August 26, 2013
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Throughout history, societies have existed with far less coercion than ours. While these societies have had far fewer consumer goods and less of what modernity calls “efficiency,” they also have had far less mental illness. This reality has been buried, not surprisingly, by uncritical champions of modernity and mainstream psychiatry. Coercion–the use of physical, legal, chemical, psychological, financial, and other forces to gain compliance–is intrinsic to our society’s employment, schooling and parenting. However, coercion results in fear and resentment, which fuel miserable marriages, unhappy families, and what we call mental illness.
Societies with Little Coercion and Little Mental Illness
Shortly after returning from the horrors of World War I and before they wrote Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall were given a commission by Harper’s magazine to write nonfiction travel articles about life in the South Pacific. Their reports about the islands of Paumoto, Society and the Hervey group were first serialized in Harper’s and then published in the book Faery Lands of the South Seas (1921). Nordhoff and Hall were struck by how little coercion occurred in these island cultures compared to their own society, and they were enchanted by the children such noncoercive parenting produced:
“There is a fascination in watching these youngsters, brought up without clothes and without restraint. . . . Once they are weaned from their mothers’ breasts–which often does not occur until they have reached an age of two and a half or three –the children of the islands are left practically to shift for themselves; there is food in the house, a place to sleep, and a scrap of clothing if the weather be cool–that is the extent of parental responsibility. The child eats when it pleases, sleeps when and where it will, amuses itself with no other resources than its own. As it grows older certain light duties are expected of it–gathering fruit, lending a hand in fishing, cleaning the ground about the house–but the command to work is casually given and casually obeyed. Punishment is scarcely known. . . . [Yet] the brown youngster flourishes with astonishingly little friction–sweet tempered, cheerful, never bored, and seldom quarrelsome.”
For many indigenous peoples, even the majority rule most Americans call democracy is problematically coercive, as it results in the minority feeling resentful. Roland Chrisjohn, a member of the Iroquois tribe and the author of The Circle Game, points out that for his people, it is deemed valuable to spend whatever time necessary to achieve consensus so as to prevent such resentment. By the standards of Western civilization, this is highly inefficient.
“Achieving consensus could take forever!” exclaimed an attendee of a talk Chrisjohn gave. Chrisjohn responded, “What else is there more important to do?”
Among indigenous societies, there are many accounts of a lack of mental illness, a minimum of coercion, and wisdom that coercion creates resentment which fractures relationships. The 1916 book The Institutional Care of the Insane of the United States and Canada reports, “Dr. Lillybridge of Virginia, who was employed by the government to superintend the removal of Cherokee Indians in 1827-’89, and who saw more than 20,000 Indians and inquired much about their diseases, informs us he never saw or heard of a case of insanity among them.”
Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, in his 1980 book Schizophrenia and Civilization, states, “Schizophrenia appears to be a disease of civilization.” In 1973, Torrey conducted research in New Guinea, which he called “an unusually good country in which to do epidemiologic research because census records for even most remote villages are remarkably good.” Examining these records, he found, “There was over a twentyfold difference in schizophrenia prevalence among districts; those with a higher prevalence were, in general, those with the most contact with Western civilization.” In reviewing other’s research, Torrey concluded:
Republished from: AlterNet