Bipolar Disorder in a Time of Hate


square836Shortly before my hospitalization for a mixed state came the 2004 election. I crashed and crashed hard after the results. Politics is a fascination of mine but obsessing about it is not my friend. When my expectations are high as they were in 2004 and the hope I feel is unrealized, I take it very hard. The mix of anger and disappointment plus certain medications I was taking for depression at the time pumped me up into a mixed state. One day, when I had enough of it and of other life issues, I texted my last will and testament to my wife and sat down on a log to study my veins for the right place to cut. A timely phone call from my psychiatrist saved me.

The 2004 election was cordial compared to what has happened since 2008. Elements on both side but especially the right have been whipped into a frenzy by their respective leaders. We hear stories of blatant racism and sexism, two faults that have been hidden until the recent elections. We see them not only in the political arena but also in the news media and on the streets of our cities. Some such as Fox News are instigating their viewers to greater and greater heights of denial and fear while others just give the demagogues air time by covering them without comment. We see black men strangled or shot dead with no justice leveled against their killers. And respect for the police — even the good cops — sinks lower and lower.

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Long Agendas

square795A few people on Twitter are angry with me at this moment. The news of the drone base has me upset and I have criticized it openly. Even though I did not confront these individuals and have said nothing to anyone unless they have directly addressed me — and I dare say that those who have will tell you that I have been more than civil towards them as I expressed my point of view and they, too, have been civil in return1 — a few have blocked me or unfollowed me without a word.

I think I owe people an explanation of my position and some perspective on where it stands in the greater thread of progress that the Democrats have waged against the #GOP in the nearly fifty five years of my life. First, I do not believe that criticizing any part of the country’s agenda makes me bound to reject the whole. This stretches to my support of President Obama, which is unwavering. Second, I am as I have long been a pacifist. To be one in these United States is to be a creature who has to live with a lot of disappointment in his fellow Americans and his leaders. I nevertheless remain true to this belief. But as my first point says, it does not follow that my objection to the drones is a call for abandoning the Democrats. They have been more sympathetic to my views than the alternative. And there are many key issues on which they are dead on, necessitating an appreciation of what I shall call “the long agendas” of ending the power of racists, sexists, and others who do violence by law and by physical force to other human beings.

I put the progress of the peace movement in converting this country to be at about the same place as the civil rights movement was in the 1920s. Only 17% of my fellow Americans feel like me that the drones pose serious moral and credibility problems for our nation. Some people say that there may be just no other way to deal with American citizens and others who work against the United States than to employ these drones. Since the disastrous Vietnam War and — with greater fierceness since 9-11 — our country has become obsessed with being the world’s peacekeeper. We have become bellicose, using our war machines to hammer anything so hard as a mushroom that stands in opposition to us. The situation is not so dire under Democrats, but I worry about what that other party — the party that has recruited racists and sexists to its ranks — might do with the recently revealed white paper. Let us not forget that this was the party that told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that water-boarding was not torture. They could get away with it because only a decided minority of Americans stood in opposition to the base principle that there could be such a thing as a Just War. In the hands of the GOP, that phrase is a rubber-band that can be stretched to condone many unjust acts. In my experience, once they get you to admit that there are any circumstances in which violence is justified, the Republicans will reach to atrocity.

Instead of declaring that we cannot trust the Democrats ever again, we must set ourselves to the task of making more than 17% — yea, over 50% — feel that the concept of Just War is flawed and needs replacing. But that will not happen tomorrow and it may not happen in my lifetime. I am willing to wait and continue to hope.

There are other long agendas that deserve our continuing attention. Racism is not dead. Sexism sniffs around the skirts of women. Homophobia is rife and unapologized for. A pernicious lie that global climate change caused by human activity is a myth keeps us from facing a very real and present threat. The GOP still thinks that it can bring down health care for all Americans and it has no problem holding the country hostage so that it can build a Randian dystopia in the place of a society that is not merely collectivist as its enemies claim, but one that also champions the rights and pursuit of happiness of all Americans as individuals.

Though I ache to see Obama capitulate to the homicidal instincts that have seized American society because we cannot accept the shame that Vietnam laid at our doorsteps, I will not step away from the Democrats because these fights are also important and because important strides remain to be made and might be lost if we drop our guard as we did in 2010.

