Creative maladjustment: Challenging confromity with self-education

By Matti Salminen

At the age of 22, I began to take self-education seriously and I ventured far from my psychological center. This venture took the shape of seclusion—of emotional exile. It was at this time that I also began to believe I had a rat in my brain. My life was broken. And slowly the pieces of what I had left were lost in madness.

For 10 years, in addition to believing I had a rat in my brain, I also believed that if I didn’t spend the rest of my life in jail I’d be the most tortured man in history.

Beginning at age 14, I frequently broke the law but caused no real harm to anyone. I was trying to prove my worth by stepping out into the world facing the wrong direction. When I was seventeen, I was arrested and charged with burglary, possession of stolen goods, and driving under the influence.

Knowing what I do now, I see how my recklessness and mischief precipitated the emotional exile, which led to my “madness.” But madness is defined by an oppressive socio-political construct known as the mental health system. Our mental health system is part of a larger network of social institutions, which divest too many capable citizens of freedom and equality.

All societal constructs serve a paradigm, which has aligned itself with the needs of the wealthiest and most powerful.

This society has shown itself to be oppressive towards human difference in all forms. Great suffering and injustice are prevalent due to the narrow perspective of what is a healthy, happy, or productive human being. Many people in our society are poor and homeless because they don’t work. And this goes on because social injustice is big business—there is no other reason.

One population which society is especially misaligned towards is those suffering from mental illness. It might be better to say “suffering from a mental health system which was created out of social control.”

Madness is not organic, even if there are biological markers, which indicate it to be of natural origin. Suffering is not genetic. What is natural is an alternative experience and perception of the world; however, what is unnatural and prohibitive is for those alternate expressions of character to be a source of depravity.

My intention in writing this essay isn’t to denounce our system of psychiatric care or other socio-political institutions. I wish to share something that I understood deep down, even as an adolescent. That is creative maladjustment.

Creative maladjustment is resistance to societal standards. These standards breed hostility, segregation, poverty, homelessness, and overall inequality. We are taught early in school that if we work hard we will get ahead. But we are, as a society, working hard so that the wealthiest and the most powerful may exploit the most vulnerable.

Living in an unjust society means that we—as citizens—must venture off the beaten path. We all must find a way to survive in this world without serving indignity or injustice. To do so is to be creatively maladjusted.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the subject of creative maladjustment to a crowd at Western Michigan University, on December 18, 1963. In this speech, Dr. King spoke of the sacrifice necessary to move society towards a state, which would allow dignity and freedom for all. Dr. King believed, then, that a new order was emerging—one in which the creatively maladjusted would rise up for equality.

Looking back, I believe I saw something in human potential, which incited me to venture far from the norm. School did not provide the resources I needed to probe the depths of my psyche or my soul. Pursuing a misspent youth and self-education put me on a path towards intellectual freedom.

Many of my heroes growing up were creatively maladjusted people—some were people of color, some suffered through poverty for their art, and others pursued self-education. These heroes showed me that we are not, as individuals, predestined for anything.

Years have gone by now since I began cultivating my mind without indoctrination into any formal institution. Those years have allowed me to free myself and to live an existence that promotes inner peace and human compassion.

No individual can ever truly compensate to lead a sane life while living in an insane world. And thus, creatively misaligning yourself with the world you live in is to exhort personal truth throughout your life, your work, and your spirituality. This is the only natural response to the unnatural disorder of our modern world.

Our society will only right itself when conformity is wholly invalidated.