My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
[Mbeki’s] broadsides against white racism and his penchant for incarcerating black men are, I think, symptoms of the same dispiritedness. They are the thoughts and actions of an odd and unheralded figure — the black Afro-pessimist.
When one looks at institutions such as our police force and our health system, when one witnesses their degree of paralysis, one wonders whether one of the maladies from which they are suffering is not the president’s disenchantment and his pessimism. Come 2009, I hope we are blessed with a president who still believes in the art of the possible. For I suspect that the one we have now no longer does.