by Federico Soldani – 23rd Nov 2021
More than two years 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 an introduction and brief comments, subdivided in thirteen parts is now being published in 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).
Primary attention to language and to metaphors and metaphorical language as a way of analyzing a political discussion about the mental health of a political figure, a democratically elected one in this instance, on the media was placed at the beginning of the presentation.
This theme was further developed later during the talk, noting how despite the two presented views, by two psychiatrists, were opposed, in the end the “message” via language that they were delivering to the TV viewers was going in the same direction.
For Dr. Frances, who was claiming that we should discuss politics instead of psychiatry, language was moving from political to psychological metaphorical, while for Dr. Lee language was moving directly from political to literal technical psychological language and concepts, used to discuss a political theme. Both psychiatrists were moving, despite specific content discussed, language to the psychological sphere, metaphorically for Dr. Frances, literally for Dr. Lee.
While opposing each other on a political theme, the net movement of the two debating psychiatrists is from political to psychological language.
More than two years later, there are now in 2021 prominent public intellectuals such as Giorgio Agamben and even media experts who are beginning to highlight, in the context of the huge socio-economic crisis caused by the coronavirus and the disease / illness called CoViD-19 and policies adopted as a response by governments worldwide:
 the current critical importance of language use as well as of  metaphors use in government and media communications, as almost subliminal means or anyway to influence public opinion, transform popular views and in turn political and legal institutions with an overall effect of “de-politicization.”
Such public intellectuals also highlight in 2021 how the manipulation of language is at the root of the current paradigm shift in power that we are witnessing since the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and related policies. And how current changes in political and legal institutions are first of all based on changes in language, a thesis presented first in my May 2019 abstract, then in my September 2019 London talk, and one year later in October and November 2020 in two TV interviews also published by the international website Foucault News. Not to mention a number of related articles and a university seminar published in the PsyPolitics blog during 2020 and 2021. Especially on what I called in 2019 ‘psyspeak’ or ‘ideopathological lexicon’, including the spread of such psyspeak as an under-recognized “epidemic” of sort, an original formulation discussed for the very first time during the London 2019 presentation and reiterated publicly in 2020. Also, another original formulation presented and discussed in PsyPolitics during 2020 and 2021 has been the identification of a globalist revolutionary movement via the recognition of its use of psyspeak, which is the language of the psyche instead of the language of the polis in dealing with public matters.
The relationship between language as an institution on one side and political and legal institutions on the other side is highlighted also in Roberto Esposito‘s ‘Institution’ (il Mulino, 2021). In this book he mentions – in relation to political and legal institutions – Foucault’s thought about penitentiary and psychiatric systems as well as the “lexicons of anthropology, psychology and linguistics.” Such book also discusses, among other related topics: [a] Hegel’s “objective spirit” as present in institutions, giving to subjective desires an objective character; [b] Montesquieu’s separation of powers and the U.S. Constitution; and [c] Foucault’s view of legislations and constitutions that emerged from the “age of Revolution” which are regressing within a biopolitical paradigm. All themes previously discussed in PsyPolitics (see in particular my TV interview on the 2nd of October 2020 also published in Foucault News, the one on the 13th of November 2020, as well as the 4th of May 2020 university seminar at the IUC Turin).
In the May 2019 abstract published in the proceedings of the Royal College of Psychiatry conference it was highlighted how (emphasis added, in the below talk transcript as well) “political language related to “phobias” has rapidly surged to commonplace” and also “similar lexicon derived largely from psychiatry, psychology, and psychoanalysis might lead to a progressive internalization and de-politicization of civic concepts, without most citizens realizing it.”
Also, use of symbols to influence global culture and to prepare and produce a paradigm shift in power was proposed: “the current public psychiatrization of ‘the most powerful man in the world’, as the media often describe the President of the United States of America, could be seen as a new paradigm shift in contemporary power.
Such a public spectacle is broadcasted around the world via TV and digital social media (e.g, Twitter) in real time. In addition to the increasing use of a psychologized lexicon in everyday speech, a role might be played by such spectacle communicating symbolically, and contributing to, a global cultural shift towards a subjectivist worldview and a progressive de-politicization of citizenship.”
‘CNN Talk Show’ – 1/13 [transcript]
Okay, thank you very much. So, I’m going to present a talk about “Are we witnessing the emergence of a new global psychiatric power?”
Essentially what I’m going to ask is are we witnessing the emergence of globalization and of psychiatrization of society at the same time? And what’s the relationship between these two?
And I will take a chance to start from a recent piece from a talk show by CNN. This was broadcasted just on the 25th of August [only nine days before this talk was delivered; the abstract comparing the two books directly was submitted on the 15th of May].
