Just Another Cog

By Heather Martin

It has been a year since Kevin Annett posted In the Sleep Rooman interesting article when you consider that Kevin Annett just might require psychological help himself.  One of the problems with observing mental illness and interacting with those who have it is that you understand the system, the players in the system and the victims of the system so well that you can create your own kind of similar system.  I believe Kevin has done just that. 

He is obviously aware of how people behave and how they think.  He twists words to fit his meaning and chooses language to create a technicolor view of reality. He has done worse, though, in sucking people into his delusions; not because the facts of the residential school deaths are a figment of his imagination (because I believe some of his claims to be true), but because he has failed to provide evidence and come through with the actions he promised the Aboriginal People.  That makes him a liar and a cheat in my books.

Now about the following article.  It starts out as a bit of a biography of his time at Riverview Hospital where he worked with the mentally ill.  And my criticism of his article is partly with this first bit he writes because people with acute and chronic mental illnesses do not prefer terms like ‘nuthouse’ and ‘crazy people’.  After-all, what is crazy?  It’s a vague term that is merely a label for anyone who doesn’t think like you do.  Don’t like Hockey and still call your self Canadian?  Well, you must be crazy?  See, as a word that is used to describe the mosaic of mental illnesses it is not just inadequate for the 21st Century, it’s downright cruel. 

In the following post, you will read a portion (for Kevin likes to drone on and on, even when you think he is done..) of how the mental health profession keeps people insane as a parallel for why people don’t believe that the Church is an evil, soul-sucking entity.  His argument is that both are systems that like its’ dysfunction and does what it must to protect itself from scrutiny and change. 

It is likely true that without medications, the schizophrenic does not know that people are not out to get him, so why does Annett consider the giving of these medications a bad thing? Giving medication to a schizophrenic is like giving truth to a skeptic; without either there is no hope of changing a persons mind, let alone hope for healing.  When I recently toured the North Battleford Hospital, the Director stated plainly, that “without Thorazine, people would not have gone on to lead productive lives out in society”. 

The real crux of the article is not so much how Annett interpreted his employment at Riverview, but in particular the reaction of himself and his fellow employees when a patient assaulted a Nurse.  What is telling in his analysis is that it lacks insight and compassion for either the aggressor or the victim.  It is not reflective of how such an incident could have been prevented, but is instead a post-script of how and why people are manipulated:

The machine must function without thinking, or individual will, for it to fulfill its purpose of managing the crowd predictably.

I am reminded not of Carl Rogers, but instead of Joeseph Goebbels in the above quote.

Annett goes on to talk about dissociation; picking and choosing when to rely on psychology’s definition of the word and when not to. It relates to a persons ability (or inability) to use effective coping mechanisms when faced with stress or trauma (See Wikipedia).  A person who has lost a family member in a horrible accident may behave like the person is still alive (planning parties, buying clothes, etc..).  However, people usually come to the realization on their own (or with some help) that how they are behaving does not resonate with their situation or how they should be thinking.  Eventually, the person sees reality and the healing can begin.  People rarely stay within their delusion, and the ones that do require some kind of professional help. 

Kevin explains that people remain in the delusion despite knowing ‘the truth’ (much like the schizophrenic who chooses to go off their meds) because they are a small cog in the greater machinery that they are unable to unhinge themselves from.  This is somewhat true – as I have experienced myself when I chose to leave a church – but the reasons for staying may simply be that people require a certain level of personal proof, that the words of one person do not create enough cognitive dissonance for them.  Perhaps they have questions that have not been adequately answered and are waiting for further truths to be revealed.  I find comfort knowing there are people in the world who refuse to jump ship simply because someone shouts “iceburg”.  I too would want to know that the ship is in fact sinking before I took that leap. 

I think it is possible that the Aboriginal members of United and Anglican churches require more from Kevin than the ‘crazy-making’ he is participating in as of late.  Perhaps they are continuing on because they require a higher level of truth that he just cannot provide.  Perhaps he fails to acknowledge that his own ‘bone-waving rants and stereotyping insults’ he has hurled against Mohawk Elders (the same ones who used to support him) and Aboriginal peoples has done more harm than good.  Perhaps it is his own dissociation that has caused those who have asked serious questions (in order to clear up that pesky ‘show us the bones’ issue), to become enemies of the cause.  They are unreachable, in his eyes, and unworthy of compassion in the same way as the assaultive patient and BIG Nurse were unworthy.  According to Kevin, those who disagree with him are just cogs in the wheel of a system that refuses to change…. For me, he is just a ‘schizophrenic’ who refuses to take his meds….


