Thursday, May 27, 2010

The idiocracy of social specialization

Either because of greed, or an overspecialized view of the world, people allow that lens to color whatever impinges on their senses, to force answers to fit that view, rather that seek solutions without preconceived notions, or from other perspectives. That's why a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving is catching on. (The First Domino)

My father was a radar technician during World War II who spent time in the jungles of Burma with the Royal Air Force. We heard few stories from the war, but one thing he did share was that when the radar didn't work, he was expected to fix it himself in the jungle using whatever ingenuity he could muster. The Americans, on the other hand, would fix the equipment back at the base and parachute in the new radar equipment. My father admired the American approach. On the other hand, what would happen if one day the drop-off failed to happen? Nevertheless, when it comes to products, specialization seems to make sense.

There are plusses and minuses to everything. In my lifetime I have witnessed a steady increase in social segregation which is touted as "specialization." It strikes me that it long ago reached the level of idiocy. Lateral, all-encompassing solutions seem rare these days. The elementary school system is a prime example of the trend to social isolation. In the eighties and nineties most of the kids in my sons' classes wore some kind of label. There were "the gifted" and "special needs". There was French immersion (segregating the ambitious middle class from the supposedly "less intelligent" children, poor children, immigrant children and the handicapped), there were these really specific learning difficulties that all seemed to relate to auditory and visual processing skills. We didn't think to call it stigma, we called it "progress".

The kids that were specialized were stigmatized by those who weren't members of that particular group and vice versa. While nobody "seemed" harmed by this, it got the momentum going for seeing the world through a prism. And so we end up with doctors diagnosing "Body Dysmorphic Disorder" with a straight face.

It is hard to pinpoint where this school yard segregation all leads to because the graduates are dispersed across the population, but it is a disaster, I am convinced, when it comes to segregating mental health. The difference is that with a mental health label you get a drug and you further self-stigmatize by joining with groups of people with whom you share a "problem." Buy a tee-shirt and proudly proclaim you're bipolar or the sister of a bipolar (Glenn Close). How exactly is this going to decrease stigma? It totally takes the spotlight off the need for the medical profession to clean up its act by encouraging everybody to be abnormal and to roll in it. I have long maintained that there would be no stigma if people were encouraged to get well. Where's the money in that?

I hope, as The First Domino suggests, that a multidisciplinary approach is catching on. I think Chris's psychiatrist, Dr. Stern, gets it. She is now proposing some alternative healers herself.

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