The perplexity question

"We can now distinguish 'insanity' from 'folly' (Wahn ). Insanity takes place whenever man is incapable of meeting that which we can name the claim of Being This is always manifest for man in a concrete situation, urging him to the appropriate response so as to meet the claim made on him. The 'situation' in which man respectively finds himself determines his 'environment'. Therefore, insanity is the incapacity of 'getting down' to things, of arranging things in the right manner, having the ends meet with respect to the environment. It is an illness: the insanity of Ajax." - Grassi (0: Grassi, Folly and insanity in Renaissance literature)

Practical madness work

Unsatisfied with the scientific claims of psychology, social scientists have posited a new paradigm widely known as 'social constructionism'. (1: Gergen) Today, there is a substantial body of literature developing this line of thinking, (2: Shotter) yet this school remains marginal in mainstream psychology. In real life, some analyze social theory as 'narrative' involving voices "over here," while "over there" others use 'hearing voices' as a diagnostic criterion for madness! (3: Hearing Voices Network) In indicating how to reconcile texts like these, I seek to map out a practical agenda for replacing the old paradigm in psychology with a new one informed by Gergen's idea.

The heart of such a program is a description of the kind of work that needs to be done on the 'other' of current psychology. I assert that the area of productive involvement with confusion/madness is a vital 'territory' that needs to be 'conquered'. The present paradigm of psychology achieved its position of central significance in conjunction with the acceptance 'in the field' of its provider protocols (especially, clinical ones). (4: psychoanalytic history) For social constructionism, the opportunity is to prove itself by providing better protocols for the underlying agenda of working with madness. (5: Kendall)

I have argued elsewhere that what needs to be worked on and upgraded is the empowerment approach to practical madness work. (6: A.P., Making sense) In this paper I will describe what kind of work program needs to be undertaken in order to upgrade the empowerment approach and render it fully adequate. Later I plan to address the conversation problematic for clients with the professional community, if competition is to be transcended and trust established, if involvement is to be rendered meaningful. For the history of partial challenges to the clinical approach to 'madness' (New Age solutions, and challenges to institutionalization) presages a practicum, based on a common agenda with the client/'survivor' activists, of healing and liberation. (7: J. of mind and behavior)

I present practical experience indicating that empowerment politics is problematized by an irrational experience usually referred to as 'political correctness'. Hypocritical and one-sided resolutions of disempowering situations stem from habituation to perplexity and have institutional causes and effects. (8: A.P., Web Page) This leads to an issue of sensitization, to the provision of a proper theoretical and practical defense for the ontological 'foxholes' of the empowerment partisans. Finally, we need to consider the impact of the challenge to society of those old habits being extinguished in tandem with ameliorating institutional bases for perplexity.

Mind control and irrationality

The irrationality of crowds, of people playing to the crowd, is widely identified as an obstacle to good process and to making good decisions. (9: LeBon) Thus, in Pinafore, Captain Corcoran is caught pandering to this irrationality, when he exclaims, "Damme, it's too bad!" (10: W.S. Gilbert) His swear word transgresses 'good breeding' and illustrates for us the boundaries of 'official' hypocrisy. Like his challenger the common seaman Ralph Rackstraw, the mental health clients lose their 'voice' when social power merges with the normative expression of group rationality.

In the clients movement, normative expressions of conventional rationality establish, in effect, boundaries for hypocrisy/irrationality. For example, I organized a seminal meeting of the California Network of Mental Health Clients (C.N.M.H.C) in San Mateo, CA, only to see a reform agenda of changing work relations undermined:


In March, 1996 the first Bay Area Regional Meeting of the C.N.M.H.C. was organized under the theme of "revisioning" and the slogan, "changing the way we organize ourselves." A carefully crafted agenda met with organized irrationality, and a reality framework developed where this agenda was battered down to a shell of itself. At the point of decision the architects of irrationality raised a storm of protest and rendered the integrity and rationality of the adherents of the agenda suspect. This event is a case study on the problematic interface of client activism with the default social norms that develop in that under-structured organizing environment. (11: A.P., Web Page)

"Getting on with business" and a 'healing ceremony' mystification served to reinforce institutionalized perplexity and put it firmly in charge. The direct impression was that the availability of the topics of change shriveled up and a moment pregnant with the makings of change lurched away.

To the extent that organizing techniques do not anticipate and manage anomalous hypocrisy, irrationality will prevail and client business will suffer. Such 'anomalous hypocrisy' is maintained by practicing the rituals and advocating the traditions which sustain the perplexity. The personal capacity to influence the hypocrisy in an originary 'madness' environment requires involuntary mind discipline that distances the activist from the heat of the moment. The logic of mind control, of devices inducing mind discipline, appears to be the text for controlling the threat of real change. (12: Hammond, Greenbaum speech)

Thus when the envelope of hypocrisy manifests, an uncanny experience of enforced ineffectuality alienates those entrapped in it from themselves. (13: Sass, 'apophany') The out-of-control subjective process that takes over is descriptively known variously by terms such as 'primary process' or 'limbic process'. (14: Freud; 15: Torrey; 16: Vico) The existential experience of being stuck on such institutionally supported confusion leads us fall out of contact with our own originary reactive behaviors. My hope and expectation is that with constructionist insight and support such ontological problems can be anticipated and/or rendered accessible in real time and thus become less of a dominant factor.

