Does This Atheist Really Believe In Heaven?


Image found here.

I’m an atheist, by the way — for now at least, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might change my mind. So if you ever catch me sitting around doing absolutely nothing, I assure you there’s absolutely no need to panic: that’s just me practicing my religion¹.

But I recently discovered² that even though I am an atheist, I do actually believe in Heaven. Now, please, don’t get too excited about this. I assure you there’s absolutely nothing trippy or paradoxical or even especially interesting about the fact that I believe we all — yes, truly all of us; even the worst of us (Hitler, Stalin, Donald Trump³) — go to Heaven when we die.

It’s no big deal, really, because all I mean by this is that I believe that only living things can suffer; and that inanimate things like rocks, coffee cups, and corpses don’t have any experience at all, but in particular and most wonderfully they do not suffer.

And to my view, that is really all anybody can rationally expect from Heaven.

Fortunately, it’s also all that any of us actually needs, I think.

¹ This is only partly a joke. I do practice meditation, which many consider to be a “spiritual practice”, and which is arguably a euphemism for “sitting around doing absolutely nothing”.

² My mother passed away a few weeks ago, after a decades long struggle against the Parkinson’s Disease that slowly — oh so excruciatingly slowly — transformed her into a meat statue. It was awful to watch, and one of the most tragically heroic events I’ve ever personally witnessed. After her passing, I was nervous about telling my six-year-old twins, and it took me a good 10 days to work up the courage. In the end, my wife and I decided we would tell them that she had died and gone to Heaven, and I reconciled this explanation with my atheism in the way described above. It was a little weird, at first, but I am glad we did it.

³ Ha ha, just kidding. Sorry, couldn’t pass that one up. Although I do think His Donaldness is an epic pig of a human being, and it really shouldn’t surprise anybody in the least if he does eventually haul off and commit some sort of mass atrocity like Hitler and Stalin did — and really for no better reason than because the Twitter server had an outage and he didn’t know what else to do with himself at 2 am — so far Mr. T-Rump has managed to keep his actual body count to a level far below monstrous. But he’s only been in office for less than a year, so maybe he will eventually earn his place among the real monsters of History.

Faking It: Is This The Real Stigma of Psychiatric Disability?

Boy crossing fingers behind his back in front of dad.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

It is commonly believed that psychiatric disabilities carry a stigma. And I’m not sure about anybody else at this point, but I know that at least I have always assumed that this stigma had something to do with being weak — essentially a weakness of character, or virtue — something about being unreliable, undisciplined, infantile, etc.

But following certain uncomfortable encounters I’ve had in recent months, it has become increasingly apparent to me that this mental illness stigma may actually be a lot more specific than that. I have come to strongly suspect that this stigma may be really and really mostly about malingering — the unscrupulous practice of faking or exaggerating an impairment of some sort, in order to exploit the sympathy, compassion, guilt, etc. of others for selfish gain.

To be clear, at this point for me this is really just a strong suspicion — more opinion than fact, or maybe a conjecture, or hypothesis — that I seem to find much more plausible than its competitors. I think it’s critical we not forget that — primarily because I also believe that one of the most damaging mistakes a person can make is to confuse an hypothesis for established fact, a merely plausible idea for one that is actually true. And also because I strongly suspect that this very mistake is what’s actually causing the stigma in the first place! I think it would be tragically ironic to try to solve the problem of the stigma that burdens those with psychiatric disabilities with the very sort of foolishness that may be causing it.

So, again, I currently believe (until I encounter the sort of evidence that could change my mind about it) that this mental health stigma may be really and mostly about malingering.

What about you?

Skepticism, Knowledge and Malingering

Man looking skeptical

Image found here.

Never confuse skepticism for knowledge. If I claim to have a disability and you are skeptical of that claim, that does not somehow magically imply that I am faking or exaggerating something.

Of course your skepticism is entirely rational and legitimate, and kudos for that. But simple skepticism is not evidence of anything other than some brain’s rational hunger for actual evidence. If you think otherwise you are badly confused. And especially if you happen to work as a disability-insurance claims investigator, then you are dangerously confused and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near such an insurance claim.

Skepticism is just a first step toward actual knowledge, and a refusal to take the next one — to scrutinize the real evidence — is the most reckless kind of foolery.

We Need To Stop Calling Them “Invisible” Disabilities

I’ve noticed that it’s common to say things like “he has a so-called ‘invisible’ disability” with the scare quotes around disability and the phrase so-called as a qualifier. I’m assuming this is done to signal the speaker or writer’s understanding that there’s really nothing about an actual disability that is invisible, especially to the person struggling to cope with it.

