Selfies and Narcissism

square832Notice how people with no clue of the personalities of the people who post selfies jump to the conclusion that they must be narcissists? Appreciation of the complexity of motives driving self portraiture lies beyond the capacity of their minds it seems. I, however, believe the problem is ignorance which fuels too hasty judgements.

I have taken selfies for several years now. Many artists and photographers do. For most of us it is an exercise in our art, an experiment in composition. For many years, I did not like having myself photographed. It was a shock to see how people saw me or how I presented myself to the world. My wife, for example, seemed to include my then-ample-belly in every one of her photos of me. When I was young, I did not like my lanky frame. When middle-aged my stomach. Now in my late fifties, I don’t care about these things so much because I have spent a lot of time desensitizing myself to my own face and body. This isn’t narcissism: it is self-experiment and rehabilitation.

What about the young woman who shows her cleavage or her legs? I have to ask why the obsession with how young women choose to present themselves? I will grant you that there are narcissists among them, but the focus on young women in particular rankles of sexism. There are men who like to present their six-packs. And men and women who are not so pretty and fit who still show their faces and bodies. Are these narcissistic or are they merely trying to show the world that they, too, are attractive?

It is no sin to like your face and body. Calling others ugly or narcissistic because they don’t measure up to your standards of beauty or privacy strikes me as more contemptible. I have come to like my face and I like the faces that others post, too. It’s not all about me, but about the comeliness of the human race. Instagram, Snapchat, and Dailyboother when taken as a whole celebrates us for what we are. Human beings are meant to be seen.

Whines of 2012 — Updated 12/17/2012

  • UPDATED: 9 September 2012
  • square780Let me count the ways the events of the past few months have screwed me. Note that there may will be additions as the weeks pass…so keep checking this article. It will be a mega-whine!

