On Point: Museum oversteps - 2007-02-06
When you stroll into the Colorado History Museum in downtown Denver, you expect to encounter exhibits that reflect at least some degree of scholarly detachment. But if you enter the museum today, this is what you'll read on the ground level:
"There is only one passion that truly motivates the psychiatric profession - money. Every psychiatric solution . . . was embarked upon, not on the premise that it might help, but to generate a new source of income."
And this: "Psychiatry's legacy to the Russian people can be measured by the more than 40 million citizens incarcerated and often forcibly treated in the gulags."
Or this: "Some of the worst human rights atrocities in the world are committed inside psychiatric institutions . . ."
You will see a film in which an attorney who claims he's deposed half of the psychiatrists in Las Vegas declares that "by and large" they are a "dishonest, deceitful, lying bunch of people."
You will learn that between 1950 and 1990, "more Americans died in U.S. government-funded psychiatric facilities" than the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in nearly all of this country's wars; that psychiatric facilities pad their bills by provoking patients to violence; that psychiatrists "will say anything" in court "to collect their fee"; that psychiatry is responsible for the Holocaust, the gulag (see above), ethnic cleansing in the Balkans (the war criminal Radovan Karadzic is a psychiatrist), and even 9/11 (Ayman al-Zawahiri is a surgeon who studied psychology). Not to mention that psychiatry's "master plan" is to infiltrate "key sectors of society" with the ultimate aim of destroying our values and exercising total social control.
Did I miss anything? Actually, these highlights only begin to catch the fevered tone and purple pronouncements of the exhibit "Psychiatry: An Industry of Death," which mercifully lasted little more than a week and ends today. Even my helpful guide, the Rev. Patty Allread of the Church of Scientology of Colorado, freely admitted the exhibit is "one-sided." Scientology? Yes, the exhibit is brought to you by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, founded by the Church of Scientology. Now there's an outfit noted for its even-handedness.
So what is the Colorado Historical Society, a state agency, doing providing exhibit space in the history museum for this lurid presentation? Spokeswoman Rebecca Laurie tells me they rent the space on a nondiscriminatory basis, mostly to civic groups and job fairs. Yes, the society sometimes rents to groups with a strong point of view, she says, but it hasn't encountered a request yet that made it stop and ask, "Does this go beyond a certain line?"
Maybe it's time. Would the society throw open its doors to an exhibit on immigration by David Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization? An exhibit by Ward Churchill on U.S. imperialism?
As someone who has criticized the insanity defense as well as ridiculed claims from the National Institute of Mental Health that more than half of all Americans develop mental illness sometime in their lives, I find myself a most reluctant defender of psychiatry. I deplore its tendency to classify every human vice or weakness as a mental illness, its often cavalier attitude toward involuntary commitment and the way its therapeutic ethic saps moral judgment. Over the profession's history, for that matter, a depressing number of practitioners have proved indifferent to individual liberty or lent their prestige to such appalling practices as eugenics.
It is possible to make such points, however, without demonizing psychiatry as an evil profession with no redeeming features or decent motives. Either psychiatrists are a species of monsters or this exhibit has no business in a tourist venue sponsored by the state.