Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Man with Tourette Syndrome Makes Fools of us all

Dateline: CLEVELAND—Horace Tabernacle is a 43-year old man with Tourette Syndrome, who displays a variety of vocal and motor tics, including the most infamous tic: for no apparent reason, he frequently shouts profanity in public, like the N-word or the C-word, horrifying bystanders and sometimes causing riots that have to be quelled by police. In fact, chaos seems to swirl around Horace like tornado winds around the eye of the storm.

For example, this RWUG reporter accompanied Horace as he visited the supermarket to shop for vegetables. Stopping at the avocados, Horace pointed at the dark-hued vegetables and shouted, “Those are the niggers. See? Right there, niggers! Niggers!” Some of the patrons within earshot appeared deeply offended. They scowled or shook their head. Parents covered their children’s ears and steered them away from Horace, realizing instantly that he was mentally unstable. Other shoppers were enraged rather than just embarrassed that the decorum set by Muzak had been upset by Horace’s outburst. An African-American woman picked up an avocado and launched it at Horace’s head, shouting “Who are you calling a nigger, you cracker!” Rubbing his head with one hand, he waived the woman off with the other, saying “Not you, not you, you’re a cunt.” A scuffle ensued which had to be broken up by security guards, who threw Horace out of the supermarket.

“That happens to me all the time,” he said later in an interview about his experience with the disorder. “I try to control the tics, but normal people don’t understand that it’s impossible. They go crazy when I’m around; I think they get crazier even than me. People should know I never use the power words as insults. Why would I? The insults wouldn’t even make sense half of the time. No, I shout them for the joy of it. Some words or phrases I love because they sound funny, like ‘bouillabaisse,’ ‘Come off it, soffit!’ or ‘tackleberry richenbacker.’ When I’m showering or waiting in line somewhere, I might say one or more of those silly phrases over and over, like a mantra. I know they sound strange, but chanting them comforts me. They’re tics, like itches that feel good when they’re scratched.”

Other words, however, Horace likes to shout because of their raw and somewhat mystifying power. “The N-word and the C-word aren’t fun to say just because of how they sound when their letters are pronounced. But I know the impact their meanings have on ordinary folks who are just trying to go about their business. It’s like those words are volcanoes and I delight in watching the explosions; people’s reaction to them is sublime. It’s like my irrationality is contagious, like everyone still believes in the magic power of words even though we’re all supposed to be modern.”

Psychiatrist Alfred Shiksamonger theorizes that the conventions of political correctness help civilize average citizens of technologically advanced societies, by forcing us to repress our “mythopoeic instincts.” We have the same faith in magic and spirits as our ancient ancestors did, he said, but the “hyperrationality of modern machines” drives us to compete on their level. “We civilized adults sacrifice the animal within to beat machines at their game; we adapt to the new niche, repressing ourselves to fit in and not stand out. Our personas are programmed.”

Horace spoke of a time years ago when he tried to ask a girl out on a date. “Never have I fought so hard not to provoke the volcano,” he said. “I didn’t want to scare her off. So we talked about this and that and all the while I felt like calling her a cunt to her face. Completely absurd, I know! Needless to say, it wouldn’t have expressed my real attitude towards her at all. I just had a childish wish to see what would happen, to see the social order we take for granted overturned. But I already knew what would happen and I couldn’t subdue the tic for long. I remember she was smiling at me after I’d said something funny. She was waiting for me to take the next step, to ask her out. I could have done so and left before I humiliated myself and ruined everything. Instead, I uttered the words of power. It was like a magic spell that transformed her. She slapped my face, told me to go fuck myself, and stormed off. No doubt she was angry she’d wasted so much time on a crazy person.”

However, according to Dr. Shiksamonger, “If you think about what a fellow like Horace is doing, strictly speaking, it’s farcical. The physical damage done just by his public profanity is perfectly insignificant and yet we go ballistic when he lets loose with the taboo words. When we say that shouting the N-word is politically incorrect, what we mean really is that when we hear the offensive word and notice its harmlessness, we become painfully aware of the arbitrariness of all rules of political correctness. We’d much rather vent our Id on a full-time basis.

“So we scapegoat someone like Horace instead of condemning the modern standards of normality that are better suited to the machines we build. Our hypocrisy is proven by the countless irrational preferences we succumb to in spite of our self-censorship, be they religious, political, or sexual, but when Horace flouts conventions with such abandon, he calls attention to the name of the game. And that’s the true source of our discomfort when someone like Horace is around. Who could care less about any paltry word! What’s terrifying is the beast within that’s subdued by mere mesmerism.” 


