“Facing Reality,” in The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought

Robinson, Marilynne

Houghton Mifflin, 1998

pp. 82 - 83

In our culture “to say that behavior is aberrant is much more powerfully coercive among us than to say an action is wrong. It implies the behavior is not really willed or controlled, and this undermines the self-confidence of the offending person. It also excuses him from responsibility, though, curiously, those taken to be the cause of his illness–his parents, usually–are assumed to have caused it through freely chosen and straightforwardly reprehensible behavior, for which blame and punishment are just and therapeutic. This makes no sense and no one cares.” (P. 83): “I suggest that, for us, the sense of sickness has replaced the sense of sin, to which it was always near allied, and that while we are acutely aware of the difficulties surrounding notions of good and evil, we ignore, though they are manifest, the equally great difficulties surrounding notions of sickness and health, especially as these judgments are applied to behavior. Antebellum doctors described an illness typical of enslaved people sold away from their families, which anyone can recognize as rage and grief. But by medicalizing their condition, the culture was able to refuse the meaning of their suffering.”