Wednesday, March 11, 2009


A reader pointed me to this post which discusses how the eco-fascists of our planet would like to label "denial" about global warming a mental illness.
The idea that ‘climate change denial’ is a psychological disorder – the product of a spiteful, wilful or simply in-built neural inability to face up to the catastrophe of global warming – is becoming more and more popular amongst green-leaning activists and academics. And nothing better sums up the elitism and authoritarianism of the environmentalist lobby than its psychologisation of dissent. The labelling of any criticism of the politics of global warming, first as ‘denial’, and now as evidence of mass psychological instability, is an attempt to write off all critics and sceptics as deranged, and to lay the ground for inevitable authoritarian solutions to the problem of climate change. Historically, only the most illiberal and misanthropic regimes have treated disagreement and debate as signs of mental ill-health.

Before I discuss such tactics (which many on the left accuse me of using), I think some background ideas need to be reviewed.

I frequently use psychiatric and psychological concepts to describe behavior in this blog, and because of that, many people accuse me of labeling anyone who disagrees with me politically as having a mental illness.

This is not true; and it suggests that most of these critics know little about psychiatry, psychiatric diagnoses, or psychological defenses.

While I do believe that some of the people I describe might indeed have a mental illness; and that some are, in fact, perfectly healthy but simply malevolent or evil; it is simply not the case that by exposing certain psychological defense mechanisms that explain their behavior, I am giving the political opposition a medical/psychiatric diagnosis. Nevertheless, if a particular diagnosis fits, I am perfectly content to let them wear it.

In discussing psychological defense mechanisms, what I am trying to do is understand how and why people behave in the way that they do. Describing psychological defenses is not the same thing as "making a diagnosis" for one very simple reason. All humans utilize psychological defenses, all the time. Both Democrat and Republican; Left and Right. Good and Bad.

Psychological defenses are involuntary, regulatory coping processes.

By themselves, defenses are not evidence of "illness". When used, they may appear to be "sick," evil, or even irrational, but basically, they reflect a creative adaptation to the world.

George Vaillant, a brilliant researcher in this area, and a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, uses the analogy that defenses mechanisms are deployed in a fashion similar to physical symptoms-- such as a fever, cough or elevated white blood cell count. All of the latter physical symptoms occur when an individual is coming down with an illness.

Vaillant points out that the body reacts to the environment with these physiological responses in order to prevent or ameliorate the attacking illness. Without these normal physiological responses, we would be at the mercy of many illness and die.

In similar fashion, the psychological defenses are employed by the ego to respond to a threatening reality. With varying levels of success, our defense mechanisms ameliorate, distort and/or transform reality in order to protect our psychological self. The healthier and more mature defenses are a remarkably creative synthesis of our conflicts, needs and external reality; a synthesis that enable us to both give and receive pleasure in life.

Some defenses may be considered "immature" or even completely out of touch with reality; while others are "mature". This is not necessarily a value judgement, since it only reflects the fact that throughout development from childhood to adulthood; certain psychological strategies are generally discarded in favor of healthier and more effective strategies. The difference between the two types--mature and immature--is that the psychotic and immature defenses may cause considerable human misery and are, in the long run, not particularly adaptive or healthy. In some cases, they can even distort or warp reality to such an extent, that the person using the defense puts his life (and possibly others lives) at stake.

This is a very high price to pay to avoid a reality that is unpleasant or unacceptable.

Thus, when I see the predominance of "immature" strategies (e.g. projection, fantasy, acting out)--and/or some of the more primitive and potentially psychotic strategies (denial, distortion, paranoia)--being used by supposedly grownup adults, I begin to look around for explanations of their conduct that are not being acknowledged.

In a sense, all psychological defenses are a variation on denial; and at the center of all psychological denial is a hidden agenda. That agenda is usually not completely conscious--meaning that the denier has not thought through the issues surrounding his denial; and may not even be aware of what his motivation is in asserting something is true when it isn't; or false when it isn't.

Many people are very pleased not to have to change themselves or conform to reality. They will maintain their dysfunctional defenses no matter what the cost. Self reflection and insight are too dangerous for such people, and death is preferable to altering their beliefs or fantasies about the real world. Clearly, their distress about the possibility of changing themselves or their beliefs is far greater than any potential consequences they might experience by using an immature, unhealthy and dysfunctional psychological defense to avoid reality.

