Open thread: The Last Psychiatrist

The Last Psychiatrist is (probably) not one of us (hint: he describes himself as a “misanthropic rummie” who “looks like a mugshot”), but he is a brilliant mind with many flashes of insight into the pathology of modern living. Recurring themes include the pervasiveness of narcissism and the evils of establishment science and mainstream media. Check him out (but be wary, there’s some vulgarity).

28 thoughts on “Open thread: The Last Psychiatrist

    • He reads to me like a leftist cynic whose leftist cynicism has been turned inwards. Which is useful. Some of his writings, such as his criticisms of establishment science, could’ve been written by one of us.

      • When I made the first comment, I’d read just one post (and I now can’t even figure out which it was). My initial “read” of him was based on just that.

        I’ve since spent hours, most of a day, reading his posts, and I’m still mostly satisfied with my initial assessment. Yours is more nuanced, and better, but I don’t see the two as in conflict. I expect I may link to some of his posts on my unread blog, but with a sense of trepidation, rather than of approbation.

        He reads to me like a leftist cynic whose leftist cynicism has been turned inwards. Which is useful.

        There is cynicism and there is cynicism: whereas a “rightist cynicism” is cynical about people, including oneself, as is only proper, a “leftist cynicism” is cynicam about the reality of truth and/or our ability to know it.

        It seems to me that his “leftist cynicism” is protecting his leftism — that is, it seems to me that he sees that leftism is false, and destructive, but he doesn’t want to let go of it — and he certainly doesn’t want to “become a right-winger” — so, by adopting a pose of “a pox on both their houses”, he can avoid acknowledging what he sees/knows … and he can avoid changing. Which last, oddly enough, is one of his themes about other people.

  1. Synchronicity! I was reading TLP today for the first time in months (having previously weighed the question of whether he’s really as insightful as he seems and deciding the answer was “no”). Anyway, didn’t we already have an open TLP thread a while back?

    He looks to me like a leftist who imagines that his pose of “a pox on both their houses” is adequate disguise.

    I can see why you would think that, but it’s only true in the sense that even “mainstream” “conservatism” is leftist. He’s really not a solid leftist.

    • No, that was a thread about the end of the TV series House, in which I made a passing reference to a TLP post, which was promptly greeted by a chorus of demands that I open up a discussion thread in the topic. I didn’t get around to it till today (obviously).

  2. I think there may be more than one writer at TLP, the original and an understudy who mimics his style. The original can be very good, although I dislike the ellipses and gnomic utterances he uses to cover patches of ignorance. His remarks on religion are ambiguous. He’s not exactly for it, but he does frequently remind his SWPL readers that there’s a cost to their not having it. He clarified my understanding of narcissism. Since narcissism is the skeleton key to the postmodern world, that is a service for which I’m very grateful.

  3. Here are two pieces that make me think this guy is the slickest secret agent I’ve ever seen:

    By no means would I recommend him to an insecure believer, because he is very opaque and ironic, which makes him difficult to interpret at all sometimes. I sometimes wonder if I should stop reading him, because my enjoyment of his style and perceptiveness might make it more difficult to detect pernicious ideas. But I think he’s a very healthy influence on anyone whose feels comfortable in their godlessness.

  4. I am sure that the mainstream media are worthless because when they talk about something I know about, they get it wrong and often horribly, unrecognizably, don’t-even-know-what-question-to-ask wrong.

    In this post, TLP talks about a cheating scandal among undergraduates at Harvard. The post is like that. He apparently understands nothing about undergraduates, faculty, research, or teaching at elite universities (or he is a ridiculously inadequate liar). The post isn’t even wrong. It’s just a bunch of gobble centered around a pathetically weak tu quoque (No, Harvard made them do it! Harvard is the real cheater!) and an appeal to faux populism. (Look! There is an unfamiliar technical jargon in a discipline I know nothing about! It must be stupid and meaningless because . . . because I don’t know what it means!) So, I am a lot cooler on him than I was a few months ago. He seems more and more to me like a complete bullshitter.

    Obviously, I am not claiming that there is a lack of cheating: it is ubiquitous. He just doesn’t understand it or the institutions it is happening in.

    To illustrate how clueless he is, look at how TLP and some commenters go crazy over the test saying “the response will be judged on how well it draws from the course materials to make an argument.” Anyone who has taught knows exactly where that sentence is coming from, and it is not coming from any place even close to where TLP says it is. Essay questions bring out the very worst sort of “In my opinion X, but I could be wrong” or “When I was 5, my uncle died and this taught me Y” or “my gut tells me Z.” Many undergraduates have to be forced to use evidence, logic, and a formal writing style. You have to tell them. If you don’t, they have flashbacks to fourth grade.

