Jeffrey Schaler on Thomas Szasz

I talk with Jeffrey Schaler about his new book, Thomas Szasz: The Man and His Ideas. Thomas Szasz was an iconoclastic psychiatrist who did not believe in the concept of mental illness. He saw emotional distress as, “problems of living”. We talk about Szasz and what he meant when he wrote that he did not believe in “mental illness”.

00:00:00 Introduction
00:05:22 Responsibility vs Freedom
00:12:16 Szasz’s definition of mental illness
00:18:28 Non-coercive psychiatry
00:29:09 Freedom vs Unfreedom
00:38:17 Dealing with emotional difficulties
00:41:34 Favorite memory of Szasz

Automated Transcript

Today, I’m talking with Jeffrey Schaler. Jeffrey was a professor of psychology for over 14 years. He has written numerous articles and books on mental illness and drug policy. He was a friend of Thomas Sauce who is a topic of our conversation today.
Jeffrey is an expert on Sauce’s ideas about mental illness, the therapeutic state, drug policy, and the medicalization of human suffering. Our conversation today focuses on Jeffrey’s latest book that he has edited. It’s entitled Thomas Saws, The Man and His Ideas. Jeffrey, thanks for being on the conversation with me day. That’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me, Aaron. Yeah, I’m really excited to talk with you.
I’ve been reading Thomas Saws over the past year and his ideas are pretty mind blowing, very fascinating and I read the books that you’ve and articles that you’ve written about him and with Doctor Saws but to start off, why is Saws so important to you and why did you publish this latest book about Thomas Sauce? Well, in many ways, Thomas Oss is a man at least 100 years ahead of his time.
He turned psychiatry on its head in 1961 when he published a book called The Myth of Mental Illness. And in some ways his ideas are very much common sense. But on the other hand they really shocked the world of psychiatrist. And many people who believed what psychiatrist were saying. The implicate of his redefining of psychiatrist and mental illness are profound and they’re profound in at least two areas.
One in terms of freedom or liberty and two in terms of behavioral responsibility. Now what I mean by that is that for a long time people believe that certain persons deemed or diagnosed as mentally ill should have their freedom or liberty curtailed or deprived because they are Mentally ill. Now this this goes against some of our fundamental concepts and constitutional laws regarding liberty.
For example we believe in due process of law. What that means is we cannot or the state cannot take away somebody’s freedom unless they’ve been accused, indicted, convicted of a crime. And found guilty by a jury of his peers. With psychiatrist it has become an extension of law and some of these basic rules of law have become rules of man. In other words people have the authority via the state and psychiatry to take away a person’s liberty because psychiatrist believe that the person constitutes a threat to himself or others.
Now The fact of the matter is we cannot tell with an accuracy beyond that expected by chance whether a person is likely to hurt himself or others just by guessing about his behavior. We just simply can’t do it. The the second thing is and this is has more and more relevance today is that when person is is is designated or diagnosed as mentally ill, there’s an assumption there that he or she is no longer responsible for his or her behavior and on that basis they are deprived of liberty but this constitutes much of what is called the insanity defense where a person commits a crime is clearly guilty but is declared not responsible due to an alleged mental illness The flip side of that again has to do with liberty and what we’ve got is in practice something called involuntary commitment where people are designated as a threat to themselves or others and deprived of their liberty and sentenced to a mental institution.
In this sense, people who are clearly innocent of a crime. They have not committed a crime are declared if they’re declared innocent then they have a form of the insanity defense.
The the quarrelary there is that a person who has clearly committed a crime is innocent allegedly and a person who has not committed a crime is sentenced to a mental institution because people believe he will commit a crime. So these are the two legs upon which mental illness walks in the world of liberty and responsibility. We take away responsibility where it belongs and we take away freedom where it does not belong.
Mm hmm.
And those are those are two big themes that I’ve come across when reading across the book that you put together and edited about Thomas Saws and also reading Thomas Saws. I’ve read several of his books now. He seems extremely concerned with freedom and liberty and I guess as I first jumped into reading Sauce is is that how you say his last name Sauce? Yeah.