Those people who come to see psychiatrists and mental health professionals are, for the most part in considerable distress from their symptoms and want to change (of course, that doesn't mean they will do so easily, unfortunately).

Probably the best description of defenses that I have ever read comes from George Vaillant, in his book The Wisdon of the Ego: (pg. 17 - 18)
1. Defenses reflect creative synthesis. The mind creates a perception that was not there before and that did not come just from external reality. In this regard, defensive behavior resembles art.
2. Defenses are relatively unconscious and their deployment is relatively involuntary.
3. Defenses distort inner and/or outer reality.
4. Defenses distort the relationship between affect and idea and between subject and object.
5. Defenses are more often healthy than pathological.
6. Defenses often appear odd or startling to everyone but the user.
7. Over time defenses often mature and allow the mentally "ill" to evolve into the mentally well.

Let me offer a concrete illustration of a defense--a photograph of a rainbow, if you will, obtained through my metaphorical telescope, the Study of Adult Development. I was interviewing an internist who had participated in the study for thirty years. He told me with vividness and enthusiasm, about his hobby: growing tissue cultures in his basement. He then told me with still more enthusiasm that the cells for one of these tissue cultures had been taken from a lesion on his mother's leg. He described his interest in tissue cultures as if it were the most ordinary pursuit in the world. But I have yet to describe his hobby to an audience without an uneasy ripple of laughter sweeping the room. Audiences have found the fact that this doctor was growing his mother's cells in his basement, as a child might raise flowers, extraordinary, even pathological. In short, the doctor saw his own behavior as normal; outsiders saw it as odd and, as we so often view other people's religion, politics, and dreams, possibly improper. Thus their laughter.

But anyone can have an unusual hobby. What mad this internist's avocation particularly noteworthy was that near the end of the interview he revealed to me--in the most matter of fact way--that his mother had died only three weeks earlier. Knowing that he had been very fond of her, I asked him how he had coped with her death. He said that, since he was a physician, he had spent his time comforting his father. On a conscious level, this man had rationalized --and he was good at rationalizing--that he had borne the grief o flosing his mother by caring for another person. Put differently, by his self-report he had used altruism as a coping strategy. Had I been interested only in conscious coping strategies, I too might have classified his means of mastering his mother's death as altruism. Instead, Ilocated his source of solace by makinig a connection of which he himself was probably unaware. I deduced that the knowledge that somehow his mother was still alive and living in his basement might be providing a secret source of comfort. Certainly he had described his scientific hobby to me with an enthusiasm and a warmth usually allotted to people and to art. Certainly, he had described the loss of his mother by death with the blandness usually allotted to leaves dropping off a tree in autumn--or to tissue cultures.

In short, defenses are creative, healthy, comforting, coping, and yet often strike observers as downright peculiar. But that is why defenses--like immune mechanisms--serve adaptation. That is why defenses integrate experience by providing a variety of filters for pain and mechanisms for self-deception. Defenses creatively rearrange the sources of conflict so that they become manageable.

Let us return now to the issue at hand. As the above discussion has shown, denial is not in and of itself a mental illness. It is a tactic that is used by everyone all the time to cope with some of the more unpleasant aspects of reality. For most people, the more immature aspects of psychological denial are usually abandoned when they directly face reality or truth or facts.

Having said that, it is not psychological denial to disagree with someone. It is not psychological denial to debate "facts" that are in dispute, or even "facts" that conflict with other "facts". When it comes to science there are always disagreements and debate over such things. In the free marketplace of ideas that is science, this is not only common, but healthy, and it is an essential process in the search for truth.

It is only when politics and ideology get mixed in with the scientific pursuit of that truth that the process can easily be perverted. Which is what todays environmentalists have done (and why I refer to them as "eco-fascists"). They do not seek scientific truth, they seek the imposition of a political agenda.

They are so intent on imposing this agenda that they have wittingly or unwittingly fallen into using yet another psychological defense mechanism: projection. They would like to impute to those who disagree with some of their hypotheses of global warming and climate change their own denial of reality. Then they take it one step further and call it a mental illness. This is only a further manifestation of their own mental insecurity and difficulty in dealing with the real world. Their own mental universe is like an elaborately constructed sand castle--one good wave of criticism; one splash of reality or truth is all it would take to bring down the entire structure.

