Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sick in the head

I see that the blogosphere is all a-flutter about the Washington Post article on extreme bias as a psychiatric condition.

A number of bloggers seem to worry that this is going to let racists and folk who get all in a lather about gays off the hook. And others take it as proof that right wing people are crazy after all.


In Random Thoughts from Marybeth, Marybeth seems to hit the nail on the head.

The article begins with a few examples: a recovering alcoholic who won't attend 12-step meetings for fear of encountering a gay person, a waiter who is hostile to black people, a Vietnam veteran who is afraid of Asians, and a woman who thought Jews were diseased and would infect her so she wouldn't see a therapist for her OCD problem for fear that her therapist would be Jewish.

It's hard to tell from the summaries but I would suggest that it's likely that the prejudice is a symptom of a disorder rather than a separate disorder in and of itself. It also seems to be taking the focus away from the person suffering whatever delusions or paranoia that result in the prejudice and putting too much emphasis on the object of the bias. Dislike of a group of people may cause more problems in daily life than an extreme fear of spiders but should the treatment really be that different? If the problem is an unreasonable fear or irrational belief, that is what should be treated. The object of fear is irrelevant.


If you read the article, the people described are clearly sick in the head. Their mental disorder means that they are not able to function normally. This is beyond mere "extreme bias". I know someone who has told me to my face "I don't like Jews," and I think a form of subtle and not-so-subtle anti-semitism is rife among the leftist chattering classes of England. But I don't think that these people have a mental disorder. They are just plain wrong, sometimes dangerously wrong, but most of them are not crazy. They are able to have jobs and relationships.

This blogger links fundamentalism with mental illness. I've seen that, too. People clutching and thumping the Bible or Koran who express their mania through religion. But I also know fundamentalists who aren't crazy, they're just fundamentalist.

It seems to me that extreme phobias can manifest themselves on anything. There are people who are morbidly afraid of buttons. The definition of phobia is an irrational fear, not an irrational dislike, or even a rational fear. (I worry about the rise of islamofascism and the effects of Bushist imperialism, but I don't think this is irrational.)

Racism is damaging because of the way it can affect the people who are the object of distaste. A phobia is damaging to the person who holds the belief. Sometimes these things coincide.

1 comment:

Vol-in-Law said...

Talking of mental illness, on the news today it was reported that cannabis causes schizophrenia (shock! horror!).
I think anyone who has met a heavy cannabis user already knew that.