Living In No-Where Land

Since the 1980s the use of anti-depressants has increased by 400% in the United States of America. The total sales of anti-depressants worldwide are over $20 billion. That’s making some pharmaceutical companies very rich and happy, but not many users of anti-depressants eternally happy-given the side effects of the drugs, which include outbursts of rage, deeper, more severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Yet, the global depressed population seems to increase exponentially yearly with children as young as 7 years of age being given some kind of mind altering drug to make them conform to the existential conditions of 21st century living. In a recent article on global mental health, The Guardian’s health editors (Boseley, Chalabi, & Rice-Oxley, 2013) provided an overview of the way we manage our chemical dependent lives in the 21st century. They report that:
“The use of antidepressants has surged across the rich world over the past decade, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, raising concerns among doctors that pills are being over-prescribed…Figures show that doctors in some countries are writing prescriptions for more than one in 10 adults, with Iceland, Australia, Canada and the other European Nordic countries leading the way” (Boseley, Chalabi, & Rice-Oxley, 2013)
In addition to the easy accessibility of these legal mind altering substances a number of States in the USA have legalized marijuana for medical purposes with two states-Colorado and Washington State legalizing the drug for recreational use by people over the age of 21. Here’s some of what we know about the body- mind altering capabilities of marijuana to date. The chemical ingredient of the drug THC remains in the body for weeks after any initial use. In addition regular medical studies of marijuana users indicate that one joint contains 60% more cancer causing substances than a tobacco cigarette. Long time marijuana smokers suffer from regular bronchial and upper respiratory tract illnesses. One study undertaken in Australia linked heavy marijuana usage with the development of brain abnormalities and other clinical studies link continued marijuana usage with the development of medium to long term psychosis and loss of memory. Marijuana is known to change the structure of male sperm leading to sterility as well discombobulate a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Given this knowledge why would any government or any other regularity body deem the drug suitable for recreational use? Is it too cynical to suggest a tax on marijuana sales will boost the coffers of a cash strapped government? Dulling a population’s senses through any mind altering substance is going to create a complacent and compliant citizenry living in no-where land content on going no-where.

References
Boseley, S., Chalabi, M., & Rice-Oxley, M. (2013, November 20). The Guardian-Life Style. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/20/antidepressant-use-rise-world-oecd

Are we as mad as hell and are we going take this anymore?

While a UK regulator is investigating whether Facebook broke data protection laws when it conducted a psychological study on users without their consent, another more serious ethical issues resides in the behavior of the two Universities who collaborated with Facebook.
Cornell University and the University of California at San Francisco seemed to have by-passed their own ethics committees while participating in the study. Any undergraduate, Master’s or Ph.D candidate knows and understands the rigorous process undertaken to get permission to conduct research which involves human subjects and/or animals-especially in the social sciences and psychology and medicine/psychiatry disciplines.
Cornell University has a 17 page document outlining a set of ethical standards to be followed while conducting research, while The University of California at San Francisco has a human research protection program in place.
The disinhibtion effect is a lack of regard for social and ethical standards in personal behavior while online and it seems to have infected the ethical standards of the two learning institutions that collaborated with Facebook. In flaunting their own ethical guidelines while collaborating with the social media website, the universities have let down their respective student populations and may have undermined their own credibility as research based institutions. Unsurprisingly, the social media website seems to have missed the ethical issue all together by wondering what all the fuss is about given that people’s data wasn’t compromised! We all should be mad as hell!

The Serpent’s Egg

The disappearance and subsequent murder of 3 Israeli teenagers on 12 June sparked a huge search operation in Palestinian towns and cities across the West Bank and resulted in the deaths of several people, including two Palestinian teenagers one only 15 years old.

During the search more than 300 Palestinians were arrested in an operation the Israelis ironically called ‘Brother’s Keepers’. Aren’t all followers of the Abrahamic religions brothers & sisters?
It’s a terrible thing that happened to the three Jewish teenagers, but it is also equally a terrible thing that happened to the Palestinian teenagers. It is an equally terrible thing that Jews and Arab Muslims are stuck in their bitter intransigence some 6 decades and more since the founding of the Jewish state.

Israel must also accept responsibility for the deaths of the three Jewish teenagers for they are just as guilty as the Palestinian men who carried out this terrible cowardly act. Both sides are caught up in a bitter cycle of violent hatred of one another despite PM Netanyahu’s attempt to take the high moral ground while speaking at the funeral of the murdered teenagers.
The West’s covering of the story has been biased in favor of the Jewish state and the continued plight of the Palestinians is by and large ignored by the Western media. Ordinary Palestinian men, women and children continued to be stereotyped as terrorists when in fact they suffer under an Israeli occupation in addition to being collectively punished because of the madness of fanatical organizations like Hamas.

Yet equally fanatical are the hard line Israelis who are determined to displace and remove all Palestinians from occupied Palestine and reclaim the land as a modern day Judea for all Jews.

