Turnbull government’s proposed cuts to Newstart Allowance are particularly cruel.

A study in 2015 by professors of epidemiology in Greece found that in 2011 and 2012 after harsh austerity measures were imposed from 2010, suicides increased by 36 per cent compared with the previous decade.

Any severe trauma from war, to child abuse, to cancer, can contribute to mental distress, but the scale of mental health problems goes beyond those who have experienced trauma and requires explanation.

Most people internalise the values of the society they live in from an early age. This includes the idea of being a “success”, the importance of competition, or their role in a family.

Even people who come to reject particular aspects of this are not unaffected by the values of those around them. The contradiction between daily reality and what the system tells us to expect can cause mental distress.

Life under capitalism can be a stressful and dehumanising experience. Many people perform routine jobs where they have no control over how the job gets done, or the pace and hours of work. They are often unable to speak openly about what is wrong through fear of unemployment.

We’re told that if you can’t find a job that pays enough, or can’t find a job at all, it is your fault. The competition structured into capitalism means difficulties people face are usually explained away as personal failings. We are not taught to blame the system for its inability to provide decent jobs, social support, housing, or health care. It is surprising that anyone is mentally healthy under capitalism.

Sick society

Given the stresses and insanity of capitalism, mental revolt against the way things are is quite a natural response. The psychiatric industry, however, is not designed to tell people that their mental illness has social causes.

Instead, as Susan Rosenthal writes, it should be understood as one of the “institutions of social control” that is designed to justify existing society.

It does this through a focus on blaming mental illness on factors within the individual. “Prioritising individual factors,” she writes, “whether wrong thinking, wonky brain chemistry, or defective genes absolves the system of responsibility.”

She continues, “Science has yet to detect biological markers in the brains of people with different forms of mental distress that are not present in people without those forms of mental distress”

Psychiatrists categorise rather than diagnose causes. Physical diseases do not change throughout history, but what is considered “normal”, and how suffering has been able to be expressed, has always been a political question.

What psychiatry considers illness is shaped by the ideology and needs of those who run society. This can be seen in the some of the changes in what has been considered a mental illness.

The condition drapetomania was coined by physician Samuel A. Cartwright in the 1850s. He claimed its main symptom was slaves “absconding from service”, and it was caused by masters who “made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals”.

Because he believed in the necessity of slavery, the idea that trying to escape might be a logical response apparently eluded him.

Black people in US today are more than three times likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than whites. In the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement, the definition of schizophrenia in the DSM was broadened to include the words, “aggression”, “hostility”, and “delusions of persecution”. At the same time left wing psychiatrists campaigned to have racism defined as a mental disorder, but this was rejected by the American Psychological Association on the basis that racism was normative.

Even today, as Rosenthal writes, “Psychiatry serves capitalism by diagnosing defiance as a mental disorder. Psychiatrists and psychologists have pathologised the protests of slaves and political dissidents. They have lobotomised rebellious women and tried to convert homosexuals. They have campaigned for the euthanasia and sterilisation of ‘social defectives’. They assist at interrogations and torture.

“They drug soldiers to keep them killing. They drug old people and prisoners to keep them quiet. And they drug rebellious children… Those who suffer, who protest or whose needs undermine productivity are more likely to be labelled mentally unwell.”

Conversely there is commonly regarded as nothing wrong with people who imprison refugees, wage war or order drone strikes. The people who carry out drone strikes however have reported high levels of mental health problems.

Defining mental illness

Official definitions of what constitutes mental illness have also been expanding, particularly in the US where conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) determine insurance payments for treatment .

Doctors Shorter and Tyrer argued in the British Medical Journal in 2003 that, “Industry has been busy behind the scenes in this handy convergence of eccentric new diagnoses and the market niching of compounds”.

Well they might, as sales of anti-psychotic drugs top sales of all other drugs. Eli Lily rebranded Prozac as a pink pill called Sarafem in 2001 after the DSM listed Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

This also allowed it to extend its patent by seven years.

GlaxoSmithKline took a broader approach with the drug Paxil, marketing it with slogans like, “The Paxil treatment, treat one. Treat them all,” and, “look for the Paxil spectrum in every patient”.

GlaxoSmithKline hid data that showed Paxil as ineffective with risky side effects.

They ended up paying out $1.3 billion in compensation for suicides and birth defects associated with Paxil. However that was a tiny portion of the $15 billion they made from Paxil sales between 1997 and 2006.

The psychologist R.D. Laing noted than mental illness is diagnosed by conduct, but treated biologically. The drugs given to people are not treating known biological mechanisms.

As Rosenthal explains: “Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease are all diseases of the brain, they have characteristic biological markers that make it possible to diagnose them reliably. However, the mind is not the same as the brain. The mind is not a physical organ, but develops out of a complex inter-relationship between the brain, the body and the social environment. Mental distress can occur when any of these components or their relationship is disturbed or damaged.”

