Strangely for a museum so geared toward spectacle, PSYCHIATRY: AN INDUSTRY OF DEATH allows no photography. There is something for the whole family in the Church of Scientology's series of exhibits on Sunset Blvd, if the whole family is morbidly inclined. Display cases show restraint devices used in early 20th century sanitoriums. There is a gallery of Nazi experiments. The hysterical graphic design that ties it all together recalls the kind of rolling billboards evangelical Right-to-Life groups love to park by abortion clinics, the ones featuring apparently stir-fried embryos and lurid serifed fonts. The overarching message is distilled in the museum's entrance room, on a flat-screen TV showing a surprisingly low-budget documentary. The opening montage riffles through a dizzying supercut of newscasts and talking heads spouting psychiatric terminology. Then the narration begins, in a voice that sounds like Batman went into telemarketing: "Everywhere you look, there it is. Think psychiatry has nothing to do with you? Think again. The field of psychiatry has reached into every facet of your daily life." The thing is, this happens to be true. And it used to be much more widely acknowledged.
Scientology's fight against psychiatry is a continuation of a critique that was once popular across and beyond the organized left. Feminists, gay rights campaigners, civil rights activists and Scientologists once agreed that the so-called mental health professionals who are anointed to diagnose mental illness and treat it institutionally or pharmaceutically were to be regarded as an extended arm of the carceral state. PSYCHIATRY: AN INDUSTRY OF DEATH is best understood as a fossil of this once-robust movement. If the museum reads as an anachronism, it is because it's the last man standing in a coalition whose other parties have dissolved into the wreckage of the New Left.
How did this once-popular ideological domain become the purview of Scientologists? In other words, how—and why—did the American left make its peace with psychiatry?
The Final Bastion
PSYCHIATRY: AN INDUSTRY OF DEATH was already an anachronism when it landed around the corner from the Hollywood YMCA in 2005. The press registered its opening with sneering bemusement, at best. Napoleonic Scientologist Tom Cruise had recently scandalized daytime television with an outburst on the Today show, railing against Brooke Shields's use of the antidepressant Paxil, which he felt had wrecked her career. "When someone says (medication) has helped them, it is to cope, it didn't cure anything," he said. "There is no science. There is nothing that can cure them whatsoever." Over Matt Lauer's yelps, Cruise insisted that the host simply "didn't understand the history of psychiatry." The outcry was huge. It was shocking for the American public to hear one of their most generic sweethearts espouse such a fringe point of view.
In her op-ed response in the New York Times, Shields denounced Cruise's attack on Paxil's validity as a crank's misogynistic dismissal of the reality of postpartum depression — a line that was largely echoed in the popular response. By then, polite left-liberal society agreed that questioning the medicalization of everyday affects amounted to symbolic violence—that it increased the stigma suffered by the almost 50 percent of Americans that would qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis at some point in their life. If psychiatry's validity has long been accepted by the liberal center, the left has taken to it much more recently. In July 2020, a large crowd gathered at the Beverly Hills sign, preparing to undertake an unpermitted march that would shortly after disperse under a barrage of tear gas and rubber bullets, courtesy of the wealthy neighborhood's police department. Speeches from megaphones decried the misallocation of public budgets on police departments, and called for increased funding for "mental health workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists" to replace cops. This analysis was widely echoed that summer. A stone's throw away, Scientology's museum stands as a testament to the remarkable pivot the Left has since undergone in its attitude toward psychiatry.
Scientologists today are thoroughly divorced from the ideological wars of the age. Their only outward political positions seem to be their interest in tax exemption, local real estate issues (they own a lot of property), and the continuation of their founder's war on the psychiatric industrial complex. How did they end up embroiled in this anachronistic struggle? Or rather, how did religious entrepreneur L. Ron Hubbard connect his nascent psycho-technic experiment to a then-popular movement, inspiring his followers to stay at it long after everyone else had moved on?
A Brilliant Grift
In the Pantheon of American con men, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard deserves a place of honor sandwiched somewhere between P.T. Barnum and Elizabeth Holmes. From the beginning, his creation can be explained less as the expression of a coherent ideology than as a vehicle for its founder's main motivation: making a buck. Like any good con man, Hubbard cultivated a promising set of marks—in his case, the post-war slew of disaffected and downwardly mobile young people flocking to the nation's metropoles. By the mid 1950s, the average guy hoping to replace his blue collar with a white one was in the pincer of two contradictory moods: optimism in the scientific advances delivered on a rush of the military state's cash, and anxiety at their prospects in the post-industrial economy. Hubbard had landed out of the Navy into the un-salaried masses and, knowing its weaknesses, determined that he would rather beat than join them.
