Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.
The bioethically-oriented religious right has a strange history of inventing imaginary disorders with which to accuse or disparage people whose lives or behavior they disapprove of – or to scare others out of behavior they might choose if left to their own devices. Examples include the pretended “post-abortion trauma syndrome”, as well as the repeatedly-disproven “link” between abortion and breast cancer. There is also the bizarrely counter-factual harping on the dangers of contraception and abortion, never presented in comparative context, which would demonstrate them both to be vastly safer than an unwanted pregnancy. And there is a lot of weird nonsense heard about pornography, masturbation, television shows, magazine covers, and whatever other source of titillation pushes the right’s always-armed sex-panic buttons.
Beyond abortion and women’s sexuality, though, without doubt the one issue that prompts more purely delusional pseudo-scientific spewing is the question of homosexuality – its source, its practice, and its consequences. “Answers” to the befuddling question what “causes” homosexuality are legion. It will surprise no one to discover that James Dobson, purveyor of so much amusing right-wing bloviating, has discovered yet another such theory – one he claims is “being discussed in the child development clinics and in the universities throughout the country and around the world”, none of which seem to have heard of it.
From a transcript of last week’s TV broadcast by Dobson:
This is fairly new information that’s being discussed in the child development clinics and in the universities throughout the country and around the world, and it is called “detachment and differentiation.” In other words, a boy detaches from his mother and then begins to accept the role model that he sees in the father. The father really needs to entice the boy away from the feminine characteristics in the mother and begin to teach him to identify with the masculine model.
Now folks, listen to me, it is now believed that homosexuality is very typically rooted in the failure to accomplish that differentiation and when you see individuals who are very very feminine and you go back and you look at the early childhood development characteristics you will see a failure to make that change.
Needless to say, no references to such a concept can be found, either on Google or Medline. [NB: There is a theory of developmental psychology known as “attachment and differentiation” that emphasizes a child’s degree of closeness with caregivers – as do almost all theories of child psychology – but it has nothing to do with the development of sexual identity, and it’s hardly new, stemming from at least the late 60s and to some degree earlier. It’s the source of the now-common jargon “separation anxiety” and “avoidant personality”, among other concepts. I can’t tell if this is what Dobson has in mind, since his comments are so idiotic, but even if so he’s completely wrong.]
What’s notable about this, though hardly unique, is the sheer, unabashed departure from reality it represents. Dobson has a degree in child development and is a licensed child psychologist, formerly in practice at USC and elsewhere. He claims he “rejects” parts of traditional psychology, based on his Bible beliefs, but otherwise upholds the discipline. Yet he has no qualms about touting what can at best be described as garbled, unscientific gibberish in what is supposedly his own field of expertise – then relying on that expertise to validate this demonstrably false nonsense. He makes particular, explicit factual claims – that there is a theory such as he describes, that it is new, that it is widely accepted at “child development clinics and . . . universities . . . around the world”, and that it is the basis of what are now generally-accepted beliefs about sexual orientation – all of which are completely false. They refer to theories that no one believes or has even heard of, and professional trends that are simply non-existent. It’s not a matter of opinion – he asserts the existence of things that are not real – but he seems to feel no necessity to conform his claims about facts with the actual facts.
Much has been made of the right-wing’s war on science, and its increasing estrangement from the “reality-based community“. It’s hard to know what to say on that topic, since, for members of the reality-based community, pointing out that someone – George Bush and James Dobson being two relevant examples – is not a member of the reality-based community is enough of an argument. Those who occupy the realms of non-reality should return to reality and stop saying stuff that isn’t true – self-evidently so. But, clearly, those who have deliberately chosen to sever their ties with truth and logic are not going to be swayed by the logic of adherence to truth.
It is especially disconcerting when this kind of delusionality invades supposedly reasoned discussions of science and health policy. It is distressing enough to witness the right wing’s increasingly-aggressive insistence that its particular values or preferences should be embodied as law; it is far worse when those untethered beliefs are advanced as matters of fact which rational observers are then expected to accept at face value. In this way, weird beliefs attain the status not merely of respectability but of scientific fact, by assertion alone, and provably false or ineffective doctrines such as creationism, abstinence as birth control, post-abortion trauma, and now “detachment” are insisted upon as factual groundings for policy-making. Falsity was once a guarantor of irrelevance to fact-based policy; now truth is itself irrelevant in world in which any self-aggrandizing yahoo can simply assert whatever comes to the top of their head and demand that it be accomodated. Dobson’s unhinged maunderings about non-existent psychological theories are just the latest example of a trend that is making fact-based health policy an oxymoron under the current administration.
Hat tip: Pam at Pandagon.
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