All posts filed under: Psychology

Keep Social-Justice Indoctrination Out of the Therapist’s Office

One of the earliest stains on the legacy of psychiatry, my medical specialty, dates to the American 1840 census, when the US government first began systematically collecting information on “idiocy” and “insanity.” According to the results, the purported rates of mental illness among free blacks in northern cities were deemed to exceed those among enslaved blacks in the south by an 11-to-one ratio. South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, a notoriously strident defender of slavery, seized upon the results as “proof” that “the African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to him to give this guardianship and protection from mental death.” Five years later, the American Statistical Association published a new analysis of the census data, in which it illuminated what distinguished American psychiatrist Edward Jarvis called the “inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehoods” of the original. Jarvis’s own review revealed recording errors and deliberate misuse of data. Yet many citizens in pro-slavery states continued to believe that enslaved blacks were less inclined toward insanity because …

The Search to Explain Our Anxiety and Depression: Will ‘Long COVID’ Become the Next Gender Ideology?

In December, I wrote a detailed report for Quillette about the race-based social panic that had recently erupted at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. One of the reasons why the meltdown seemed so surreal, I noted, is that this elite school appears to the outside world as picturesque and serene. The average annual cost of attendance is about US$76,000. And most of these students live extremely privileged lives, insulated (physically and otherwise) from what any normal person would regard as suffering. Nor is there much in the way of substantive political discord on campus. According to survey results released in late 2019, 79 percent of Haverford students self-identify as politically liberal, while only 3.5 percent self-identify as conservative. It’s as close to an ideological monoculture as you can find outside of a monastery or cult. On paper, it resembles one of those utopian micro-societies conceived by science-fiction writers or 19th-century social theorists. The survey results I’m alluding to originate with Haverford’s “Clearness Committee,” an excellent resource for anyone seeking to understand the attitudes of students at …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part III: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the third instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series.   Coral’s story starts earlier than those of the other parents I’ve profiled, even if it contains familiar themes. While her prodigiously intelligent, literal-minded son wanted to talk about the science of black holes, his friends were still playing with Lego. Once he hit age 12, things got rough: All his friends left his school in one hit; the remaining kids took to bullying him; a close family member died. He was just beginning to realize how different he was, but not how he was different. He’d also just been given his first computer. The first declaration that …

Diversity, Inclusion, and Academic Freedom: The Case of Gender Biology

Our university recently circulated an email message, the contents of which I found somewhat strange. Or rather, I might have found it strange had I spent the past decade or two in a coma. The message was a carefully worded reflection on how academic freedom can be reconciled with the university’s updated and strengthened policies of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Although it strategically avoided specifics, one might justifiably infer that academic freedom presents some kind of threat to DEI. As I understand it, academic freedom means that what we publish and what we teach need only be judged for relevance and for support by the evidence base. In addition, it now appears that research must be compatible with institutional priorities. Less clear is where exactly these two guiding principles are expected to clash. In an attempt to understand this, I will reflect on a recent experience that may shed some light here. I am a paediatric endocrinologist, with teaching duties in the Department of Paediatrics (cross-appointment in Human Genetics), at McGill University in Montréal. …

Facts Don’t Care About Your Diversity Training Certificate—A Critique of Credentialism

One of the most commonly heard debater’s challenges, online and in real life, is: “Are YOU an expert in (X)?” The obvious if generally unspoken corollary is: “If not, then shut up.” However, very often, you don’t need to. There is little evidence that a smart normal citizen, capable of effective analysis of empirical data, cannot criticize the work of academic or journalistic “experts” in most fields—or any reason that he or she should be intimidated by these title-holders. Obviously, some professional background in a topic that one is discussing or researching is a good thing. However, no credential can substitute for a relatively unbiased and non-partisan approach to data, or for what can bluntly be called intelligence. Whether due to political motivation or plain incorrect statistical assumptions, credentialed experts have a long and entertaining history of wildly false predictions—like the recent predictions of between 1,000,000 and 10,000,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States before the end of 2020.1, 2 This sort of thing is likely to become even more common in the politicized academy …

Persuasion and the Prestige Paradox: Are High Status People More Likely to Lie?

