David Gans (tnf) Sun 29 Aug 99 14:26
Take a look at < www.mcsweeneys.net > for an excerpt from Gary Greenberg's amazing article on the Unabomber. Gary is a psychologist and teacher in rural Connecticut. His experiences in dealing with Ted Kaczynski, which I've been hearing about in personal communications, have inspired some great ruminations on many subjects. I can't wait to read the rest of the article!
Steven Solomon (ssol) Mon 30 Aug 99 06:55
Gary, granted that both the media and the justice system played heavily on easy to accept stereotypes of the "mad bomber" and "genius gone insane". Still, what about the tremendous contradiction between the considerate and clear-spoken man who wrote back to you, and the guy who no one seems to argue spent almost two decades trying to kill people he didn't know in cold blood? Doesn't that very contradiction point to a likely pathology? You tell me. I'm just another layperson who first bought into the media portrayal.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Mon 30 Aug 99 08:30
Killing people is only a pathology if you have already decided that murder is a criterion of mental illness, that anyone who kills is sick. The problem with this formulation is that it folds an essentially moral problem -- murder -- into a medical discourse. Noyt to mention that it is entirely circular in reasoning. I thikn reasonable people can agree that in most cases (certainly including the Unabomber's), people who murder arebad, that they are doing something very wrong and should be stopped and punished when they are caught. But do we really want to condemn by diagnosis? I'd also point out that Kaczynski was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. The reasoning for this was that he wasx delusional, and his delusions were that he believed that his dysfunciontal family life caused his later difficulty in relationships with women, and that technology controlled his life. A delusion, according to the Diagnostic and Sttatistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, is a belief held in the presence of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Neither of Kaczynski's delusions, in my view, can possibly be delusional. The first "delusion" is created in therapist's offices every day. go toa shrink (including me) and tell him about your problems, and dollars to donuts he's gonna "help" you to see how your fucked up family helped to cause them. Call your mom and dad into the shrink's office and they're probably gonna disagree, not just about the meaining of the facts of the client's life, but about the facts themselves. Family dysfunction is an epistemological nightmare. Certainly people can exaggerate or otherwise distort their histories. Butincontrovertible evidence? Very rarely, if ever, are you going to find that, and certtainly TK's evlauators did not. The family disagree. That's noto evidence of a delusion. The second delusion is more complex and troubling. TK's beliefs anout technology are well known and not original to him. They're your basic anti-modern lamnentation, found in dissenters from the LUddites through Thoreau to Foucault, Heidegger, and Kifkpatrick Sale. They are radcially at odds with the assumption from which the mainstream flows. And TK took them to a religious extreme: living a life consistent with his beliefs. The specific form of delusion he was accused of having was the idee fixe, an unswerving adherence to ideology, again in the face of evidence to the contrary. The evaluating psyciatrist does not say what incontrovertible evidence whe presented him with to show that his objectiosn to technology were founded on delusion. She just notes that Tk insists that his position is correct, and that this is proof that he is nuts. To be fair to her, what she is really working with here is the faxct that TK's life was organized by the premise that technology is a bad thing. So when an airplane flew overhead and disturbed his peace, it didn't just register as a small unpleasnatness; it stood as a symbol of all that was wrong with the world. This is a hallmark of paranoid vschizophrenic thikning: to see your initial (delusional) opremise in all events. But usually the initial premise is something like "my neighbor's dog speaks witht he voice of God and tells me what to do," or "I am really a CIA agent, being given instructions through a brain implant," as opposed to a fairly well thought out and not uncommon ideology. And by the psychiatrist's reasoining, it's really impossible to distinguish between pathology and strong belief, between illness and dissent. In my article, I note that by her reasoining there's no difference between TK and a woman who believes that she is married to God, believes it so strongly that she wears a wedding ring and lives a life of obedience to her "husbanbd," basing all her actions and utterances on this belief. Of course, most nuns aren't murderers, but that just gets back to my oriignal point: that the diagnosis is problematic. Surely, thbere is a better way to condemn someone like Kaczynski than the one that calls living by principle and refusing to accept the psychiatrist's verdict (TK's diagnosis was based in part on his refusal to listen when the shrimnks told him he was sick; this is called anosognosia, which is Greek for "disagreeing with your psychiatrist") "paranoid schizophrenia."
first be a good (satyr) Mon 30 Aug 99 20:48
This morning on NPR there was a report about a Russian city with an unusually high number of serial killers, and a therapist who works with them for free, whether or not they've already been identified by the police. Unfortunately I caught neither the name of the city nor the name of the therapist.