    • First, my mother dies of a glioblastoma — brain cancer — the same disease that killed her father. The oncologist told me that he doubted it was hereditary. I am waiting for the announcement of a new hereditary variety any day.
    • Drake gets into a fight with a larger dog.
    • Lynn begins to bleed beyond her period. I talk her into seeing a doctor. She gets referred and referred until she is scheduled for a hysterectomy which is then handed over to an oncologist who tells us that only 2% of the patients her age presenting with her symptoms have cancer. He repeats this just before he performs the operation. It is only supposed to take half an hour. An hour and fifteen minutes later, I notice the time. He comes out with a grim look on his face and tells me that he found a malignant mass on her left ovary. Two days later, we learn to our relief that it is not ovarian cancer, but uterine cancer that has metasticized up the left fallopian tube. She spends nearly a week in the hospital. I tell people, with a sigh, that someone has to be the 2%.
    • We skip my mother’s memorial service. This was supposed to be our vacation.
    • We now need to make the condo readily cleanable. So we have to rip out the carpet and put in new flooring. Everything small in the condo needs to be brought into the garage.
    • My favorite cat — Fiona — dies.
    • The bathroom sink backs up.
    • I hurt my back.
    • I cut my hands and my knees.
    • I gain weight and fall out of the great shape I was in in the fall.
    • My other cat — Little Bo — goes crazy when I send her to board at the vet, so we take her out. I take her to a motel because the people Lynn is staying with don’t want a cat in their house.
    • The floorers discover that our floor is not level. Either because of settling or because the builders screwed up 22 years ago or both, there are large humps all over the condo. We need to spend an additional $1000 to fix these.
    • Lynn’s hair starts to fall out from the chemo. She is given a 75-80% chance to live.
    • Drake runs away three times in one day from the house where we send him to stay during the remodeling. Turns out he is slipping under a gate, so we block the way. I resolve to visit him every day.
    • My dentist informs me that three of my crowns need to be replaced.
    • Weather report promises rain for two days, pushing back the time before we can move back into the condo.
    • Painter discovers the reason why the previous owners covered the bathroom in wallpaper — there was damage to the walls that they were too lazy to plaster over. Plus they used white glue to hold it in place. (What kind of idiot puts wallpaper in a bathroom?) Add more money to the cost of the job.
    • Our new maid asks for a cabinet. She puts it outside on the deck because the weather report says that it will only be cloudy and the weather report is never wrong. It drizzles heavily all night. I do manage to cover it and wipe down the wet parts before putting it in the garage the next morning.
    • We put felt feet on everything except for one file cabinet which has a sharp lip that we can’t find a way of covering.
    • We witness an accident when we come out of a local restaurant. One man hurt. I’m glad it wasn’t one more thing to add to this list, but I would rather it didn’t happen to these people, either.
    • The dentist informed me that I needed to have a tooth pulled.
    • The garbage disposal dies necessitating its replacement. (Yes, we pushed the red button, cranked the main rotor, etc. The repairman did the same things.)
    • The tooth extraction will entail some painful digging around because the tooth has broken into three pieces. Plus I will have to undergo a sinus tap and bone graft three months after the first surgery. Plus insurance will only cover about $78 of the total. How about some dental insurance reform?
    • Drake found a new way to get out by forcing his way through one of the front window screens.
    • Just before we are to get the good news that Lynn’s treatment is going so well, they may end it before they had planned, the phone rings and someone tells me that my dog is out. “No, he can’t be out. We locked him up.” “No, your dog jumped out of the second story window….” Drake is fine, but I am angry with God about heaping so much crap and denying us the joy of the moment when we learned that things were going better than hoped for Lynn. Now we have to put out a thousand dollars for custom interior louver shutters.
    • An old obsession with the number 13 has returned. If I check the time, it is 13 after. I haven’t gotten to the point of counting things to see if they add up to 13 as I do when the obsession is truly out of control, but it is getting there. I wish I knew how to break the cycle. This is not a good sign for my mental health.
    • My country is going to hell.
    • Last Friday afternoon, I am chewing on some licorice when I feel something hard between my teeth. It is a crown. Given the day, I can’t get in to have it looked at, so I wait until Monday. My dentist looks at it, frowns, and refers me to an endodontist. He looks at it, frowns, and refers me to a periodontist to have the tooth pulled. The bicuspid has broken down to where the nerve is. Do I feel any pain? Dare I say that I don’t?
    • So now I have to have two teeth pulled, on opposite sides of the mouth! This will mean liquid diets, I dread.
    • Chest pains. This led to a three day hospital stay. My roommate was a whining biker. My mother who was a nurse had warned me about these and she was right! He bossed the staff and cried when the needles hurt. (Like, duh!) I was going so crazy by day three that I threatened to check out AMA if they didn’t release me.
    • Triglycerides are through the roof. No explanation yet for the chest pains.
    • Doctor cancelled her appointment with me due to illness. Does this really belong here? Maybe not.
    • Lynn had a blowout on the road that took out at least a third of her sidewall. She is all right. Rims were not damaged.
    • I keep getting #1141 errors every time I open up Rosetta Stone. Restarting doesn’t do a bloody thing.
    • We discover that the right front of Lynn’s car has been crushed. Week in the body shop.
    • Night of the malfunctioning software. Can’t move Rosetta Stone to a new computer and can’t get a game program to work on a new computer.
    • Friends don’t like my politics. Plus I temporarily pick up a roach who is against privatization, but sure Obama is going to push us that way. Where do these people get these ideas?
    • I put on 15 pounds.
    • Learn that my cousin killed himself. Attend the funeral.
    • Third tooth slated to be pulled in January.
    • Repairman drops an electric drill onto our wood laminate floor, leaving a dime-sized hole where it can’t be covered by a rug.
    • Massive struggle to install Windows 8. Headphones decide not to work. I buy a new pair, only to discover that the problem is still there. Then I discover a simple fix.
    • Extraction of second tooth has complications — one root takes an hour to pull. Fortunately, I am well sedated.


    Everyone is telling me that “things will get better”. I sigh and reread Job.