A good grift doesn't have to be complicated to work. In Hubbard's case, the trick was to latch onto popular fads and run with them. It all started with his 1951 book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which was an unabashed parasitization—some have argued, a parody—of the 1948 zeitgeist-bending international bestseller Cybernetics, published by MITs' prodigy-in-chief Norbert Wiener. Flush on cash from the military-industrial complex, Wiener had led a group of academics spanning disciplines from physics to biology. Their goal was to create a unified theory of the machine as living organism, and Cybernetics was their founding manifesto. The book was reviewed in all major magazines and newspapers, sparking what historian Ronald Kline has termed a "cybernetics craze," becoming "a staple of science fiction and a fad among artists, musicians, and intellectuals in the 1950s and 1960s."
Dianetics even sounded like Cybernetics. Originally billed as a work of popular psychiatry, Hubbard's remix married a self-help ethos designed to appeal to the educated but downwardly mobile "free-thinker" with the patina of cutting-edge science. It was all very exciting. It was the same kind of hand-wavy stuff that keeps gimmick-ateliers like the MIT Media Lab up and running: not only is this thing art, it's science, it's technology, it's politics—all code, of course, for it's a brilliant grift. Gamely running with the cybernetic trope that the human nervous system was a digital computer, Dianetics aped the research techniques of psychiatric cyberneticians like Neal Miller, whose biofeedback device Hubbard ripped off to create his "auditing e-meter."
Even by the standards of Los Angeles con men, Hubbard had alchemized an entrepreneurial hit. The book sold over 100,000 copies in two years, spawning groups of enthusiast practitioners, and—most importantly—landing Hubbard a windfall of cash. In 1949, he reputedly told a writer's convention that "If a man really wants to make $1 million, the best way would be to start his own religion." Three years after the publication of Dianetics, Hubbard took his own advice and incorporated Scientology as a religious organization.
Starting a church was more than just a savvy tax evasion scheme. Creating a formal organization was a smart way to capitalize on what could be described as the rumblings of a nascent social group, the aspiring members of what sociologists John and Barbara Ehrenreich called the "Professional Managerial Class." Educated, urban, and blindingly white, members of the so-called "PMC" considered themselves more intellectual than blue-collar factory workers, but lacked family wealth that would let them opt out of work altogether. "Free-thinkers," yes; bohemians, no. "The people who were drawn to Dianetics were young to middle-aged white-collar Protestants who had a pronounced interest in science fiction," writes Lawrence Wright. "Some were motivated by the prospect of employment in this booming new field." Scientology deftly leaned into this cadre's career anxieties with offerings like celebrity-led career workshops.
As a scheme, Scientology worked because it did what all successful religious grifts do: it offered an alienated social group a community and a solution to its defining problems, articulated in the vernacular of its tastes. In this case, that solution was to create social networks that would help PMC-ers without contacts in a new city find professionalized employment (particularly in Hollywood), combined with a self-help program that quacked like cutting edge science. It was a hell of a combination, especially in a city like Los Angeles. By 1979, Joan Didion could describe the Scientologists as just part of the ordinary fauna of the city's counter-culture.
A key aspect of Hubbard's success was his knack for linking his new faith to a variety of quasi-political movements already popular among members of—or aspirants to—the professional class. The list of Scientology's associations over its first 20 years is a roll call of fashionable causes, all occupying a distinct political valence beyond the traditionally-conceived right or left. This was the zone of vaguely anti-establishment "free-thinking" that would be the laboratory for much of so-called New Left politics. Thus, Hubbard's 1955 book Brain-Washing latched onto the meme status of the alleged military technique; originally a neologism coined by CIA operative Edwin Hunter to account for the defection of US POWs in the Korean War, it had become a popular way of expressing panic about human agency in an era of mass advertising, media and zombie communists. His 1957 book All About Radiation captured the suspicion of nuclear technology and its potential impact on the human body that was becoming prevalent among the educated public as information about Hiroshima or the US nuclear testing program escaped government censors. Hubbard's continued refinement of Dianetics throughout the period tracked the evolution of self-help culture. His 1958 effort Problems of Work addressed the problems facing the post-industrial worker, outlined less popularly by books like Hannah Arendt's 1958 The Human Condition. The trick was to aim for the absolute bullseye of the cultural middlebrow, continually absorbing the ambient sensibilities and concerns of the sort of people who, if they did not read Arendt, had in any case gotten the gist from excerpts carried in Reader's Digest.
