Proud to be Maladjusted

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the last Great Lives lecture of the season, a talk delivered by Dr. Ghaemi entitled “Madness and Greatness” —you can see the video archive here. His talk, which is abstracted from his book of the same title, looks at evidence of depression or bipolar illness in series of great historical leaders, such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and a few others. He attempts to demonstrate that such mood diseases actually helped them in leading during times of crisis. Diagnosing the dead is tricky business in my mind, but his larger discussion of transvaluing psychological conditions like manic depression was quite powerful.  I particularly liked the video clip of Martin Luther King, Jr. that Dr. Ghaemi ended with about the precarious state of a well adjusted person in a maladjusted society (and vice versa). What’s more Dr. Ghaemi reminded the audience that by 1968, the year of his assassination, MLK was one of the most hated figures in politics because of his global views of systematic oppression that he repeatedly linked back to the imperialist war in Vietnam in the service of capital. Talk about the normative culture of U.S. history selectively claiming just one dimension of a truly great man.

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