Saturday, 9 December 2006

THE WICKEDNESS OF DENIAL

When I posted a little moan about all the hours we chronically ill are obliged to waste in hospital outpatient departments, I did not anticipate that I would become embroiled in a surrealistic discussion about whether illness is ‘real’, or just a symptom of “wrong thinking”. But so it happened, with repercussions both here and on Big Pike’s site which I expect a good many of you will have seen.

This has led me to reflect on the phenomenon of denial, which is an increasing feature of our contemporary mental climate. By denial I mean the refusal, by individuals, organisations, and sometimes governments, to accept what stares them in the face. This discounting of obvious states of affairs, and of the consequences of the deniers’ actions, is not merely dangerous folly: in my opinion it is often dangerous wickedness and morally culpable.

An obvious example is the Bush/Blair refusal to accept that the invasion of Iraq was a disastrous mistake, and has caused perhaps irreparable damage not only to that unfortunate country but to the cause which our leaders profess to serve.

Another is the Vatican’s stubborn refusal to accept that the use of condoms could save many millions of lives.

A third is the refusal of many vocal Muslims to understand that if they wish to be accepted by the non-Muslim population of this country as friendly neighbours, they must abide by our common democratic values, and cease demanding special privileges for their religion such as the introduction of sharia law. Thank goodness that Tony Blair has at long last shown a grain of sense in starting to tell them this. Not before time!

While I have no business to deny the personal reality of someone who believes they are “saved” because of their belief in a Deity, although I may consider that they are sadly deluded, where the denial of the physical reality of illness on the spurious ground that it is “all in the mind” and can be cured by “a change in thinking” is concerned, I think that I can legitimately say on the basis of my own life-experience and that of countless others that this contention is claptrap. It is a belief that does not stand up against the visible evidence, and can only be adhered to by someone with a stubborn belief in verbal somersaults and empty paradox.

To bolster my case, I cite the following examples:

My own. I have been seriously ill for two years now. I am only too well aware of the importance of mobilising whatever mental strength I am capable of in living as creatively as possible with my illness, but I know that it will never be cured by a “change in thinking”.

My grandfather suffered from a serious depressive illness for twelve years, and unavailingly sought for every possible cure on offer. He ended up, thanks to medical mismanagement, as a bad case of drug dependency. He would not have been cured by a “change of thinking”.

A year ago some cousins lost a grandchild who died a week after his first birthday. The poor infant had been diagnosed with liver cancer at four months, and during the remainder of his short life his family underwent great stress which traumatised them and will continue to do so for a long while. Could this tragedy have been averted by a “change of thinking” on the part of this little baby or his parents?

A lifelong friend who died not long ago aged 80 had suffered throughout his life from the effects of being born with a cleft palate. Repeated operations and other painful treatments dogged him throughout his life. Nevertheless, he bravely pursued an academic career and became a distinguished Professor in his field. Could his physical disability have been cured by a “change of thinking”?

I could go on, but I rest my case. By all means let us have free and controversial discussion amongst the posters and commentators of the Awkward Squad. But not houseroom for arrant nonsense, please.

35 comments:

zola said...

Hello Anticant : Maybe i can give an example of denial from my own experience.
I knew something was wrong but I refused to get a hospital check up. For many years i had been suffering and just tried to deny it. Muddle through was my motto I guess.
Then a wedding was to be held and I was invited which was special to me because it came from a past student of mine.
But my body had other plans.
On the day of the wedding my wife said that is it now. no more of your denial. I could hardly breath or get out of bed.
Off to hospital.
6 days intensive care and treatment basically saved my life.
That was some time ago.
since then medicine has changed my life even if 3 times per day is an awful thought for my macho brain.

But without that medicine I would have a useless life.
I am in the company of millions of others.
I'm not alone.
But pathetic denials are silly as i learnt myself.

anticant said...

Zola, I have to inhale two antibiotics through a nebuliser twice a day. The equipment - in ten pieces - has to be assembled, and after the inhalation it has to be disinfected and the pieces separately washed. All of this takes about an hour each time [i.e.two hours a day]. I have to give myself several injections a week to boost my faulty blood cells. And I take about a dozen pills every day. Whether they all do me any good I've no idea, but the medics tell me I must. You will see why I become angry when told that none of this would be necessary if I changed my way of thinking!

zola said...

Well Anticant : It maybe that many folk will find it difficult to even think about such realities. But when the "thing" happens then it is possible perhaps.
Sometimes empathy becomes as experience comes.
It is all complicated me thinks and that is one reason why i wrote today about football.
easier that way.

zola said...

BTW : I ought to have mentioned before that i am biased.
Finland has taught me the power of FATE without being a fatalist.
Maxim Gorky helped me consolidate that FATE without fatalism.

In related senses - I would not want to argue 100% against "denial" or against a kind of denial that might sometimes be useful.