Scientology boomed through its first decade, but by the late 1960s, a series of setbacks had put Hubbard's fortunes on shakier footing. First there was the 1963 crackdown by the Food and Drug Administration. In 1963, they seized 100 "e-meter" devices and thousands of anti-radiation pills. The implication was clear—if Scientology wanted to claim the status of a scientific medical treatment, then they'd better be ready to be regulated like one. The sting successfully muscled the Church into admitting that they were not, in fact, in the medical business. Then there was the IRS. In 1967, the agency not only revoked the Church's tax-exempt status but backdated the decision, requiring the organization to pay back years of the taxes it owed. Hubbard's access to church funds was severed. It was a disaster. By 1968, he had taken to the sea on a former infantry landing ship, concocting schemes to reverse his misfortune that included a proposal to take over the government of Rhodesia. The need for a legitimating alliance had never been more pressing.
Scientology Joins Antipsychiatry
The antipsychiatry movement reached its international zenith at what was, for Hubbard, exactly the right time. As a prospective alliance, it was almost too perfect. By the late 1960s, militant organization against the psychiatric profession was at its height, and suspicion of psychiatry was not just prevalent but mainstream. In 1967, Marxist South African psychiatrist David Cooper gave the movement a name by coining the term "antipsychiatry," which he described as an "umbrella term" grouping people with "wide divergences in philosophy." It's hard to imagine a stranger group of bedfellows, each with their own bone to pick. New Left coalitions (like women's, Black, and gay liberation fronts) allied not only with the nebulously libertarian strain of the counterculture (wielding issues of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog), but with arch-conservatives arguing for the total deregulation of the medical field and an end to state support for the medically indigent. In Cooper's gloss, the movement "emphasized the hegemony of medical model psychiatry, its spurious sources of authority, its mystification of human problems, and the more oppressive practices of the mental health system, such as involuntary hospitalization, drugging, and electroshock."
This was not just your average case of horseshoe theory: the battlelines were drawn not only between psychiatry and its critics, but within the psychiatric profession itself. By the 1969 meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA), a group of radical psychologists broke from the governing organization's Liberal Caucus—who were frantic to salvage the profession's apolitical image—and joined forces with the hundreds of protestors who had descended on the meetings. Pandemonium ensued. The intruders disrupted conference panels with their chants, blanketed the corridors with their pamphlets, and gave impassioned speeches in the halls. During the presidential keynote, twelve members of the newly formed Black Students Psychological Association took the stage to denounce the organization's complicity in Black oppression. It was a dramatic moment in a rapidly-growing movement against technocracy, and the fight against psychiatry was one of its most sharply articulated fronts.
Hubbard leapt into this new niche. In 1969, the Church of Scientology founded the Citizen's Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a nonprofit intended to "eradicate abuses committed under the guise of mental health." Nothing about CCHR's mission (or, more to the point, antipsychiatry itself) was integral to Scientology. Hubbard hadn't even always been opposed to the psychiatric profession. Soon after Dianetics was published he had attempted to secure APA approval for it. In its early years, Scientology had relied on appearing associated with medical psychiatry to bolster its legitimacy.
The trouble was that Dianetics was competing for exactly the domain occupied by psychiatry—to be the one entity holding legitimate solutions to everyday life's malaise. Far from being a pre-existing ideological commitment, Hubbard's war on psychiatry is better understood as market competition between two rivals insisting that the other is the real quack; and as the FDA crackdown had shown, psychiatry's monopoly on legitimacy would be underwritten by the state. The antipsychiatry movement offered an opportunity for Hubbard, if not to prove that he wasn't a snake-oil-salesman, then at least to lean into the mounting public sense that the psychiatrists were too. Seen in this way, Scientology was different in flavor rather than in kind from the hundreds of free mental health clinics the 1960s counterculture produced, designed to circumvent what their organizers saw as the medical establishment's bureaucratic authoritarianism.
