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Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Study in Instant Ignorance: how fake news gets you worked up without having to know anything at all

Breitbart News is upset. Dead white guys may be replaced on the plinths and walls of Kings College.

Of course, if you read the article from The Telegraph a Breitbart hack rewrote, you'll learn:

1. It hasn't been done yet.

2. It isn't being done by all of King's, if at all. It's a plan being discussed by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience. It involves relocating busts of the institute's two founders, and portraits of the past deans- from the institute's entry hall to other locations around the school.

3. It makes sense. But that's a conclusion you can only reach by asking of the story- as Miss Peggy Lee did in a song- "Is that all there is?"

And fake news and outrage peddlers know to a virtual certainty that no one is going to do that.

But- just for argument's sake (the informative kind, not the lower-brain-stem sort that gets up on its hind legs at another diss to white males), let's suppose you did read The Telegraph article, then do two quick Google searches.

You might find this:

The busts are of Sir Henry Maudsley, who began teaching psychiatry in 1896, and his protege and booster, Sir Frederick Mott.

Pictured: Sir Frederick Mott (L) and Sir Henry Maudsley founded the Institute in 1924
Mott (L) and Maudsley

Maudsley (1835-1918) became a psychiatrist by accident after a nine-month medical resident rotation in an asylum. At 23 he was named medical superintendent of a "middle class" asylum in Manchester, where he won renown not so much for his treatment as raising the patient count and hospital income.

After five years, Maudsley moved to London and became editor of The Journal of Mental Science. In 1866 he married well and took over his father-in-law's six-bed private asylum for wealthy society women; in 1872 he retired from public life to run an even more lucrative- and secretive- private mental health practice for the 1% and the titled of Britain.

Wikipedia notes of Maudsley's influential theories that,
[he] adhered to degeneration theory and believed that inherited "taints" were exaggerated through succeeding generations (Lamarckism). He argued that alcoholism was the most frequent trigger of inherited degeneracy, and that drunkenness in one generation would lead to frenzied need for drink in the second, hypochondria in the third, and idiocy in the fourth.  
However, having significantly contributed to the British uptake of degeneration theory for over two decades, by the 1890s he was cautioning about it being used in a meaninglessly vague way. 
His views on maternity have been critiqued for displaying a "revulsion to both parturition and the care of an infant," which he claimed was an expression of the rational objective truth. He was challenged even at the time for his generally negative views on women; a notable early critic was the pioneering female physician Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. 
Maudsley has been described as "a prime example of how the medical establishment naturalised and reinforced social divisions and hierarchies during the latter part of the 19th century." He has also been described as "consistently inconsistent"...
In his later years, Maudsley became something of a recluse, resigning from the Medico-Psychological Association and, in some scattered writings, expressing regret at his career choice of psychiatry. He submitted articles to the philosophy journal Mind, watched cricket and sent postcards. 
While earlier he had argued, per Bénédict Morel, that degenerate families eventually died out, in the 1890s he began to consider degeneration as a regressive force and threat to evolution and moral progress. This appears to have had a significant influence on psychiatrists such as George Alder Blumer who became at least for some time converts to eugenics. 
Maudsley's wife died before him, and they had no children. 
He appears to have destroyed his own papers and correspondence. 
Maudsley was a paranormal events skeptic, and a caution in his 1866 book, Natural Causes and Supernatural Seemings, serves as an apt epitaph for his entire body of psychiatric work as well:
A rich source of wrong beliefs is the prolific activity of filling up voids of knowledge with fictions and theories, its quick and easy working is a striking contrast with the slow and toilsome work of observation and reasoning. Being the productive force in mind, it has, like the productive forces in nature, three marked qualities: it is prolific, it is pleasant, it is prophetic. 
Mott (1853-1926) was a biochemist who reverse-engineered his psychological insights from his pathology lab studies of dead people's brains and his own very live class biases. Here's a Wikipedia summary of Mott's work:
He is noted for his work in neuropathology and endocrine glands in relation to mental disorder, and consequently as psychiatrist and sociologist. He was Croonian Lecturer to the Royal College of Physicians for the year 1900. 
The Maudsley Hospital in London was Mott's idea, inspired by Emil Kraepelin's clinic in Germany, and Mott conducted the negotiations for its funding and construction. He ran the pathology laboratory which was transferred there, and treated shell shock patients during World War I. His reputation had been greatly enhanced by helping establish that 'general paralysis of the insane' was actually due to syphilis, but he has been criticised for overly organic and degenerative assumptions in regard to mental illness including shell shock. After the war, in a lecture to the Eugenics Education Society, he claimed that shell shock was rare in volunteers as opposed to regular conscripted men, and that it was not a new disorder but merly a variety occurring in those already predisposed. 
Mott, like Maudsley, appears to have held that mental illness was inherited due to degenerate family lines that worsened until dying out, though his selecting of cases and statistics were questioned by other eugenicists. Mott advanced an overarching theory that mental disease was due to pathology of the sexual reproductive system, as evidenced for example by atrophied testes, causing breakdown of cerebral neurons in certain parts of the brain.
Maudsley put up half the 60,000-pound cost of the hospital, which was completed in 1915 but seconded to war veterans treatment until 1923. The King's Institute of Psychiatry opened next door in 1924. It split from the hospital in 1997 and was renamed the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience in 2014, reflecting its growth as a world-class scientific research facility: a far cry from the witch doctor theories of its founders.


Here is a simple test for the continuing utility of ceremonial portraits and monuments: stop a dozen people with a connection to the place, and ask, "Who's that?"

If they don't know, or care enough to have found out, the representation may be past its sell-by.

The gallery of my Oxford graduate college, Mansfield, is lined with oils of 17th and 18th-century white men. No attention was paid to them during my library orientation by Rev. George Trowell in 1978.

They are copies of originals of various Protestant divines acquired early in the 20th century to gussy up the library a bit. It was a theological college then, and not a one of those portrayed had a thing to do with Mansfield. The college its doors for the first time in 1884.

Manfield, which did not admit women undergraduates until 1979, is now one of the most diverse colleges in the Oxford University federation. To tell them they could not replace those oils with modern portraits actual Mansfield graduates because it would be to diss old white dead people seems kind of silly.

It's erasing the past. It's replacing the irrelevant.

Of course, banished portraits and monuments just get relocated, not destroyed. Their usual destination is a museum, where they are preserved amid masses of other representations of the forgotten and unknown as uncomprehending tourists trudge by. Usually, a bump in funding follows to salve the demotion: South Carolina's Confederate War Rooms got a large state donative for expansion after the Civil War Battle Flag- a modern, machine-made, synthetic fiber construct at that- was banished from the State Capitol to the rarely visited Columbia shrine.

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