Back in 2015, Theodore Dalrymple—a writer well known to readers of The New Criterion—published Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality. The main title, as many will doubtless have recognized, comes from King Lear. The line is spoken by Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester and one of the play’s chief villains.
He is also given some of the play’s most brilliant lines. In the middle of Act I, he soliloquizes bitterly about Gloucester’s invocation of celestial portents to explain his familial discord:
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeit of our own behavior—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!
In Shakespeare’s time an excuse for bad behavior might be astrological: we lie or cheat or pander not because of our own weaknesses but because of an external celestial influence beyond our control. The worm of our infirmity is not in us but elsewhere, hence we are not truly, not fully, guilty of our sins. Indeed, with a little ingenuity, we can argue that our bad behavior, being instigated by something outside ourselves, makes us victims, hence deserving of pity and even, indeed, celebration.
Edmund wasn’t taken in by such subterfuges. He understood that his infirmities were his and his alone: “Tut, I should have been that I am,/ had the maidenliest star in the firmament/ twinkled on my bastardizing.”
Today, of course, we don’t find excuses for depravity in the stars but in our upbringing, our bank account, our sex, our skin color. I am habitually late for work, but it is because I grew up poor. I take drugs, but it is because I am oppressed. I burned down a police station/shot a cop/looted a store, but it was because of “systemic racism.” Or maybe it is because of “the patriarchy.” Or “heteronormativity.” Or “transphobia.”
The list is long, but no less specious than the “spherical predominance” or “planetary influence” Edmund contemptuously adduced. We have often had occasion to ponder this dynamic as the cult of victimhood has conspired with society’s new obsession with race to produce a rotten goulash of hectoring irrationality. The writer Katie Herzog called attention to a particularly noxious specimen some months ago when she publicized an audio recording of a virtual grand rounds given by one Dr. Aruna Khilanani at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center.
Grand rounds at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center: bear that in mind. Dr. Khilanani describes herself as “a forensic psychiatrist and psychoanalyst” who specializes in “treating race, gender, sex, artists, and whiteness.” What do you suppose it might mean to “treat” race or gender? What would it mean to treat “whiteness”? Is the contingency of having white skin a disease?
Dr. Khilanani practices in Harlem but studied at the toniest institutions: Columbia, nyu’s Langone Medical Center, and New York-
Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. According to her website, Dr. Khilanani is “interested in every single person who has a story that has yet to be told. . . . Conservative, Liberal, Old, Young, Blue, Black, Cis, Trans, Asian, Fat, Skinny, Rural, Urban,” and so on.
Her grand rounds talk at Yale, “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind,” wasn’t so welcoming. Under the rubric “learning objectives,” a poster accompanying the presentation told us that “at the conclusion of this activity, participants will be able to ‘understand how racism is part of the mind that white mind that arose during colonialism with a series of lies around violence [sic].’ ” Yes, there is something deeply wrong in that sentence. But it’s not only a matter of typos or misprints.
The disease is deep. Just how deep is on view in some of Dr. Khilanani’s more piquant observations. To wit:
This is the cost of talking to white people at all. The cost of your own life, as they suck you dry. There are no good apples out there. White people make my blood boil.
White people feel that we are bullying them when we bring up race. . . . We are asking a demented, violent predator who thinks that they are a saint or a superhero, to accept responsibility. . . . They have five holes in their brain. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. It’s just like sort of not a good idea.
And here, at about seven minutes into the presentation, is the pièce de résistance: “I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body, and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step. Like I did the world a [expletive] favor.”
Dr. Khilanani is clearly a special case. Most observers will wonder why she is allowed to see patients rather than being required to seek help herself. But the real psychopathology here goes far beyond her. It involves Yale University, the Yale School of Medicine, and, in particular, its Child Study Center.
According to that poster advertising the talk, its “target audience” was “trainees in child psychology, psychology, and social work, faculty, clinicians, scientists.” Really? Moreover, the course of which Dr. Khilanani’s talk was a part “will fulfill the licensure requirement set forth by the State of Connecticut.” Think about that: “I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body, and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step.” Will that be on the exam?
Yale, like many of the most prestigious educational institutions today, is a bastion of woke identity politics. Increasingly, it substitutes the new “planetary influences” of race and the “spherical predominance” of exotic sexuality for the more pedestrian talismans of learning, intellectual rigor, and civic responsibility.
In this sense, Khilanani is more a symptom than a cause of the disease. She embodies, to be sure, an ugly and repellent expression of the sickness that is ravaging our elite institutions. But the cause is in the spirit that would not only allow but actually celebrate such disgusting performances as “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind.” Remember, this was not at some wacko fringe grotto but at Yale University, operating in this instance as an agent for the State of Connecticut.
People like Dr. Khilanani should be watched closely but, after being ostracized from any contact with the vulnerable, ignored. It’s institutions such as Yale and the regulatory apparatus of the state that need to be exposed and then dismantled. Granted, that is a tall order. Prudent people will give Dr. Khilanani a wide berth. But she has done us all a service by showing us the alternative.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 40 Number 9, on page 2
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