At the head of CCHR was Thomas Szaz, a distinguished Hungarian psychiatrist who spent his prolific energies in a career-long attack on his own profession. Compared to the other intellectual heavyweights leading the antipsychiatry movement, Szaz cut a peculiar figure. Most other antipsychiatrist thinkers were either outright on the left—Ronald Laing, David Cooper, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and most famously Michel Foucault—or, if not, were at least conventional liberals like sociologist Erving Goffman. In this company, Szaz was a wildcard who characterized his relationship with left-wing antipsychiatrists as "that of Churchill to Stalin"—that is, having nothing in common but an enemy.
If Foucault has been plausibly diagnosed as a crypto-neoliberal, no such reading between the lines was necessary with Szaz. An unreconstructed radical libertarian, his political ideal was what he called "contractual psychiatry." What he meant by this was that all mental treatment should be conducted via contracts between customers and providers, a market exchange unhindered by state regulation, licensure, or coercion to treatment. Historian Norman Dane summarized Szaz's politics in a 1989 review:
"Szasz holds that no mental illness exists (except for a few people who suffer from known physical diseases with mental symptoms) and therefore that those so designated have no claim upon society for assistance or for exemption from punishment for breaking its rules. The so-called mentally ill who make such claims either "shirk their burdens" or are criminals seeking unjustified exemption from responsibility for their actions."
But in the heady mélange of '70s counterculture, drawing these finer political distinctions could seem like tedious eggheadery, especially in Los Angeles. To sensibilities steeped in what critics Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron would later call the "Californian Ideology," there seemed to be two political sides, broadly speaking: totalitarianism (coercion, collectivism, heavy handed government, hierarchical organization) and freedom (individual, resistant, discretionary). With the political axis framed as a choice between these two options, the public had evidence enough that psychiatry was falling on the wrong side. In the late '40s, a series of documentaries, books, and television specials had exposed the appalling conditions in underfunded state mental institutions. The intervening decades brought more reason for distrust of the medical profession with the belated revelation of the Tuskeegee syphilis study, the Thalidomide debacle, news stories of doctors killing disabled newborns, and growing public outcry amid news that patients were being forced to undergo psychosurgery and electroconvulsive therapy against their will.
By 1969, even for white suburbanites with no interest in critiques of psychiatry coming from feminists or the Black liberation movement, skepticism of psychiatry seemed warranted. A raft of popular films playing on tropes of mind control and psychiatric abuse portrayed and bolstered this public skepticism: Anatole Litvak's The Snake Pit, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate, Ken Loach's Family Life and Jane Arden's The Other Side of Underneath (both influenced by British anti-psychiatrist R. D. Laing). It was becoming clear that mere medical certification was not enough to keep professionals from abusing "human rights," a concept that took hold in the post-war era to describe political rights beyond those conferred by a state.
PSYCHIATRY: AN INDUSTRY OF DEATH encapsulates the spirit of this moment, reviving a critique of psychiatric technocracy pipelined from post-war liberalism into the counterculture. Narratively, the museum's tale of horror relies heavily on four villains: electroshock therapy, psychosurgery, "conditioning," and Big Pharma; each preside over their own room. There is a recreation of a 1940s surgical station, outfitted to dispense lobotomies via ice pick. (For all the exhibit's macabre stylings, the ice pick technique was only championed by one enthusiast physician, Walter Freeman, and was roundly decried by other psychiatrists at the time.) The electroshock exhibit does a bit better. There, the wall copy lands some much-needed hits at the shoddy consent laws that were in place in most of the country, in some places as late as the 1980s. But left out of the story, of course, is why such hard-biological interventions were accepted as necessary. In the absence of any effective pharmaceuticals, and faced with the prospect of a patient spending their life rotting in the increasingly over-crowded wards of underfunded state hospitals, many families accepted electroshock and psychosurgery as the best option. For many patients, personality and memory side effects were understood as a tragic but necessary price to pay for having an otherwise uncontrollable or violent individual back home.
