Tuesday, February 07, 2012

James Barham Knows Whether You Are Normal or Sick

James Barham is a philosopher who runs a higher-education ranking site called The Best Schools. He also has a blog that recently has become little more than a mouthpiece for fading ID advocate William Dembski and professional debater William Lane Craig.

Barham's "Medicalizing Normality" is an ugly and irresponsible piece on proposed revisions to the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), scheduled for publication in 2013.

I have been monitoring the DSM-5 because Autism Spectrum Disorder is up for revision. My son was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old. Now almost four, he has made wonderful advances thanks to school services and support. Despite these advances, if he were to stop receiving therapy today then he would suffer intellectually, emotionally, socially, and more. His present and future happiness would be at risk, even with a loving and supportive family.

Barham, however, sees the revisions as taking the US further along the path of "labeling essentially normal kids as sick." This is his thesis, and it's ugly enough--as I'll discuss shortly--but Barham's underlying (emphasis on lying) point is that "the trend toward medicalizing normality is a doomed effort to cure with science what is essentially a spiritual disease."

Pause on this quote for a moment because it really is disgusting.

Barham is not arguing on behalf of healthy people. He cares nothing for the tolls that illnesses exact on people, let alone their families. Any benefit that "science" delivers to autistic people and their families are only so-so to him. But what matters to Barham? What does he see as the most pressing issue for every child, woman, and man? Why, the biggest and baddest problem of all is that people don't believe in magic:
Why do we, as a society, seem to have this deep-seated need to medicalize normality? Why do we think we can—never mind should—take scientific control over every aspect of the human condition, including normal suffering, sadness, and even mortality itself?

I submit that this trend is partly a reflection of our widespread loss of religious faith. When most people believed in a divine order of things, human frailty and the inevitable suffering involved in human existence were much more readily accepted. Now, as so many have nothing else to believe in, and as they see no other point to human life than the maximization of pleasure, it is not surprising that they expect science to exempt them from all the less pleasant aspects of the human estate.

First of all, there really is no trend to medicalizing normality; it's been there for a long, long, time--and not just in medicine. That term "normal" is suspect anyway, but my point is that medicine, science, and religion--yeah, religion too--have all sought to define and prescribe the bits and pieces of human experience: grief, friendship, love, sex, jealously, anger, and so on. These experiences and attitudes have all been religionized and medicalized over and again throughout the course of history. They all get -ized because we people are interested (maybe too much) in the things that happen to us.

So spare us the sanctimony, Barham: what's wrong with maximizing pleasure? With maximizing happiness? With living longer, with being pain-free, with having healthy and close relationships with others?

Secondly, the opposite of "essentially normal," whatever that is, is not "sick." The opposite of "essentially normal" is "essentially abnormal," and the opposite of "sick" is "healthy." If there is a legitimate danger for Barham to write about, it's the danger of treating healthy people as if they were ill. In his article, Barham's examples are people who were mistakenly thought to be less healthy than they actually were. It happens, and it is a problem to mind carefully.

My experience in distinguishing unhealthy behavioral conditions comes from not only my son's Autism but also my wife's depression. In both cases, the standard we use is whether the behavior or emotions have a sustained negative impact on functioning in daily life. Is it a perfect indicator? No. That's why we consult with physicians. But I would rather be able to get help when I need it than worry about being mis-labled.

Barham apparently lives in a world where people are "normal" or "abnormal." I bet he considers himself normal. His friends, too. How convenient. But the world of normal is gone. The world of normal is the world where you get to crush me, in the name of your god, into your template. You get to feel moral while forcing me to play with G.I Joe "action figures," pushing me to my knees before a pulpit, deciding what makes a legitimate course of study, dictating who I can and cannot marry, defining what demographics are proper for my neighborhood, and so on until I die. The world of normal is the world where your authority is accepted unquestioningly.

Fuck your normal, fuck your world, fuck your authority, and fuck you too.

Barham's hierarchy of ills makes our "spiritual" sickness the most important one of all. Forget about that diseased internal organ. Screw your pain and discomfort. Got a mental disorder? It's not a priority. Barham scoffs at medicine and science for their vain attempts to lessen pain and prolong life. Medicine and science are alright, he says, but it's more important to address our all-pervasive spiritual ailment. I don't know why he doesn't come right out and say explicitly that we need Baby JesusTM to make us whole and happy.

Fortunately, we don't need Baby Jesus or religion. There is no spiritual ailment. Spiritual ailment is merely another way of saying "people aren't listening to me." Barham's Uncommon Descent-like site offers no content to take seriously.

On the other hand, we should take seriously that plenty of people would agree with Barham that "science" (and government) want to control absolutely every aspect of human daily experience. Many already pin science and government as nefarious partners in a liberal/communist plot to enslave all humanity. And many want to push religiosity on us--not to help anything at all, but rather to promote their parochial version of happiness above all others. They want people to be happy, after all, but only on their terms.

However, those of us on the side of reality, equality, equity, and individual liberty must continue to correct disinformationsists like Barham and to better them with facts and reason.

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