The central metaphor of this song is a mental institution, where an inmate's every action can be interpreted in the light of their diagnosis.
Because a stereotype is based on a narrow selection of the visible aspects of a person (these aspects themselves being a narrow segment of the fullness of a person's existence), the categorizing part of human nature magnifies the perceived similarities between the person and the model, and minimizes or ignores the deviations.
At the extreme of the asylum, all behavior is seen as confirming the diagnosis. The person has become the stereotype, upon which actions can be taken that would be immoral if wrought upon a 'real' person. Label someone ' the enemy ', and you are required to kill them. Change a person into a ni...r, and it becomes justifiable to lynch them. Make a person that machine which brings food to your table, a waiter, and somehow this seems to make it acceptable to curse at them for one's food being cold.
In current U.S. politics, Christians are one of the groups subjected to asylumthink. We are called dogmatic, though all human groups are to some degree dogmatic; except the nihilists, who are only dogmatic about there being nothing worthy of dogma. We are portrayed as uneducated, though our numbers include some of the greatest minds of history. We are labeled weak, when history shows many of the most courageous stands against tyranny and injustice have been made by members of our Body. We are perceived as greedy, when clearly Christians donate huge sums. We are condemned as self-righteous, despite the fact that the absolute core of our belief is that our own righteousness is nothing.
To add insult, when we finally begin to demand the justice and freedom we are guaranteed by law because these have eroded from under our feet, we are the ones labeled militant and fanatical. If we roll over and let our doctrines slide, we are spineless hypocrites who fail to practice what they preach. But if we refuse to conform for doctrine's sake, we are literally seen by some as candidates for the asylum. If you think this statement is overblown, you need to read a few of the questions on some psychological tests and how answers to these questions are to be interpreted.
It is not a minor point that there can be no religious freedom for a Christian without freedom to evangelize. Such was Jesus' summary command before ascending to Heaven.
Conversely, the Church has asylumthink'ed worldly people trapped in their woes. It is true that few are innocent victims, but it is wrong to transform these people into objects of 'they brought it upon themselves', and feel no compassion. The deeds are evil, but the people are worth Jesus laying aside Heaven's glory to suffer the cross. How can we brutalize Jesus' sacrifice by mocking these people's calamity and still call ourselves followers of Christ?
Another aspect of the "Asylumthink" theme ties back to our target audience of intelligent, educated people and to the behavioral science imagery of this song. Behavioral science is a systematic method for viewing people as things. It is not easy to directly touch a person steeped in this attitude, because they have been trained to filter and categorize on the fly what you say and do. If they became personally involved with all their 'subjects', they could not perform their work.
Do not mistake this for a blanket condemnation of behavioral science. It has great use in its place. Answering on the existence of God or the innate value of a human being just happens not to be its place.
"Names, labels, categories" are abstractions derived from people.
"Shove people into a prejudged slot" is to treat people as if they were our abstractions.
"Not true life, only stories" is flat caricatures instead of deep souls
"With conflict written from the plot" is to discard everything that cannot be pressed into the caricature.
" Fictions for faces " is that "fictions" is sometimes used in sociology to describe a category, and ties back to "stories", "conflict", and "plot" as a metaphor on the myth underlying our societal norms. In this line itself, "fictions" stands for a subset of reality that has been reduced into something I can deal with comfortably. The "face" aspect is that the caricature masks identity.
"Names to limit the spaces" is that we use stereotypes to limit the number of aspects of another person which we must consider when we interact with them. It is a type of energy saving device. On one side it is essential, as ordinary activities like buying groceries would be nearly impossible if we had to deal with the total identity of every clerk each time we went to the store. On the other side it is an evil, both because we are so easily led into treating people like things, and because our inability to deal with the fullness of the people we meet is clear evidence of just how terribly finite we are.
"Whatever what you do" is to look at the world full of people shouting above the din trying to be heard, trying to establish their identity.
