The concept or idea of “Mass Psychogenic Illness” as constituting the basic historic social fabric of the modern Western world had been ingrained into the Western oeuvre by Foucault when he wrote one of his most famous books titled “History of Madness.” In this book, Foucault argued that the age of “Enlightenment” or ‘Modernity’ in Europe was actually an age of “confinement” that was embodied in the literal confinement of libertines and manic individuals and so forth. But as Foucault argued, the literal “confinement” of libertines and manic individuals and so forth was an allegory or representation of something broader, deeper, and figurative:
“After 150 years of confinement, people began to imagine that among these imprisoned faces they noticed singular grimaces, cries that signified a different kind of anger and demanded an alternative form of violence. But throughout the classical age, there was only one confinement, and all the measures that were taken, from one extreme to the other, hide a common, homogenous experience.”
Thus, the homogeneity of the Western social experience derived from a perceived “enlightenment” or “rationality” as a result of surface social changes which did not alter or undermine the basic social structure or system of class hegemony in turn resulted in a blanket “confinement” of society that prompts the “frenzy” or “Mass Psychogenic Illness” that has long been the basis or foundation of the Western social fabric. Blanket “confinement” was also reflected in attitudes towards sexuality during the modern period, as Foucault noted:
“Sexuality was carefully confined; it moved into the home. The conjugal family took custody of it and absorbed it into the serious function of reproduction. On the subject of sex, silence became the rule. The legitimate and procreative couple laid down the law. The couple imposed itself as model, enforced the norm, safeguarded the truth, and reserved the right to speak while retaining the principle of secrecy.”
“A single locus of sexuality was acknowledged in social space as well as at the heart of every household, but it was a utilitarian and fertile one: the parents’ bedroom. The rest had only to remain vague; proper demeanor avoided contact with other bodies, and verbal decency sanitized one’s speech. And sterile behavior carried the taint of abnormality; if it insisted on making itself too visible, it would be designated accordingly and would have to pay the penalty.”
In a sense – and as Freud contended – the manifestation of “Mass Psychogenic Illness” and its constituting the basic social fabric of the Western world is a subconscious and sublime yearning for freedom from the pressures and stresses of a system based on class hegemony. For instance, ideas and programs which have not emerged out of the blue such as ‘anarchism’ and ‘counterculture’ perceive “freedom” as the ultimate goal or objective of such ideas and programs. And as Noam Chomsky wrote, rather than being a farfetched or utopian fantasy, ideas and programs such as “anarchism” and “counterculture” which hold ‘freedom’ to be their core goal and objective are actually ideas and programs that are underpinned with the understanding that “at every stage of history our concern must be to dismantle those forms of authority and oppression that survive from an era when they might have been justified in terms of the need for security or survival or economic development, but that now contribute to – rather than alleviate – material and cultural deficit.”
As a result, the patriarchy and paternalism as well as the sexual repression and suppression of a modern age which sought to foster economic development and survival is now a bane to such aims and goals. Hence, the paradox.