Here’s an interesting article on whether bigotry should be classified as a mental illness. My opinion, such as it is at this time, is that there seems to be good evidence that there are extreme forms of bigotry that are distinct from “ordinary prejudice” and therefore may warrant a special mental health classification. I support further study of this topic, and would especially like to see efforts made to keep such study as free from political agendas and biases as possible.
John Avarosis has the view on this from his window on the political left. Here’s a quote:
I always thought the fundies were sick.
Okay, this is a long-term campaign for all minority communities to get together on. 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. That would influence every debate the religious right tries to weigh in to.
I’m really quite serious. One of the large gay groups need to pick this up and run with it. It will take years to achieve, but it’s the kind of long-term goal the religious right loves to embrace. A goal that ends up changing the underlying culture and helps them on EVERY issue.
This doesn’t make much sense to me. If “pathological bias” is pathologized, I can see no reason why this should only apply against bias by conservatives. People on all sides of the political spectrum could suffer from the disorder, if it exists. Woe to anyone so naive as to think that they can score political points by casting all their enemies as mentally ill, at least not without paying a severe penalty. Read the foul, hate-filled rants in the comment boxes on Avarosis’s weblog and tell me that a sizeable portion of his own readership doesn’t suffer from something that could potentially be called “pathological bias.”
William Harryman has a well-considered integral take on the dilemma. William argues that it’s wrong to pathologize bigotry because it would make it impossible to prosecute hate crimes. Also, there’s this:
As human beings develop, one of the stages everyone must pass through has “fear of the other” as one of its components. If adults also hold this viewpoint, then the “other,” in all its forms, is to be shunned, feared, hated, or killed. This is the foundation for tribal warfare, nation-states, gangs, racial identity groups, and all other forms of us-versus-them thinking. Most nations on the planet are still largely homogeneous, so nationality can still be a form of ethnic identity.
Read the whole post. Here’s my comment on William’s blog:
You make some excellent points, particularly the importance of not pathologizing a perfectly ordinary aspect of a stage of development that we all go through. And yet I think you miss the most interesting point of the article: that there seem to be diagnostically quantifiable distinctions between “ordinary prejudice” and “pathological bias.” I don’t know if this is true or not, but there seems to be significant evidence worthy of further research. If so, then I think such evidence needs to be pursued. Would you say that you shouldn’t classify depression as a mental illness because sadness is a universal human emotion? Of course not. And I’m really not worried about the legal consequences if “pathological bias” is eventually recognized as a mental illness. As the article points out, pedophilia is both a mental illness and also punishable by law. When you say that bigots should not be pathologized, but given the opportunity to grow beyond their limited worldview, this seems not to make sense. Pathologizing bigotry by classifying an extreme form of it as a mental illness (that is, if evidence eventually supports that conclusion) is a healthy way of actually giving such persons the opportunity to grow. They can “reach out and get help” for the problem that they are experiencing.