The human essence is no abstraction

Issue section: 

John Parrington (Letters, SR October) argues that a greater emphasis should be placed on the role of biology in order to understand why some individuals develop schizophrenia. John criticises Oliver James’s book for “blaming the parents”.

In understanding that family relationships, so distorted under capitalism, can create damaging life experiences is part of a marxist analysis of alienation. And Oliver James explains how things can go horribly wrong in the family - that isn’t the same as blaming parents.

The importance of the book is that it highlights that the evidence for genetic explanations is disproportionately small compared to the credibility it is given.

James cites a large study of 36,989 people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The study found that in 96.6% of people there was no identified genetic explanation for the diagnosis of schizophrenia.

He also points out that in research into schizophrenia there are 45 times more studies into the biological rather than environmental causes. The point is that we are a long way from having robust accurate scientific understanding of the biological link to schizophrenia, a diagnosis that continues to struggle to prove validity and reliability.

A biological focus suits the neoliberal agenda of a process of disconnection between links between ill health and poverty. For the ruling class genetic explanations hold the individual responsible and absolve themselves of any social responsibility for the misery their system creates.

Individualising and medicalising mental health is to treat the symptom rather than the cause. Richard Lewontin explains:

“Problems of health and disease have been located within the individual, so that the individual becomes a problem for society to cope with rather than society becoming a problem for the individual.”

John agrees that environment and family play a role in mental health but then argues it is a dualist approach if individual biology isn’t taken into account. It isn’t dualists but Marx who recognises that “the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.”