“For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” Plato
Over the course of the last century, Americans have become increasingly obsessed with psychology. We have embraced a therapeutic culture which posits that everyone is a victim, consciously or not, of emotional and environmental factors which dictate the way we see the world and the way we behave within it. While Plato was famous for his description of the ideal human soul, in which the head rules the belly through the chest, American pop-psychology increasingly promotes the idea that a person’s identity – who they are and what they do – is more a product of uncontrollable forces than a result of the will operating in concert with (or against) reason and sentiment.
In the past several decades we’ve come up with sympathetic psychological explanations (i.e. excuses) for everything from shoplifting to adultery to murder. Apparently, however, this wasn’t enough for the folks at the American Psychological Association, who in an attempt to “reflect changes in our society” have newly revised their Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This most recent iteration of the manual presents several new and unique mental disorders and behavioral afflictions. An article by George Will captures the absurdity of these new “diseases” thusly:
Today’s DSM defines “oppositional defiant disorder” as a pattern of “negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures.” Symptoms include “often loses temper,” “often deliberately annoys people” or “is often touchy. DSM omits this symptom: “is a teenager.” This DSM defines as “personality disorders” attributes that once were considered character flaws. “Antisocial personality disorder” is “a pervasive pattern of disregard for . . . the rights of others . . . callous, cynical . . . an inflated and arrogant self-appraisal.” “Histrionic personality disorder” is “excessive emotionality and attention-seeking.” “Narcissistic personality disorder” involves “grandiosity, need for admiration . . . boastful and pretentious.” And so on.
Will hits the nail on the head with his observation that where our culture used to see a defect in character we now see a psychological/mental/behavioral disorder. What was once a symptom of a disordered soul is now a symptom of a medical and/or psychological condition, to be diagnosed and treated by trained professionals, on leather couches in quiet offices, or – if your particular psychological affliction is interesting enough – maybe even on the reality TV program of your choice.
This is merely the latest in a growing trend of western society’s rejection of true culture, which is defined by conservative philosopher Richard Weaver as “a matter of yea-saying” that draws men together under a common banner of basic assumptions about the world. Culture, in Weaver’s view, is what allows men to transcend their baser instincts in service to a higher ideal; it is what makes men dignified. Fed a steady diet of self-affirming, self-esteeming, “I’m okay, you’re okay” pop-psychology, the man of today has rejected the perceived limitations and strictures of culture in favor of radical individualism. Alone in the world, he is free to nurture his basest instincts and most anti-social tendencies, secure in the knowledge that there stands ready a cadre of pseudo-scientists willing to absolve him of all responsibility through the diagnosis of a phony mental disorder.
For a ready example of this we need look no further than Tiger Woods, who reportedly underwent treatment for sex addiction in the wake of his adultery scandal. It’s one thing if Mr. Woods and his wife have sought counseling to heal the wounds of his betrayal and forge a way ahead for their family; it is something entirely different to peddle the notion that the megastar golfer has been a victim of anything other than hubris and a lack of self-control. Yet this is where we are as a society: Socially aberrant behavior is now understood merely as a peculiar yet “legitimate” variety of personality – something for which the individual in question bears no direct responsibility.
The apostle Paul had his own catalogue of social disorders, attributing the root cause as sin:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. . . . But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. . . (Galatians 5: 19-22, ESV)
Since the beginning of time, mankind has been ready to exploit any tactic or resource at his disposal to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. The second sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden was to immediately shift blame for their acts of disobedience to another. Adam blamed God for giving him Eve as a companion, while Eve blamed the serpent for “deceiving” her (the original “the devil made me do it” defense).
Let us learn from Adam and Eve’s experience that justifying our actions by blaming someone or something else is not the way to go. A culture of moral evasion, selfishness, and irresponsibility is not a culture that will last.