Quote of the Year

I read a lot this year. Probably too much. I also wrote a lot. Writing is therapeutic for me. One quote I came across this year sums up my position this year–and probably for years to come. It’s from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile:

I am not a great philosopher, and I care little to be one. But I sometimes have good sense, and I always love the truth.

This year, with the release of my book, I said my farewell to philosophy and academia.

 

My Prized Possession

I worked on the book Reading Barnard Williams (Routledge Press). I edited the work of Martha Nussbaum and Carol Rovane. The Editor of the whole project, Daniel Callcut, called me “a superb research assistant” in the acknowledgements section of the book. He also gave me a copy of the book, which he inscribed a comment to me on the first page of the book. I keep this page framed along with my prized possessions.

It says, “Jennie, One of my smartest students…ever. Good luck with everything and very fond best wises, Dan”

On Trusting Yourself, Knowing You Are Not Trustworthy

There’s a good article here about the biases we all hold. I mean bias in the psychological sense.

I learned a lot about bias as an undergraduate, and tried to root out as many as I could over the years. I can’t say that I’m perfect (who is?), but I think I’ve gotten better.

I thought this related interestingly to my work on schizophrenia because I want to take seriously people’s narratives about what they think caused their psychosis, and what happened when they went psychotic. But I also want to take into account that we are imperfect when it comes to these things. We tend to overestimate bad things that happen to us, for example. Still, I think it’s important to take the agent seriously.

In practicing the biopsychosocial model, interviews with the client are paramount. However, other data is collected, such as interviews with other people, school records, and so forth. This, I think, is good. It takes into account the individual, and also refers to other data so we can glean a picture of what possibly caused the illness in this particular case, and what treatments we should apply for health. This is a strength for the biopsychosocial model.

After reading about bias, you should be skeptical about yourself. If you aren’t you didn’t take the data seriously. But there are ways to reduce bias, and it’s good to apply them. This could make a better place for all of us. This means you don’t have to remain skeptical of yourself. But it does mean you need to constantly work on yourself.

If you live in a constant state of skepticism about yourself, that’s probably not healthy. But a light dose of skepticism is good.

On Striving within a Culture

I was thinking about how people strive for things.

Aside from basic survival, and other basics of life, most of out strivings are within a context and a culture. For example, I wanted to be a philosopher, and, currently, most philosophers are associated with a university. So I learned the game of the university. I learned how to teach, how to conduct research, who are the important people in the field, and what the major university departments are. My goal, like anyone’s was to do well in philosophy.

But even as I thought about things that weren’t necessarily tied to my culture, these embedded rational decisions were within the context of a culture and, importantly, with the context of an institution. Institution, here, I use broadly, in the sense of being institutionalized.

Most of out strivings are embedded in this way. These are socially constructed realities within which our reason applies itself.

For example, I was just reading a bit about the prestige bias within philosophy. People from prestigious departments are more likely to get hired at prestigious departments. Many people strive to work for a prestigious department, but few do, and it seems that the bias is towards people who are already prestige-affiliated.

But for me, as an now an outsider, it seems to me that these longings and strivings are embedded within a large university-industrial-complex, which I am not a part of. I’m not saying it’s bad to strive in this way, or that that system is a bad thing. I’m just saying the things related–such as where one applies for a job, that one applies for a job, what one wears to interviews, that one goes to the APA, and so forth–are embedded within a constructed system.

I think most of our strivings are embedded in this way. Our reason is often “applied” within a context and culture. This doesn’t make it any less rational, but it does seem that we may be fooling ourselves if we think, normally, that we are applying reason to the thing-in-itself.

Neuroskeptic on Swedish Study

Everyone’s favorite neuroscientist, Neuroskeptic, comments on an interesting study which involves adoption and schizophrenia.

I’ve mentioned that schizophrenia is currently considered a bio-based illness. And I am doing research on the biopsychosocial model, which states that schizophrenia can have multiple causes. But, of course, the biopsychosocial model is not in fashion right now. The research dollars go to what’s trendy, and Engel is not trendy right now. (No matter how much social science evidence we may have.)

This study looks at children who had ill biological parents, and were adopted. It found a decreased risk in developing schizophrenia.

Do take a look at Neuroskeptics’ blog post, and consider reading his blog more often! (I have been a reader since grad school.)