It actually reproduces the kind of dialogue that I imagined in my abstract between the ‘Duty to Warn’ movement if you are familiar with it, so people who say Trump has a mental health condition or, even if he doesn’t, he his dangerous on grounds of mental health. And on the other side, Dr. Allen Frances, former Chair of DSM-IV who has a slightly different view of this.
So let me show you. And I would ask you to please try to pay attention to the language that they use:
[CNN Journalist]: “So something’s wrong. There are lots of theories about what it is, there are some doctors who think they know, there are others who say we shouldn’t speculate.”
There are ethical questions about even having this conversation at all. But we can’t tiptoe around it anymore. We’ve got to talk about this. So let’s talk about it, let’s do it. Let me bring in two guests, two psychiatrists with differing views about this.
Dr. Bandy X. Lee is a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, she co-authored and edited the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” It originally came out two years ago, it started this conversation in many ways about Trump’s mental health.
And Dr. Allen Frances, he is in Philly [Philadelphia] for us, a Professor Emeritus and former Chair of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical College. And he authored the book “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.”
So Dr. Lee, first to you. You have been trying to sound an alarm for the past two years about the President’s fitness. Has the press been listening to what you and your colleagues have been saying?”
[Dr. Lee]: “Hum, not at all. I feel that the press has actively tried to shun us especially the New York Times editorial that seems to have been published in collaboration with the past APA President. And I’ve been very concerned about the fact that the American Psychiatric Association has been working pretty much as an agent of the State.”
[CNN Journalist]: “To stop people from talking about this issue?”
[Dr. Lee]: “Yes I’m speaking of the new… what many of us have started to call a gag rule. They have modified the original Goldwater rule, which I’m a staunch supporter of, into an order that allows for no exception and it basically says that we’re not just allowed to diagnose, but to say anything of any kind in relation to a public figure. Here’s what the original Goldwater rule says that psychiatrists have a responsibility to society as well as to patients and we are expected to contribute to activities that improve the community and better public health. And so when we’re asked about a public figure we should educate the public in general terms, just not diagnose… “
[CNN Journalist]: “Right, without saying ‘I am diagnosing’ because you’ve never met him.”
[Dr. Lee]: “Exactly.”
[CNN Journalist]: “You can describe what you are seeing. So, Dr. Frances I know you disagree with this view that Dr. Lee and a couple other dozen psychiatrists have published in this book. You say it’s dangerous to be talking this way, why?”
[Dr. Frances]: “Well, I think that medicalizing politics has three very dire consequences. The first is that it stigmatizes the mentally ill, I’ve known thousands of patients, almost all of them have been well behaved, well mannered, good people. Trump is none of these. Lumping the mentally ill with Trump is a terrible insult to the mentally ill, and they have enough problems and stigma as it is.
The second issue is that calling Trump crazy hides the fact that we’re crazy for having elected him and even crazier for allowing his crazy policies to persist.
Trump is as destructive a person in this century as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were in the last century, he may be responsible for many more million deaths than they were. He needs to be contained, but he needs to be contained by attacking his policies, not his person.
It’s crazy for us to be destroying, the climate our children will live in. It’s crazy to be giving tax cuts to the rich, that will add trillions of dollars to the debt our children will have to pay. It’s crazy to be destroying our democracy by claiming that the press and the courts are the enemy of the people.
We have to face these policies, not Trump’s person.
Now, it’s absolutely impossible, you can bet the house, that the Congress, that Pence, that the cabinet will never ever remove Trump on grounds of mental unfitness. That will never happen.
Discussing the issue in psychological name-calling terms distracts us from getting out the vote.”
[CNN Journalist]: “But I’m not talking about name-calling, I’m talking about asking questions that are really uncomfortable. Not saying we have the answers, I’m saying we need to bring it up.”
Okay, so let’s try to bring it up. I hope you noticed the language that they used.
So, on one side we have Dr. Lee. She is the editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” which is a book with 37 authors, I actually worked with some of them in the past.
And we have another book which is Dr. Frances one, “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.”
Now, essentially what they [Dr. Lee and others] say is he [Trump] has a mental condition and he’s dangerous.
And what he [Dr. Frances] answers is ‘no’ the voters who actually put him [Trump] in that position are actually crazy.
And he [Dr. Frances] actually used the word crazy seven times, if you noted. But I would say he used it in a metaphorical way, at least six out of the seven, depending how you count.
And then he mentioned psychological name-calling. Okay, so, I will try to analyze language a little bit.
So, this is an outline: CNN video, than I will analyze language a bit.
I will try to draw a parallel between the current psychiatrization of Trump and what happened with the psychiatrization of King George the Third of England at a really critical time when there was the birth of psychiatry and when there were the French and American revolutions.
According to Foucault at this time we moved from, there was this paradigm shift between sovereign, from sovereign power to what he calls disciplinary power.
And finally I will just mention, if I have time, just a little bit of context.
- 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
Last Updated on November 24, 2021 by Federico Soldani