Saturday, July 10, 2010

Morphine and the bed of nails

In her essay “Facing Reality,” Marilynne Robinson (often quoted here) wrote about our society’s increasing tendency to medicalize emotional states. As I read Peter Gray’s post about how thirteen percent of American boys have been diagnosed with ADHD, I couldn’t help but think of these lines from Robinson’s essay:

To say that behavior is aberrant is much more powerfully coercive among us than to say an action is wrong. . . .

Antebellum doctors described an illness typical of enslaved people sold away from their families, which anyone can recognize as rage and grief. By medicalizing their condition, the culture was able to refuse the meaning of their suffering. I am afraid we are also forgetting that emotions signify, that they are much fuller of meaning than language, that they interpret the world to us and us to other people. Perhaps the reality we have made fills certain of us, and of our children, with rage and grief -- the tedium and meagerness of it, the meanness of it, the stain of fearfulness it leaves everywhere. It may be necessary to offer ourselves palliatives, but it is drastically wrong to offer or to accept a palliative as if it were a cure.

And earlier in the essay:

It is as if we took morphine to help us sleep on a bed of nails. Another generation would have looked for another solution.

..How can I comment?