    At least Lynn’s chemo is over and the scans are looking good. And Obama won.

    Thoughts on Models

    Models need to understand that they are part of the creative process and photographers need to treat them as creative peers.

    Halloween Glamour and Special Effects Shootout

    square774I’ve gone to two photo-shoots with models in the last two months. It’s a new world for me, he who has practiced most of his photography on hiking trails in the Santa Ana Mountains. 1 I’ve found the world of glamor photography to be quite different from what I have expected. The women are treated well. One professional photographer I know includes a morality clause in his licensing agreement. This prevents him from reusing the photo in venues that might harm the model’s career such as politics, religion, hate, and pornography. 2 I think this kind of respect is essential, but there’s another kind of respect that needs to be practiced as well.

    Models have a reputation for being dumb. I think that what we perceive as imbecility is often reserve and self-protection. Youth also plays a part. You don’t want to say anything that will irritate your prospective employer. So if you ask a model her opinion on a photo, she will either tell you it is wonderful or she will tell you that what is important is what you like.

    Models have successfully dictated some reasonable restrictions on what their images may be used for. It’s disturbing when a photographer takes a picture of a woman and then grafts her head onto a nude body for use in the skin trade or when he uses a woman who agreed to pose in a bikini as a barker for more meretricious web traffic. No modeling contract should allow for that and no one should be held for ransom when they find their photos appearing in career-killing places.3

    It is the timidity which is bred into models that disturbs me. I was taking photos of one young woman. I was having particular trouble because she was black and I don’t have much experience shooting that skin tone. Which was why I chose to work with her. But as I showed her my photos, her answer always was “Whatever you like.”

    Now, I like to do justice to a person. I think the problem was she had been conditioned to always go along with the photographer. When one asked her for input, she didn’t know what to do except go into the broken record the modeling school taught her. Which I find tragic.

    More experienced models have no trouble responding to this, at least the ones I have met. But this might be because they have been lucky to meet with progressive photographers who see their models as human beings. These models are wonderful to work with. I’d like to see more modeling schools and more photographers promote the idea of a creative interaction between models and the other creative persons who engage in a photo shoot. There’s this idea of photographer as mad genius who must be appeased that I think can and should be done away with. Working with a model should be something more than shouting out positions and moving her body around.4 It should be a synthesis of the kinetic and the visual.

    1. Don’t worry. This will continue. []
    2. Note that just because a model does nude work does not mean she wants her image to turn up on a porn site. []
    3. Show up in a porn site and it is goodbye to Vogue. []
    4. You should never touch without the model’s permission, BTW, even if it is your girl/boyfriend. []

    What the Koch Brothers Can Do & Dare Not

    square716The Koch Brothers are on the defensive with a bright new campaign describing all the charitable causes to which they are giving money. “How can you possibly say we are inhumane (even though we financed the Tea Party which is now out to destroy Medicare and Social Security along with collective bargaining and unions?)” You’re giving part of your millions to help others while investing more to make yourself more money through lobbying efforts and hot houses like the Cato Foundation and the Foundation for American Growth is how.

    Jesus set a high standard for charity:

    As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

    20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

    21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”((The full passage is Mark 10:17-31))

    Everything. Not just a piece of a vast empire, but everything. Then we can start talking salvation. Christians, take note and do not be fooled by the Koch Brothers. They are nowhere near meeting the level of commitment that is expected of this passage.

