Thursday, August 28

It's Like You're Readin' My Thoughts, Man.

Sarah Kershaw, "Look Closely, Doctor--See the Camera?" August 27

OKAY, I'm no expert, but I think that if you're writing a piece about paranoid psychosis it's best not to introduce the same character twice in succeeding paragraphs in a slightly different guise:
“Most likely these people would be delusional anyway,” said Dr. Joel Gold, a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, who said he saw five patients at the hospital from 2002 to 2004 with Truman Show delusion. Dr. Gold and his brother, Dr. Ian Gold, the Canada research chair in philosophy and psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, came up with the term “Truman Show delusion.”

“But the more radical view is that this pushes some people over the threshold; the environment tips them over the edge,”
said Dr. Joel Gold, who is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University. “And if culture can make people crazy, then we need to look at it.”

Emphasis mine.  Of course, it might help matters if said character didn't speak in self-anhilating sentences, but, hey, he's a psychiatrist. You're the one who opened the box.
The delusions are fueling a chicken-and-egg debate in psychiatry: Are these merely modern examples of classic paranoia fed by the current cultural landscape, or is there something about media like reality television and the Internet that can push people over the sanity line?

Trick question, right?

Are we taking audience questions? Because I'd like to know if the coffee and doughnuts are for everyone, or if they're just virtual, and, as a follow-up, th' fuck are you going on about?

Because unless everyone's lying to me, it's 2008. Mass media's been bedeviling us for a century now; psychiatry even longer. (Did you know Uncle Siggy and Nicola Tesla were born two months apart? And they're both Austrians? Neither did I. And they've both been used by a succession of crackpots to excuse practically anything. But only one was a cokehead.)

Maybe you could have gotten around to this a little sooner, when all the paranoids thought Harding and Cox were speaking to them through the walls, or the contents of Fibber McGee's closet threatened them every time they turned a doorknob. You know, before we were all subjected to Jim Carrey? I know, I know, Science proceeds at its own pace. So too, presumably, does psychiatry. But there comes a time when we have to question Knowledge for its own sake and the pretense of expertise where there is none. I mean, it's one thing when the promise of Safe Uses of Atomic Energy fails to pan out; it's quite another to still have a nuclear power industry dedicated to lobbying the government to ignore the perils it subjects the rest of us to, fifty years after the fact.

And here's the thing about that, for me, at least: I can at least see some of Big Nuke's argument. What's yours? Psychology seems to have turned its entire supply of what Jonathan Miller called "the charismatic panoply of modern professional power" to the service of The Almighty, as in Dollar, since--not surprisingly--the election of Ronald Reagan. In that time we've deprived millions of people of their right to walk around loose because human beings like to smoke a little reefer, while turning mental patients out to live, and die, on the streets. We've decided that modern concepts of mental or emotional competence simply get in the way of a sufficiently satisfying level of applied 17th century penal practices, and we've reduced legal considerations of sanity to a sentencing footnote in many cases. We've executed people who had the mental competence of nine-year-olds.  Where's psychiatry been while all this was goin' on? Not on the ramparts, unless by that you mean the front lines of convincing every parent whose child tokes a doobie or develops a case of sassmouth that he urgently requires your ministrations, please pay in advance. We continue to "educate" vast segments of the population with methods that are hopelessly foreign to them, and then blame them for their failure. For godsakes, the learnéd men and women of the biological sciences, geology, and paleontology take their precious time to fight the good fight over crackpot state and local school boards injecting Jesus into science texts. Where's psychiatry on the dehumanizing effects of cookie-cutter education, of treating high school students like criminals, of the shameful discrepancies between rich and poor?

It is, apparently, busy writing books on whether we're being driven insane by reality television. For chrisakes, Doc, just watch for half an hour.  


D. Sidhe said...

These people are morons, and that's my considered opinion on all mental health professionals, a group with whom I have collectively spent more time being assessed than I think I have managed in my whole life to spend sleeping.

Delusions are not new. People are not spontaneously being driven crazy, not by rock music or tv or the internet or anything else, unless they had a tendency for it in the first place. What they're seeing here is symptoms, and confusing them with causes.

In the Middle Ages, I understand, people would describe being accosted in the night by something, and they would call it "night hag" and blame the nearest crazy lady. Nowadays we describe the same thing and call it "alien abduction". The symptoms only change, the underlying disease remains the same.

Me, I hallucinate zombies and I believe that George Bush Sr tried to have Reagan assassinated. Six hundred years ago, I'd have been hallucinating demons and trying to convince people the guy on the next farm was plotting to kill me. Even a crazy brain is only trying to interpret what it sees around it, and all brains do that through their own experiences. If you're religious, you believe God's talking to you through your radiator vent and you hallucinate angels. If you're a geek, you believe Al Gore is controlling you through your mouse and you hallucinate aliens.

You don't expect Amazon tribesmen to interpret a movie the same way you expect New Yorkers to. And you don't expect crazy Amazon tribesmen to interpret anything the way you expect crazy New Yorkers to. It doesn't mean they don't have crazy in common, it just means they don't have much else in common.

Anonymous said...

I'm just personally scared to agree with Tom Cruise and the Dianeticians about anything.

LittlePig said...

Hard to say what is a poorer reflection on their locale: That some civil servant schmuck licensed Dr. Gold, or that some NYT editor schmuck hired Ms. Kershaw.

Does the state of New York have an idiot affirmative action program?

D. Sidhe said...

Most states do. It's called "the applicant pool".

Anonymous said...

One quibble: Nicola Tesla was a Serb born in what is now Croatia; admittedly it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the time, so it doesn't necessarily detract from a point that was tangential to begin with and okay I'll shut up now.