Tuesday, May 27, 2014

meta-ideological stress

there's an article a couple of friends re-posted about fundamentalism being treated as mental illness. this really upset me, and i got stuck into the following long, long argument.

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i'm not sure how i feel about treating fundamentalism as a disorder, it's a perfectly rational response to postmodern anxiety. check out in praise of doubt if you're at all interested, it's a fantastic, enlightening read and it's short.

would you say anxieties can cause disorders (over time)?

well, the definition of a "disorder" in psychology swings between "subject is out of the ordinary" and "subject is suffering". the problem with the first definition is that there's no way to establish normative behaviour or feeling, and the problem with the second is that there's no way to verify a psychological disorder externally.

either way, throwing oneself whole-heartedly into an ideology is not a disorder, it's default human behaviour. there's no difference between religious fundamentalism, anti-religious fundamentalism (atheism is a very active and aggressive ideology) or things like nutrition / lifestyle fundamentalism (veganism and yoga).

okay so let's attempt to define it within the context of the post modern world:
a disorder *could be* a psycho-somatic or purely psychological disease that occurs on a chronic basis at varying degrees of severity.
we'll measure it through the person's experience (bad, imbalanced, closed off, intolerant, anti-social - as opposed to good, content, moderately stressed, social, tolerant, empathetic, open with their feelings and ideas).


basically you nailed it. and not just within the postmodern context, it's generic. things like "social" and "tolerant", however, are external measurements. lots of people are happily anti-social and intolerant, and are not suffering, so no disorder there.

i have the desire to re-frame disorder. disorder is misunderstood and often - as you say - one can be happily intolerant without suffering. yes, without "suffering". there are dozens of conditions in which the subject does indeed suffer. for instance, being so determined that red jellybeans are better than all the other colours that it causes panic and anxiety fairly often (like OCD). unless you stop buying jellybeans. or feeling numb (i.e. depression). and no less than that is chronic intolerance. you can say people don't suffer for being intolerant but i'd argue they do. if you can't empathise with another, you can't connect to them, you can't make peace when they're angry with you. you can't argue your point and feel aligned if they happen to disagree. intolerant, grumpy old men aren't living in bliss and the world be damned. they're miserable and they don't how to escape it.

it's impossible to judge another's happiness. introverts need alone-time, extroverts need social time. a racist who doesn't have to interact with other races might be perfectly happy. this line of argument goes nowhere, at the end of the day only you will know if you are suffering. and if you're suffering because society is crazy or ill - then you're insane, even if you're completely right.

personally, i think it might be a good call to count it as a mental disorder if your thinking is causing OTHER people to get hurt or die based on your opinion on what is right with no solid evidence, but i'm no psychologist.

that's your ideology speaking, and even though i totally approve of your sentiment it goes against what *is* (the study of how humans operate) in favour of what "should be" - that very thinking makes perfect sense to you within the framework of your ideology, but it's exactly that kind of thinking that made stalin put to death anyone who threatened the communist system. those people were hurting society because of their opinions. the difference being that what you're suggesting isn't death to those who oppose, merely medication into submission to a pluralist "socially acceptable" state...

sure, i get your point but what about actual chemical imbalances which can cause extreme thinking, paranoia, violence, disproportionate rage etc?

what have those things got to do with fundamentalism?

anyway, sometimes it's very difficult to ascertain hardware versus software problems, which is why so many kids are misdiagnosed with adhd when it's really, really rare.

everything on your list, though? bad parenting and shitty societies cause those things too, sometimes there's a real chemical imbalance (lack of b12 causes depression and psychosis, for example) but mostly it's psychological and needs to be dealt with psychologically. and living in a pill-popping industrialized society makes it very, very hard to see what's what, all doctors and therapists being subject to ideology too.

if i can be so bold as to suggest *another* book - james hillman - re-visioning psychology is a long, difficult read but absolutely enlightening.

the article talks about "mental illness" which is a very, very broad area. do they mean depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders or addictive behaviours? let's narrow it to something a little less broad but still very broad: an emotional behavioural disorder (EBD) or personality disorder - if only because it also covers anxiety and learned behaviour - two things we see a lot of in religious extremist behaviours from all walks of religion.

btw, i don't think we can keep things purely scientific when science has an incomplete understanding of human behaviour and the mind that motivates it. this is part of my problem with your paradigm and why i'm not convinced i'm being ideological.

so let's define an EBD / personality disorder and see if religious fundamentalism stands up to it:

