Friday, February 10, 2006

Complaint Department: Do Sick Cultures Produce Sick People?

Yesterday I received several emails from someone who was unable to post his comments on the blog. He is not my usual many-monikered troll, but someone who's comments deserve serious consideration. He is apparently a psychiatrist--or at least an MD--who falls squarely within the politically and academically correct view that one cannot say that certain cultures are more likely to produce mentally ill individuals.

He says that I commit "the same logical error that ShrinkWrapped" makes, which at least places me in illustrious company. That is, "You cannot make a jump from cultural personality styles to individual psychopathology. There are far more shame cultures on the planet than guilt cultures, which we assume to be superior... Mediterranean cultures, including Moslem, are normatively paranoid and shame-motivated."

In other words, there are more shame cultures than guilt cultures, so therefore the latter cannot be deemed superior to the former. It's all arbitrary--perhaps even just the usual ethnocentrism that causes one to inevitably think that one's own culture is superior to others.

We could go further and say that the majority of cultures throughout human history have practiced human sacrifice. It is an absolutely universal practice that appeared all over the globe. As such, we cannot say that individuals from cultures that refrain from human sacrifice are any different from those, such as the Aztec, who systematically murdered some 20,000 sacrificial victims a year, cutting out the beating heart of the victim and drinking their blood in order to appease an angry sun that might otherwise extinguish without a constant supply of fresh blood. It's just a different belief, that's all. In the Aztec world, Jeffrey Dahmer would be just a regular guy.

Slavery was also universal. Thus, we cannot say that there is anything different in the personality makeup of someone whose empathy causes them to instinctively recoil at the thought of enslaving another human being, vs. someone that has no such empathy and thinks slavery is a wonderful idea.

I assume that you and I cannot even contemplate what it would be like to have sex with a child--we can't even go there, so to speak--but we are no different that the ancient Greek men who were emotionally incapable of loving women, and instead used young boys as their sexual outlet. Just a different cultural practice, that's all. Sex is just an instinct. Its object is of no consequence, be it a goat, a child, a woman, or a watermelon.

In the ancient world, the Jews were mocked and ridiculed because of their oddly humane treatment of women and children. In fact, it is my belief that it was precisely this humane treatment of women and children that caused Jews to create psychologically healthier people and to rocket ahead of other human groups. This is why, on a per capita basis, they have contributed more to human progress than any other group, despite the most horrible treatment from other groups. But the view expressed by my reader would suggest that, for example, there is no difference in the mental health of the average Palestinian vs. the average Israeli. One believes life is sacred, the other worships death. Just a different belief, that's all.

In fact, that's exactly what the reader says: "Mediterranean cultures, including Moslem, are normatively paranoid and shame-motivated." In other words, if someone from a Muslim culture is a paranoid anti-Semite and has dysregulated shame, it's normal. There is no judgment a psychologist can make one way or the other as to the general mental health of the individual. He even favorably quotes Nietzsche's famous cliche that "In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." As if culture is anything other than human personality writ large, and personality a private culture.

The reader goes on to say that wife abuse is indeed "normal" in Iraq and Iran. But "Normal is a statistical concept, not a statement about good or bad." He refers to the famous Milgram Experiment, apparently in the belief that it means that, just because people do bad things, we cannot judge them as bad. It seems to me that this is missing the deeper meaning of the experiment. After all, how do we even know that the subjects of the experiment did something bad if we do not a priori know that it was bad?

I could conduct a similar study and easily prove that a significant majority of human beings are not operating in Piaget's highest stage of cognitive development, formal operations. Does this mean that the ideas of a concrete operations thinker are just as valid as those of someone in formal operations? As a matter of fact, that is exactly what the average postmodern academic would say. It is arrogant for us to distinguish between nuclear physics vs. Indian rain dancing, or psychotherapy vs. going to the hajj and stoning satan to rid yourself of demons.