Throughout the museum, much is made of the tropes of "brainwashing" and "conditioning," all hand-wavingly traced from William Wundt's Leipzig laboratory to Ivan Pavlov, whose conditioning techniques with salivating dogs are portrayed as the basis of psychiatry's insidious plan to control minds globally. For non-specialists, it is perhaps grasping at fine straws to point out that Pavlov and his American inheritors, the behaviorists, were in fact an uprising against Wundt's introspection-based psychology. The behaviorists were not interested in the mind as such, but in figuring out what kinds of levers could be constructed through associative conditioning (think: bell becomes the lever for salivation) to engineer new behaviors. More historically salient is the museum's critique of Pavlov and the behaviorists. Post-war intellectuals like Arendt, Gunther Anders, and the Frankfurt School railed against the behaviorist conditioning, likening it to the techniques of the Nazi concentration camp that turned humans into animals. They would largely have agreed with the parallels drawn by the museum's lurid photographs of Nazi experimentation.
All in all, you couldn't ask for a better time-capsule back to the rhetoric of the antipsychiatry coalition of 1970s Los Angeles. By then, the movement's efforts had congealed around one major fight: a push to prevent the opening of a Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence at UCLA. The proposed research center promised to find the neurological basis of "violence" and "rage," in the wake of nationwide civil unrest and race riots in Los Angeles, like the 1965 Watts Rebellion. There were plans to experiment on prisoners. The Vietnam War had sucked up the funding flowing from federal coffers to scientific research, and scientists and their university deans had to scrounge elsewhere for funding. Neuropsychiatrists at UCLA had found a willing partner in Governor Reagan's California Department of Justice, to the tune of $750,000 (equivalent to roughly $4.5 million today), and a whopping $1.5 million from the state. It was prominently affiliated with researchers like Vernon Mark and Frank Ervin, who had gained scientific fame for their work creating brain implants in human patients to change behavior and motivation; also on board was former LAPD police chief James Fiske, a man known for terrorizing the city's Black population. In terms of effectively enraging almost every political constituency other than the scientists themselves, the Center had pulled off a full BINGO. The fight against "psychiatric totalitarianism" seemed more in desperate need of militancy than ever.
You could hardly have asked for a more paradigmatic example of antipsychiatry's most inflamed accusations: here was psychiatry openly collaborating with the violent arm of the state to enforce the idea that social dissent should be understood as a mental illness, and treated with biological intervention. The implications bore on anyone who might be branded a "deviant." As a prominent researcher on the UCLA faculty wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1973:
"Recently, public officials have shown an interest in using new technological approaches for the purpose of mass screening, predicting, keeping under surveillance and actually controlling the behavior of "violence-prone" individuals and groups. A typical example is a proposal by Joseph Meyer of the National Security Agency to attach miniature tracking devices called transponders to arrestees and criminals as a condition of parole. The transponders would be linked by radio signals to centralized computers. Meyer suggests that eventually this could be used to monitor illegal aliens and political dissidents as well. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is now penetrating into the ranks of behavioral scientists. As funds for behavioral science research dry up, increasing funds are being made available for research on the reduction or prevention of violence using many new psychotechnologies."
The fierce public opposition forced the directors to beat a shambolic rearguard defense. Project leadership waffled through half a dozen name changes in an effort to salvage public relations, walked back their plan to experiment on prisoners, and began claiming—lying—that such experiments had never been in the works. Eventually, Frank Ervin's connection with the project was terminated. But such cosmetic changes could not stifle public outrage, leading to some of the largest protests ever seen on the UCLA campus. Eventually, the proposal was defeated, but the movement it mobilized went on to demand a series of congressional hearings on Human Rights in Medical Research. These hearings ultimately resulted in the 1980s inauguration of the new field of "bioethics," an evolution of what proponents had previously been calling "medical human rights."
The CCHR participated in the push against the UCLA Center, and they continued waging fierce yet ultimately popular antipsychiatry crusades in the following decade. All through the 1970s, CCHR led initiatives to tour mental hospitals and release reports, demanding that the state keep better track of involuntary confinements. CCHR relentlessly campaigned against the use of "Deep Sleep Therapy," an experimental treatment that would drug patients into a deep sleep for weeks at a time, and was responsible for 25 patient deaths at Chelmsford Hospital.
But by the early 2000s, their struggle had become a decidedly lonely one. What happened between the early 1970s and the turn of the century to dissolve the antipsychiatry movement? One way of sizing up antipsychiatry's fate is to say it was a victim of its own success. Another is to say that it was gradually transformed into nonexistence by settling for the successes it was able to achieve. The antipsychiatry agenda dovetailed with the reorganization of long-term institutional care for mental health, a general program of "deinstitutionalization"—which began under President Kennedy but only scaled up much later—in which outpatient and "community care" would supposedly absorb the populations being emptied from state facilities. Right-wingers eager to get indigents off the state dole couldn't have been happier to sign onto this program. The result was that many formerly institutionalized patients were left without long-term care. Many sociologists have argued that the rise of mass incarceration is a direct sequelae of deinstitutionalization; in many cases, psychiatric institutions' buildings and workforces were repurposed outright into prisons.