Andrew Brown (andrewb) Tue 31 Aug 99 05:47
hang on -- "whether or not they have been identified by the police?" You mean some of them come to him in the intervals of serially killing?
I'm a caterpillar (dwaite) Tue 31 Aug 99 07:26
why not... It's a free country! :-)
decision deficit disorder (marie) Tue 31 Aug 99 13:58
Gary, I'm a little confused. Are you contending that TK was mis-diagnosed? If so, how would you diagnose him, or perhaps do you feel he does not in fact have a mental disorder? Are you arguing against the nosology generally, or the particular application of it? I haven't seen either test results or a report, were they published someplace? Maybe you could point us toward them? In my experience over the last 30 years working with people with this diagnosis very few exhibit the kind of thinking you describe above ("my neighbor's dog speaks with the voice of god...")but in fact have a more organized interlocking and rigid system of beliefs, feelings, and perceptions that help maintain and give coherence to chaotic and painful experiences of their psychotic process. They fail to meet basic criterion for living as functioning members of their families and communities. The media tends to grab onto the the most exagerated view of paranoid schizophrenia, painting people with this disorder as something less than human. In that regard, I think the media failed him as a human being. At the same time, he has functioned as if he were above the rules others live by, ascribing to himself a set of rules that gives him god-like powers over others. I think that is a sign of deep alienation, not only from others, but from his own humanity. Serious mental illness is always (or should be anyway) diagnosed within the context of ones' culture, or subculture. In that context, a nun's belief about her marriage is not seen as pathological, although many nuns are referred for treatment by their superiors when they fail to distinguish between a symbolic and spiritual marriage and a delusional one. Subcultures that share beliefs outside mainstream culture are well aware of a line that is crossed over by ill members of their community. I think most people, regardless of their sub-culture, would feel TK crossed that line.
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Tue 31 Aug 99 14:22
Hi Gary, long time no talk-to! I am wondering how you chose McSweeney's (or vice versa). I have never heard of it even though I scan the magazine racks pretty thoroughly (though not, I admit, the ranks upon ranks of literary magazines; after Grand Street and a few others like that the map is pretty unknown to me). On the other hand, you have to give credit to someone who runs a review of "The Fountainhead" made up of excerpts from amazon.com reviews: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/1999/03/01fountain.html
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Tue 31 Aug 99 17:25
Gary, I'm a little confused. Are you contending that TK was mis-diagnosed? If so, how would you diagnose him, or perhaps do you feel he does not in fact have a mental disorder? Are you arguing against the nosology generally, or the particular application of it? I haven't seen either test results or a report, were they published someplace? Maybe you could point us toward them? TK was at least misdiagnosed, I think. Of course, it is impossible to prove a negation ("TK is not paranoid schizophrenic), and it is presumptuous to diagnose someone you haven't met (although one of the experts did exactly that),l but two convergin lines of evidence cast great doubt on his diagnosis. The first is the psychiatric evaluations themwselves. They are available, by the way, at unabombertrial.com. The evals done by the defense experts are based almost entirely on TK's refusal to cooperate with them. They interpret this as "paranoia about psychiatrists," even though 1) TK's objections were very clearly ideological, based on a line of reasoning that can be found in many places and that argues that psychiatry is a form of policing and 2)in at least two cases, the psychiatrists had been provided to him with the express promise that they *weren't* evaluating him and his objections arose after he realized the deception. Now, it is possible for a paranoid schizophrenic (PS) to avoid psychiatrists out of a fear consisten with his or her delusion. But it is also possible for a person to have a principled objection to psychiatry, insanity defenses, etc., and the burden is on the evaluator to prove that the latter is not the case, or that the subject's claim is just psychosis dressed in ideology's clothing. The same problem haunts the government's own report, written by Sally Johnson, a prominent fnrensic psychiatrist. Of courwse, it is possible that TK's beliefs about technology are delusional, and it is possible that they are not. And her report fails to prove that they are. She simply observes that he believes very strongly that tehcnology is deeply problematic and takes for granted that anyone who would believe such a thing so much that he would live off the grid, leave a Berkeley professsorship, cut off contact with the world tjhat he thought was fucked beyond redemption -- that anyone who does this must be nuts. That's not true, and it's not fair. It's also not psychiatry. It's politics. The second line of evidence is my experience of Kaczynski. He's