Book Notes: Paul Verhaeghe’s What About Me?
Society can be known by the kind of mental pathology it breeds, or rather, by what it labels pathological:
The vast majority of mental disorders are not illnesses, but biopsychosocial manifestations in individuals of broader social problems.
Verhaeghe’s book studies the kind of mental issues that neoliberalism produces. Those who are damaged psychologically by neoliberalism are pathologized and dismissed with meaningless circular diagnoses:
A DSM-style psychodiagnostic classification is a moral ranking used to accuse people and get rid of them by means of labels.
The circular diagnoses (she has attention deficit and is hyperactive because she suffers from hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder) only make people feel guilty without offering any real help:
The description is presented as the cause of what is being described, and the use of abbreviations means we don’t see through the trick.
There are no authority figures or centers of power that can be easily pinpointed in the world of liquid, diffuse power relations. People have to self-regulate and self-discipline in the service of power that they can neither see nor name. The absence of stable communities makes it hard to build and identity and leads to violence and psychological disturbances.
The book is a little basic for me because I knew most of this stuff. But Verhaeghe is a great popularizer. In my opinion, he doesn’t go nearly far enough in explaining how neoliberalism breeds mental illness but I understand that the resistance to these ideas is incredibly high, so he has to tread lightly.