Okay. Sauce. Okay. Yes, that’s correct. Now, he he seemed to be to to my perspective to be overly concerned with freedom and liberty because from my perspective it seems that a lot of people are very willing to get up give up their responsibility in order to be labeled as mentally ill. A lot of people would for example like to go to the doctor and get labeled as having depression and receive some drugs that’s that will potentially help them make them feel better.
And I I see I see a corridor between two dystopian books which were George Arwell’s 1984, where you had the course of state and then the other one where you had people taking Somo what was that book A Brave New World yeah so in one book you have a course of state in the other book you have a state that’s really pacifying people through drugs and using more of a a carrot and exactly so to my mind friends and family I see I’ve had people who are willingly take psychiatric drugs and willingly accept diagnosises that might not have any basis in reality what was his response to those to what I see is the bigger issue is a lot of people voluntarily seem to accept these labels.
What would he say to that? Well, he would say that if a person says that he’s not guilty because of a mental illness when he had clearly committed a crime he would say it doesn’t matter what you think or say because if we have evidence that you committed a crime then you should be found guilty so just because you believe a mental illness made you do it say for example son of Sam Alan Berkowitz who said that a dog told him to kill these people unfortunately a jury bought that idea thinking that that was a symptom of mental illness when in fact they had clear evidence that he had committed these crimes and murders and he should be punished or society should be protected from a person like that regardless of what he believes is true about why he committed the behaviors.
Many people want to get out of responsibility in that sense. I couldn’t help myself. They they meant illness made me do it. He he was very much opposed to this. But the other thing is is that many people do not want to be forced into a mental hospital because in some ways this is much worse than being found guilty of a crime. When a person is found guilty of a crime he’s sentenced to a finite amount of time away from society and is often released based on good behavior.
You have a very clear sentence for how long he’s going to be deprived of liberty because of his behavior. When you are diagnosed as mentally ill and a person is put into a mental hospital based on that mental illness, you have there’s no end to how long the person could be kept into a mental institution. Um the man who shot Ronald Reagan. Um gosh, I can’t remember his name right now. Um I’m sure you remember it.
Um well, He’s been gosh I can’t remember. But anyway he’s been in Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital here in Washington DC for a long long time. Much longer than if he had been sentenced by a jury. And every time he’s up for a hearing for probation he it the the psychiatrist say no no he’s still mentally ill. Um we’ve gotta keep him away from society. But the criteria for deciding that he is allegedly dangerous are are very dubious.
There’s no there’s no clear convincing evidence that he is still dangerous and so he could be kept in in a mental hospital for the rest of his life. Plus, he’s ordered to take medicines or drugs to control his behavior which even though it sounds like something much better than being in in a prison. Many people do not like being in a mental hospital even if it means they’re off the crime because their punishment is far worse and they don’t like the drugs that are injected into him.
They have very bad side effects. For example, many of the major tranquilizing drugs like the Zyprexia and what’s the other one? Mellorill and thoroughsine etcetera. They create a Parkinson’s like condition called tardive dyskinesia among other problems and these things can often produce long lasting if not irreversible brain problems. So even though it sounds like they’ve got an easier life on the insanity defense that’s not necessarily true.
And some people may prefer to go to jail for a finite time and then get off on good behavior whatever. Plus when you’re in jail they’re not fooling with your mind. When you’re in a mental hospital the authorities are fooling with your mind. And there’s a big difference there in terms of what their experience is in relation to the authorities. Uh other problems that occur are when people can say that they get off of doing work and try to qualify for Social Security Disability based on a mental illness.
They say, I can’t go to work because I’m too depressed and so then, once they qualify for this diagnostic criteria, then, they receive money for the for the state and don’t have to work and What we have to look at is whether this person can’t work or won’t work. Many people like to get out of working so that they can get money when in fact they are very capable of doing all kinds of work but simply don’t want to do that.
So there are a lot of consequences that are not very pleasant and Zos would point this out in terms of what is the experience of being in a mental hospital and what about people who just don’t want to do the work that everybody else has to do in order to to be what we call an economic producer.
Right. Okay so. That’s not too much. No I think I think before we get into a little bit deeper into some of these questions we should probably define what exactly Saa’s meant by when he wrote that there is no such thing as mental illness. Can you give us a brief description or the ideas behind what he actually meant by that? Because we look around and most of us know family or friends or someone in our life who’s a little bit odd, little bit strange, maybe they’re not mentally ill but What did he mean by mental illness? Well, he believed in illness or disease as defined by pathologists and that means that there is a lesion or a wound, a problem with a cell and that is the true meaning of disease.