Justice at Both Ends: Preventing and Treating Psychotic Disorders through Social Justice

Introduction

It seems like a cruel joke. People who are already in disadvantaged positions are, on top of that, vulnerable to brain disorders. Then, the society that produced the disadvantage (poverty, racism, sexism, etc.) stigmatizes the person for having an illness.

I want to be transparent here. I am diagnosed with schizophrenia. I live openly with my illness. I am also trained as a philosopher. I had my first psychotic break in graduate school, where I was studying ethics and political philosophy. My doctors told me to apply for disability, but I wanted to work. After a series of various jobs and hospitalizations, I finally applied for—and was granted—SSI. The day I was granted SSI, I cried. It had been an extremely rough ride.

One of the jobs I applied for, and kept until I was hospitalized, was as a case manager. As a case manager, I was trained to treat people in a holistic way. I was to look at each client from a variety of perspectives. But, also, I was trained to advocate for justice for my clients. That’s what I want to focus on here.

Theory and Practice

I want to set aside the theories of justice we learn about in school for a minute, however important and interesting they are. Although my academic training is mostly in philosophy, I have also done an assortment of different work. I have had time to think about—and live out—the issues I am discussing. So I’m not going to apply any certain theory of justice to the problems I am discussing. Besides, Bernard Williams would think applying a theory to a problem the way that is often done would be really uninteresting. And, of course, I want to be interesting.

I am also not going to get into a debate about psychiatry versus psychology. Brain versus mind. I think training as a case manager was good experience for me in diffusing that dichotomy. I am trained to deal with both medicine and psychotherapy, as a case manager. And I am trained to think about the soul and the brain, as a philosopher.

However, I am going to refer to schizophrenia as a brain disorder in this paper. Because that’s what it is, whatever, ultimately, causes it. There is something going on differently in my brain when I am psychotic. I’ll set aside issues of dualism, materialism, and so forth, and let other philosophers better trained in that area deal with those issues.

I am also going to set aside cultural differences. Although there has been interesting anthropological work on the differences in the expression of psychosis, there is also consensus that psychosis occurs in every culture. What I will focus on, however, is treating psychotic disorders in the United States. That’s where I live and am best trained.

“What happened to you?”: Social Causes of Schizophrenia

We know that social factors can be a cause in brain disorders. For example, Holocaust survivors are at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. There is, we may say, only so much a mind can take.

This does not discount other factors involved in developing brain disorders. However, I want to discuss various abuses and forms of disadvantage at play in developing psychotic disorders.

Prior to taking up research specifically on psychotic disorders, I did a great amount of research in Native Studies. Native Studies is an interdisciplinary field, and I had to learn and read in many different fields—anthropology, psychology, sociology, history, law, criminal justice, philosophy, to name a few. In the social and psychological work I read, it was clear that the effects of colonialism had an impact on the minds of indigenous people. They are at an increased risk for many illnesses, including brain illnesses.

This informed my early notions of brain illness: that it’s mostly social. So, when I became ill, I didn’t know what caused it. (It could be, however, that I have, in fact, experienced a lot of hardship, and was prone to developing a psychotic disorder.)

I eschewed psychotropic medications, and psychiatry in general. I was held, for periods of time, in hospitals and told to be “compliant” (to take medications). I sought out therapy, however, and had a few wonderful counselors. Counselors, I knew, treated things differently. They are not medical doctors shoving, as it were, pills that caused me horrible side effects down my throat.

Eventually, however, I was given an antipsychotic that both managed my symptoms and didn’t cause side effects. I am now a firm believer in taking the appropriate medication at the appropriate dosage, along with therapy, case management, and so forth.

One of my good friends, who, for reasons to protect them, will remain anonymous and vague, works for the military. This is not a delusion. They really do work for the military, and they are not the kind of person you would imagine an ethicist would associate with. The fact is, it’s their job to kill people efficiently and effectively. They are not a soldier. They make the plans that others carry out.

Let’s just say that this person knows how to inflict all kinds of torment on people. (This does not carry out into civilian life.) This person once asked me the most important question anyone ever asked me about my illness: “What happened to you?”

They wanted to know what kind of torment, abuse or disadvantage I experienced that made me have schizophrenia.

I wanted to tell them that I was a teen parent, who had to fight for her education, and was treated very badly by, especially, conservatives as a teen parent. I was told I was going to Hell, and funding for my high school, which was my joy and hope in the world, was always threatened.

