Philosophising about the 'S'-word: Watch… and learn
In the eleventh episode of Orange Is The New Black (Season 1), inmate Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning, Hawaii Five-O) is convinced that God uses her to heal people. The prison psychiatrist does not think so. The day before (episode 10), a group of female young offenders was made to visit the prison to see what their future may look like; a paraplegic teenage girl on a wheelchair was among them. Tiffany, the miracle maker, believed she could make her walk and forced her out of her wheelchair. The girl started screaming, the prison guards ran to her rescue, Tiffany was transferred to the psychiatric unit and found herself locked in a cage.
THE PSYCHIATRIST (Benjamin Eakeley): Have you ever seriously considered suicide?
TIFFANY: What are you? One of those hippy-dippy docs? Like, if I told you I was dreaming about a pineapple, you would ask me if I wanna have sex with my mama? Hmm?
THE PSYCHIATRIST: Have you experienced any of the following during the last two weeks? Anxiety?
TIFFANY: Of course I’ve experienced anxiety! You think this is an easy job? Having to heal the whole world with just… these 10 fingers. It’s a lot of pressure!
THE PSYCHIATRIST: Loss of appetite?
TIFFANY: What does that have to do with anything? Hmm? Doc? You know, it’s people like you that give America a bad name. You all go squawking around talking about guns being dangerous, when all you want to do is shove pills down people’s throats! When all they need is just a little bit of faith… Ask me about my appetite. Why? Because I’m just naturally kind of skinny?
THE PSYCHIATRIST: Miss Doggett, if you could please just answer the question.
TIFFANY: I HAVE answered the question! I’m not crazy. I’m chosen. There’s a difference. Now, if you just let me out of this cage… we can both get back to our jobs. Please?
THE PSYCHIATRIST: You’ve stated that you believe God is speaking to you and allowing you…
TIFFANY: (GROANS) I don’t have to believe, Doc! I know! Why don’t you just go ask some of the other girls? They’re all gonna tell you! I’ve been healing ailments left and right. Miracle. There’s proof.
THE PSYCHIATRIST: These hallucinations you’ve been having…
TIFFANY: I’m not having fucking hallucinations! I don’t belong in here! Come on!
THE PSYCHIATRIST: Miss Doggett…
TIFFANY: I’m not a freaking animal, get me out!
THE PSYCHIATRIST: Miss Doggett, when you calm down, I will get you on a sedative, take you to a nice room…
TIFFANY: I don’t need any sedatives! Jesus has my back! Pleeeaase! Doc! Doc! Come back!
The question of science and religion and that of madness and reason are two of the most ancient, popular and unsolved topics in philosophy. In the previous scene, a Christian woman believing in God and her ability to heal people through God is examined by a scientist believing in science and his ability to heal her through psychiatrics. Tiffany, the Christian woman, is treated and depicted as an insane person because of her unscientific convictions. The scientist, in contrast, appears to be sane and reasonable, although he is the one who puts a human being in a cage.
According to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the shaman cannot be a shaman if he or she is a lunatic, but the parallel between acts of shamanism and psychopathologies is “legitimate” in terms of resemblance. He writes in Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss: “It is convenient to compare the shaman in his trance, or the protagonist of a scene of possession, to a neurotic. I have done so myself, and the parallel is legitimate in the sense that some common elements very probably do occur in these two types of states.” However all neurotic patients are not shamans and you do not have to be mentally ill to be a shaman. Lévi-Strauss writes some pages further:
[Siegfried Frederick] “Nadel, in a remarkable study published recently, remarks firstly that ‘no shaman is, in daily life , an ‘abnormal’ individual , a neurotic or a paranoiac; if he were, he would be classed as a lunatic , not respected as a priest’. He then goes on to maintain that a relationship does exist between pathological disturbances and shamanistic behavioural modes, but that that relationship consists less of an assimilation of shamistic behaviour into pathological patterns than of a need to define disturbance as a fuction of shamanism. For the very reason that shamanistic behaviour is normal, certain modes of behaviour can remain normal in shamanistic societies which, elsewhere, would be considered (and would in fact be) pathological.”
In our episode of Orange Is The New Black, Tiffany Doggett is not considered as a shaman but as a psychotic patient. Well, she lives in the American society, that despite its very large variety of belief systems, is paradoxically not actually the shamanistic type. However, Tiffany could have been praised and acclaimed as a tele-evangelist in the same country – admitting that very few scientists actually watch such shows. It looks like the question of her madness or her abnormality depends more on the audience than on herself: the same person could be diagnosed mentally sane by “shamanistic societies” (believers), and mentally ill “elsewhere” (scientific societies, rational individuals, knowers).
The concepts of reason and madness turn out to be relative and to evolve with space and time. Science is no universal paradigm and mad scientists (Dr. Frankenstein, Faust, Nazi physicians in Action T4 to say the least…) have not always and everywhere been described as mad. From the mid XIXth century, effusive women exhibiting sexual desires, anger or violence, demanding the right to vote or to enroll in universities were diagnosed with female hysteria, a neurotic pathology that would cause them to have their wombs removed (hysterectomy). Eminent neurologists like Sigmund Freud and Jean-Martin Charcot stood behind that theory. Up to now, psychiatrists around the world are working on reconversion and reparative therapies to “heal” homosexuality. Scientific doctors may try to heal diseases with treatments that prove to be inefficient because the physicians are wrong about the illnesses themselves.
And what if you did not have to be a scientific doctor to heal people? Tiffany Doggett did heal her fellow inmates, and when you watch the previous episodes, you see that those inmates actually felt better after she laid hands on them. Are they neurotic too?
For Lévi-Strauss, the shaman has the same role as the psychanalyst: the psychanalyst has to listen, whereas the shaman has to speak. This role establishes an immediate relationship to the consciousness (and mediate relationship to the subconscious) of the person that needs to be cured. It is the role of the chant or the prayer. The shaman and the psychalanlyst both expect a reaction, an abreaction. In Structural Anthropology (1963), Lévi-Strauss wrote: “Quesalid did not become a great shaman because he cured his patients; he cured his patients because he had become a great shaman.”
As his predecessor Marcel Mauss (General Theory of Magic, 1902-1903), Lévi-Strauss laid emphasis on the shamans rather than on their believers. Being a magician is about being, representing, manipulating symbols, nurturing myths and mysteries. It is not about being able to heal people or to transform oneself or to speak with spirits. It is not about the capabilities of the magician or the experiences of the healed people, although “The efficacy of magic implies a belief in magic” (Structural Anthropology). Being a psychiatrist is about possessing knowledge, transforming people and proving with no mystery, but with the openness of science. It is about results. Unlike shamans, a psychiatrist has to cure its patients to become a great psychiatrist.
We are aware that this whole analysis describes the point of view of sole scientists (sociology, anthropology, even medical anthropology) and outrageously confuses religion, shamanism and magic. Scientists, philosophers and fools like me had better keep in mind those lines of Wittgenstein (Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921): “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent“.