  1. I just had a childish wish to see what would happen, to see the social order we take for granted overturned.

    I have TS, and while I've never displayed any coprolalia, I have thoughts like this all the time. I don't do it as much as I used to, but I'll sometimes drop some profane or otherwise ugly sentiments into conversation when I'm around new people. Just to see how they'll react. I don't direct the words at them, just put them out there generally. I'd never considered that this behavior might also be rooted in my TS. Interesting.

    I fully understand what you mean by the itch that needs scratching though. I can suppress my motor tics, but it requires concentration and is both mentally and physically exhausting to do so. I used to suppress tics at work so as not to get funny looks from people, then when I got home I'd bury my face in a pillow and yell for about 5-10 minutes. Not words, just screaming into the pillow. I eventually decided that this wasn't good for my well-being and stopped suppressing the majority of the tics. Most of mine are pretty minor anyway, but they're frequent.

    1. I have experience with Tourette's and OCD, but I'm going to leave it at that. What amuses me is the satirical lesson and the irony in reversing the standard reaction to those with TS. Usually, people think those folks are ridiculous, because sometimes their tics really stand out--although as you know, many people with TS don't have severe tics. But isn't the reaction to the tics ridiculous as well?

    2. But isn't the reaction to the tics ridiculous as well?

      Yes, it is as Callan S. clearly demonstrates below.

    3. Oh, you sound like you takin' me super serious, bro? Just an itch.

      What, your TS is holy, but whatever I've got is just rediculous?

      I thought TS just made for random phrasings - this holier than thou bit, surely that's not related to it? Why's that being brought in?

    4. It's hard to imagine someone with TS being holier than thou. In my experience, doing things you know are silly and irrational every hour of every day since you were a child, knowing that you have to try to suppress the tics in public so you don't make so much of a fool of yourself--all of that is a recipe for humility, not arrogance. There may be exceptions and I'm not an expert on this or anything, but it seems to me that folks with moderate or extreme cases of TS are more likely to be humble than self-righteous.

      However, they might also be bitter and resentful, to the extent that they're ostracized or ridiculed. My point in this little satirical report is to say that "normal" folks should look at themselves in the mirror before they play the marginalization/scapegoating game.

    5. So a self identified TS sufferer would never use a phrase like 'Yes, it is rediculous as X clearly demonstrates below.'? They'd avoid such judgementalism and self promotion of themselves as the sole judge of things?

      Or what would a TS sufferer have to say, Ben, for you to agree they have a holier than thou attitude?

    6. Actually, I read his comment as saying that you showed that normal people's reactions to tics can be as ridiculous as the tics, because they're both involuntary ("amusing itches to scratch"), not that your comment itself was ridiculous as a reaction to tics. So there might be a misunderstanding here.

    7. I don't see a self depreciative humour when someone says 'Yes, it is rediculous as X clearly demonstrates below.'. I see someone elevating themselves above others.

      Maybe I'm wrong and its said with the notion that the speaker is fouling up in various ways just as much.

      On the other hand though, Ben, if you can't consider you are possibly wrong and that it was possiblyly said with a holier than thou attitude - well, in regards to someone who cannot think they are wrong exploiting someone else who humours doubt on their position, I have no interest in them trying to convince the person who humours doubt that the only possible conclusion is that they are wrong.

      In other words, I'll doubt my position if you'll doubt yours? Deal?

      If no deal, well you think it could not be any other way - and instead of arguing whether it could, I'll just point at any such dogmatic certainty on your part as my very point.

      Hopefully we can make a deal, though? Yeah?

  2. But the avocado throwing lady - don't you understand, it's just her thing. A tic! She finds it fun, like scratching an itch. It isn't much - it's not like a grenade, she chose the really ripe, soft avocado! You didn't notice?

    Oh, you're saying YOU know when someones trying to be offensive and YOU KNOW she was! You KNOW it wasn't just a ludicrous food fight tic she has and instead you KNOW it was some genuine feeling of nastyness on her part! While they should understand yours wasn't, of course.

    It's a rough turn around, but why not the open mindedness the other way around? That these 'reactions' are perhaps just as much an amusing itch to scratch as yours is?

    To do otherwise is to simply not recognise the mirror one is looking into. Ie, just automatically taking things seriously as one thinks is rediculous when the other person does so.

