Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Dr" Melanie Phillips' unsubstantiated, desperate diagnosis of Breivik

Melanie Phillips has posted again on the right wing terrorist Breivik.

It is similar to the post to which I replied on Tuesday

She nails her flag firmly to the mast of Breivik being either psychotic (insane) or psychopathic. She says:
"Repeat after me very slowly: Breivik did not murder dozens of teenagers because he was ideologically opposed to cultural Marxism; he mowed them down because he was grossly mentally abnormal."
Not only that, but to hold any other opinion is also insane: 
"The suggestion that Breivik’s behaviour resulted from political rage – let alone from reading thinkers such as John Locke, John Stuart Mill or Winston Churchill – is frankly itself an opinion in need of treatment".

It is not just Melanie Phillips that is going for the personal insanity/psychopathy defence. Breivik's lawyer is too. (Well, he would, wouldn't he?) Simon Jenkins in the Guardian is also going for the psychopathology gambit, as indeed is the leader writer in the Guardian and many other commentators.

I cut my political teeth back in the early 70s in joining the psychiatrists' campaign to oppose the incarceration of political activists in psychiatric hospitals under the Soviets. It is a serious matter to try to abuse psychiatry to invalidate political opinion. Phillips should think on this. 

I sent this letter in to the Guardian:

Your leader (National tragedy, 25 July) tries to diagnose Breivik as a psychopath. This should be left to the psychiatrists' report, but the fact that he defended school friends who were bullied makes this diagnosis somewhat unlikely.  From his writings, it is clear that he is a political ideologue, holding overvalued ideas that are shared with a community of rightist thinkers and commentators which includes people like Melanie Phillips, the English Defence League, and many others who see Islam as an absolute threat to Western values. There is a striking symmetry between the thinking of this group and that of their enemy Osama bin Laden, who also held a dualistic view that divides the world into two opposing camps, the righteous and the infidel. Breivik hates the "traitors" who allow Muslim immigration and support multi-cultruralism, which is why he killed the Labour Party youth rather than Muslims. In the same way, Al Quaeda direct a lot of their fire on moderate Muslims who, in their view, are compromising with the Western enemy. It is this absolutist, dualistic mode of thinking that drives fringe extremist political actors to carry out their atrocities, and the answer to the problems they cause lies not with psychiatry, but with  political philosophy that is based on physical and social reality.

They did not publish it.

It is very understandable that right wingers like Phillips (and Jenkins, who seems to be developing a nasty list to starboard, like Phillips, who also used to write for the Guardian) should wish to send Breivik off into la-la land. They have a serious problem if someone in their cognitive neck of the woods, someone who has such a broad overlap of ideas with them, should express the anger that they share with him in such a repulsive way.

I say once more: we must wait for the psychiatrists' report. [see below] Phillips and the rest are happy to found  their case on their gut feeling that he must be mad. 

As a psychiatrist, having skimmed through his manifesto*, my impression is that he is not thought disordered in a psychiatric sense, not schizophrenic or psychotic. He probably has a borderline personality disorder of the obsessive, controlling type, but is not an impulsive sociopath. He has an overvalued idea, a paranoia that he claims is evidence-based, that Muslims are trying to take over the world, an idea which he has systematised and to which he has constructed a response that has for him an internal logic, leading him to try to kick off a war between Christian Europe and Islamism, a war that is to him inevitable. He has an overvalued idea of his own importance. His behaviour may have been affected by drugs (? androgenic steroids) which he chose to take. He will claim that he acted rationally, out of his own free will, on behalf of what he perceives as  the welfare of Western civilisation. In short, he is an oddball, but he is a political activist of the extreme right wing type, and is responsible for his actions.

We will see to what extent the psychiatrists will find differently, having interviewed him.

As things stand, Phillips, Jenkins and other journos who loudly proclaim his insanity with their customary certainty are whistling in the wind, doing the old journo trick of making statements of their opinion sound as if they were incontrovertible fact. 

Phillips is driven to this position because if Breivik is acting as the military wing of her anti-Islamist "fight for Western Civilisation", he has delivered her cause a serious body blow to the position held by her and the cohorts of influential right-wing commentators.


*which I have 3 times tried to download, always ending up with a corrupt file
Link to Robert Lambert, terrorism expert. Terrorists are not psychologically abnormal.

Update: He's not insane. Which makes him the military wing of the Islamophobic community.

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