The reader states on the one hand that while he believes in unconscious motivation, he also believes that personality is "probably heavily genetic in itself, develops and is shaped by a cultural as well as a family context the way a sapling grows towards the sun." Such a view flies in the face of the most cutting edge research on early attachment and its role in most all forms of psychopathology.

In other words, it is hardly as if a child comes into the world with no objective needs at all, and that his personality will more or less turn out the same no matter how he is treated. I know that this is the dominant academic view, and that there is a lot of bogus feminist research trying to prove that mothering and attachment have no major impact on a child's psychological health, but I couldn't disagree more. It is proven to me every day in my clinical practice. Of course there are some temperamentally resilient children who seem to survive unscathed despite having been abused. But does this mean that it's okay to abuse children, and that there is no psychological difference between someone who abuses children and someone who recoils at the thought?

By the way, I see patients from virtually all cultures around the world, so I have rather intimate familiarity with how a particular culture distorts and warps the personality in more or less permanent ways. It is not so much that this or that culture merely produces this or that kind of personality. Rather, I am able to readily discern how a given culture produces a certain type of character pathology. Does it mean that all individuals from the culture are mentally ill? Of course not. But there is no question that it makes it more likely. Of this I am utterly convinced.
As I may have mentioned before, as a psychologist looking at culture and history, I am not particularly interested in ignorance, which, after all, can afflict anyone and is perfectly understandable. It simply means that you don't know something. What is far more interesting from a psychological standpoint is what I call motivated stupidity, that is, the widespread belief in some patently false belief based on underlying emotional need.

I believe the attitude that dismisses the crazy beliefs of the Muslim world is another example of the hard bigotry of no expectations. It causes real damage, because it panders to the worst in human beings and lets them off the hook. It is like a bad therapist who simply supports a patient rather than interpreting, clarifying, and sometimes confronting.

For example, I believe the Palestinians receive no criticism from the left (and the world community at large), not because they think so highly of them, but because they have think so badly about them--in fact, they actually have no expectations whatsoever about them. In other words, it is not because the Palestinians are so wonderful that they are immune from criticism, but because everyone knows that it would be absurd to hold Muslims to the same standards as Christians, or Jews, or Zen Buddhists--to any standards of decency at all, really. No one is shocked at the barbarity of the Islamic world, whether it is committed by terrorists, or perpetrated in the name of the Saudi or Iranian governments. Imagine being foolish enough to have any moral expectations of the Chinese, or the Palestinians, or the Saudis, or the North Koreans. We expect them to behave barbarously. And they never fail us. And when they do behave in their predictably bestial way, it is never their fault. It is either overlooked completely, or blamed on some provocation, some "underlying cause."

My reader and I have just carried on a dialogue in which we were able to observe culture in an abstract way by standing "outside" of it and looking at it the same way that a scientist observes the material world. Is this not in itself inherently superior to cultures that cannot stand outside themselves and view themselves from the standpoint of another? Or is the developmental acquisition of such objectivity no better than being hopelessly immersed in the subjective and emotional, like a child?

I think you know my answer.


By the way, I believe this reader has his own blog. If he has a response, I will be happy to direct you to it.


Ray said...

I thought the inability to tell good from bad or right from wrong was the legal definition of insanity. Sounds like the MD is trying to cop an insanity plea.

jakewashere said...

I think the unhappiest people in the world are those who are trapped between shame-based and guilt-based motivations.

Take me, for example. I'm only happy when I'm angry. I know the consequences can never come to good (the lesson of a guilt culture), but losing my temper is the only thing that feels remotely cathartic. I have the calm mask of a face that I show to the world, and the seething, raging, bitter face behind that mask.

I would propose to you that the only difference between me and radical Islam is that Islamism acknowledges no consequences and wears no masks, except those which others put on it.

Gagdad Bob said...


Hmm. Perhaps you could become a Muslim. That way your anger will be normal.

But seriously, your point is well taken. It is condescending for sophisticated westerners who enjoy the benefits of psychological health to magically confer it upon cultures that don't.

jodie d said...

ann coulter, as usual, gets it right

In order to express their displeasure with the idea that Muslims are violent, thousands of Muslims around the world engaged in rioting, arson, mob savagery, flag-burning, murder and mayhem, among other peaceful acts of nonviolence.