a very difficult man, strangely tone deaf to the music of human interaction, sometimes a prick, and capable of turning people into pure abstraction. In shrot, not the guy you'd want to have as your best friend. But he is either very good at concealing his craziness over a very long period (from someone who is a trained clinician and a pretty astute reader to boot, if I do say so myself) that included some very stressful times. I've dealt with PS's before, and most of them are capable of carrying on a conversation, can be coherent and polite and helpful and stable (particularly if they stay on their meds), but you gotta believe me when I say that TK is coherenet like a sane person and not coherent like a PS. Read my article (which, by the way, includes a 5-page letter from TK to me, photocopied so you can see his handwriting), then tell me waht you think about this question. AS far as how I would diagnose him, I wouldn't. Not unless he was a client and his insurance company insisted on it and I genuinely believed he qualified for a diagnsois and needed to use his insurance to pay me. He's a public figure. More to the point, great questios about the nature of life in the modern age are etched int TK's character like fault lines in a stone, and I think diagnosis is probably the least interesting way to talk about him. Its major virtue is that it erases the political dimension of his terrorism, and reassures us all that he's just another nut. I think it's safe to say that I hae a beef about nosology. It makes it much too easy to reduce the political to the personal, to erase the public realm. I think your questions are very astute, and I hope this begins to answer them. I'll finish tomorrow, but I'm beat, having spent too mcuh energy and time today straightening ouit some Salon.com reporter who managed to get every fact he reported about my article wrong (no surprise, since he never talked to me about it), then defended himself by saying, "It's only up for a day," as if the ephemerality of the medium excused him from being somewhere in the neighorhood of accurate.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Tue 31 Aug 99 17:30
AS for how I chose McSwy's, which you can get, so I hear, at Barnes & Noble and BOrders, as well as on the website mcsweeneys.net -- I think it's a great little magazine, full of good writing. It also seems to focus on some of the themes of my article -- in addition to TK and the questions of mental illness, the nature of the publishing business, journalistic ethics, and the way the news media tell storeis. And, I would add, bein ggiven carte blanche for 25,000 words is really unusual and attractive.
first be a good (satyr) Tue 31 Aug 99 19:29
> You mean some of them come to him in the intervals of serially killing? That's the way it sounded -- apparently he has some hope of getting them to quit, or maybe just to refrain, one day at a time. Part of the spot was given over to the ethics of having such knowledge without taking it to the authorities.
Ron Hogan (grifter) Tue 31 Aug 99 23:20
Anybody who thinks that an online feature is "only up for a day" is displaying a lack of understanding so fundamental that one questions their basic competence to be writing journalism at all, let alone of the online variety.
Andrew Brown (andrewb) Wed 1 Sep 99 03:58
#10 Theat is one of the mjost astonishing post-communist stories I have ever heard, and makes me think the Orthodox churches are in far deeper trouble than I had realised. To go to a shrink rather than a priest for that sort of confession is one of the defining marks of a post-religious state. I know that the commuinists spent years and years trying to stamp out religion, and spilt much blood when doing so. I know that the orthodox church was nearly as thoroughly corrupted by the state as the psychiatric profession. But I am astonished that medecine should have recovered more prestige than religion in Russia, if it has.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 1 Sep 99 05:50
What is astonishing about that? Medicine's prestige derives from its claimt to scientific authority. It's much harder to tarnish, and it's very appealing in cynical times. But the overall point -- that psychiatry and religion fill the same need in some important way -- is just right, and the story is a good example. My office is a confessional as much as anything else. Freud, not unlike Catholic priests, favored a seating arrangment that obscured his face. There is a movie, "I Confess," about a priest to whom a confession of murder is made. I think the priest is played by Montogmery Clift. It's the only movie I'eve ever seen that takes place in Quebec City.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 1 Sep 99 05:54
