Greenberg – Manufacturing Depression

Manufacturing DepressionIs It Wrong To Be Unhappy?
Adams, W. A. (2010). [Review of the book, Manufacturing Depresson]. PsycCRITIQUES – Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, September 1, 2010, Vol. 55, Release 35, Article 1.

Author and psychotherapist Gary Greenberg has a strong opinion about depression:  except for very extreme cases, he insists that depression is not a disease, is not explained by biology, and does not need to be cured, by drugs or anything else.  Greenberg rejects and even ridicules the medical model of psychopathology and its labeling of suffering as disease.

Instead he argues that depression is a legitimate response to a savage world, a way of being, not a disease.  If you think of it as a disease, then the so-called symptoms have no psychological or spiritual significance; they are meaningless. 

“if depression is not, in short, about your transactions with the universe, but only about whether or not you have the signs of the illness, then there is only one thing left for it to be: an internal dysfunction, as stupid and brutal and meaningless as diabetes or cancer” (p. 252).  

That is a conclusion he cannot accept, and he urges readers not to accept it either. He wants to “own” his depression, not be afflicted by some arbitrary disease that means nothing. But despite what he would wish, the possibility that depression is actually just a stupid disease is a logical possibility. 

Mfg Depression  Click to see full text of the review


Faulkner – Sanctuary

Sanctuary_FaulknerA Barely Coherent Mystery

Faulkner, William (1931).  Sanctuary. New York: Vintage.

Often billed as Faulkner’s commercial whodunit, this novel hovers on the edge of unintelligibility. But, it’s a “classic,” so what do I know.

Temple Drake, a young, well-off college student in Prohibition-era  Mississippi, is a wild party girl. Her drunken boyfriend takes them both to a bootlegger deep in the woods to get some drink. He becomes fall-down drunk, gets beaten up by the other men there, and leaves, abandoning Temple. She gets raped, and in the commotion, a black man, Tommy, gets killed. Popeye, the bad guy, takes Temple to a whore house in Memphis, where he rents her out. Meanwhile, another black man, Lee, is accused and jailed. His lawyer, Horace, believes evidence-based reasoning will free him, but Lee is wrongly convicted when Temple lies on the stand.  Lee is  burned alive by an angry crowd. Horace skulks off, defeated. Temple remains oblivious.

That could, in principle, be an interesting mystery story, but there are two major problems with Faulkner’s telling of it. One is that characters are generally unmotivated. They are crazy, drunk, insane, or just weird, so they can do and say all sorts of surprising, unexpected things, because they are not normal people. Faulkner is known for his characterizations of irrational, almost sub-human animals that inhabit his fictional Southern landscape, but that doesn’t make them interesting or believable. When there is little causal connection between events in a story, you don’t have a story, just a collection of scenes. Some people don’t mind that, but it doesn’t work for a mystery.

Secondly, Faulkner uses a writing style that deliberately obfuscates the story line, the characters’ motivations, and even their identities. Almost every scene starts off with a series of unresolved pronouns so you don’t know, can’t know, what the hell’s going on until you read a few more pages and deduce (if you are a close reader) which characters are even in the scene, let alone what they are doing there. Example, from the opening of chapter 7:

“From somewhere beyond the lamplit hall she could hear the voices – a word; now and then a laugh; the harsh, derisive laugh of a man easily brought to mirth by youth or by age, cutting across the spluttering of frying meat on the stove where the woman stood.”

That’s a charming Faulknerian sentence except the reader does not know who “she” is or who “a man” is, or who “the woman” is. We don’t know where the description is located in time or space, or why. It can be deduced by further reading, but when every scene opens with such deliberate misdirection, it seems that Faulkner has contempt for his reader.

On top of that, all the scenes and chapters in the book have been put through a shredder then reassembled in random order, (Faulkner admits as much in his personal papers), so there is almost no chronological order to anything that happens. The result is a series of vignettes that, while often intriguingly written, do not add up to a coherent story, let alone an enjoyable one. If you insist on reading this book, you should first  print out a list of characters (such as found on Wikipedia), so you have a chance at understanding. Unless you enjoy crossword puzzles.

Cunningham – The Hours

the_hoursFan Fiction Goes Mainstream

Cunningham, Michael (1998). The Hours. New York: Picador USA

Fan fiction rarely gets published, but Cunningham’s The Hours somehow managed it. Fan fiction is written by fans of characters in stories created by someone else. A fan-writer produces elaborations and alternatives based on the established characters for fun and for the amusement of other fans, who presumably have read the original.