You you can examine tissue and you can see that there’s a problem with the cell and it fits a picture what’s called nosological criteria so that it can belong in a certain pathological cat category. You look up in a textbook of diseases and you see that certain signs of certain diseases fit under different categories. When you look up mental illness, there is no mental illness listed in a standard textbook of pathology.
It just is not there and so if you look up schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders, or personality disorders, these are not listed in a standard textbook on pathology. Now, why is that? Because a standard textbook on pathology only deals with biological changes. It does not deal with the mind and the mind cannot be sick, the way the body can be sick. For example, when you when somebody dies, there’s often an autopsy is performed and people look to see what kinds of diseases or problems were in the tissue that I that cause their death or illness.
You cannot find schizophrenia or depression or anxiety in an autopsy in a cadaver. It’s just not there because those are symptoms or subjective complaints based on a person’s behavior. So, here again, we look at the difference between behavior and disease, a behavior means mode of conduct or deportment. How does a person behave? Now, they’re socially acceptable behaviors and they’re socially unacceptable behaviors.
And these cannot be considered diseases. They can only be considered diseases in what Zass said was a metaphorical sense. In other words you tell a sick joke. Or you have spring fever. Well these are metaphors. They’re not real diseases. They they mean something but they usually mean something that is a subjective and not anything like cancer or heart disease. Now, but despite those differences, many people assert that depression is identical to cancer and this is what addressed and really blew up psychiatrist on the basis of this difference and people were very upset with him because he was right and he still is right.
A behavior cannot be a disease. Another thing that is unique about behaviors is that there’s no such thing as an involuntary behavior. For example, when somebody says, well, epilepsy is an involuntary behavior. Yes, in that sense, it is a seizure, a neurological change that has no will to it. There’s no volitional component. Uh but when you rob a bank or you rape somebody or or whatever, those are all behaviors that have to do with the way you conduct yourself.
They’re not diseases so if you have a real disease, it may cause you to have a seizure or become unconscious or whatever but nobody robs a bank or rape somebody because his brain made him do it. Although people allege that this is the case. It it just simply is not true and No matter how many times people assert that it’s true, we know for a fact that that’s not the case.
If a behavior is volitional, then a person is held responsible for his behavior. That’s another big difference. Um if if you’re driving down, if you were driving down the road and you had a heart attack or a seizure, you lost control of your car, yes, of course and you killed somebody, yes, you would not be responsible for that.
However, if you were diagnosed with epilepsy and told that in order to drive, you must take your medicine and you did not take your medicine sometime later then you would be held to even a higher standard of responsibility because that was the criteria upon which you were told you had to drive under you see the difference there. Yeah. Another way of looking at it is like smoking smoking cigarettes is a behavior but cancer is a disease. Smoking is not cancer although it may lead to cancer but the the difference is very important.
If you drink in excess, you could create a disease called cirrhosis of the liver. But drinking in excess is not a disease. That’s a behavior. So what Zos also meant and I’ll just finish this one part up is that what we call mental illnesses really are socially unacceptable behaviors or disturbing behaviors. For example he would say a person is not disturbed. He is disturbing. We are bothered by his behavior. Um but the behavior and the disease are something entirely different from one another.
And I think it’s important to remember that Sas never said that or never denied that people suffer. He’s he realized and in fact was a psychotherapist of sorts that help people through their emotional difficulties but he saw those difficulties as what he called problems of living. Things that we need to overcome to get through and live a decent life and but my question to you would be and to SARS would be what’s wrong with you a metaphor of illness for problems of living.
Suppose a person has depression and they are able to call it an illness and get help through a psychotherapist by using their insurance dollars. Isn’t that a benefit? Isn’t that a positive direction? What would he what would your response be to that? It his response in mind which is the same is that he believed in. We both believe in psychiatrist between consenting adults. Um a person should of course be able to go to see an analyst or a therapist and benefit from that.
