Friday, November 28, 2014

You Disagree; You're Sick

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?


Ares Olympus said...

Reductive categorical labels on people certainly can make debate nearly impossible, if it allows you to replace your opponent with a strawman who can be dismissed.

The label hypocrite might be the easiest label to put on someone, but in small doses it can help weaken false-pride and create humility needed to listen.

Searching for "Conservative mental illness" I found this from 2012:

And "Liberal mental illness" 2013

So pathologizing political rivals is a bipartisan sport.

I've heard the term "echo chamber" as a fair explanation for polarized political opinions, and perhaps there's a psychological term for that too? In media, an echo chamber is a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an "enclosed" system, where different or competing views are censored or disallowed.

The shooting of Michael Brown certainly shows the effect, where "agreed facts" are nearly completely divergent between Left and Right, and at the moment it seems easier for me to dismiss the Left's narrative as demonstratably false, so I'm willing to say at the moment Officer Wilson is a true Scapegoat, and the facts don't matter, like the "Hands up don't shoot" meme.

In the last week even, I've been unfriended by one Liberal friend, swearing over a Republican House bill limiting EPA Scietific Board presentations on one's own research, and had my comments deleted by another liberal friend over questioning facts on the shooting of Michael Brown.

At least in the second case, I tried linking another article promoting property damage in response to injustice, and perhaps she'll read that and see some of the excesses that she's encouraging with her dismissing of rioting.

I don't feel a need (or skill) to give psychological diagnoses for either people, but see they are living in tribal echo chambers that don't want to look at the bigger picture.

But I admit I'm more concerned over politicians. That is, when a politician hears a narrative from his "tribe" and choses to exploit that narrative for action, while knowing it is flawed for being simplistic, one-sided, and just plain wrong, that scares me more.

And I might diagnose politicians with some sort of "cognitive dissonance" between their own best understanding versus the "official sanctioned" understanding, that over time it is easier to accept the official lines (or rhetorical lies) than try to keep track of the lies versus reality.

Mostly I would like to have sympathy for anyone trying to deal with complex topics beyond personal experience. The problem I have is when people have latched onto a single ideology, which makes them feel instantly more confident, especially if they can repeat credible sounding opinions from someone else.

So when someone is under the spell of an ideology, it does seem fair to consider them "in denial" of other points of view, and there really may be no point in debating.

Myself, I don't mind considering that we're all delusional, believing things that just aren't true. And the path through this curse is to consider you might be wrong, and most of us without real responsibility have this luxury.

But if you have been given the authority to decide on things you can't really know, I imagine there's a great need for self-deception.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

This post shows the inherent dangers of having to prove a negative.

It's interesting heresy has been brought into this, as heresy is the opposite of orthodoxy. Many people believe their theories with a level of fervor that would make a religious person blush. After all, when all theology is stripped out, the Judeo-Christian God is the "utterly other" that we may grow closer with through faith and reason, but is still a mystery. I wish others had such humility about their scientific and political ideologies. Will the great minds of eugenics please step forward? That was "settled science" in the early 20th century.

Proving a negative... Fundamentally, this is why one of the Ten Commandments is "Thou shalt not bear false witness," why self-incrimination is protected under the Fifth Amendment, why perjury is so disgracefully common today, etc. The denial of "facts" and "evidence" is hilarious to consider when you're up against theory. The same followers of "scientism" in the psych____ professions are just as susceptible to establishing Star Chamber courts as the rest of us unwashed masses out here. This is the kind of weaponry that credentialism and licensure bring... a new class of know-everythings who actually know very little.

For example, I find evolution to be quite compelling, though I realize it's a theory (not a law of science). I've also never understood the rancor over evolution on either side, as we're just here on earth anyway for a finite time that looks preposterous when compared to evolutionary timelines. For the true believer, it's about much more than showing where man came from. For the denier, it's about much more than the narrative of where man came from. Either way, we're still here. What people do with the implications of these theories is outside of science, and enters the realm of philosophy. It's about what people believe. It's the answer to "So what?" that is the most powerful, and the most consequential.