As for peace, it has to be a long agenda.

  1. Quite a difference from dealing with extremists of the RW I will note. []

The Real Depravity of 2012

square781Let me get this clear: I am not gay. But according to the Radicals of the Tea Party (who really don’t care about gay marriage except to excite the fear-driven) I must be homosexual because I support same sex marriage. And I have supported it for many years — about 24 to be precise.

To tell you the truth, the idea of sleeping with a man repels me. I much prefer checking out women — adult women. But I accept that there are people who are drawn to their own sex and that it is innate to them, not the result of rape or poor parenting or whether they drink lattes at Starbucks. I do not accept marriage as a child-producing union, though it is probably a better idea that you have a partner when you start having children. This idea categorically places Lynn and I out in the cold, yet we have remained partners for 25 years.

Marriage is about choosing a person to be a relative that transcends blood relations. It cannot change facts of fatherhood: one DNA test can undo the presumption of parenthood. But what it does is ensure that my wife and I can form a financial corporation of a sorts together. It lets me say that Lynn can make medical decisions for me — recognize the fact that I trust her before most of my own blood relatives in these affairs. When I die, it ensures that my share of the wealth generated by our household goes to her. Where do there need to be children in this?1

Why not let people of the same sex have these same contracts without resort to legal legerdemain? Homophobia — which is hatred and fear, nothing more — just isn’t a reason.

But let’s get back to the real issues: we have a candidate for office who is a corporate raider. To hide his moral depravity, he trots out this issue. He has put people out of work, destroyed companies, and wrecked communities for the purpose of amassing wealth. Mitt Romney is a dangerous man and he is playing a dangerous game by playing the gay card.

Focus on him for what is he is: the champion of the 1%, the man who picks your pocket and wrecks your home life with his financial manipulations and favors to the rich and corporations.2

  1. Though marriage does help recognize children and preserve family wealth for them, too. []
  2. And if you are religious, God does not like the rich. And He expects the state to protect the poor. Read the prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the minor prophets. To believe otherwise is heretical and unChristian/unJewish/unMuslim. []

Diagnosing Jared Lee Loughner for Political Gain

square674They’re doing it all over again: jumping to the conclusion that Jared Lee Loughner is mentally ill because he is violent. Tea Party minions have been ordered via email to label him as a “liberal lunatic”. Keith Olbermann labeled him a “disturbed person”. I have yet to see a psychiatric report on him, but I have heard plenty of people state with the authority that comes from watching Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street that he is a “paranoid schizophrenic”.

You know me: I live with bipolar disorder. It is there every hour of my day, stilled by [[carbamazepine]] and [[lamotrigine]]. So you know I have a stake in this. Others I know with the disorder also are concerned about the publicity. If they’re new to the diagnosis, they may fear beyond reason that they might go insane like Loughner did. If they’ve known for some time, they are taking a silent breath and saying “Here we go again.” Here comes the need for secrecy, for hiding their illness from the world. Some will not attend support groups out of fear of being seen and others will come, distraught from the fear of what Society will do with them. There are those out there who will say that we have to find the Jared Lee Loughners before they hurt another and that means throwing out the advances of the last fifty years and reopening the mental hospitals. These are reckless times and our fear is not unfounded.

Slate ran an excellent article, cautioning its readers and newsmen not to jump to the conclusion that Loughner is “mentally ill”. In part the article says:

A 2009 analysis of nearly 20,000 individuals concluded that increased risk of violence was associated with drug and alcohol problems, regardless of whether the person had schizophrenia. Two similar analyses on bipolar patients showed, along similar lines, that the risk of violent crime is fractionally increased by the illness, while it goes up substantially among those who are dependent on intoxicating substances. In other words, it’s likely that some of the people in your local bar are at greater risk of committing murder than your average person with mental illness.