"Labels stretch to fit you" is that the stereotypes are rearranged to account for any behavior that does not seem to conform to its premise. The caricature absorbs all efforts to be known.
"How can the inmate" is our example caricature ...
"Show you he's sane" ... that translates all evidence into conformity with its assumptions.
"Strapped to the table" is an image of power (pardon the volt pun) used to enforce a stereotype on those less powerful. This is important not just because it moves the asylum 'plot' of the song along, but also because it puts the focus on the subset of stereotyping most directly related to the predator metaphor. For example, minorities in the U.S. have themselves long held stereotypes about whites, but had little power to force whites to conform to those images.
"Smile for us all" is that now we want to dictate the behavior even of the aspects we originally discarded ...
"Categorical face" ... without even realizing our oxymoron.
"Lips teeth and flesh wrapped" The face (identity) reduced to components ...
"'Round an empty space" ... that no longer serve a higher dimension of existence.
"Yet somehow you must still know" is a moment when the doctor lets his 'objective' mask slip and imagines himself in the patient's place. He imagines that somewhere behind the blank face is a mind aware of what is being done to her. But the doctor shakes that off, refusing to become 'personally involved' because that would interfere with his 'duties'. We know, when we stop to consider, that a human is tangled in our words ...
"Thought I must erase" ... so we must not stop to consider.
"Feeling what's in my mind" is empathy ...
"As I know you must" ... which all your efforts to turn yourself into an 'objective' machine have failed to purge.
"I can't give you any more" than the offering of my humanity.
"Than my unforgiving trust" is the patient telling the doctor, 'My being unable to stop you does not justify your actions.' This ties to the power aspect of the predator metaphor. Yet you can mask my humanity but you cannot erase it.
"Your perceptions raped me" is power used to demean and dehumanize.
"I'm no threat to you now" because I have been broken.
"Loose these straps that bind me" because they are no longer necessary.
"Stand to take my bow" is the patient acknowledging her's has been a theatrical role, and that it is time to receive the applause for being 'cured'. And once broken, I will continue your work for you, and dehumanize myself.
"Trade your eyes" means to ask which role is more human, the 'objective doctor', or the 'person imagining yourself in her place'? Life is an opportunity for wisdom beyond the imagination of our routine mindset.
"Silent race" is that by our silence we all share responsibility. "Silence" also ties back to the existential isolation of Art of Pantomime. What excuse will you offer that can restore your own identity? "Race" also ties to the racism that so amply demonstrates asylumthink behavior. So the silent race before which the person is on display is on one level the human race, on another level any racial group that merely looks on while the member of another race is brutalized, and on yet another level the individuals of any group who stand far off from another's torment.
"Soul's disguise" is that the body, the visible image to which we apply our stereotypes, is not the real person. The soul and spirit are the real person. Spirit would have been more correct to use here, but part of the compromise of art is that sometimes it is important to use a one syllable word over a more accurate two syllable word, in particular when the one syllable word is commonly used interchangeably, though inaccurately, with the two syllable word.
"Pure and normal world" is a sarcastic comment on how whatever we are is what we call good, normal, when in fact it takes little effort to show how this world is twisted and perverted on a thousand levels.
"Where labels conform us" is the way we limit and are limited by labeling. Incidentally, the labeling is not exclusively forced upon us from outside. We frequently label ourselves, and these are the most difficult labels to shed.
"So our safety is assured" is the implicit (and false) promise of social norms; namely that if we stay inside the lines we will be safe.
The labels mislead us into thinking that because we have a name for something we understand it. This encourages us to shortcut our examination of life as being already settled.
Reification lies at the core of every human rights abuse. From abortion to slavery to torture, transforming a human being into an object is the necessary first step toward the abuse of a person's humanity.
As an aside, is it not interesting how much the world is "we have piped and you have not danced" when it comes to the Gospels? Where the Gospels agree we are told it is because one wrote and the others copied. But where one Gospel states what another omits, we're asked how that could have been left out if it was so important. Make up your mind folks.