But I think we need to up our game a bit with this business of disclaiming the idea that a disability can be invisible. I’m thinking we need to either quit using the expression at all, or brazenly interrupt the conversation in order to pontificate on the real problem, which is that the person with the disability is being judged as unreliable in some sense.

To my view, the problem with this class of disabilities is not at all that they are invisible in some way, but that they are mostly visible to just one person, and that person is just assumed for some reason to be an unreliable witness. The issue at hand is one of patient credibility, not disability “invisibility”.

Now, this is actually not to say that all patients should be simply believed without question. I could say a lot more about that and plan to in a future post, but for now I’ll just clarify that what I’m mainly asserting in this post is that if the problem of these so-called “invisible” disabilities is ever to be solved, it must first be properly understood, and in this case that means recognizing that the core issue is really one of witness credibility or reliability.

As I see it — for now, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might help me change my mind — the “invisibility” thing is just a distraction.

Skepticism as Curiosity

Little boy looking at the ground through a magnifying glass

Image found here.

Although I see myself as a skeptic, I’ve never liked that term. It always has a taint of disparagement, and I always feel like I need to explain it, or make jokes like “Don’t worry, it doesn’t seem to be very contagious.” It often seems to be used like a synonym for disagreeable, or party-pooperstuffy, stodgy, closed-minded, old coot, etc.

For me, skepticism is quite the opposite of all that. To my view the word skepticism is more like a synonym for curiosity — an urge to push past my current knowledge and understanding of the world. As I see it, to be a skeptic is nothing like being closed minded. On the contrary, it means to open one’s mind to alternatives, to free oneself from excessively rigid or mindless ideological over-commitments, and to stubbornly refuse to clutter up one’s own nervous system with a tangle of complicated, contradictory, and unnecessary opinions — what we might call belief pollution.

But that doesn’t mean I have no beliefs or opinions, of course. In fact, I seem to have so many of these that I’ve even created this blog as a place to document them. But my blog isn’t just a place for me to put my opinions. As I experience it, writing is actually a better way to think, and the process of a writing a blog post is also the process of formulating, scrutinizing, testing, reformulating, re-scrutinizing, revising, and in general indulging my often relentless curiosity regarding the way my own mind works.

In this way I am skeptical of even my own beliefs.



How To Malinger: Lesson From An Expert

“…I always wondered how the “fakers” did it. Like maybe they could give me some helpful hints on how to get the care I needed.”

— King Ben’s Grandma, posted in the comments section of Autism, body awareness, and ‘malingering’ by Laina Eartharcher.

Killdeer bird faking a broken wing

A killdeer faking a broken wing in order lure a predator away from its nest. For more, see the short video after the post. Image found here.

The exercise of writing Towards a Mythology of Malingering helped me parse out from the bloom and the buzz of the disturbing chaos described in part 2 of that post a number of additional minor but potentially useful insights regarding the general problem of malingering. I plan to document each of these in the near future, beginning with the one I’ll just plunk down here for starters, before explaining how I witnessed it in actual use:

A great way to hide your own malingering is to accuse your victims of malingering.

Now, I should probably warn you that what follows might become very confusing for you. You see, I’m about to accuse a billion-dollar, global multinational insurance company (BDGMNIC) of malingering. Also, if you are on the right side of the fence on this issue, there’s an excellent chance that you will find my accusation quite convincing. And if you think too much about that (or even if I just point it out to you), you might start to feel thoroughly confused about which of us — me or this BDGMNIC is the true malingerer.

Now, I actually think such confusion is probably healthy. Yes, absolutely, I think a little skeptical confusion on your part regarding which of us is the real culprit would actually be a good thing. In fact, I would take such confusion as indicating that you really understand the core insight presented in part 1, which I’d like to paraphrase here as follows:

In the absence of actual evidence to settle the issue, and whenever confronted by any given accusation of malingering, an objective, rational observer ought to feel quite skeptical about whether the accusation is really truthful.

See, this skeptical confusion you might begin to feel in a moment (if it hasn’t already started) is like a hunger. The way I see it, this kind of skeptical confusion is basically your brain’s own hunger for a very specific and highly nutritious kind of brain food which usually goes by the name of evidence. It’s like your brain just woke up from a nap, looked around, noticed in the first place that something just happened; noticed next that whatever it was that just happened seems to be important; and then finally formulated the question, “wait a minute, what the heck just happened?!?!