    It’s hard to express how credibility-destroying TLP’s mistake is, here. He just has no idea what he is talking about.

    There are some very good comments to that post, though.

    Does anyone know if he claims to teach anywhere on his blog?

    • Bill@

      I think you are right to say that there’s a fair amount of B.S. at T.L.P. He relies very heavily on the rhetorical technique of implying but never quite stating deep insights into the workings of the world, so that much of what he has to say comes down to a long, knowing and cynical chuckle.

      What you’ve written about the Harvard cheating scandal may be correct, but to be certain we would have to know more about the course and the exam. If the lectures did, in fact, convey legitimate knowledge, then the professor was right to demand that students base their answers on the lectures. But as I’m sure you know, many college courses are exercises in woolgathering. If a professor is only pretending to give a course, he shouldn’t be surprised that students only pretend to take it. He’s a rent-seeker and they are renters trying to pay him minimum rent.

      • He relies very heavily on the rhetorical technique of implying but never quite stating deep insights into the workings of the world, so that much of what he has to say comes down to a long, knowing and cynical chuckle.

        Very true and very well-put.

        What you’ve written about the Harvard cheating scandal may be correct, but to be certain we would have to know more about the course and the exam.

        Well, unless you are claiming that TLP does “know more about the course and the exam,” I don’t see how this helps TLP’s case. I agree that it might be true, as a matter of objective fact, that that particular prof and that particular course are po-mo garbage. But there is no evidence of that from the text of the exam or from the fact that 125 students cheated on it—that is, if he is right, he is right accidentally, in a stopped-clock kind of way.

        I am not defending universities, Harvard, or professors, generally. Many, many courses are utterly worthless. Most research is utterly worthless. Most professors would be better employed as forklift operators or cab drivers. Overall, I have an extremely dim view of contemporary universities and think that a Dissolution of the Monasteries type policy is probably the best one.

        The only point I am making above is that TLP is full of it. That his knowing chuckle here is unknowing. That he either does not know or does not care when his chuckle is knowing and when it is chuckle-headed.

      • Yes, we would all need more information before drawing a lesson from this particular case. I’d add, also, that for TLP’s case to stand, he would have to show that students are scrupulously honest in classes where genuine knowledge is imparted. I’d guess that cheating is no less common in Physics 101 than it is in Transsexual Studies 409.

        A line TLP might have taken, given the dominant theme of his blog, is that cheating is an expression of narcissism. The narcissist doesn’t expect to be evaluated on something so trivial as competence, he expects to be evaluated on the basis of his own precious wonderfulness.

      • JM Smith,

        Actually, I was thinking of the one about fear of fighting before (the latest is also quite good, though less general). In it, he states that to be a properly functioning human being, you need a higher authority system (followed by the disclaimer that it doesn’t have to be religion, but he doesn’t offer any other alternatives). He does make it clear that the government is not going to fill that role.

        Also, his writing about the peril of the enslaved god, and honor killings are perceptive.

  5. Perhaps TLS is being too presumptuous in assuming that the professor isn’t actually educating his pupils but demanding conformity; but isn’t this essentially a reactionary point of view about most pedagogy? That our knowledge isn’t largely the product of liberal emperical inquiry or dialectics but a passing on of traditions and customs to maintain a certain status quo and perpetuation of our forefathers? And the professor who tricks his or her students into confusing his profession as some sort of “objective other” is damaging young minds and scandalizing true teaching.

    I don’t know about TLS, especially (from the articles I’ve read) how quickly he is to step on, “The Patriarchy must be destroyed!” pedal; but anyone who has taken a Liberal Arts class post-WWII has probably run into a lot of professors who are not teaching the skills necessary for the art of liberality but a maintenance of a corrosive tradition which favors a certain status quo leading to a dissolution of man.

    • I think you are opposing “objective truth” and “passing on of traditions” unnecessarily. St Augustine rather famously believed that much of our knowledge must, by necessity, come from appeals to authority. Thus that much of what we know, we know only because an authority told it to us. That pedagogy proceeds to a great extent by authority telling us stuff and us believing it. But, that didn’t make St Augustine a relativist about truth, did it? He believed in objective truth, and he believed in using reason to disover more of it. We inheritors of the traditions of Christendom have a truthful authority to look to. Fortunate us!

      If you beleive, as I do, that universities should be teaching the liberal arts (roughly as concieved in the High Middle Ages), then you believe that we should be teaching the methods of dialectics and empirical enquiry. These methods are both part of our tradition and a good way to discover truth about God and God’s creation.

