Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Monday, January 21, 2013
Thursday, January 10, 2013
What is essentially a valid boundary problem in psychiatry – At what point does everyday sadness become Depression? When exactly does ordinary apprehension become an Anxiety disorder? – is often conflated by psychiatry critics with the question of legitimacy to generate the erroneous conclusion that all of what is considered as psychopathology is in reality normal human experience.
The boundary problem plagues all medical conditions in which the underlying process exhibits a continuity. For instance, consider Hypertension and Diabetes. At what measurement does blood pressure become pathological? At what reading does blood sugar level become pathological? (These measurements, like many other physiological attributes, have a bell-shaped Gaussian distribution in a human population, and most likely, so does mood.) Our current criteria are rather arbitrarily set, utilizing available data to make a judgement as to at what blood pressure or blood sugar reading does the risk of adverse effects becomes significant enough to warrant treatment. These criteria have been revised with time and have been modified in the presence of co-morbidities (such as the criteria for Hypertension is lower in patients of Diabetes). However, on the basis of this alone, it would be absurd to suggest that Hypertension or Diabetes is a medicalization of what is otherwise a normal state of being. Yet this is precisely the argument many employ against psychiatry. Just because the boundaries between the normal and pathological are fuzzy, it does not mean that there is no underlying pathology at all. Yes, it may be said that these boundaries in psychiatry as currently practised are established on insufficient evidence or that the criteria have been set in a manner that makes them vulnerable to abuse by pathologizing natural anxieties, and that would be a justified criticism, but it would be unreasonable to conclude that the condition in itself is a sham diagnosis.
(Some thoughts after reading the review of All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry's Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders at LARB.)
"The author Karen Blixen said, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” But what if a person can’t tell a story about his sorrows? What if his story tells him?
Experience has taught me that our childhoods leave in us stories like this – stories we never found a way to voice, because no one around us helped us to find the words. When we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us – we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t understand."
Stephen Grosz, Confessions of an analyst
Monday, January 7, 2013
"'Where are the men?' I asked her.
'In their proper places, where they ought to be.'
'Pray let me know what you mean by "their proper places".'
'O, I see my mistake, you cannot know our customs, as you were never here before. We shut our men indoors.'
'Just as we are kept in the zenana?'
'How funny,' I burst into a laugh. Sister Sara laughed too.
'But dear Sultana, how unfair it is to shut in the harmless women and let loose the men.'
'Why? It is not safe for us to come out of the zenana, as we are naturally weak.'
'Yes, it is not safe so long as there are men about the streets, nor is it so when a wild animal enters a marketplace.'"
This is an excerpt from Sultana's Dream by Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein, written in 1905, depicting a 'feminist utopia' in which women dominate the world and men are marginalized.
I got introduced to this in the context of a tweet in the aftermath of the brutal Delhi rape incident, which made a very pertinent point in a sarcastic way.
A feminist's solution to rape-Men shouldn't be allowed to step out of the house after 9pm unless accompanied by his mother, sister or wife!
If one has to be respond to rape by means of restrictions, then it makes much more sense to place restrictions on men rather than women, since they are the perpetrators. If you think that restrictions on men are absurd or inapplicable, then suggestions of restrictions on women are equally absurd and ought to be considered equally inapplicable. Why should the burden to prevent rape (supposedly) be on women by restricting their dress, movement and behavior, and not on the men, who are the rapists and are running around rampant and unrestrained?
The idea that women provoke rape is a myth. It is simply untrue for the vast majority of cases. It transfers blame from the perpetrator to the victim and makes people feel better about the world they live in. This victim blaming mentality is a pernicious mindset and has to be challenged by all those who encounter it.
Rape is hardly ever simply lustful desire. More importantly, it is a disregard for other person's consent, it is a propensity towards violence, the need for sexual gratification by means of control and domination, and it is driven by the context of vulnerability and opportunity. Cases of rape become possible due to rapist's access to women (and men) in situations in which they are vulnerable and the rapist can get away with his crime. This has nothing really to do with how women dress. To decrease rape, the sensible approach would be to focus on making public and private spaces more safe, and by increasing apprehension and punishment of those who commit rape. Talk about women's modesty is nothing but a red herring and serves to distract from the actual causes and perpetrators.
Last night a friend was discussing how Nietzsche is a dangerous philosopher, in terms of causing a potential upheaval in the reader's world-view, and I couldn't help but think of this Austin Powers meme!
(If you want to hear Austin Powers say it, here you go!)
Sunday, January 6, 2013
"Throughout the last four hundred years, during which the growth of science has gradually shown men how to acquire knowledge of the ways of nature and mastery over natural forces, the clergy have fought a losing battle against science, in astronomy and geology, in anatomy and physiology, in biology and psychology and sociology. Ousted from one position, they have taken up another. After being worsted in astronomy, they did their best to prevent the rise of geology; they fought against Darwin in biology, and at the present time they fight against scientific theories of psychology and education. At each stage, they try to make the public forget their earlier obscurantism, in order that their present obscurantism may not be recognized for what it is."
Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish
The historical fact that the clergy have been fighting a losing battle against science doesn't prove that religious doctrines are false in entirety, but rather that whatever truth religious tradition may contain has been shrouded in obscurantism and dogma, so much so that the whole enterprise has been a major obstacle to the progress of knowledge. In a sense, the rise of science and skeptical philosophy has done (is still doing, and is yet to do more) a huge favor to the religious community by dispelling it of its errors and wrongdoings, both scientific and ethical. Religion ought to remember its past in order to be reminded of its tyrannies and sins, and how it owes its reform (not yet complete), in part, to the freethinking community, without whose assistance, in all likelihood, it was not capable of purging itself of its own delusions.
Honest advice to Religion.
I read an article yesterday by Graham Harman on the philosophy of Quentin Meillassoux. The most intriguing aspect for me is the second section of the article:
"Second, I discuss an unpublished book by Meillassoux unfamiliar to all readers of this article, except those scant few that may have gone digging in the microfilm archives of the École normale supérieure. The book in question is Meillassoux’s revised doctoral dissertation L’Inexistence divine (or The Divine Inexistence), with its seemingly bizarre vision of a God who does not yet exist but might exist in the future. Without literally accepting this view, I will claim that it is philosophically interesting in ways that even a hardened sceptic might be able to appreciate."
The third section, discussing the possible future developments of Meillassoux's ideas is also pretty interesting.