A new global psychiatric power? Intro (2020)

by Federico Soldani – 6th Nov 2020

More than one year ago I presented the talk “Are we witnessing the emergence of a new global psychiatric power?” at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London, in the summer of 2019.

The overdue transcript, with this introduction and brief comments, subdivided in thirteen parts will be published over the next few months on PsyPolitics.

The video was published at the end of September 2019 with a sense of urgency for the acceleration world events appeared to take, however there was no trace of any global virus or pandemic, including the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

Subtitles for the video on Google’s Youtube were provided in English and Italian. Assembling the video from the audio and the slides as well as adding the English and Italian subtitles, then posting the video and sending it around to potentially interested viewers has been for me a truly remarkable effort in communication. Such an effort in my view was justified for political reasons.

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The talk prefigured several scenarios that have indeed happened only a few months later and none of its contents appear at all irrelevant one year later.

A globalist revolution no one was talking about at the time is in my view taking place, with several prominent political actors having by now discussed a global remaking of power explicitly (Gorbachev, Brown, Kissinger, among others), a theme that was surely not on the public agenda only a year ago.

The word “revolution” and its variants were repeated 13 times during my London 2019 talk. The hypothesis of the desovreignization of the modern sovereign, the citizen, was prefigured as well as the discourse around global mental health and the psychiatrization of the sovereign citizen becoming a patient.

The transformation of sovereign active citizens into ‘desovranized’ passive patients was formulated in this talk for the very first time.

The political and revolutionary origins of psychiatry were presented, to my knowledge, as such for the first time: psychiatry was born revolutionary. Emblematic in such respect were the cases of Rush in America and Pinel in France; considered the founder of U.S. psychiatry (on the symbol of the American Psychiatric Association for almost a century and on every copy of the DSM to this day) and the founding figure in psychiatry tout court, respectively.

Power moved from a sovereign to a disciplinary structure 250 years ago around the time when psychiatry was born. The most powerful man in the world at the time, King George III of England monarch of a global British empire, was treated as a patient against his will without high treason being called into question, through the newly developed medicine of the mind and of behaviour, at the time not yet called psychiatry.

Such “inverse coronation ceremony” (verbatim from the 2019 talk) of a psychiatrized George III was placed as the heart of the 2019 presentation. According to Michel Foucault in series of lectures on Psychiatric Power (1973-1974), it was the founding scene of psychiatry as well as the milestone marking the shift from sovereign to disciplinary power in the modern world.

The link between the ongoing mass psychiatrization and the globalist revolution, mainly happening via digitalization, was explained. A visual parallel was proposed between the tranquilizing chair invented by the American revolutionary, signer of the Declaration of Independence as well as founder of U.S. mental and behavioral medicine Benjamin Rush vs. the external appearance of present day Virtual Reality in which the current second American revolution, the globalist one, wants to place the former sovereign citizen.

Digital phenotyping, research on oxytocin and the social brain, and the global mental health movement were mentioned as part of the overall revolutionary picture.

About the ongoing so-called “Psychedelic Renaissance” and one of its main tenets, that of “ego dissolution”, Brzezinski was quoted: “nationalism so personalized community feelings, that the nation became an extension of the ego” (in Between Two Ages, America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, 1969-1970). Would dissolving the ego of the masses parallel the dissolution of the nation-state and its sovereignty?

Brzezinski indeed presented the shift from the sovereign monarch to the sovereign citizen via the American and French Revolutions as the main event marking the birth of the nation-state as well as of “a new dominant concept of reality.”

In a prominent 1948 document discussed in the 2019 talk (Mental Health and World Citizenship), a link was presented, made by the authors of such document meeting at the time in London, between the concepts of mental health, world citizenship and a possible world sovereignty going beyond that of existing nation-states.

The role of language, moving from political to medical, epidemiological and psychological was explained. The false opposition of a discourse moving from political language to metaphorical psychological language vs. a discourse moving directly from political to literal psychological language was analyzed through a CNN debate on TV, among psychiatrists publicly discussing a democratically elected President’s mental health. Both discourses indeed moved language and focus from the political to the technical (whether metaphorical or literal), psychological and psychiatric language and concepts.

