Monday, May 20, 2013

Dr. Allen Frances Is a Terrible Person

Once again, I’m reminded that “geek” is not a synonym for “logical” or “accurate” or even “vaguely reasonable.”

Wired’s blog recently featured this article by Dr. Allen Frances. Dr. Frances doesn’t want you to be happy. Of course PhDs who dismiss human happiness as a value are plentiful, but they usually have reasons like “selfishness is immoral” or “lots of people are unhappy, so your happiness is somehow making that worse” or “humans are a filthy disease on the planet that should be wiped out.” Dr. Frances puts a slightly new twist on the idea. Rather than suffer on behalf of the environment or the third world or for an abstract, absolute good, we are meant to suffer for the purpose of – wait for it – evolution.

That’s right, evolution. Like the dinosaur. Dr. Frances thinks that we need to reject normalcy – in the form of being able to successfully function in society and enjoy our lives – for the sake of the long-term evolution of the species, for which, he claims, “diversity” is required. According to the esteemed doctor, we’re currently compromising our diversity by audaciously treating mental health problems that he insists should be interpreted as “quirks” rather than actual problems.

This sounds like a very sympathetic viewpoint, until he gets down to brass tacks. I quote:

“Do we really want to put Oedipus on the couch, give Hamlet a quick course of behavior therapy, start Lear on antipsychotics?”

For the benefit of you victims of progressive education, I’ll remind you that Oedipus murdered his father, married and had children by his mother (who consequently killed herself), and eventually put out his own eyes with a pin before wandering the earth with his traumatized daughters until his death; Hamlet sees ghosts, murders his girlfriend’s father, drives said girlfriend to suicide, and ultimately gets himself, two of his friends, his dead girlfriend’s brother, his mother, and his uncle killed and his kingdom taken over by a foreign price; and Lear’s irrationality results in the death of his only virtuous child and the destruction of his entire kingdom.

But hey, we’re all better off in the long-run because evolution, right?

Well, except for the part where evolution depends on a little thing called DNA. Hamlet doesn’t live long enough to procreate, Oedipus’s line is inbred (and ends a generation later, besides), and I’m guessing the genetic diversity of Lear’s two surviving daughters is overwhelmed by the thousands of terminated genetic lines as a consequence of the resulting war. Oh, and the part where neither therapy nor drugs change your goddamn DNA; the children of a mentally stable Oedipus, Hamlet, or Lear will have the same genetic diversity, but a greater chance of survival (or in Hamlet’s case, of actually existing) if the demonstrable mental issues of their parents are sorted out.

It’s completely disgusting to suggest that certain people in our society have to suffer so that the rest of us – strike that, future generations of the rest of us – can enjoy some theoretical evolutionary benefits. It’s even more disgusting that the hypothetical benefits are completely unrelated to the treating of mental illness, except insofar as they are actually benefited by it through the corresponding increased chance of survival. Besides this, the whole notion of evolution he espouses is entirely misinformed. Human evolution, at this point, is almost entirely determined by sexual selection. If your goal is increased genetic diversity, you should actually support the genetically “quirky” doing everything they can to make themselves as appealing as possible to the average potential mate, including “seeming normal” if that’s what appeals. If SSRIs make you more fuckable, you’ll be more likely to contribute to humanity as Dr. Frances thinks you should.

But all of this presupposes the validity of the completely absurd argument that we should make our most personal life choices based on what will best collectively benefit our race generations down the line. If that’s the standard of morality, why stop with treating depression? Let’s replace with a database that recommends relationships based on optimal gene mappings. Hell, that’s too simple. Let’s do the opposite of China and institute an “at least one child” policy. Let’s just turn every woman into a baby-machine and require every male to make regular deposits to the sperm bank. Ah, fuck it, we may as well go fully Dune on this thing: axlotl tanks, breeding programs, the whole nine yards. Human evolution is far more important than individuals actually enjoying their lives.

Dr. Frances, you are a terrible person. It’s completely valid to question the way we diagnose and treat mental health issues, but you’re undermining your own cause with this ridiculous collectivist morality. You’ve said nothing at all to suggest that our current treatments aren’t working for their intended purpose, which is, quite rightly, to make people happier. If you don’t want people to be happier, get the hell out of the mental health profession. If you do want people to be happier (real people, alive today, not imagined future generations of Kwizatz Haderaches), get your head out of your ass and talk about what actually matters to people struggling with these issues. Hint: we don’t give a fuck about undermining “big pharma” or passing on our genes. We just want to be happy. Is this really so much to ask?

Just asking,

S. Misanthrope

P.S. Fuck you, Wired, for being the shitheap you’ve long-since become.

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