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Monday, August 08, 2016

The Democratization of Expertise

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot to the post The Pathologization of Donald Trump is this interesting and possibly ongoing exchange between me and my friend (and long-time Friend-of-Blog) Jim Fehlinger. Those who decry my inability to debate those with whom I disagree without being disagreeable should note that these disagreements are pretty stark and yet the conversation seems to me pretty respectful and illuminating. No friendships were harmed in the making of this episode. (To understand the title of the post you have to read all the way through to the last paragraph, sorry not sorry.)

Hey if it's [he refers to profiling] good enough for the CIA, then surely it's good enough for public thrashing out for the sake of an informed electorate. We can only hope that idiosyncratic and poorly-supporter outliers, like Shkreli's (non-psychological) "diagnosis" of Hillary Clinton will be subject to the critical scrutiny and skepticism they deserve. That's all you can do, in the public forum of ideas. Declaring the whole subject "out of bounds", and shutting it down in the name of politeness, or "political correctness", or ideological squeamishness, isn't going to make the world a better place, IMHO. The risks of putting a madman into a position of power are too great, don't you think?

As I said at the beginning, Trump is demonstrably and repeatedly deceitful, reckless, bigoted and uninformed. I think the risks of putting a serially lying, intemperate, bigoted ignoramus into a position of power are too great. I don't see how anything is gained by non-experts "diagnosing" him from a distance as a "madman." ...I've indulged in this sort of thing here over the years all too often, I've called the GOP and the Robot Cult "crazytown" and "batshit crazy" and all the rest more times than I care to recall for all the good it did my arguments against them.

... Well, I myself have never, as far as I can recall, used the word "crazy". I prefer to use the precise clinical categories, and only when I really think they're applicable (rather than as a form of rhetorical hyperbole). ... 

Fair enough. As I said from the beginning, I have been convinced by reading and hearing from folks who have diagnosed conditions that the many stereotypes and errors circulating about mental illness and disability make glib recourse to the topic in discussing public figures contributes to their precarity. I guess I see why this seems like "political correctness" since it is about treating vulnerable people as actually real and their concerns as actually shared by us all, but it also seems one could frame this as an effort at straightforward correctness.

By the way, I am not too keen on the popular mythology of "profiling" as criminological typologies of The Criminal Mind... which seems to me to justify rather reactionary monsterization of menacing criminals as crime rates descend and is often stratified by racist and sexist prejudices that enable and rationalize police abuses. This is not a topic on which I am an expert, though, and it seems there are people of good will who focus on lots of competing facets of these practices.

Again, I do think there are moral judgments to be made about character in our politicians and in the upbringing of children and so on... I just think they should not masquerade as scientific or clinical diagnoses when they are not made by those with the credentials and context to offer them up. When it comes to the pathologization of public figures by non-experts who don't have relevant personal knowledge, I certainly have not "shut it down" or declared the topic "out of bounds" ...I have simply expressed some of the criticism and skepticism we both agree arguments should be subject to when they are offered up to public scrutiny. As I said, this is a practice I have long engaged in myself and have come to see as erroneous and damaging to vulnerable people who are already dealing with enough, so I hope any undue harshness will be seen as directed by me toward myself. I don't mean to seem disrespectful or judgmental about it.  

I guess we'll have to "agree to disagree" -- I doubt if either of us is going to change the other's point of view. As I mentioned earlier, though,the toothpaste is completely out of the tube on this (just search "narcissistic" or "borderline" on Google or YouTube). You may deplore this; I think it's a **good thing**, for people who need to know what the hell is going on with the difficult people they have to deal with

Well, clearly part of our dispute is the question whether amateur diagnoses of actually unknown celebrities helps anyone know "what the hell is going on" as a matter of fact -- and there are good reasons to think this enables some to abuse vulnerable people they think of as "difficult" when in fact that may simply be different in ways that should not matter or are better dealt with through good manners and a professional HR department in an organized workplace. But the topic is complex, no question.

