Two Questions (well, really three)

  1. When does a difference in opinion, understanding or perception cross the threshold and become a mental disorder?
  2. When does confidence and certainty become delusion?

I am reminded of the story of a woman many years ago on CBC radio, who told how her parents had her diagnosed as insane and committed as an adolescent because she was lesbian.

While I may not agree with her and I believe her behaviour to be wrong (yeah, yeah, I am on the conservative end of the spectrum here), I certainly do not think she was insane.

So what is the difference between being "wrong" and having a fundamentally disordered perception, understanding and experience of the world?

To adapt a saying: I may not know what insanity is, but I know it when I see it.

Principally inspired (bits copied verbatim from my comment) by a post on Barbara's blog.


ingrid said…
and when is it your own perception that is wrong. . .

in which case, who is qualified to judge and using what criteria. (no one i suspect.) and how can we possibly get consensus.

(i disagree with you strongly re. lesbianism btw.)
Richard said…
ingrid: that's right, when does difference in thought cross the line to insanity.

There were lots of examples I could have chosen: people sentenced to "re-education", racists, conspiracy believers, etc ...

I chose this one because I think probably about half my blog readers agree or disagree with me over it. Perhaps as many as 60 to 70% disagree with me. But, it doesn't really matter to me, since I am not polling people on this.

A particular position can be right, wrong, or immaterial. For example, I would guess that deciding whether to wear a blue shirt or a tan shirt to work isn't a right or wrong issue.

Issues can also affect only the individual or others.

Now the question is: Are you prepared to say I am wrong? Period. No qualifications, no ambiguity.

My own experience is that when I tell people they are wrong, they are not happy and typically retort that I am arrogant. Of course, I do not see it that way, since I presume they equally consider me wrong and I am not offended by it. After all, if I believe something, then I believe it because I believe it is true. Period. It would be foolish for me to believe something I know is wrong.
ingrid said…
there is a big difference between insanity and disagreement.

lots of mental illness in my family and i can vouch for this quite confidently.

it is not that people who are mentally ill are disagreeable, it is that they, for example, hear and see things that aren't there, or presume that everyone is out to get them (paranoia), or have extreme highs and lows of emotions that makes basic survival a challenge (such as depression or manic depression).

I think that it is inaccurate to make this a matter of what is "true" and what is not true.

I am quite prepared to say that you are wrong. Because it is what I believe.
mattbg said…
"I may not know what insanity is, but I know it when I see it."

The attempt to overcome that lack of deinition is responsible for a lot of problems in society, I think. We give in to the temptation to try and measure the unmeasurable and come up with all kinds of metrics and measurements that seem like they're harnessing the problem, but often have nothing to do with it and we start building a fictional solution to a poorly-defined problem.

To Richard and Ingrid... I'm impressed that both of you will actually say that you think the other is wrong, rather than going with something wishy-washy like "to each their own... it might be wrong for me, but maybe not for you". If you believe something is true, and someone is exhibiting the opposite of what you believe, then they are wrong. It's pretty straightforward :)

I find the wishy-washy route most difficult to accept when it pops up in religious discussion. I've heard Christians say things like the above to, say, Muslims about their beliefs when, really, if you're a Christian then the answer is obvious: Muslims are wrong about their belief that Muhammad is the prophet.
freckled-one said…
I certainly have my own opinions about certain types of relationships but I don't agree that it constitutes insanity. I have seen/dated insane people, there is a difference. Haha
Richard said…
ingrid: thanks for disagreeing with me.

I am not trying to trivialize mental illness. However, at some point, the perception, experience and understanding of a person is so at odds with everyone else's that it no longer becomes just a disagreement. Believing in the Illuminati may not be an indication of mental illness anymore than believing in astrology is.

Irrationality may be quirky, it may be charming, or it may be irritating. At some point, the degree of irrationality or the extent of it crosses the line between just being wrong or odd to mental illness.

I am sure we can both envision a society in which one of us (depending on the way the society swings) would be considered deviantly wrong for our belief - perhaps even warranting some form of re-education, or other form of persuasion to recant obviously deviant ideas.

mattbg: I think people are wonderful at pattern recognition and strive to label everything, since it is in our nature. As someone who was a hardcore non-determinist (and struggling to get back there, although my own experience with despondency makes me realize how fragile my ability to self-determinism can be), the tendency to label really, really annoys me.

Some things are truly to your own taste. To me, it is immaterial if you want to wear blue shirts or green ones, pants or a kilt.

I think part of the social contract (whatever that means) is to agree to disagree in many circumstances. Though I find it silly to say so out loud. To me it is the same as saying, let's be mature about this or let's be rational about this since those are the implicit assumptions I make in any social circumstance. Of course, maybe I am wrong in my unspoken assumptions.

freckled-one: being right or wrong is not a question of mental illness (unless you take the extreme position that any rational being would automatically take the right position and to take the wrong one is deviant and constitutes insanity).

Please jkeep your opinion and ensure it is always yours and not someone elses because, in general, it is better to be wrong and be yourself than to be right and be someone else.

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