The Psychobabble Bubble

December 21, 2013

“Where id is, there shall ego be.” – Sigmund Freud

Those looking for symptoms of cultural lunacy never have far to look. Two recent examples tell the tale. A six year old from Colorado was suspended from public school for kissing a classmate’s hand. Never mind that the little girl friend was flattered and not offended. Nonetheless, by a teacher’s reading of school rules, the lad was guilty of “sexual harassment.” It’s never too early to sexualize or criminalize childhood in public schools these days.

Meanwhile out in California, a troika of progressive judges is flushing hard core adult felons back onto the street. The major concern of court oversight seems to be prison overcrowding as if hot bunks were not part of the prison ambiance in any jail. God forbid that some convict should feel confined in prison. And never mind that most recidivists get three squares, air conditioning, recreation, health care, free education, and entertainment. Felons in California are provided more comforts than the working poor in many an American barrio or slum. Quiescent taxpayers are now the only chumps subject to double jeopardy these days.

Mass commutation for “non-violent” offenders has become judicial remedy in California. No violence of course to anything but the law. It takes years and a small fortune in tax money to put the worst behind bars. Now Uncle Sam’s judiciary is sponsoring a jail break, a recidivist stimulus program. Taxpayer and victims alike now get to pay thrice for the privilege of enabling the worst among us.

The Left Coast inversion of values signifies a culture where concern for professional criminals trumps the interests of victims and citizens, the folks who literally pay for judicial malpractice. Still, the decay of common sense cannot be attributed only to imprudent social and judicial activism. Science is part of the slide too.

Values depreciation is now a generational and cultural phenomenon. Who worries about fairness or justice for victims and law-abiding citizens? Who worries about a diminished productive class that pays the bills for bleeding hearts – and who worries about all those good intentions that bleed innocents?

Judgment and common sense are America’s most serious scientific deficits according to Theodore Dahlrymple (Doctor A. M. Daniels) on the pages of the autumn edition of the City Journal. Dahlrymple is a rare modern polymath, a scientist by trade and an artist by inclination. Indeed, Dahlrymple might be the most prescient writer about culture and society since Charles Dickens or John Steinbeck.

Physician and criminal psychiatrist, Dalyrymple uses the recently revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (aka DSM-5) to excoriate the practitioners and profession of psychology/psychiatry. After reading Dalrymple’s critique, it’s hard to put psychology, psychiatry, and science in the same sentence. Indeed, were it not for the common bond of drugs and chemistry, it might be difficult to think of many psychiatrists as physicians – or scientists of any description. “Do no harm” indeed!

Like too few practitioners, Dalrymple seeks to draw distinctions between the diversity or variability of human behavior and verifiable sickness. He uses DSM-5 as a point of departure for criticizing the failure to prudently separate common personality ticks, poor judgment, moral deficits, and chronic pathology. Biology, another source for excuses, gets little sympathy as a rationale or default setting for bad behavior in Dalrymple’s analysis.

Indeed, Dalrymple illuminates the core cultural issue of the new millennium. The great ciphers of the future are moral not scientific questions; not what we can do, but what should we do. A few other scientists elsewhere have tried to elevate the moral dimensions of individual or collective behavioral analysis but none have done it as well as Dalrymple.

And he is not reluctant to question the motives of his colleagues as they inflate the psychosis balloon. Indeed, a bigger stock of “sick” behaviors is more than a little self-serving. If almost any behavior can be certified as mental health problems, then the motive is more likely to be revenue not remedy. In the money matrix; the medical, legal, and judicial professions make common cause. The vaguest of mental pathologies have cash cow potential.

It might be convenient to label drunks and junkies as victims, but alcohol or drugs are not the proximate causes of trauma. Nobody catches delirium tremens or cirrhosis of the liver from public toilets. And to say that substance abuse alters human biology is a little like saying that jaywalking alters your golf swing.

The proximate cause of broken bones in traffic is usually a poor choice on behalf of driver or pedestrian. Choice and behavior are moral not science problems. There are no biological solutions to moral questions. Indeed, reason and ethics are too often treated as mutually exclusive by science.

You seldom hear of an orthopedist or ophthalmologist trolling for, or manufacturing, pathology either. In this, psychiatry is not unlike government, an institution capable of making spare parts for itself – with other people’s money of course.