This is actually a facet of a bigger issue -- the "democratization" of what, until the Web came into existence, were "professional secrets".

In terms of "toothpaste out of the tube" I agree this is a different and important issue. I personally think the democratization of expertise should be about making access to training and credentialization equitable and then assuring the exercise of expert authority is accountable rather than insulated from consequence. I think the wikileakification of resistance discourse overgeneralizes secrecy as the problem of power -- a view consistent with anarchist attitudes and principles actually avowed by many of the participants and admirers of these Anonymous-to-Assange would-be insurgents. I don't want to seem to deny the importance of anti-secrecy -- black budgets are unconstitutional for a reason (though few seem to care in practice) and proprietary knowledge production in the academy has facilitated its demolition (ditto) -- but just as I don't want to smash the state but to democratize it, I do not wish to smash expertise but make it accessible and accountable. I'm such a square.


jimf said...

> [If a public figure] is demonstrably and repeatedly deceitful, reckless,
> bigoted and uninformed. . . I don't see how anything is gained by non-experts
> "diagnosing" him from a distance as a "madman."

"Madman", (like "crazy", "batshit crazy", or "crazytown") is rhetorical fluff
and, as you say, adds little to a conversation beyond "color".

It may be possible to adduce (and refute) evidence for any or all of "deceitful",
"reckless", "bigoted" and "uninformed" on an issue-by-issue basis --
this is standard journalism.

The value (and the danger) of trotting out a clinical label like Narcissistic
Personality Disorder (something which mainstream journalists have -- until
Trump came along -- been quite reluctant to do!) is that it annexes a
very deep and rich literature and paints ("stereotypes", indeed!)
a whole interlocking pattern of behaviors, some of which (in the case of
a public figure) are visible, and some only inferred.

Yes, this has its dangers. For one thing, the **primary**, scholarly,
literature on the subject tends (1) to be impenetrable to a layman
and (2) not readily available (like much primary scientific literature,
it tends not to be freely available on the Web). This means that
the "literature" accessible to the general public is going to be
secondary works of interpretation by self-appointed experts like
Sam Vaknin. (There was a **huge** controversy some years ago -- a
decade maybe -- over whether or not he should even be mentioned as
a legitimate source in the Wikipedia article on NPD. There were
folks bound and determined to expunge all mention of him.)
And much of the "support group" stuff on the Web and on YouTube
is basically "tertiary" literature -- recycling Sam Vaknin
(and each other), with a standard vocabulary (some clearly derived from
Vaknin, some derived from anonymous later sources who probably
started out as acolytes of Vaknin) like "narcissistic supply" and "devaluation phase"
and "flying monkeys" and "hoovering". Nevertheless, the DSM criteria
(at least the DSM IV criteria) are readily available on the Web.

> [People] may simply be different in ways that should not matter
> or are better dealt with through good manners and a professional
> HR department in an organized workplace.

This sounds hopelessly naive to me.

But speaking of careless rhetoric, you may recall that some transhumanists
have castigated you over the years for your use of the term
"robot cult". Should you now admit that your use of the word "cult"
was analogous to your use of the word "crazytown" -- i.e., mere
name-calling (as you were in fact accused of on more than one occasion?).
And when you were calling somebody a "guru-wannabe", was that
equivalent to calling him a "dot-eyed freak show" -- again, mere

If so, you were using the terms "cult" and "guru" way differently than I was,
in comments I've made on this blog. When I used those terms, I wasn't
just whistlin' Dixie. I was inviting my interlocutor to annex a
deep and rich literature on the subject -- books such as Kramer & Alstad's
_The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power_ or Jeff Walker's
_The Ayn Rand Cult_. In other words, I was using the terms
more-or-less **literally**, not as rhetorical decoration
(or as a mere paraphrase of "I don't like you").

jimf said...

> > [People] may simply be different in ways that should not matter
> > or are better dealt with through good manners and a professional
> > HR department in an organized workplace.
> This sounds hopelessly naive to me.