    But let’s take a kindlier tack. What could the Koch Brothers do to start meriting a little more respect from the average American? Not God, — certainly not one of their paid lobbyists — but a member of the 98%:

    • Stop giving money to self-aggrandizing “think tanks” like Cato.
    • Support free speech and the right to make up one’s own mind about one’s vote. Stop interfering in your employees’ decision about who to vote for, ending the cycle of threats that you resorted to in the last election.
    • Come clean about your role in buying the Citizens’ United decision and call for a rehearing with Scalia and Thomas recusing themselves
    • Stop taking the glory for cancer research with your board membership in the [[American Cancer Society]] while supporting government efforts to cut it.
    • Give a substantial amount of cash to some less glamorous causes like literacy and research into mental illness
    • Improve your employees’ health benefits beyond Obamacare.
    • Leave Medicare and Social Security alone unless you have a plan to make conditions better for those who rely on them without privatization.
    • Support the funding of the [[Environmental Protection Agency]].
    • Support [[OSHA]] so that your employees’ lives will be safer.
    • Let the Tea Party fend for itself. Be honest about how you started this pretense of a social movement.
    • Be honest. You’re no libertarians. Stop calling yourself ones.
    • Publicly repudiate [[Ayn Rand]] and those who follow her.
    • Sell off your gold and give the shares to charity.
    • Give your tax rebate to the government to help fight the deficit like able Patriots should.

    Do this, Charles and David Koch, if you want to rescue this country from the economic crisis and the shadow of fascism that you have cast upon it.

    And if they don’t, America, vote them and all their candidates down down down to the hell of powerlessness.

    Relentless Self-Examination & the Loss of Genuineness

    square712The Harding Truck Trail took one last broad left turn. Just before the silver Irvine Water District gate, I called “Stop!” to my little dog. Drake came to a halt as he was trained to do so and let me fasten his leash to the ring of his harness. We made our way around the gate post, then turned right down the hill to the [[Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary]] parking lot.

    The thought that I had forgotten something1 came in a rush. Panic swept my hand to my pants pockets. I felt each in turn. The leash! Where was Drake’s leash?

    If you read this even marginally closely, you will immediately see the absurdity of my condition. The leash was in my hand! I was walking Drake with it! I realized this, of course, and ended my panic then and there. But I cannot help but ask why this happened?

    I often joke with the members of my support group about this kind of thing. It’s like that moment when you are standing at the urinal and you think to yourself “Hey wait a minute! Have I walked into the women’s bathroom by mistake?!” The only ones who have ever admitted to me that they feel the same are other people living with bipolar disorder or [[OCD]]. Is this experience of mine really that isolating? 2

    As a young [[Catholic]], I was trained in the practice of self-examination. You looked at what you said, what you did, and what you thought. You weighed it against what you had been taught as right. Everywhere you went you performed this task, in each moment, in all seasons. This was how you saved yourself from “the near occasion of sin”.

    Somewhere along the way, I adopted a more liberated altruism. You did good because that was the emotion that rose up in you. You acted in a certain way because it was consistent with who you were. You weren’t a slave to church fathers who probably wanted you looking at yourself so that you wouldn’t be looking at them. Nor did you fall into the Randian kneejerk of being selfish for selfishness’s sake. By rejecting both, the relentless self-examination was replaced by an earnest motivation to be genuine. 3

    Yet it remains in puzzling ways. When it does so usefully, it serves as a check against creating agony for myself and others. But then there are these other times when it just clicks along so that the wheels can turn. It ambushes me in strange places, forces odd thoughts upon me. At the deepest points, I see a certain logic to each of the panics: You need to keep your dog on a leash so he doesn’t get run over by a car. Men and women stay out of each other’s bathrooms as a courtesy to each other’s privacy and dignity. The moments where these occur, however, are not genuine.

    When they happen, I am a slave not to society, but to an odd sense of self. The way I deal with them is to acknowledge their drollness and move on.

    This post is in response to Day 19 of the Health Activist Writers Challenge: “Health Activist Choice Day”.

    1. I had already gone out without my cell phone []
    2. I think the confessional nature of the support group and the safety of that environment makes people more likely to admit to such things is all that is happening here. []
    3. The Randian — follower of [[Ayn Rand]] — is little more than a negative image of an obsessive altruist. The genuine human being strives to acknowledge both her/his individuality and her/his membership in society. You don’t eliminate one for the other and expect to have a healthy mind. []

    Rand, Anthem, and Genocide

    square708[[Ayn Rand]]’s Anthem is included in many summer reading programs these days. It tells a story of a young man who is trapped in a world where there is only “We”. He escapes and finds an ancient library where the books are filled with this wonderful new word whose concept he embraces passionately: “I”. It was, for the teenager that I was, a heady perusal. All my life I had felt locked into what was “good for the family”. Rand offered a way out of this, but I did not see the future and the full implications of Anthem.

