the extremists/ be careful

Martha Rosett Lutz lutzrun at
Mon Jan 22 17:05:23 EST 2001

Ooops.  My attempt to noodge things back towards a combination of civility
and evidence-based commentary seems to have misfired.  Neil Jones wrote:
"I am not the only one who has erred. Hank Brodkin who founded the
original lepidoptera list was completely and utterly mistaken when
he told this guy "Take your paranoid delusions elsewhere".
Hank! You're a very naughty boy. You *must* report to nanny for a
spanking immediately.
Seriously folks. Despite my attempts at humour this is not a trivial
matter. I don't think you have to be medically qualified to know when
someone is divorced from reality."
There was an important distinction there.  You may not have to be medically
qualified to "know" this (in your own mind), but unless you want to leave
yourself open to legal action, you must have irrefutable evidence before
you state your personal 'knowledge' in public.  There are people, including
most of the MDs I socialize with, who do NOT take these formal diagnostic
terms lightly.  It's part of the medical/legal culture.
It's an easy distinction, and has nothing to do with whether or not the
diagnosis is correct.  It has everything to do with the rights of the
individual--something we take more or less seriously in the U.S.  You may
believe anything you like, but your rights end exactly where the next guy's
rights begin.  Someone else's right to be protected from slander exceed
anyone's rights to use slanderous terms in public.  It doesn't matter how
many people have erred, or even who they are:  some rights are protected,
and violation of these rights is wrong.  If you want to say:  'The guy is a
complete goof,' or some such comment, that is not actionable because it is
merely your opinion, will be interpreted as such, and is not slander.  If
you state that someone has been formally indicted, and you have proof that
this is true, then that is fact and not actionable.  In contrast, as soon
as you use a medical diagnosis as an epithet you have strayed beyond
opinion and into something that must be supported with facts or else it
could be considered slander.  It's simply safer, not to mention more
courteous to everyone, to keep language both precise and pleasant.
Since I only joined the list sometime around 1996 I do not know about
things that took place 6-7 years ago (on the list . . . ).  I have no idea
who Mr. Jones is talking about.  I am neither defending the unknown person,
nor attacking Mr. Jones.
I am not questioning Mr. Jone's judgment regarding his ability to evaluate
a personality defect; I am criticizing the judgment of anyone who uses an
official medical diagnosis as an epithet.  I do apologize if this analysis
is personally offensive to anyone (on or off this list), but because the
law will see it as a clear issue, I would hate to see anyone get in trouble
with the law, so it seemed reasonable to speak up.
I would much rather read (and write) about something else.  Iowa is still
cold and icy.  Has ANYONE seen a moth or butterfly, caterpillar or cocoon,
or come across something more Fabre-like than personality disorders and
semantic tangles?  Has anyone heard that Fabre was once fired from a
teaching job for allowing girls (Gasp!!!) in his science classes?  I am
trying to work that into my Science Education dissertation; it's kind of
fascinating, and provides a wonderful perspective on how far we have come
in just a few generations.
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