Behavioral science versus moral judgment

George S. Patton, Jr. commanded the Seventh United States Army, and later the Third Army, in the European Theater of World War II. General Patton, a brilliant strategist as well as larger-than-life fount of harsh words and strong opinions, was also infamous for confronting two soldiers diagnosed with “combat fatigue” — now known as post-traumatic […]

Enjoying clinical uncertainty

Lucia Sommers of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UC San Francisco commented on my last post, noting that clinical uncertainty among primary care physicians (PCPs) is usually regarded as tolerable at best. She was delighted that I called such uncertainty intellectually attractive, and something to embrace in psychiatry. Sommers and her coauthor […]

Review of _Century of the Self_ (BBC documentary)

Edward Bernays (1891-1995)

It may have been a patient (I can’t recall) who suggested I search online for the 2002 BBC documentary by Adam Curtis called Century of the Self. It turns out the video is freely available at several sites; the full four-hour documentary can be viewed or downloaded here, or each of […]

How to promote nonviolence — (2) Necessary elements

In my last post, I outlined the fundamental problem facing advocates of nonviolence: Despite nearly universal conceptual agreement with this goal, human psychology conspires to make peace elusive and strife apparently unavoidable. Our emotions trump our rationality, biasing assessments of real-world evidence and leading to post-hoc justification of whatever our “gut” feels. Unfortunately, and rightly […]

How to promote nonviolence — (1) The problem

Prompted by the Sandy Hook shootings and Boston Marathon bombings, a bumper crop of articles about our violent society has sprouted in recent weeks. I was particularly drawn to this opinion piece in the New York Times. Author Todd May, a Clemson University professor of Humanities, articulates well the crucial underpinning of a nonviolent world […]

Narcissists, psychopaths, and other bad guys

A patient of mine recently observed that the increasing use of the the term “psychopath” in popular media is really a disguised way of criticizing selfishness. Dressing up selfishness as an odd and frightening clinical disorder — slapping a diagnostic label on it — makes for catchy news copy, and grants pundits emotional distance between […]

On responsibility

I’ll leave the “sloppy thinking” series for now, although I expect to return to it in the future. In this post I’ll share some thoughts about personal responsibility, especially as it pertains to the insanity defense. It’s a topic much in the news lately, due to tragic actions by now-household names such as James Eagan […]