The Elephant in the Room Chronicles

Free Speech and Dissenting Views: Must be Rights Because they are Necessary

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2018 at 7:50 pm

The Sunday Morning hour and a half CBS program is one of the few that we schedule and look forward to watching.  Most segments are life enhancing and often the best ones bring tears of joy to our eyes.  Most recently one story brought tears to the eyes but not of joy.

The piece concerned a group of students shutting down an objectionable lecture delivered by an equally objectionable academic.  The content of the lecture is irrelevant as is the identity of the person giving it.  The disturbing part is that free speech was obstructed and rationalized by a student representative as ‘standing up to authority”.  Ironically the student failed to recognize that her group forcefully stopped the expression of ideas to which they object and in so doing became the same type of objectionable authoritarian authority that has burned books, imprisoned dissidents and often killed those perceived as most threatening to their ideology.

In the same segment we learned that post secondary educational institutions have created ‘safe zones’ for students who are troubled by views, ideas, beliefs or values with which they disagree.  One can only guess the intent is to be politically correct, a concept which defines an objective definition, and to protect fragile students who must exist in sufficient numbers to warrant establishing a place of sanctuary in which their way of reasoning is never challenged.

Since these are not isolated events and safe places are assumedly being designated as this is being written it would not be unreasonable to conclude that in the very places where the actualization of the human cognitive developmental potential is expected to occur it is curtailed.  If this alarming practice continues it will amount to a deliberate institutionalization of adverse conditions empirically known to obstruct developmental.

Its simply unimaginable that most people, especially academics, do not know that development requires some, if not intense, struggle.  We know especially that cognitive conflict is the necessary condition for cognitive development to occur.  When ideas, beliefs, values, opinions, indeed our thinking is challenged, our mind cannot tolerate the discontent.  Our mind goes into an involuntary process of constructing new meaning to resolve the conflict.  When conditions are facilitative the new meaning invariably is a better one, a more comprehensive one capable of understanding and managing a broader array of life experiences.  Without cognitive conflict, in an impoverished environment, a safe zone, very little happens.  People become developmentally stuck.  They fail to actualize the potential with which they are born.

Most if not all, religions are well practiced in the tactics of obstructing the human cognitive developmental potential.  They must keep their members stuck at the reference group stage perspective at which membership demands buying into beliefs and values and behaving accordingly.  Political parties are similarly capable especially those who practice fear mongering.  When the primary emotion is fear people are particularly vulnerable to be manipulated and controlled.

Now colleges and universities are joining ranks with these and other entities which deliberately obstruct development. Hopefully they are just misguided trying to be politically correct and protective of apparently fragile students from dreaded cognitive conflict.  Hopefully before post secondary educational institutions go too far down this path to a new era of darkness they will regain their collective sense.  Instead of protecting students from controversy, even ugly hateful viewpoints, hopefully they will rise to the challenge and size the opportunity to use cognitive conflict as a means by which to propel their own and that of their students’ minds to the next cognitive developmental stage perspective.  When this finally happens the all to familiar status quo will no longer prevail.  Wouldn’t that be something?


Alexander T. Polgar Ph.D., R.S.W.

Is a forensic social worker and public safety consultant who lives in Hamilton


How quickly we forget the perils of drinking the kool-aid

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2018 at 7:48 pm

Much excitement has been generated by an anonymous donation of a $100 million to CAMH.  It is said to be ear marked for mental health research.  Dr. Catherine Zahn physician specialist in psychiatry said that the funds will generate the same type of advances as research has generated in the advanced treatments of cancer.  Almost all bad behaviour of people, however, is not empirically attributable and therefore comparable to an organic disease process.  Consequently, to call most bad behaviour mental illnesses is medicalizing pervasive behavioural problems which are environmentally induced.  The premise that most of what is included in the fifth edition of psychiatry’s diagnostic manual (DSM5) is not organically based by no means is new nor is it the opinion of a fringe group of contrarians.  It is well argued and empirically demonstrated by a host of credible scholars that psychiatry does more harm than good.  Nevertheless, the specialty in partnership with the pharmacological industry has become the most successful imperialistic organization since the beginning of time.  The specialty, with its not so silent partner, has spread its influence to the remotest parts of the globe pathologising every worrisome behaviour transforming them into illnesses for which they have a pharmacological cure.  The spread of psychiatry and the lucrative growth of its pharmacological partner also is well document.

Historically the debate whether madness/badness is biological or social can be traced to ancient times.  It was not until 1822 when the general paralyses of the insane was discovered to be caused by third-stage syphilis that psychiatry finally had empirical evidence for the biological cause of at least one type of insanity.  If there is one biological cause, the belief was, it is only a matter of time before other biological causes are discovered.

At the same time there was a view that insanity is ‘socially caused’ or precipitated by social factors.  This lead to front line service providers learning community organization, family therapy and similar environmentally focused intervention strategies.  The ideology was that dysfunctionality is a social and familial problem certainly not an organic one.

