On why we aren’t maladjusted enough

We are particularly well-adjusted to a series of injustices and paradoxes in word around us that induce neuroses within us. How and why we have become so well-adjusted to the incongruences and irrationalities of what goes on around us, and why is it a problem that we are so conformed to these things in our midst?

In many ways it seems to me that we have undergoing a programme of desensitisation to suffering and injustice, and a gradual sterilisation of our ability to affect world around us. This situation is built up through different means, a school system which encourages conformity, where children learn to memorise ideas rather than think independently, marketing and consumerism which gives us false desires and ways of measuring ourselves, medical mental health discourse which propounds that one should always be well-adjusted and perhaps most important disciplining mechanism of all, that most of us have to work long hours to sustain ourselves and our families, with little time or energy left over to think about something apart from minutiae of our lives, let alone change things. Th television is important too, as it has over time desensitized us to most graphic forms of human strife and suffering with full sound and colour examples from around world, conditioning us to become voyeurs to injustices and idiosyncrasies of world around us. Even the popular spirituality of our times, Yoga or ‘Western Buddhism’ is about inner peace and calm, finding a way to resolve ourselves to our injust and illogical society, learning to become aloof from it all, but essentially ‘well-adjusted’. The medical mental health system gives out more psychotropics than ever before, chemically adjusting children, youths, adults and elderly to be ‘comfortably numb’ to world around them.

Martin Luther King was proud to be maladjusted and considered it the most important sentiment needed to confront the  injustices of society and affect change. He was very much opposed to maladjustment becoming seen as a pathological mental health condition, a problem of the individual not the collective:

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any or word in modern psychology. It is word “maladjusted.” This word is ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

…re are certain things in our nation and in world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from many to give luxuries to few. I never intend to adjust myself to madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence [1]

Martin Luther King – Maladjusted

Martin Luther King’s words echo across decades to our present situation. Dr. King was proud to be maladjusted to a society he considered sick, and finding oneself mal-adjusted to such a society is the just and rational human response. Being ‘well-adjusted’ to a terminally ill, corrupt and illogical society signifies in fact a lack of compassion, engagement, understanding, confidence, or sense of justice and humanity within individuals.

Of course, our need to work for a living keeps us busy, and our mind occupied with concerns of work, which requires more and more effort.  Our daily exposure to lifestyle advertising is a constant flurry of barbed arrows at our subconscious, manufacturing needs, keeping us occupied with things and small luxuries, causing a skewed sense of one’s innate values and a fascination with frivolity. We are bombarded by images of beautiful people, who we should look like, be like or be able to attract as a partner, a manufactured symbolic environment designed by psychoanalysts, social scientists and artists, with expressed purpose making us permanently wanting things which we can buy with money. We race on our hamster wheels, too busy running to give anything more than scant attention to world around us.


We live in an economic system which creates billionaires with obscene yachts and billions without access to clean water. We accept motto ‘Greed is Good’ as fundamental truth of social and political behaviour. Our celebrated science spends billions on an academic question of quantum physics under mountains of Switzerland, while spending next to nothing on renewable energy research. Our industry builds missiles and or killing devices at great expense only to detonate m, producing nothing but waste and misery. Our governments invade or countries on pretence of bringing our ‘Western Values’ to less fortunate citizens of se countries,  we see that this is delivered by dropping expensive bombs on people we were led to believe were going to be liberated. Our economic system within which we live destroys ecosystem which we need for our very survival. This stuff ought to make us neurotic.

Yet we accept all of above, we don’t do anything about it. We are used to it, and accept it as normal backdrop to our lives. Well-Adjusted.

We have seen so many images of human despair, suffering, misery and violence, from skinny crying Ethiopian babies, Liberian child soldiers, mourning Iraqi mors, squalid Haitians, deforested Amazon’s, and lonely polar bears floating alone on icebergs, that our nerve endings have been burnt out, we disassociate ourselves from this reality, allowing ourselves to become mere spectators, remaining aloof, untouched. At most we wring our hands at this week’s tragedy, or share some picture on Facebook. atre goers ‘suspend ir disbelief’ during play, we ‘suspend our belief’ in general. So saturated are we with images and stories of sadness that we have become like pornography addict who has seen it all, and can’t be stimulated by even most exotic montages.




