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Thursday, May 15, 2008


Clear Thinking

Thomas S. Szasz is to psychiatry as Ludwig Von Mises is to political economy. Szasz is most noted for his opposition to classifying behavior as an illness; that so-called “mental-illness” is a myth. This is as close one can get to “swimming up stream” without touching water. In a similar manner, Von Mises was writing about the idea that less government intervention was the answer to prosperity in the time of the new deal and the coming of the Third Reich.

What makes these two men and a handful of other intellectuals rise above the mediocrity of popular opinion and demagoguery? Szasz once wrote, “Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.” Szasz, having a gift for writing, has provided the answer to my question in seven words. The eloquence of the statement is obvious, the power of the statement comes from observation.

Much is spoken of courage, medals are given for it and if your parents had no taste you might even be named after it. Courage seems to be the exclusive realm of the physical. Soldiers are courageous, firefighters are courageous, intellectuals are stodgy. Although this is to be expected. We live in a time when reading a book written by a television pundit qualifies you as a thinking man. However, true intellectualism requires something more than reading rubbish authored by the common man's “thinker du jour”. Being a thinker requires the sacrifice of your happiness. Possessing knowledge is like coming upon a chasm; on one side lay what is, on the other lay what should be, in the middle an abyss. The common man my never see the such a chasm, the common thinking man will only wonder along the shore of what is. Clear thinking, unrestricted thinking, is coming to the end of the cliff and stepping into the abyss. In the case of Szasz he stood upon the “shore of mental health” and did not meander or look back, he pressed forward. His conclusions implied the illegitimacy of institutions, laws, and social structures. In a similar fashion, Von Mises not knowing the result of examining Austria's housing crisis pressed forward and in the process came upon knowledge that the single most influential actor in our economy acts only to harm us.

Szasz's eloquent statement becomes more powerful every time I hear a trite lecture or read an uninspired article. People that posses the mental faculty to undo their own lecturing and writings do not. It is a sudden seizure in thought, a pang steaming from accepting a harsher world, a world that becomes more and more foreign with each consecutive blow of logic. Because of this, Szasz is right. Clear thinking isn't the domain of the intelligent, most of us posses the intelligence required to understand that behavior cannot be classified as an illness or that intervention between consenting parties results in less prosperity. Clear thinking requires courage because as one steps farther into the abyss, the shore of what is disappears until you are deposited upon a foreign shore bearing little resemblance to the one you knew.

by Alex Devore

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