On the Climate Change side, I've always found the arguments silly, and I don't hold myself as a "denier." The climate warms, and it cools. The very ice cores held up as the reason for action show warming and cooling in the absence of the internal combustion engine. I don't think it is incumbent on the skeptic of a theory to prove that the opposite position doesn't exist. It's the opposite. The problem with the Climate Change crowd isn't the matter of warming, cooling or changing climate. It's the narrative that goes along with it and the tired, same-old authoritarian remedies for "hope and change" that will protect us from our certain doom, as a consequence of "settled science." The smug "Prove Climate Change doesn't exist!" mantra is the most patently bizarre, unprovable request. Of course the climate changes! You learn that in 1st grade once you realize that gigantic, plant-eating reptiles went extinct millions of years ago. Our planet is a ball of rock with a crust on it! Am I supposed to believe that kind of volcanism does not have a greater impact than burning fossil fuels? How can I possibly prove that something like a changing climate (that changes all the time) doesn't exist? That's what makes this hogwash so delicious for the activist. I'm in the position where I have to prove a negative that is happening anyway, regardless of human intervention. We talk, talk, talk, talk and we get nowhere. It's not about the "settled" science, it's about the narrative that goes along with it and the remedies!!! They won't work!

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

For saying the above things, I could be labeled a crazy. Oh well. I'll take that and raise it! I also think the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was one of the most ridiculous ideas we've ever come up with... even dumber than Prohibition! It has proven so destructive that -- 100 years later -- someone like Harry Reid is willing to put his party ahead of the institution he serves, within a political system where freedom is guaranteed by checks an balances. How THAT is nuts. All the while, Chris Matthews says people like me are "paleoconservative loonies" to be against the direct election of Senators. Perhaps he'll sponsor an application to put me on thorazine or something. You see, my ideas about American government don't jibe with his. Mr. Matthews would say that I am a "democracy denier." Indeed I am, as I don't believe democracy works in the long term because of humanity's dark side. After all, the United States is NOT a democracy, it's a constitutionally-limited federal Republic. As Franklin said, "... if you can keep it."

Ares Olympus said...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD: On the Climate Change side, I've always found the arguments silly, and I don't hold myself as a "denier."

And you say for instance: "Am I supposed to believe that kind of volcanism does not have a greater impact than burning fossil fuels?"

The answer is science isn't about what is believable, but what is true, so whatever you intuition says about volcanism vs humanity is you bias, something that science can and does look at, if you wanted to know.

I found this article helpful to share with liberal friends:
Myth #1: Liberals Are Not In Denial
Myth #2: Republicans are Still More to Blame
Myth #3: Renewable Energy Can Replace Fossil Fuels
Myth 4: The Coming “Knowledge Economy” Will be a Low-Energy Economy
Myth 5: We can Reverse Global Warming Without Changing our Current Lifestyles

We have a situation, then, where one half of the population says it is not happening, and the other half says it is happening but fighting it doesn’t have to change our way of life. Like a dysfunctional and enabling married couple, the bickering and finger-pointing, and anger ensures that nothing has to change and that no one has to actually look deeply at themselves, even as the wheels are falling off the family-life they have co-created. And so do Democrats and Republicans stay together in this unhappy and unproductive place of emotional self-protection and planetary ruin.

Myself I'm willing to trust scientists to call Climate Change as a real threat, but the problem is it's glacially slow threat, and diffuse, so impossible to assign simple cause and effect.

Climate change advocates sometimes like to compare cigarette cancer denial of the past, as if that link has been proven, while that might actually be easier to scientifically challenge. If 50% of heavy smokers never get cancer, then you have to say tobacco doesn't CAUSE cancer, but perhaps merely makes people whose genetics is vulerable to cancer more prone.

So if the question is "scientific theory" its a weak correlation, but if we want to reduce the amount of statistical cancer, its a no brainer socially to discourage smoking. And really it shows the power of demonization to shut down individual freedoms. (And even more in regards to illegal drugs). Science will NEVER get you what you want if you want to control people with honest evidence.