ALEX JONES AND FOULCAULT’S PROPHECY, or Mental Illness Diagnosis as Discourse Control
Last Wednesday, slight maniac and uncowed truth-teller/insidious huckster (depending on your perspective) Alex Jones made a surprising re-appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience, the world’s most popular podcast. In his time there, he spun his usual tales and anxieties into an elucidating tapestry of his worldview — that splinter organizations of the US government are using DMT to communicate with extra-dimensional aliens, cell-phone towers are used to control the population, etc.
This podcast provides an opportunity to examine reaction to what he has said from journalists and social activists like Tim Wise. Mr Wise wrote that Mr Jones should be ‘forciblat it is not is surprising. In fact, it has been the medicalized approach to dissent for over a century in governments of all kinds, from capitalist to communist.
When I hear consistent calls for Jones to be deplatformed by various voices whenever he raises his head, I am reminded of this passage from the preface of Foucault’s book Madness and Civilisation:
“Modern man no longer communicates with the madman… the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words… in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out.”
I am torn when it comes to Foucault. His writing on sexuality is confused — deliberately obscurantist and presumptuous, at times bordering on the grotesque. On the other hand, I find him to be an invaluable resource on the ways modern society perceives and builds an idea of ‘mental illness’. Nowhere is this better evidenced than in the reactions we see to Alex Jones.
Though Foucault makes sweeping, often factually incorrect claims to the treatment of the insane in pre-Enlightenment eras, his thesis is sound; that there is potential for inspiration and insight via dialogue with ‘madman’ that goes ignored in favour of the explicit separation of the ‘sane’ and the ‘insane’ — never the two shall meet, for the sane person fears that part of the insane will rub off and forever taint them with the disorder of dissent.
With regards to the podcast, this can be seen when co-host Eddie Bravo compares Jones’s views to those of ‘Flat Earthers’. The implication that is carried is that all conspiracy theories are of the same stock, of insane stock. Jones repudiates him for this comparison, and rightly so; by tarring all conspiracy theory by way of the most ridiculous example, by practicing reductio ad absurdum, Bravo, does the legwork of discourse control. Bravo is here playing devil’s advocate, and indeed states agreement with Jones to some extent, but his intentions do not change the pragmatic modus of his statement. This is what the label of insanity invariably represents — an opportunity for the dominant discourse to reassert its position by suggestion that all fringe discourse comes from the same modus, one of inherent inaccuracy that must be cured rather than engaged.
Medicalization, backed by private interests, encourages the onset of a worldview that is not amenable to dominant social structures and does not sufficiently attend to these dynamics in personal life by delineating negativistic perspective into a personal ‘illness’ which can be treated first and foremost as a problem for the person to solve with hi themselves by realigning themselves closer to idealized consensus reality — or otherwise allowing the state to alter their neurochemistry (i.e. medicate) to brute force them towards amenability. Of course, Tim Wise stating this impulse is not the same as the state acting it out — however, his statement does elucidate the impetus that underlines such actions. Mark Fisher (RIP), in his book “Capitalist Realism”states this with regards to another form of insanity, depression — specifically, he describes why the impetus to definite outward critique medically acts as a distraction from modern systems of labour.
“Being a teenager in late capitalist Britain is now close to being reclassified as a sickness. By privatizing these problems — treating them as if they were caused only by chemical imbalances in the individual’s neurology and/or by their family background — any question of social systemic causation is ruled out.”
For Alex Jones, demands that he be forcibly medicated show that despite speaking utter nonsense, he also often speaks the truth. In some way he is lucky; he has the diligence and business acumen to turn his stream of consciousness into a livelihood and had he not he would have likely been labelled as a schizophrenic by now. But one need only research what he is saying to recognize that his statements often are grounded in realities that are not simply uncomfortable to one side of partisan politics but to the basal assumptions that modern consensus reality functions on. Alex Jones is thought of as a threat not because he often says things that are clearly nonsense, but because he says them with conviction; his existence unseparated from the world of the sane is a reminder to the world of the sane that our truths and perspectives may be couched in falsehoods that we have left unquestioned.
I leave you with a revised version of a statement by psychedelic advocate Terrence Mckenna:
“Alex Jones is deplatformed not because a loving academic class is concerned that you may harass the parents of school shooting victims. Alex Jones is deplatformed because he dissolves opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. He opens you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”
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