Written 25 April 2012
Fernando Torres broke his long-standing goal drought last night, scoring Chelsea’s winner in a crucial European match. It was interesting to hear the discussions afterwards on the radio. Apparently some psychologists had suggested that his goal drought may be ‘fatal’. It seems interesting that psychologists feel able to make such comments. Their opinions only have any authority as they are supposed to be scientific (psychology is, after all, the science of mind/behaviour), but it is difficult to work out how scientific the claim that Torres’ goal drought is ‘fatal’ can be. As irrelevant as much of what psychologists say in the media can be, there do yield plenty of power. What if Torres had heard a supposed scientific expert tell him that his goal drought may be fatal, that he may as well just give up, that it is basically all over for him? This may well have led to a self-fulfilling prophecy and only lowered his confidence levels and expectations of himself. We can see similar things in the field of mental health – professionals have often suggested that certain forms of mental health problems are chronic or incurable, in effect ‘fatal’. This must have a devastating effect on people who are told this (numerous patient narratives suggest that this is the case). Many contemporary accounts of recovery from mental health problems force us to question these rather pessimistic statements. The thing that troubles me is that statements from experts, especially scientists, have power to shape how we think about ourselves – experts increasingly have come to govern our souls, to use Nikolas Rose’s phrase. Fortunately one suspects that Torres would not take too much notice of such nonsense, but I find it troubling that such statements continue to be made by people who make claims from a supposedly scientific perspective. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other similar professions wield great power in determining how we think about ourselves and each other. Yet there is good reason to be suspicious of much that is taken to be scientific orthodoxy. Robert Whitaker’s recent book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, is an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism that exposes the corruption and deception at the heart of the modern psychiatric project. Ivan Illich suggested that we should take less notice of professionals, that we should de-school society. People may find it re-assuring to have professionals guiding their decisions from the cradle to the grave, but I find this quite depressing, especially when most it is bad science. Torres’ goal last night made a mockery of opportunistic psychologists offering their supposedly scientific perspective on the fatality of his goal drought. Yet most of the rest of us probably care a lot more about what scientists tell us about ourselves than Torres does. That’s the worrying part of it.