[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.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.