Many have discovered an argument hack. They don’t need to argue that something is false. They just need to show that it’s associated with low status. The converse is also true: You don’t need to argue that something is true. You just need to show that it’s associated with high status. And when low status people express the truth, it sometimes becomes high status to lie. In the 1980s, the psychologists Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo developed the “Elaboration Likelihood Model” to describe how persuasion works. “Elaboration” here means the extent to which a person carefully thinks about the information. When people’s motivation and ability to engage in careful thinking is present, the “elaboration likelihood” is high. This means people are likely to pay attention to the relevant information and draw conclusions based on the merits of the arguments or the message. When elaboration likelihood is high, a person is willing to expend their cognitive resources to update their views. Two paths to persuasion The idea is that there are two paths, or …

When Sons Become Daughters: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the introductory instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. A few months ago, I was allowed into an online group of American parents of young men who have decided that they are in fact young women. I am neither a parent, nor transgender, nor an American, and therefore a tourist: there was an understandable hesitation about letting me in. In a few cases, such parents have been harassed, as they’ve left comments online that dissent from the received wisdom on transgenderism; in all cases, they are deeply wary of rights activists. The parents are mainly, although not entirely, mothers. They and their spouses are nervous of losing their jobs, and below everything rumbles the threat that their sons might discover their communications. While most have expressed to their …

I Retired First

It’s Sunday as I finish writing this, and I’m reflecting on work on this biblically traditional day of rest. Specifically, I’m thinking about not working, i.e., retirement. The ultimate rest for the dues-paid-in-full working stiff. I didn’t plan it, but I retired first. Before any start to a career. Through my four-year college degree program that took seven on-and-off years to complete, and a few more years on top of those, I spent my time doing a host of things one associates with a traditional retirement: playing golf, reading, hitting the beach, doing a range of odd jobs to make some money, keeping my “nut” as low as possible to match the lean cash flow, taking classes to keep my brain in the game, writing in my journal, doing some traveling, offering some folks and good causes time and help, reflecting on life past and future, learning a couple of new hobbies, hanging with similarly positioned friends, and observing with secret satisfaction all those other people who spin themselves into a frenzy in their workaday existence. …

For Our Own Good, We All Need a Glimpse of the Evil Queen

I had a client many years ago who was a real-life version of Sleeping Beauty. She was tall, blonde-haired, razor thin (as the saying goes), and profoundly unhappy. She was enrolled in a local junior college, attempting to upgrade so that she could attend university. She came to see me because she did not want to live. She also did not want to die, really—at least not actively. Instead, she attempted to keep herself unconscious with the use of Valium and its variants, including sleeping pills, which she procured in sufficient quantities from her (several) physicians, who were no doubt overworked enough not to keep track of exactly what she was doing. She managed to keep herself asleep fifteen or sixteen hours a day. She was smart and literate, and showed me a philosophy essay she had written on the pointlessness not only of her life but life in general. She was unable to tolerate the responsibility, by all appearances, but also could not deal with the cruelty she saw everywhere around her. She was …

Does Suffering Provide Meaning and Purpose in Life?—A Reply to Freya India

A recent article in Quillette by Freya India raises the age-old problem of how to understand the connection between suffering and meaning in one’s life. India’s argument is that some suffering is unavoidable, but more suffering may be beneficial if one is able to understand its advantages. Generation Z—those born since 1997—are historically unique insofar as they arrived in the Internet and social media age. But is suffering experienced differently according to a person’s circumstances? And are today’s under-25s that much different from earlier generations in the way they respond to stressors? A key characteristic of the social climate in which today’s under-25s live is that they cannot afford to ignore the pressures of creating and maintaining an identity on social media, and of trying to avoid the many hazards presented by aggressive activism and what has become known as “cancel culture.” This environment brings its own anxieties, because what is done on the Internet is very difficult to undo. Arousing serious and/or widespread antipathy from others may ruin one’s life-chances with no means of …