Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Psychotherapy and Being "Normal"

This is one I've been thinking of writing for some time. Just hadn't had the time or presence of mind to do so. Pun intended.

Psychology and psychiatry (somewhat incorrectly dually referred to from herein as "psychotherapy", because I can.) have gained in vast popularity over the last few decades. I'm sure a great many people will take offense when I now refer to them as largely a pseudoscience, at best.

It's a great industry devoted to telling people they aren't normal. For some things, being "born that way", now equates normal, so is okay. Left-handedness, for instance, once thought of as an aberration, is now "normal". So no one minds lefties anymore. In an earlier edition of the DSM, (DSM-III-R), homosexuality (and any/all mentions thereof) was fully removed as a mental illness, and became normal.

Blue eyes are normal. Black hair is normal. Lots of things are the societal version of "normal". As much as it can be said otherwise, "abnormal" still carries with it a lot of negative connotations. I know, as well as most anyone else, that abnormal simply means something that falls outside of what is common. If everyone in your entire city has brown eyes and blonde hair, a redhead with green eyes would be considered "abnormal". That doesn't mean this individual is bad. We're all aware of that, but abnormal still tends to equal "bad" in the minds of most that hear the word.

Moving from that, we're not all the same, as humans. No matter what anyone says, everyone is different. As a species, we share collective similarities. As a gender, we each share collective similarities with members of our own. Outside of that, every single other aspect of ourselves is different from everyone else. Period.

Normalcy then becomes increasingly hard to define. Which characteristics are normal? Which are abnormal? Which are disordered? What are the criteria involved in these definitions? Who decides them? (These are rhetorical, as I know the answers already.)

Emotionally, and mentally, humans vary greatly. I find it almost ludicrous that there is a set definition for mental/emotional normalcy, and anyone that falls outside of it, needs to be loaded up with psychoactive drugs in order to have their square peg roughly shoehorned into the round hole of normalcy.

Now, when I say "largely" a pseudoscience, it's because at some levels, certain people are broken. Those humans who, due to their mental differences, are completely unable to function in society due to hallucinations, urges to commit acts of violence, and the like, do require treatment. That is an illness. It is something with an immediate, verifiable cause of harm. Something dangerous. I can equate that with a physical illness, because both are able to cause visible, testable harm. There is no question about it.

Now, for instance, saying a child has "ADD", or is "hyper", and shoving Ritalin down their throat? Unacceptable. I was one of the 1980's Ritalin kids. Why? I talked to the other students too much.

It wasn't until years later that they realized that there was nothing wrong with me, in terms of "hyperactivity". It was because I would absorb everything I was supposed to learn that day, faster than the other kids, and therefore became bored. That's when they took me off of the stuff. (I had discontinued the use of it myself before that.)

Now, can one say that the things that are currently part of my brain were put there at birth, or caused by years of Ritalin? Funny, how the drugs for normalcy, require more drugs to offset what they do.

I digress.

If a person is fully able to function in society, is not an immediate danger to themselves or others, why are they not normal?

I posit this: Normalcy is subjective to the person experiencing it.

Am I less cheerful than other people? Yes. Would a psychotherapist then call me "depressed"? Sure would. Would they then try to prescribe me something for my "illness"? Without doubt. Why? Because it's not "normal" to be very depressed, right?

Says who? It's normal for me.

Normal, adjective:

1.conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.

So, by that, something that is usual and regular for me, would therefore be normal to me.

I'm also a lot of other things that they'd absolutely love to prescribe medication for. All because they fall outside of the standard of normalcy that they've established.

Again, for me, they're my day-to-day. They don't feel aberrant, wrong, bad, or broken to me. I am not plagued by hallucinations, delusions, or thoughts of violence.

I'm also bothered by how willing people are to leap into these never ending bottles of pills they know almost nothing about, save what they've seen on a 24 second television spot. People so desperately fear being "abnormal", that they're willing to throw chemicals into their body that they're almost wholly ignorant of, just to fit this concept of "normal".

Psychotherapy, much like medical science of the physical body, should be saved to treat actual, harmful illnesses. Not to force people into what I believe to be an artificial standard of normalcy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Interracial Relationships

Specifically: Heterosexual, white/black.

More specifically: In the United States.

Now, we all know that until fairly recently, interracial relationships were not only frowned up, but illegal in terms of marriage. Society progresses, though, and as time has passed, only the most stringent racists still see a white woman and a black man, and think nasty epithets.

For the most part, people see it, and don't care. Or, rather, they don't see it. With it no longer being a big deal, their gaze lingers no longer than it would on any other couple. It has ceased to be something people are concerned with.

