Welcome to the Loony Bin

55 years inside psychiatry and the law

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Could I start again I would still choose psychiatry. Even its confused and illogical theories would not deter me. We cannot do any better yet. Psychiatry faces the most complex puzzle of life: how the human mind works. How does matter begin to know itself? Fortunately our relative ignorance does not take away the key reward of practising psychiatry, the caring communion with other minds.

My story charts fashions in psychiatry and the law over 55 years. It encounters the larger puzzle of the group mind. Genetic programming of animals coordinates pack thought and action. At the level of humans it achieves regularly recurrent cycling of the group’s values. The key to its social function lies in its duration of a long lifetime. The group’s massed experience of having tackled problems from opposite viewpoints in that time span gives it the opportunity to learn from error. Well known at least as far back as the Etruscans, the values cycle has shaped civilisation. It drives the regular refashioning of psychiatry and explains how current prejudice denies justice. The logic of science provides a far speedier alternative to the laboured blundering back and forth of social reasoning.

The case histories have their own fascination, but the main blunder I discuss, ignoring cause to regurgitate effect, evokes humiliating chagrin. Psychiatry and the law do not stand alone in shame. All groups need to deal far better with cause and effect to evade the consequences of action. Think not just of massacres and financial crises. Think of how we persist in polluting our nest. Ponder on Hume’s law. Muse about the juristic sophistry of demeanour and hindsight. Discover the hidden burden of pseudo-illness. Discern the operation of the group mind and, at its apex, the immeasurable benefit and menace of meme tyranny, the ideas that the group adopts.

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