Wednesday, 30 March 2011

DSM and pseudoscience

I have a friend who is dear to me and who keeps me humble by his deep skepticism of my sometimes outrageous thoughts and ideas. He and I have had many interesting conversations. I've never been able to convince him though that his psychology classes in a course he took a while ago comprise of just one of many schools of thought and not as authoritative as he thinks it is. He is fond of telling me that our selves can be broken down into four distinct quadrants: how we see ourselves; how we want to be seen by others; how others view us; and, the fourth is never really quite clear to me...

When I get too pedantic for him he looks at me with feigned pity (at least that's what I take it to be), he says "there are four of you, and you never think beyond the first and second...". I have enough respect for him to never be offended because his skepticism keeps me humble and reminds me when I've gotten too serious and overwrought by ideas as I'm wont to become sometimes.

However, his complete faith in the autoritative brand of psychology of his makes me reflect on how blurred and dangerous the boundaries can be between pseudoscience and the vague generalities that make up the entries in the DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders). The danger here is that like the overwhelmingly powerful legal apparatus of the Inquisition was based on a treatise called, Malleus Maleficarum (the hammer of witches) to inflict evil acts upon "heretics" and "witches", the DSM is a bible on which power can be exercised over the disenfrachised and the vulnerable in our society.

There is a legal instrument called a Community Treatment Order which has been used to force powerful psychotropic drugs on otherwise sane people who have been chronically in trouble with the law here in Nunavut (and I would think in almost all aboriginal communities) with insidious impunity.

When I was a policy analyst for an Inuit Organization this issue was brought to my attention more than once. But when I mentioned it to lawyer-types and otherwise thoughtful people all I got was nervous unease, even resentment that I had the gall to bring this up. There is something really wrong here... we haven't seem to advanced very far from the days when women and misfits and those who opposed arbitrary authority were ruthlessly persecuted and burned at the stake.


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