The Study of Man: More Insanity Than a Century Ago?
The various social sciences, like all disciplines possessing an individual history and a corps of specially trained practitioners, ask their own questions, and answer them in their own way. It is not often that the questions they ask are the layman’s questions, or the answers they give ones that would satisfy a layman. When they ask a question which has served for decades as one of the common counters in discussions of modern life, and at the same time answer it—that is news.
It is in just this sense that a slim volume recently published by the Free Press (Psychosis and Civilization, by Herbert Goldhamer and Alexander Marshall, 126 pp., $4.00) is news. The question it asks is: is it true that the frequency of mental disorder—specifically, of psychoses—has increased over the past hundred years? We know that enormous changes have occurred in the way we live in these hundred years. Many more of us live in cities, the cities are larger and noisier, we travel greatter distances to and from work, are subject in larger measure to the tyranny of the clock and the need to oblige a superior—and in view of all this, it would appear a truism to assert that man, subjected to an increasingly inhuman (or at any rate nonhuman) environment, increasingly breaks down under the strain. And indeed, all around us are huge installations which we know house many thousands of the mentally disordered, and the budgets of state governments groan under the pressure of maintaining them and building more. Surely all this, if not new, is far more characteristic of our present-day lives than of life a hundred years ago. But are we sure?
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