New Frontiers in Stigmatizing Others


Walking down the street the other day, Keith Humphreys ran into two people who were carrying on animated conversations about societal ills to no one in particular:

One works as a cashier at the pharmacy I use and the other is a long-term psychiatric patient with schizophrenia. One had on a barely visible Bluetooth, the other has been engaged in discussions with imagined others long before the technology was invented.

But without my prior contacts with these two people, I would never have known that one of them had a serious mental illness. These fortuitous encounters make me wonder if these new technologies have an unintended but welcome destigmatizing function. Where before people might have shunned a mentally ill person who seemed to be talking to himself, today they usually assume that he’s just chatting on a BlueTooth or similar device.

Unintended consequences! But I’ve had the same thought myself, though I confess sometimes in the opposite direction. Perhaps the mentally ill are now being unfairly stigmatized as political obsessives who watch too much cable TV?

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