There are two tethers for the psychobabble bubble. One is the expanding catalogue of ailments and the other is the quest to reduce all human judgment to some biological explanation or predisposition. In short, erode the social cement provided by traditional restraints like choice, will, personal responsibility, and accountability. Moral restraint as remedy is at once obvious and ignored.

Why is “choice” invoked to defend the taking of life and then discounted when the issue is bad behavior or mental health? We are free to terminate life (abortion, capital punishment, and war come to mind) but somehow we are not in control of all other life choices?

Clearly such double talk is not illuminated by logic, reason, or any medical “science.”

And if biology is behavior, what need have we for lawyers, legislatures, judges or jails? If there is no personal or institutional accountability, then logic suggests better chemistry is the “scientific” answer to civility. Are better pills future silver bullets? Surely both are equally fantastic.

Biological pretense is part of the side show too, the notion that treating a symptom might be the same as solving a problem. Depression and attention deficit disorders get to take a bow here. If you cannot tolerate a kid’s predictably annoying behavior, you can always anesthetize the child. Pediatric ‘mental’ pathology has become too easy a stand-in for adult selfishness, impatience, or incompetence.

And when an adult has the blues, why not pop a pick-me-up pill too? The ‘science’ of psychology and the ‘science’ of education allow for such remedies – and abuse. If modern mental health practice is a charade, the game is still very good news for diagnosticians and chemists.

One of Dalrymple’s readers provides a telling anecdote. A young woman complained to her grandmother about depression, yet admitted that she couldn’t think of a single reason for the malaise. Grandma suggested that her grandchild consider “ungrateful” as an explanation for the black dogs of angst.

Indeed, selfishness and ingratitude are common sense explanations for much bad behavior, anxiety, and associated guilt. Those with such symptoms are, albeit, true victims – victims of affluence. Parents and schools are too eager to medicate rather than tolerate. And medical professionals and chemists are only too happy to cooperate. Selfishness has metastasized into a social disease.

Many mental health problems are now, like dependency in general, generational tautologies or self-fulfilling prophesies. Smokers get to play on the same ethical plane as vegetarians. Medical professionals provide the excuses and then politicians provide monetary incentives. No one worries much about real solutions.

Drunks, junkies, and depressives are examples. Once certified as chronic, the law subsidizes disability, monetary motive that insures future dysfunction. And when such dilemmas are underwritten by tenuous claims of biological determinism, social and civic pathology becomes a closed loop.

Psychiatry and psychology are omniscient when it comes to diagnosis, but incapable of professional restraint or anticipating the unintended consequences of indulgence and quackery. Psych practitioners often plead for equality with other medical specialties and then do their damnedest to court ridicule. Credibility is earned, not assumed, in any discipline. Good intentions are a weak tea.
The mix of behavioral immunities and financial incentives is a toxic social mix. In such a world, childhood is criminalized and adult felonies are furloughed. Without the candor and courage of chaps like Theodore Dalrymple we might all be disabled, on the dole, and on the couch.

Published last week in American Thinker.

Thanks For What?

December 3, 2013

Thanks For What?.

Thanks For What?

December 3, 2013

“For all sad words from mouth or pen, the saddest of these are, what might have been.” – Whittier

Thanksgiving was always the best of Yankee holidays; indeed, unlike most things we celebrate, a unique occasion, a special American institution. In its original incarnation, the last Thursday in November was set aside to thank God and our ancestors for the blessings and bounty that make America what it is.

Somehow the institution has become the enemy of the original idea.

The cynic sees Thanksgiving as just another paid holiday; but the optimist knows better. Thanksgiving is a starting gun, advent for a Christmas shopping orgy. “Black Friday,” is the spending riot that follows turkey Thursday, eclipsing the day before – and preventing acid reflux.

How much Americans consume between the end of November and the first of January is now both an annual economic metric and a cultural marker. Spending on turkey day is the jingle that stimulates Kris Kringle. More spending every year is good; less spending than last year – not so much.

If you like your shopping; you can keep your shopping – 24/7. Commerce never takes a holiday anymore.

Forget those tedious turkey dinners with riotous kids and obnoxious in-laws. Hit the mall before last call. Give thanks to Uncle Sugar for the day off and give thanks to the big boxes for giving us a place to go besides home, some place other than a hot kitchen and a noisy dining room on a weekday.

