September 28, 2010

On Crazy Like Us

Watters argues that western medicine, aided and abetted by the western drug companies have systemically globalized the idea of mental illnesses that exist in those western companies as a universal set of conditions.

I have never thought of this, but it makes sense that the cultural conditions of a mental illness manifest in the cultural context of its origin. I have long thought of the universal nature of mental illnesses at all times and places. I have done this in spite of knowledge of old-timey mental diseases that are no longer in vogue. The very fact that each update of the DSM is a contentious process full of deletions and additions and refiguring the definitions of diseases show that mental illness is contingent on the cultural milieu.

Therefore, In Watters’ investigation, we learn that the mutability of mental illness is a problem because we in the west want to impose our definition and cure for diseases we have already named, even if the underlying conditions and symptoms are not a perfect fit with western views of the course of the diseases. This is problematic because whether or not it is for altruistic or profit reasons, we have ignored key issues underlying the diseases. Not only does this globalization ignore the root cause, it imposes questionable treatment regimens that may or may not help.

I am not sure if Watters proves his point. First off, there are only a few specific incidents he highlights, and these separate incidents seem to hinge on the testimony of one or two researchers. For me the specifics are interesting, but I am not sure if they speak to a generalization that can be proven. Secondly, the problems he addresses can be shifted so that treatment of mental illness is done with full cultural awareness, but I feel that this is just an issue of globalization inexorably happening but being done backwards. This is exogenic cultural change, done from the top. It does not look pretty, but it is what is happening. I cannot help but think of the famed Cargo Cults as we just look at different ways that east reconciles with west.