    One thing that her hero declares his independence from are “the halt and the lame”. Now I realize that he meant people like me — someone who lives with [[bipolar disorder]]. I can only ask just what did Rand want to do with all the people who didn’t measure up to her “heroic” ideal?1 I hear here an echo of the [[Nazis]], who took people like me and, first, sterilized them, then “euthanized” them to cleanse the gene pool. When I see Rand devotee [[Paul Ryan]] promulgating a Medicare/Medicaid scheme that will leave the disabled with precious little insurance, I can only recall Rand’s paean to selfishness. Despite my education and my intelligence, I am one of her “halt and lame”.

    This “I” feels life. But the years and the illness have taught me a larger lesson: that “we” is also essential because we do not exist alone. I see a language without either first person pronoun desolate and untrue. I see a nation unwilling to cherish its people regardless of their infirmities doomed to incompleteness.

    1. Never mind the heroism that it takes to live every day with this disease. []

    Arguing with the God Within

    square705Near the end of Ingmar Bergman’s classic [[Winter Light]], the troubled minister who is the film’s main character, can’t decide whether to hold the 3 o’clock service or not. His day has been especially depressing because he gave counseling to a parishioner who subsequently committed suicide that very afternoon, he fought with his mistress, and he has the flu. The church sexton, a disabled survivor of a railroad accident, talks to him about the part of the Gospels which he has been reading, the Passion.

    Jesus, the sexton reasons, didn’t suffer all that much on the cross. Why, the janitor goes on, he personally suffered more pain in his life than the four hours that afflicted Jesus and his pain was probably much worse. No, the [[crucifixion]] is not the most important segment of the Passion. Think of the [[Garden of Gethsemane]], he says. The [[Last Supper]] is done. The disciples who have accompanied him have no clue about what is about to happen, so they go to sleep. Jesus is all alone, so he kneels down to pray. And what does God the Father say to him? Nothing. God is silent. And that, the sexton reasons, is the most terrible ordeal that Jesus endures.

    Agnostic that I am, I still value the Gospels as a guide for understanding the suffering that is happening in my life. But what I would give for a silent God at times! In the void, my depressions fill the emptiness with the voice that is the worst of the Old Testament combined with Catholic guilt. I call this my inner god — a false god to be certain — because its primary purpose is to torment me. My illness exists, according to this voice, for the purpose of punishing me. But therapist after therapist has asked me What have I done that is so terrible that I deserve this constant hammering at my self-esteem? I can throw out a number of things, but they are all trivial compared to the actions of some of my peers who feel no shame for what they wreak against others1 Surely there should come a place where my penance is over? But no matter what amends I make, the god inside me continues to berate me and declare me worthless.

    One reason why I value my manias is that they shut down this voice entirely. Only my own ideations occupy me — obsessively. My thoughts race from project to project, propounding desperate philosophies that enthrall me more than [[methamphetamine]]. The evil god, the blasphemer against my happiness is put to death and does not rise again until I crash. Then for more than forty days at a stretch, the god assaults me with shame.

    For the depressed and the anxious, the silence of God is a scream.

    This post is in response to Day 9 of the Health Activist Writers Challenge: “Health Activist Choice

    1. Do you hear me, [[Newt Gingrich]]? []

    Walking the Flat Track

    square702Guilt is the mainstay of some of us who struggle with bipolar disorder. I saw my mind disintegrate during the nineties. At the same time, I was mocked for my ferocity and klutziness in writing, an irony because I scored a 5 on the AP English examination. Where others hitchhiked nude down the freeway, I had the Internet. And there is a record out there of all my episodes for the world to see.