The lack of success of finding more biological causes of insanity not only did not dissuade psychiatry from its quest it served as the impetus for partnering with the pharmaceutical industry.  The singular finding also served psychiatry’s intent to insinuate itself into the medical profession and into every nook and cranny of all humanity.

The reason for the unprecedented success of the partnership and expansion of psychiatry’s authority, why most people readily drink the kool-aid, is not so complex.  It boils down to the ever expanding abdication of individual, parental, familial, community, social, national and international responsibility for developing the potential of our children.  It is far more palatable to blame bad behaviour of both children and adults on an organic disease process that was contracted inadvertently as for example, getting the flu by touching a door knob.  Since there is medication to treat the ‘mental illness, the reasoning is that the bad behavior must have an organic base.  Relieved by this convenient manufactured explanation very few question the paradigm.  This includes the anonymous donor of a $100 million to CAMH.

No one questions that for the 370 which grew from a 106 in 1952 diagnostic categories there is only a handful which have physiological markers.  Similarly, no one questions that  psychoactive drugs are essentially sedatives.

Its time to stop spending more money promoting this scientifically unfounded ideology, hoping to discover better sedatives for badly behaved people.  It is time to abandon this ill conceived experiment of medicalizing non-organic based behavioural problems.

The anonymous donation, provincial and federal funds would be better spent on revisiting the societal attributions and devising socially based early identification and intervention protocols.  Its time to revisit, just a google search away, the seminal work of McMaster’s Fraser Mustard and the Hon. Margaret McCain concerning the Early Years and the work of a host of others such as James Davies, Robert Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove, Joanna Moncreiff and Paula Caplan who offer an antidote for the kool- aid most have so readily drank.

Most importantly its time for journalist to, at the very least, alert their consumers of information that there are alternative perspectives which are far more credible than the illness model of bad behaviour.


Alexander T. Polgar Ph.D., R.S.W.

Is a forensic social worker and public safety consultant who lives in Hamilton

When everything that could goes wrong: The Life of Bill Cummer 

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm

I just finished reading the very sad story of Billy Cummer’s life. I usually don’t read such articles …. Too much like work. I also usually don’t read such exposés because they upset me for very different reasons than you would think. In no particular order of importance the two and half pages on Billy amount to little more than ghoulish voyeuristic, neck careening at a train wreck. What was the rationale for printing this story? Whatever the reason it is lost on me and probably countless others.

Perhaps the reason for printing the story is about redemption. That even the likes of Billy Cummer, as Justice Skarica said, is “not yet irredeemable” because from the bench he has “seen people who are absolutely evil” and by inference Billy is not.

Perhaps the reason for printing Billy’s sad story is to highlight, perhaps educate and deter, others from following his chosen path. Even he describes himself as “too much of an idiot” who chose the life that “nobody else created it for me but me”.

Probably, I would like to believe there were noble public interest reasons for printing Billy’s sad tale. Unfortunately whatever the positive sentiment it is markedly misplaced. Significant opportunities were last to advance our understanding and perhaps even kindle our resolve to try harder to prevent the emergence of other Billy Cummers hundreds, if not thousands, in the making at this very moment.

Contrary to Billy’s belief he did not chose nor create the train wreck called his life. He was destined to it by the family and the environment into which he was born. Curiously no one asks or talks about in the article how was Billy Cummer made? Just like no one asked how did Paul Bernardo, Karla Homolka or Jeffrey Dommer become the monsters in whose horrific behaviours everyone was ghoulishly interested. To passingly reference that Billy did not see eye to eye with his father is to discount everything that we know and is widely published in the literature about the Early Years. By the time the likes of Billy turn two years virtually irreversible damage is done. Subsequent opportunities for early identification and intervention are almost non-existent. His story, according to credible science is one of social systems failures, at all levels, starting with the family. This is not to blame his parents or anyone else. It is to explain so that from understanding perhaps we can do better at preventing the troubled likes of Billy Cummers from occurring in the first place.

Furthermore, as a collective we do ourselves a marked disservice when we talk of evil. It is a religious reference that blames a mythological character some call Satin. When we invoke this conceptualization we conveniently abdicate personal and social responsibility when it comes to child rearing. Judging from the article Billy is no evil idiot. He is simply a markedly badly behaved person whose innate developmental potential has been obstructed from the get go. Instead of being helped, perhaps rescued, as a child he was labeled, ADHD, and victimized because of his vulnerabilities. The rest of his experiences amount to nothing more than constantly pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.

I sincerely hope there will be some purpose and meaning to the life of Billy Cummer. For now it has served the purpose of illustrating later life negative consequences when all goes awry in the life of a child dependent on the adults around him.


Alexander T. Polgar, Ph.D., R.S.W.

Forensic Social Workers, author and consultant lives and writes in Hamilton