The politics of diagnosis

Political science is about analysis and diagnosis of political behaviour, and this week we will look at the relationship between mental health diagnosis and political dogmatism, racism, xenophobia, radicalism and extremism — in short political relations.

Social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, court judges, clergymen and many others trained to deal with human behaviour never begin their diagnosis with the political system — but they are guided by their respective diagnostic procedures.

Psychology concerns itself with predicting behaviour, social work is about understanding behaviour, the law is about correcting behaviour, and faith is about spiritualising or transforming behaviour.

When diagnosing mental health problems, focus is on being able to determine to a very fine extent the characteristics and symptomatologies of various mental illnesses. It is all about the categorisation of behaviour and the means by which this process is carried out; and this obsession with procedural diagnosis makes psychologists and others in related fields believe they are politically neutral.

While mental problems are often seen as denoting a disturbed psyche, there is always the silent fact that in fact the individual with mental health problems disturbs the psyche of those observing him or her.

When we say an individual is disturbed, we often mean we have problems with the psyche of that individual, we mean the individual disturbs us. In this case diagnosis must involve a dualistic relationship, not only in terms of what behaviour the patient exhibits but how that behaviour reflects upon others, and upon the person who is making the diagnosis itself.

Diagnosis is inherently social in nature, whether it is a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker, a sociologist, a lawyer or anyone else carrying it out.

Behavioural diagnosis is a political affair. It is part of the political system.

When we see people from the other side of the political divide behaving differently, when we believe they have a disturbed psyche, often it is not the irrationality of their actions that we are looking at, but at the threat of their behaviour to our own mental balance.

These people are not only disturbing to their own peace of mind: they are disturbing to our peace, and in more ways than one they are disturbing to our way of doing things.

The political behaviour we are diagnosing as tyrannical, treacherous, unpatriotic or diabolical may, in fact, represent a disturbing questioning of our ways of doing things, our values, and indeed the nature of our social relations.

The behaviour of the so-called terrorist or political devil threatens us, threatens to expose our failures, our hypocrisies, our collusion in bringing about the state of the mind of the individual who confronts us. We do not want to face this rebellious youth who is intolerant, disrespectful, murderous, angry, and war like because he is a reflection of the society in which we have brought him up.

Colonialism did not want to see the guerrilla in us when we embarked on the armed struggle, to free ourselves, and it called us terrorists. In us colonialism confronted its own ugly face in the mirror.

Diagnosis is not a one-way street where only the one regarded as the patient is looked at. It is a two-way street where society and the disturbed person look at each other and work out their problem together.

I am a columnist in the business of analysing the political behaviour of people, and informed analysis cannot only be about the behaviour of certain individuals, but about the behaviour of society as a whole, and we must recognise this fact and face up to it.

The persons of Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa are a breed of the society that Zimbabwe is, and you cannot find a Mnangagwa or a Chamisa personality in Australia because the Australian society does not breed such politicians. It breeds its own kind, shaped by its own values and prejudices.

Through diagnosis, the ruling society will always legalistically apply its ideological measures to the recalcitrant members of that society.

This is how the status quo is maintained, sustained and legitimised. Where the society is unjust, this is how repression is justified.

When an individual is labeled in an unjust and unequal society, and is labelled by the very people who maintain its injustice and inequality, then the very diagnostic process itself, and the very labels attached to the victims of that society are the very means by which repression is carried out in the system.

In short, when the one wielding power in an unjust way is the one making diagnosis of the behaviour of those that stand against his unjust way of wielding power, it becomes hopeless to expect those being labelled to be judged fairly or rationally.

Our leading opposition leader is facing internal rebellion from a legal angle, and he has said those seeking to use the law to win political battles against him will be defeated “politically, home and away.” Power can thwart the law itself, if wielded in an irresponsible way.

So the one wielding power unjustly will cherry pick aspects of the law to selectively and wilfully victimise those seen as opposed to his bidding. This is how unfriendly elected people can be constitutionally suspended and replaced by loyal appointees of the one wielding power, how the vote can be manipulated to suit the bidding of the one unjustly wielding power.

As an unjust system looks its victims in their faces, as it judges them, it sees its own behaviour, its own face in the behaviour and face of its victims. The crazy behaviour, the rebellion, the hate, the face of madness strikes terror in the very soul of an unjust system, in the heart of the one wielding power unjustly.

A political party or a state through its diagnostic procedures looks at the face of its victims; sees the face of its own deviance, the hidden, internal, covert rottenness it represents is suddenly externalised and glares back impertinently like a vivid mirror image.

