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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Trouble with Spikol's Column (Against Dualism)

If I tried to respond every time I saw or heard someone taking philosophical dualism for granted, I'd probably have no time left for anything else. But when a whole opinion piece is organized around this assumption, it's a good occasion to try and straighten out some people's thinking. Such an occasion arose the other day in the form of Liz Spikol's latest column for the Philadelphia Weekly. Here's my response:

Liz Spikol's column typifies a sort of muddled thinking about mental illness that unfortunately is very common. This can be illustrated by considering the following sentence: "Equating circulatory illnesses with physical illnesses tells us that circulatory illnesses are biological illnesses whose primary treatment lies in medication." This statement is plainly false, as it overlooks the importance of non-pharmacological treatments for circulatory problems such as diet and exercise. Yet it's a paraphrase of what Spikol wrote, with "circulatory" simply substituted for "mental."

My point? Recognizing the physical nature of the brain, and therefore of its function (mind) and malfunctions (mental illnesses), does not imply the primacy of drugs as a treatment, because there are lots of other possible inputs to a physical organ besides synthetic compounds.

The remedy for public policies that are skewed by the power of drug companies and other corporations is not to perpetuate false distinctions of mind vs. body -- or "me" vs. "my brain" as Spikol puts it -- but to create a material force that would be stronger: a working-class party based on the power of the labor movement. The potential seed of such a political organ, a party that refuses corporate money, already exists: the Green Party.

Eric Hamell


Eric said...

I fail to see how you disagree with Spikol in your response, except you use bigger words perhaps?

stripey7 said...

I disagree with Spikol's assumption that accepting a materialist understanding of mental illness is somehow giving ammunition to drug companies to push their agenda. Since dualist philosophical positions so often serve reactionary politics, it's important to refute the notion that arguments for progressive positions rest on those same assumptions, when they do not.

george1001 said...

Criticizing her use of philosophical dualism seems to be missing the point. Her concern is that the medical model promoted in the legislation will cause an overreliance on medication at the expense of potentially more effective treatments.

Unfortunately she does not detail in this article why she believes this is true.

stripey7 said...

She's equating the "medical model" with promotion of medication as the primary treatment because she thinks of talk therapy as mental and (supposedly) therefore not physical. And that false dichotomy between mental and physical is rooted in dualism. That's how the philosophy relates to the politics.