Then there are the daily incongruities we face, our encouraged adulation of the wealth of a select few and acceptance of our comparative disempowerment. Forbes-billionaire-celebrity-luxury-lifestyle is held up as example of pinnacle of chic success, to be cooed over, read glorified in pages of ‘Hello’ or ‘Forbes’. Gucci-Saint Tropez-Bejewelled Rapper Sunglasses-Private Yacht Party-Tiger Woods’ Rolex-Roberto Cavalli-Knightsbridge-Couture lifestyle is Heavenly to us, and those that are already in this paradise on earth we look up to as Angels, or beings who go in there on merits of their karma.  The incongruity is that we are paying for their lifestyles.  Our environment and our children’s future is signed away to underwrite a handful of people’s continued Lobster, Bollinger and hotel orgy diets. So well-adjusted are we to this sort of injustice that we allowed this robbery to happen as if we were watching a film about it at the cinema so well-adjusted are we to our imposed impotence.  We are fully aware our politicians are liars and corrupt but we participate in charade that is contemporary electoral politics, taking pick between Coke and Pepsi, fully aware that they are same, accepting our limited choice as natural,  the way things are.




We live virtual lives, working in front of Outlook, Word, Excel, and Google, and when we come home plonk ourselves in front of another screen TV, or watch internet porn, or play some video game. If we go out we go to the cinema (an especially big screen), or to a shopping centre.  The sounds that surround us are hum of computer, click of keyboard, crashing waves of traffic, chop chop of helicopters, wail of sirens, bleats and bleeps of cell-phones. We are disconnected from nature, living in grey, neon-lit concrete cities where we can’t see stars or feel earth beneath our feet. This environment contributes to our disassociation from nature and from each other. Nature’s destruction around us is somehow alien and distant for us.


Our “learned-helplessness”, disbelief and disinterest in change has arisen for a number of reasons. This disciplining mechanism gets us when we are young, we must study to make grades to get into a good school, then work harder to get into university, in university we have to do something ‘vocational’ just so as to pay off student loan. Afterwards it’s straight into a job to pay bills. This keeps our head firmly down. Unfortunately we are also victims of psychological combat techniques, in the form of propaganda, consumerism, the formal school system and mental health, encouraging us not to question status quo and to accept that we are never more than watchers of TV or Facebook clickers, voyeurs to political events, never capable of changing things. How well-adjusted we are stands as testament to the de-humanisation and complicity exercise of last 50 years.



For those among us who are not well-adjusted, neurotic, depressed, psychotic, a whole Mental Health establishment swings into action, in fact the mental health industry is increasingly ‘pre-emptive’ of adjustment, providing anti-psychotic medicine for children youths, adults and elderly, before aberrant behaviour occurs. This trend of children being given medicine to help them adjust is particularly worrying when we bear in mind Martin Luther King’s words on the importance of the maladjusted as change-makers of sick societies which make them ill.

If enough of us were maladjusted at same time  there would be a revolution. Perhaps this is why there is so much care taken to make sure we are content, and /or vitally aware of our insignificance. It seems to me that more than ever we should follow MLK’s example and embrace our ‘mal-adjustedness’, affecting change on terminally ill society ratherr than to allow our humanity to be diminished by adjusting to it. It is time to recognise irony that our ‘well-adjustedness’ is central pathology, which must be addressed if we are ever going to change things.

saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through complacent adjustment of conforming majority, but through creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority. (Martin Luther King, Jr)

George Howell, Rio de Janeiro August 2012


This essay is not meant to be just a diatribe against our apathy, rather it is meant to encourage reflection on the reasons that we conform to a fundamentally neurotic society. It is also meant to bring us to ask questions of the whole mental health industry: Is mental illness an invented condition to generate conformity and whether it is fundamentally important for us to hold on to our own neuroses, and somehow creatively use them to exact a critique of society? Gregory Bateson found that schizophrenia could be caused by the form of communication in a family environment, the double bind,  he embedded the schizophrenic individual in a frame of analysis which included the rest of the family. It is time that we do the same at the societal level, embedding mental illness into the discrepancies and double binds of our current society.

[1] Extracted from Martin Luther King ‘s 1963 WMU Speech, available at http://www.wmich.edu/~ulib/archives/mlk/transcription.html


2 thoughts on “On why we aren’t maladjusted enough

  1. Simone says:

    I have been hanging onto this link for a few months now, waiting until I had the time to read it! I will be re-posting this on Facebook, simply because I now realise that I am completely maladjusted!!! Regardless of the media and propaganda that has been thrown at me my whole life (I am 26), I still cannot handle all the horrendous images and stories told about all the pain and suffering, that is only on the increase.

    Thank you for this article and especially for enlightening me as to why I too suffer with depression and a number of other “mental illnesses”. It all makes perfect sense!!

  2. anahi martins says:

    Muito bem observado e exposto..indeed. Tudo isto e bastante ultrajante, dificil nao se revoltar e mais duro ainda e pensar em caminhos para modificar estas realidades e sistemas de realidades mantendo a mente ao mesmo tempo esperancosa e fria.. Grandes movimentos a serem feitos e nenhum tempo a perder… Haja habilidade para desenvolver estrategias humanamente mais generosas e sustentavelmente eficientes, acessiveis, logicas.

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