Sitting Still Moving Still Staring Outlooking

She could not read. She could not write. She sometimes recognized on the faces of others joy and ambition and other emotions she could recall having had once, long ago. But her life was ruined, and she had no salvage plan.

—Shulamith Firestone, Airless Spaces

Radical insight can resemble the mind-set described by the clinical psychologist Louis Sass, in changelingMadness and Modernism, when he wrote that the schizophrenic is “acutely aware of the inauthenticities and compromises of normal social existence.”

Medical researchers have long puzzled over schizophrenia’s late emergence (it was first diagnosed in 1911, in Switzerland) and its prevalence in the industrial world, where the illness is degenerative and permanent. (In “primitive” societies, when it exists at all, it is typically a passing malady.) In 2005, when Jean-Paul Selten and Elizabeth Cantor-Graae, experts on the epidemiology of schizophrenia, reviewed various risk factors—foremost among them migration, racism, and urban upbringing—they found that the factors all involved chronic isolation and loneliness, a condition that they called “social defeat.”

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When I Worked

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