I should elaborate on this. It very much behooves one to know, it
seems to me, when "good manners" and (especially!) a "professional
HR department" (or a professional marriage counsellor!)
are not going to be **any help at all**.

In those cases (when one has a well-founded suspicion that a personality
disorder is involved), one either needs to carefully plan one's exit strategy
(from a romantic relationship, marriage, or job)
or tailor one's interactions in ways that go well beyond "good

The ("secondary" or "tertiary" -- primary wouldn't even be of much
use here) literature on personality disorders to be found now
on the Web or on YouTube is **extremely** useful in this regard.

That's on the personal level, where the stakes are most
immediate for the individual (and his or her family).

On the geopolitical level, given the far greater (even if seemingly
more distant, from a personal perspective) stakes, it seems
to me that one should harness all the information available.
And that includes, these days -- though it didn't as recently
as 20 years ago -- information about personality disorders.

jimf said...

> [P]eople they think of as "difficult". . . may simply be different
> in ways that should not matter or are better dealt with through
> good manners and a professional HR department in an organized
> workplace.

I hope I'm not wearing out my welcome by beating on a dead horse here,
but. . . It also occurs to me that another dimension of this
"dispute" is (what I perceive as) your reliance on a very standardly
"liberal", Enlightment view of grown-up human beings as all basically reasonable
people, whose minds can safely be assumed to work more-or-less the same
way, and who, if they can just be gotten sat down together around a
big shiny conference table well-supplied with coffee and doughnuts,
in a big comfortable room with subdued lighting and
air-conditioning and soothing decor, will be able to calmly and
rationally discuss and work out their differences and come to
realistic compromises seen by all as beneficial to all.

I think this is why, for example, I've gotten the impression over
the years that you bristle every time I mention George Lakoff's
views on politics.

But (and I'm sure Lakoff would back me on this ;-> ) I really don't
think the world works that way. I think it's a much scarier
place -- I think there are people out there whose minds really
are **incommensurate** with those of the majority. And I agree
with Sam Vaknin that there's no point in framing these differences
in moral terms -- people with Cluster B personalities are not
"evil" any more than a hurricane or a lightning-strike is "evil".
They are simply phenomena of nature. But that doesn't mean that
other people shouldn't recognize them as dangerous!

jimf said...

Some more YouTube quotes:
Recovery From Narcissistic Abuse With Dana of NarcissistSupport


Richard Grannon: One of the things that I really struggled with when
I was coming out of an abusive relationship -- I didn't want to
talk to people. . . [I looked to] the online narcissism community
because I'd heard of "emotional vampirism" [as narcissism was
called] -- I'd read about it in some old dusty bookshop in
Birkenhead years before. And I was like "But I don't even know
if these things really exist; I think these people maybe make
too much of it." This is . . . I'm a psychologist! Like, a
professional psychologist. "Ah, maybe people make too much of it."
And then I started to look into it, and too much of it matched.
And I was like "Nah, but. . . nah" But, more matches, more matches.
And then I was talking to somebody on YouTube one day, and
they said, "Do you know about Borderline Personality Disorder?"
I said "No." He described it to me, and I was like "My God,
you just described my ex-girlfriend like you know her."
And nobody does. Like, all the people I knew in the real
world, in my real life, "knew" (in inverted commas) this girl.
But they didn't know the demon. And then this guy, who I met
on the flippin' internet, is describing the demon to me like he's
a fly on the wall in the house. And I was freaking out.
I was like, "OK, well now I **have** to acknowledge this, I have
to embrace it, and look at it properly, because there's clearly
something here that I don't understand that needs to be
understood. . .
Don't discuss Narcissistic Abuse with people who haven't experienced it.


Dana: It's hard for a person to fathom what's even going on.
So in their mind, if it's not fitting this idea of what they
view as an abusive relationship, then to them it's not abuse.
It's just, it's normal highs and lows of a relationship, and
you guys can just work it out, but really -- no, it's abusive. . .