No one has to tell me that psychiatry can be abused by politicians and idealogues. I happen to be quite familiar with the history of such tactics, usually embraced by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes to silence critics. In the old Soviet Union, one favorite technique was to have the State Psychiatrist "diagnose" dissidents with what the Soviet communists liked called "sluggish schizophrenia" (a sort of incipient schizophrenic/psychotic process that beclouded the "proper" thinking process of a true communist)--because, who in their right mind would believe that individual freedom was more important than the collective? Or that communism was the only scientifically proven system of society? Who, indeed? The amazingly clueless and aggressively unscientific Islamists resort to the most ridiculous "scientific" claims for their religion.

The eco-fascists, who have nothing on the Islamic fascists are just as willing as the jihadis to subjugate the human species to their environmental religion; a religion that where doubt and a desire for further inquiry (the foundations of real science) represent a heinous blasphemy; and any criticism implies mental illness and is treated with incarceration or worse punishment.

Let's consider how Environmental Psychiatry would work, shall we? A while back, I quoted Gagdad Bob in a post on the science of Islamic psychiatry::
Imagine a Palestinian going to a Palestinian psychiatrist and free associating. “You know, I’ve been having these weird thoughts.... I don’t think that Jews are responsible for all my problems.... In fact, I’m starting to think that they’re an admirable people, and that we should be imitating them instead of murdering them.... Let’s be honest, Doc, Arabs have contributed nothing to the world, but just by being in proximity to Israel we were the most prosperous Arab ecomomy, but we stupidly destroyed all of that with the meaningless intifada. We actually cheered when those planes went into the Twin Towers, but now I’m starting to have second thoughts, Doc. Am I crazy?”

“Yes. Not just crazy but evil. As a way of curing you, I am recommending that you be hung by your ankles from the nearest lamp post and be disemboweled by an angry mob.”

Well, here's the Environmental Psychiatry version:
"Imagine an environmental scientist going to a environmental psychiatrist and free associating. “You know, I’ve been having these weird thoughts.... I don’t think that man-made global warming is responsible for all the climate changes the planet is undergoing right now.... In fact, I’m starting to think that these climate changes we're seeing may be part of natural cycles of warming and cooling that occur not only on our planet, but on all planets in the solar system; and that maybe we are being too quick to lay the blame on human activity; especially since human activity and productivity is what drives economies and brings people out of poverty and misery and naturally raises the standard of living. Are we willing to lower that standard of living and control human activity and condemn people all over the globe to poverty and misery just on the possibility that we can have any significant impact on these warming and cooling trends? Let’s be honest, Doc, the debate is far from over on this subject, and there is a lot at stake--particularly human freedom and economic progress; let's not stupidly destroy the engines that have brought us to prosperity and freedom by an agenda that cheers on human suffering and death as positive for the planet. I’m starting to have second thoughts, Doc. Am I crazy?”

“Yes. Not just crazy but evil. As a way of curing you, I am recommending that you be hung by your ankles from the nearest lamp post and be disemboweled by an angry mob.”

Now we come to the real agenda of the eco-fascists:
Instead of creating the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' the neo-marxists among us have settled on the 'dictatorship of the scientific elite'.

In reality, they always intended for a few intellectual 'elites'(they mean themselves, actually) to have the power to run things. but at least they hid that agenda behind the 'power to the people' bullshit rhetoric.

Now, they don't even bother to disguise their agenda. Or, even bother to deny that it was the same kind of marxist/socialist/communist--i.e., LEFTIST, policies that have most polluted the environment and destroyed the planet.

The devastation they have wrought to both the human population and the precious planet are only unintended consequences of their scientifically 'proven' methods. These utopian (and I count the radical environmentalist among the worst of the lot) always know what's best for us hapless humans because they are so much smarter and wiser than we are. They mean well, after all. It isn't their fault that a little thing like reality gets in the way of their implementation of utopian policies!

It isn't their fault that the environment is a complex system! They only mean the best for us.

They always seem to assume that something is "scientifically proven" when the results happen to agree with their ideology.

But actually, you could say that all these environmental fanatics are simply in denial about denial.

[BTW, the Obama Administration's rhetoric about "science trumping ideology" will, in reality, amount to the and see.]

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