Pyschological Enabling

by Timothy Lane   4/25/15

Theodore Dalrymple has a new book out, Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality, which Mona Charen reviews in the April 20 National Review. (I can imagine some liberals, if they notice it, commenting on the fact that this was Hitler’s birthday.) My comments here are based on her review.

Dalrymple basically argues that modern psychology has actually led to a regression in understanding of the abnormal mind. Before Freud, there were some basic notions that were little less scientific, and also less devoted to excusing and rationalizing misbehavior. Modern psychology, he argues, takes “to understand all is to forgive all” as its maxim. (This has been true, at least for many, for at least a century, as can be seen in Clarence Darrow’s discussion of the subject in his closing arguments in the case of Leopold and Loeb.)

The net result of providing a wide array of excuses for misbehavior is not only that criminality is excused, but also that virtue is disregarded. To behave well merely means that no one mistreated you or otherwise caused you to misbehave, not that you might have a stronger moral fiber than the transgressor. Dalrymple also points out that statistics of the prevalence of abnormal behavior are unreliable, partly because people who look for it tend to find it, and partly because the search can actually encourage the abnormality (known as the Werther effect from the many suicides that followed Goethe’s novel).

Charen herself thinks Dalrymple is a bit harsh, pointing to some of the benefits resulting from modern psychological study. But she agrees with his basic point. I think many will find the review interesting, and (for those who follow the subject) the book as well.


Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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9 Responses to Pyschological Enabling

  1. M Farrell says:

    Timothy– Dalrymple’s book (all his books) are pertinent to the discussion we all had last week about criminal motive v. Intent v. Mitigating circumstances v. Delusional mental illness v. Legal Insanity after Deana’s article “Delusion and Evil” . I disagree with Charin that he is to harsh– I wonder what she would think after a couple of years doing what he does.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Charen thought he was too harsh toward the field of psychology. She pointed to various ways it has helped (anti-psychotic drugs, for example), while also admitting the validity of his concern that psychology has encouraged a dangerous anti-judgmentalism.

      • Anya says:

        ‘She pointed to various ways it has helped (*anti-psychotic drugs*, for example), while also admitting the validity of his concern that psychology has encouraged a dangerous anti-judgmentalism.’

        You are referring to psychiatry, not psychology: two different fields. Dalrymple himself is a psychiatrist (a publicly funded NHS psychiatrist who receives a rather generous pension from the state.). He is, for example, a staunch supporter of forcible medication.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Dalrymple himself is a psychiatrist (a publicly funded NHS psychiatrist who receives a rather generous pension from the state.)

          Alas, such has grown the behemoth of the state that no one is left untouched by it. But Dalrymple can at least report on his experiences inside this system. It’s not impossible to benefit from a system while at the same time reporting on its flaws. It’s somewhat rare due to the limits of human nature and the propensity to define as “good” (and thus exempt from criticism) anything that is materially advantageous. At least give Dalrymple credit for not doing that. Let us not be an Alinskyite and use our own good rules against ourselves as a weapon.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The works of Dalrymple are as good of a refutation of Libertarianism as they are of Leftism, although I don’t think he’s used either word in his books. His report from the front lines refutes the amoral “let the market decide” attitude of Libertarians. And it is an inhuman sewer of human degradation and suffering produced without good morals, for the “market” at the bottom is rife with a marketplace of drugs, prostitution, single-parenthood, gangs, ill-health, abuse of all kinds, and welfare.

    I may read this book. But, Lord knows, once you’ve read three or four of them, you get the picture.

  3. Jerry Richardson says:

    Timothy,

    Thanks for the very interesting review.

    Dalrymple basically argues that modern psychology has actually led to a regression in understanding of the abnormal mind.
    —-
    The net result of providing a wide array of excuses for misbehavior is not only that criminality is excused, but also that virtue is disregarded.
    —-
    Dalrymple also points out that statistics of the prevalence of abnormal behavior are unreliable, partly because people who look for it tend to find it, and partly because the search can actually encourage the abnormality…
    —Timothy Lane

    There is, naturally enough, a spiritual and a biblical way of looking at the underlying cause of the phenomenon described in the book you reviewed.

    How can the “abnormal mind” be properly understood if “abnormality” is not clearly delineated from “normality”; or worse confused with “normality”? Answer: It cannot.

    I believe that a major part of the cause is what Deana Chadwell and commenters have been discussing in her article — Delusion and Evil – Dancing with Two Devils.

