Greta Christina’s Blog: Are All Religions Equally Crazy?

Published 5 June 2011 by lordgriggs


I find it interesting how many comments here make the very same arguments for the continued use of "crazy" as we see used by the religious against atheist activism. Hypersensitivity – check, popular understanding must be correct – check, people really need it for emotional value and support during stressful times – check, people who are deprived of this thing lose something important (emotional fluency, morality) – check. I expected more.

To me, the base issue is this: some people are hurt and their lives made harder by this word. There is no reason why I should or must use it instead of the other, far more descriptive and precise words that communicate information instead of only being pejorative. So, why use it? I see no reason. And, now that I've taken the time to think about it, it makes me uncomfortable in the same way that racial, homophobic, sexist, and other ableist slurs do.

Okay. Let me put it this way.

I am on the autism spectrum. I may have other issues as well, and in the past have been diagnosed with variants of bipolar disorder, which I don't think is accurate and have stopped medication for without differential ill effects.

I have objected in the past to people who have used the term "socially inept" to describe people who were behaving in a fashion exhibiting a strong sense of entitlement and a disregard for the views and rights of others, either in general or a specific group (that group usually being female humans). This is because the term is imprecise and probably inaccurate – a failure to understand empathetic social relations cannot be assumed from such behavior since it necessarily reflects a disregard for the other party and thus is as likely, if not more, to reflect a sense of being entitled to dispense with empathetic social relations, and in any case a disinterest in understanding or performing them. It's not just hurtful and marginalizing to associate that behavior with people who struggle (usually in good faith) with social skills, it's untrue and doesn't express the speaker's thoughts.

I've also objected to the suggestion that certain people perceived as obnoxious, self-centered, or disregardful of others might have Asperger's syndrome (Ayn Rand has come up), again because it doesn't accurately describe them, as well as being hurtful.

I do not, however, object to the use of terms like "arrogant" to describe people who are, well, arrogant, despite the fact that my difficulties with social skills and academic gifts have in the past lead to people calling me that and related terms.

I see two issues here.

First, I agree with you (I presume) that the use of, say, "schizophrenic" or "bipolar" nondiagnostically to describe disturbing or irrational behavior, is inappropriate and potentially hurtful. "Mentally ill" and "socially inept" are analogous as well. However, I see the objection to the use of "crazy" as being analogous more to a hypothetical objection, on my part, to the use of "arrogant."

When one says someone is "socially inept" one often means that they're acting arrogant and entitled. When one say someone seems Aspergerish, one usually means they're acting arrogant and disregardful of others, which aren't accurate descriptions of the psychological state of Asperger's. When you say someone is "crazy" you usually mean they're irrational, unpredictable, attention-drawing, and/or dangerous, which is pretty much the understood meaning of the word "crazy." When you make reference to a "schizophrenic deity" for instance, you're also saying the party in question is acting "crazy." In every case, it's perfectly reasonable to say what you mean. I find your reference to religious disregard for the views of atheists ironic because it seems more analogous the other way: you're arguing that we shouldn't use a perfectly good, relatively precise, evocative word, because a few people have unusual associations for it that may lead to them being hurt or offended. And I don't understand how you could possibly arrive at the conclusion that the understood meaning of the word isn't relevant.

Second, my reading of this anti-"crazy" campaign is that it looks like a handful of neurotypicals motivated by something analogous to noblesse oblige have taken it on themselves to decide for a group of people with disabilities what they might find offensive (such speculation being informed by a rather patronizing view of the sensitivity of mentally ill people) and started a crusade to rid the world of it on their behalf, without actually consulting them. As a member of that group, I feel like I'm being shoved into something analogous to a passive sick role and having power of attorney demanded by people who presume they're entitled and responsible for acting on my behalf because I just can't, the poor dear. I find this paternalistic and insulting. It's incredibly offensive, and considerably more marginalizing than the imprecise or evolving use of "crazy" by any reasonable standard. And furthermore, the rhetoric invariably assumes that people with these disabilities will support the effort, if their support matters at all, since anyone who objects is presumed to have no experience with mental illness or other psychological disabilities. In other words, the message is that, being a member of the marginalized group who doesn't agree with the message of a set of people who have presumed the right to speak for the group, I don't even exist. It's hard to get more marginalized than that.

(And this mostly holds even if my misreading of the effort as being led by neurotypicals is inaccurate, frankly.)

Posted by: Azkyroth | June 03, 2011 at 01:17 PM

Not only that, but they all rank with the paranormal, both superstitions, that Paul Kurtz calls ‘ The Ttranscendental Temptation,” a must read book!
Unlike other schizotypals, I objurgate both!


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