The Asylum is our World: Lessons from Ward Two West

by Kevin D. Annett

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Personal adjustment to a psychotic social order is no sign of mental health. - Eric Fromm

One of the more gratifying illusions granted to me by advancing age is the sense that my sixty one years have occured to teach me something. Take my time working in a psychiatric facility, for instance.

Perhaps fittingly, I paid my way through seminary and into a kafkaesque United Church ministry by working at the University of British Columbia Psych hospital, in my early thirties. My assignment was on Ward Two West, among those souls designated as “schizophrenics and psychotics” by doctors whose main job was to keep them drugged up and manageable. As a roving orderly I was quickly introduced to the five basic personality types on the ward, among both the patients and the staff.

What is fascinating is how, during the many years since that brief spell in the nuthouse, those same five personas keep manifesting all around me. Ward Two West in fact introduced me to all of the kinds of people I would later encounter in the moral madness of the United Church and its various cohorts in crime. In fact, it seems to me now that the normalized nuttiness of Ward Two West has become our world.

The first and most common persona I encountered was of course the Tranquil Majority: the mass of dissociated and managed patients who had no idea of anything. They led the kind of 9 to 5, sleep walking dullness common to 90% of our populace, habitually following the rules and going along without harbouring an ounce of their own vision.

The next group was far less common because they were awakening to themselves and to their situation. But these Awakeners were just as confused as the Tranquils because they remained trapped within their own obsessive bubble and babble. They were the ones who over coffee in the day room would give me torturously long explanations of the real problem in the world and the secret villains behind the scenes responsible for their misery, in the manner of any internet word-warrior who’s worked everything out. But that’s where it began and ended for the Awakeners, for they were as glued to the Ward as the Tranquil Majority.

The third group were the Ardent Rebels: the very few of the patients who’d eschew words for direct action. These Rebels had held on to enough of their natural outrage and courage to simply bolt and run from the Ward, or slug a nurse rather than take their meds. I suppose you’d call them the obvious activists. They never lasted too long, any more than does a lone-hero, “free man on the land” type who single handedly tries taking on the corporate state and its courts.

And then there was the fourth class of patients: the seasoned Veterans whose capacity to endure and learn from their own mistakes had allowed them to know themselves as well as they knew the system. The Veterans remained quiet, camouflaged and off the radar, biding their time for the right moment to act. They were the ultimate realists who trusted and relied on no-one, and for that reason stood the best chance of surviving and even transcending the Nut Ward.

And the fifth persona? They were, of course, the staff members themselves: the nurses, doctors and administrators who made the whole thing operate, and who therefore were the most insane. For as the system’s professional Managerial Class, they had been assimilated most completely into the required illusions and delusions of the Ward.

This basic schematic of the Insanity Industry’s power structure is but a stage setting for an appreciation of the main event, which is the mutual dance the Five performed and still perform. Learning the steps of that production is key to breaking free from its madness and finding that liberation from the walls of delusion that keep all Five of us personas trapped and condemned.

The first recognition about the dance is that it is precisely that: constant motion and change. None of our five classes of people tend to think or live in terms of continual movement, but rather limited static jumps, which is the energy signal of right-angled, interior prisons like the Nut House. Observe a swarm of flies if you need proof of this: bugs that are outdoors move in circular or randomly unpredictable patterns, reflecting the energy of nature. But indoor flies jolt about in restricted, right-angled motions, mirroring the contained energy grid of a house.

Such a grid pattern is stamped on every child born into so-called western culture. Its angular control of all the energy within its boundaries is present in the most basic template of our culture: the so-called Cross of Christ, which replaced the early Christian symbol of open-ended eternity, mistakenly described as a fish image. The Cross is in actuality the pattern of an angular energy grid. That configuration emerged millenia ago. It arose from the right-angled street plan of the army camps laid out by the Roman legions on campaign, which later evoved into the most common layout of modern cities. That angular grid pattern depicts the nature of power that emerged from Rome and captured the world: in a word, domination.

The Domination archtype of the one or the few over the many conditions every aspect of thought, religion, law, medicine and power in our culture, and shapes all five of the personality types in question, whether on the Nut Ward or off. It is not surprising then that these Five groups habitually operate in predictable patterns that can be anticipated and controlled by a small elite acting through the Managerial class. Nevertheless, the nature of the dance between the Five remains one of a constant movement that persists despite an interior-conditioned thinking. This tight web can be disrupted by the entry of conscious thought into the energy pattern: a consciousness that claims that energy for itself and redirects it in a new manner, by acting outside the experience of the system in new and creative ways.