Concurrently, the push for patient rights was absorbed into a general movement for consumer rights. To the same extent that antipsychiatry comprised an odd political alliance, the movement toward deinstitutionalization and consumer rights was likewise defined by a new agreement between the left and the right. Granted, the new consumer alliance was one brokered on different terms. The freedom the patient's rights movement had fought for would be delivered in the idiom of the consumer. By 1980, the aims of the antipsychiatry movement had been, if not achieved, then at least absorbed into a general recalibration of the push for patient rights into a movement for a more empowered medical consumer.
In the face of the triumph of deinstitutionalization and medical consumerism, antipsychiatry's image of the profession as an arm of a repressive state power apparatus was no longer quite as convincing. By the mid-1990s, you were more likely to be arguing with your insurance to get them to cover psychiatric treatment than you were to be involuntarily committed to an institution. True, there were still rumblings of suspicion at the enormous commercial success of psychiatric drugs that were being pushed on the American public in the 1990s. But by then, the US left—atomized and lacking organizational institutions—was too disorganized to do very much about it, never mind anything else. Suddenly, the problem was not the threat of getting too much medical treatment, but the opposite—difficulty in getting access to it when you did need it.
The Enemy of my Enemy is Still my Enemy
As a discipline uncomfortably straddling the life and social sciences, psychiatry's history has been defined by its continual self-reinvention, each time insisting that—this time—it's really really scientific. If by the '90s, psychiatry had not totally succeeded in winning the public's belief in its beneficence, there was at least widespread consensus that mental illnesses were disease entities, with as much of a biological basis as cancer or diabetes. The ascent of neuroscience in the 1980s seemed to reground the mind sciences in a welter of high-color printouts of PET scans, fMRIs, and MEG images. By the time George H. W. Bush declared the '90s the "Decade of the Brain," the idea that mental illness was caused by brain disorders had become the default, mainstream position.
Yet the CCHR museum contains at least two valuable lessons. The first, of course, is that many of the critiques of the history of psychiatry as an agent of harm to women, people of color, and homosexuals are as true of psychiatry as they are of medicine in general—that is, pretty much completely. While much of the editorializing about psychiatric techniques is misplaced (Pavlov was not, in fact, a communist, and so on), it's hard to find a better public-facing reckoning of psychiatry's complicity with anti-Black racism than the exhibit in CCHR.
The second is to beware of strange bedfellows. The antipsychiatry movement was able to maintain such a big tent because of the extreme generality of its friend/enemy distinction: on one side there was the free individual, on the other side the repressive institution. The result was that no distinction was made between, say, the sort of institutions the New Left would want to have (for instance, high quality long-term care for the chronically indigent) and those it would not (prisons housing the mentally ill and housing-insecure underclass). As a general rule, if your call is to dismantle institutions without a plan for what is supposed to take their place, you can safely assume the default setting is "the market will take care of it."
The final room in the museum is built like a dreary Clinton-era schoolroom, filled with cramped wooden desks, fogged with the interminable doldrums of yet another boring school day. The wall copy excoriates the rise of medication for attention deficit disorders, citing the astronomical sums raked in by pharmaceutical companies in blockbuster amphetamine sales. It's hard to find much to disagree with here. As historian Nicolas Rasmussen has shown, the rise of amphetamine prescriptions in the 1990s is only the latest and most profitable iteration of pharmaceutical companies' licensed monopoly on a highly addictive substance. Fifteen years later, when large swaths of the post-industrial economy seem to run on meth (prescription or otherwise), it's clear that, however bonkers their proposed solution, CCHR's critique remains salient.
As it sits now on Sunset Boulevard, shuttered for Covid, the CCHR museum is left shadowboxing an enemy that no longer exists. This is the melancholy of anachronisms, which endure with all the stubbornness of wishful thinking: nostalgia for easier problems. There is no strong welfare state coming to force healthcare on anyone. If only.
Danielle Carr is a writer and PhD candidate at Columbia University writing a political history of neural engineering.