It can be very helpful. Uh these are very important conversations that can occur. That the difference is should we force somebody into that kind of conversation. And he said no. It would be like forcing someone into a confession in church. If a person does not want to have that then he should be free to make the decision to refuse treatment just like when you have if you have cancer or if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or whatever it is you always have a choice to refuse treatment now it would be foolish to refuse the treatment but some people may say I don’t want to go through chemotherapy for whatever reason and and they are free to do that.
That’s why if you have surgery or some other treatment you have to give your consent to do that.
Unfortunately in psychiatrist and related feels like clinical psychology you no longer have that freedom of choice if the doctor again believes that you are a danger to yourself or others then you cannot refuse that treatment that’s one of the big differences but in terms of whether you should go to Freudian Psychoanalysis or take drugs to change your behavior he would say by all means you should be free to do that he did not think that it was a good idea and neither do I often but he said that certainly should be a that a person has.
So, there is no problem there. The real problem is coercion. Can you take somebody off the street and force him into treatment, give him an injection of a very powerful drug, have him get electroshot therapy or whatever, talk therapy when he doesn’t want that and Zos would say, absolutely not. Right and take the example of say a person suffering from depression. If they were to go in to see a therapist and say, tell their you know I’ve been depressed and I’ve been having thoughts of suicide.
That therapist it potentially could be held liable if they don’t report them and perhaps lock them up for three days in a mental hospital. Isn’t that right? That’s exactly right Aaron. And Zos objected to that and so did I. Uh a person should have the freedom as as upsetting as it may be to commit suicide. Um but unfortunately you don’t have the right to commit suicide. You can be committed to a mental institution if a if a therapist believes that you seriously want to kill yourself.
Or if if the therapist does not report you then the therapist could be sued by the family and that has happened to many therapists. So there there More inclined to say well I’m afraid you’re going to kill yourself so we better have you go in for observation for 3 days and and it used to be much longer but and if if doctors in the hospital believe that you are no longer a threat to yourself or others then you could be released but if they still think that you’re a threat to yourself they may keep you for a much longer time.
Right. Interestingly the amount of time that they believe the person should be kept involuntary has a lot to do with how long his insurance will cover the treatment for Okay. Doesn’t have necessarily much to do with how how disturbing the person is.
So, you mentioned that you’re a therapist and you help people with these what what Sauce called Problems of Living and he was a therapist. How how were you able to practice non-course of treatment if someone were to consider or at least express thoughts of killing themselves. Is that even a possibility this day and age to be a therapist and and work with depressed people? Sure, I I never want to take pride in this because you never know what’s going to happen next but I believe that I have been very effective in talking people out of committing suicide.
And if they constantly threaten this then I usually will say I’m I’m unwilling to work with you as long as you keep holding that as a threat. It’s as if they’re holding themselves hostage. Um I say that you know if you want to kill yourself then that’s a choice that you that you have but I don’t want to work with you under that It’s as if well when some people say what if somebody is is brought to you by family who is chewing off his fingers what would you do with that person or or pulling out his eyes I say I don’t work with people who are brought to me I only work with adults who choose to talk to me and that’s a big difference we can’t you know we can’t stop somebody who is determined to kill himself and I it certainly is a upsetting.
I I’m not going to say that it’s not upsetting and I’ve known people who have killed themselves but you can’t handcuff yourself to a person to protect him from himself for days or years on end. Um everybody has that choice. Um so again, I reject the involuntary practice and I just think that a person has to be let alone. Some people will say well what if a child is threatening to do that? And I believe that children are different.
Um you know that they are at a different stage of development and even though it sounds arbitrary where we draw the line between childhood and adulthood is somewhere around 18 and 21 and yes there are certainly many people who are much more mature at at younger ages say at 17 or 18 the people who are 3135 and they’re people who are clearly chronologically adults but they’re very immature but we have to stick with some criteria a line that we draw and I think that if we are if if we think that a person is old enough or competent enough to join the military and kill other persons in the army or or armed forces then we should treating them as adults and we can’t have a double standard there where they’re not old enough to be responsible for themselves but they’re old enough to kill other people.
These are the kinds of inconsistencies that I think drive a lot of young persons to being very angry because they’re it’s hypocrisy. Uh you know, they can vote. They can serve in the armed forces but they’re not old enough to make a decision about drinking. I mean, that just doesn’t sense to many people and I think for good reason so with children yes we should be able to coerce them although I think it’s something that we should minimize or you know be very careful about and also with people who are very old demented they have lost the ability to differentiate between right and wrong they have some form of Alzheimer’s disease or something similar to that we do we treat them differently.