Richard: If the person you're talking to has never been in a
narcissistically-abusive relationship, and they don't know what
narcissism is, don't talk to them. And don't tell them the
truth about what you've experienced, because it will be isolating
and heartbreaking. Because they will look at you as though
you just said you saw a UFO or Jesus' face in a piece of
toast or something. And you can't afford to do that when
you're in recovery. . . It's a sad piece of advice to have
to give out to people, but I'm talking from bitter experience
personally. . . and through clients as well. You can't talk
to people who've not experienced it, about it, because they
will think that you're exaggerating or making up. . .
Maybe the person you're talking to thinks that. . . the
person's just being a bit annoying, or they've had a bad
day, or you're just being a bit princess-y or prince-like
and demanding, and you just need to calm down and be patient.
And they won't see it any other way. They can't. It's
outside of their sphere of reality.

Dana: I think that's fantastic advice. Even a counsellor.
If a counsellor or a therapist or a psychologist or a psychiatrist
is not familiar specifically with narcissistic abuse -- and
this isn't really a common clinical term either -- but if
they're not familiar with it, I would say just drive on. . .

jimf said...

The Young Turks say the N word. And the S word.
And the C word. ;->
#LoserDonald: HISTORIANS Can’t Remember A Leader Who Lied More
The Young Turks
Aug 8, 2016


Cenk Ugyur: I want to point out something that not a lot
of other people are. Not just that [Trump is] bigoted,
or he's crazy or he's unstable, but the fact that he's
never really wanted [for] anything in his life. He's
been given his daddy's money, and he has oftentimes wasted
it, gone through many different bankruptcies. The reason
I point this out is that if you make him president, this
is a dangerous set of characteristics to have. He's an
egomaniac, and when pressed on the fact that he keeps
losing at everything, he lashes out in wild and crazy
ways. So today's edition of #LoserDonald focuses on all
the different lies that he tells. And there's a reason
why he tells those lies. To cover up for his insecurities.
Again, a very dangerous trait for the President of the
United States of America to have. So, first we go to the
historians, but you'll see a lot of Republicans quoted
here as well. . .


There's another theory in here. That he [lies] so often,
and no one ever checks him -- he's got yes-men around him --
that he might think that he. . . he basically lives in
an alternate reality, where he thinks he's right despite
**all** other evidence. Even in his own head. . .


Now we go to the back of the Huffington Post, because I think
that they really nailed it here. "Trump's need to invent
facts about his own success appears to be a trait associated
with narcissistic personality disorder, according to mental
health professionals who have studied his public remarks,
with the possibility that the malady may be antisocial personality
disorder -- formerly known as sociopathy." That's the thing --
he does it with no regard, and a disconnection from reality,
that makes you think this guy might be a sociopath. No, really!
And I know the psychologists and psychiatrists out there will
yell at us and say "You can't do that without actually analyzing
him and having him be your client," but look -- it's not like
we're going to have access to his mental health professionals.
I'm sure he doesn't go to any anyway, otherwise he wouldn't
be in the mess that he's in now. And when you ask his doctors --
remember when his doctor had that fake note when he first
started, saying "He's in the best health of anyone who had
ever become president." How the hell would you know that?
You know Trump wrote the note. No, the guy's. . . he's really
disconnected from reality and lacks empathy. That's
part of why he tells all those lies -- he thinks, "I don't care what
your reaction to my lie is." OK? He's an unbelievable guy. . .

My dentist is still sticking by him, though. ;->

Dale Carrico said...

