Remarks by Jeff Schaler on the occasion of receiving
The Ninth Annual Thomas S. Szasz Award
for Outstanding Contributions
to the Cause of Civil Liberties Awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, New York City
on November 16, 1999, at The Cato Institute, Washington, D.C.
I will cherish this award for many years to come. It is a deep honor for me to receive it. Thank you very much Andrea. I'm also very pleased to be here with Chip Mellor and Clint Bolick and to join the crowd of distinguished recipients of this award from the past eight years.
Thank you all for coming this evening to witness and share in this ceremony--Especially my mother, Elizabeth Schaler, who lives in Alexandria, Va., my wife Renee, who came down from Philadelphia despite her broken leg, my daughter Magda, who skipped a class at Columbia Law School to get here in time, and my brother Greg, who took time out of his busy schedule to come here; as well as some of my good friends and of course former and current students of mine. It is very kind of you all to come and it is meaningful to me that you are here.
Tom Szasz called me this morning about two hours before I was to pick him up at the airport to say that his flight had just been cancelled and that he would not be able to make it this evening. Of course, we are all disappointed, Tom especially. He asked me to express his personal regrets and I reassured him he would be here in spirit.
I would also like to invite you to a special symposium we are holding in Syracuse, New York on April 15, 2000 at SUNY Health Sciences Center. This day-long symposium features outstanding speakers from around the country and is being held in honor of Tom's 80th birthday. We have entitled it "Liberty and/or Psychiatry: 40 Years After the Myth of Mental Illness." A public announcement regarding this will be posted on the Szasz site at the end of December. It promises to be a unique event.
I would like to take advantage of this moment to say just a few words about how much this award means to me.
In addition to being a psychotherapist in private practice for the past 26 years (and I agree with Tom when he tells me there is no such thing as "psychotherapy") I have been teaching many of Tom Szasz's ideas about the structure and function of the therapeutic state-where medicine and state are united in much the same way that church and state once were-in my own way for about ten years now. I have, as many of you know, gotten myself into quite a bit of trouble at times for doing so. I have been asked to teach in colleges and universities because of my comprehension and application of Tom's ideas and I have been asked to leave those institutions for the very same reasons.
Moreover, I have been criticized by liberals and libertarians, drug warriors and drug policy reformers alike for my views on mental illness, depression, psychiatry and the law, addiction, and drug legalization. It has, at times, not been an easy road to travel.
I remember a libertarian who once wrote a letter to me saying "you're no Tom Szasz." It was a poignant criticism I took as a compliment. She was annoyed because I told her I thought she was hypocritical for supporting the medical marijuana movement.
That exchange later reminded me of something the composer Ravel said to George Gershwin: "Why be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?"
I've no interest in being a second-rate Szasz. In short, I have committed much of my life over the past ten years to teaching college students about the dangers that the therapeutic state poses to democracy in our contemporary society. In order to prevent totalitarianism we must be vigilant regarding the "pedigree of ideas," as Lord Acton put it, leading to totalitarianism. In this sense, Tom and I are similarly popular and unpopular. However, as Frank Sinatra once sang it, I did it my way.
While the criticism I receive, and am most certain to receive in the years to come, is, in my mind, a sure indication that I'm on the "right track," it's also comforting to me to remember I am not alone in my struggle. I know I have friends here and "out there." Many of them will never receive this kind of recognition and will remain, as a therapist of mine years ago once labeled me, an "invisible man." Friends, colleagues and similar "scoundrels," "ronin" as the Japanese once referred to masterless samurai, are with me, fighting against self-appointed engineers of the human soul in their own ways, engineers empowered by the state to deprive people of liberty and justice in the name of compassion and science. If these friends, young and old, are not literally alongside of me they are most certainly metaphorically so. To me, this Szasz award symbolizes our solidarity. And I thank you for it.
© Copyright Jeffrey A. Schaler, 1997-2002 unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.