“Proud to be maladjusted”

[I am currently writing a book on the history of psychological concepts. Here is an extract from the chapter on “Insanity”]

* * *

Efforts to suppress dissent are, obviously, intended to preserve the status quo. For this reason, insightful political leaders often find that they must challenge normative thinking about behaviour. In a speech originally delivered in 1957, the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. expressed the point as follows:

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word. It is the word “maladjusted.” Now we all should seek to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.

But there are some things within our social order to which I am PROUD TO BE MALADJUSTED and to which I CALL UPON YOU TO BE MALADJUSTED.

I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination!

I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule!

I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism!

I call upon YOU to be maladjusted to such things… (King Jr., 1957/1986; p. 15)

Non-conformity is rarely truly psychiatric. Efforts to pathologise dissent by labelling it as “insanity”, “hysteria”, “criminality”, or “disorder” are rooted in self-serving bias, and should be treated with extreme suspicion.

* * *

Six decades later and nothing has changed.

It’s time we ALL got maladjusted.


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