Now, before launching into the rest of this, a bit of backstory is required, I think. I live in the south. I was not born here, nor was I raised here. As such, I tend to look on behaviour in the south as something of a curiosity. I observe, but can't really identify, as I wasn't raised by people who held the same views as those here.

I first noticed what I am about to speak on about a decade ago. I was one-half of a black female/white male couple. It wasn't the only time it had occurred. Now, to me, this was something I'd never really thought about. When I met the first girl, we dated because we shared interests, we were similar enough to provoke various interpersonal chemistries, and other various items.

The color of her skin never really entered into my mind, except on the odd occasion of noticing our hands, if we were holding hands at the time.

Another time, I was fixed up, and it happened to be a black woman. Blind date. Did I ask in advance if she was black? No. Again, never occurred to me as a question that need be asked.

Now, backstory aside, we move on. When you see a black male and white female, it pretty much goes under your radar. Now, when you see a black female and white male, do you notice? Does it call attention to itself in your mind, simply by existing?

Not that I'm saying that you have a problem with it. Far from it. Simply that you're noticing something because you never see it.

While I see plenty of black men with white women (when I bother to specifically seek to notice), I can count on one hand the amount of times in the last decade that I've seen a black woman and a white man.

I don't generally notice people throwing dirty looks, or muttering under their breath at black men and white women.

I was shot a variety of foul looks, and had people bold enough to directly accost me with verbal attacks.

This is where I started to think about these things. Why is one acceptable to general society, but not the other? What's so different and wrong with it, that it requires specific attention paid?

I'd like to think maybe it's only the backwards throwbacks in the south that think this way, but look at the nation as a whole.

Tiger Woods has a white wife. Does anyone care? No. Can you name a black female celebrity with a white husband? I don't honestly think I can.

I'm sure you can easily name a movie or television program that has a black male character in a relationship with a white female.

Can you do the same for the inverse? Admittedly, I almost never watch television, so the only example I have is Boy Meets World, wherein the main character's friend had a girlfriend that was black.

The statistics back me up on this, as well. In terms of marriage between whites and blacks, it is 2.65 times more likely for it to be a black male, and white female. 73% of all black/white marriages are black male, white female.

For instance, in 2006:

White Wife Black Wife
White Husband 50,224,000 117,000
Black Husband 286,000 3,965,000

6.6% of married black men, and 2.8% of married black women, have a white spouse.

Or, in a different way of putting it: About 7% of marriages of black males are to a white woman. About two tenths of a single percent of marriages of white males are to a black woman.

Now, we come to my questions. (It's funny, I ask this, as if my blog actually has readers. Here's hoping.)

Can you report similar where you live? Is one common, and accepted, the other rare, and looked down upon?

Why do you think this is? Is it out of sexism? Racism? Both? Neither?

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and why it may be.

I'd enjoy a bit of discourse as to the various reasons people think this is. I have my own ideas/theories on it, but I'll refrain from putting them in the main post, as I do not wish to skew the things people may say.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Atheists Are Invisible

Or: Why I won't be registering, or voting in the coming election. Again.

To start, anyone who lives in the US, or is familiar with our political landscape, is most likely aware of the upcoming election.

We have one Republican nominee, and two potential Democrats.

Now, naturally, there are a million reasons I wouldn't vote for John McCain. Simplest would be his similarity to George Bush. The last eight years haven't worked, we don't need four (potentially eight) more of the same disastrous leadership.

Another would be, that Republicans are inherently bad for my interests, and in my opinion, bad for the interests of the country.

I also believe McCain touts his war record far too much. The time has passed where Americans are willing to jump up and elect the "War Hero". To wax geek, and quote Yoda, (from when George Lucas could still write dialogue), "Wars not make one great."

I don't find him to be a great man simply because he was in a war. A lot of people were in wars. It happens. You are a great person based on your achievements outside of battle.

Moving on, both Obama and Clinton have their share of issues that I am not fond of. First off, arrogance. Obama, I think, is more outward with his than Clinton is. While it may work for the general Joe and Jane Public, to act as though you can use your four (or eight) years to repair all the damage done in the last eight, that's simply not the case. What has been done in this country over the tenure of Bush cannot easily be repaired, and certainly won't be rectified over the course of one or two presidential terms.

Both could easily be accused of playing less to their strengths, and more to their stereotypes. "I'm going to be the first black president!", or "I"m going to be the first woman president!". Yes, that's lovely, but I don't care what color or gender you are, I care what you do. Who you are. Not what.

Both could also easily be accused of courting that base, while ignoring others. Obama is more concerned with the black vote than any other group, Clinton more so with the female vote.