The Hours is Cunningham’s homage, to use a more generous term, to Virginia Woolf’s classic novel, Mrs. Dalloway. In the original 1925 novel, Clarissa Dalloway was an upper-class London matron who considered socializing to be an art form. That novel shows one day in her life, shopping for flowers and preparing a dinner party for her husband, Richard. She clings to her status and refined sensibilities but secretly worries if she wasted her life by marrying wealth, rather than by choosing her youthful sweetheart, the unpredictable adventurer, Peter, or even the wild and irreverent Sally, her childhood girlfriend. Mrs. Dalloway’s anxiety about her life choices as she faces aging and death, animates the novel.

In The Hours, Clarissa Vaughan is a 1990’s New York woman who is called “Mrs. Dalloway” by her friend and former lover, Richard, a renowned poet dying of AIDS. She is seen buying flowers and preparing a dinner party for Richard. Is she conflicted about her life choices, as was the original Mrs. Dalloway? Yes, because the narrator says so:  “…she is now revealed to herself as a meager spirit, too conventional, the cause of much suffering.”

A fundamental flaw in The Hours is that the narrator tells us what characters feel and believe, without much, or any evidence. Woolf’s novel was an exercise in stream-of-consciousness writing, in which the reader had direct access to the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Cunningham is not much interested in stream-of-consciousness, so his narrator just declares what characters think and feel. The result is hollow.

In modern writing an author often bridges a character’s stream-of-consciousness to a narrator’s description using a method called free indirect discourse, in which the narrator’s voice merges with the character’s voice from time to time, but Cunningham executes the method poorly, as in this example:

“She isn’t jealous of Sally, it isn’t anything as cheap as that, but she cannot help feeling, in being passed over by Oliver St. Ives, the waning of the world’s interest in her and, more powerfully, the embarrassing fact that it matters to her even now, as she prepares a party for a man who may be a great artist and may not survive the year. I am trivial, endlessly trivial, she thinks.”

The first sentence is the voice of the narrator, inside Clarissa’s head. The second sentence is Clarissa’s voice. I find the passage clunky, in part because of Cunningham’s choice of a first-person present narrator, which makes the narrator merely voyeuristic rather than authoritative about characters’ inner thoughts, unlike Woolf’s first-person, past narrator.

Maybe Cunningham relies heavily on narrative telling rather than characterological showing because his story is so ambitious. There are two other major characters.  Virginia Woolf is in 1923 London, struggling against depression on her last day, while writing her novel, “Mrs. Dalloway.” In the course of her ruminations, she decides that Clarissa Dalloway will kiss another woman (Sally), command tea and dinner tables as an art form, and not kill herself. The Mrs. Woolf character is only interesting to fans of the original novel and to readers who know Woolf’s biography, but taken objectively, it is the least interesting character in The Hours. Of course fan fiction necessarily rests on a foundation of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, so this is perhaps an unfair criticism.

The third main character is Laura Brown, a suburban housewife in 1949 Los Angeles who suffers from “feminine mystique syndrome,” mid-century middle-class conformity and meaninglessness. She is pregnant with her second child and we see her half-heartedly baking a birthday cake for her husband, because she must, and being secretly obsessed with the novel, “Mrs. Dalloway,” which she has half-finished. She has passionately kissed another woman (not Sally) and worries about that. Contrived though the character is, her life is the most well-observed of the three and for that, the most interesting:

“She loves her husband, and is glad to be married. It seems possible (it does not seem impossible) that she’s slipped across an invisible line, the line that has always separated her from what she would prefer to feel, who she would prefer to be. It does not seem impossible that she has undergone a subtle but profound transformation here in this kitchen at this most ordinary of moments: she has caught up with herself.”

If we ignore the narrator’s tendency to tell us what Mrs. Brown feels, rather than letting her speak or behave for herself, we can admit that this passage does spotlight a genuine and important existential moment, all the more so because in the context of having just baked a meaningless, sagging cake, we realize that her epiphany is essentially untrue: she is NOT happy to be married and she has NOT caught up with herself. That’s good stuff.

