You gotta feel sorry for Topeka, Kansas. The state’s capital city is not only home to the infamous Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, and has recently been the battleground for Intelligent Design vs Evolution counter-counter-legislation by the school board (currently with the majority ruling pro-science), but now the capitol is host to the paranoid propaganda by the CCHR. CCHR is the Citizens Commision on Human Rights, which despite the generic name is really just a front for Scientology. Their exhibit is titled, “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” (well, no hidden biases there). Correspondent for the Kansas City Star newspaper, David Klepper, writes that the “the Capitol sees its share of traveling displays and wandering weirdness”. He notes that any group that can pay the fee is allowed to put up a display as long as it is not obscene, and describes the content thusly:
Among the claims: up to 25 percent of psychiatrists rape their patients; overmedication kills thousands and enslaves many more; and 10,000 people die from electroshock therapy every year.
Essentially, the multimedia show also asserts that psychiatry is to blame for (among other things): Hitler and the Holocaust, the 9/11 terrorist acts, shootings at schools, and are planning world domination. Wow. Granted, there are justifiable complaints about historical abuses and current malpractice in psychiatry, but it is an argumentum ad absurdum — aw heck, an outright Reductio ad Hitlerum — to declare that anything and everything ever associated with psychiatry is the ultimate in evil. (Even the psychiatric-survivor advocacy group MindFreedom International wants nothing to do with the CCHR.)
Like other denialists, Scientologists make bizarre assertions, such as things like ADHD or various illnesses and disorders due to chemical imbalances and other causes simply don’t exist. But aside from the whole mass of denial and absolutism, plus the usual dread trinity of fear, hate and loathing that are typical of cults and cult-like organisations, there’s an interesting aside to such claims. (That’s “interesting” in the sense of horrified fascination.)
What mystifies me about so many different kinds of groups, is the false dichotomy between brain and body. What is so special about this spectacular mass of neurons? How is it that neurons in the skull are not considered to be just a part of an organ system, just as neurons in the torso or limbs generally are?
The brain is what you use for your sensory processing, perception, attention, cognition and emotions*, as well as a variety of other “housekeeping” functions related to running a body, such as coordinating the actions and feedback of moving about, or maintaining temperature homeostasis. The latter is the “boring” stuff that most of us don’t care about except when it quits working right. But even though the former list of mental functioning seems more like a “black box” of uncertainty, it is neither magical nor mystical. Consciousness and all the other functions are fascinating, complex, and only partially understood, but in the end the brain still works by the basic rules of genetics and biochemistry.
So how can people claim that diseases caused by chemical imbalances and other causes in one part of the body are real, but diseases or syndromes caused by chemical imbalances and other causes in another part of the body are not real?
At the end of Klepper’s article is the quote,
Psychiatrists shrug at the allegations, saying Scientology has a long history of bizarre claims about the profession.
“They aren’t really able to support their position with any scientific data, which they tend to ignore,” said Michael Burke, president of the Kansas Psychiatric Society. “The public seems to be able to look right past the Scientology hoopla.”
Well, we can sure hope so.
There is no shortage of medical quackery out there that claims to treat or cure most anything (or everything), but even those who are more inclined to stick to evidence-based medicine for most somatic issues will veer off into the realms of pseudoscience and utter bullshit when treading into the territory of the psyche. By virtue of being the organ where thinking (supposedly) occurs, the brain magically becomes a 3-pound exemption to medical science. The brain gets disembodied from biology.
I guess we just have to chalk it all up to cognitive biases. Or maybe we should call them cognition biases.
* For all you students out there, those five functions spell out the mnemonic SPACE. I guess if one of those goes wrong, then you’re a space-case. (Bad puns R us.)