Muslims are the only people who make feminists seem laid-back.

The little darlings brandish placards with typical Religion of Peace slogans, such as: "Behead Those Who Insult Islam," "Europe, you will pay, extermination is on the way" and "Butcher those who mock Islam." They warn Europe of their own impending 9/11 with signs that say: "Europe: Your 9/11 will come" -- which is ironic, because they almost had me convinced the Jews were behind the 9/11 attack.

The rioting Muslims claim they are upset because Islam prohibits any depictions of Muhammad -- though the text is ambiguous on beheadings, suicide bombings and flying planes into skyscrapers.

The belief that Islam forbids portrayals of Muhammad is recently acquired. Back when Muslims created things, rather than blowing them up, they made paintings, frescoes, miniatures and prints of Muhammad.

But apparently the Koran is like the Constitution: It's a "living document," capable of sprouting all-new provisions at will. Muslims ought to start claiming the Koran also prohibits indoor plumbing, to explain their lack of it.

Other interpretations of the Koran forbid images of humans or animals, which makes even a child's coloring book blasphemous. That's why the Taliban blew up those priceless Buddhist statues, bless their innocent, peace-loving little hearts.

Largely unnoticed in this spectacle is the blinding fact that one nation is missing from the long list of Muslim countries (by which I mean France and England) with hundreds of crazy Muslims experiencing bipolar rage over some cartoons: Iraq. Hey -- maybe this democracy thing does work! The barbaric behavior of Europe's Muslims suggests that the European welfare state may not be attracting your top-notch Muslims.

Making the rash assumption for purposes of discussion that Islam is a religion and not a car-burning cult, even a real religion can't go bossing around other people like this.

realist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dave Reaboi said...

Bob: Your "Dear Reader," if he is indeed a therapist, reminds me of a story both funny and horrifying...
A good friend here in San Francisco has been seeing the same therapist for eight years. At one session this past year, the shrink suggested that many of his patients' problems've been caused by the Bush Junta. My friend-- who's neither right nor left-- sat up, mortified that she'd spent the last eight years of analysis with a man who'd let his patients off the hook this way. I was beside myself when I heard the story, but she decided to keep seeing him anyway, as her insurance pays for it.

Oh, and Jakewashere, Re: the rage-- just cut down on talk radio; it works when I try it.


Gagdad Bob said...

On the other hand, cancer rates are down for the first time in 70 years, obviously the fault of the Bush junta.

Anonymous said...

If he had a doctor like that, it would be no wonder how Woody Allen could liken himself to Cole Porter's leg.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It seems rather convenient: if we attempt to hold the individual responsible for pathological behavior, it is the culture which is at fault. If we attempt to criticize the culture, we are imposing our idiosyncratic standards.

So when someone gets beheaded, I guess it's no one's fault, really. Just one of those things that happen.

'Cept that they happen some places more than others.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

When people "don't get it" it's usually because they are either still in denial or just don't give a "s@#$" about what is going on today concerning the "behavior" of muslims around the globe. I have observed both types along with the other type that has gotten educated or seen the filth of this behavior up close and personal and still chooses to paint the palestinians as "victims" I have heard that it's not the "whole" of islam but just a "few" that have hijacked it, blah blah....but if people will truly pay attention, the "decent" human being that is or has a muslim background, that doesn't choose to interpret the quran's evil opportunities, but has chosen to be a peaceful contribution to the world, still is a person with the ideas that the core of jihad is going to put on their list to destroy. It goes on every day people! Mosque are infilterated and overtaken by these parasites and even in the west, there are muslims that have lived for years in peace that are getting bullied. For example: In Egypt the muslim brotherhood has moved in strength like a cancer. It's so important for us to understand that there is and always has been a major force within the cult itself that hates and wishes to destroy that "muslim apostate or muslim for peace" just as much as they want to destroy any
"infidel" in their path or any "Jew that they have learned from their culture" to hate. So if anyone is paying close attention, you can see that the passive muslim is and still continues to be "pushed over" so if you think there is hope there in that department for reform, please start paying closer attention. It should have been apparent to the masses when after 911 there was silence in all of the islamic community. Was it because they had hate in their heart too? was because they understood the enemy. They understood the dynamics. They understood the agenda. They understood the anger/murder driven spiritual commanded side of things that the western world refuses to define. They knew exactly what was taking place and it instilled major fear and concern so deeply that it paralyzed their vocal chords!

