By Leslie Mann
Modern psychology can do more harm than good, asserts retired psychiatrist Anthony Daniels (pen name: Theodore Dalrymple) in his book, “Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality.”
Instead of taking responsibility for ourselves, “checklist psychiatry” allows us to blame any pattern of behavior on a “disease,” said Daniels, 65.
When he is not writing books (this is his 23rd), Daniels serves as an expert witness at murder trials, chases wild boars from his wife’s garden and dreams of having a tidy study. He and his wife, Agnes, a retired psychogeriatrician, split their time between their homes in France and England.
The Tribune caught up with Daniels during a recent trip to the U.S.:
Q: Why the pen name?
A: When I started writing books, I was a prison psychiatrist, so I wanted to keep my name separate. I thought “Theodore Dalrymple” sounded old-fashioned and ill-tempered.
Q: You lead with Shakespeare’s King Lear saying mental illness is “the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune…we (blame) the sun, the moon and the stars.”
A: Four hundred years later, it’s still true, but we blame psychology instead of astrology. We call it progress. Literature is far more illuminating into the human condition than psychology could ever hope to be.
Q: By giving us excuses for our behavior, you say, psychology becomes a barrier to self-understanding?
A: It’s not our fault if we’re obese, for example. It’s a disease. It’s the food manufacturers’ and restaurants’ fault. Portions are too big.
Q: What are our primary excuses?
A: Our genes, evolution, our neurochemistry, our brain scans, chemical imbalances, our childhoods. I have a friend who goes up to people at parties and says, “I hate my parents; don’t you?” People always go on about how their parents caused all their problems.