A bit about mental illness and “retards”.

As many of you know, Michaelyn is studying cognitive neuroscience.  She had a homework assignment the other night to watch one of a list of movies depicting someone with mental illness and to write a paper about how well/poorly it was portrayed.  She had never seen A Beautiful Mind before and we decided on that one.  The movie tells the life story of John Forbes Nash Jr., who won the Nobel Prize for his work with economics.  He also suffered from severe schizophrenia.  There is some debate over whether or not Nash saw people who weren’t there (which is incredibly rare) or whether or not he only heard their voices (which is more common).

The film hit a lot of bases: the resistance to treatment, the way dealing with a mental illness can tear relationships apart.  Having lived through that, it was easy to empathize with Jennifer Connelly’s character.  But it also reminded me of the initial stages of treatment, when you learn that what you’re seeing isn’t really there.  The worst part isn’t admitting that you’re crazy (that was, ironically, very liberating).  The worst part is doubting everything else.  It’s thinking that if I cannot rightly perceive reality with regard to mirrors, is there anything else my brain is twisting?  It makes you paranoid, and it makes you question your ability to interact with the world in an acceptable way.

It occurs to me though, that all of our brains are deficient toward accurately seeing the world in one way or another.  This is how illusions exist.  For instance, take this image of the famous checker square illusion:

Squares A and B are the exact same color.  You can use photoshop or whatever other means you wish to confirm this.  Or you can just look at this image as its constructed here:

Virtually every human being will be unable to perceive reality correctly with regard to the two squares.  None of our sensory inputs give us all the correct information, and none of our brains parse that information in a way that gives us a fully accurate view of existence.  This is why we have science, critical thinking, and other means to get around the flaws of our cognition.

For people like myself, like John Nash, and the other anorexics, schizophrenics, and such out there, we deal with one more way in which our minds deny us reality, but it doesn’t make us as different from everybody else as one may seem.  There’s this perception that there are normal people and those who are crazy.  But the line is actually not that distinct, and I suspect every normal person, when presented with an illusion like the one above, can relate to us in not seeing reality accurately.  This is what it feels like to hear voices that aren’t there or to see reflections that aren’t real, the only difference is that people can become frightened of you if you are plagued by the latter illusions.

Anyway, moving on to “retards”.  The other day Christina wrote a post about the unTarded shirts people have been wearing that are being sold by Dusty Smith who runs the youtube channel “The Cult of Dusty”.  Of course, when somebody writes “Hey, that isn’t cool for x, y, and z reasons” all hell is bound to break loose.  I want to touch on two things: people’s reactions and why I agree with Christina.

Reactions first.  I’ve seen a few of Dusty’s videos and I think he’s right much of the time.  Hell, they even made me laugh.  I have nothing against the dude and I doubt Christina does either.  Sometimes even good people do stuff that isn’t that good, and that’s when we communicate that to one another because we assume they’d want to know.  This is a big difference from opening by denouncing them as a shitty human being and a traitor to decency as some bloggers do.  Christina just communicated her thoughts assuming that Dusty and everybody else would share the same values of not wanting to create too much emotional strife in a group that doesn’t have a dog in the religion debate hunt.  She denounced nobody.

And yet, anger erupted.  Now it’s a war between Christina (and vicariously me) against Dusty, when I don’t think there was any animosity on this end.

There were people accusing Christina of being the PC police, when I’m pretty sure Christina and I are about as un-PC as it gets.  😛  Christina never said the shirts were in poor taste because she was offended, and yet that charge got levied.  I wish we could have these discussions without assuming the worst of one another and with responding to what our friends/opponents actually said.  I hate seeing us get divided just by disagreeing with each other.

Anyway, as to why I agree with Christina in the case of these shirts.  Obviously I’m with Dusty in that I think mocking foolish beliefs is not only acceptable but important.  But it seems to me that the shirts don’t stop there: they also mock retarded people.  The implication is that religious beliefs, or even religious people, are retarded, and that being retarded is cause for derision.  I think that implication extends to the mentally handicapped.

This bothers me because of how I like to pick my fights.  The mentally handicapped are not always in the position of being able to suitably defend themselves when they are mocked, so when somebody is running around implying that being retarded is cause for shame (as the unTarded shirts do), it strikes me as bullying a group of people who, I’m sure, were not the intended targets when the shirts were conceived (or worn).  I have less of a problem with people mocking the religious or whatever other group of otherwise mentally healthy people they do, because those people are on an even playing field with regard to defending themselves.  But to mock the mentally handicapped, whether by intention or not, is different.

Like I said, it strikes me as bullying people who are often prohibited by the nature of their birth from fighting back with the acumen of the more fortunate.  This leaves a very sour taste in my mouth with regard to those shirts.  There’s a lot of pain there, for both the people born with mental defects and their families.  This is pain that involved no choice or lack of reasoning on their part, and I don’t like seeing that pain exacerbated, especially when there are ways to deride religion with both wit and effectiveness that don’t involve doing so.

Notice I’m not saying that Dusty is a bad person, or that those wearing them are bad people.  Indeed, if we thought that anybody didn’t loathe bullying or care about the feelings of the mentally handicapped, why would we even try to appeal to them?  Nor do I think anybody set out to slander the mentally handicapped.  But I think the shirts have that effect, and I don’t think I’d be a good friend to anybody if I didn’t say so.  I suspect that was Christina’s motivation as well.  How do we get to the point where we can criticize one another without starting a war?

Anyway, this was all on my mind this morning and writing about it has helped to get it out of there.  🙂  Thanks for reading it all, if you managed to slog through it.

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