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Foucault and the Drugging of Society

"You feeling nice and dopey? Good...."

(This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.)

When I lived in San Francisco I worked as an overnight counselor in a lock-down facility housing adolescents with various social and/or psychological disorders. It was rough. There was a reason these kids-who-were-adults-too-early were not allowed to wander around in society. Whenever they were “free” they were incontrollable.

Many had horrible experiences as children–verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, watching day after day of domestic abuse from one parent toward another, drug abuse. This causes nights to be a source of angst for many. Nightmares were normality. I saw teens who would act like adults at 9AM turn into fearful children at 9PM.

One way to help these people cope was to provide them with drugs. I will admit, I often wanted these kids to take their drugs. When they were drugged they were “normal”. Some would do it. Some hated it. Those who hated it knew it doped them up, it slowed their thinking, it calmed them down while taking away their sense of control, their sense of autonomy, their sense of “being”. Nightmares or dopiness? What a choice.

One philosopher/sociologist/historian we encountered in our reading is Michel Foucault. I do not know enough about him to pretend that I can summarize his views on matters, but I do know he was skeptical of modern systems of control like the place I worked and the pharmaceutic companies that provided the drugs. We “knew” what was best for these kids and our “knowledge” was “power”….if they took the drug. I saw the decision as an easy night at work or a hard one. They saw it as their humanity or robotics.

Foucault noticed this. Those of us who do not suffer with mental trauma want those who do to take the drugs because their instability challenges our way of life. We want them drugged. We want them locked away. We would rather pay $200,000 annually to have them taken away then wandering our streets. Is Foucault right? Is our “knowledge” of what they need “power”?

If it were you who had to chose between fearful humanity or numb robotics which would it be? It is easier for those giving the drugs than those asked to take them. Some are not even asked as our love for diagnosing children with ADHD has shown over the years! Is this moral? Are we in “the right” when we drug to control? Or is this mere power disguised as “rightness” and “truth” and “order”?

What do you think? As a Christian theologian what do you say to the drugging of society? What is our response to madness? Should we support it because it is “good” in a utilitarian fashion or should we oppose it because all too often the drugs are not for the worst case scenario but for the control of those whom we find uncontrollable?