The comment about manners and professional HR departments was a bit glib, fair enough, but the thing is I still more or less mean it, at least the spirit of observation still seems right to me... As far as diagnosable Monsters Among Us go I really do still think their diagnosis as such should be left to professionals who are trained to do so. I mean, maybe it is indeed true that as unusually high proportion of celebrated CEOs are sociopaths as anti-gay megachurch bigots are sexually abusive closetcases or what have you, still I do think ridicule of hypocrisy coupled with progressive taxation and tax fraud investigations are the way to go with these characters rather than remote amateur diagnoses followed by, heaven only knows, institutionalization or something? Again, I grant your point that expertise should be democratized but I do worry that democratization should not be confused in the now-usual internet way with smashing: I agree that access to the training enabling one to assume the authority of expertise should be much more equitable and its exercise much more accountable. I agree as well that there is very much a place for critiques of character and public judgments that mobilize moral standards subject to scrutiny, but when these critiques involve amateur remote psychological diagnoses they spread harmful and erroneous stereotypes without providing much use. I honestly don't see how the common or garden variety observation that somebody is a liar, or boastful, or unreliable, or abusive in relationships is much aided by slapping "pathological" on front of it and pretending one has a degree when one doesn't because one has read something on the internet. As someone trained in the history of rhetoric I do know well that there is a place for satires and philippics in legitimate critique and I have always appreciated your invective as well as your careful commonsense eye for the egregious and the absurd. I repeat my offer: get trained as a shrink if you like, I could probably use one.

Dale Carrico said...

But speaking of careless rhetoric, you may recall that some transhumanists have castigated you over the years for your use of the term "robot cult". Should you now admit that your use of the word "cult" was analogous to your use of the word "crazytown" -- i.e., mere name-calling (as you were in fact accused of on more than one occasion?)

In the introduction to the Superlative Summary I say: "I write quite a lot here at Amor Mundi about the damaging and deranging impacts of futurological discourses on sensible deliberation about technoscientific change. I focus on the pernicious effects of both the prevailing corporate-militarist futurology of neoliberal global developmentalism and disciplinary bioethics as marketing, policy-making, and ideological discourses, but also the Superlative Futurology championed among the so-called transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, digital-utopians, nano-cornucopiasts, and other pseudo-scientific techno-transcedentalists whom I like to lampoon as "Robot Cultists."

That word lampoon makes it pretty clear there is more to my anti-futurological critique than scouting for techno-cults. I have said more times than I can count that futurology seems to me a discourse, calling upon an archive rich in reductionisms and magicks and ramifying into lots of spaces of elite-incumbent rationalization and aspiration. I also say that there is an archipelago or documentable organizations and subcultural formations that espouse this discourse in ways that are clarifying in their extremity. Qualities of True Belief, scam artistry, marketing hype, pop self-help and management guru-wannabe snakeoil, pseudo-scientific garage-inventor circle-squaring crankery, ideological influence-peddling, marginal identity politics, sf fandom veering into wish-fulfillment, and so on... and yes there are pockets of what gets us in bona fide cult territory, with Terasem scamming people scared to death of death into donation in exchange for promises of cyberangel afterlifes or with the circle of acolytes who keeps that fraud Eliezer Yudkowsky in gloves and fans.

Futurology does have subcultures, it does attract under-to-uncritical believers who invest palpably marginal figures with undue authority, and in many/most of its forms it has evangelistic techno-transcendental resonances all of which makes cultic analogies pretty inevitable and useful (at least up to a point). The analogy also drives most of them up the wall so it is not just useful but delightful. But in recent years I have tended to focus on futurological discourse as the iceberg tip of "tech talk" -- possibly not surprising here in the Bay Area, the Though Leader Hellmouth -- a ideological discourse rationalizing privatization, deregulation, precarization in the service of "innovative disruption" and "technocratic meritocracy" and feudalism refigured as "openness" "resilience" "progress" and "democratization," Angels and ministers of grace defend us! Here, the more fruitful analogies are often late night infomercials and marginal organized ideologues like the Neocons rather than cults (which is not to deny the palpable religiosity in marketing hype nor the cultic resonances in movement ideologues).

Dale Carrico said...