It’s worth noting also how Cunningham peppers his prose with parenthetical expressions as in the quote above, but fails to realize that in the original novel, characters’ behavioral action was backgrounded by putting it in parentheses, to emphasize the foregrounding of the stream of consciousness. In other words, Woolf had a purpose for all the parenthetical expressions, but Cunningham just uses them as window dressing.

Having read and enjoyed “Mrs. Dalloway,” I cannot un-read it, so it’s impossible for me to imagine what a naïve reader would get out ofThe Hours. There are many well-observed moments that might sustain reading. An example is when a character enters Clarissa’s and Sally’s apartment:

“Sally and Clarissa live in a perfect replica of an upper-class West Village apartment; you imagine somebody’s assistant striding through with a clipboard: French leather armchairs, check; Stickley table, check; linen-covered walls hung with botanical prints, check; bookshelves studded with small treasures acquired abroad, check. Even the eccentricities – the flea-market mirror frame covered in seashells, the scaly old South American chest painted with leering mermaids – feel calculated as if the art director had looked it all over and said, ‘It isn’t convincing enough yet, we need more things to tell us who these people really are’”

Nabokov – Lolita

Lolita.largeWonderful Language, Dull Story

Nabokov, Vladimir. (1955). Lolita. New York: Vintage 50th Anniversary Edition.

This is a book whose reputation precedes reading. Everyone knows the story of a middle-aged man’s sexual obsession with a twelve-year-old girl. Humbert Humbert, a European gentleman, confesses his perversion in a diary or memoir, in which he sometimes slips into the second-person voice to address the reader directly, for example, to plead for merciful judgment. He is not an amoral psychopath. He knows his obsession with prepubescent “nymphets” is socially wrong, but can’t help himself, he says.

In America, he rents a room from a woman whose daughter is Lolita, the nymphet of his dreams. To gain access to her, he marries the mother, then considers killing her, but she conveniently dies in an accident, leaving Humbert the sole guardian (possessor) of Lolita. They go on a road trip during which time he has complete sexual access to her, keeping her almost a kidnap victim under his jealous gaze. Lolita, it turns out, is not sexually naïve and cooperates with Humbert in exchange for toys and candy. Sexual contact between them is described but never “shown” in graphic detail. The book is pornographic in concept but not literally.

The second part of the book is a long travelogue of their journey through the US in 1950 or so. Descriptions of cheesy motels, restaurants, and gas stations are perfection of the art of literary observation. Nabokov’s language throughout is creative, playful, humorous, and diverse, with plenty of untranslated French expressions (I think Humbert was supposed to be Swiss), and the occasional poem. Literary and historical allusions abound, making the novel a pleasure to read.

In fact Nabokov’s writing is the only reason anyone should read this book. Unless you happen to be a pedophile, you will find the story uninteresting and dramatic tension just barely showing a pulse through manufactured mini-crises that are more humorous than tense. Humbert repeatedly declares his heartfelt love for Lolita, even as he sexually abuses her. But we don’t believe for a moment that Humbert has any concept of love beyond his own selfish obsession. There is nothing to make us connect to Humbert except his clever language and foppish mannerisms. Likewise, Lolita is a snarky, dirty, rude, and undereducated youth who reveals no interior life. So we have two cartoon characters tossing about clever language for 300 pages.

In my opinion, the  scintillating language and insightful description justify the entire novel. But as an interesting or dramatic story, or as a character study, or as an exercise in unreliable narration, the book falls flat.

Some readers say they are repelled by the basic concept of a pedophile acting out his fantasies, and are unable to read the book. I can understand a reader objecting on aesthetic or technical grounds, but not on moral grounds.  Such readers (or non-readers) are afraid of their own imaginations, a truly scary proposition.

We read Lolita sentences like these:

“She was, obviously, one of those women whose polished words may reflect a book club or bridge club, or any other deadly conventionality, but never her soul; women who are completely devoid of humor; women utterly indifferent at heart to the dozen or so possible subjects of a parlor conversation, but very particular about the rules of such conversations, through the sunny cellophane of which not very appetizing frustrations can be readily distinguished.”

“…Charlotte …thought my mirth improper; but otherwise her autobiography was as devoid of interests as her autopsy would have been.”

