On Playing the “Mental Health Issues” Card in the Crispin Sartwell Debate.
By W1 and X1.
n the well-known professional philosophy blog, The Daily Arse, and elsewhere online, some people have been claiming that Crispin Sartwell is suffering from “mental health” (what an awful, but aptly Foucauldian, euphemism) “issues,” and that this explains away whatever is going on.
The charge has the triple-benefit of:
1. Making the charger appear so very nicely liberal and sympathetic.
2. Invalidating CS’s actual words by pushing him outside of the bounds of rational respectability.
3. Reinforcing the hegemony of the very structure that (a) is challenged by CS and
(b) gave rise to the medical superstructure that is the cudgel of “mental health” diagnosing to begin with.
Well, we think that psychology is very tenuously connected to science.
And hell, science is very tenuously connected to rational investigation to begin with, at least the noumenal-realistic claims made by almost all sciences, psychology first among them.
The line between “not okay” and “okay” in terms of mental functioning is very unclear, and even the thought that there is or even could be such a line is seriously debatable.
But let’s say that there is one–fuck people who would pathologize others in order not to have to deal with them.
Less expressively: Even if CS is as “mentally unhealthy” as they come, that does not act as an undercutting defeater for his claims.
That would be like claiming that since some indigenous tribe in SA takes ayahuasca as part of their religious rituals, that the contents of their rituals are thereby false.
And again, even if there is such a demarcating line–most of our professional colleagues are not psychologists.
The medicalization of the mind is a double-edged sword: you pathologize the “victim,” but you also create a priestly class, the members of which are the only ones who are permitted to diagnose.
We’re not anarchists about proper mental functioning, but R.D. Laing was at least right that the social impetus and implications of psychology are part of the contents of psychology.
CS writes books, all of which are philosophically respectable, but some of which are professionally beyond-the-pale. Don’t want him around students because he’s sooooo dangerous? Fine.
Doesn’t mean he’s not an excellent philosopher.
In fact–in fact–we’ve yet to find an excellent philosopher who doesn’t occasionally have “mental health issues.”
It’s interesting that the “ableism” people aren’t boo-hooing about this pathologization. “Interesting” only because it conforms to the pattern of using one’s identity-politic-status only when it benefits oneself.
And, of course, this is all exactly what Horkheimer and Adorno say in Dialectic of Enlightenment regarding how enlightenment progresses: Either you can be made sense of in our “enlightened” terms, or you can’t be made sense of at all.
Moreover, the “ableism” people, and the rest of the so-called liberals and activists for the rights of minorities, the disabled, and other discriminatees of philosophy, should be appalled at how Sartwell has been treated by Dickinson.
The philosophical community has, rightly or wrongly, been outraged a lot in the last couple of years, but only about those issues that they are supposed to be appalled at.
Some may remember that Noam Chomsky was severely criticized in 1979 for signing a petition in support of the free speech rights of Robert Faurisson, a French scholar who was also a noted Holocaust denier. Here is what Chomsky wrote in an essay called Some Elementary Comments on the Rights of Freedom of Expression:
Let me add a final remark about Faurisson’s alleged “anti-Semitism.” Note first that even if Faurisson were to be a rabid anti-Semite and fanatic pro-Nazi — such charges have been presented to me in private correspondence that it would be improper to cite in detail here — this would have no bearing whatsoever on the legitimacy of the defense of his civil rights. On the contrary, it would make it all the more imperative to defend them since, once again, it has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defense.
And that is an apt statement for today as well. It is indeed quite easy for philosophers today to defend the rights of those who the system regards as uncontroversially worthy of defense. But as you see, it is not so easy for them to defend someone who creates controversy.
By the way, the “danger” CS posed to the Dickinson campus was supposedly signaled by his posting a YouTube video of a song about someone thinking about buying a gun for her own protection, in her own home.
So how are we to understand the actions of Dickinson College? Unless those in charge are incapable of understanding the lyrics to the song, we have to assume that their overriding aim is simply to silence an edgy academic.