In the Sleep Room

Posted by admin on July 26, 2011.


I was wondering today why it is that we are all insane.

Years ago, I paid my way through college by working as an orderly in the campus hospital’s nuthouse; and of course later, I dealt for years with church congregations. So I know a lot about crazy people, and the societies they create.

Rather than a peculiarity, life was oddly familiar on the university psych ward, whose inhabitants – whether the patients or the hospital staff – spun about themselves a self-sustaining, insular and utterly dissociated little world that, like society at large, resisted change or even study.

On the ward, I found that I had to remain a perpetual outsider to understand what was going on around me: a skill that served me well in later years, when I confronted far greater madness. For cleaning up and processing feces-covered patients, helping drug and manage them, and listening to their elaborate mental concoctions for hours each day gave me some real insights into the nature of institutionalized insanity, and how convincing it can all be.

The day I started working on the chronic ward of the University of British Columbia’s psychiatric hospital, the head nurse was knocked out cold by the enraged fist of an enormous guy they’d just carted in from Riverview hospital: high as a kite and not the kind of gentleman to be told off, like Big Nurse tried doing.

Violence is unusual in a nuthouse, not simply because everyone is drugged to the nines. Like in any workplace, everything is so completely and mind-numbingly routinized that the assembly line of meds, meals, television and outings leaves no room, or energy, for a completely spontaneous and willful act like striking out at it all.

So, the reaction of my co-workers to the sight of Big Nurse lying unconscious and bloody on the floor of her station, as her drooling assailant smiled down at us, was interesting. Nobody moved. The unpredictable had happened.

As I smiled nervously back at the assaulter, I thought at first that our collective numbness arose from fear, and a natural desire to stay clear of the guy’s sizable fists. But then I saw the genuine confusion on everyone’s faces. Nobody had expected this, even though we had all been trained to expect it.

The procedure had broken down, and without it, we were helpless.

Fortunately, our numbness was dispelled by the arrival of other orderlies from the adjoining ward, who immediately tackled the guy and shook us back to our senses.

Later that night, scribbling my report of the incident in the duty log, I wrote in the margins,

The machine must function without thinking, or individual will, for it to fulfill its purpose of managing the crowd predictably.

The others on staff knew I was training for the ministry, and so I suppose they grew accustomed to such theological musings in the log book.

I’m no fan of Sigmund Freud, but he did hit it on the nail when he observed that the natural instincts of any person must be suppressed for society to function as a mass of managed individuals: a suppression that breeds “civilized” mankind’s basic neurotic condition. Society, in short, makes us all crazy: or more exactly, massively dissociated.

Hardly accidental, or even merely consequential, our insanity is a necessity. For without being dissociated, we couldn’t dwell for a day in what we call civilization.

Since it’s our basic operating principle, let’s examine this thing called dissociation.

Don’t look to psychology for a definition, since like all sciences, it tends to examine and classify the tiny scales of a dragon while ignoring the Beast in its totality. We need to know what dissociation means not just for one person but for an entire culture.

A dissociated person cannot relate and integrate a normal feeling, observation or occurrence with the rest of her being. In effect, that person’s thinking is like a component on an assembly line.

As an example, I recently showed a family member hard and incontrovertible proof that her church was responsible for the death of many thousands of children in their Indian boarding schools. That person acted confused at first, and eventually acknowledged the truth of what I showed her and expressed her horror. And yet the next Sunday, she attended that same church and gave her usual offering to sustain it.

Her mind, in effect, was not capable of integrating a new and unsettling truth in order to allow a change in her behavior. What she knew could not be related to her daily pattern of life.

Psychology likes to treat such dissociation as some kind of individual mental illness resulting from a trauma, ignoring the fact that any large organization, let alone a compartmentalized, consumptionist society like ours, structurally requires such a mentality in its workers for the system to function efficiently.

No hierarchical institution can operate without precisely this dissociated condition among its members, for the simple reason that organizational and administrative cohesion rests on the suppression of unpredictable human responses which might threaten the functioning of what is in effect an enormous machine.


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