    From time to time, I get reminded of this. Once someone sent me an email by accident. He meant to warn his friends that “it” — meaning me — was back. I wrote him a pointed note about his insensitivity, but that didn’t help. The affair shuttled me into this shell that I made to avoid negativity. This is not the only incident, just one of the most painful. I have stopped mentioning them to my wife. She only knows that my spirit is mostly broken, that I live mostly just to keep myself walking the flat track that loops endlessly around my being. I dare not run.

    In more recent times, I sensed that some people use the fact of my bipolar to shove me away from participating in anything interesting. I don’t feel that I can attend my wife’s Quaker meeting, for example, because I am the husband who suffers from mental illness. There’s a forced kindliness that I feel there when they get me to talk (I mostly listen) and a rush to the assumption that I will lose control if I am not stopped now.

    To cite an example of this (and it happens elsewhere, too) I ran into some members of the meeting while we were taking a trip to the Mojave Desert. They were on their way back from Death Valley, so I mentioned that we had just been to the national preserve just across the highway. One of these “Friends” told me “We don’t have time to go there.” I just blinked at him. Where had this come from? Had I insisted that we do this? We spoke a little more. I mentioned the volcanoes just down the road. Again the insistence that they didn’t have time.

    There was a third person, not a Quaker, who picked up the conversation. We discussed the many things that remained to be explored in the preserve, how we loved the place. This person made no assumptions about my intentions and we had a good talk. It made a difference in how I felt about him and about myself. This man made me human again.

    Other incidents have troubled me. One woman told me of her awful childhood living with a bipolar sufferer. I did not dispute this — we can have a painful effect on those around us when we do not take our medications. But at the same time I felt a devaluation of all of us who struggle with this illness. The implication I received from this woman was that we should be abandoned. And I, who am nearly alone except for my wife, dread that possibility.

    Quakers believe in the leadings of the Holy Spirit. In 1992, I felt led to go to former Yugoslavia to help the peace movement. It was a crazy time in my life and I made a reputation for myself that isn’t sound. At least I think so because people aren’t seeking me out to see what I think on matters 20 years later. I have spoken of this in Quaker groups. When I do, the Friends suddenly become uneasy with me because of my present distrust in myself of these feelings.

    Do not think for a moment that the Friends are alone in this. There are plenty of people who put down the mentally ill, often in strange places like Alcoholics Anonymous whose Big Book describes manic-depression as one of the causes of their illness. Here, like in the Friends, they just don’t want to hear about that — perhaps because many “dry-drunks” are undiagnosed or because of the obsession of some AA members that you do not take any chemical aids to help with so much as a headache. Witness, too, the predators who offer prayer as an antidote to the panics, the mood swings, and the hallucinations. Some go so far as to offer faith healing that will “erase” the condition altogether. These, too, bear stigma: if you still feel the symptoms then you must not be praying hard enough.

    From all of these, I withdraw. I hear it said by members of the Quaker Meeting that I should not judge it by a few people, but I feel that an organization is known by what they tolerate. And when they say this, I feel that my feelings are merely written off as more deliriums. So this is why I stay close to home on Sundays, showing only now and then for a luncheon or a talk. If I were a better Quaker, I would take it as a leading of the spirit to address these prejudices. But too much do I dread the clash with the uneducated and the prejudiced. Too much do I fear the rejection of my claims. What is clear to me is subtle to others who do not have my illness. If I tell my wife, she just sighs.

    It is better to just prevent a relapse, to stay out of the world. And that sucks.

    Nietzschean Christianity

    square698Forms of American Christianity prove endlessly creative when it comes to combining affirmations of faith with worldly life. Consider, for example, the new fad of “pole dancing for Jesus“. The thing that makes this possible isn’t a biblical text (and never let it be [[The Letter of James]] which says that you shall be judged by your works!), but a variety of existentialism that has been attached to it.

