The first thing I felt was my father's arms wrapping around me. And then I saw the cops at the door. And my mother looked on from another room. Then five cops rushed in. At some point one of them pulls a cork screw/ bottle opener out of my back pocket and announces that I “have a weapon.” I don't know exactly what happens. Or how. Eventually I am on the ground. Four cops are on my four extremities. Another has his knee in my back and his hands around my throat. He drags my face across the carpet as he chokes me. I don't really feel what they are doing to me. I am enraged.
I am screaming at them. I am telling them to shoot me. That I know it will get them off. I am calling them a bunch of repressed faggots. I imagine my mom and brother and sister huddled in fear in one of the back bedrooms. That is in fact were they were. I'm pretty sure my dad was crying.
Eventually I loose consciousness. It took minutes for that fucker-cop's hands to cut off enough air and blood for me to pass out. My ribs are bruised. All the soft connective tissue in my shoulders and wrists are strained and torn. A dream of a new life fades in front of me as I pass out.
How I ended up on the floor being choked by a cop in my parents den is a bit of a long story. It comes with a burning house, adventures on Mexican highways and US interstates, a love affair in Texas, and lots of sex and drugs and music and hippies and punks. Mostly though, I ended up there, with my face in the carpet, because of a questionnaire at a hospital and the logic of game theory.
My parents and I were in a kind of detente after I (accidentally, and thankfully) burnt their house down. We were negotiating for a life that would be meaningful for me and tolerable for them. We were, in every respect, trying to negotiate an armistice. Our family was a war, through no fault of theirs or mine. We were each simply responding as best we could to intolerable situations. Sadly, we came at each other from an absolute inability to comprehend one another.
My parents were Franco-era falangists. If not fascistic (Franco was a fascist of opportunity, not of ideology, in my mind), they were at the very least supporters of the authoritarian right in Mexico: pro Catholic, pro Franco, anti Communist, etc. They believed in the goodness of authority, of God and the State. They belonged to a right wing militant group, El Muro (the wall) that was known for disrupting hippie gatherings or theater performances, with pipes. I don't know that either of them ever held the pipe in their hand, but does that matter? Their families, though, were politically mixed and made up of: hippies, authoritarian communists, soldiers, political dissidents exiled from their home countries after right-wing US backed coups, cops, generals, priests on both the left and right, and etc. ... The violence everyone talked about and feared was real violence. The tensions and fears were real… And I grew up with a mix of all of these values in addition to the self-actualized consumerism, individualism, and fake rebellion of America in the 70s and 80s. Imagine the clash of ideologies that played out in the microcosm of our linoleum floored kitchen.
So we tried to negotiate a peace, mostly in vain. A mediator tried to hammer out a deal. He was my dad's brother, an existential psychologist. His solution granted me dignity, autonomy, agency. And for a brief moment it seemed that there was hope. But then the rumors of my drug use, of my promiscuity, of my general irresponsibility began to plague my parents' sense of middle class propriety, which I rejected outright and defiantly. For instance when my mom said that people were warning their daughters to stay away from me, that I would fuck anything in a skirt, my response was "they don't have to wear skirts." What finally pushed my parents over the edge was the accusation from a friend of mine that I was not only a drug addict, but that I was also a drug dealer (this I think played into their fears of being seen as one of those Mexicans, the dirty, lazy, violent, drug dealing kind. Or something).
My friend and I had both been caught with some small amount of pot. It was the classic prisoners dilemma from game theory. Our parents and teachers new nothing. But they questioned us separately. He did the thing that game theory said everyone would do. He said: “Jorge is the one with the problem. He is actually a dealer. I only use a little bit. I got this from him.” I of course kept quiet. (More on game theory later, because it matters).
So the five cops eventually get the hand cuffs on me. I am bleeding and bruised, but more or less fine. They lift me up by the hand cuffs, for spite or fun because at that point I was trying to walk. And that's when it occurs to me that I am right there because of a game that's rigged. And it's a game that's been rigged for a very long time. And the stupidity is that we all know it's rigged. And we can't help but play along anyway.
This is a long story too. But the highlights are good enough. In the early 70s the psychiatric establishment, along with all the “old” institution in society, came under assault from just about everywhere. From the academy, from the emerging counter culture, from the military, from business. Everything was changing from within and from without. Part of this assault was a steady decline of confidence in traditional forms of authority that began in the post war period (or earlier depending on how you like to count). In 1972, in Psychiatry, the biggest challenge to the established order came from a psychiatrist named David Rosenhan.