This, I know, is politics. Talk a good game. Talk to the people who want to listen to you the most. If you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit. Business as usual. I understand how it all works.

Obama, I find too inexperienced for the job. He makes a lot of assumptions, he acts as though traveling abroad is enough to have the foreign policy experience, and everything else required to hold the reins of one of the most powerful nations on the planet. He talks a good game, but that's mostly all he does. Talk.

Clinton, I find too...conservative. She could honestly barely call herself a Democrat, with some of the views she holds. Too, well, too much of a politician. Business as usual, make a lot of promises you won't keep. Convince people you're the right choice, when you're no better than anyone else running. That, and frankly, I was disgusted to see her stand up there with Joe Lieberman, and that crackpot attorney Jack Thompson, screaming for the banning of Those Evil Video Games. Censorship isn't terribly Democratic.

Moving on, and bringing us to the true point of this, is why I will yet again refrain from registering to vote, and letting another election pass me by. This is something that every candidate in the running, now, in the past, and pretty much for all time is guilty of. To them, well, atheists are invisible.

We see Obama in church. We see Clinton in church. We hear about the importance of their faith. We hear them courting the vote of the religious.

Have they ever campaigned to earn the atheist vote? Admittedly, there's not a lot of us. That's not the point. We're still here, and we still deserve some form of voice in government, someone who, perhaps, has our interests at heart.

Atheists are the most hated minority in America. The most distrusted, and the most reviled.

Sound hard to believe?

Here are some statistics. Americans were asked in a Gallup poll to determine if they would refuse to vote for "a generally well-qualified person for president" on the basis of some characteristic: (Earlier statistics in parenthesis)

Catholic: 4% (1937: 30%)
Black: 5% (1958: 63%, 1987: 21%)
Jewish: 6% (1937: 47%)
Baptist: 6%
Woman: 8%
Mormon: 17%
Muslim: 38%
Gay: 37% (1978: 74%)
Atheist: 48%

Almost half of all Americans would refuse to vote for an atheist.

Here, we have a Pew Research Center study on "religion and public life", asking people for their attitudes toward various groups, including atheists. The breakdown for atheists is as follows:

Very Favorable: 7%
Mostly Favorable: 27%
Mostly Unfavorable: 19%
Very Unfavorable: 33%

s is rather telling.

Also from Pew, Americans who would refuse to vote for someone based on these:

Catholic: 8%
Jewish: 10%
Evangelical Christian: 15%
Muslim: 38%
Atheist: 50%

Now, the US is somewhat notorious for being anti-Muslim. It's definitely saying something, that atheists are considered lower on the totem pole than Muslims, in the eyes of America.

Following, are the numbers that show the opinions of born-again Christians, who regard the impact of these groups as negative:

Islam: 71%
Buddhism: 76%
Scientology: 81%
Atheism: 92%

Now, the same numbers for non-Christians.

Islam: 24%
Buddhism: 22%
Scientology: 30%
Atheism: 50%

This is from a study done by the University of Minnesota:

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society...

    Atheist: 39.6%
    Muslims: 26.3%
    Homosexuals: 22.6%
    Hispanics: 20%
    Conservative Christians: 13.5%
    Recent Immigrants: 12.5%
    Jews: 7.6%

I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group....

Atheist: 47.6%
Muslim: 33.5%
African-American 27.2%
Asian-Americans: 18.5%

Lead researcher Penny Edgell said that she was surprised by this: "We thought that in the wake of 9/11, people would target Muslims. Frankly, we expected atheists to be a throwaway group." Nevertheless, the numbers are so extreme that she was led to conclude that they are "a glaring exception to the rule of increasing tolerance over the last 30 years."

Atheism is the fastest growing religious identity in America. We're also the most hated. The most despised. The one group no one cares about, that everyone is free to hate without being called a bigot, the one that America feels comfortable with the idea of collectively demonizing.

Some state constitutions still continue to bar atheists from holding public office, despite federal law preventing a religious test for such things.

In 1987, Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush was quoted as saying this, in regards to a question posed to him about atheists:
"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God."

Only 26% of Americans believe the right of atheists to speak against religion, gods, or to make fun of them should be legally protected. 71% believe that atheists should be denied access to public auditoriums to speak against god and religion.

So, what all this comes down to, is that I have never yet seen a political candidate speak as if I exist. To them, I am unimportant, irrelevant, and, frankly, immoral and possibly detrimental to the very fabric of American society.

So to them, I say: It might not mean much to say this now, but in the future it will: You cannot have my vote until you acknowledge that I exist.