New Frontiers in Stigmatizing Others

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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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