Friday, May 24, 2013

What myths do we cling to?

In an article titled The Real Problems with Psychiatry, Hope Reese asks psychotherapist Gary Greenberg about something called "drapetomania":
Question: In 1850, doctor Samuel Cartwright invented "drapetomania" -- a disease causing slaves to run away. How do social and historical context affect our understanding of mental illness? 
Answer: Cartwright was a slaveholder's doctor from New Orleans -- he believed in the inferiority of what he called the "African races." He believed that abolitionism was based on a misguided notion that black people and white people were essentially equal. He thought that the desire for freedom in a black person was pathological because black people were born to be enslaved. To aspire to freedom was a betrayal of their nature, a disease. He invented "drapetomania," the impulse to run away from slavery. Assuming there wasn't horrible cruelty being inflicted on the slaves, they were "sick." He came up with a few diagnostic criteria and presented it to his colleagues.
 It's hard not to read this and ask how anyone could be so ignorant or naive?

I think a lot about how often we are satisfied by myths. It's easy to have a good laugh at the expense of people like Dr. Cartwright and his "drapetomania".

What's not easy is to stop and reflect on what myths are we foolishly subscribing to today. What myths are we clinging to today that might make people 10 or 20 years from now laugh at us?

If this kind of thinking interests you, here are a couple concepts you might need to know more about:

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