In an article in The New York Times last week, “Psychiatry’s Guide is Out of Touch with Science, Experts Say,” science reporters, Pam Belluck and Benedict Carey, describe an important new initiative by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the largest source of federal funding for mental health research. The new initiative criticizes the soon to be published fifth edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), offering a new framework for guiding research and focusing funding priorities in mental health research. Belluck and Carey’s article emphasizes the optimism and excitement shared by a number of prominent experts about the adoption of this new framework, known as the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). In order to understand the true significance of this development, it is important for us to have a greater appreciation of the broader context in which this important change is taking place. I am ambivalent, some significant problems are being addressed, but other problems may be exacerbated in this latest development in the politics of the sciences of the mind and the brain.
Towards the end of May, the American Psychiatric Association will release its new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This long awaited update of the DSM (colloquially referred to by some as the “Bible of Psychiatry”) has been the focus of considerable prepublication controversy among mental health professionals and has been discussed extensively in important media outlets including The New York Times. Previous editions of the DSM have also received media attention. But DSM-5 has raised the intensity of the controversy to unprecedented heights, in part because of the widely publicized criticisms of psychiatry insiders including Allan Frances (the chair of the task force that developed DSM-4) and Robert Spitzer (who chaired the DSM-3 task force). Criticisms of DSM-5 are similar in nature (if not intensity) to those leveled at both DSM-4 and DSM-3. For example, claims for the degree of reliability of diagnostic categories are exaggerated, . . .
Read more: Psychiatry in the News and the Medicalization of the Emotional Life
A dozen years back Goodman David Brooks entered the cultural pantheon through an oddly incisive book, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. The title charmed as Brooks asserted that a new generation of elites was upon us. Living well – not political clash – was the best revenge. What Brooks recognized and what Mitt Romney missed was that aesthetics mattered as much as economic interest in establishing political culture.
I think of Bobos when I assay the broadsheet of Brooks’ current employer, The New York Times. One can count on the editorials of the Times to embrace the most progressive respectable position: the stance of the established Statist elite. And one can count on the adverts in the Times to inspire the warm glow of Veblenian pecuniary emulation. I think of Bobos, too, when I peruse the New Yorker or even such ostensibly apolitical, but fully progressive, sources such as Time Out New York (or, from my prairie perch, Time Out Chicago).
These journals are committed to the goals of redistribution of income, environmental sustainability and ecological responsibility, and rabid, compulsive consumption capitalism. Perhaps there is no inherent contradiction between caring about people and caressing things, but the sections of the paper rarely seem as one. Recently in the Sunday Review, the Times’ editorialists promoted more regulations on health care and financial services, a more welcoming immigration policy with support for new arrivals, and one of their columnists, Ezekiel Emanuel (Rahmbo’s brother, Ezbo) is in high dudgeon about companies providing the wrong snacks for their employees (“an additional serving of potato chips every day led to a 1.69-pound weight increase over four years”). The mandarins of the Times did not comment on sea levels or climate change, but wait.
Along with these exhortations, the Times also delivered a posh 156 page Style Magazine: a testimonial to Ferragamo, the Ritz, and the Caymans. The best of living if living well is the best of life. The two sections as juxtaposed represent the . . .
Read more: All-Consuming Liberalism
We have just experienced the season of gifts, a moment at which images of plummy consumption dance in our heads. And I had a gift in mind. A magazine, or perhaps, a certain website.
I am a serial reader, and, sometimes, a reader of serials. As the Deliberately Considered audience knows – because I have admitted in cyber-print – I have ogled Glenn Beck: less as harassment or flirtation, and more as an imagined discourse. I promiscuously read conservatives and progressives – and others in left, right, and libertarian venues. I live by The New Yorker, I conserve the Weekly Standard, I reason with Reason, and Mother Jones is Mom. However, I have long regretted that I cannot get a daily dosage of civic nutriment in a single journalistic bowl. I hold to a somewhat eccentric contention that there are smart liberals (neo- and old-timey, pink and pinker), conservatives (neo- and paleo-), progressives, reactionaries, socialists, libertarians, and more. Is my generosity so bizarre?
It has been argued that one of the fundamental problems in American political culture is that citizens tend to read narrowly. Those who consider themselves conservatives will not squander their lives reading liberal intellectuals, and the same is true of liberals, should they even admit to such a creature as a conservative intellectual. The divide between red and blue is as evident in the library as in the voting booth. This argument was made most compellingly by the ever diverting Cass Sunstein in his 2001 book, Republic.Com. Sunstein argued that we feel comfortable in segregated domains of knowledge in which:
“People restrict themselves to their own points of view – liberals watching and reading mostly or only liberals; moderates, moderates; conservatives, conservatives; neo-Nazi, neo-Nazis.”
People reside in gated communities of knowledge. This is what the sociologist David Maines, referring to epistemic divisions between blacks and whites, described as racialized pools of knowledge. Our pools, suitable for private skinny dipping, are political. But if we are truly interested in the play of ideas, this chasm is a dispiriting reality. Of what . . .