    [[Frederich Nietzsche]] wrote of two kinds of morality. One of them he called Slave morality. The statement which exemplifies this is “I did it because it was right.” The other he called the Master morality: “It was right because I did it.”

    Christians who practice what [[Dietrich Bonhoeffer]] called “cheap grace” hold, in part, that all you need to do to be held as a Christian is to say that you are one or that you accepted Jesus into your life and that’s that. It doesn’t matter what you do, just that you do it. It is these so-called Christians who have so neatly combined Nietzsche with Christ (and in the end denying Christ) by introducing a new morality: “It is right because I am saved.” There’s no costly grace involved, no Christ of the Gospels who calls for more than mere declaration that the light bulb of salvation has lit up in your soul and moved you to put a bumper sticker on your car. You don’t have to help the poor through your vote or your words. You can be just as mean and obstinate as you were before because one thing has “changed”: how you describe yourself spiritually.

    Is it implausible that these have set their moral compass to the Tea Party? Should it surprise us that they have gone directly against the Bible and declared that their wealth and prosperity makes them paragons of Christian virtue? Speak of community to these and they accuse you of communism. Speak of hope and they rage against you. Give them the Beatitudes to sign and they accuse you of being subversive. Respect a Muslim and they wail about your undermining religious freedom. They have abandoned Christianity for modern megachurchs that thrive on their donations and the publicity they earn through the awe of the numbers they attract rather than genuine acts of charity.

    They are the eternal opposites of Christ because they read the Bible for loopholes past its jeremiads against greed and contempt for the weak. It is easier to stick a rope through the eye of a needle than for these to do real good. God calls on them to be servants, but they want to be the overlords.

    Science and Anti-Science on Depression

    square686The question gets asked at just about every convention I’ve ever attended. To be sure that I am not hallucinating, I have checked with my wife to see if she has heard the same explanation given and she has. Yet to read the blogs of some who oppose medical models for depression, you would think that there is no research to credit the position that low serotonin levels may cause depression. The picture I get of such people is of putting their fingers in their ears and shouting Neener-neener so that they do not hear the explanation. A simple search of the web using the phrase “serotonin depression” yields this description at WebMD:

    One theory about how depression develops centers on the regeneration of brain cells — a process that some believe is mediated by serotonin, and ongoing throughout our lives. According to Princeton neuroscientist Barry Jacobs, PhD, depression may occur when there is a suppression of new brain cells and that stress is the most important precipitator of depression. He believes that common antidepressant medications, such as Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, and Paxil — designed to boost serotonin levels — help kick off the production of new brain cells, which in turn allows the depression to lift.

    Although it is widely believed that a serotonin deficiency plays a role in depression, there is no way to measure its levels in the living brain. Therefore, there have not been any studies proving that brain levels of this or any neurotransmitter are in short supply when depression or any mental illness develops. And while blood levels of serotonin are measurable — and have been shown to be lower in people who suffer from depression — what doctors still don’t know for certain is whether or not the dip in serotonin causes the depression, or the depression causes serotonin levels to drop.

    Antidepressant medications that work on serotonin levels — medications known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are believed to reduce symptoms of depression, but exactly how they work is not yet fully understood.

    Yep, pretty much what I hear at conferences all the time. But you only hear the insistence that “scientists have not demonstrated a link between serontonin levels and depression” from the anti-psychiatry crowd. Up to the podium they boldly walk and claim the Nobel Prize for themselves based on the same sort of reasoning that leads Creationists to dispute the Theory of Evolution. It amounts to “Science is not certain, so we have won the argument because we ~are~ certain.”

    Certain, I should note, without having conducted a single experiment to the contrary.

    Certain because they follow spiritual and other nonscientific teachers who, unlike scientists, don’t test their hypotheses.

    Certain because they know that no one will line up to have his brain probed. And they certainly aren’t volunteering.

    Certain because they cannot say “I don’t know” and “I was wrong.”

