Anarchy 101/Libertarian Criminology: an observation

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As one of the contributors to the symposium published in anarchy 98 (A Libertarian Criminology?), I would like to express disagreement with Jock Young concerning an issue which he touched upon but did not elucidate. I must cite a whole paragraph in which he quotes from Robin Blackburn:

Affirmation of Objectivity. The study of social phenomena, it is insisted, should be value free and should utilise objective concepts such as those used in the natural sciences. Thus Robin Blackburn describes this position as suggesting that: ‘once theories are thoroughly cleansed of all value judgements it is believed that they will be governed by the wholesome discipline of objective facts. The predictable consequence of this attempted purge of values is to orient theory and research towards certain crude, over abstracted value notions masquerading as scientific concepts.’ An ‘ideology of objectivity’ emerges but the moral yardstick of this objectivity is middle-class values. ‘Psychopathy’, ‘Anomie’, ‘social disorganisation’, ‘under socialisation’, ‘maturity’, ‘weak superego’, are all value-laden concepts despite the ongoing pretence of objectivity.”

  This is, in fact, an attack on the nature of science. It is pointed out that social science is being used in the interests of “middle-class values”, and I agree that much social science is the tool of the Establishment. But if it is implied that science can never be freed from the service of some interested group, the usual argument (a Leninist one) is to go on to suggest that the ideology of “our mob” (the goodies) must replace the ideology of “their mob” (the baddies). When the new ideology holds sway, all science must be re-orientated to be ideologically correct. This Leninist outlook was in fact forced upon Russian scientists, not just in the social sciences, but in the natural sciences too, so that ignorant technicians like Lysenko rose to positions of power in the world of science because this “science” was correctly “Marxist”. This position arises out of the attempted denial that there can be such a thing as objective truth. Every scientist who is worth his salt qua scientist, must kick like hell, and go on kicking, every time this piece of obscurantist casuistry is published.

  Jock Young goes on to cite Ronald Laing—at least one side of Laing. Laing is not an “anti-psychiatrist” as he claims, but is very much a psychiatrist free-wheeling off Freud, whose weaknesses he magnifies into arrant dishonesty of argument. If he is an anti-anything, he is an anti-scientist. Young retails the libertarian side of Laing—but what about the other side of the coin? He retails the crude caricature of psychiatric practice in which Laing has inflated half-truths to the degree that an informed and realistic appraisal of the treatment of mental illness is seriously hampered.

  The other side of Laing is sheer authoritarianism of the type preached by the mediaeval church. Without producing a shred of real evidence, Laing seriously maintains that the major cause of insanity is the horrible treatment which has been meted out to the sufferers by those whom one would normally regard as their nearest and dearest—a comforting thought for the families of schizophrenics! When one tries to come down to brass tacks and find out from Laing and his associates what they propose to do about people suffering from mental illness, they take refuge in the woolly obscurities of existentialism. Mental illness (but like Christian scientists, we can deny that it is illness!) it seems, is the result of Sin—particularly the sins of those whom ordinary mortals would imagine to be affectionately concerned for the sufferer. And the cure? Only contact with the existential priesthood can accomplish that. But how do they set about it—what goes on? Aha, only if you subject yourself to existential psychoanalysis can you hope to understand.

  For myself, if ever I become schizophrenic (as indeed any of us may) I hope that I am treated by scientists who will use drugs, electroshock or whatever methods seem most likely to overcome the derangement. I hope that I never fall into the hands of any priestcraft who will attempt to cure me by magic (or assure me that I am not really ill) and impute my condition to Sin.

  Young’s digression into psychiatric speculations does his case no good at all. He might as well drag in those monsters who render us unconscious and rip our bellies open when we can’t struggle—when we suffer from appendicitis! In my own article I discussed in what sense doctors can be said to promote disease, and in the same sense psychiatrists can be said to promote mental illness. But I appear to differ from Young in some important aspects. I do not see anything new in the fact that “madmen question the sanity of psychiatrists, criminals the honesty of judges, perverts the sexuality of the decent. …” This has always been so. What appears to me comparatively new, and hopeful, is that humanity is progressing out of ignroance and stupidity and towards the dignity of controlling our own destiny. Natural science has produced a technology which in some senses is both degrading and suicidal, but the same methods of natural science can be applied to man himself. Undoubtedly such self-reflexive science is seized upon by capitalists, Marxists and other ideologues with the argument that there can be no objective fact—only facts seen through this or that pair of subjective goggles. It is against this, as I have said, that the scientist must kick—and I am kicking.