Friday, June 29, 2007

Brain Scan

Stumbled across this fascinating article that asks the question - can bigotry be classified as a mental illness? The author ultimately concludes - probably not. But there are some good arguments in favour of the idea. I have long thought that we probably send to prison a large number of people who actually need psychiatric treatment and for whom prison will probably serve as little more than an incubator for existing problems.

I also think that we cannot rule out the possibility that just because a large percentage of the population believe something, that belief is somehow sane. For instance in our scientific age - isn't believing in God symptomatic of a refusal to face dazzling reality? If you plucked out your child's eyebrows because you thought The Flying Spaghetti Monster and his Noodly Appendage (all hail) willed it so, you would be convicted of child cruelty and either locked up or referred for treatment. No-one would conclude you were sane. If you cut off some of the skin on your child's genitals (yes genitals) because God wanted you to ... oh, that's normal, carry on.
Which brings me to another question - could misogyny be defined as a mental illness?
mental illness n. Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual's normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma.
So if in fact women are not trying to "trap" you into a loveless marriage or control your life or ruin your career or bankrupt your company, or any of the other things you hear from the uber-misogynist camp, and you believe they are - can I have you sectioned? Someone better tell Gordon Brown to build a LOT more hospitals...


JM said...

Hmmm! Isn't classing bigotry or misogyny as a mental illness is a very nice and easy way to dismiss the systemic reasons they exist and are pervasive?

Plus, it furthers promotes the idea that only wacky extremists are sexist or racist.

Cruella said...

Depends how you think about mental illness...

Anorexia is a mental illness that clearly has systemic causes.

And depression is a mental illness that affects a huge percentage of the population, who are neither wacky nor extremist.

But I'm only really interested in the idea insofar as it gives us additional weapons with which to fight prejudice. And I'm not totally sure it does, I'm just floating the idea. But I do wonder, for instance, if the evidence given by a pathological misogynist in court could be highlighted as such and if pathological misogynists could be excluded from juries.

Professor Zero said...

There was a big discussion a few months ago at a blog called the free slave (on wordpress, google-able) on racism as a mental illness. The blog was arguing in favor and various commentators against.

I see the advantages of saying misogyny, or racism, are mental illnesses or like mental illnesses. However racism and patriarchy are rational systems of hierarchy, difference, etc.

Misogyny in individuals, as the effect of living in patriarcal society, sure. But I'm not sure you have to call it a mental illness to make that point. I also think misogyny can be un-learned in ways that not every mental illness can.

Once again I'm not sure. I notice in the U.S. that once the idea that racist or racialized thinking was irrational and that this irrationality was systemically caused, white guys started saying, "Oh, dear, look how irrational the concept of race is, and how our irrational society has made me an irrational racist. Poor little irrational me can't do a thing about it."

This makes me think it could be better strategically to emphasize the rationality of prejudice, or of the system it supports. Keeps a white male minority in charge, that's what it's for.

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