Thursday, December 15, 2005

Applied psychology to racism 

Former Scholar Kevin McGrew (now running his own excellent blog, IQ Corner) notes to me the debate over defining racism as a mental disorder. Mind Hacks -- I want to read this book some day soon -- has blogged on it.
It may seem a little ridiculous to medicalise what are essentially extreme opinions, but the move is interesting for what it says about psychiatric diagnosis in general. In particular, it cuts to the very idea of what defines a mental disorder.

They define schizophrenia and apply the definition to racism, and it seems to work. I find that bothersome; it reminds me of Thomas Szasz, who found the whole definition of schizophrenia no more than semantic construction used to create classifications of certain behavior that allow one to imprison someone whose behavior we consider odd. Is this attempt to define racism as a mental disorder a step towards creating compulsory treatments and using the health community as jailers of those who we think are extreme? Jeffery Schaler says the same in a forum discussing the ideas of Dr. Allan Pouissant on a PBS documentary in 2000:

Racism is a moral and ethical question. But if some have their way and they succeed in classifying or categorizing racism as an illness, don't you see, as a necessary result, you're exculpating people for the evil acts that they commit?...

It seems to me that we all abhor racism, and we're differing in terms of what we might do about it. I think your position, implementing formal social control, psychiatry, institutional psychiatry, makes sense in that you're angry at people who are racists, and that's a weighty weapon to use against racists. However, I think you are unbelievably naive in terms of the slippery slope that using institutional psychiatry can bring about. Because once people have this power to make decisions as to mental illnesses based on moral judgments, there's no end to what people will diagnose as a mental illness...