In the early nineties, New York Senator D’Amato said he was intimidated by merely being in the subway in the company of black people, that merely seeing black teenagers on the streets was intimidating. He was not the only one. Many black parents and individuals felt the same. Their own children frightened them more than they were by other people.

That sad commentary relates well to our own society today.

Our leaders are frightened by the behaviour of our own children. We have a generation dangerously alienated from what we take to be our national identity.

When we see our children in Harare, they look back at us. In a sense they show us to ourselves. They are saying to us our misery is who you are as the parenting generation, our hopelessness is who you are, our crimes are who you are, our immorality is who you are, everything us is who you are.

We get angry and hostile and we contend, “How dare you condemn us who liberated this country? How dare you want to strike back at us? How dare you protest against us and form your own stupid political parties?”

This is what the American government says to rebellious black youths in that racially troubled nation: “How dare the victim bleeds under the cutting lashes of our social repression? How dare you yell out in pain when we kick your butt? How dare you strike back when we strike you? How dare you protest when we kill your youngsters in the streets? How dare you disrupt the court proceedings when we are doing a legal lynching in our courts? How dare you accuse us of racism?”

The same goes for global politics. How dare weaker states point out to the shortcomings of the civilised West? How dare you want to have the veto power too at the UN?

How dare you challenge our expansionist policies? How dare you continue to yell out about the evils of slavery and colonisation?

It is an amusing reality that after raping and robbing the world, after killing and destroying, after building weapons that will kill each individual in the world 10 times over, after permitting 27 individuals to own more than the entire developing world combined, while people are starving to death, after robbing people across the world day in and day out — the former enslaver and coloniser thinks he has a right to sleep at night, that he has the right to walk down the street and feel safe, and has a right to be treated civilly!

What kind of fools does he think the people of the world are?

What kind of a world does he think this is that he can get away with rape and robbery, expecting the victims not protest in some fashion, form or the other, be that protest self-destructive or otherwise?

Well, repressive systems legitimise themselves by criminalising the acts of the oppressed while assigning helping professionals like the police, judges, the court officials, the psychologists and others to “keep them away from us; make them invisible; convert their behaviour; make them adjust to the system on one way or the other. Use your diagnostic and treatment powers as a means of giving us peace at night!” (Amos Wilson 1993, pp 89).

The diagnosis of deviant behaviour becomes the problem in politics. It becomes the means by which those wielding power deny culpability. It becomes a defence mechanism by which the establishment denies its guilt and defends its self-image and prerogatives.

Diagnosis becomes the means by which the establishment projects its criminality and its own insanity. Listening to any dictator describing the behaviour of his vocal opponents will prove this, especially if the dictator is a popular demagogue.

Diagnosis of deviant political behaviour will see enemies instead of divergent opinion in this instance. As such diagnosis becomes a mechanism of denial, projection and repression — both physical and political.

Through diagnosis the establishment will find in its critics criminals, and it will gather evidence of a criminal nature. This is how our leadership will treat our broken homes, our uncaring young parents, rejection, alcoholism, criminality, absentee fathers, disorganised ghetto neighbourhoods, moral laxities, and skewed values.

These are all the fault of the victims, all evidence of their own criminality and human indecency.

So our social workers can theorise and tell us how criminals are bred, where HIV/AIDS infected people hail from, where drug addicts are born and bred, where thugs are created and how, how robbers are born and created and where, and so on and so forth.

We are oblivious to the fact that our system creates the carrier criminal, or the rebellious youth, and then finds a means of identifying these people, and then punishes them and thereby commits a crime against these people in the name of the law.

Prisons often create criminals because they are part of the criminal assault against a victimised and oppressed people in the first place — at least in most of the cases.

When diagnosing the political behaviour of those that stand opposed to our views, the process must be a two-way process, where the behaviour of opponents or critics is seen as a product of some action from those that are being criticised, or the establishment.

Without this civilised approach to diversity and divergence of opinion, we can only create polarity both within our political parties and at inter-party levels in national politics.

It is an indisputable reality that Zimbabweans are polarised within the two major parties, and across the parties themselves, and this is an entirely undemocratic tendency.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome! It is homeland or death!!

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.

Source :

Check Also

Market in Quandary Over Old Mutual, PPC Shares

Confusion reigns over valuation of the Old Mutual and PPC shares that were suspended from …

This function has been disabled for Zimbabwe Today.