    Most modern secular thinkers (especially including secular psychologists) do not like or use the term “evil”; and when you cannot or will not name something it can cease to be recognized and dealt with—even though if it is reality it will NOT go away.

    Consider for example, “Islamist Jihad” —a name Obama refuses to use for a concept he refuses to recognize. Has it gone away? Hardly, it has continued to increase. We all agree that “Facts are Stubborn Thing”; but reality (which includes facts) is bigger and more stubborn.

    At the same time that “evil” as a term has become virtually a politically-incorrect word and concept, any serious use of the word “God” is also avoided. Oh, the word is thrown around, but it usually doesn’t have any more meaning than the generic word “gods.”

    When “a wide array of excuses for misbehavior” are promoted instead of the essence of the reality of a given phenomenon then we can know that “truth” is being suppressed. The primary question then becomes why?

    Nancy Pearcey in her book Finding Truth makes some excellent points that are apropos to this issue. In her book under the topic of SURPRESSING THE EVIDENCE , Pearcey equates “suppressing the truth” with “reductionism”—yes the same methodology that is the foundation of naturalism/materialism; she says the following:

    Given the negative consequences of a reductionist worldview, you might wonder why anyone would adopt one. What’s the appeal? Paul gives a clue: Recall that human nature is part of general revelation, giving evidence for God. The existence of beings with the capacity to reason, love, plan, and choose is evidence that the first cause that created them must have at least the same capacities. The cause must be sufficient to produce the effect. The origin of personal beings is best explained by a personal Being. How do sinful, fallen humans seek to avoid that conclusion? Paul says they “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1: 18). That’s what reductionism accomplishes. It denies one or more dimensions of human nature— so that the evidence from human nature no longer points as clearly to the biblical God.
    —Pearcey, Nancy (2015-03-01). Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (p. 103). Kindle Edition.

    I think it is abundantly clear that modern psychologists (secular psychologists) have increasing followed a reductionist methodology in the study of the human mind and behavior. And what they have reduced-out are any and all spiritual aspects especially including “God” and “evil”—the appropriate human-psychological model from this viewpoint is a mechanical meat-machine with physically-driven urges that simply need to be understood and properly managed; heaven forbid the notion that a “problem” might have a spiritual basis, and might need a spiritual solution.

    Yet the idea that people often stifle or suppress what they know is nothing new. The Bible taught it long before the rise of modern psychology. Romans 1 says that fallen, sinful humans have a strong tendency to deny what we know about God— or what we should know.
    —-
    It may sound unusual to say there are things about God that we “should” know, as though it were a moral requirement. Yet in many situations we are morally responsible for what we know. If you are a witness in a court of law, you must solemnly swear to tell everything you know—“ the whole truth”— about the crime. If you hold anything back, you may be charged with a crime yourself (obstruction of justice). 16 Or if you are arrested, you cannot argue that you did not know the law. Courts operate by the principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you try to avoid liability by closing your eyes to the facts, you may be charged with “willful blindness.” For example, people arrested for transporting illegal drugs have claimed that they did not know what was in the package. Courts have ruled that the defendant should have known and was responsible for finding out.
    —Pearcey, Nancy (2015-03-01). Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (p. 33-35). Kindle Edition.

    Pearcey has used the term “willful blindness” which I think is functionally descriptive for what you are discussing. —Willful Blindness

  4. Anniel says:

    Timothy – Thanks for the heads.-up on this book. I’m over half-way through and was so happy to read his take on the self-esteem movement. I’ve read that part twice and intend to start there again when I read today. Dalrymple is so good about what he knows best, human nature. He says that some things are just a diagnosis looking for a disease, and that there are lots of psychologists/psychiatrists happy to oblige. Charen needs to spend a little more time around the medical-industrial complex, if Ike will forgive me borrowing his idea.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      On the other hand, Joseph Farah presented a nice homage to Freud in a recent article in Conservative Chronicle — to be precise, a good example of a Freudian slip by Slick Hilly. It seems that in her official announcement that she’s running, she concluded by pointing to her record (“she’s fought children and families all her career”). He thinks this was much more accurate than what she no doubt meant to say.

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        Timothy,

        Freudian slip by Slick Hilly…(“she’s fought children and families all her career”)…much more accurate than what she no doubt meant to say.
        —Timothy Lane

        Funny! It seems that the best way to observe “the Clinton criminal family” as Limbaugh calls them is to 1) Watch what they do, 2) Pay no attention to what they say other than their Freudian slips.

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