As for anyone that says that places like Iran or Saudi don't have more or less any real culture frenzy influence towards abuse to women and tries to dismiss what is going on over there as "the norm" well I must laugh at that. Perhaps anyone with that conclusion should have their young daughter go live there for a few years and then they can get a bird's eye view of the "real thing" because there are women that are under a slave mentality that are forced into marriages with strangers that are old enough to be their grandfathers that rape them every night. There are women that are kept pregnant without an education because to their society their only worth is that of a baby breeding machine. There are young women that after they wake up every morning must deal with the fear of being on an honor killing "hit list" and even those poor young women that cannot produce a male child after a couple of years, live under abuse (even though that chromozone's decision is that of the male) these unfortunate women are to 'bear the shame and punishment' of this biological factor. Then there are young women that are good as a domestic slave but that forbidden to drive down the street in a car to purchase a loaf of bread or milk because of their society's laws which they live under only to submit deeper and deeper into more loss of their human rights. Now all of this is totally inflicted upon these women because of their culture and the regimes that enforce them via the use of quran!

This is exactly what the Islamist world is choosing to do with the western world's freedom of speech. They are attacking it and shaming it just like they do their women. Each protest and each violent act is equivalent of grabbing their third wife by the hair and slamming her up against the wall to SHUT HER UP! HOW dare her not show him respect!!! The cartoon issue is being overly dramatized so that the freedom of speech that we cherish is being held hostage and will eventually be duct taped and executed under sharia law even if we are not officially living under that law here in the west, because until each person and until each elected official chooses to defend our right of expression, which many have shed blood for in the past so that we can take advantage of via luxury of not knowing what it's like to not have it exist for us, then Islamist are going to keep marching over it just like you see them marching over Danish flags until there is nothing left. After this is accomplished, you can bet they will stand up in chants and glorify their pagan allah for humiliating the "stupid infidel of the western world" Oh there will be much celebration and guns firing into the air. You can count on that response.

So the west has to make a decision here...are we going to be the Islamist's woman that is forced to submit or are we going to succumb to being bought off like a whore and end up in submission and in the end left on the 'sharia street' begging for food to feed our unwanted children? Is this the western future? Just how important is your freedom to you? How much value do you put on your freedoms? Its time to ponder this and ponder it fast because it's NOT ONE INDIVIDUAL headed your way to take it away from's a whole culture headed your way packing one individual's ideology(muhammed)!

larwyn said...

Wish you had an opportunity
to dialog with these fools!

From the "Village Academic Curriculum" File...

According to public schools in California, Islam is quite free, modern and historically accurate. We're as shocked as you, fellow Patriots! A Houghton-Mifflin history textbook, widely used in California, states unequivocally, among other things, that "Muhammad's revelations occurred from 610 [A.D.] until his death in 632." Further, Islam is depicted as tolerant of other religions (if massacring "infidels" is tolerant) and superior to other religions: "[T]he Quran completes the earlier revelations of Old Testament prophets and Jesus. The Quran is the final revelation, just as Muhammad is the final prophet... Muslims considered these other religions [Christianity and Judaism] to be less correct. That is because the Quran teaches that the Bible has suffered loss and change with time." If that weren't enough, terrorist apologetics is next: "An Islamic term that is often misunderstood is jihad. It means 'to struggle,' to do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil." Now there's a foreign-policy strategy! One very evident evil that should definitely be overcome is the blatant lies this textbook puts forth as historical "fact."

