Part of Solution
In particular deficit based change approaches have an unfortunate propensity to reinforce
hierarchy, wherein “less than ideal” individuals, who learn to accept what sometimes
becomes a lifelong label, are encouraged to enter “treatment programs” under expert
supervision; to erode community, wherein the the mental health professions appropriate
the process of interpersonal realignment that might otherwise (in other eras) have
happened in a nonprofessional contexts like the family or community; to instill a sense of
self-enfeeblement,wherein deficit terms essentialize the person and like a birthmark or
fingerprint, the deficit is expected to inevitably manifest itself into many aspects of their
lives (it is a “thing”); to stimulate endless vocabulary expansion wherein people
increasingly construct their problems in the professional languages (diagnosing each
other) and seek more help which in turn increased the numbers in the profession who are
rewarded when they expand the vocabulary—“to explore a new disorder within the
mental health sciences is not unlike discovering a new star in astronomy (p.159)”.
Gergen sums up: “As I am proposing, when the culture is furnished with a professionally
rationalized language of mental deficit and people are increasingly understood according
to this language, the population of “patients” expands. This population, in turn, forces the
profession to extend its vocabulary, and thus the array of mental deficit terms available
for cultural use (p.161). Is there no exit from such progressive infirmity?
After talking this over with the people in the inner city Chicago conference—and tracing
the vocabularies of human deficit not only to the rise of the professions but also to the
rise of bureaucracy, skeptical science, original sin theological accounts, the cynical
media—the Alinsky trained activist sat down in a gasp. He said: “in the name of
entertainment my people are being fed negative views of human violence—and they are
surrounded by endless description of their negative “needs” their “problem lives”. Even
in my methods, the same. And what do I see? I see people asleep in front of their TVs.
Unable to move, like sleeping dogs. Yes they have voice in the housing project
assessments. But it is a certain kind of voice…it is visionless voice. They get to confirm
the deficit analysis; all the reports are the same. “Yes” they say, “The reports are true”.
What is hitting me right now is how radical the AI message might be. Marx could have
said it better: perhaps the vocabularies of human deficit are the opiates of the masses.
People have voice in the analyses—this involvement is what we fought for. But people are
not mobilized by it anymore. No, they are asleep. Visionless voice is probobly worse than