The information commodity

The popular model currently for 'process' is the information system, with its 'inputs', 'outputs', 'feedback', etc. (17: Haugeland) A rationalistic modernist logic of this sort sets categorical 'boundaries' for expectations, interactive dynamics, cognitive representations in general. (18: Wittgenstein) This rationally articulated system uses abstract terminology that belies 'voice', belies metaphor, belies discourse itself, to say there is only one 'right' way to be/do. (19: Derrida) This version of modernism, which channels social behavior into a simplistic logic of 'information processing', (20: McNeill) I use as prototype of what I term an institutionalized perplexity system.

When we take for an epistemology the 'consumption' of a 'knowledge commodity', we degrade our grasp on involvement with truth. Phronesis, (21: Shotter, CPEL) Aristotle's knowing by practical involvement, is passed up in favor of rigid formulations which constrict expression and entrap people in their logics. Mental health clients are exceptionally impacted by rigid logics inasmuch as they are trained to this practice by the diagnostic labeling and personal case managing they receive. And when they then accommodate themselves to a 'consumer' role, they identify themselves - and get socially defined - as low-functioning.

Within the perplexity system, the over-reliance on some cognitive constructs and under-reliance on others creates tension points in the social fabric. Thus interactions among clients when under pressure range from irrelevant social banalities to astonishing, subjective, and ungrounded mental collisions:


The classical text on unqualified egotistical behavior (22: Stirner) reflects and illustrates the formation of socially unaccountable attitudes. Experience in the clients movement shows conflicts are liable to reduce to dyadic psychological violence that is moreover embedded in the logic of the perplexity system. At the root of this problematic however is not some primal or limbic automatism, but an ontological confusion which reflects the current psychological paradigm. For a direction of remedy, I recommend that people look into the work of Donnel Stern on 'unformulated experience', (23: Stern) which addresses this lacuna in the clinical practicum.

We see thus that 'fighting words' like "damme" quoted from Pinafore above serve to express the other of the logic of the perplexity system. Reduced, labeled interactions replace genuine dialogue with 'politically correct' monologues that spin off 'off- color' tension-releasers for counterpoint. (24: Shotter, PC)

From information seen as 'commodity', we have looked through client communication breakdowns and come around to disinformation as the 'other' of that 'commodity'. To express, without undue frenzy, the underlying irrationalities which we have identified, we need, as Gadamer has explained, to articulate a humanistic discipline of interpretation. (25: Gadamer) In order to support this we have to develop a hermeneutics of creative expression by clients (26: Sass, Madness and modernism) and oversee the construction of a logic for its social acceptance. In other words, the problem of opening the 'clearing' for a viable ontology of 'process' demands the involvement of social constructionism.

Brainwash and attack

When our model of knowledge - such as the logic of 'information' - neglects or downplays the capacities of involvement, we become shrill persuaders and deficient in accountability. (27: Haan) Our involvement in and connection with the topics of 'common sense' gives us the capacity to inform and persuade people by way of the 'social poetics' (28: Shotter) using metaphors and other tropes. The very social connectivity of the act of language production, on the other hand, thrusts us, as speakers or writers, into an expectation of social accountability (29: Shotter) for our talk. 'Creative expression' meaning the use of language as a rhetorical production, to invent and persuade, must meet the claim of Being. (30: Grassi)

The rationalistic perplexity system induces 'explanations', in other words, stilted if structured metaphors, which lead to unclarity and confine Being within 'blind spots'. This 'fallenness' (31: Dreyfus, Being-in-the-world) is characterized by a kind of tension points, where confusing, overly condensed expression muddles clarity and is experienced as 'soul deadness'. (32: Gogol', Dead souls.) Moreover, forced rhetorical expression from this modality can cause the soul deadness to reflect itself in florid (but not lucid) metaphor where the tension points appear as blaming and come as attacks. (33: Gadamer) Logical argument in this mode tends to blunt and divert sense; when forced and focused with instrumental precision, it becomes a mode of induced irrationality, or brainwash.

The clients, being strongly habituated to this attack/brainwash modality, are especially vulnerable to the irrationality and confusion emanating from the perplexity system itself. Separating their ideation from the resonant effect of the 'dumb thinking', reinforced by perplexity is hard, and calls for articulated work with the 'other' of the impacted conceptual process. (34: Freud, The ego and the id; 35: Ratner) The costs of emergence from this kind of 'attack space' and eventually 'walking freely' determine our capacity to empower compromised clients. Getting past attack, managing the florid ringing metaphor - going beyond brainwash mode - will require not only substantial resources but also an adequate theoretical backing.

When a perplexity complex gets deconstructed in its particulars, we open a 'clearing' for an empowered self-healing work process. The monological, soul deadening qualities of rationalistic 'information processing' will lose their capacity to blur and overawe and the confusion of logic and rhetoric (36: Port Royal Logick) will recede. More and more we will find the wherewithal to support everyday conversations regarding madness, with people at risk from the pressures of brainwash. Rather than address the person as reification or 'diagnosis', we will move toward a humanistic advocacy built upon its traditional disciplines of rhetoric, philology, jurisprudence, and poetry.


RECAP. The reader needs to recognize that this article presents the problematic of psychiatric reform from the (generically unfamiliar) standpoint of the mental health client activist. The exotic ontology of this standpoint - from the perspective of the support person/theoretician - renders the argument less directed than would otherwise be the case. The possibility for the parties developing genuine dialogue depends upon cultivation of silence (37: Wittgenstein, Tractatus) in the context for their interaction. The 'mystery move', the apparent move ambiguating diminishment of provider perplexity as against articulation of client perplexity (38: Parker, E-mail message) in truth defines their proper political interface.

The client predicament