John Lennon’s List of Social Psychopathologies


Modern day psychiatry through the lens of John Lennon.




“And we think the future is made in your mind.” - John Lennon

For yesterday’s weekly video on Psychiatry and Society, we led off with my wife singing excerpts from the late John Lennon’s 1969 popular song, “Give Peace a Chance.” Her sister Debbie Eisendrath and I, whom you could call the Peacenik Singers, came in on the popularly repetitious lines of “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

What I was not familiar with though, was the actual words of the rap-like lines outside of that chant for peace. Moreover, to my surprise, what sounded at first like a sort of word salad, actually seemed to possibly be a list of what I now call social psychopathologies. I tried to find out more about that possibility, focusing on these lines:

“Everybody’s talking about

Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism

This-ism, that-ism, is-m, is-m, is-m”

Here’s what I found or interpreted:

Bagism. The first of Lennon’s specific isms actually had the most connections that suggested what it meant to Lennon. Basically, it seemed to mean that the key to world peace was not to judge people by their appearances. For performance art, Lennon and Yoko Ono wore a bag over their entire body, implying people should be judged by what they are rather than how they look. It was a satire on prejudice which would seem to connect to so many of our appearance-based current popular isms: racism, ageism, and sexism, for example.

Shagism. Shagism seemed to refer to a lifestyle of pursing personal desires outside of strict societal standards.

Dragism. I am assuming this refers to the performance art still popular today of cross-dressing, most often with drag queens who perform in exaggerated femininity.

Madism. Perhaps this refers to the social stigma of being mentally ill, a comment about how they are negatively stereotyped. At lease, that is how I would interpret it today.

Ragism. The computer wants to transform this into racism, but on its own seems to refer to the vitriol expressed by political conservatives toward progressives.

Tagism. The definition of this in Lennon’s time was elusive, but in our modern internet time it seems to refer to the tags put on others on social networks.

Although others convey they think that these are just nonsense words, when the references are to so many more isms, as in the last line, it seems to me that there was meaning attached to these specific words. Ism itself generally refers to a discriminatory attitude or belief system. Our society certainly uses other isms nowadays, but perhaps Lennon’s social psychiatric brilliant insight reminds us that there are likely many more. To give peace a chance, we must recognize these isms and lesson their impact.

Perhaps an ism comes to your mind that needs more attention by psychiatry. If so, let us know.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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