Of course, like the rest of the population, some people with mental illness do become violent, and some may be riskier when they’re experiencing delusions and hallucinations. But these infrequent cases do not make “schizophrenia” or “bipolar” a helpful general-purpose explanation for criminal behavior. If that doesn’t make sense to you, here’s an analogy: Soccer hooligans are much more likely to be violent when they attend a match, but if you tell me that your friend has gone to a soccer match, I’ll know nothing about how violent a person he is. Similarly, if you tell me your friend punched someone, the fact that he goes to soccer matches tells me nothing about what caused the confrontation. This puts recent speculation about the Arizona suspect in a distinctly different light: If you found evidence on the Web that Jared Lee Loughner or some other suspected killer was obsessed with soccer or football or hockey and suggested it might be an explanation for his crime, you’d be laughed at. But do the same with “schizophrenia” and people nod in solemn agreement. This is despite the fact that your chance of being murdered by a stranger with schizophrenia is so vanishingly small that a recent study of four Western countries put the figure at one in 14.3 million. To put it in perspective, statistics show you are about three times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike.

It’s the usual case of the media and politicians finding the explanation for the Saturday’s horror in Tuscon everywhere except in themselves. We need confront the media for its violent imagery and its pandering to the worst in American society. We must stand up to demogogues who employ violent rhetoric, saying “Enough of this talk of Second Amendment remedies and hit lists of liberal politicians. Tone it down. Cool it. The buck stops with you.”

Lightning probably did not strike in Arizona, but hatred did.

Executing Christiana Green

“It’s ok. Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a leftwing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as ‘they’ say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.”–Tina King (teabagger on Sarah Palin’s FB page)

square673The preceding is protected under the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment. It means that I cannot ask my government to put Tina King or Sarah Palin in jail for being vipers. But there’s something they can’t do, either. They can’t ask the government to protect them from my free speech right to call on others to condemn them for their barbarism. They would like us to think that they can proceed without receiving criticism, but they are wrong. They may say that when their First Amendment right fails to move — yea even irritates — others, they can fall back on threats to employ the Second Amendment, but nothing excuses murder or the threat of murder.

This blog article is also protected under the First Amendment. Just as I am not obligated under the terms of the Bill of Rights to allow missionaries to force their way through my front door and deliver their spiel, so, too, am I not required to sit silent when the Tea Baggers make our country foolish. I have the right to deliver scorn, to point to the hypocrisy of a movement that on one hand thinks that a underdeveloped fetus must be preserved at any cost, but which celebrates the death of a nine year old who had done no one any harm. I can say that we’ve had enough violent rhetoric, that it is time to stop it and to get on with civil discussions about the way our country is headed.

What Tina King has said about Christina Taylor Green reeks worse than the bio-waste of any abortion and if Sarah Palin doesn’t go past deleting it — if she does not repudiate it, she has demonstrated that she should not command any respect from the Republicans or any other American. And if the Republicans don’t start using their power of example to police this, they do not deserve our confidence as voters, they do not deserve the peace of statesmanship but only the severe criticism due to demagogues.

The Death Squads Arrive

Keith Olbermann wrote on his Facebook page: There is not one liberal page that I have visited that doesn’t have several people on it from the opposing side, that says, SHOOT them all. Get rid of them, “WE want our country back” I’m incensed and so angry as I listen to the horror of this story unfold. John Boehner, go screw yourself, you are a part of the problem, not the solution.

square671John Boehner is “horrified” by what was done to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He had better do better than that. Boehner rode the wave of hate to get where he is today and if he is to have any credibility, he should denounce those who call for killing progressives and liberals.

I honestly do not believe Boehner believes in death squads. He merely used the Tea Party and the John Birch Society to win an election. I do not believe Rupert Murdoch — who said he likes Democrats because their administrations make for better news — wanted this, but Glenn Beck is another matter I believe. No matter how much Boehner and Beck cry, they cannot escape responsibility as long as they do not recognize their own role in this. Witness, too, the Koch Brothers. Witness, as well, everyone who won’t see the Obama birth certificate in front of them like the woman who cried out in the House of Representatives just a few days ago.

Death squads have come to America. Progressives, liberals and moderates, it is time to rise like you have never risen before. It is time to rescue the land we love. Not in our nation!

Rude and Barbaric

square687Many of us are paralyzed into non-thinking when someone invokes “freedom of speech” or “freedom of religion” as the reason why they believe as they do. When you translate this, it means “I can say what I want and you can’t criticize it.” It’s a common rejoinder from the Right — especially racists — and from extremist believers aka Fundamentalists among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. When the American public buys into this, it leads us to a place where only the corrupt and vile can speak.