AS for the competence of the reporter -- one Craig Offman by name -- the whole story is a case study in journalistic incompetence. For brevity's sake, I'll just reproduce the letter I emailed to Salon. To the Editor: Craig Offman's article about, among other things, my article in McSweeney's, In the Kingdom of the Unabomber, is mistaken about what I said in my piece. To wit: In an excerpt on the McSweeney's Web site, Greenberg includes a letter he wrote to Kaczynski suggesting that the two men collaborate on a biography of the convicted killer. My letter only told Kaczynski that I would like to write his biography and that I wanted to know what he thought. Implicit here is a request for his cooperation, but I stopped well short of suggesting a collaboration. I never intended to write an as-told-to book. Nothing in my article or the website excerpt Offman is quoting from suggests otherwise. Ok, so maybe that's picky. You say collaborate, I say cooperate, why can't we all just get along? But how about this: After a delicate negotiation involving lawyers and agents, the Unabomber responded to Greenberg's proposal. "The first letter itself wasn't much: a four-page, single-spaced document, handwritten with a pencil," Greenberg observed. "[It] conveyed a sharp rationality, a sharp intellect, and a distinct courtliness." What negotiations? What lawyers and agents? I wrote: "Kaczynski was interested enougth in the project to ask, through his lawyer for more information about me. So, during the spring, I wrote [him] a short autobiography. I told him about my therapy practice and my teaching, even a little about my personal life, and I sent him some of my academic writings -- two articles and a book. I heard nothing directly, and in mind- May, 1998 ... I sent him a gentle reminder of my existence. His first letter came in response." I wrote him, he wrote me back. A lawyer got involved because Kaczynski was incommunicado prior to his sentencing. It wasn't the Disney-CapCities merger. Really, I promise, I'm almost done. (For copyright reasons, Greenberg is not permitted to quote from Kaczynski's letters.) In fact, lawyers advised me that I could make a good case for publishing Kaczynski's letters without his permission. I decided not to do so for a number of reasons, but mostly because I had strongly implied to Kaczynski that I would not publish his words without asking first, and I didn't want to ask. People who decide to read the article before they come to a conclusion about what it says will discover that while I do not quote from any letters, I have reproduced one five-page letter in its entirety. It is a comment on something that little McSweeney's, with its wing-and- a-prayer budget, its volunteer staff and unpaid writer (that's me) managed to check every fact (and re-report many of them) in a 23,000- word piece from which they will derive little if any money while big Salon.com, with its banner ads and paid staff, couldn't even bother to check facts that were a click away or to call the author of a piece they were writing about (and whose phone number and email address they have had since last Friday). I leave you to figure out what that something is. Gary Greenberg
David Gans (tnf) Wed 1 Sep 99 06:28
Gary, please post the URL for the Offman piece.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 1 Sep 99 06:33
Back to the diagnostic question. I suppose it's too glib to say that I wouldn't diagnose TK, even though it's true. No question he qualifies for a diagnosis of a personality disorder, either antisocial or schizoid. But what is a p-ersonality disorder? It's merely a description of a set of traits and behaviors that are not uncommonly found in a certain set of people. Attaching a clinical name to that description may *seem* to provide explanation or otherwise shed lifht on the subject, but it doesn't really do that. There's an implicit acknowledgement of this in the DSM -- personality disorders are diagnosed on a separate "axis," i.e., they're qualitatively different from other mental disorders like deepression or phobias or paranoid schizophrenia. One could say, i suppose, that pd's are just chronic mental disorders, but that still begs the question: in what sense are these medical entities, rather than mere descripitions of problematic functioning? >Serious mental illness is always (or should be anyway) diagnosed >within the context of ones' culture, or subculture. In that context, a >nun's belief about her marriage is not seen as pathological, although >many nuns are referred for treatment by their superiors when they fail >to distinguish between a symbolic and spiritual marriage and a >delusional one. Subcultures that share beliefs outside mainstream >culture are well aware of a line that is crossed over by ill members of >their community. I think most people, regardless of their sub-culture, >would feel TK crossed that line. This is a good example of the unremitting nature of the problem of psychiatric diagnosis. AT first glance, it seems that saying thatdiagnosis must always take culture into account ought to solve many of the objections I'm raising here. This new-found cultural sensitivity means., for instance, that a conditio like ataque de nervios, which looks to Anglo eyes like a pathological condition, will not come under the psychiatrist's gaze because in certain Latino cultures it is normal, or at least not pathological. But you can begin to see the problem if you consider that someone has to decide what constitutes a valid culture or subculture. Let's say I take all the paranoid schizophrenics who believe that thoughts are being implanted in their heads and I gather them in one community. Is their belief no longer delusional? In order to say that it is, you have to point out that this isn't really a subculture. And who is going to make that determination? The person making the diagnosis. The psychiatrist. Here you can see that the cultural sensitivity of the DSM is also