      What (I think) you are reacting to is scientism. The TV show “Mythbusters” is about the scientific method. One of their tag lines is “question everything.” Taken seriously, this tag line is ridiculous. You can’t, as a simple matter of time budgeting, “question everything.” Furthermore, you can’t, as a matter of logic, “question everything.” Not possible.

      Teaching people rubbish like “question everything” really is malpractice. And I agree that modernity and the modern university is, to a great extent, about “maintenance of a corrosive tradition which favors a certain status quo leading to a dissolution of man.”

      • Bill,

        I don’t think that was his best work, but writing him off because of this piece is curious. Question everything is not the point of the piece, it is question the tenured jerk who’s making you memorize and regurgitate. Also, the piece is asking why the pinnacle of American higher education is doing things like this. Rote memorization is useless in modern orthodoxy, remember? And that is what is expected in this class. You think Harvard couldn’t fail someone for writing an original take on a subject at a fourth grade level of understanding? Sure it could, but this way is cheaper and it protects the brand.

        And if it is impossible to question everything, why are you worried that he is asking his audience to question the wisdom of Harvard? They’ll replace its authority with something, and I’d be surprised if it was worse.

        You need to relax with the reflexive defense of existing authority and disdain for populism. The counter-revolution will not happen by protecting existing corrupt powers. They are irredeemable. If a king is to rise, it will at least begin as a populist affair, because there is no other way for it to happen otherwise.

        JM Smith,

        Did you read his latest one? He’s revised it a few times. Have you read any where he distinguishes between shame and guilt?

      • Gabe Ruth@

        One reason we professors ask tell-me-what-I-told-you questions is because it is hard to assign grades to answers to tell-me-what-you-think questions. And it’s really hard to defend grades of answers to tell-me-what-you-think questions when the student files an appeal. Professors avoid this hard work partly out of natural laziness, and partly because they want an airtight case in the event of an appeal. The review panel will ask to see my “rubric,” and I can’t write a rubric if the question is open ended.

        I usually check out TLP on Thursday, and so haven’t yet read his latest post. Maybe when I eat lunch today.

  6. Anybody watch The Walking Dead? TLP has been writing cryptically about it for a while, here’s the latest:

    I don’t watch the show and I’ve never read Freud or Lacan, but this phrase seems at once familiar and revealing of pathologies of our age: “the standard line of maternal superego, as distinct from the now defunct paternal superego, and its main job is to make you feel guilty for failing to be happy”.

  7. I added this site as a link, not a followed blog as I have yet to figure out a way to categorize followed blogs…Just a point of information…nothing more..nothing less.

    The real point in making a comment was to register a positive comment regarding TLP’s blog. Ironically I already have an article in progress nominating it for best 2012 blog. I have my reasons which I provide in the article.

    In any event, how many other blogs get this kind of attention from you?


  8. I’m pretty sure that TLP is a non-ideological libertarian. His main point is that he wants you to focus on being a good person, i.e., on individual virtue, maturity, and personal growth, as this is the only way to ‘fix’ anything. He doesn’t want people distracted by the various memes put out by mainstream culture, as they are almost universally misleading, destructive, and a waste of time that could be spent on worthwhile things, like family and individual development. He does this by disecting the memes and showing their ‘sickness,’ and how they reflect/appeal to mass culture and reinforce the forces behind its social ills.

    So he uses Freudian/Jungian post-modern philosophical analysis as a window into truth — so what? Do his points bring your mind closer to truth or not? If people don’t like his style, they need to get over themselves. Rejecting someone with that much to offer over issues of style and approach is petty and self-destructive.

    TLP is one of the most worthwhile writers I’ve encountered in a very long time. Anyone who has trouble with him really needs to do some introspection, in my opinion, because they will wind up missing out.

  9. You sure he’s not “one of us”? At the very least, a fellow traveler.

    “The solution is obvious: conscience has to be fixed and a priori. Whether you want to call it religious or Kantian, there has to be an unchangeable morality that applies to human beings. The ability– the necessity– to perceive and accept that such fixed guiding princples exist is synderesis. It’s no different than the human capacity to understand that “red” exists.”

  10. The man behind the pseudonym
    “Chris Ballas, a practicing psychiatrist for the University of Pennsylvania Health System, works with medical students and residents on the wards, and also blogs as “The Last Psychiatrist,” offering his sometimes controversial views on his profession. In six years as an attending, he’s seen his share of students “forced into the required psychiatry rotation” who demonstrate a definite skepticism about the field.”
    [see also]

    “Dr. Ballas has published and lectured extensively. His medical interests include forensic issues and violence, pharmacology and healthcare policy. Dr. Ballas is also a talented artist and a technology enthusiast. One of his current projects include a novel about the end of the internet.”


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