Dave: Our blog is set up to provide alternative ways of thinking about emotional, behavioral, mental, psychiatric problems. We are not setting up a competition between patterns of thinking that guide clinical practices. I take the position that there can be no competition for ignorance out on the vast ocean of human experience.
I have long been intrigued by the Tower of Babel story in Genesis Chapter 11. If you read it you will notice that it is about language. I always thought the Tower of Babel falls. It doesn’t. Work stops. Take a look at Bruegel’s charming depiction of the Tower of Babel. The story takes place on the Plain of Shinar after the Flood where the Children of Men are building a city and a tower. Watch out! I am going to be a little playful with scripture and put a different interpretation on the Tower of Babel story.
Genesis Chapter 11 begins “And the whole earth was of one language and one speech.” It happened that some time after the flood a group of “children of men” set out to build a city and a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” This sounds like an honorable undertaking: They have one language and one speech, a fully realized fundamentalist system. If all think the same way, there is no need for doubting. They will “make a name” (Logo) and the name (logo) will keep them from scattering.
One way to characterize what we do in our clinical work is to play with language. Our playing with language sometimes leads to confusion. What we do therapeutically can be partially understood by attending to what we do with language. But notice, the preeminence of psychopharmacology is based in large part on the language used to characterize what medications do as well as representing the ‘scientific’ findings on which ‘Biological Psychiatry’ rests. That is a language which attempts to reduce ambiguity, risks restricting possibility not only for patients, but even more important for practitioners.
But back to Genesis, construction of the city and the tower was underway and Lord Unnamable, Him Who Cannot be Named, he is sometimes referred to as “Yahweh”, others simply call Him “God”, “came down to see the City and the Tower, which the children of men had built.” (Genesis 11:5). “And the Lord said, Behold the people is one, and they have all one language, and this they begin to do, and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they imagined to do (11:6)”.
Now the plan of “the children of men” sounds exemplary. It could be a mission statement. It sounds like a presidential candidate talking about what he intends for the “American people”. It sounds like an enunciation of the corporate capitalist American Dream. You would think this is the kind of society Yahweh desired. So it is startling when Lord Unnamable shows up and says, “Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech (11:7)…Therefore is the name of it called Babel, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth….(11:9).”
My view is that chaos and confusion are critical grounds for human creativity. They induce vitality in the human spirit. Yahweh likes it like that.
Something goes on in the world today that constantly brings this Tower of Babel story to mind. It is not a morality tale, it is mind-expansion tale. It may be a reiterative comment on the cost of single-mindedness, can we say, on the inhumanity of single-mindedness?. The tower that bothers and bedevils me is the Modern Tower that refers to itself as ‘Biological Psychiatry’ because of its impact on the culture and the disciplines involved in mental health practices, people who do psychotherapy. Part of the problem is that clinical disciplines come to think it crucial that they have an apparent “scientific (evidence)” basis for what they do. “One” language continues to seem an appropriate and desired accomplishment. But “one” language excludes poetry and magic and therefore Spirit (Keith, 2015).
The extensive use of psychotropic medication in our culture has altered our language for talking about human experience and emotional pain in the clinical disciplines that attend to mental health. The fantasy that all mental disorders are neurochemical, changes the way we think about human experience. By altering language, the medication changes the consciousness of our culture, and thereby limits alternatives for problem solving.
The use of medications redefines symptoms by making an authoritative proclamation in a language that pretends there is no relation between the symptoms and interpersonal or subjective experience. The problem is placed inside the patient and is therefore correctable by a medication. In the Empire of Over-Regulation (where we currently live and practice) the poetic capacities of language are neutralized. There is no necessary motivation to put experience into language (Keith, 2003).
However, if properly employed, language, in dialogue, in conversation can provide all the order a person might ever need in life…(Robbins, 2001).” Language can provide sufficient order. But this is not true when language is regulated, when language is taken hostage in order to promote specific agendas.