Read more: My Magazine
Unlike recent posts that have analyzed media performances, today I want to present some direct political criticism. Rather than “perform” our distinguished art of analysis, as we have recently been doing on this blog, I want to underscore the notion that powerful media set our agenda and our performing analyses are determined by what is given to us by media as bones to chew, often with quite negative results. Nothing original, but the topic and the circumstances are.
There is a fundamental difference between the way news is produced and read in the United States and Europe. Here, we have one or two authoritative print sources. Thus, much of the reflection presented at Deliberately Considered draws on reports from The New York Times. This is in sharp contrast to European practice. I miss my daily reading of at least two or three newspapers to tap into contrasting opinions or sources of information. The near monopoly in America is troublesome. Perhaps I exaggerate, but I worry that there can develop an unquestioned prevailing commonsense, with the media reiterating the obvious, instead of challenging dominant points of view and generating new areas of debate.
This struck me in the reports and commentary concerning the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal, announced two weeks ago. All of what has been written in the Times columns since the surprise reconciliation announcement in Cairo has re-hashed the usual storyline: Hamas is not a peace partner. Israel has good reason to feel threatened by a national unity government, and Congress should use aid as a threat to push moderates not to accept a deal with the Islamists. This Monday, an editorial summed up the argument.
The only good thing in this editorial was its subtitle, “Continued stalemate with Israel will only strengthen extremists,” but, ironically, this disappeared in the online version. Indeed, the remainder of the piece is just a series of peremptory remarks (“we have many concerns,” “the answer, to us, is clear…”) and hollow statements. Yet, intriguingly, the top ten most recommended replies to the online version were all critical of Israel, showing how people can resist the newspaper’s views.
Media and the Palestinians: “Continued Stalemate Will Only Strengthen Extremists”
Is democracy in America fundamentally flawed? Do our political parties offer significant enough political choices? Do they actually engage in consequential political debate, offering alternative political policies? Are we so accustomed to inconsequential elections that our major newspaper confuses real consequential politics with authoritarianism? . These are the questions posed by Martin Plot in the past couple of weeks at DC. I think they are important questions, and I find insight in the answers he presents, but I don’t completely agree with Martin’s analysis. He thinks the democratic party in America may be over. I think it has just begun. Tonight, I will bluntly present my primary disagreement. Tomorrow, I will consider the implications of our differences and add a bit more qualification to my commentary. I welcome Martin’s response and anyone else’s.
First, though, I must acknowledge the insight of his media criticism. I think the Times reporter is inaccurate about politics in Argentina for the reasons Martin presents in his post, and further elaborated in his reply to the post. The reporter may very well hang around the wrong people, listening to critics who are far from unbiased and with questionable democratic credentials. And he may not fully appreciate that fundamental change can occur democratically, with radical changes in social policy, because this has not a common feature of American political life since the 1930s. Such a reporter can’t tell the difference between the democratic, and the authoritarian and populist left.
And when Martin notes that factual lies can persist because they are left unopposed in our fractured media world, in response to my concern about the power of fictoids, I think he is onto something very important.
But I do disagree with Martin’s overall appraisal of Democratic politics and the Presidency of Barack Obama, thus far. Put simply, I am not as sure as Martin is that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have not offered a significant alternative to the Republican Party and the Presidential leadership of former President George W. Bush, both in terms of platform and enacted policy. I don’t deny that “mistakes . . .
Read more: The Democratic Party’s Over?
WikiLeaks, Fictoids, and Plutocracy
Starting today, on Friday afternoons, I will present reflections on the deliberate considerations of the past week.
The discussion about WikiLeaks at DC suggested the importance of looking at other dimensions of the problem, not only the issue of whether the release of official secrets serves or undermines immediate political interests, but also what it suggests about fundamental social problems, about the relationship between public and private in diplomacy, and in everyday life, and about what it means for “the big picture,” concerning the prospects for war and peace, and the success or failure of democratic transition from dictatorship and democracy.
I understand and anticipated the critical responses to the conclusion of my post. “I believe WikiLeaks’ disclosures present a clear and present danger to world peace.”
Esther expressed concern that the boldness of my judgment suggested a need to constrain the media. She, Scott and Alias agreed that the danger of the WikiLeaks “dump” was not great. Scott judged that “it’s rather unfair to assume that the US is the only country whose diplomacy can be duplicitous and shady.” And he criticized Alias’s summary judgment, based on the predictability of the revelations, “Oh well.” Scott noted that there are detailed reasons for not being so blasé and cites the possible complications in Afghanistan.
Perhaps I exaggerated, but only a little. Making public what is meant to be private undermines social interaction, whether it be in a family or in diplomacy or anywhere else. I understand why for specific reasons one would want to do that in a targeted way, if the family is dysfunctional and abusive, if the diplomacy is sustaining an injustice. But to reveal secrets just because they are secret makes little sense, since there are necessarily secrets everywhere. That is whistle blowing gone wild. It generally undermines the practice of diplomacy. Not a good thing, because the alternative to diplomacy in solving international conflict is war. And in the transition from dictatorship to democracy, as Elzbieta Matynia considered earlier today, transparency would have insured failure, i.e. the continuation of dictatorship, a violent . . .
Read more: DC Week in Review