I observed how this began to occur, even among the heavily medicated and managed denizens of Ward Two West, through as simple an act as switching off the Ward television set. Silence then began to draw the attention of normally comatose patients to gaze out the windows or towards one another, as something deeper began to stir in them.

Knowing this, the system has become increasingly adept in not allowing such personal energy from prevailing or even finding a momentary foothold in the normally managed populace. The latter of whatever persona cannot be allowed themselves. Instead, thanks to the internet and an increasingly domineering and invasive technology, people are kept universally immersed in a single electronic energy medium that can uniformly control all thought and action. Through an artificial environment that is now effectively absolute, humanity is thereby being deliberately componentized into the operating units of a single global machine: the inevitable and perfect expression of the Domination archetype.

This imperative of uniformity by the system determines the nature of the dance between the Five. The motion of the Managers is singular: simply a top down, domineering control. While powerful, this motion is the most static movement of the Five, for it is monolithic and restricted to only one course of behaviour. The other Four personas therefore have a potentially enormous strategic advantage over the Managers and their tyranny, since the Four are capable of greater movement and unpredictability provided they can overcome their habitualized natures.

Of the four personas, the Veterans and the Ardent Rebels are best prepared to operate thus outside and against the system. In practice, they constitute the vanguard that can drag the others along with them in those fleeting moments when the system begins to break down and new alignments of power are necessary and therefore possible. But by their natures, Veterans and Rebels are highly individualistic and self-reliant, and are not inclined to think or act collectively. They can, paradoxically, also constitute the greatest barrier to change because of that individualism.

Nevertheless – to use another Ward example – it was the Rebels and Veterans who led initiatives to bring about reforms or changes to Ward routine when the conditions allowed it. In a nutshell, Rebels provided the energy and Veterans the thinking for change. The rest of the inmates eventually moved according to the new energy pattern created by these two personas against the dominant norms on the Ward.

The Managers and their controllers knew this, of course, and as in politics, their main effort went towards dividing and splitting the Rebels from the Veterans with bribes and selective repression. When they became identified, Veteran Ward members would be the ones invited to sit on Ward committees and be coopted into the administration. Rebels, on the other hand, would be neutralized through threats or overt punishments. The analogies to our own situation are obvious.

I also experienced how the Awakeners often became the biggest distraction and disruption to the coalescing of any real change on the Ward. In fact, it was often more likely for a sudden dissent to emerge from within the mass of Tranquils than from the Awakeners, who operated from the false belief that they already knew what the problems were and what had to be done, thereby isolating themselves from the others and from any capacity to move or to change. Awakeners are invariably just armchair talkers. But the majority – the apparently dead and sluggish Tranquils – are like elementary particles that can be shaken into a sudden and even radical opposition for brief moments, like the masses of people become during any socially revolutionary period and situation.

All of these movements invariably pose a basic question of power: of who will run the Ward, and why, or even of abolishing the Ward altogether. But that question must first be imagined by our different personas before it can be perceived as a “practical” goal: an imagining which in itself is the biggest and seemingly most difficult thing to do. Inmates cannot imagine escaping their confinement until either they have begun to think outside of its walls or become engaged in concrete actions and experiences that alter their thinking and open them up to new possibilities. The purpose of any leadership among the four inmate-personas is to unite both thought and action to establish a continual counter-culture of opposition within the bowels of the Ward itself: a new way of being that is in reality the seed of a new power arrangement that will replace the old one altogether.

I have used the experience and the model of a psychiatric ward to illuminate our own situation in a way that takes seriously the personalities molded by conditions of domination and “ward management”. We are all very much the inmates of a psychotic, violent and dissociated global culture that requires segmented, unintegrated and functionally-defined personalities in order to survive: that is, a population of inwardly sick and dependent people, not healthy and conscious ones. No society thus formed has a future except as a managed machine one, devoid of life and change. Regaining our own minds and lives is therefore the first most basic step in breaking down the walls of such a global insane asylum and finally allowing all of us captives to be set free into the Natural Law and Liberty that is our birth right.

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