Spiritual Imperialism

January 13, 2010


It’s always fun to bemoan Western imperialism.  In fact, it’s become something of a fashionable pastime for most socially conscious Catholic pundits and homilists.  In the end, however, most such criticisms end up being a bit superficial.  We instinctively employ our own favored militaristic and market-based criteria.  Consequently, we end up focusing on foreign wars and cruel sweatshops, and we promote multilateral diplomacy and fair trade coffee in response.  In other words, we end up with distinctly American criticisms of America.

To its credit, the recent New York Times article on the “Americanization of Mental Illness” begins to go a bit deeper.  It still remains somewhat imprisoned within American plausibility structures, since it draws its criteria and evidence almost entirely from the statistical method of public health.  Nonetheless, the somewhat lengthy article brings up some interesting points:

  • Mental illnesses vary from culture to culture.
  • By universalizing the mental health categories developed to treat modern Western afflictions, America is indirectly exporting its own mental illnesses.
  • At least some mental illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia) are better treated by folk methods.
  • Western anomie may be partly to blame for both the incidence of mental illness and impotence of contemporary therapies.

These points are of interest mainly because they point to a deeper imperialism of the spirit. Read the rest of this entry »