Insanity

Straitjacket

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your children.

I was doing some research the other day, and stopped off at Bible.org.  Anything scientific, modern or technological is automatically suspect, so I wasn’t surprised when my eye spotted the headline of an article which read, Psychiatrists Have Been Torturing Insane People For 500 Years.

As a compulsive wordsmith, that caught my attention. A quick check revealed that the word, and occupation, psychiatrist, only came into existence about 125 years ago.  Previous to that, there were men known as psychiators, untrained, unlicensed and uncontrolled.

Driven by self-righteous ego, they were usually interested in power, self-aggrandizement, and enforcing what they viewed as acceptable social norms – shades of The Inquisition. They were often church men, good Christians, and it was they who tortured people who often were not insane, but merely free-thinkers, independents, and weirdoes, marching to a different flautist.

Insanity

As in my post on torture, you could be snatched off the street, or from your home, at any time, for any reason – or none. Might made right.  Cross an undrawn line, and a husky man or two would do worse than sell you into slavery.  Tell your father that you wanted to work at a newspaper, rather than learning how to make gloves; tell your mother you didn’t want the arranged marriage to the fat old farmer; ask your boss for an evening off to go courting, and just see what happened.

Have a look at the list of ‘insanities’, above. Any of these could get you involuntarily committed to an insane asylum, and resisting and insisting that you weren’t insane, was proof that you were.  The list-makers did seem to be fixated on masturbation, in all its variations.  I think they needed more psychological help than the unfortunate wretches they abused.  And I’d like to know how an 1880s nut-house got an Internet address.

Despite the implication that the bad treatment was all the fault of those evil Psychiatrists, these often-self-appointed Guardians of Conformity used many well-known methods to break the will and minds of their charges.  One was wet-sheeting, where they wrapped you tightly in cold, wet linen, and left you on a bed, unable to move, sometimes for days.

Drugs were now commonly available, and widely used. They could be included in what little poor food you got; you could be held by attendants and have it forced down your throat, or directly injected with the new hypodermic syringe.  They included diuretics, which caused you to wet yourself, emetics, which would cause you to vomit, purgatives that roiled your gut, and made you shit yourself, and opiates that suppressed intelligence and will, and blurred reality for you.

On the physical side, beyond the restraining wet-sheeting, one of the favorites was the chair.  You were strapped into a sturdy wooden chair with arms.  Four ropes were attached to the corners, and then those were attached to a single strong rope, suspended from a high ceiling.  Loaded with some of the above drugs, you were then spun round and round – and round, while also swinging back and forth.  Fifty spins in one direction, then forty in the other, then thirty the first way, then twenty, etc, etc!

When the ride came to a stop, you were Inquisitioned. “Admit that you were insane.”  “I was never insane! I am healthy and normal!”  “Wind him up again boys.”  “No, No more! I admit that I was insane.  I am better now and will behave well.”  Caning was common, as well as pitch-black sensory-deprivation solitary confinement.

One facility even built a giant wooden wheel, two feet in thickness, and twelve feet in diameter, its axle sitting on tall posts. An offender was shoved in through a small port, the door latched, and then left for up to 36 hours.  There was no light, no food, no water, and no toilet facilities.  What little air, was redolent with the reek of previous tenants’ leavings.  Like a hamster, you could walk, but that only rained feces and almost-dried vomit on you.

An open mind can always stand a closed one, if it has to – by making room for it in the general picture. But a closed mind can’t stand it near an open one without risking immediate and complete destruction in its own terms.  In a closed mind, there’s no more room.

Gordon R. Dickson, author – Tiger Green – 1965

The 1889 date above just about matches the time when Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and others, began humanely treating mental disorders, which most of these poor souls did not have. Sadly, these propaganda pits did not die out.  As late as the 1950s, white women with non-white boyfriends or husbands could be snatched and incarcerated till they ‘learned better.’

At the same time, unwed mothers could be permanently locked away in places like the Magdalene Sisters homes, where their delivered babies were quietly buried in the back yards, and the women were forced into 16 to 18 hours a day physical labor, to pay for their unwanted keep, while those darned Psychiatrists were busy torturing folks. Insanity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.    😦

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10 thoughts on “Insanity

  1. Novel reading? Did that apply to both men and women? I notice a lot of items pertaining to female issues, so I suspect that while a man reading a book was considered sophisticated, a woman reading a book was considered lazy and insane. Thank heavens we’ve advanced over the years so that now people (including women) can not only read whatever they wish, they can even blog if they want to!

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  2. Atheist Max says:

    Interesting post.
    It is a good reminder of what happens when religion is strong – and when people are ignorant of science.

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  3. BrainRants says:

    Yeah, so that photo list of old-time symptoms… I’d make the 1800’s most deranged list, or be a politician in the 2010’s. Novel reading? If you read them and that’s bad, what happens when you attempt to write one?

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  4. Jim Wheeler says:

    Ah, the good old days. Whenever I read about someone wishing for time travel I think of just such things. In addition to your causes list (which gives me shivers), they also used the looney bin for cases of all kinds of dementia and mental retardation. But, there are other reasons not to go into the past. No anesthetics nor any modern sanitation, just to name two.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      An optimist is one who believes we are living in the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist is one who agrees with him.
      I’ve read a number of Eric Flint’s ‘1632’ series, where time-shifted modern Americans have to try to teach 17th century Europeans about germs and antibiotics, and not to burn witches. I’d prefer a Staycation. 😯

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