Um and for example my father died about 19 years ago of Parkinson’s disease and dementia associated with Parkinson’s which is not always the case at Parkinson’s but it was for him and it was very upsetting obviously to be with him. I loved him a great deal said in my brothers and it just seems so humiliating to see him holding on to really a dull.
Um he was a very distinguished person worked for the State Department but we talked about whether we should give him the the the freedom to commit suicide say by drinking you know, quantity of morphine or something similar barbituits. Uh I remember talking to Thomas Oz about that and he said, absolutely not. You cannot do that because he’s no longer competent. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.
If he was if it was years before and he knew that he was going to get to the state and he wanted to end his life that’s a different story and I was very glad that he told me that because while I did not I was not inclined to do that to give him the means to kill himself it certainly crosses most people’s minds you know because you see them as really they’re very it’s very distressing but once they’ve crossed the line into incompetence or mental incompetence then you have to treat them differently.
Right, right. Well, yeah. Uh that would be a tough tough spot and Saz has written about that that’s something for all of us to contemplate, you know, that prior to the point of before we cross that line, hopefully.
Exactly. Um so, Saaz saw that people really wanted he’s he thought that most people wanted freedom but he also saw that people also are willing to accept concepts of unfreedom such as mental illness levels of self-chosen coercions such as religious constraints. Why do you think it is that people on the one hand do want freedom but on the other hand they want these labels such as mental illness or anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, whatever or choose certain constraints on their own freedom.
What does is there any reason behind that? Well, I think it’s because they don’t want to be responsible for many different reasons. They they give up on life. They want somebody else to be in charge of their life and they are willing to abdicate their freedom. Um so that they can get money so they don’t have to work so that they can get certain kinds of drugs that they think are okay.
Um they could get divorced. They don’t I mean there are all kinds of benefits or what are called secondary aims where even though it doesn’t seem very pleasant to us there are certain benefits from being labeled as having these diseases. Although I think that many people in the long run find that to be very stigmatizing. Mm hmm. Um And while there are many families of the quote mentally ill who are adamant in asserting that having a mental illness is not something a person should be ashamed of.
It is still stigmatizing for many many people. I mean once you tell somebody that you are schizophrenic, people are very standoffish and they’re wary of you because they accurately or inaccurately think that you might hurt them or somebody else they don’t want to do to take care of their children or whatever is is going on and so the benefits are really not as much as a person might think.
Um the drugs are not very pleasant. Uh they’re not like I mean I’ve often said to my students we don’t even need to have prescriptions for neurleptic drugs because nobody would take them and that’s one of the big problems when they prescribe these drugs to people labeled as mentally ill is that they Don’t comply and they don’t want to take the drugs. Now, why is that? Because it’s an unpleasant experience.
It’s a very unpleasant experience to be on some of the very strong medications. I mean, this this isn’t like pot or cocaine or anything like that which have a lot of pleasurable aspects. Uh these drugs have one of the things that they do is they blunt affect. You can’t just single out one emotion that is troubling to you without blunting others. Um many of the drugs remove motivation.
Um for example, in my book Addiction is a choice. I talked about what may happen. Let’s say a woman, I I present a scenario where she needs to either get divorced or go back to school or get a different get a job and she sits at home in the dark cigarettes or whatever or drinking alcohol every day and she doesn’t even recognize that she’s terribly terribly depressed.
She just sits. Now she has a husband who makes plenty of money and she she goes to her doctor for a regular gynecological checkup and the doctor says, you know, you look very very depressed and the doctor starts asking her some questions and the woman may start crying and it becomes clear to her that she is very depressed and the doctor says, why don’t we try some Prozac or Zoloft whatever whichever drug and let’s see how you feel.
Well, so she gives her prescription for that and and she ask her to come back a month later and see how she’s feeling. She comes back and the woman says, I feel much much better. Thank you and the doctor says, good. That’s great. Now, does she go and get a new job? Does she go back to school? Does she leave her husband? Does she do things that caused her depression in the first place? No, because the motivation has been removed and so that’s what concerns me a great deal about many of these drugs.