The First Amendment was never meant to operate so. And I think free speech is closer to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said about ethics: ethics aren’t there to excuse what we do but to make us reach for something better. When we let the racist or the fundamentalist go unchallenged because “it’s his opinion and he can think what he wants” we let society down. We allow it to fester in fraudulency and evil. It is our duty to say to people who voice ugliness that they are ugly. We have these rights to make a better America, a better world. And part of that means using our voices to confront wrong.

If a Muslim cleric says apostates must be executed, we have a right to say “Well, that is just barbaric.” If a skinhead says he has a right to hate foreigners, we have a right to say “That is backwards and bad.” They scream that it is their free speech right, but they cannot silence us with their insistences that they can say anything — and do anything — they want without us challenging them because of free speech. That alone deserves admonishment. They live in America and they cannot put a stopper on their fellow citizens.

They are rude and barbaric. And I think they realize it, but don’t want to admit it.

Mental Illness and the Follies of Our Enemies

square654Not two minutes ago, a liberal tweeter said three words to me: “Michelle Bachmann #psycho”. This is pretty typical fare from certain members of the Twitter Left (and the Twitter Right for their part). When poorly educated, shallow Republican tools speak up, their words are denounced as coming from the mentally ill.

Let me get something clear. I am a progressive. I was a progressive before I went on meds and I am a progressive now. Part of my political ideology impels me to live a life as free of prejudice as possible. Supposedly the woman who vomited this hairball believes in the same principle. I doubt she would attack Michael Steele’s blackness or call Senator Graham a fag. But she doesn’t live it when it comes to the mentally ill. Where we are concerned, the rules change. You can abuse the mentally ill all you want through the indirect means of equating psychiatric diagnoses with the follies of your enemies.

Beatrice Bray speaks to the abuse of psychiatric terms in today’s Guardian:

Newspaper cartoons can be great. They can say the unsayable. They have licence to push the boundaries of taste. Their images can resonate for years. But Martin Rowson’s cartoon “Dressing-up box” (Comment & Debate, 29 March) overstepped the mark.

Rowson had fun depicting different Conservative politicians in fancy dress. They are shown like kids in the playroom. But as one Tory lifts Mrs Thatcher’s moth-eaten blue dress, he shouts: “Hey everybody! This is the ‘psychotic yet tough union basher’ cozzie!”

The use of the word “psychotic” was offensive. You may think this political correctness gone mad, but if you are ill, or have been, you need words to describe your experience to yourself and to others. If for you these words are negative, you will hate yourself. Language can make or break your happiness….

“Bipolar” is a new term which was introduced to replace the stigmatised “manic depression”. This creates a chance to reinvent the illness, but already the new label is becoming tarnished. You cannot separate words from their popular meanings. You have to change attitudes and behaviours as well as words.

Rowson’s cartoon is testament to this, even though he does not sound like the kind of man who would want to disfranchise those of us with severe mental health problems.

We were not Rowson’s target: Margaret Thatcher was. But just to complicate matters we are now championing the honour of Thatcher even though some of us are leftwingers. We do not think that Thatcher, a dementia sufferer, should face misused words of abuse.

Bray ends her article by observing that the three parties in Great Britain have signed a compact agreeing to avoid stigmatizing language in their political debates, campaigns, and other public utterances. When I hear even liberals whine when they are called to task for the abuse of psychiatric terminology, I think it essential that we begin to civilize our language so that people are not made to hate themselves for accidents of genetics.

Stop saying that Michelle Bachmann is insane. She’s not anything like me.

The “Madman” in Austin

square636The media was quick in its assessment: Joe Stack was a “madman” not a “terrorist”. As far as I know, no one has produced evidence that Stack was receiving medical care or had been locked up even on a 24 hour hold1 .The real evidence suggests that he knew exactly what he was doing and he had been inspired by the political rhetoric of the extreme Right Wrong.

Let’s take a moment to evaluate just what motivated Stack. Stack moved against a government institution. He and those who support him believe themselves to be attacking “tyranny”. But what is the reality? They lost the 2008 election. A fair vote was taken and the result was the People of the United States chose a president other than the one they wanted. They are sore losers. Knowing full well what they are up to, they have done their best to bring the country down by disrupting free discussion of the issues, threatening the president, and now cheering this assault on the people who collect the taxes we all pay to keep the nation together. They say that they are patriots but they threaten the United States by their action. Most importantly, they understand what they are doing and move purposefully towards their fetid goals2 They move to frighten those who differ from them, to hold the country hostage so independents will join them not out of conviction but out of fright, and destroy the country. Intimidate and destroy is their modus operandi. The word for anyone who engages in this behavior is not madmen or mentally ill, but terrorist.

