The Church of Avoided Guilt

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The remnants of the national character ferment like a jar of mayonnaise in August, bubble, bubble, bubble. Let’s hear it for bacteria. It is good to see that at least something is working. Better a robust rot than a pallid decline, I say.

Symptoms of moral putrefaction seem normal to us because we have nothing but symptoms. Does a toad notice warts? Still, some stand out. A friend involved in municipal government in a medium-sized city in California tells me that 63% of the city’s employees take anti-depressants. Yeah. Official secret figure.

Two-thirds? My god. Either life is depressing or the United States is squirreling out big-time. Is the number a national average? Two of three Americans can’t get through the day without rejiggering their neurotransmitters? We are mostly chemical train wrecks?

It may in fact be a national average. Maybe we aren’t designed to spend half our lives in isolated bedroom cities and the other half in rooms full of sound-absorbent cubicles, like inmates in a cross-word puzzle. I dunno. But something ain’t right.

A few jack-leg observations. Over half of the single women over thirty-five that I knew in Washington took Zoloft, Prozac, Welbutrin, Paxil, Xanax, or lithium. My daughters, then in high school, told me of depressed girlfriends of seventeen gobbling psychoactive pellets, or in an out of drunk tanks and drug rehab.

This is nuts. It would be so nice to live in a comparatively normal place. Weimar Berlin, maybe.

Therapy. If I hear that word again, I’m going to kill something. I’d rather have plague, but it isn’t a choice. (There should be a check box on insurance forms. “You may elect either (a) Plague, or (b) Therapy.”) This witchcraft mind-mindery is out of control. It’s everywhere, like boredom, like air, a church for people running on empty, for the unhappy peering into the inner vacuum.

And it’s pretty much compulsory. Around Washington, when some poor kid was miserable because her parents, or more likely parent, weren’t bothering to raise her, the guidance counselor always urged…therapy. The therapist always suggested…drugs. It wasn’t easy to say no. Expulsion might follow. The girls ended up on nut-adjustors. The boys said the hell with it, dropped out, and smoked dope.

Now that’s a recipe for a successful economy.

I have sat in on therapy. It is something to see. For starters, the whole routine is a vaguely sadomasochistic power trip. The Therapist is the domme, the patient a humble supplicant who must bare her soul, confess her psychic sins, embarrass herself, and obey. (A few New Age males go in for this stuff. It is overwhelmingly a woman’s racket.)

Therapy reminds me of nothing so much as a castrated religious order. There is the same proselytizing, the same zeal. Therapists see only two classes of people, those who are in therapy and those who ought to be. (“Are you saved?”) They exhibit the smug assurance of those who have seen the light, and have Truth in a half-Nelson. The difference is that, whereas religions usually say that you are responsible for your bad behavior and you ought to stop it, therapy tells you that you are never responsible for anything. No. It was your childhood. Or some chemical imbalance. The Church of Avoided Guilt.

The cult wants to get everybody. Repeatedly therapists assert that ninety-five percent of people suffer from “codependency,” and must go into counseling. See? We are all in a state of sin. The humiliation of baring one’s inmost thoughts to a condescending estrogenated Hitleress is a mix of self-flagellation and the rite of confession. It is the religious impulse de-Godded.

You can’t hide. Where I live, in Mexico near Guadalajara, the Ojo del Lago is the gringo fishwrapper for bored Americans who shelter in gated communities because they don’t like Mexico. It specializes in low-IQ political correctness that seems to have been written by a high-school class in Creative Writing. Oh good.

In it I discover the following by Ilse Hoffman, the very voice of therapeuticity: “A large percentage of the human population has some kind of mental disorder: major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, obsessive compulsive disorder or panic disorders….” Yes. We are all crazy. We can’t make it without drugs, support groups, and drumming circles. It isn’t just Ilse. The women’s programs on the radio in Guad peddle the same recipes. See a counselor. Go early and often.

Ilse wants to propagate the faith — and expand the market. Never forget that salvation goes for $125 an hour. The church of pointless introspection shares the financial disinterestedness of a televangelist pitching for Aunt Nelly’s social security check.

Self-help books are a boom market. (“The Horror of Vague Dissatisfaction on Dull Afternoons, A Survivor’s Guide.”) Uncle Sucker passes out other people’s money in the form of grants. The courts, wanting to appear to do something without stuffing more people into jail space that doesn’t exist, sentence criminals to “counseling.” This mildly annoys the criminal, gets the judge off the hook, and — the crucial point — puts public money in the counselor’s pocket.

Compulsory therapy isn’t limited to junkies who just want to score in peace. Get a DWI ticket and, depending on the jurisdiction, you are likely to have to attend a dozen or two sessions of alcohol therapy at $35 a pop. These accomplish nothing, except presumably that you come out wanting a drink. The alleged drunks invariably think that the therapeutress is an idiot. However, it does put lots of money in therapeutic pockets.

And — the seminal discovery of therapy — insurance will cough up the green if the purported malady is medicalized and published in the DSM-4. Consequently everything is now a diagnosable disorder. Borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, can’t-get-a-date disorder, disorder, datorder, dotherorder. (I would like to suggest the addition of barely-got-a-personality disorder. Then therapists could treat each other.)

All of this ties subtly into an American strength, vindictiveness applied in the name of virtue. Examples abound. Read the laws against smoking and you will see that they make sense only as means of humiliating smokers. Therapy’s contribution to predatory goodness is the drugging of schoolboys who refuse to become passive psychic transvestites. To understate, the psychotrades are not branches of conservative rationalism. Feminism is getting even.

We buy into this stuff. Which is probably to say that we deserve it. There must be an awful lot of emptiness out there.

Fred Reed [send him mail] is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.

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