a subterfuge. It's another attempt to hide the inescapable and usually repressed fact that mental health professionals are agents of social control. By creating this category, shrinks can make the claim that they're not really exercising power in making diagnoses; indeed, they can claim that they are going out of theier way to be fair. But the fact is that they have just re-concealed their power in response to changes in the society (in this case, the recent upsurge in cultural awareness, what some call pollitical correctness). This is not the first time this has happened. Precisely the same thing happened when homosexuality was depathologized. The sexual reevolution of the 60's made it clear that psychiatrists had pathologized a behavior that was in no way a disease, and gave impetus to gay people to insist on being taken out of the DSM. Psychiatrists had simply been acting as agents of social control by "treating" homosexuals, and now society no longer insisted that they exercise this control. But rather than recognize what this meant -- that the psychiatrist's claim to authority is moral and not scientific -- and realigning their practice accordingly, the psychiatrists claimed that science had proven that homosexuality was not a disease, and that the real disease was ego-dystonic homosexuality, i.e., people who couldn't accept their being gay were the sick ones. Suddenly (and this really happened virtually overnight), the same shrinks who had "treated" homosexuals were supposed to start helping them overcome their oppresssion. Mental health professainlas are not value-neutral. We decide all the time what behavior is good and bad, only we tend to call it helathy and unhealthy or appropriate and inappropriate. And no amount of fiddling around with cultural sensitivity is going to change this. TK's diagnosis is just a particularly good and high-profile example of the way this works. In his interlocking set of deeply held beliefs, it wsa important to live off the grid, be self-sufficient, and murder people. There is a viable subculture of such people; they're called anarchists. They have a history and a tradition that is captured in many books and actions., The only way a psychiatrist can use this as the basis for a diagnosis of a delusional disorder is if she decideides that the subculture doesn't really exist or isn't really a subculture and if she decides that the beliefs are not valid. IN either case, she is making a political judgment. And you certainly don't need the language of the DSM to decide that TK crossed some line that shouldn't be crossed. Neither do you need it to account for his having done so. The fact that reasonable people agree that he did something transgressive is hardly a sound basis for deciding that he is crazy.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 1 Sep 99 06:37
url for the Salon piece: http://www.salon.com/books/log/1999/08/31/unabomber/index.html
David Gans (tnf) Wed 1 Sep 99 07:40
Gary, didn't you ublish a book about the abuses of psychology?
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 1 Sep 99 08:39
Not me. I'vew written a few articles about it (incluing one about TK, which has yet to see print). Meantime, check this out: Date sent: Wed, 1 Sep 1999 11:12:12 -0400 To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: craig offman <email@example.com> Subject: Re: McSweeney's article re: Ted Kaczynski Dear Dr. Greenberg, I have talked to my editor about your letter, and she submitted several changes to our production department. They should appear on the site any time now. Thank you, Craig Speaking of the powers of the mental health professions, you know when they're calling you doctor, you've got 'em.
(ideo) was I ere I saw (esau) Wed 1 Sep 99 08:42
This is deeply fascinating--thank you.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 1 Sep 99 09:03
Excellent result from Offman! So what IS that book of yours about, Gary?
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 1 Sep 99 09:57
Beats me. Actually, it's about self-help books. It's a lit-crit view of them that argues that they're training manuals for buddin g nihilists. It's called The Self on The Shelf. Funny, huh?
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Wed 1 Sep 99 11:55
Most anarchists aren't interested in murdering people. The ones I've known are quite timid; the notion of the "bomb-throwing anarchist" is as loaded as any we've got in political discourse and as unlikely to be true. Although it must be said that given the opportunity, some fraction of anarchists will indeed overturn a Coca Cola truck on Telegraph Avenue (apologies for the reference to obscure Berkeley history). Anyway, somewhat more seriously, check out this interesting little piece in today's Willamette Week (Portland's formerly 'alternative' weekly): http://www.wweek.com/html/healthcare.html
Ron Hogan (grifter) Wed 1 Sep 99 12:31
<anarchists will indeed overturn a Coca Cola truck> But only for the cause that refreshes. Sorry, I can't help it. I was born evil.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 1 Sep 99 12:31
The gentlemant from Oregon is right, as usual. Not all, or evn most, anarchists are violent. But some are. There's a subculture, or maybe a sub-subculture of violen, antimodern, antitechnological anarchists.
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