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
Practical madness work
Unsatisfied with the scientific claims of psychology, social
scientists have posited a new paradigm widely known as 'social
Today, there is a substantial body of
literature developing this line of thinking,
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,
(4: psychoanalytic history)
For social constructionism, the opportunity is to
prove itself by providing better protocols for the
underlying agenda of working with madness.
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
(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
(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
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.
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
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
(23: Stern) which addresses this lacuna in the
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.
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
(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
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
(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
(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