“We passed and re-passed through the whole gamut of American roadside restaurants, from the lowly Eat with its deer head (dark trace of long tear at inner canthus), ‘humorous’ picture post cards of the posterior ‘Kurort’ type, impaled guest checks, life savers, sunglasses, adman visions of celestial sundaes, one half of a chocolate cake under glass, and several horribly experienced flies zigzagging over the sticky sugar-pour on the ignoble counter; and all the way to the expensive place with the subdued lights, preposterously poor table linen, inept waiters (ex-convicts or college boys), the roan back of a screen actress, the sable eyebrows of her male of the moment, and an orchestra of zoot-suiters with trumpets.”

Writing On The Road

iron-man-2It’s a helluva struggle to write anything on a road trip. Finding the time is one problem but the far bigger issue is finding the brain. It’s hard to focus.

In the morning I have a visceral urge to hit the road, even though there’s no rush. Why am so I eager to get from Amarillo to Tulsa?  Because the point of the journey is to get somewhere. Otherwise, you’re not on a journey, you’re wandering. How could I possibly sit in a motel room until noon when Tulsa beckons?

At the end of the day, after hours of highway driving, I don’t have the mental energy to form a single thought. The creativity’s gone. The brain is missing.

So I realize, to my horror, my writing depends on familiar settings and habits. I’m like Iron Man: useless without my exoskeleton, and not even as witty as Robert Downey, Jr. Of course he has writers.

I’ve written reasonably good material at conferences. When I’m settled in a spot for more than 24 hours, I can do it. So it’s not the foreign environment that kills me. It’s the intense vigilance of highway driving. Keeping an eye on Jackknife George growing ever larger in my mirror, an old guy with thick glasses driving a dirty white 18-wheeler, lurching from side to side in the lane, probably been driving all night. When I stop for gas he gets ahead and I have to dart past him again then watch him slowly creep up on me again like something out of an early Spielberg movie.

The short-term memory goes on long road trips. I can hardly remember the road sign I just read, let alone two ideas I wanted to associate. I don’t think it’s possible to write without short term memory. But maybe I should force myself to do it. The result might be interesting.

Doctorow – Ragtime

RagtimeWildly Overrated

Doctorow, E.L. (1974). Ragtime. New York: Penguin.

This impressionistic portrait of New York in the early 1900’s has been widely praised as a “classic,” and has been made into a movie and a Broadway show. I can’t understand the acclaim.

The story is roughly centered on the life of an upper-class family in New York, but dozens of other sub-stories flare up and die down around them. A rich socialite who married for money defends her husband who killed her lover, a famous architect. For no reason at all, she takes up with an impoverished Jewish immigrant and his daughter. Anarchist Emma Goldman appears and “liberates” her from her corset. Harry Houdini appears when he accidentally runs his car into the rich family’s yard. Sigmund Freud appears on his visit to Clark University in 1909. William Taft wins the presidency. Henry Ford has lunch with J.P Morgan. And so on, and on, and on,and on.

Toward the end of the (300-page) novel, a black man becomes enraged by an act of racial discrimination and finding no satisfaction in the legal system, turns to violence. That’s the only dramatic move in the entire novel, and it’s supposed to show America’s “loss of innocence” and rising awareness of racism. But that is pure nonsense, as anyone who knows anything about American history (and Black history) can attest. There never was an “age of innocence,” except among the profoundly ignorant, a condition that persists today.

I think the reader is supposed to be charmed, or possibly amazed, at the intermingling of fictional and historical characters. Maybe that was a literary innovation in 1975, I can’t remember. Most charitably, I can say this literary style has not aged well.

The writing is pedestrian. Quotation marks are dispensed with, so I guess that’s a sort of innovation, but the language is mundane, the narration predictable and the descriptions full of empty abstraction. There are few memorable scenes or turns of phrase, and there are so many characters, you can’t even remember them, let alone identify with any of them, so the emotional effect of the work is nil.

If you don’t know the social history of America during this period, it seems you would be mystified by all the random comings and goings. If you do know the history, you would be stupefied by its unimaginative recitation. Children might like the book because it gives easily digestible access to reasonably accurate history, though without insight.

Chandler – Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell My LovelyLike a Tarantula on an Angel Food Cake

Chandler, Raymond (1940/1992). Farewell, My Lovely. New York: Vintage/Random.

“Chandleresque” is a writing style that cannot be matched, though many have tried, even me. Tough guy PI, Philip Marlowe, is the definition of hard-boiled. He fears nothing, can take a beating, bumps and stumbles his way through cases, and somehow manages to solve them. What makes him entertaining are his outrageous similes and comparisons bordering on poetry.

