Fiat Lux

It's Latin for 'Let there be Light'

On Bigotry and Mental Illness

on December 11, 2005

As I was doing my morning pass through my Bloglines feeds, I noted AmericaBlog’s John in DC calling attention to a piece in the Washington Post about whether extreme bigotry should be considered a mental illness.

John takes that ball and runs with it:

We should set a long-term goal to get the psychological and psychiatric associations to officially make bigotry a mental disorder. The religious right would flip, fun in and of itself, but this would set the tone for an entire change in the culture, where prejudice of any kind of is considered the work of sick people.

I have two problems with that advice; one scientific, the other tactical.

First, the science. While it seems pretty clear that the people talked about in the WaPo are indeed mentally ill, I wonder whether the bigotry displayed isn’t really just a symptom of the underlying disorder. Do we really need to create a new illness for this, or is it more likely that that the people in question are actually suffering from paranoia, or schizophrenia, or some other already-identified diseases?

Next, the tactics. Choosing “They’re mentally ill!” as a tactic with which to attack the Religious Right is not helpful. For if you accept the underlying premise, then prejudice against bigots also falls into the illness category. In other words, when both sides get to flog the other with accusations of mental illness on top of all the other mud they fling at each other, nothing really changes. And the people who really need help still won’t get it.

Finally, Shakespeare’s Sister beat me to the punch with the excellent observation:

Bigotry isn


No Responses to “On Bigotry and Mental Illness”

  1. Paul Schumacher says:

    I agree with you.

    The Soviets called dissidents “mentally ill.”

    I am sure Bush and Co. would if (a) they could, and (b) they were smart enough to think of it.

    In fact, the overwhelming preponderance of propaganda in this country makes many regard dissidents as cracked.

    We should always evaluate our perceptions on impersonal facts insofar as possible.