The movement from metaphorical to literal meaning in using psychological technical terminology instead of political vocabulary was discussed for collective phenomena as well (see The Collective Psychology Project, London 2019).

Such anti-democratic and anti-political lexicon was termed ‘ideopathological’ or, in short, ‘psyspeak’. Its mechanisms explored in some detail by comparing anti vs. phobic political terms. Similitudes with Orwell’s ‘newspeak’ and double-think concepts were briefly touched upon.

The role of the spectacle by the 45th U.S. President Donald J. Trump in spreading psyspeak globally was highlighted as well as the changes in language preceding historically changes in power and political institutions, 250 years ago and potentially today.

Finally, a possible spread of fears, anxieties and phobias via mass media, digital media, and via direct contact as a “contagion” was hypothesized. Well before the current widespread global talk of an epi/pan-demic of mental and behavioral disorders as well as so called info-demic and its consequences, including consequences of such info-demic for global mental health.

In sum, the (anti)political, technocratic and revolutionary globalist agenda was clearly and unambiguously presented as the one that would have benefitted from phenomena and discourses of mass global psychiatrization. The prospect of “technocracy, techno-fascism, scientific dictatorship or totalitarianism” were prefigured as the possible outcomes.

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Of note, some of the themes above discussed in 2019 such as power and biopolitics, as ideated by Michel Foucault, are now prominently presented in the medical literature about the 2020 pandemic, including an editorial of a few days ago on the British medical journal The Lancet by its historical editor Sir Richard Horton: ‘COVID-19 – a crisis of power’.

Foucault 1970s and 1980s lectures are cited and public health is put in relation to the global crisis of power: “We continue to live in this era of governmentality, where individual actions are shaped by power that claims its legitimacy in scientific truth. Public health developed amid these social and political currents.” “The growing importance of health to industrial societies led to the valorisation of doctors and the growth of medical science. An alliance formed between medicine and the state—“a politico–medical hold on a population”.

However, in my view Horton reverses the meaning of what is going on at present, looking at the old industrial age and ignoring that we are in a post-industrial, “technetronic” digital age, so he appears to offer an interpretation that is the opposite of what is going on, as if public health now has become independent of its origins. “COVID-19 has evolved to become a debate about the distribution of power in society—central government versus local government, young versus old, rich versus poor, white versus black, health versus the economy,” Horton writes. “Those most at risk of COVID-19 are some of the least powerful in our society. Those working in public health do not see themselves as instruments of capitalist states. On the contrary, they view health to be of such intrinsic value that it must be fought for and defended.”

Health intended this way, as Horton appears to delineate, mainly via strict epidemiological measures appears in line both with short term health measurements (what about the long term health consequences, including those of massive physical movement reduction of the population during prolonged lockdowns? Not to mention the indirect consequences on health of an unprecedented economic crisis?) as well as with the new digital economy of the giants that are multiplying their market values in the context of the current overall deep social and economic crisis. Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab and author of Being Digital (1995), talked about the overall movement “from atoms to bits” to characterize the digital transformation of capitalism.

In 2019 the above phenomena and prospects discussed in my London talk were most definitely not under the unprecedented level of attention we are witnessing today in 2020.

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Outline

  • Intro and Outline
  • CNN Talk Show – 1/13
  • Literal and metaphorical – 2/13
  • Language precedes power change – 3/13
  • Ideopathological lexicon or psyspeak – 4/13
  • Anti vs. phobic political terms – 5/13
  • Mental correctness and political health – 6/13
  • George III of England: an inverse coronation ceremony – 7/13
  • Trump of U.S.A., global spectacle, and citizens desovreignization – 8/13
  • Technocracy: the end of democracy and politics – 9/13
  • Mental Health and World Citizenship – 10/13
  • Digital Global Mental Health – 11/13
  • From the tranquilizing chair to V.R. ? – 12/13
  • Q&A – Psyspeak and Orwellian double-think – 13/13

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Last Updated on November 25, 2020 by Federico Soldani

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