I have been reading and thinking about issues surrounding cultural narratives (of misogyny, for example), mental health, and personal responsibility a lot, lately. In the wake of the Elliot Roger mess, the blogosphere is rife with arguments about whether mental illness or misogyny are primarily to blame. Personally, I think that distinguishing these two, clearly, is not always an easy task. Destructive cultural narratives grab a hold of the parts of us consistent with mental disorder, and mental disorder exacerbates those cultural tropes.
I have not had enough motivation to dive in and add my thoughts, and so I have been doing a fair amount of lurking, rather than writing, on this topic. Luckily for me, Dan Fincke is here to help sort it out, because he does so much better than I could. Go and read the whole thing. It’s well written, thoughtful, and even touches some issues I’ve been thinking and writing about concerning mental health, recently.
Here’s a couple of samples that resonated with me:
We need to be much less interested in throwing people in bins of “rational” or “crazy” and deal much more with the complexities of real people’s brains. And the mentally ill and those with other disorders need treatment and compassion and accommodation so that they are as empowered to live as quality lives as possible. They don’t need demonizing and false mental links forged between homicidal rampages and their maladies.
I have been thinking about this myself, recently. Because no, our disorders are not excuses, but they are real phenomenon with causes and effects. When someone is struggling near you and you don’t make any effort to understand, empathize, and accommodate to some extent in order to create a safe, nurturing environment for them, then the struggles we have with mental illness will only be exasperated.
People with mental health concerns don’t need coddling, mere tough love, or demonization. We need empathy, support, truth and we need appropriate space to grow, heal, and thrive. In my experience, too many people are unable to give all of these things. To fail in this regard is to perpetuate the cultural failure of dealing with mental illness appropriately. Individual behavior supervenes into culture, both in terms of the families we create and the societies we share.
This is why Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative is so powerful (even if it is limited); if you want to act in a selfish way which does not make the world better, you are part of the problem. If you defend a philosophical position of selfishness (*cough* Ayn Rand *cough*) and are not willing to give of yourself, to accommodate to those near you,or to really listen, then you are part of the problem. If we seek a world with better mental health, more social justice, and one where groupthink, tribalism, and self-justification are minimized, we must be willing to be compassionate and, in some cases, accommodating.
I especially like Dan’s discussion about Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment in context to all of this.
The worst possible response to this is to suffer ressentiment as our reaction. As Nietzsche characterized the concept of “ressentiment” it’s when you cannot have something good and it makes you so envious and enraged that you attack its very value.
Especially this distinction:
What many men seem to fear in feminism is that it’s “bitter women who adopt a female supremacist ideology based on their bad experiences with a few men”. They accuse it of being an overcorrection based on a man-hating ressentiment. Hence the #notallmen meme. “Not all men are like that” doesn’t serve as a useful reminder not to pathologize all men and all of men’s sexuality in an overcorrection against predatory forms of it, which is a fine and important qualifier in criticisms. Instead “not all men” is often said in such a way as to say, “there is nothing wrong with our culture’s ideas about gender and there is nothing for me to introspect about, a few bad apples don’t spoil the bunch”. This conveniently would get almost all men off the hook from having to learn anything or do anything different in response to the complaints of women. (As an atheist critic of theistic religions, I constantly have to deal with the equivalent “get out of self-criticism free” card “Not all religious people are like that!” waved in my face all the time.)
Arguments against the word “feminism” are often coupled with declarations of egalitarianism. They are essentially saying, “we should just be concerned with equality and not with the needs of women in particular“. Yet, the reason feminists think there’s no contradiction in being focused on women as a means to equality is because there are a number of ways that women are specifically treated as unequal and subordinate socially, morally, and politically in our culture and around the world. There is special attention to women in particular because women’s equality is missing in particular.
which is similar to a point I was making a while back in response to this post by Evid3nc3, which I still disagree with.
And, of course, any time the Stoics are brought in, I swoon a bit. Because, well, I’m a nerd. Shut up!
As the Stoics rightly teach us it is only a source of misery to put our own feelings of self-worth up to the opinions of others to control. If you are dependent on other people liking you in order to like yourself, you’re making yourself vulnerable to something you cannot control. And no amount of raging and domineering towards the people you feel are withholding their approval from you will solve the problem. You need to focus on what true personal excellences look like and cultivate those.
This is especially relevant to my disorder, and this point is brought up repeatedly in writing about BPD. I will do what I can to take these words to heart. For me, a consistent self-worth is hard to maintain. I need to remind myself, every day, that people love me. In time, I will be able to do this on my own (and I will hope to receive it from others as well), but when times are tough, I rely on validation from others quite often.
And, of course, the payoff:
In a secular culture we need to take active responsibility for shaping our own norms and values rationally. We shouldn’t be deferring to common sense–it’s riddled with harmful prejudices. We shouldn’t be dangerously rehearsing outmoded and unfair biases. We should all feel ourselves to be actively responsible for exactly what values and norms we perpetuate. We should all scrutinize them for flaws and work to fix them. We all need to feel responsible to do this. We all need to feel responsible to have constructive discussions with other people we influence and who influence others. Yes, all men need to do this.
I cannot agree more. Thanks Dan!