According to a Psychology Today hit piece written by psychologist John Gartner, people prone to thinking that powerful men might actually get together and plan to maintain and advance their power are borderline psychotics who are a danger to society. In reality, hundreds of years of history has taught us that psychologists routinely aid authoritarian regimes in enforcing tyrannical and inhumane policies while helping them crush political opposition by defining suspicion of authorities as a mental illness.
Psychologists in the Soviet Union were used to stifle free speech by classifying skepticism and political opposition to the state as a mental illness, which is precisely the implication littered throughout Gartner’s crass hit piece.
In the former Soviet Union, psikhushkas — mental hospitals — were used by the state as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally. The Soviet state began using mental hospitals to punish dissidents in 1939 under Stalin.
According to official Soviet psychiatry and the Moscow Serbsky Institute at the time, “ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure.” Treatment for this special political schizophrenia included various forms of restraint, electric shocks, electromagnetic torture, radiation torture, lumbar punctures, various drugs — such as narcotics, tranquilizers, and insulin — and beatings. Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History, indicates that at least 365 sane people were treated for “politically defined madness,” although she surmises there were many more.
The profession of psychology blossoms under tyrannical regimes, as is explored in Ulfried Geuter’s The Professionalization of Psychology in Nazi Germany. Under Hitler’s Third Reich, the relationship between the ruling Nazi thugs and psychologists was close and mutually beneficial. People like Nazi psychologist Robert Ritter, Ph. D. (pictured top) were instrumental in persecuting minorities and enforcing eugenicist policies of genocide.
“From Nazi Germany, South Africa, Russia and the former Yugoslavia, to Iraq today, psychiatry has been and/or remains a key player. In fact, the marriage between authoritarian government and psychiatry is as old as psychiatry itself,” writes Jan Eastgate, International President, Citizens Commission on Human Rights, “In the 1800s, Germany’s militaristic “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck, utilized psychiatry to influence and control whole populations in order to fulfill his dreams of conquest through war.”
In his book Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and Its Origins in the Mao Era, praised as “eloquent and convincing” in a New York Times Review of Books piece, author Robert Munro exposes how psychiatrists and psychologists continue to be at the forefront of the brutal Communist Chinese system of ascribing mental illnesses to those who express even mildly negative political opinions towards the ruling Party.
The book reveals how, “From the 1950s onward not only Chinese dissidents but people who submitted petitions to the authorities have been detained by the police, examined by psychiatrists, and found to be criminally insane—or, if found mentally “normal,” designated as criminals to be cast into the prison system.”
An official Chinese police designation for those worthy of “psychiatric custody” cited by Munro lists people who write anti-government letters, make anti-government speeches or those who merely express opinions on important domestic and international affairs that could be considered anti-government.
But the use of psychologists in the pursuit of inhumane policies is not just resigned to tyrannical regimes of the first half of the 20th century.
Recent revelations surrounding the torture scandal highlight the role of psychologists in what the Physicians for Human Rights organization alleges amounted to “unlawful human experimentation” and torture on inmates at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other U.S. detention sites.
“PHR says health professionals participated at every stage in the development, implementation and legal justification of what it calls the CIA’s secret “torture programme,” reports the London Guardian.
Doctors and psychologists actively monitored CIA torture techniques and helped evaluate their effectiveness, a “violation of core ethical values” according to the American Medical Association and a flagrant abuse of the 1947 Nuremberg Code, which forbids experimentation on humans without their consent.
The CIA’s close relationship with psychologists and psychiatrists in conducting illegal torture programs stretches back decades.
“Historian Alfred W. McCoy has shed light in this area in his recent book A Question of Torture and in numerous articles and interviews,” writes Stephen Soldz. “He documents the decades-long CIA effort to utilized psychological expertise to develop forms of torture that could break down the personality of detainees, rendering them, it was hoped, incapable of withholding desired information. Many of these technique were utilized during the Vietnam conflict and in the various brutal U.S.-supported counterinsurgency campaigns in Latin American in the 1970s and 1980s.”
While Psychology Today’s John Gartner cites a single example of a “conspiracy theorist” who voiced support for Alex Jones entering Bohemian Grove armed with guns, and uses it to make the implication that “conspiracy thinking” is a major threat to society, documented history stretching back hundreds of years shows that psychologists, and particularly their tactic of classifying suspicion of authorities and “conspiracy thinking” as a mental illness, have played a key role in preserving the power of dictatorial elites and helping them to carry out inhumane practices while crushing free speech and legitimate political opposition.