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  • Writer's pictureJason Adams

An Open Letter to John Mac Ghlionn: What Could Have Been...or Still Could Be?



To Mr. John Mac Ghlionn,


I'm writing in response to your recent publication in the New York Post, entitled "OCD is increasingly the common denominator among extremist behaviors". I'm sure, by now, that you're aware of the emotional outrage your article has sparked within the OCD community, but today I write to you from a different perspective; one of scholarship, integrity, and, well, good writing.


Let's start by lifting the veil, John: your article doesn't quote scholarly research. It cites selective and inflammatory snippets from an unverified theory. The main paper you quote in your article (link here) doesn't come from a peer-reviewed journal, or even from a reputable OCD organization. It's written by two social psychology researchers, who, to their credit, have Ph.Ds in their respective fields, but are not clinical OCD specialists. Furthermore, the paper is posted in an open-source database that does not perform peer reviews. I mean no disrespect to the researchers; the problem lies in your use of their paper.


A connection between OCD and violent radicalism is a huge accusation that demands a thorough peer-review from OCD experts, or at least publication in an established medical journal before it gets chopped up and published in the New York Post. After all, a well-known danger of open-source academic resources is that anyone can publish anything, and ideas can take hold in the public eye before they're properly vetted (in fact, I recently published my own theory about OCD and journalism on a similar site to prove my point...check it out). That seems like a non-starter to me, but then again, I'm writing under the assumption that the point of your article is to raise awareness about helping people with OCD for the betterment of society. More on that later.


Now, on the topic of the research: according to your article, Jais Adam-Troian and Jocelyn Belanger hypothesize a connection between OCD and radicalization using a logic string that goes something like this:

  1. Radicalization stems from obsessive passion.

  2. Characteristics of obsessive passion include "cognitive rigidity, ego-insecurity, contingencies of self-worth, and deficient goal-regulation strategies that prioritize ideological goal-pursuit over alternative life goals."

  3. Those characteristics sound like some of the characteristics of OCD.

  4. Therefore, OCD is the foundation upon which obsessive passion is built.

  5. Obsessive passion underpins violent radicalization, therefore OCD underpins violent radicalization.

I get it: if all Zips are Zaps, and all Zaps are Zups, then all Zips are definitely Zups, right? If only it were that simple.


The claim that OCD and violent radicalization are related because some of their descriptors match is like arguing that fast food chefs and auto mechanics are at equal risk for dropping things because their hands get greasy at work. It makes sense on paper, but it falls apart in the complexities of real life. If we took Adam-Troian/Belanger's correlations at face value, we might assume that someone with OCD could go from thinking rigidly about not wanting to displease God to eventually feeling they need to kill other people in order to not displease God. That's just not the case, and no reputable OCD resource or organization would say otherwise.


To explain this, let's take the example of rigid thinking: yes, rigid thinking can be a part of OCD, but it's rigid thinking about the way you think, not about the way you think others should act, or what they should believe. OCD is not a disorder of causing harm. It's a disorder of being afraid of the very idea that you might cause harm, and doing everything you can to rid yourself of the thought that you might cause harm. That's a far cry from, in the words of Montreal's Center for the Prevention of Radicalization, 'a system of beliefs justifying the use of violence'. There are so many other misconceptions to address, but in the interest of expediency, let's address another of the biggest elephants in the room.


Why are there no direct testimonials from OCD researchers or people who have OCD in your article, John? I'm not being facetious. I need to know, because from my perspective, either you didn't know about any research that contradicts your arguments, or you chose not include them. Neither scenario is encouraging, but I'm choosing continued dialogue over rigid thinking, which leads us to the question of your intentions.


You're a professional in journalism, and I'm not. I don't know your editor, and I don't sit around boardroom tables discussing what the public needs to know. Here's what I do know, though: your article doesn't advocate for mental health. Less than one percent of your content casts obsessive-compulsives in a positive light (trust me, I did a word count and checked), and you repeatedly make flimsy connections between incomplete descriptors of OCD and radicalization, often using Greta Thunberg and other left-leaning causes as your figureheads. You could argue that your paragraph about how parents can foster healthy home environments advocates for the mental health of kids, but it does the exact opposite because there's a tangible sense of fear lurking just beneath the surface of your advice. You're not making parents aware of mental health symptoms. You're conflating OCD with terrorism, and that teaches people to be suspicious and afraid of mental illness. If you continue with this approach, you're going to create a situation where kids won't come to even the most non-confrontational parents with anything even resembling mental health symptoms because they'll be terrified of being labeled as an incubating radical. You'll leave kids feeling mislabeled, misunderstood and hopeless, and that's when the real bitterness and depression will set in.


Your article could've been an informed critique of a new theory about OCD, and an opportunity to help people address some of their misunderstandings about mental health in general, but it's not. It's sad to think of what might have been, but honestly, I'm still optimistic.


If you want to improve this discussion, then please, reach out to me, or another OCD advocate. Let's talk. Like, really, talk. Person to person, writer to writer, human to human. Maybe we can even share the fruits of our discussion with other people, frankly and candidly. That would be so much better than what we're currently doing.


Your move, John.


Sincerely,


Jason Adams


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