His study, “On being sane in insane places,” cast serious doubt onto the legitimacy of psychiatric diagnosis. Rosenhan got 8 healthy people, himself included, to present at 8 different psychiatric hospitals with a complaint of a single symptom. They were to pretend to hear the word “thud” or “hollow” or “empty” (because of the words' existential timbre and their absence from existing psychiatric literature) and to tell the truth about everything else. If they were admitted they were supposed to act normal in every respect. All 8 of them were admitted. And in terrifying twist, none of them were allowed to leave until they agreed that they were sick (with various diagnosises), and agreed to take strong anti-psychotic medication. Rosenhan himself was detained for two months. There's a lot more to this story, but you get the point. If psychiatrists can't tell the difference between the obviously sane and the insane, then what the fuck of science (whatever the limitations of that kind on knowledge might be) is there to the whole enterprise?
There's a lot to unpack here. But this is only a story about how I ended up in the back of a squad car. As part of the detante with my family, I agreed to an interview with a pair of drug counselors. My thinking went something like this: I am clearly smart and articulate and in control of my behavior, why shouldn't I meet with educated health professionals (parts of this might have been slightly delusional, more on that later maybe). But as soon as the interview started, I knew I was fucked. They had a list of multiple choice and true/ false questions about my behavior, thoughts, and feelings. None of these questions looked towards the content of my thoughts, or the motivations behind my actions, or the dilemmas they presented, or what I wanted for my life, or what I thought about the world.
I answered honestly, which often times meant an option they didn't offer. “None of the above,” didn't fit in their diagnostic criteria.
So they said “just answer the questions as closely as possible.”
I said “I am trying to.”
They said: “You have to answer with a, b, c, or d.”
I said “I will when one of those is the truthful answer.”
And so on. They became frustrated. I became intransigent. And so on.
I was reminded a little of the scene at the beginning of blade runner. I was being treated like a robot – a (simple desire) machine that had gone haywire and needed fixing. All they were trying to do was figure what kind of wrench was in the works, or more accurately what circuits were crossed in the hardware or what bugs were running amok in the software. The blade runner reference isn't that accurate really. I didn't have a gun. And they didn't have an eye scanner. But they did have a computer to aid in their diagnosis.
The thing about these counselors was that they legitimately meant well. I believe they wanted to help people, probably even intransigent drug dealers. They were young and enthusiastic. And smart enough. Their problem though was a really big insurmountable problem: history.
A few years earlier, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was revised, in part to answer the critiques of Psychiatry from radical thinkers like R.D. Laing in Britain and David Rosenhan in the U.S.. Prior to this revision, the third formal revision, the influence of psychodynamic psychology was much more prevelant in diagnostic criteria. Psychodynamics is, roughly speaking, a post Freudian approach to psychology that looks at conscious and unconscious motivations to behavior. At its best it treats people like nuanced, complicated individuals who have their own particular psychological path to healing. The main problem with it, the critique, was that it was also somewhat arbitrary and unscientific. And when arbitrary or unscientific principles become codified in institutions then you end up with fiascoes like those revealed by Rosenhan's experiment. And so the DSM III was written in such a way that a computer could make the diagnosis. Motivation, complexity, individuality was taken out of the process. In other words, the DSM III replaced the Freudian model of human motivation and behavior with a much more rational, mechanized view of human nature. There was no ghost in the machine, just a machine, an incredibly complex computational/ desire machine, but a machine nonetheless. This had been a current in Psychiatry since the 50s (at least) with the birth of the CIA funded work in Cognitive Science. What this all meant for me was that when I went to speak to those counselors, they had no interest in me whatsoever. They weren't supposed to have an interest in me. According to their training I was no longer a person, but a computer.
The counselor's computer spit out my diagnosis a few days after my interview. I have no idea what it was. They didn't tell me. They told my parents. And they counseled my parents that if I refused to seek professional help, they should call the police to take me to a hospital. Armed with objective, scientific data, and backed up by the power (the threat of violence) of the state, my parents discarded the messy humanism of my Uncle's arbitration. Detante had failed. And so I gathered my things to hit the road... My parents called the police to prevent me from leaving. Thus my face in the carpet.
End Part 1