Speaking of government, let’s not forget to give thanks for that too. Withal, like consumption, more government does not necessarily make for happier campers.

Take the new healthcare circus. Watching Obamacare (nee Hilarycare) blow up on the launch pad might be a blessing too. It’s not just the prospects of a new regime; more significant is the possibility that implementation equals implosion. But for the moment, if you like the Affordable Care Act, you can keep it – and all those “navigators” that will help sign you up for new taxes.

While you’re in the queue, take comfort in knowing that Congress and staffs have special access to the exchanges and special subsides for their healthcare plans. Those between the ages of 18 and 64 might also send a tweet to individual representatives and wish them all the best in 2014.

And while the subject is politics, give thanks for another pair of breeding lawyers in the White House. The Clintons were a hard act to follow, but the Obamas are doing them proud. Hard to believe that Barak Hussein could out fudge William Jefferson. Facts don’t lie; but lawyers can factor by God.

When the subject is mendacity, the Clintons and Obamas are mirror images. Bill lied to a grand jury and Barak sold snake oil to tomorrow’s patients. One was diddling the help and the other was screwing the Hippocratic Oath. Deficits of candor and surpluses of pander make for a thoroughly modern commander.

If you like your politicians; you can keep your politicians! Hilary and Howard Taft are waiting in the wings. Yes, Hilary – hands down favorite to give Bill another chance with the interns on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Did we say Howard Taft? No, no; Taft was another Republican where girth might have been a measure of worth. It’s Jersey not Ohio that we’re thinking of. Chris Christie is likely to be Hilary’s opposite number a few years hence.

Before the Jersey shore comes south, Christie may have to squeeze past the titular head of the Republican Party, John Boehner. You might recall that Boehner is another Ohio guy who starts to weep every time someone shouts, “mister speaker!” Never mind, give thanks anyway for a polity that is about to cough up the most entertaining political dog fight of the new millennium.

So let’s raise a glass to the loyal opposition too, Boehner’s Republicans. Party tenure is the political stream that keeps deadwood afloat. Politicians and academics are alike in that regard. If either stays around long enough, they get promoted to their level of incompetence. The Speaker of the House does have one thing going for him. He’s not a lawyer.

And while the eggnog lasts, let’s give thanks for shysters too. Indeed, the legal profession is our 21st Century oligarchy, clever authors of the invisible coup- and the seamier side of democracy. Nearly every ambulance chaser dabbles in politics now. All three branches of government are dominated by the legal profession. When it comes to public office; cowboys, plowboys, and plumbers need not apply.

Seems only lawyers are fit to rule the modern social democracy. Ironically, when it comes to public approval, politicians and lawyers rank somewhere between cat scat and the curb. Not that this is an impediment. Surely the differences between Democrats and Republicans in America are obliterated by the standards of a common profession. We all have needs, we are all plaintiffs. Without lawyers how could we cope?

The purpose of social democracy after all is to insure that every citizen gets three hots, a cot, a laptop, condoms, a significant other, a Stairmaster, an allowance, health insurance – and daycare until mom and dad hit menopause. Ask not what you can do for yourself. Ask what your country can do for you. Happy 50th anniversary Jack!

Thanksgiving is like the Academy Awards, when you give thanks you need to make sure that you don’t forget anyone.
Alas, let’s not forget then to give thanks to the new Janissary on the E-Ring. Pentagon peacocks have come a long way in the last five years too: from helmets to hijabs,” from victory to “transition,” and from no-man-left-behind to “cover-your-behind.” “What does it matter?” says Mrs. Clinton on behalf of the JCS. Indeed!

The general officer corps (or corpse as the president might put it) is now on the cutting edge of social progress and fashion. Diversity is the best defense. Ambiguity is the best offense. Unisex puts the moxie in slogans like “An Army of One.”

And if you like silly hats on your head and fruit salad on your chest; you can keep them too, thank you. The Pentagon is not unlike T-Ball today. Win or lose, everybody gets a ribbon. Why reward performance or battle field victories when appearances will do?
So there you have it; a litany of thanks for another year in the world’s foremost social democracy. Happy holidays!

American Thinker did not publish this assessment as part of their holiday fare. Too tart perhaps.