And in that kind of situation actual evidence is really the only kind of brain food that can satisfy that hunger.

And as much as I happen to believe that insurance companies in general are capable of malingering; that they do in fact malinger, and chronically so; that the specific insurance company referred to in Towards a Mythology of Malingering truly did malinger in my own case; and that I definitely did not malinger; the only reason that I truly believe all of that is because I have personally scrutinized the actual evidence.

But you have not. At the moment, all you may have done is read my own narrative about what actually happened — a highly subjective, likely quite biased and self-serving account of the events in question. But that’s not really evidence; or at least, it’s not evidence that is especially strong, or evidence that should be taken at face value. And as much as I feel genuinely grateful for the sympathy you may have felt for me and my family for what we all endured in the clutches of that evil Insurance dragon, in the interest of full disclosure I feel I should point out to you that the elicitation and exploitation of such sympathy is exactly the goal of true malingerers. In part 1 of my narrative I used the phrase sympathy vampire, which I think is an excellent way to conceptualize the animal in question. And if what I’m about to tell you causes you to feel a little disoriented and to start squinting at the possibility that I might actually be such a parasite, I encourage you to value and nurture that sense of dizziness, because to my view there is far too little of it in the world, and not just as regards the problem of malingering. I think it is generally true and also generally quite dangerous that so relatively few of us seem willing to stew for a while in our own skeptical confusion, so quick to cling to whatever soothing dogma happens to be floating near us in the deep-water lake of Life. That skeptical confusion is a kind of resource — easily converted into Curiosity rocket-fuel, a powerful urge to learn. And I think that’s a good thing, for the most part.

But vampires are mythological creatures, which is to say that whatever their basis in reality, they are for the most part fictional beings. Like a large and beautiful pearl that has formed around a much smaller and quite ordinary looking granule of sand, the pearl part, whatever its attributes, actually has very little in common with the quartz granule. Yes, there really are animals and insects that eat blood — bats, mosquitoes, fleas, etc. But none of these is actually immortal; none is actually without reflection before a mirror. And I think that a sympathy vampire, a true malingerer, is a lot like that — which is to say, much of a myth.

Yes, yes, of course human beings can and do cheat. I’m certainly not suggesting that actual malingering is impossible or even infrequent. On the contrary in fact, I’m quite sure that there is a rather good deal of malingering that happens. But if anybody is so afraid of a mosquitoes that he goes around shooting at them with a shotgun; blasting away at them left, right and center with no concern for the legs, arms and ears of the creatures (human or otherwise) upon which these tiny bloodsuckers happen to be feeding at the moment, then such an individual has mythologized mosquitoes in a dangerous way, and that mythology needs to be debunked. And I believe that this aptly characterizes the general problem of malingering. Yes, malingering is a real phenomenon, a genuine problem, and one we would do well to try and solve, but I for one am wholly unimpressed with the current standard ways of solving it — especially with the ways that insurance companies try to solve it, which seem to me not at all unlike the solution implemented by our shotgun-happy skeeterphobe from a few sentences ago.

The fact is that some solutions are worse than the problems they are meant to solve, and some problems make tolerable solutions where the alternatives simply cannot be tolerated. This dour but fundamental fact about the way things really work seems to be a moldy crust of bread for many, no matter how hungry they are. But a fact it is, and a refusal to face it is occasionally disastrous, which I think is an apt comment to make about the general problem of malingering.

In any case, in order to illustrate this sneaky, dastardly way to camouflage one’s own malingering , we need to return to my own narrative and examine one additional piece of the story, which is the explanation given to me by the BDGMNIC for why they rejected my short-term disability claim, both initially and following the appeal review. Let me start by quoting the very last sentence in the appeal review report, prepared by the company’s Senior Psychiatric Medical Director, a man with both an MD and a JD (he’s both a doctor and a lawyer):

The file does not contain incapacitating clinical observations, abnormal mental status exam findings, or other explicit evidence of psychiatric symptoms that are more reliably associated with impairment, such as psychomotor abnormalities, mood lability, difficulties with reality testing, etc. to support functional impairments due to the psychiatric conditions for the period of review.

In other words, the good doctor looked in my file and simply did not see any reliable evidence of impairment. How else might we say that? We could say that he looked for it in the file, but didn’t find it there. We might also say that he listened for it, but didn’t hear it. Or maybe he sniffed and groped around for it, but neither smelt nor felt it. More generally, the good doctor detected no such evidence. But really, I think the most common way to put it is that he did not see it in the file.

