The Between the Lines Column from the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
Choose your prison
Libertarians who support capitalism tie themselves into knots. The Late Show With Clive James (BBC2. Friday 10 February had a debate between two psychiatrists, Anthony Clare and Robert Szasz. The latter, who wrote the compelling book, The Myth of Mental Illness, contends that psychiatrists diagnose bogus diseases when they say that people's minds are ill. Clare offered an eloquent defence of psychiatry, although it did not convince the present writer. Szasz is a strange combination: a man dedicated to the eradication of the state's right to drug and incarcerate people in the name of making them better, while at the same time a passionate defender of the so-called free market. What this means is that Szasz s answer to workers who feel depressed or are victims of other mental problems is that they should go and buy counselling. It must follow that those unable to buy the talking therapy which will relieve their anguish must be left to suffer. In the course of the discussion Clare put it to Szasz that "mentally ill" people need to be placed in care for their own safety. It is almost certainly true that some people do require protection against what they might do to themselves or others. And what remedy did libertarian Szasz offer? The state should build more prisons in which to lock up such people.
We live in a society of individualism, or so we are told by the minority who can afford the luxury of escaping from the crowd Channel Four's three-part series, The Big Company, gave the lie to that capitalist myth. The series showed just how modern companies encourage their workforces to feel part of the business. IBM workers were trained to repeat the company motto: ‘World Peace Through World Trade ". Huxley's Brave New World, with its mindless, logic-twisting slogans, came readily to mind. At another big company called Herman Miller the workers making furniture are made to feel that every company product is a matter of pride to them. One poor fellow, busily making leather chairs for executives to swing about on, boasted proudly that after ten years employees are given a leather chair to take home. A company called Amway. which goes in for a kind of pyramid selling just the right side of the law. holds conventions at which employees scream like devotees of new religions as they are informed that Mr. and Mrs. Shnortel of Wyoming have won a gold star for selling more rubbish than the rest of them. Three gold stars and you go for a sail on the company yacht. We were shown the chairman of Apple addressing a convention of his cheering wage slaves. He informs them that Apple is going to challenge IBM for a share of the world computer market. Hooray! IBM have had it their way for too long. Cheers; hooray! A film is shown depicting IBM as a backward, anachronistic company, whereas Apple employee are all sun-tanned Californian go-getters. The sun-tanned go-getters rise in ecstasy. A public relations man from IBM says that his team is really the best and then shows a film demonstrating that his company's employees are the most faithful in the world. What is the difference between working in the Russian Empire as a cog in the state capitalist wheel, carrying out other peoples Five Year Plans, and working for an equally bureaucratic and monolithic giant American business corporation in which you, the worker, are just one more profit-gathering ant? To be sure, ants are told they're free. But then again, there is a horrible tendency for free ants to be trodden on.
On Wogan (BBC1. Friday 18 February) the man being interviewed was Rupert Murdoch. Here is a list of questions which Tel Boy did not ask: How do you feel about the printers sacked by you who were beaten up by the police (now facing criminal charges) when they were picketing at Wapping? How worried are you by the fact that the soft porn displayed in your newspapers makes many women feel frightened to go out at night, for fear of assault by rapists who expect all women to be consumable? How do you feel about the tradition of outright political lying which your newspapers go in for? How do you justify the capitalist idea of the self-made man when you inherited a multi-million dollar publishing company at the age of just twenty-two? Instead, Murdoch was given an easy ride and a free plug for his new venture, Sky TV. Murdoch said that he was proud of The Sun and hoped that Sky would be as good. Say no more.