Ilana Mercer, January 16, 2002

Andrea Pia Yates methodically drowned her five children aged six months to seven years. Accepting responsibility for her actions was not a proposition—certainly not a legal one—so the Houston woman pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. On hand to second Yates’ innocence was the dog-and-pony psychiatric show—the very witch doctors whose livelihood depends on diseasing every aspect of bad behavior; the same people who have no qualms about junking free will and responsibility for an unproven biological determinism, riddled with logical, factual, and moral infelicities.

The general consensus among members of the psychiatric profession who belabored the Yates case in the media is that Yates’ brain was “broken” at the time of the murders. She was, said one Dr. Tribal Bones, no different than a person who has had a heart attack. A heart attack is a physical event. The tissue damage is palpable. Consider, moreover, that a person suffering a heart attack endures an involuntary—emphasis on involuntary—coronary thrombosis, and you get the idea of how utterly incorrect this analogy really is. Consider also that there is no credible, scientific, peer-reviewed evidence for the organic basis of aberrant behavior, and you grasp the chicanery that surrounds the claim that strange or bad conduct is caused by “chemical imbalances” in the brain.

Psychiatrists don’t have a test that can prove that a so-called mental illness is actually organic in origin. For this reason, they seldom engage in testing. Say they ran an assay on Yates, and the tests yielded an elevated level in her brain of this or the other neurotransmitter. Such results are invariably statistically insignificant. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend they are not. There is seldom a way to conclusively demonstrate that, in this instance, the drudgery of drowning the kids, the prison ordeal, and decades of devouring medication did not cause such test results, rather than a pre-existing condition. On the face of it, our shameful shamans are demanding that the rotten behavior itself be accepted as proof for the organic nature of evil conduct. Sounds remarkably like a circular argument to me.

The more rigorous and honest clinicians will concede that drawing causal relationships between “mental illness” and “chemical imbalances” is impossible. That prescription medication often helps misbehaved or unhappy individuals is no proof that strange behavior is an organic disease. One can chemically castrate a pedophile. But does this demonstrate that molesting kids is an organic disease? Never. It proves only that chemical castration can at times reduce recidivism in people who have chosen to victimize children.

Roughly 75 percent of the value of “antidepressant” drugs is due to the placebo effect. And talk therapies—cognitive-behavioral therapy in particular—can have equal or better results. Veracity permits only that we limit our causal conclusions to saying that assorted treatment modalities sometimes help people with behavioral problems, nothing more.

Philosopher and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz has delivered a deductive death knell to this house of cards, pointing out that, unlike medicine, where the same principles are used to explain health and disease, the pseudo-science of psychiatry uses one set of principles to explain rational behavior; another set to explain irrational behavior. When a person does something ghastly, it is surmised post hoc that he has ceased being a morally responsible agent, and herewith acquired a disease. Do we ever seek chemical causes for the positive and extraordinary actions of a philanthropist? Because the philanthropist does good things, we attribute his actions to choice. Because Yates’ actions were evil, we attribute them to causes: to a diseased mind or an inattentive mate.

A genuine organic brain disorder, like the Parkinson’s Michael J. Fox suffers from, causes very specific behavioral deficits, tremors, for one. Even if it were for real, the chemical abnormality our voodooists allude to cannot cause a series of complex, coordinated, and purposeful actions. No brain disease can cause the following sequence: Seize a baby girl. Ignore the tiny thing’s whimpering and thrust her underwater until she ceases it. Pick the next in line. Submerge, until the victim’s convulsions subside. Fasten your deadly grip on the next tot. Let go once the throes of death are over and the small body goes limp. Repeat until all five little charges are dead. No alleged chemical abnormality can explain away and account for the components of choice, planfullness, and resolve so salient in these actions.

Morally and logically bankrupt, this thinking is also adopted by the terrorist’s exculpator. A mass murderer is suddenly no longer a morally culpable agent, but an inchoate entity whose diseased mind or stark surroundings caused him to commit the crime. The murderer weaseling out with the classic excuse, “I was only following orders”—in Yates’ case, the voices in her head; in the terrorist’s case, Allah—does not change the fact that he is an active agent—a victimizer, not a victim—who has opted to obey an evil authority, imaginary or real. Ever wonder why the voices Yates may have heard never impelled her to do something good? We would hardly have to invent a fictitious disease if Yates had heard voices instructing her to cuddle her babies, now would we?


January 16, 2002

CATEGORIES: Healthcare, Junk Science, Logic & Reason, Pop Psychology, Pseudoscience, Psychiatry & The Therapeutic State, Therapeutic State