The best way to confront them is to simply state “Not in my nation.” And to press the media to use the term terrorist without partisanship. If I start threatening these people with violence or if I bomb their homes and offices, you may call me a terrorist, too. But look hard: I doubt you will be able to find a context in which I am guilty of such expressions.

UPDATE (2/24/2010): Happen to notice that the press is not talking about the victim, Vernon Hunter? Not only is it suspicious because Hunter was black (and a real hero, unlike Stark) but also because it dehumanizes federal. employees by making them faceless.

  1. I would be interested in seeing a blood workup to see if he had been drinking, but that kind of thing is rarely released to the press because, shucks, everyone drinks. []
  2. Though it might be interesting to see what the average blood alcohol levels at a tea bagger gathering might be. []

A Goy Named Joel

He said: “Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do.
But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you “Sue.'”

square634The dragon-scaled back ring of the telephone invited one of my dorm mates into the hall. He then knocked on my door and I began the conversation. The rabbi for the Claremont Colleges had seen my name in the Pomona College directory and wondered why I hadn’t been coming to synagogue. I chuckled slightly and said “Well, it’s because I’m not Jewish. I was raised Roman Catholic.” He took it in good stride, said a few jovial words, and let me go back to my homework. It made for an interesting anecdote for sharing around the dinner table in the days to come.

A couple of weeks ago on Facebook, someone saw my name in a political discussion and began excoriating me for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. I told the miscreant that he had no clue who I was and what I was about and left it there. It was only after a week of letting the incident mellow inside a fold of my brain that I realized that he’d made the same mistake that the rabbi had made: Joel Sax had to be Jewish.

When accused of it now, I tend to answer the taunt as Charlie Chaplin once did: “I don’t have the honor.” In my life, I have also been accused of being gay. My wife can confirm that I am not. A different tale deserves to be remarked upon here: once in my freshman year, I went to the school counseling center after hours because I was fringing on suicidiality. I happened to walk in on a meeting of the Gay Student Association. A young man pulled me aside and listened to me — without trying to seduce me or win me over to the cause1 . That little piece of kindness mattered a lot to me then and I also recalled how it felt to be hounded for being gay even though I was not.

I’ve come to the conclusion that to be the object of hatreds for which I am undeserving has given me a unique insight into the pointlessness of racism, antisemitism, homophobia, etc. All that venom arises for no good reason at all as far as i can see. Perhaps it is an experience that more people need to go through. It’s easy to be outraged for being hated for the things that we can be rightly classed at, but you don’t get the absurdity of it as it affects others until you have been hated for that which you are not. I think most Americans live pleasant little lives in which they are never challenged by finding themselves outside their group of comfort. I see myself as having been blessed or lucky. All this experience has made me more compassionate and strong. Dare I pity those who have no clue?

  1. so there, homophobes []

One Day, No Hate

square613Today is One Day, No Hate, a cause that some of us have taken up by avoiding political discussion on Twitter and Facebook — me, included. This means not engaging in political discussion or any of the playful banter which I am noted for.

The netival1 has led me to crack Eric Hoffer’s [amazonify]0060505915:align:text:bycommandofemper:width:height:The True Believer[/amazonify] and uncover this relevant passage:

There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves with virulent hatred toward a person than by doing him an injustice. That others have a just grievance against us is a more potent reason for hating them than that we have a just grievance against them. We do not make people humble and meek when we show them their guilt and cause them to be ashamed of themselves. We are more likely to stir their arrogance and rouse in them a reckless aggressiveness. Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.

There is a guilty conscience behind every brazen word and act and behind every manifestation of self-righteousness.

To wrong those we hate is to add fuel to our hatred. Conversely, to treat an enemy with magnamity is to blunt our hatred for him. (p. 96)

The Twitter hashtag for this is #1Day0Hate

  1. Neologism that you first saw here. Meaning “net festival”. []