Friday, November 24, 2006

Derick's Disease

One meets curious people in grad school. When I was just beginning my doctoral program at roughly the same time there was a fellow who was starting in the Master's program, by the name of Derick. Derick was a nice enough fellow, a little older than most of the other students. He dressed quite well, though conservatively. He always took fastidious notes with a gold colored propelling pencil. His handwriting was incredibly neat. Chatting with Derick, I learned that his ambition in life was to become a 'philosophy lecturer'. This seemed a little odd, given that this terminology is not too common in North America.

If I recall correctly, I took a couple of classes with Derick. One of them was a seminar class on the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. As the weeks progressed, a rather odd phenomenon concerning Derick became clear. He was attempting to understand the work of Kant, by trying to relate his thought to the work of the British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. This was rather curious and gave rise to some comments (and a little frustration from the professor), but did not seem totally off the wall.

The next semester, I found myself in another class with Derick. I forget what the class was about, but I do recall that it was a topic that was not even remotely related to, or sensibly relateable to, the work of Hobbes. For this reason, I assumed that the Hobbes fixation would disappear. To my complete amazement, it did not! As the semester progressed, it became terrifyingly clear to myself and many other people in this class that the only philosopher Derick really understood, was in fact, Thomas Hobbes. Indeed, this claim needs some qualifying. It also appeared that Derick's grasp of the works of Hobbes was not as firm as it might have been. Some wag named this phenomena 'Derick's disease'. It was decided that whenever a person attempted to understand any topic by relating it to another topic, then this person potentially suffered from Derick's disease. If the person always chose the same topic as a means of understanding everything, no matter how inappropriate it might be, then the diagnosis of Derick's disease was confirmed.

I don't know what happened to Derick. However, I am pretty certain that he never successfully completed the Master's program.

Now, on the face of it, this might seem to be a mildly amusing anecdote from graduate school and little more. I beg to differ on this interpretation. It appears to me that cases of Derick's Disease are in fact alarmingly common. For instance, I had a student who exhibited Derick's disease whilst studying the history of modern philosophy. He tried to relate everything to the work of John Locke. This however by no means exhausts the domains in which people exhibit this malady.

Consider the case of certain excessively dogmatic fundamentalist Christians. These people in a certain number of cases seem to exhibit Derick's disease. Why did their car not start? It was God's will. Why did their daughter become a junkie? It was God's will. Why did it rain on the church picnic?...You get the picture. We can also find sufferers of Derick's disease amongst certain types of Marxist/Socialist types. I suspect that there are even existentialists who suffer from this malady (probably also falling into bad faith, in the process). Some people will insist that all their problems are due to the oppression of white males, homophobes, evil fairy's, or whatever. Others will claim all sorts of utterly nutty things, based upon all sorts of wild theories. Many of these kinds of people will suffer from Derick's disease also.

Thus, I submit that Derick's disease should be considered for inclusion in either medical, or psychological, manuals in the future. It is an alarmingly common sickness. ;)

The CP


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post. I was in grad school with someone who related everything to Hawthorne.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Tenured Radical said...


I would say there is another version of Derick's disease that is common among my undergraduates, which is -- everything strange to me can be understood through *my* experiences. Perhaps it is an early symptom that later blossoms fully as another, more exalted figure takes the place of *me*.

OK, unrelated Hawthorne story. When I had just been hired, in the course of a conversation in office hours a student, clearly upset, confided in me that a senior member of the program I am associated with had had an incestuous love affair with his sister, and that he had told the class this. I was very puzzled, both as to why a faculty member would say such a thing even if it were true, and because I knew that this particularly prim fellow did not even HAVE a sister. So I went to see Dr. Victorian, who was chair of the program at the time and had an office across the hall, and she rolled her eyes in exasperation. Don't worry," she said, "This always happens when Chuck teaches Hawthorne!:"

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Hobbes guy sounds like my communist guy. When I was a TA, I had a student who seemed like he could not grasp anything in a 20th century history of foreign policy class (including proper social behavior, like not picking his nose in class). One day I used communism as an example of why it is important to understand the concepts discussed in the class (rather than memorizing the events). His brain apparently locked onto communism, which he didn't fully understand- rather he memorized a lot about it- and everything for the rest of the semester was seen through this hazy communist lens of his, and everything was compared to it, even when there was no comparison. My colleague and I went to talk to someone in disabled student services, and she suspected he might have Asperger Syndrome. Wikipedia has a pretty good article on it.

11:07 AM  

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