And why not? Well, I know for a fact that it was there. My doctor and I were completely transparent with the company, shared with them my entire medical file, including all of my doctor’s session notes. And I know for a fact that my own doctor looked at the exact same evidence, and did see it, which is exactly why he prescribed the medical leave for me in the first place. So, if this lawyer-doctor didn’t see it, then it can only be because the poor man is suffering from a kind of blindness. In the same way that some people can’t see certain colors, this man is simply unable to see certain kinds of evidence — coincidentally that particular kind of evidence that might justify paying out short-term disability claims. We might call this kind of visual impairment evidence-blindness, which under most circumstances is surely a disability that causes serious problems for anyone who suffers from it, not to mention anybody else whose well-being might depend on certain evidence being seen.

But in this case, the doctor-lawyer has been able to turn his weakness into a strength. He has figured out a way to convert his evidence-blindness into real personal asset, what I can only imagine must be a very lucrative kind of super-ability. I bet he’s a real hero around the office, defending his employer — this poor, defenseless billion-dollar, global multinational insurance company — from having to pay all those pesky disability claims. Good for him.

Ok, ok, I’m sure you get it. Yes, I’m an autistic person who understands and knows how to use sarcasm. And FYI, I’m not the only one either, so how about we all let go of that particular stereotype, shall we?

No, this man is not really “evidence-blind”. And here’s the point of all of this: Make no mistake: this doctor is malingering, and I mean that quite literally. This is not a metaphor. He is literally faking this so-called “evidence-blindness”, this inability to see exactly the kind of evidence that would justify a claim payment. That is textbook malingering. Furthermore, the only reason an insurance company hired him is because he’s really, really good at it — a highly skilled malingering expert, who knows exactly what he’s doing, and one of the things he’s doing is accusing his victims of malingering. And he’s doing it precisely because he knows its a wonderful way to hide his own malingering.

I hope that’s useful in some way. And if you are feeling that skeptical confusion I mentioned earlier, if you are perhaps squinting at both me and that doctor and trying to figure out which one of us is the real malingerer, which of us is the “expert” referred to in the title, here’s what I suggest:

Although it really does matter to me personally that you eventually come to believe that I am really not a malingerer, but rather a survivor of the doctor’s malingering (and by extension, the malingering of the BDGMNIC), I’m more than happy to wait while you carefully review the actual evidence for yourself — to the extent that such evidence is or eventually becomes available to you — and make up your own mind, if ever you are even able to accomplish that. And as far as the basic “lesson” of this post is concerned, to my view it really does not matter one whit which way you are leaning on this issue for now. As far as the above insight is concerned, please feel free to just pick one of us as the culprit, and then move on to pondering how you might find some use for this idea that a great way to hide your own malingering is to accuse your victims of malingering. Of course, I hope you won’t actually try to exploit this insight in order to malinger, but I am hoping it may come in handy if you ever need to protect yourself from the malingering of somebody else.

Please share your success stories below (or any other comments you wish to share).

Oh, and check out this short YouTube video of a killdeer faking a broken wing in order to lure a predator away from its nest. Now that’s a true expert malingerer!




Am I Right, Or Just Truth-Lucky?

silver coinSuppose there are three of us — you, me and some fella named Jake. And suppose you flip a coin and then cover it with your hand so neither neither Jake nor I can see whether it came up heads or tails. Then you very carefully show just Jake the result — which we will assume was heads — and you ask us both to announce simultaneously what we believe the result to be.

Now, of course Jake knows what that the coin came up heads, but I don’t, so I just make some guess. And on the count of three, and just by dumb luck, suppose that both Jake and I announce simultaneously that we believe the same thing — that the coin came up heads.

Now, it’s common in situations like this to say that both Jake and I are “right”, because we both believe that the coin came up heads, and the observable fact of the matter is that the coin did, indeed, come up heads. But is this really accurate? Am I really “right”, or at least “right” in the same way that Jake is right?

I don’t think so. I think these are two radically different ways of “being right”, and I also think that when we use the same word to describe them we risk causing confusion in the minds of listeners who haven’t yet taken the time to think these things through. And having done this sort of thinking ourselves, I think we have the opportunity to accept the responsibility for inviting others to do so too, and a good way to do this is to use two different terms for these two different kinds of belief, one grounded in direct observation of facts, and the other floating on a gust of luck, either wholly, or in some cases, only partly.

But what term to use for the latter? I’m open to suggestions, of course, but I’ve recently started using truth-lucky.