I see much of this story as a "situated eventfulness".
Fancy words I know but as we all chat together the level of debate demands a few fancy concepts.
Inevitable ( hey, wow, I made a joke there)

anticant said...

It's called the Ostrich Position, and is why the world is becoming such a highly dangerous place as more and more people - some of them in very powerful positions - refuse to face up to uncomfortable realities.

Are the lunatics taking over the asylum? [If the world still IS an asylum.]

anticant said...

Yes,I've always felt Finland was special, ever since their incredibly brave performance in the Winter War [which I vividly remember as a child].

BTW, a nice lunatic asylum story: A visitor walking in the asylum grounds is chased by a lunatic with a pickaxe. He runs and runs, but the lunatic gains on him and he fears his last moment is coming. Finally the lunatic catches up, drops the pickaxe, taps the visitor on the shoulder and says "Tig" before running off.

Maybe some of our present-day bogeymen will behave like that in the end.....

Anonymous said...

Surely that should be 'Tyg'?.

Merkin said...

'..anticant is the veil behind which lurks...'
I see veils are allowed on this site.

anticant said...

Of course. But slitty eyes are out. Even Georgina might be admitted if she wears a burqa.

Anonymous said...

Do you think the bastard son of David Icke 'I don't believe in illness butI do believe in the flying tortilla monster' could disguise himself in a Burqa and sneak back without paying?.
(Interesting snippet. My current next door neighbour was in a Boots store somewhere in England and refused to be served by a lady thus attired.
'I have no intention of speaking to a 'letterbox' and you have a company uniform').
Would he have said the same to Cherie Blair, I wonder?.

anticant said...

Cherie Blair would look much better in a burqa. When I go to outpatients I am surrounded by these masqued ladies[?]. Some of them are so large that they could easily be John Simpson fresh from 'liberating' Kabul, or concealing Kalashnikovs inside their tents.

anticant said...

Another glaring example of criminal denial I meant to include in this post is the utterly crackpot South African woman "health minister" - now at last sidelined, thank goodness - who doesn't believe that AIDS is caused by HIV and convinced the not very bright President that it can be successfully treated with beetroot and lemon juice. [So much cheaper than all those nasty drugs peddlerd by the greedy pharmaceutical internationals, of course.]

Merkin said...

An American aquaintence of mine in Poland was a regular 'sauna monster' with a very aggressive attitude.
One day he received a phone call telling him that an ex in New York was now HIV+. (He later took a test himself and it turned out negative, fortunately.)
However, I always remember denial in terms of his contention that AIDS was caused, in Africa, by bad infrastructure - in particular, sewage systems - and that the Democratisation of the continent would work wonders for an end to the disease.
Boy, was he one mixed-up dude.

Szwagier said...

There's nothing like a long-term depressive illness to assist in stripping away the "claptrap".

I'd just like to invite you to read, critically, what you've written, and then ask yourself who else is in denial here.

Merkin said...

Don't beat about the bush, big man, tell us what yer thinkin'.

Anonymous said...

SW : 'For all I know "Nell" is really Fred the 12 year old prankster and anticant has no illness at all.'
Comment anyone?.

Merkin said...

Thanks anon - finally found it on Pikey's.
Muddled as usual, the odious one seems to be saying 'For all I know he doesn't have an illness I don't believe in'.
'Oh Ye of little faith.'

anticant said...

For all I know, George W Bush is my pet goat. All this sloppy thinking is the outcome of thirty years of academic mayhem - 'deconstructionism'. 'postmodernism' and all that anti-logical hifalutin' crap. The result is that lots of people who can't be bothered to think things through lazily believe that it doesn't really matter what you believe, as all opinions are equal. Like hell they are!

Merkin, I was involved in very early AIDS education, and the denial on all sides was MASSIVE. I remember walking along Oxford Street just after the likely implications of it had dawned, thinking "all these people have no notion of what's about to hit them". Of course, it was no concern of theirs - just a nasty gay disease far away in San Francisco. Tell that to the Africans! Too many young gay - and straight- guys [and gals] are still in denial about it. Another historic instance, of course, is smoking and lung cancer.....And so on and so on. [OldGrumpy potters back to bed, shaking his head dolefully.]

anticant said...

I've been thinking for some time that He of Boundless Faith is either Fred the twelve-year old prankster [but he's too bright, in a zany way, for that] or else some decrepit no-hoper in denial about his own dismal reality.

A friend once told me of seeing a tottery old man writing graffiti with quavering hand on a cottage wall. When he had departed, my friend went over to see what he had written. It began: "I am nineteen and handsome...." Well, we can all dream, can't we?

Merkin said...