10 February 2006 | FederalistPatriot.US

larwyn said...

Quotes from Churchill's "Rivers War" would also be appropriate here - but I swipe from the
Belmont Club today:

T. E. Lawrence's third chapter of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom summarizes his judgment of the Arab mind:

This people was black and white, not only in vision, but by inmost furnishing: black and white not merely in clarity, but in apposition. Their thoughts were at ease only in extremes. They inhabited superlatives by choice. Sometimes inconsistents seemed to possess them at once in joint sway; but they never compromised: they pursued the logic of several incompatible opinions to absurd ends, without perceiving the incongruity. ... The least morbid of peoples, they had accepted the gift of Me unquestioningly, as axiomatic. To them it was a thing inevitable, entailed on man ... Suicide was a thing impossible, and death no grief. ... Their convictions were by instinct, their activities intuitional. Their largest manufacture was of creeds: almost they were monopolists of revealed religions.

The Middle East remains immensely ideological, a place where the age of faith still lives.


Click here: The Belmont Club: The young and the old

jwm said...




LiquidLifeHacker said...

Ha Ha jwm...see what happens when I have two martinis?

I know there are alot of typos in that last post of mine, but I didn't preview it because I needed to shake and stir. *its the weekend ya know*

But I meant everything I said there and its about time people started pulling up this political correct egg shell floor we are walking on when it concerns the deception we are being fed. Better tell it like it is while we still have a voice.

The Saudis, Iranian regime along with the Syrians, and other islamic state bullies that help fund the enemy are laughing because their strategic plan to buy our educational institutions and seduce the radical lefty intellects of this country are paying off for them. They give so much money and then they write the literature for the classes. They also got Clinton and the ACLU to amend the laws so it would seep into the high schools. Its like Americans are under a trance being sucked in slowly but surely until the day the light comes on and they realise they are on the floor prostrating to allah and everything has changed for the worse. It's bad enough thinking about being tied up to a whipping post with 100 lashes but imagine wha it's going to be like watching your children or grandchildren suffer under their terrorism and threats in the years to come?

Seriously jwm, islam is counting on us to stay confused on what they are up to. They love the infighting amongst us and all the time spent analyzing them because it doesn't keep them from carrying out their plan.

The day that our politicians wake up and say Enough is Enough and start calling the enemy who it is, we might stand a chance, but until then, its like watching the "dazed and confused" in front of the headlights.

yesandno said...

Well said Liquidlifehacker.

But it is not just politicians waking up that is is everybody. There is no free ride, no free lunch, and eventually no free-dom if people fail to understand what you have pointed out so well.

lmg said...

"Better tell it like it is while we still have a voice."

What we sorely lack is a mainstream political leader who will tell it like it is, and I don't see one on the horizon. The filtering mechanism that weeds out extremists also embeds the typical PC notions we know to be false, or at least seems to require that the person appear to accept them. The MSM, among others, enforces this behavior.

dilys said...

Forgive me for a me-ward link, but this sums up something that, if legitimate as a source, gives us the touchstone for knowing what to resist, absolutely. as execution of steps of The Project.

1. When Islamicists start using multi-culti justifications for special concessions, or any other behavior that harms the rest of us;


2. When they start -- continue -- carving out autonomous cultural or geographical territories.

The latter is the equivalent of invasion, the former of forced disarmament.

Take a look, plus linking forward, please.

USMale said...

Your notion that the dominant academic view places all the weight of personality structure on genes, while ignoring attachment, certainly does not match what I was subjected to in my psych studies (in CA in the mid 90's). It was Bowlby, Bowlby, Bowlby all the time. You'd never even know there was a human genome. And to say that my teachers were feminists is to understate the case. They were deep consciousness ecofeminist visionaries! Despite that experience, I remain unhospitalized.
So what's the "cutting edge" research? [And I have to say that the rhetorical style involved in that phrase never disposes me hopefully toward the consequent. Maybe you can surprise me.]