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I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, 4/6
therapeutic culture's relationship to woke culture
woke capital is the epitome of two intertwined developments in the American political economy since the 1960s: globalized corporate power and a national therapeutic culture. The first is uncontroversial enough that I think it needs no elaboration here. Regarding the second, narratives of suffering and healing, of authenticity and liberation, of self-care and self-actualization, overflow the fields of psychiatry, psychology, and counseling to fill schools, churches, corporations, and the state. It stands today as our national collective moral philosophy.
I have met and helped and treated numerous individuals now who are my peers in age - anything from 18-early 30s. And so many have internalized a generational "understanding" of mental illness that is toxic and worthless beyond condemnation. Our youngest generations' understanding of mental health enables, encourages, and at worst glorifies mental illness. I can not understate the number of times I've met a young woman who has made being mentally ill, and polysexual, and queer, and autistic, et cetera, their identity.
Accountability is absent to the nth degree. But more importantly, a lack of any accountability has deprived these people of personal empowerment and agency. Mental illness is no longer something to recover from and fight against. It is an identity and a definition of life itself.
I blame not just the bizarre path identity politics have taken in the past decade but also a culture that still romanticizes mental illness as a quest against the constricting force of society’s norms, instead of a set of conditions that cause immense misery to those who suffer from them and their families.
In 1992, Wendy Kaminer published I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, an early critique of a therapeutic culture that justifies blaming others for our problems. This was 25 years after Thomas Anthony Harris published I’m OK, You’re OK, a hit self-help psychology book.
I had not thought to connect therapeutic culture to Woke culture, but now I see the fit. Both use the moral dyad, in which one person can have either agency or feelings, not the two together. Those with agency are the oppressors, who cause all of the suffering in the world. Those with feelings are the oppressed, who have no causal role in their own suffering.
Once you claim an identity on the oppressed side of the moral dyad, such as “black woman” or “high-functioning autistic” or “not heterosexual,” the next step is to insist that your feelings depict your reality and may not be questioned. Regardless of what the Florida law actually says, some people feel hurt by it. Therefore, according to the therapeutic culture, it follows that employees of Disney are right to protest when their company fails to issue sufficient condemnation of the law.
Unfortunately, as Lukianoff and Haidt point out in The Coddling of the American Mind, the Woke approach approach is the opposite of best practices for mental health. People ought to try to see themselves as agents able to make the best of our circumstances, rather than regard themselves as pure victims who can only cry out in rage and anguish.