    Besides, why is the N word so very detached from anything? Does one stop at a red traffic light - that's just a red light. Just as much the more use of the N word is essentially an indicator of how empowered people feel to do things even further along that spectrum, which at further ends of it are hangings and slavery. Permission starts at the lips.

    BTW, the capslock parts of the above - it's just FUN to do...

    1. I agree that when we get very angry, our actions may be reflexive, like when the doctor bangs your knee and you kick your leg out a little. And reflective, reactive, or instinctive (e.g. tribal) behaviour is similar to a tic in that you might try to control either for as long as you can, but the behaviour happens anyway.

      But there are important differences too. Tics can only be delayed, not controlled (unless you take drugs which have side effects); they inevitably come out, usually in private unless it's a particularly serious case of the tic disorder. But some people do control their emotions and their instincts on a permanent basis. Some emotions (the subconsious, etc) might pop up eventually in other areas, as Freud said; we can repress them but they have the last laugh. But some people have low tempers, so that they rarely get angry. And while rapists, for example, give in to their lust or instinct, most men don't.

      Also, the rationalizations for ordinary emotional or instinctive reactions are more plausible, because these reactions are normalized, whereas tics are much stranger. Both behaviours are caused by some mechanism, but the lady who throws the avocado (it's a hard one, by the way, because she uses it as a weapon) can give a politically correct story as the reason for her reaction. The N-word is taboo and she's retaliating for the offense, defending the honour of the victims of racism. Now, I offer a reason as to why Horrace throws around the N-word, but the point is that the hostility is normalized, whereas the people with tics are marginalized. People would accept the hostility (although in reality most would condemn violence against someone suffering from a tic disorder), but they would reject Horrace's rationale, because the latter is subversive.

      Finally, the lady who throws the avocado surely wouldn't say she's having fun. She's being possessed by her bad temper, and although there may be people who enjoy being angry (Homer Simpson?), I don't think that's normal. The lady chooses to fight rather than flee when challenged. And tics aren't exactly fun either, although tic-sufferers do feel relief when they release the tics. Still, they also feel ashamed and distracted, which is why they usually try to suppress them in public.

      So no, I have more sympathy for someone with Tourette's than for folks who respond to the strangeness of tics with political correctness. Still, I take your point that there are some similarities.

    2. My point is why do you think Horace should be treated as meaning no harm, when in no way do you treat the avocado lady as meaning no harm (yes, I know you wrote the story and control directly her intention - but lets let go of control of her intention and leave it ambiguous for a moment. And maybe she meant to grab a soft one, but screwed up and grabbed a hard one, at that)

      You expect a charitable open mindeness on Horaces intentions but you do not grant the charitable open mindedness to anyone else, including the avocado lady.

      How does that work out, when you expect to be treated in a certain way but you wont treat anyone else in that same way?

      Yes, when marginalised, the idea of coming out all forgiving jesus on stuff seems counterintuitive, I get that (enough to make fun of the idea by calling it all forgiving jesus stuff). On the other hand, it might be the only way out of the hole - otherwise you might just be supporting the marginalisation you labour under.

    3. No, I take your point, Callan: there's something subversive about Tourette's on my account of it. Now whether this is just the disorder's effect or an intention on the part of the tic sufferer is another matter. I think most people with a severe case of the disorder would rather it go away, so at most they might think that since it's not going away they might as well make the best of it, by having some fun with it or at least learning from people's amusing reactions to their tics.

      In any case, we'd have to distinguish between the degrees of harm. The tic sufferer would intend to disrupt society in a very indirect and sort of abstract way, whereas the politically correct folks would ostracize the sufferer, at a minimum (in this satire they go as far as physically harming him).

    4. So that ostracization, in that weigh up of degrees of harm, it comes out as not correct...perhaps politically?

      I don't know who's putting up their hand to being responsble for anything, if anything, with with this distinguishment?

      Or is it a 'they need to first, because...' situation?

    5. Well, who do you think does more harm? The public that inevitably makes a TS sufferer feel like an outsider, because the tics are so strange and off-putting? Or the person with TS who might make the most of his or her disorder by studying people's reactions and realizing that they reveal something fishy about political correctness and taboos, and who might make others feel the same?

      The thing is, the latter would only be poetically just. That is, I doubt the public learns as much about itself from experiencing TS, as a person with TS learns about the public from experiencing the latter's reaction to the tics. TS would be harmful to the public only if it were to actually subvert people's confidence in their normality. But for that to happen, normal people would have to question certain conventions, when they come face to face with the irrationality of their response to the TS sufferer. I don't think that happens often, if it happens at all. So TS is only potentially subversive, since what makes people normal is their efficiency at repressing the silly side of themselves. By contrast, TS sufferers have their nose rubbed in their silliness on a daily basis, so their confidence in their society's mores is bound to be minimal.

