Skip to main content

mental health 'mondays' :: mental ben?

i'm normally loathe to share things about violent, stupid or hateful things being attributed to mental illness, because i know it only backs up the myth that people suffering from mental illness are violent, stupid and hateful people. but i have to admit that this article about republican presidential hopeful ben carson, who has pulled ahead of long-time leader donald trump in one recent poll.

a lot of people have struggled to reconcile the image of ben carson the neurosurgeon, the first man to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head and to perfect a drastic surgical technique for treating pediatric epilepsy, with the man running for the republican presidential nomination, who seems prone to statements that are politely termed "eccentric". because some of those statements sound like red meat for the republican base, the mainstream media has been prone to accepting them as policy statements without analysing them further. sure, he likened abortion to human sacrifice, but a lot of republicans think that abortion is murder of an infant. and he said that the affordable care act was the worst thing to happen to the united states since slavery, but republicans in congress have been saying much the same thing, in only slightly less inflammatory terms.

left-wing media have contented themselves with the idea that he can be "book smart" and still be incredibly stupid and ignorant and i'm not saying that that isn't the case here. it's reassuring to think this and makes for better humour, but it's also a little difficult to believe. yes, ben carson is a devout christian, which undoubtedly shapes his beliefs, but it's not like he's lived a completely sheltered life. he's served on the board of directors for large corporations, including liberal-leaning costco and kellogg, so it's clear some people are satisfied that he knows something about business, even if they aren't aligned with his political beliefs. he's written six bestselling books and numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers, and he was raised in detroit, not exactly the backwoods. so, yes, it's possible that despite all this, he's remained wilfully ignorant. but is it really the most likely explanation?

so is there any evidence to support the theory that carson may be afflicted by something other than blind ignorance? hard evidence, no. but circumstantial evidence, just possibly.

take as an example the case of john nash, the nobel prize winning mathematician, whose work established principles used in economics, psychology, biology, logic and computer science. he was also a paranoid schizophrenic who believed that men in red ties were part of a communist conspiracy. while this might feed into the trope of the tortured genius, it's a very real story and nash believed his delusions, because they came to him in the same way as his uncanny understanding and aptitude for higher mathematics. the belief in a secret society of communists is exactly the sort of thing that would get picked up by the media as evidence of a ridiculous belief had nash run for public office. but is it any more ridiculous than the things ben carson has been spouting? arguably not.

secondly, let's consider ben carson's "low energy" [thanks, candidate trump] persona. we normally associate disorders like schizophrenia with active delusions and psychosis. but it can just as often be a condition marked by negative symptoms: lack of affectation, emotionless speech, inability to make or maintain eye contact, inability to focus on a conversation, which can lead to garulous or incoherent-seeming answers. i described dr. carson's first appearance at the last debate as "medicated", because, on arrival, he displayed the groggy, confused diction and movements of a person just roused from a good nap. during the debate, he seemed to ramble at times, finding it difficult to stay on topic, hesitating to dismiss the idea that vaccines cause autism [which, as a doctor, he should know to be false] and awkwardly shrinking from donald trump's attempt to give him a congenial high-five, as if he were unable to interpret the gesture. his famously "soft-spoken" demeanour is completely atypical for a politician, but very typical of negative-symptom schizophrenia.

it's obviously a pretty big leap to diagnose ben carson as a schizophrenic, but i'll admit that, now that the idea has been proposed, i can't entirely dislodge it. his statements seem to display an incoherence that goes beyond the deliberate provocations of donald trump, or the arch-conservative bile of ted cruz. his ideas exist in a universe of their own, which he dispassionately wanders without taking notice of who observes him. of the many bizarre statements he's made, none of them seem deliberately inflammatory, merely casual observations from a man who seems incapable of getting truly fired up about anything.

i like to think that mental illness should never be a barrier to anything, but even i have qualms about the idea of a person with an undiagnosed, untreated mental disorder rising to what is arguably the most powerful position in the world. and now that he's in the pole position to become one of two candidates for the job, maybe it's time we stop joking about how he's batshit crazy and start thinking about whether or not there is something more seriously wrong. 

Comments

as long as you're here, why not read more?

fun-raising

no, i am not dead, nor have i been lying incapacitated in a ditch somewhere. i've mostly been preparing for our imminent, epic move, which is actually not so terribly epic, because we found a place quite close to where we are now. in addition, i've been the beneficiary of an inordinately large amount of paying work, which does, sadly, take precedence over blogging, even though you know i'd always rather be with you.

indeed, with moving expenses and medical expenses looming on the horizon, more than can be accounted for even with the deepest cuts in the lipstick budget, dom and i recently did something that we've not done before: we asked for help. last week, we launched a fundraising campaign on go fund me. it can be difficult to admit that you need a helping hand, but what's been overwhelming for both of us is how quick to respond so many people we know have been once we asked. it's also shocking to see how quickly things added up.

most of all, though, the ex…

losers?

just a short time ago, i waxed prosaic about trump supporters who felt betrayed by their candidate pursuing in office the exact things that he said he would. short version: i have no sympathy.

today is a bit different. in the wake of america's bombing of a syrian air strip, in response to a chemical weapons attack by the syrian government, my facebook and twitter feeds were peppered with plaintive shades of "we believed you". these are the people who heard trump say that he wanted the united states to step back and focus on defending its own. indeed, trump did say such things, over and over; america cannot be the policeman of the world. even arch-liberal cynics like me had to admit that this was a refreshing argument to hear from someone outside the paul family, and, could easily have been turned into trump's greatest argument against hillary clinton. [he chose to go another way, which also worked.]

trump also said, repeatedly, that america needed to invest heavily …

long division

after the united states election last year, there were the usual calls for the country to unite behind the new president. that never happens anymore, because, since george w. bush scored a victory in 2004, having launched the country into a war in iraq for no reason, the people on the losing side of a presidential election have been pretty bloody angry about it. democrats hated bush 43. republicans really hated obama. democrats really hate trump.

it didn't help that trump didn't make the typical conciliatory gestures like including a couple of members of the opposite party in his cabinet, or encouraging his party to proceed slowly with contentious legislation. barack obama arguably wasted at least two and as many as six years of his tenure as president trying to play peacemaker before he felt sufficiently safe to just say "screw you guys" and start governing around the ridiculous congress he was forced to deal with. not-giving-a-shit obama was the best president in …