Warning: This blog contains around 1250 words. It could very well be an article in a journal.
In the previous part, I discussed that mental health is constructed by both individuals and society.
Then, what makes a certain state of mental health undesirable? What power is there in claiming a weakened state? Finally, what makes a “normal life”?
In order to understand these questions, it would be important to state the concept of “future”. It is, according to Wikipedia , what will happen in the time after the present, an inevitable event. I will add onto that definition, that future is also a nebulous concept that has not yet been determined. This has political power, in that one can create a variety of potential realities that could come into being as a result of [event].
For example, when someone states: “think of the children”, they do not ask to actually think about the children. They ask, imagine a potential reality in which children are exposed to, and imagine a potential future for those children. As a sub-example, consider the controversies surrounding violent video games: “Imagine a world in which children can easily be exposed to glorified violence. Now imagine the futures of those children, having been negatively influenced by these past experiences.”
Of course, since there is no meaning in that argument, since the future is inherently a chaotic being that no one has control over, there needs to be a meaning attached to it, either implicitly or explicitly. I find that it is easy to attach the also vague definition of progress to future.
Getting back to the sub-example, “Now imagine the future of the world in which , and ruminate on the negative progress that will be made, namely that there is a future in which civil obedience will be usurped by violence culture.” That is what “think of the children” means. Imagining a potential reality in which people are allowed to do [thing].
Of course, it is also important to imagine “progress.” According to Wikipedia , progress is “the study of how specific societies improved over time in terms of science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, longevity, quality of life, freedom from pollution and so on.” But what does “improved” mean? What are societies improving from? I will postulate that measuring tool for “progress” is from a baseline of “natural state, much like Neanderthals.” As noted by Baynton’s discourse on abnormality as linked to an animalistic past, Stryker’s discussion of trans fear as linked to unnaturalness, and Immergut’s thoughts on body hair as metaphor for untamed nature, the progress of humanity can be measured by its distance from nature. And just as alterity can define a group through what it is not, it can define a desired realty through what is unwanted.
Now that the concept of future has been determined, now can we begin tackling the questions that I have posed:
First off, what makes a certain state of mental health undesirable? I suppose that it is how removed it is from a “normal life”, heteronormative time, if you will. Dr. Drabinski has discussed heteronormative time as sort of pipeline where individuals go from school to college to work and marriage and reproduce so those children can follow the same pipeline. People who can accurately follow the pipeline are rewarded, and those who do not are disadvantaged. This normally applies to queer people, as they are unable to follow the pipeline correctly. As a counterexample to this thought, I will pose the existences of “Welfare queens” and “illegal immigrants”, who do follow the pipeline, but are disadvantaged anyways. I hypothesize that it is due to the fact that they have reproductive power that they are disadvantaged; that because they can have children, and thus can create a potential reality in which the “lifestyles” can continue. And that would lead to negative progress as money is used to promote animalistic traits. Other existences that are tolerated are those “rag to riches stories”, in which people that did not really follow the pipeline are lauded.
Thus, heteronormative time is also linked with “progress”. Heteronormative time is simply an easy way to make “progress”, as that creates a potential future in which current values of the present are reinforced. Those people who can make examples of progress are also lauded.
Thus, what makes a mental state undesirable is the idea in which either an individual or the future an individual make are constantly progressing negatively- that their futures can never be made “positively progressing”. This can be seen in the case study of Ashley X. A potential reality is one in which a 6-year old inhabits an adult body, but because that body could challenge “progress”, as well as the fact that the ability for that body to survive would make negative progress (her parents would not be able to care for her as well), that future was discarded. Now, her mental and physical state are permanently locked in stasis, which is a desirable future to some people. Her parents no longer have to worry about a potential mental state of a 6-year old mind in an adult body, while it would be easy to imagine that because a state in which there is no future for this child in undesirable.
Now, what power is there in claiming a weakened state? As noted in the case study of McCullough and Duchesneau, they wanted their child to experience a world different from the current, normal world, and thus wanted deafness in their child. From this, we can see that deafness was not a doomed future in the eyes of the couple. The couple was also deaf, and thus, experienced a reality in which deaf people could have a future. Similar cultures can exist in mentally ill communities. Another important aspect to consider is that mentally ill have social justification for some actions. In exchange for being considered abnormal, society (or at least the medical industry) allows for some behaviors that can be done that those mentally normal cannot do. This can be likened to an invisible social contract. Thus, a mentally ill person does experience some privileges over a mentally normal person (but please remember that a mentally ill person is still more disadvantaged than those not ill, and these are there to help).
Finally, what makes a “normal life”?
That question may never have an answer. But I will suppose that a healthy life is one that makes positive progress in both its future and a societally held concept of future. A normal life can be thought of a life that is average, that its existence does not challenge the concept of “future”. This can be applied to above-normal lives and sub-normal made into normal, for they broaden who can get a positive future, but does not challenge what it means to live a life (they follow heteronormative, progress positive time). In that case, a “normal life” is simply one that reinforces the norm.
In the end, mental illness is only abnormal if it cannot be resolved, and the future people have is not one that will show that adversity can be overcome. It is a constant boogeyman of a nature that cannot be distanced from, a past that always tears at the hopes of the present.
I want you not to walk away from these discussions with the thoughts that mental illness is something to be destroyed, however. In these lives exist a potential for an alternative future, in that beyond the in the constant struggle for a “normal” life, we can see new ways of living fold into being.
Dr. Drabinski, Lecture notes 11/21/16.
Alison Kafer, Queer Feminist Crip, Chapter 2&3
Susan Stryker, My Words to Victor Frankestein.
Douglas C. Baynton, Disability and Justification of Inequality in American History.
Matthew Immergut, Manscaping: The Tangle of Culture, Nature, and Male Body Hair.”