Many psychiatrist and others who are in favor of them say, well, we’ll remove the block to doing what she needs to do. In other words, you’ve the struggle be like a foot up for her to do what she needs to do. Only it doesn’t happen. The person is content to be where she is and that motivation to make changes is simply gone and that concerns me a great deal.
Uh if you look back on your life and I think most people would agree. Every time you’ve made a major change in your life, it has been based on some experience of discomfort. If you’re very very unhappy in your marriage, you would go to see a therapist or work on your marriage or do something and it may lead to divorce, whatever but making those changes are based on some experience of discomfort, going back to school.
School is obviously hard work for a lot of people but you know that you need to do things like that in order to make your life better. Now, what happens if you remove that experience of discomfort and the motivation to do something about it? Again, feel good in a bad situation. That is very concerning to me. I, a young man, actually he’s not so young, just saw a psychiatrist, he wanted to see the psychiatrist and he had been working with me in psychotherapy psychoanalysis and I never, I never block anybody or say I won’t work with them.
If they go to see a psychiatrist and put on medications, although he was on, he was put on a very strong one called Remron and he felt better but I pointed out you aren’t doing anything in your life anymore. You’re just sitting and watching television. He’s in retirement age but I said you wanted to create a a website. You wanted to write more songs.
He’s a musician but all of that drive has been removed and he didn’t even recognize that and now that he sees what’s happened. Those motivations, those feelings have all been blunted by a very strong drug and he said he was equally concerned about that too. So, there are consequences to these drugs and I personally believe that psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, I don’t mean fraud in psychoanalysis but working on yourself through conversations like that is very hard.
Working through defenses, working through things that you don’t want to admit about yourself changing your behavior is very very difficult and certainly taking a drug to make it all go away is attractive many people but it’s not the same thing as looking at yourself and making the changes that you know are necessary to change your experience of life so that’s one of my big concerns about the drugs and I think more and more people need to take a look at that because we are a drug culture Aaron you I’m sure you know that I mean look how many people either take an over the counter drug an illegal drug or a prescription drug I mean that’s everybody.
Right. Is on one or more of those different drugs. Um I mean drugs are us. And obviously sometimes they’re very necessary of course. But it’s almost like we can’t live without drugs. And that concerns me. Yeah. They’re socially acceptable drugs. But then they’re drugs that people say are bad drugs. Like the ones like marijuana and and cocaine whatever but they mean a be as bad as a lot of people may think.
If you read my book, addiction is a choice. I take a look at all that. How addiction is not a disease either. The choice to using drugs is a free one that people make and even when you’ve been on the drugs for a long time, there’s only one way you can get off the drugs and that’s by choosing to get off but you can’t choose to get off of cancer.
Um you know, there are big differences again between the behavior and the disease.
Yeah, I was recently reading a book by Thomas Saws called Ceremonial Chemistry and in that, he had a quote that says that this idea that all life’s problems or emotional difficulties are actually illnesses is it’s it’s a myth and it’s not helpful because it makes you think that if it weren’t for these so-called illnesses that life would just be harmonious and we wouldn’t ever have any problems but I think Saz saw that that life was more of a task and that we need to overcome obstacles in our life to make our life better.
Exactly. Um he’s got a lot of aphrosms and good quotes but one of the ones is you know, life is not a problem to be solved. It’s it’s an experience to live to to be creative and that’s what we must do not just consider life as one problem after another and yes, we’ve become what he called a pharmacracy, a a government that is basically run on drugs and he also referred to this as a theocracy, not a theocracy, I’m sorry, a therapeutic state which is where His medicine has been joined with government the way religion and government once created the theocratic state.
He said that the priests have now been replaced by doctors. So medicine has become an integral part of our lives and there’s good stuff to that but there’s also bad stuff where doctors may have too much authority. Right. For example, he was very opposed to the medicalization of marijuana even though he was one of the most outspoken persons in favor of the repeal of drug prohibition and I shared that concern with him.