I understand what you are saying about that aspect of denial.
Perhaps, I should have added earlier the further info about my American aquaintance.
He is an extremely right wing neocon and it suprised me that he described AIDS as a 'gay disease'. I had brought up the fact that is largely hetero in Africa - which is when he brought up the Americanisation of Africa as the solution.
What a thought.

Merkin said...

Apologies, too late at night for me to be able to write clearly enough.
Will wait for the morning shift.

anticant said...

Americans always think Democratisation [their style] is the answer to everything. They have the most corrupt, greed-ridden political system in the world. Why don't they begin at home?

Szwagier said...

Well, I didn't want to start another scrap, so I decided to sleep on it. I'll leave aside the illness part, if I may. I have something to say about that, too, but later.

It seems to me that what's missing from the way this piece talks about 'world affairs' is any acknowledgement of our own,personal, culpability and responsibility fo what is done in our name.

By accepting the election results that made Blair PM, we are implicitly accepting everything that government does in our name. Saying, "Iraq is Blair's fault" is ignoring, or denying, the fact that "Blair is our fault". We don't have to accept him, we choose to.

Same with the Vatican and condoms - this propaganda has a foothold in the UK because WE allow it to. WE are the ones who have said, yes, you can be here and preach this nonsense. If we really are as intolerant as anticant seems to be saying we are, then surely we should kick the Catholics out, too.

anticant said...

Oh dear - this is like being asked to apologise for slavery! "We" [that is, you and I, and everyone else who did not vote for Blair and Bush] are NOT responsible for "what is done in our name". Only 25 per cent. of the electorate voted for Blair. I wasn't one of them. I don't suppose you were. So "our" choices didn't win the election? What do we do? Resort to civil disobedience? Our democracy - imperfect as it is - simply wouldn't work if a lot of disgruntled people did that after every general election.

Kick out the Catholics? I don't really want to go back to the "No Popery" riots of the 18th and 19th centuries. But I'm apprehensive that we may well be seeing some "No Sharia here!" rioting before long.

Szwagier said...

This is NOT like being asked to spologise for slavery. That's history, this is ongoing.

Of course I'm aware that permanent civil disobedience isn't a real option. Therefore, whether we voted for Blair, or not, or even whether we voted at all is beside the point.

The point is we accepted the results. By accepting those results, we, British citizen, are responsible for the consequences. One of those consequences is Iraq. There's now way out of that except a refusal to see the obvious - denial, in fact.

anticant said...

But you and I did not "accept" the election results. We grudgingly resigned ourselves to them, as all losers have to do. What would have been the alternative? Refusal to pay taxes? When you concede an election, you don't take responsibility for your victorious opponent's actions.

I am not "responsible" for Iraq, and I still don't see your point.

Szwagier said...

Now I'm confused. Are you saying we are only responsible for what our country does if we agree with it? Or if we voted for it? That doesn't seem right to me. Whatever that is, it's not parliamentary democracy.

As you've already pointed out, the alternative is civil disobedience, or at the very least, a daily statement of opposition. Every day we are silent is a day we accept, or if you prefer 'grudgingly resign ourselves to' what's being done in our name.

anticant said...

PERSONALLY responsible - no. NATIONALLY responsible - yes.

And if you saw my earlier posts on CiF, you will know that I have been protesting, very vociferously and vehemently indeed, and I was doing before the Iraq invasion.

Not because it was "morally wrong", but because it was so obviously against this country's interests [the only relevant criterion for foreign policy].

Szwagier said...

I'm sorry, I don't remember too many CiF debates now, it's all too long ago.

I'm not a nation, I'm a person. As a participant in a democracy (and every potential voter in a democracy is a participant; even if they choose 'none of the above', they're still choosing), I am one 40-millionth responsible (or however many people of voting age there are) for what that democracy does. That may not seem like much, but it's a lot in comparison with zero.

anticant said...

I think you are assuming an unnecessary burden. We may well feel disgusted at what's been done in our name, but we've no cause to feel personally guilty about it.

Anonymous said...

'I'm not a nation, I'm a person.'
Surely it was 'I am not a number'?.

Szwagier said...

Well, I suspected as much. I believe it's a necessary part of being a citizen of a democratic state, even such a flawed democracy as ours. I don't find it so easy to wash my hands.

Never mind, we'll just have to agree to differ.

anticant said...

Guilt is a self-destructive emotion. I'm not "washing my hands". There's nothing wrong in agreeing to differ. What a dull world it would be if we were all wired up to think the same way, like cyber-clones.

zola said...

Good Morning Campers : Zola here to help you all through your good day.
The theme for today is "Guilt".
Remember now there is no such real thing as guilt although there maybe different aspects of guilt(s).

Homework : Karl Jaspers. Metaphysical Guilt.
Please have this homework in before the next election in the UK or EU or Chile or...

BTW : you have all been very naughty again AND AWKWARD.
Love you all I do.

anticant said...

I much prefer gilt-edged. They pay dividends.