Both in the spirit of helping other up-and-coming writers and in sharing articles worth reading, I would like my readership to read the following post from a good friend of mine dealing with the dangers of diagnosing another from far away, especially when it comes to targets of high visibility. Read Mr. Schneider’s post, and we’ll continue from there.
Read it? Great. Let’s continue his train of thought, but from an antisocial perspective. What harm is there in diagnosing someone as antisocial (or narcissistic in the case of the linked article) from afar? After all, we know what sheep look like and we know what wolves look like, so if something looks like a wolf, does it truly matter if we are up close or in safety when calling a wolf a wolf? Well, there are the ethical concerns of doing as much, and then there are the practical concerns inherent to such a process. We shall start with the ethical concerns and wrap up this post with the practicality of calling wolves, wolves.
Ethically, it’s a dangerous step to call another antisocial, much less afflicted with ASPD, via the bravery of being out of range. As with any documented psychological condition, there needs to be a negative impact on the self or others for a series of intrapersonal traits to become “disordered.” This is not an objective science, but rather subjective, and as such, should be left to professionals that can tease out the song from the static. True disorder is uglier than most can imagine, and only the professional, the antisocial, and the antisocial’s “victims” know for sure if behavioral patterns experienced are indicative of suffering. Exploring this via analogy, the burden of proof is with the prosecutor when it comes to crime. She has to prove, to varying degrees, that the defendant was guilty of a particular crime. This is done in as objective of a fashion as possible so that a reasonable person can come to agreement with her assessment. With disorders and diagnosis via distance and proxy, the burden of proof is left with the “disordered.” Once social or “professional” opinion is reached, it’s an uphill battle to prove otherwise. It should be clear that diagnosis from afar is unethical, but is it necessary?
Mr. Schneider points out that regardless of the etiology of the proxied diagnosis, it has a real impact on the way in which those with true disorder are treated by others, escalating as the importance of the “prime example” increases. He uses narcissism and Donald Trump as the example. Donald Trump is a very important and very recognizable person. By diagnosing him from afar, it creates the equation “person with diagnosis” = “akin to Donald Trump.” Political motivations aside, we can see how this would polarize a base of neurotypicals almost immediately. The author sums it up nicely:
Offering a differing opinion from Gartner was science writer Christie Aschwanden, who posed the question, what is the point in even giving Trump the diagnosis of NPD, which Gartner showed support for? Gartner argues that had he been given a diagnosis, Trump would have been less appealing to voters, but as I just mentioned, I do not entirely view that as true. People who already supported him would have more than likely written off the diagnosis as “fake news,” while people who were already against him would have probably just spammed the link to his diagnosis on Facebook with the caption, “IMPORTANT!!! PLS READ!!1!”
Now we see that the interpretation of disorder becomes tied to socioeconomic and/or political status and leanings which means that not everyone that believes in a certain proxied diagnosis will react the same. We have a heterogenous response to a “static” diagnosis.
So what about the practicality of associating someone with a disorder from afar? The cold reality is that humans are adept at recognizing patterns. We equate stoves with “hot”, dead bodies with “danger”, so on and so forth. Patterns save lives and mitigate distress. Going back to my opening paragraph, if something looks like a wolf, does it matter from how far we view it? Not really. It may not be ethical to make associations of people with disorders outside of the professional’s office, but it certainly fits the pattern-recognition and its benefits that humans rely on day in and day out to make good decisions. Maybe we just need to lower the bar a little bit. Rather than getting worked up with the terms “disorder” and “diagnosis”, I posit that we simply need to identify “toxicity.” Toxicity should be avoided. We know what it looks like, does it really need a name in all cases?
Lay off the armchair psychology. You know people you wish not to associate with, so do not associate with them if you do not have to. We can recognize patterns with out being able to define them in words, and the disorder of others – regardless of whether it meets professional standards for diagnosis – should be left nameless.