That’s how I gravitated towards him years and years ago because I came to the same conclusions and I used his work in my college classes at Hopkins and at American University and my students were so excited about it that they asked if we could invite him down. He came down from New and gave a a speech and and at that from that moment on Thomas Oz and I became very very close friends and the students absolutely loved it and one of the things the students often said to me was how come we were never taught anything about Zos before and I think the answer to that is many people are afraid of Zos because he focuses so much on autonomy and autonomy is really the now to authoritarianism.
Teaching people to be independent and not need authority is the is is the type of message that he has always been giving and the people who enjoy authority over others from college professors to doctors whatever are threatened by this. Um so that book that you mentioned ceremonial chemistry is an excellent book all about the theocratic state and the therapeutic state how one became the other.
Yeah You mentioned that you eventually after inviting Saws down to give a lecture you guys became friends. What was one of the favorite things that you remember about Thomas Saws? Oh that’s a good good one. Um Well, he asked me to be on television debates with him and we had a wonderful time debating the opposition and he he was extremely supportive of me. I remember I I used to write a lot of letters to the editor and and things in the media and people would get very upset and he’s I said to him one time, maybe I shouldn’t be writing as many things as I am.
Maybe I should keep my mouth shut about more things and he was very he was very certain. He said, that’s the last thing you should do. He was he was very encouraging of me to challenge authority and I admired that a great deal because usually the message is don’t upset authority and his message was the one thing that bothers authority more than anything else is to laugh at them and yes, he was very influenced by his experience in Hungary just before World War two and I was influenced by that because my father from Germany when he was a young boy and the Nazis were coming up and taking power and the threat of that kind of nationalism and authoritarianism was something that my father lived under a cloud of fear about and I don’t think that this was the only reason that Thomas Oss wrote and did what he did but it certainly influenced him and through my relationship with my own father I felt the same way and so he and I seem to on the same page in that respect and I appreciated that very much.
I I naturally came to the the point of view that behavior could not be a disease and I was a chairman of the Montgomery County Maryland Drug Abuse Advisory Council and I served on that committee based on an appointment by the county executive from 1982 to 1988 and I did not know what a controversy what the controversy existed in terms of whether we called behaviors diseases and during one of our meetings I said but but drug addiction is not a disease you’re just saying that to get insurance reimbursement or you know to try to get certain purposes solved through different policies based on this disease model but it’s not a disease other than it’s a metaphorical disease.
Well I was so denounced. Uh I was shocked by how denounced I was and I used to testify in Annapolis before the state government bodies. And again I was announced and I was amazed by this and and I used to tell my wife boy if there’s one way to keep me from not shutting up it’s to try to keep me quiet and so I did a lot of writing and speaking and I wrote to Thomas back in 1987 or so and I said look this article of mine was just published in the Washington Post about how therapist can be in fact dangerous to some people could you give me your honest opinion of what you think and he wrote and he said I completely agree with you.
I mean look we can’t please all the people all the time especially in this business. Keep going. Keep going. And soon after that he invited me to be on television with him and we did conferences together and we just had a terrific friendship. I used to say he was a mentor but he said I’m not your mentor. We’re friends. And the thing about Thomas Oss is that when you’re a friend with Thomas Oss you learn a lot from him.
He never stops. He has a tremendous sense or had a tremendous sense of humor.
And he also came to my daughter’s wedding and really some people said I became one of his philosophical sons and he certainly was welcome in our family and we just had a friendship that just lasted and lasted until his death several years ago but he was a wonderful man he was tough he was a very tough guy and he certainly when he thought I was wrong about something he did not hesitate to tell me that he thought I was wrong which I appreciated you know I felt very fortunate in that regard.
So, there were many things that I really gained through our relationship and that’s why I wrote this book. I kind of became his assistant or like a secretary although I don’t like to use that term as much but every time people try to get in touch with Tom Zoss, they always contacted me and I created the website, the the Zos. com website and opened up through the internet, his ideas to people all over the world and it was really a big deal.
As you know, that was when the internet really started to take off and it served him very well and even though I need to update that website now, Um we get tons of hits on it all the time and I have offered it as a public service so that people can learn more and more about his ideas.
Fantastic and it’s been fantastic talking with you today, Jeffrey. I really appreciate you coming on the call and the conversation with me to talk about your latest book and about your memories of Thomas Szasz. Thanks so much for being the show. Well, it’s very kind of you to invite me, Aaron. I look forward to being on again with you. So, thank you so much.

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