The Szaszian Gestalt Shift: An Illustration
By Bryan Caplan
The LA Times recently ran a front-page story on Tiffany Sitton, a 23-year-old schizophrenic girl. Its official position, of course, is that Sitton is a victim of a disease. But the details of the story paint a different – and rather Szaszian – picture.
If you read the story, you’ll notice that this “victim” is strikingly self-motivated. Sitton’s hallucinations and delusions strangely fail to affect her ability to do the things she really wants to do – like obtain narcotics:
After Tiffany got out of juvie, she ran away, hitchhiking to Los Angeles, where she lived on the streets, eating uncooked ramen noodles and using any street drug she could find.
Even in treatment, Sitton figured out how to get high:
The new roommate, Tiffany eventually confessed, was “cheeking” her pills — taking them from nurses but spitting them out later. She’d been handing them over to Tiffany, who ground them up and snorted them, sending her brain back into a tailspin.
In fact, she mastered skills beyond a lot of Boy Scouts:
If her caretakers wouldn’t give her a match to light a cigarette, she knew how to use a gum wrapper and a light socket to set fire to a tampon.
The article notes, of course, that drug abuse is common among schizophrenics:
Like many schizophrenics, she had also been a serious drug abuser: heroin, Vicodin, by her account just about anything that came along.
If schizophrenia were “just another illness,” this would be an amazing – and strange – correlation. If, however, schizophrenia is a linguistic excuse for bad behavior, largely focused on relatives who won’t exercise their exit option, it makes perfect sense. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what Sitton herself has to say
“It’s like part of me wants to be sick. So I do bad things,” she said on a recent afternoon. “I know I do bad things.”
If you’ve read (not seen!) A Beautiful Mind, you’ll find Sitton’s self-analysis eerily familiar. As John Nash explained his own recovery:
Actually, it can be analogous to the role of willpower in effective dieting: If one makes an effort to “rationalize” one’s thinking one can simply recognize and reject the irrational hypotheses of delusional thinking. (Nasar 1998, p.354)
The article dwells heavily on the suffering of the Tiffany Sitton’s mother. As a parent, I feel for her. But I have to think that she’d feel better if she recognized her daughter as a perpetrator of extreme emotional abuse, instead of a victim of a mysterious illness.