1. the subject experiences consistent anxiety as a result of their religious fundamentalism.
2. the subject feels withdrawal symptoms if they can't act out in a particular way - see the volume of tragic stories about people who try to leave their religious communities or remain in them as agnostics.
3. the subject experiences consistent conflict with broader society, including the legal system, social codes and post-modernist thought - leading to anxiety and violence.
4. was there physical harm to oneself or others as a result of the fundamentalism?
5. do religious fundamentalists persist despite clear evidence of harmful consequences?

that's how the world health organization and the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders classify personality disorders - and oddly enough "substance abuse", recalling karl marx's rather apt "opium of the people" definition of religion.

you would say - as you've said above - that i cannot assume religious fundamentalists experience anxiety and that people can be blissfully intolerant to others.

but what if i can assume it - and even prove it?

psychological research by prof. clavin mercer (chair of religious studies east carolina university and a clinical psychologist) states from two decades of study: "the fundamentalist is driven by anxiety layered over a fragile sense of self-identity constructed upon a system of beliefs that is both logically inconsistent and highly suspect in light of modern science." other psychologists - valerie tarico in DC and dr marlene winnel in san fransisco - and the british association of behavioral and cognitive psychologists went a step further and coined it "religious trauma syndrome", defined by: 1) immersion in a controlling religion and the 2) the impact of leaving a religious group. having observed CONSISTENT and UNRELATED symptoms of religious fundamentalism they correctly defined it as a "social disorder". as a scientist, you can't ignore the consistency and as a sociologist, you can't ignore the social harm. so i've ticked criteria 1, 2 and 5.

fundamentalist christians, jews and muslims believe theirs is the only true view of the world. they are proudly intolerant and refuse to enter into dialogue - rather referring to scripture, avoiding critical thought. their extremity which puts them at odds with the broader community, and their dogma puts their ideology above humanity - and often the law. they deny medicine to their children (e.g. seven day adventists), murder their daughters and sisters if they've shamed their families (e.g. honour killings) and demonize LGBT behaviour (e.g. all happy clappers, pretty much).

i've now ticked off criteria 3 - my favourite criteria as it happens, because it's the one in which the harm of the "mental illness" is externalised and causes tragedy - and added meat to criteria 5.

i therefore put forward that religious fundamentalism easily meets the criteria to be labeled a mental disorder or an EBD.


first, before citing WHO and the DSM, please read inside the battle to define mental illness - the data from these sources is based on untestable concepts of "normative" and being interpreted by organizations outside of psychological discourse.

secondly, science doesn't have the complete tool-set to deal with psychology, and that's precisely what i'm arguing. you're the one who seems to be trying to label things which cannot be reduced to right / wrong, healthy / sick dichotomies in a "scientific" manner.

thirdly, i used stalin as an example of how protecting one's ideology requires suffocating another's, it's an extreme example but i feel it makes the parallel clearer. we're pretty much doing the same thing with our pluralist ideology when we try to get others to play by our rules of right and wrong. i also think our rules are the best, by the way, but that's because we share an ideology

understanding that we live in narrative / worldview / ideological bubbles is a huge cause of stress and fundamentalism is a coping mechanism, not necessarily a cause of the stress itself. i won't say fundamentalism's not a cause of other stresses, but then we're heading into a vicious circle that shows us there's really no such thing as a life without stress and conflict. it's all a matter of choosing which stresses, conflicts and traumas you're willing to face.

i'd really, really appreciate it if you read the first book i suggested before continuing to argue, because i really, really don't want to (and don't have the authority to) repeat everything that's said in it in an attempt to present it to you in this thread, which would be ridiculously ambitious. and it's an important basis of my argument.

when you say that you aren't being ideological you're doing precisely what fundamentalists are doing, only they're doing it in an extreme form. you see, i'm also living inside an ideological framework that's inescapable, the only difference is that i'm calling it what it is. we can't escape it because it's the underlying operation of our brains, humans can't exist without ideology. and EVERYTHING we do functions through it, including our logic and rationalization. you're not going to get satisfaction arguing with me here! this isn't the right forum, and i'm not the best way for you to get into the discourse to a degree where we're both speaking the same language.
i could suggest tons of reading, like foucault and lyotard and a whole bunch of other great minds, but it's a lot and we all have to choose what we do with our minds and i believe you have other plans.

ironically, i personally hate it when people tell me i need to read stuff in order to argue with them, but that's precisely where we get to pick our battles.

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