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?
President Mbeki for a long time tried to get people to rethink the link between HIV and AIDS because it was untenable for him to admit that many South Africans would die because they had sex with lots of people (as if that in and of itself was a bad thing). Bush is still pretending things are going well in Iraq, which makes one fear for his sanity, really.
I was struck again by the possible similarities, reading Paul Krugman’s column (subscription needed) in the New York Times this morning. Money quote:
I wrote about the Bush administration’s “infallibility complex,” its inability to admit mistakes or face up to real problems it didn’t want to deal with, in June 2002. Around the same time Ron Suskind, the investigative journalist, had a conversation with a senior Bush adviser who mocked the “reality-based community,” asserting that “when we act, we create our own reality.”
People who worried that the administration was living in a fantasy world used to be dismissed as victims of “Bush derangement syndrome,” liberals driven mad by Mr. Bush’s success. Now, however, it’s a syndrome that has spread even to former loyal Bushies.
Yet while Mr. Bush no longer has many true believers, he still has plenty of enablers — people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him.
In South Africa, the media and commentators have not often focused on the enablers who have made it possible for Presidnet Mbeki to get away with his flirtation with Aids denialism, for example. Yes, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang have rightly been vilified, but what about all the other cabinet ministers – including Trevor Manual, darling of the chattering classes – who at the height of the Aids debate refused the answer the question of whether HIV caused Aids. We forgave him because he cut our taxes.
And do we hear enough about Mbeki’s advisers who clearly do not always confront him with the hard facts needed to make clear headed decisions? In a way we are all President Mbeki’s enablers because we vote for his party and we treat him with respect because he is our head of state.
For those of us who are white, it may be even more difficult not to show respect because given our racist history, showing disrespect to the country’s leader may easily be interpreted as showing disrespect towards all black people.
I am often torn between an impulse to show respect for my President and all the good things he has done, and shouting at the rooftops at the dangerously arrogant and denialist actions of my President who may well have contributed to the death of hundreds of thousands of South Africans from Aids related illness.
If one keeps quiet, does one not merely act as an enabler to a dangerous man? If one shouts and screams, does one not merely align oneself with the white whiners yearning for the return to apartheid?