Now that finals have finished kicking my ass, I can finally get around to responding to the most recent post by Gina Calaianni.
I am going to try and keep this somewhat short, as I fear writing myself into circles on this one. The first thing in Gina's response that put me off from the get-go, was the second paragraph in, where she restates her struggles and experience with mental illness:
To those people who said to just ignore my previous post, I ask: Would you say the same thing to someone who is struggling?
Uhm... what? What does finding your first post ridiculous and off-base have to do with helping someone suffering from a mental illness? Non sequitur, much?
I was writing as someone who knows what it’s like to live with a mental
disorder coming both from my perspective and the perspective of other
women who struggle with these issues on a daily basis. [...] It makes no sense to me why a blog reader would dismiss offhand the
perspective of someone who has lived with the diagnosis of a mental
disorder for 15 years and has come out on the other side for the better.
She reiterates her 'expertise' with mental illness, as someone who has interacted with and has suffered from mental illness. I dismissed her post (being "insolent" and "condescending" along the way) because the whole thing seemed to be her projections of her opinions on how mental illness should be discussed onto JT's talk, and not an actual response to his speech. She also failed to say exactly why the skeptical community should specifically not take on mental disorders (which she does in her reply post, but I'll get to that later).
If the possession of a mental illness somehow makes her more qualified than someone such as myself or JT to suggest possible issues for the skeptical community, then I'm not quite sure what to think. I have stated in previous posts about my own mental illnesses (Depression, PTSD, Anxiety), and the periods of time I was symptomatic and diagnosed. I too have spoke to countless others with mental illnesses, particularly other women who have survived sexual violence. If I were to go by Gina's apparent measure of 'expertise' and apparent right to speak on a topic, I am just as qualified as she. Her experiences with illness is no more or less valid than anyone else, and for her to pretend it is is downright insulting.
The next thing Gina responds to is JTs lack of saying we should abandon battling religious thought. She shoots herself in the foot by quoting him directly here:
Our movement is evolving. The way we approach things is changing. And to
come in here and do a talk about how to beat a bunch of religious
arguments isn’t something we really need anymore.
What JT is saying here is simple: We don't really need another talk about how to dismantle religious arguments. That's it. And it makes sense. That is not to say we should stop fighting religion. It just means that there is already a plethora of resources available to those looking to dismantle religious arguments. That horse has run it's race. Until the religious come up with a new argument for their beliefs, everything has already been addressed... a lot, in fact. The resources are out there. To add to them is just beating a dead horse. It's time to start adding to the genres of skeptical thought where the resources aren't quite so plentiful.
They were told that “[discussion of religious arguments] isn’t something
we really need anymore.” Note the lack of context in that statement.
She blatantly changes what he said. He didn't say discussion of religious arguments isn't needed. He said that discussion on how to beat religious arguments isn't needed anymore (something I agree with). Like I said before, until there is a new argument that crops up that needs to be examined, "how-to"s on tearing apart religious arguments don't need to be popping up at every conference.
I'm going to skip the whole "Therapy vs. Pills" thing, just because it annoys me and I'm going to discuss that in another post entirely.
Moving on to JT discussing mental illness at all... *licks chops*
Jen McCreight can talk authoritatively about genetics because she
studies genetics. Hemant has a degree in math education; he has been
trained to teach math. Jamila Bey does not pretend to be a sociologist
when she speaks. She talks about her experiences and draws conclusions
which follow from them. PZ Myers has a degree in biology; he has been
trained to teach biology and has the credibility and knowledge needed in
order to debate creationists from a position of standing. JT doesn’t
have a degree in psychology. He isn’t trained as a clinical
psychologist. If he wants to give a talk on what it’s like living with a
mental illness, I don’t have a problem with that.
To quote myself from my last post... "Really? Are you fucking serious?" He doesn't claim to have a degree or be an expert. He only claims to be crazy. She continues with:
But his talk specifically addressed the fact that the skeptic community
must take on the issue of mental illness, and he didn’t mention any
names regarding who is or should be leading this discussion. So in my
mind, that leaves one person leading this discussion: JT. Why? Because
he didn’t mention anything about this issue that’s already being
discussed in the skeptic community, and he didn’t mention anyone else he
had in mind regarding who could lead the discussion regarding mental
I can't help but laugh. So I guess Jen McCreight shouldn't talk about diversity in the skeptical movement. And Hemant shouldn't talk about godless dating. They are by no means "certified experts." Seriously, he was invited to give a speech. He can give a talk about horse training for all I care. It's his talk, he can talk about whatever he damn well pleases.
What baffles me is the cognitive leaps Gina makes. It doesn't seem to occur to her that JT solely discussed his own experiences and his experiences in sharing his illness publicly (which is...what she recommends he do? But he already did? Huh?), and at no point claimed to be an expert. He just... talked. Also, it doesn't seem to occur that JT not mentioning anything already being discussed or who should be leading the discussion is the very reason why he is calling out for the skeptical community to take on mental illness. Finding reliable sources on mental illness (particularly the nuances of certain conditions) can often take much more digging than it really should. The information coffers within the skeptical community on mental illness are nowhere near as full as the ones on debunking religious, ghost, psychic, and medium claims. This lack of readily accessible and common-place knowledge is the exact reason why JT wants this to be a cause supported.
This leads to the end, where Gina at last says why the skeptical community should not take this cause on:
The reason I believe that the skeptic community should not take on the
issue of mental illness is that the subject matter is not one to be
taken lightly—it can include life-threatening conditions.
Misinformation or basing opinions only on one person’s experience could
result in giving potentially fatal advice to someone, and it is easy to
think that we are stating facts when we recite something that we have
heard as a truth but do not have the medical knowledge to evaluate.
Little does Gina know that the reason she lists as to why the skeptical community should not take mental illness on is the exact reason JT gives for why it should. Seriously, this is what he says:
There is this tremendous ignorance of the way the brain works in society
at large, and this stigma on mental illness, that not only keeps people
like me from coming out of the closet, from getting the help we need to
try and live something closer to normalcy, that’s something that kills
us, it’s like homeopathy on steroids. And it’s something that skepticism
By the skeptical community taking this on, it would help spread more reliable information. It could lead to a call for more evidence-based response to mental health treatments. The public (yes, including skeptics like JT!) could become more aware of the myths surrounding mental illness and it's various treatments. Doesn't she understand all these issues she has with the inaccuracies in JTs talk could be remedied in the future by skeptics promoting facts?
She also seems to think JT wants ALL OF SKEPTICISM to take this on, and that is just ridiculous. But by throwing your net wide, you are sure to catch some fish, no? By making a very public call to all of the skeptical community, by sharing his personal struggles publicly, JT may have inspired those who may be interested in mental health, or health in general, within the community, to pick up this cause and support it, giving it momentum.
There is no good reason for skeptics to not pursue this topic. Now, I say that knowing that only the people that are interested will do so. Duh. I don't expect every single person that comes across my blog to take up every single cause that I do. But if they are interested in at least one or two of the causes I support, then that's perfectly fine. Or if I am able to enlighten them on something, then I have accomplished something. Knowing JT, I know his goal is not all that dissimilar to mine. And Gina should be able to understand that.