    There was a time when the leading thinkers of the age were certain on these matters. They held that demons possessed us and they prescribed such cures as exorcism, confession, imprisonment, and death1 . Others were certain that the mentally ill were possessed by spirits and were due the reverence of shamans or other holy men. These times were called the Dark Ages.

    It was the uncertainty of Science that rescued us from these superstitions.

    I personally believe that good has come of mental illness, but I have also seen the mentally ill wreck their own lives and the lives of those around them because they were Certain. Science has given us several imperfect terms to describe these states including grandiosity, racing thoughts, hypomania, and paranoia. While I think we have a lot to learn about mental illness — as much as we can from those who suffer with it — we’ve come a long ways from the days I have just described.

    We don’t know the full story about depression. Only recently have medical professionals come to separate depression from bipolar disorder, recognizing them as likely being rooted in different dysfunctions of the brain. All you need to do is give a bipolar anti-depressants and you will see a different reaction than in a depression sufferer: the bipolar patient gets manic. Many people aren’t helped by anti-depressants at all. So does this show that depressions aren’t serotonin-spawned? My personal take is that there may be several different types of depression. This, I dare say, doesn’t agree with the ones attacking psychiatry because it holds out the hope that other treatments may work for other people 2 The Scientist says “We don’t know a lot about the brain just yet and there are reasonable barriers to our understanding.” The anti-Scientist says this means we can’t trust Science to give us the answers. The reasonable human being whether a sufferer of mental illness or not realizes that this latter assessment is just wrong.

    1. Yes, I know it sounds a lot like what contemporary Fundamentalists promote, but I am now talking about scientists not opinionated outsiders and medical professionals who take and leave what they want of science. []
    2. Ketamine is often mentioned as a possible future replacement or augment to contemporary depression treatments, for example. []

    Cheap Love

    square670As an agnostic, I can allow myself to trolley back and forth between atheist and religious thinkers. I’ve been reading a biography of [amazonify]1595551387::text::::Dietrich Bonhoeffer[/amazonify], paying special attention to the notion of “cheap” versus “costly” grace.

    Just as in the years before Hitler’s rise, we see a lot of cheap grace in our Christian community. All you have to do is say “Jesus has saved me” and you can go on being the same person you always were. You can continue to be selfish; vote for right-wing candidates; hate women and minorities of all stripes; and generally live a life against the principles of Christ because God loves everyone and it doesn’t matter what you do. You bought a Bible, said you were saved, and so you are.

    Costly grace is based on the Epistle of James where it is said that it is your works that count the most. You won’t worship the rich as the epitomes of Christian life in the world, you won’t turn your back on the poor and the sick, you won’t twist the words of and declaim against those attempting to build a compassionate society. Costly grace entails sacrifices including being less than wealthy, being seen as unheroic by a society obsessed with violence, and working in your spare time to help others.

    I think a fine example of cheap grace is the line “I don’t like what {group x} does, but I still love them.” Yes, just sit back in your easy chair and insist on your love. It’s easy to come by: you just say that it is so. But how many people in America “love” the poor and then vote for politicians who raise taxes on the underclass and solve their health problems by incarcerating them? How many people say that because of their Bible they can’t allow homosexuals to marry, but they still “love” them?

    The Bible tells us to do many things, but Biblidolators love to overlook the stuff that it downright vile and barbaric when it comes to their own lives and impose the worst on others. How many of them apply the repeated Biblical mandates against greed to their own lives? I think one of the functions of the űber-rich for middle class Americans is to give themselves the feeling that they are poor — even though by the standards of most of the rest of the world they are wallowing in specie. “Blessed are us,” they say and “blessed are those who allow a little to trickle down to us.” The rich are, to us, idols.

    But cheap grace and the cheap love that comes from it allows them to say “I’m on my path, so I can be forgiven for what I do. I’ll get into heaven without any effort on the greed front.” So they go on despising the poor, Muslims, homosexuals, women confident that no matter how egregious and unChristian the spirit of their actions, they can just call it love and be forgiven.

    God help them if there is a God. God help the rest of us whether or not there is one.