This means the causes of mental illness are usually more complex than can be dealt with through simple drug-based remedies.

In an article in New Scientist in June this year, Clare Wilson questioned the effectiveness of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) drugs (such as Prozac), which are designed to work by increasing levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain.

“While the drugs do boost serotonin,” she said, “there is no proof that low levels cause depression. Anti-depressants do change how we feel, in a way that some find helpful and others don’t, but that doesn’t mean they are correcting a chemical imbalance. Many people find alcohol helps them relax, but that’s not because it’s correcting an alcohol deficiency in the brain.”

Irving Kirsch, a lecturer in medicine at Harvard, went further. He used Freedom of Information requests to get unpublished drug company trial results.

Kirsch argues in The Emperor’s New Drugs that when considered together with published studies the results show that most SSRI drugs are no better than placebos.

Others argue that the drugs are slightly better than placebo. Studies in the field are difficult because there is no objective definition of which patients to include, and any improvements are generally self-reported. However when it comes to objective measures such as suicide reduction across a population, the drugs have no effect.

Drug companies are pulling their money from new research. Since 2000 they have reduced spending on new mental health drugs, and in 2011 four big companies pulled out altogether saying that it was too expensive and had produced no results.

What about genes?

The focus on individual as opposed to social causes of mental illness has led to attempts to explain it as a result of genetics.

It may be that there are interactions between genes and the environment that predispose some people to dealing better or worse with particular situations. But it would be a mistake to think that individual genes for schizophrenia or depression will be found, any more than genes for “intelligence” will be found.

One factor is simply the complexity of interactions between genes, the social and physical environment, and early development.

Some studies have claimed to show a small statistical association with particular gene regions and schizophrenia.

Leaving aside the difficulty of defining schizophrenia, these studies are not predictive. That is, the majority of people who have the genetic variations do not have schizophrenia or any signs of mental illness. There is a greater link between schizophrenia and living in a city than having a family member with schizophrenia.

Working class people are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and as mentioned earlier, so are black people in the US.

People diagnosed with schizophrenia can be unable to differentiate between what is real and what are fantasies.

Rosenthal writes of Schizophrenia: “Human perception is socially constructed. The ideas that dominate society shape what people think, what they want, who they trust, who they fear, who they blame, and what is and is not acceptable.

“Misperception is also socially constructed. Psychologists, advertising consultants and management experts are employed to sell a system based on deception (“It’s a free country”), contradiction (war as humanitarian intervention), denial of lived experience (hard work is always rewarded), and threat (work or starve). While most people accept the unacceptable, they do not like it. Some rebel openly. Others protest through physical and mental symptoms, addiction and suicide. Some escape to a different reality.”

Schizophrenia usually develops during adolescence, when the effort to make sense of the world and one’s place in it is at its most acute.


Mental illness is a disease of society. This means that the best treatment within our existing society is based on increased social support and attention.

As Rosenthal writes “A Canadian study of more than 2000 severely mentally ill homeless people found that providing stable housing was more effective than any other treatment.”

Just as austerity can cause mental health problems, raising living standards can have the opposite effect. Another study in the US found that after a new casino began paying out bonuses that lifted some poor families out of poverty, psychiatric problems among children in those families fell to the same level as in better off families. Their parents could afford to properly look after them and satisfy their needs for the first time.

Other forms of social support are also important.

In the context of the victims of Ireland’s “troubles” Patricia Campbell writes: “The tradition of testamonio—sharing stories in a supportive environment—can help participants view their problems not as personal failings, but as the collective wounds of war. The recognition of shared experiences can alleviate symptoms and promote a sense of belonging acceptance and validation.”


In the 1960s as protest and strikes spread across the globe the psychiatrist R.D. Laing coined the popular slogan “Do not adjust your head, the fault is in reality”.

The best way to deal with the social problems that cause mental health is to fight back, and win victories that begin to challenge them.

Rosenthal gives the example of how: “In the 1980s workers in Poland organised themselves into the world’s largest union, containing one third of the working-age population. As strikes spread and demonstrations grew, hospital psychiatric beds began to empty of workers and fill with sick government officials. This happened because rising class struggle opens the door to solving individual problems collectively.”

Similarly the Arab spring and the toppling of dictator Hosni Mubarak led to his hospitalisation for severe depression.

Capitalism is a system based on deepening inequality which makes life a misery for millions of people. But the global working class has the capacity to end the oppression and poverty it produces, through uniting grassroots struggles everywhere into a fight to overturn the system.

A socialist society run in the interests of the majority is possible. But, as Susan Rosenthal comments, “don’t expect this diagnosis will ever appear in the DSM”.

Marxism and Psychology by Susan Rosenthal is available from