I don't think any of this will be news to anyone. Six years ago I wrote a post entitled: Must I Really Weigh In On The Cult Debate? (you'll find it in the Superlative Summary under the "cultism" topic heading, yes, it has a topic heading), in which I wrote:

For me personally, it is hard to imagine a more surreally irrelevant distraction from the substance of my critique of superlative futurology than debating whether or not my derisive use of the phrase "Robot Cultists" to describe superlative futurologists is strictly correct according to somebody's dictionary definition of what a "cult" is. I have pointed out that I could always use, after all, the less concise but to me roughly synonymous phrase for "Robot Cult" instead "defensive- evangelizing- sub(cult)ural- membership- formation- organized- around- highly- marginal- but- strongly- held- ideological- beliefs- involving- personal- and- historical- techno-transcendence- which- are- expected- to- sweep- the- world- lead- by- would-be- gurus- few- of- whom- are- known- outside- the- sub(cult)ure- itself- but- is- not- a- cult- according- to- the- letter- of- your- dictionary- definition- so- stop- saying- that!" But would the Robot Cultists really like that any better, I cannot help wondering?

jimf said...

This is funny:
Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill?
Concerned US Citizen
Mar 31, 2016


Traits of Someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder Continued
[from the DSM V]

- Not better understood as normative for the individual's developmental
stage or socio-cultural environment.

In other words: teenagers can have a stage where they are A$$H@LES,
but they grow out of it, and some cultures have traditions that are
A$$H@LE-ish. Someone with NPD stays an A$$H@LE and is even
seen by the French as an A$$H@LE.

[Fox News Special Report, 25 Nov 2015]

Bret Baier: Gérard Araud is the French ambassador to the United States
and he joins us on set right now. . . In the aftermath of the
Paris attacks, one of our presidential candidates, on the Republican
side -- the leading Republican candidate thus far -- tweeted something
to the effect that "The Paris slaughter occurred in a country that has
some of the toughest gun-control laws in the world." You were angered
by that -- you tweeted, and then deleted, a response to it saying
Trump is a, quote, "vulture", and you said "This message is repugnant
in its lack of any human decency.". . .

"Even the French". Ha, ha.

However, the American Psychiatric Association is on your side
of this issue:
The American Psychiatric Association issues a warning: No psychoanalyzing Donald Trump
By Aaron Blake
August 7

. . .

[The Goldwater Rule] states:

> On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an
> individual who is in the light of public attention or who has
> disclosed information about himself/herself through public media.
> In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public
> his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general.
> However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional
> opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has
> been granted proper authorization for such a statement.

The short version: It's okay to talk about psychiatric issues — but
not okay to diagnose people you haven't treated.

The American Psychiatric Association first began to follow the
rule in 1973, but given recent events, it saw fit Wednesday to
remind psychiatrists across the United States that the rule
exists and must be followed.

"The unique atmosphere of this year’s election cycle may lead
some to want to psychoanalyze the candidates," Maria A. Oquendo,
president of the APA, wrote, "but to do so would not only be
unethical, it would be irresponsible.". . . [T]he rule derives
from a survey by _Fact_ magazine in 1964. The magazine surveyed
more than 12,000 psychiatrists about Goldwater. About 2,400
responded. . . "1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically
Unfit to Be President," blared the headline. Goldwater sued for
libel and won.

"This large, very public ethical misstep by a significant number
of psychiatrists violated the spirit of the ethical code that
we live by as physicians, and could very well have eroded public
confidence in psychiatry," Oquendo wrote. . .

But whatever happens over the next three months, any rumors and
speculation along those lines will be the domain of the media and
political partisans — not psychiatrists. . .

I'm reminded of that line in _A Man For All Seasons_ during
Sir Thomas More's trial, where More quips to Thomas Cromwell
(getting a big round of laughs from the onlookers)
"The world must construe according to its wits. This court
must construe according to the law."

Well, the APA notwithstanding, there's a whole lotta construing going
on. ;->

Dale Carrico said...

We are united in the conviction that Trump is a dangerous unprecedently unqualified scumbag, and that's enough for me.