“A man…was looking up at the dusty windows with a sort of ecstatic fixity of expression, like a hunky immigrant catching his first sight of the Statue of Liberty. He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck.”

“A large, thick-necked Negro was leaning against the end of the bar with pink garters on his shirt sleeves and pink and white suspenders crossing his broad back. He had bouncer written all over him.”

“[She] was a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

“At the top of [the driveway] stood an eyrie, an eagle’s nest, an angular building of stucco and glass brick, raw and modernistic and yet not ugly and altogether a swell place for a psychic consultant to hang out his shingle. Nobody would be able to hear any screams.”

The descriptions are visual, usually humorous, and often poetic. Marlowe’s worldview is the main attraction in this novel, although his smart-alecky comments do wear thin after a while. He has virtually no interior, and the reader only mildly cares about him and his adventures, which seem arbitrary, so there simply is no great character arc and nothing really about Marlowe illuminates the human condition. It’s a “fun” novel, a stylistic tour de force. It counts as literature only because it defined the hard-boiled genre.

The plot goes this way and that, with more characters than you can keep track of.  A dead body always has a matchbook in the pocket with the name of a bar and you know Marlowe will go to that bar and beat somebody up, or get beat up, or meet a sizzling dame who knows something. In fact the plot is so convoluted, you can’t really follow it, though it seems to all come together in the end. Chandler wrote the novel by cementing together a set of his short stories, and that could explain the random feeling of the story line’s writhing.

But the plot is not the point. The fun is the atmosphere of 1940’s Los Angeles and its dark, seamy underside, and the lowlife characters, and above all the voice of Philip Marlowe, who among PI’s, stands out like a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.

Zunshine – Cognitive Cultural Studies

ZunshineAdams, W. A. (2011). Cognitive Psychology Meets Literary Criticism [Review of the book, Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies]. PsycCRITIQUES – Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, January 5, 2011, Vol. 56, Release 1, Article 8.

Cultural studies is an established academic discipline practiced mainly in departments of English. It  analyzes some aspect of a culture through a particular lens of assumptions, usually to focus on the political nature of cultural processes, revealing implicit power relationships. According to Editor Zunshine, the new strategy presented by this book is intended to encompass, not replace, other approaches to cultural criticism, such as gender studies, feminism, Marxism, postcolonialism, poststructuralism, performance theory, psychoanalysis, ethnic studies, rhetoric, ecocriticism, and body theory, to name just a few extant approaches. “Encompass, not replace,” is a fascinating construction, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s approach to Soviet disarmament: “Trust, but verify.”

The thrust of this book is that a grounding in cognitive science is the best, most inclusive point of view for practicing cultural criticism.  Since all cultural processes are, after all, products of the human mind, then, the claim is, there is no better strategy than to adopt principles of cognitive science for doing cultural analysis. For example, if one is aware of recent scientific findings on intersubjectivity, one might better identify subtle relationships in Jane Austen’s work. 

One driver of this project is to find an objective, non-arbitrary basis from which to conduct cultural criticism. But according to these authors’ own principles, science is just another thread of cultural conversation, like art or politics. Why would science have privileged access to truth? It wouldn’t. The premise of the book therefore stands on a flawed foundation.

George – Write Away

write-awayA How-To on Writing

George, Elizabeth. (2004) Write Away. New York: Harper Collins

If you haven’t read any writing-how-to books, this one is a good place to start. It’s easy to read, encouraging in tone, covers most of the basics, and has plenty of examples. George is a well-known writer of mysteries and thrillers, and a teacher of writing. She describes her personal understanding of writing fundamentals and her own writing process. The result is a solid overview for a beginning writer.

On the down side, the information content is low and conversely, redundancy and irrelevance are high. That’s what makes the book easy to read, but a more experienced writer would be better off with a genre-specific how-to book, or a more rigorous treatment, such as “Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft,” by Burroway and Stuckey-French.

George offers a “seven step story line” guide, based on common sense and apparently derived, as much modern writing method is, from Aristotle’s Poetics. There’s nothing wrong with that approach. Most of it seems like common knowledge, but maybe it isn’t if you’re just starting out.

