Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Dissent Into Madness: The Weaponization of Psychology

by James Corbett
March 12, 2023

WA State Bill Will Send Political Enemies to Psych Wards” blares a recent headline from Kurt Nimmo’s Substack.

The bill in question, Washington State Legislature House Bill 1333, “Establishing the domestic violent extremism commission,” would, according to its critics, “criminalize thought and expression under an invented category of offences called ‘domestic violent extremism'” and allow the state’s attorney general to “prosecute some people for words and speech, rather than violent acts.”

Although there is nothing in the bill itself declaring that “political enemies” of the state will be sent to “psych wards,” the idea that psychologists and psychiatrists might be employed on such a “domestic violent extremism commission” to diagnose political dissidents with some form of mental disorder is not a misplaced one.

In fact, as it turns out, there is a long and worrying history of psychiatry being used as a weapon to silence those declared to be enemies of the state. And, more worrying still, recent events have demonstrated that—far from being a relic of the past—the pathologization of political dissent is becoming even more widespread than ever before.

The Bad Old Days

The history of psychology is, to a large extent, the history of cruel and unusual punishments meted out by rulers on political dissidents.

That psychology has always been a convenient tool for the ruling class to wield against dissenters may seem like a controversial observation at first glance. But this is precisely what the most mainstream of establishment sources tell us . . . when they’re talking about the establishment’s enemies.

In 1983, for example, Dr. Walter Reich was afforded prime journalistic real estate in America’s newspaper of record, The New York Times, for a lengthy report on “The World of Soviet Psychiatry.” After reporting that the 1977 congress of the World Psychiatric Association in Hawaii had voted to condemn “the systematic abuse of psychiatry for political purposes in the U.S.S.R.,” Reich notes that “Western concern over pyschiatric abuse in the Soviet Union had only grown” since the congress’ vote and that “the Russians were in danger of being suspended or even expelled from the international psychiatric organization.”

Reich then spends the majority of the rest of his 6,000-word article contrasting the American approach to mental health—in which “psychiatric treatment has become acceptable enough during the last few decades for people in emotional distress to seek it out”—with the Soviet approach—in which “the need for psychiatric care is more likely to be seen as a cause for shame.”

The Soviets, we are told, had taken the honourable study of the human mind and weaponized it, turning it into an instrument of political oppression.

For years, Soviet psychiatrists had been accused in the West of diagnosing as mentally ill political dissidents they knew to be mentally well. According to both Western critics and Soviet dissidents, the K.G.B.—especially after it was taken over in 1967 by Yuri V. Andropov, now the top Soviet leader—had regularly referred dissidents to psychiatrists for such diagnoses in order to avoid embarrassing public trials and to discredit dissent as the product of sick minds. Once in psychiatric hospitals, usually special institutions for the criminally insane, the dissidents were said to be treated with particular cruelty—for example, given injections that caused abscesses, convulsions and torpor, or wrapped in wet canvas that shrank tightly upon drying.

Lest the reader be left in any doubt as to his message, Reich states it clearly later on in the piece: “[T]he experience of Soviet psychiatry had a lot to teach,” he tells us, “about the vulnerabilities of psychiatry to misuse wherever it is practiced.”


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