    6. Spiderman doesn't bother stopping the mugger. The mugger goes and kills his uncle Ben. Who do you think does more harm? It's easy enough to go and pin that title on the mugger, isn't it?

      Not sure I care much about a TS sufferer who studies peoples reactions, when they have no sense of responsibility on the matter. Somewhat like spiderman, because of TS you have been ejected from the norm and instead of being forced into responsibility, you have a choice about whether you take responsibility up or not.

      Too pop culture of me?

    7. Well, Peter Park wasn't yet Spiderman when he saw that mugger. And I'm not sure what responsibility you think TS sufferers have. Are you saying their studying of others is useless? As I see it, they have a responsibility to themselves, to laugh at normal people's foolishness to keep their spirits up, so they can cope with the absurdity of their affliction. Are you saying someone like Horace should teach the avocado-throwing lady the error of her ways or stop her like Spiderman? I think his tics already intrude on people's privacy.

    8. Augh, you may as well be shooting me down for saying 'their' when I mean 'they're' with the spiderman/parker thing. Must I bow to your pedantism, Ben?

      And the just world fallacy strikes again! Listen to me - I say the TS sufferer has fallen outside of the norm. Outside of the place where we have assigned responsibilities - just as much as Peter Parker fell outside the world of assigned responsibility. How can I tell you what responsibility you have, when you have fallen outside of the world of assigned responsibilities?

      Yet you act like you are still inside it and there's a set place for you and it, just happily and coincidentally enough, lets you off the hook and instead puts others on the hook.

      I should rewind back, before any talk of choosing to adopt responsibility - do you really think the TS sufferer is still inside a just world of assigned responsibilities? And that world includes the sufferer in how it hands out responsibilities?

      Or are you outside of the world, as much as an astronaut on a space walk is outside our world? Like Parker, with his accident, had fallen outside of the world of assigned responsibilities?

      (side note: There are many who are outside, not just TS sufferers - so don't treat me as only saying TS sufferers are outside, I am definately not making that point and do not support such a point at all)

  3. Doesn't your post substantiate the rationale behind political correctness? If control over our actions is an illusion, doesn't it then make sense to erase undesirable actions from our collective memory? If no one knows what foul language or food fights are, they can't occur.

    1. I don't think self-control is entirely an illusion. Horrace shows some degree of control when he suppresses his tics for as long as he can. Also, when political correctness governs our choices, that's not just a kind of puppetry, since as Foucault said, the myths and conventions are internalized. Foucault's panopticon is a prison in which the inmates come to control themselves, because they suspect they're always being watched. This is a kind of soft as opposed to hard power (to borrow Joseph Nye's distinction). The rules are internalized, which is clearest in the case of theistic morality, since there's no supernatural jailer.

      So just because there are conventions doesn't mean we're not controlling ourselves. The rules of the road don't force you to drive on the same side as everyone else. What forces you is your desire not to get into an accident. But this is how self-control works: we form beliefs and ideals which add up to a worldview, we identify with that worldview, and so our internal representation of the world controls us, as opposed to the external environment doing so--as it does more straightforwardly in most species.

      But your point is an interesting one. It's like the memory hole in Orwell's 1984 dystopia. My point against political correctness is that it's foolish, since people are unduly proud of their civility. People would mock or ostracize Horace who has Tourette's, but not themselves as they become enraged when Horace utters the wrong word, because they still believe in the magic power of words. This is hypocritical.

    2. I wouldn't know. I've given up on concepts like 'the self' and 'free-will'. They're simply too convoluted and mired with contradictions. I prefer determinism, not because it doesn't have its share of problems, but its just an easier concept to work with.

      Don't you think that the real problem with political correctness is that it serves as a kind of mass placebo - its fine to think and behave deplorably, so long as no one mentions it out loud.

      Notice how banning a word like 'nigger' also inhibits us from complaining when we're being treated like one.

    3. I like the last point you made there. Orwell would have a lot to say about that, since this is a matter of Doublethink, of forcing an official language on everyone so that certain thoughts are made taboo and unthinkable.

      If by "placebo," you mean mind over matter, yes I think political correctness is a kind of mesmerism or soft power, as I say above. But your point about being allowed to misbehave as long as it's kept private is about hypocrisy, I think (saying one thing and doing another).