Governmental intrusion into health care, and such issues, carries any mental health care debate beyond the exclusive domain of partisan politics. There is no health care field in which that intrusion is more flagrant than in mental health services where “treatment“ can be a matter of “law“. While I say this, most of the activists and advocates I have met are on the left liberal end of the political spectrum. They have much to gain and little to lose in systems change, and this systems change is not achieved by supporting the status quo. The left wing, on the other hand, has never been particularly accommodating towards this as yet under-acknowledged class of people.
People in the psychiatric survivor struggle for human rights often feel they take up a place almost dead last regarding their recognition as an oppressed minority. Leaders in these other populists movements are slow to recognize the legitimacy and importance of their fight. The African American struggle, the womens’ liberation struggle, the gay lesbian transgender queer pride struggle, and the disability rights struggle are more widely recognized, and have come to be seen as priority issues. The fact that the lines become blurred when you account for the large % of blacks, women, gays, and handicapped peoples shuffled off into the mental health system is all too easy to discount and ignore.
What I think is going on here is something similar to what is found in an article in Scientific American, The “Last Place Aversion” Paradox, concerning certain research, and offering a nod to the Occupy movement. This article points out that support for relative redistribution of wealth plummeted during a recession just when you’d expect it to be climaxing.
Support for redistribution, surprisingly enough, has plummeted during the recession. For years, the General Social Survey has asked individuals whether “government should reduce income differences between the rich and the poor.” Agreement with this statement dropped dramatically between 2008 and 2010, the two most recent years of data available. Other surveys have shown similar results.
We know people oppressed by psychiatry are at the end of line when it comes to receiving their slice of the collective pie. We know that this group of people are dealing with a dream, almost anywhere in the world, deferred. Most of the people who have had their lives impacted by the mental health system are not just on the bottom rung employment-wise, most of them, even many of them working within the system, are under-paid and under, if not, un-employed.
This brings us to the subject of the article in question. When you’ve got a group credited with lacking even so much as a voice with which to speak for themselves, and presumed by temperament to be weaker than their fellows, as is claimed, then you definitely don’t want to be pushed down into the human made hell hole that they’re stuck in.
Our recent research suggests that, far from being surprised that many working-class individuals would oppose redistribution, we might actually expect their opposition to rise during times of turmoil – despite the fact that redistribution appears to be in their economic interest. Our work suggests that people exhibit a fundamental loathing for being near or in last place – what we call “last place aversion.” This fear can lead people near the bottom of the income distribution to oppose redistribution because it might allow people at the very bottom to catch up with them or even leapfrog past them.
There are limits to people’s altruism where self-interest is concerned, Eastern and Western religions aside. Martyrdom and self-sacrifise are not always the most desireable goals on peoples’ checklists. Even people within the mental health system aren’t crazy about any personal martyrdom or self-sacrifise that they may have to endure.
We’ve also found evidence of last place aversion in laboratory experiments. In one, we created an artificial income distribution by endowing individuals with different sums of money and showing them their “rank”– with each rank separated by $1. We then gave them an additional $2, which they had to give to either the person directly below or directly above them in the distribution. In this income distribution, of course, giving $2 to the person below you means he will jump ahead of you in rank. In our experiments, most people still give to the person below them – after all, the alternative is to give $2 to a person who already has more money than you. People in second-to-last place, however, who would fall to last place when giving the money to the person below them, are the least likely to do so: so strong is their desire to avoid last place that they choose to give the money to a wealthier person (the person above them) nearly half the time. If Americans behave like people in our experiments, then it could be challenging to unite those in the bottom of the income distribution to support redistribution.
The conclusion of this Scientific American article is that maybe the Occupy Wall Street movement has developed a strategy, implicit in the slogan, We’re the 99 %, for overcoming this challenge to more equalitarian ways of thinking and behaving. I hope so, and I hope that this strategy can be more inclusive of human difference rather than less so. The social pariah, the eccentric, and the non-conformist are more likely to be found among the 99 % of the people who are not filthy rich than they are within the 1 % of people that are, believe me! These same people, due to such “misbehaviors”, are also more likely to be found in mental institutions.
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