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Time magazine recently published its annual cover story on health, focusing on the relationship between mind and body. To its credit, it contains some rarely heard criticisms of the mental-health laws, which nearly everyone accepts as appropriate in the land of the free. But as John Cloud writes, “[Psychiatric] diagnoses can be used by courts to lock you up in a mental hospital.” He should have added: “. . . even if you have never harmed anyone.” Cloud goes far in exposing the mere mortals who impersonate imposing psychiatric wizards: “Though it’s fashionable these days to think of psychiatry as just another arm of medicine, there is no biological test for any of these disorders.”

This is psychiatry’s dark secret. But it’s true. “Diseases” of the mind — a metaphorical organ — must be metaphorical diseases, as psychiatric critic Thomas Szasz has been saying for half a century.

Cloud also quotes Paul McHugh, chairman of Johns Hopkins medical school’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, saying that the profession’s vaunted Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) has “permitted groups of ‘experts’ with a bias to propose the existence of conditions without anything more than a definition and a checklist of symptoms. This is just how witches used to be identified.” Szasz said that years ago, too.

But Cloud ends on an ominous note: “Unless brain researchers discover exactly how neurological mechanisms become abnormal, the DSM will always include more hypotheses than answers.” The problem with that sentence is the premise that neurological mechanisms control behavior.

There’s the rub. It is the fashion to believe that behavior is the product of brain activity, and that’s the dominant message Time delivers.

Indeed, the special issue begins with this: “Mind and body, psychologists and neurologists now agree, aren’t that different. . .. The thoughts and emotions that seem to color our reality are the result of complex electrochemical interactions within and between nerve cells…. [The] mind [is] like the rest of the body….”

This is scientific and philosophic balderdash.

The “mind,” Szasz writes in contrast, is a metaphor for the internal conversation about ourselves and our surroundings that each of us conducts throughout our lives. To be sure, thoughts and emotions require electrochemical processes — we’re not ghosts — but to reduce them to such processes is to make robots out of persons. I laugh at a funny experience, not at a funny electrochemical interaction. All the positron-emission tomography, functional magnetic resonance, and magneto-encephalography in the world can’t refute that.

The Time issue sinks deepest into the muck of reductionism with an article by Steven Pinker, the psychologist who has done so much to popularize the reduction of mind to brain. Pinker’s article is a dissent from those who see genes as controlling our behavior. But what he gives with one hand, he takes away with the other: “Behavior is caused by the activity of the brain, and the most genes can do is affect its wiring, size, shape and sensitivity to hormones and other molecules. Among the brain circuits laid down by genes are the ones that reflect on memories, current circumstances and the anticipated consequences of various courses of action and that select behavior accordingly — in an intricate and not entirely predictable way.”

For Pinker, persons don’t reflect, anticipate, and select. Circuits do. Behavior is caused, not unlike the movement of billiard balls. Nevertheless he writes, “These circuits are what we call ‘free will,’ and providing them with information about the likely consequences of behavioral options is what we call ‘holding people responsible.’”

This is gobbledygook, which, unfortunately, unreflective people will assume is based in good science. But any theory which denies that persons choose is self-subverting. To speak is to carry out an intention to communicate thoughts and experiences by freely choosing suitable words and sentences. To announce that one cannot freely choose is to announce that one is not really speaking but only making random noises by electrochemical necessity. Let us take him at his “word.”

This isn’t just inconsequential ivory-tower science. If we come to believe that metaphysical freedom is impossible, we will hardly be in a position to complain when our political freedom is taken away.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., and editor of Ideas on Liberty magazine.

In last Friday’s FFF Email Update, we shared with you some hatemail that we had received from U.S. op-ed editors in response to Sheldon Richman’s op-ed The French Got It Right This Time.

To balance the negative with the positive, here’s some fan mail that we received from FFF’s friends and supporters over the weekend:

Excellent work, people. Keep it up! I loved the hate-mail portion of Richman’s piece.


Please extend to Sheldon my thanks for his well written article “The French got it right this time.” As always, Mr. Richman’s words were concise and accurate and right on the money. I also read the bonus hate mail and it saddens me because it is those same people who helped to put a real American Idiot in the White House. I’m still a bit miffed by this one “… How many more World Towers, Oklahoma government buildings, foreign diplomats, HOW MANY MORE is enough???” If I know my history, which I’d like to think I do, OK City was the work of a US Army veteran, who was retaliating for the FBI’s actions in Waco and Ruby Ridge. How that related to the French and Iraq is beyond me. I thank you all for the work you do. Reading your articles through the week helps me to maintain the hope that someday this countries government will return to its constitutional roots and respect the rights and life of all its people.


It seems that otherwise good people have become infected with “War Fever”. Keep up the good work. I always enjoy your articles in FREEDOM DAILY.


Thanks to Scott McPherson for the best and most succinct commentary against socialized medicine I’ve yet to come across. I had been planning to write my own combining all the points against socialized healthcare into one essay [since no one else seemed to be able to do it] until I read this. No need anymore.


It’s brave of you to show some Hatemail. Why not include a corresponding section consisting of Lovemail, mail in favor of your opinions. Good luck in your efforts to spread the freedom philosophy.


Truly enjoyed your piece “This Time The French Got It Right,” as I enjoy all of your insightful and deeply thoughtful writing. I was astounded at the hatemail you included. Talk about writing over the head of certain folks. If this reflects the intelligence level of a significant chunk of op-ed page editors and writers around the county, then I have even more reason to be concerned than I previously thought. And I understand more completely why I so rarely have my own letters-to-the-editor published.


Thank you for your consistent, concise, and beautiful articulation of reason.


Please allow me to send along an encouraging word or two to Mr Sheldon Richman for his fine article on the recent orgy of French-bashing. A good piece of work. Some of the addle-brained comments he received from various of my fellow-citizens was a sad spectacle to see. You know, it really is frightening to see such stupidity. It is an awful harbinger of things to come for this benighted country. Tell Mr Richman to keep up the excellent work.


Wow, you can write. You can express yourself with clarity. I think you’re right about it all. Too bad the American hoi polloi wont ever “get it.” Still, it’s exciting to read words from someone who knows the “score.”


I read the piece and the responses which are negative. I happen to like the piece and that it points out the hypocrisy of the United States government. It appears to me that the others that responded so negatively are wearing rose-colored glasses. I suppose these people only read of politics when it is so pervasive they are forced to consume it….


Thanks for your GREAT supportive article regarding the French (and Germans)…. Sure wish there were more intelligent, THINKING people out there like you (and me)! 🙂 By the time i came back from the antiwar march in Chicago on the 15th, I was personally so incensed by all the french bashing that i made a french flag with a peace symbol in the middle to hang on my garage door with the sayings above and below it: “Blessed are the Peacemakers” and “Long live “old Europe”! Then the other day a cousin wrote me that hated the french so much now that he had given up “french toast” and “french fries”. Ludicrous eh? (He is a retired AF Col. and a republican so what can you expect?!)….

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.