Is psychiatry to blame?
Should we fault psychiatry when public intellectuals and even political leaders dismiss opposition ideas on the grounds that those who think them are mentally ill?
While psychiatry is not to blame for the way its diagnostic criteria are misused for political ends, it ought certainly to point out that this misuse is pernicious and irresponsible.
After all, if a right-winger were to psychoanalyze a great leftist, psychiatrists will probably rise up to denounce him for practicing without a license.
The habit of misusing psychiatry seems to have originated in totalitarian dictatorships. The Soviet Union often imprisoned dissidents on the grounds that they were suffering a mental disease or defect. Communist China did as much.
Precisely why totalitarian dictatorships needed to invent a rationale for imprisoning people remains a mystery?
In America, a more democratic and presumably open-minded place, certain groups of people are often denounced for being mentally ill.
In particular, those who do not believe in the prevailing leftist orthodoxy are said to be insane. One suspects that conservatism and Tea Partyism will become diagnostic categories in the next DSM.
In the past, religious leaders accused and denounced dissidents for heresy. They dragged these unfortunate souls before inquisitions and most often destroyed them if even a suspicion of heresy was noted. You can’t be too careful.
And then there were witch hunts, whereby women were prosecuted and persecuted for being in league with diabolical forces.
Modern thinkers, especially modern atheists reject these primitive means of enforcing correct thinking, but they happily denounce those who believe in God as… sick.
As you know, anyone who does not believe in the dogma of climate change will immediately be labeled a denier. The term comes to us from psychiatry. It is supposed to refer to people who are out of touch with reality. It has been applied to people who believe that the Holocaust did not happen… an execrable group of people if ever there was one.
Applying it to people who reject the dogma of global warming is trafficking in false analogies.
If you don’t believe in climate change, as many important climate scientists and physicists do not, you must be mentally ill. It is vastly easier than arguing the science with, say, Prof. Richard Lindzen, retired head of the climate lab at MIT.
Dismissing someone as mentally ill is easier than debating the issue. It is even better when you can walk away from a debate by saying that your opponent’s position is a sign of mental illness.
It’s the ultimate ad hominem argument. As we know, because I have mentioned it before, ad hominem arguments are the first recourse of the feeble minded.
Not everyone who indulges this form of debate-avoidance is feeble minded. Some are happy to make a few cheap debating points. As long as our culture accepts name-calling as a legitimate contribution to political debate, we will be seeing more and more of it.
If the only thing you learned in college was how to slander and defame those who do not think as you think, then you will be happy to denounce your enemies as mentally ill.
One suspects that the defamers and name-callers did not come to their convictions through honest labor, so they have no response to any opposing point of view. When confronted with dissent they panic because their inability to counter it makes them feel like imbeciles. And we know, it’s better to see others as sick than to see yourself as an imbecile.
When Rudolph Giuliani recently drew attention to the high levels of black-on-black crime, Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown accused him of suffering “the defensive mechanism of white supremacy.”
When conservative commentators criticized President Obama’s recent order on immigration, Charles Blow proclaimed:
Make no mistake: This debate is not just about the president, this executive order or immigration. This is about the fear that makes the face flush when people stare into a future in which traditional power — their power — is eroded, and about their desperate, by-any-means determination to deny that future.
Obviously, Dyson and Blow are seeing the world through an ideological lens. They see the world in black-vs.-white terms and pretend that anyone who criticizes President Obama is motivated by racism. Apparently, a black president can do no wrong.
Thus, they can dismiss all criticism of Obama without having to address its substantive points.
As Ian Tuttle explains, denouncing your opponent for a psychiatric disorder shuts down debate. It closes up the marketplace of ideas.
In Tuttle’s words:
And certainly this impulse was on display in the quarrels above. How is one to debate whether Rudy Giuliani says what he does merely because he is a white supremacist? “But I am not a white supremacist!” he might object — which is, of course, what all white supremacists say! And when Blow claims that the president’s opponents are desperately clinging to power, how is such an opponent to respond? After all, doctor knows best.
To psychologize the question at issue in a debate is to remove it from the realm of debate altogether. That is why liberals are eager to explain their opponents’ positions as the work of psychological “mechanisms,” operating subconsciously or unconsciously, of which the opponent is unaware.
One suspects that the proponents of this kind of modern witch hunt would propose cure-by-therapy.
Yet, if therapy, like sensitivity training, is merely a way to brainwash people into adhering to leftist dogmas, why are insurance companies paying for it as a mental health treatment?