I wanted to tell them that I had experienced sexism in the field of philosophy that made me very uncomfortable.

I wanted to tell them that I experienced a lot of sexual harassment when I was working as a teaching assistant.

I wanted to tell them that academia is not made for parents, especially teen parents.

I told my counselor instead.

Stigma

There are at least three kinds of stigma: (1) Self-Stigma, (2) Other Stigma, and (3) Stigma by Association. The literature discusses each of these.

Self-stigma is when a person internalizes the stereotypes and “othering” the society holds about them. They may think they are, in fact, a bad person for having schizophrenia. They may think they are at risk for committing violence. They may think they should be punished, or closely watched. This can cause a person to have low self-esteem, live “in the closet,” and not seek treatment.

Other stigma is when people who do not experience psychosis have negative views and discriminate against people with psychotic disorders. This can include not wanting to date a person with schizophrenia, not wanting to have conversations or be friends with people with schizophrenia, and not wanting to work with people with schizophrenia.

Stigma by association is when people who are associated with a person with a psychotic illness feel shame about having that person in their family, school or workplace. They may lack education about people with brain disorders, and there is evidence that proper education about these issues can lessen stigma by association.

Stigma can lead to discrimination by making people treat one differently. As someone who has dealt with gross amounts of stigma, I can say that people have treated me as a potential threat, a wild-eyed disarray, and needing to be “compliant” and tamed. This, even when my symptoms, which have never been threatening, were at bay. Stigma leads one to “see” you differently. It leads to bias in how your actions are interpreted.

I have learned to deal with stigma by living openly and “calling it out.” I risk all kinds of things doing this, but it’s the only thing I know to do.

Justice at Both Ends

We may live in a world where luck is involved, but there’s luck and there’s luck. We have the ability to change our world, to make things better for other people and ourselves. We have the ability to reduce the amount of negative luck people experience. For example, if we alleviated poverty, there would be fewer brain disorders, just as if we reduce child abuse, there would be fewer cases of child PTSD. If we want to reduce the amount of brain illness in the world, we need to be committed to justice.

At the same time, there are people who do and will continue to suffer. For those people, we need justice at the tail end—we need justice for people with brain disorders. This means making people feel OK with accepting government benefits, increasing government benefits so that people with brain disorders are not living in poverty, and, of course, reducing stigma.

I hope I have made a case for justice before and after psychosis.

World Philosophy Day

Today is World Philosophy Day. The U.N. put out a statement regarding the celebration of this day.

I studied philosophy for several years, and still keep active in the field by being on the editorial committee of an academic journal.

I remember my first philosophy professor, Dr. Rob Brady, at Stetson. He was a dear man, and I recall him saying, “There is nothing beyond philosophy.”

He said this when we were discussing the definition of philosophy, which is an endeavor itself.

But I remember thinking that, if philosophy encompasses everything, that’s the major for me! And, it’s true, there is a philosophy of everything.

Indigenous Studies

I started researching indigenous studies as an undergraduate. I did my senior thesis on Native American colonization. I developed some great friendships and gained excellent experience. I have written, given lectures, and invited talks on indigenous studies. I am acquainted with top scholars in the area. One of them, Steve Russell, wrote a very interesting book on the subject: Sequoyah Rising. When he was writing the book, he asked me to go over part of the manuscript. I did. I also gave him some feedback, and was credited in the acknowledgements section.

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Six Years Ago

It’s hard to believe that it was six years ago that I was working on the book Reading Bernard Williams. I was privileged to edit some really great essays, and gain valuable experience in editing and writing. Although the editor, Dr. Daniel Callcut, was kind enough to give me a hard-copy, I bought the e version recently and read it. The copy that Dr. Callcut gave me had an inscription in it that I keep framed.

ReadingBernardWilliams

Academia.edu

As many who know me know, I worked in academia for quite some time. In fact, I still do. I am on the editorial committee of an academic journal. But that’s not all. I am also on Academia.edu. This is a great site in which I can follow academic topics I am interested in. I can also follow the work of people who inspire or provoke me. I have uploaded some of my academic work there, and will do more in the future. If you are an academic, I encourage you to go to Academia.edu to see whether you would like to set up a profile. If you do, let me know. I will follow your work. I am interested in most everything.