George’s example quotations go on way, way too long, often for two or three pages, when a couple of well-selected paragraphs would have done the trick. Most of these examples are extremely boring, almost unreadable, especially those taken from her own works. These excessive excerpts seem like filler to me. It’s a shame, because one can think of numerous brief excerpts that could have been used to make very sharp points, from authors such as Strout, Faulkner, Nabokov, Bowles, Ishiguro, Coetzee, Silko, Morrison. George prefers mass-market authors like Kingsolver, P.D. James, and Martin Cruz Smith. She does throw in the perfunctory Shakespeare and Hemingway, and those excerpts actually stand out by contrast to the others.

When George gets down to specifics, which is not often, I found her explanations lacking. For example, concerning the difficult problem of creating a character’s voice, she says merely that the voice arises “naturally” from the character’s biography that you have previously written. At a very high level of abstraction, that’s true. A garbage man is not going to talk like an Oxford don. But an interesting voice does NOT arise “naturally” from a specific biography. It must be explicitly created by the author and George offers no clue about how one does that.

The last third of the book covers George’s writing process, how she actually goes about writing a novel from start to finish.  Most of that material is idiosyncratic and of little interest to anyone else. For example, she is keen on researching locations for her novels. She flies off to Europe to make extensive tours of old castles, wineries, and government institutions. Nice work if you can get it. But she doesn’t discuss why she does all that. Readers appreciate accuracy, but for a how-to book published in 2004, this one seems curiously uninformed about the virtues of the internet.

George’s best advice comes in her final words. “You WILL be published if you possess…talent, passion, and discipline. You will PROBABLY be published if you possess… talent and discipline or passion and discipline. You will LIKELY be published if you possess [only] discipline.”  In other words, writing discipline is necessary and sufficient, the other two qualities only helpful.

Szasz – The Myth of Mental Illness

MMI CoverAdams, W. A. (2011). Words Matter: The Legacy of Thomas Szasz
[Review of the book, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Personal Theory of Conduct, 50th Anniversary Edition]. PsycCRITIQUES – Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, March 9, 2011 (56), Release 10, Article 8.

Spring fever is not really a fever, homesickness is not really sickness, and mental illness is not really illness.  That’s the argument of Thomas Szasz, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the State University of New York in Syracuse.  He has been repeating and elaborating that message since publication of his iconoclastic book, The Myth of Mental Illness (Szasz, 1961).Szasz does not deny that some people have serious psychological problems.  But there are so many difficulties with the term, the concept, and the psychiatric approach to “mental illness” that he wants no part of it.

The new preface in this 50th anniversary edition is a succinct yet lively summary of Szasz’s position, and could serve as a standalone introduction to his ideas, attitudes, and bombastic style. He asserts, “The claim that ‘mental illnesses are diagnosable disorders of the brain’ is not based on scientific research; it is a lie, an error, or a naive revival of the somatic premise of the long-discredited humoral theory of disease” (p. xii).  Szaszian rhetoric does not countenance qualification, accommodation, or counterargument:  those who disagree are naïve, mistaken, or  liars.

A pugnacious style can be entertaining, but Szasz makes numerous rhetorical errors that seriously detract from important points he wants to make, errors such as circular arguments and unbalanced presentation of evidence. He rejects all behavioral evidence of illness, for example. If there is no demonstrated physical pathology, there is no illness, period.  That oversimplification leads to implausible claims, such as, since there is no clear biological determinant of schizophrenia, it is merely an unusual belief system, not a mental illness (p. 279).

Nevertheless, if a reader can get past Szasz’s hyperbolic and polemical style to his core ideas, it becomes apparent that his legacy includes at least four important contributions.

1. Szasz first warned of the dehumanization and negative consequences of labeling mere “problems of living” as “mental illness.” Today, creeping medicalization and pathologizing of everyday life are recognized.

2.  Szasz spoke out against psychiatry’s use of coercive force against people in personal distress.  Today there are much stricter legal safeguards around involuntary psychiatric commitment, and better-defined criteria for the legal “insanity” defense.

3.  Szasz was one of the first psychiatrists to challenge the diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental illness.  His unrelenting attacks on the assumptions of psychiatric diagnoses have led to greater awareness of the distinction between scientific categories and social prejudice.

4.  Szasz has been a champion for individual rights in psychiatry.  People should be free to choose or decline psychiatric care at any time, he argued.  Psychiatry and psychology are now more aware of individuals’ rights than they were fifty years ago, thanks in part to Szasz’s writings.