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December 15, 2005

Bias as Mental Illness

In light of the expansion of personally invasive surveys of the values, attitudes, and beliefs of school children and the current push for universal mental health screening, starting in infancy, last week's Washington Post article on bias as a mental illness sends a chilling reminder of where this may be headed. Excerpts from "Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness" follow. ( Read the whole article here.)

By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 10, 2005; A01
"...some [mental health practitioners] are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis."
"Perpetrators of hate crimes could become candidates for treatment and physicians would become arbiters of how to distinguish 'ordinary prejudice' from pathological bias."
"Darrel A. Regier, director of research at the psychiatric association, said he supports research into whether pathological bias is a disorder."
"Doctors who treat inmates at the California State Prison outside Sacramento concur: They have diagnosed some forms of racist hatred among inmates and administered antipsychotic drugs. 'We treat racism and homophobia as delusional disorders,' said Shama Chaiken, who later became a divisional chief psychologist for the California Department of Corrections, at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. 'Treatment with antipsychotics does work to reduce these prejudices.' [Emphasis added.]
"Chicago psychiatrist Bell said he has not made up his mind on whether bias can be pathological. But in proposing a research agenda for the next edition of psychiatry's DSM of mental disorders, Bell and researchers from the Mayo Clinic, McGill University, the University of California at Los Angeles and other academic institutions wrote: 'Clinical experience informs us that racism may be a manifestation of a delusional process, a consequence of anxiety, or a feature of an individual's personality dynamics.'
Apparently, some in the mental health field intend to treat the beliefs and values of criminals with drugs.

"Bias" is also, however, being treated as a crime. A column this week by Melanie Phillips in the British The Daily Mail ( "Owellian Britain") describes an encounter with the police over a "homophobic incident":
When the new Civil Partnership Act came into force last week, family values campaigner Lynette Burrows took part in a discussion on BBC Radio Five Live about its implications.
During the programme, Ms Burrows said she did not believe that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt. Placing boys with two homosexuals for adoption, she said, was as obvious a risk as placing a girl with two heterosexual men who offered themselves as parents.
To her astonishment, the following day she was contacted by the police who said a homophobic incident had been reported against her. She had committed no crime but, said the police, it was policy to investigate homophobic, racist and domestic incidents because these were priority crimes. Such action was all about reassuring thecommunity.
Far from being thus reassured, it is difficult adequately to express ones shock and abhorrence not at Ms Burrows, but at the actions and attitudes of the police. What kind of a society has this become where, if someone expresses an opinion which falls foul of the politically approved doctrines of the day, the police start feeling their collar?
Freedom of speech is supposed to be the bedrock value of a liberal society. It should only be constrained in extreme circumstances where a crime may be committed, such as incitement to violence or encouraging terrorism.
In the case of Ms Burrows, no crime had been committed. It was simply that her views fell foul of the doctrine that to criticise the behaviour of self-designated victim groups is to be pronounced guilty of prejudice.
Is the U.S. far behind? Similar hate crimes and anti--bias legislation exist in the United States, as well, and the pressure is on to expand them. (See "Forcing Diversity in the Classroom.") Along with legalizing same sex marriage, these laws have the potential of creating a whole new outbreak of "homophobic" or "intolerant" behavior by those who continue to speak out -- in classrooms or elsewhere. Will they be diagnosed with a mental disorder? (See "Assessed for Bias.") Will drugs be the prescription? It's worth asking those questions, in light of this shocking Washington Post article.

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