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.
A Reddit post cited by Freddie DeBoer says,
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.
I see the trend in self-identification with mental illness and certain sexuality categories as a reflection of the central importance of having a meaningful identity. In generations past, individuals often had both a strong family identity and a religious identity to structure their experience, direct their actions, and provide a sense of purpose. In lieu of these things, which offer not only belonging but attendant responsibilities, many are turning to more shallow forms of identity.
A response to your 2nd to last paragraph, and claiming the identity like "high-functioning autistic" I think it is important from recognizing conditions or diseases that you may have and have to address and making it your identity. As someone with some learning disabilities and a high-functioning autistic son, I think it is very important to understand your challenges and how to compensate for them (alternative study approaches, planning extra time for certain tasks, etc.) vs saying they are an identity and and thus I or my son deserves to be seen as a special or oppressed class.