A little over 600 miles away as Iraq fragments and falls apart another fanatical hard-line Islamist group has established a Caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, calling upon all Muslims to migrate there and establish their homeland. Is there no end to this madness? Sadly not-our fragile little blue planet lost in the universe, seems to slide nearer to the precipice of oblivion with each passing day.

The tit for tat killings and murders by both Palestinians and Israelis brings shame upon the goodness inherent in religions which have evolved since antiquity to help us to seek a better life- one characterized through meaning based on an ethical and moral vision to counter the hopelessness propagated through the distorted vision of a few mad mullahs, corrupt priests and rabid Rabbis who have usurped the goodness inherent in a religious world-view. The battle between Israel, Palestine and between the mad men of all religions is a quarrel
“That will bear no color for the things they are,
Fashion it thus: that what they are, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities;
And therefore think them as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatch’d, would as their kind grow mischievous,
And kill them in the shell” (adapted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act 2, scene 1, 28–34 )

Is Facebook Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

The illusion of anonymity which surrounds online activity and social media has been shattered in a recent US court ruling. Facebook has had to comply with a court order and hand over data to assist investigators seeking evidence in a social welfare fraud case. Hundreds of people were claiming disability pensions when in fact their face book accounts revealed that they were perfectly healthy. Fraud has been around for eons, but Facebook hasn’t. The court subpoenaed data which included private messages, pictures and personal details.
The judge defined Facebook as a ‘digital landlord’; a rather clever definition really because the company controls vast amount of personal data from over a billion users world-wide, as well as drawing income from those who use its websites and server facilities. The court defined the social media website as “as a digital landlord, a virtual custodian or storage facility for millions of tenant users and their information… the search warrants authorizes the search and seizure of digital information contained within the Facebook server.” (Miller, 2014)
While the seizure of the data will have ‘free-speech’ and privacy advocates up in arms, the fact is no-one’s personal data on Facebook, or any other social media website is completely private. Facebook trawls its own user database daily for profiteering purposes, which many users could define as the “unreasonable seizure” of their personal data, and so Facebook crying foul under the fourth amendment is somewhat hypocritical.
But, it’s the legal definition which is intriguing and perhaps will wake-up the digital vox populi to the reality of living a life in someone else’s data-base, and within the strict confinement of a digital landlord’s server. Those who choose to live their personal and social lives through any kind of digital medium have very few rights, but clearly a number of legal and ethical responsibilities along with any number of unseen, or unknown legal liabilities. It seems that 21st century living in a cloud holds anything other than a silver lining.

References
Miller, J. (2014, June 27). BBC News Technology. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28055909

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, world!

Trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) sounds like it’s straight from the laboratories of a mad scientist-well in some respects it is. The exclusive, somewhat secretive world of psychiatry has used electricity as a form of ‘therapy’ for decades. Through applying electrical current directly to the brain Psychiatrists attempt the reconstruction of reality as experienced by their ‘patients’. The late Professor Thomas Szasz, himself a psychiatrist was a fierce opponent of such practices arguing that mental illnesses are not real diseases, except for those with quite specific physical symptoms like Alzheimers and Dementia. He claimed-rightly so I think-that there are no objective, verifiable approaches to identifying whether a mental illness is present or not. It is almost impossible to falsify the research findings of psychiatry, for the most part they become lost in a maze of data and statistical analysis with meaning hard to locate when applied to standardized views of acceptable human behavior.
Most if not all psychiatric diagnoses are based upon a perceived understanding of what is real and what is considered acceptable thinking as acted out within the realm of private, personal and social behavior in a culture or society. In his classic book on self-development and independence, ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him’, Sheldon B Kopp tells the insightful, witty and perceptive story about a man dressed in a white sheet and a funny pointed hat, speaking gibberish, being arrested by the police in a US town. He is taken off to a psychiatric institution, evaluated and assessed as quite mad. The following morning a dozen or so other similarly dressed persons appear at the institution while speaking the same strange language and seeking their lost friend. The captive man was eventually released into their custody. The moral of the story, according to Kopp, is that one man exhibiting strange behavior is a lunatic while a group of them represent an acceptable, if not slightly odd, community. And this seems to be the ever present danger within 21st century humanity today.
A recent online report (Young, 2014) claims that neuroscientists are able to change the brain function of healthy people through electric shock stimulation. Furthermore, the US military are testing this on their soldiers to improve and enhance their ability to react especially under stress and when deprived of sleep (Young, 2014). Researchers into this brave new world of mind-body manipulation observe the reactions of the brain through infra-red imaging. They stimulate the motor cortex and inhibit the prefrontal cortex to manipulate human cognitive processes and the accompanying physical responses. It is claimed that the results are extraordinary and improving performance and researchers maintain the effects last long term. According to the report researchers are also investigating ultrasound and laser light to manipulate brain wave patterns. This kind of research on human subjects raises serious ethical as well as medical concerns, especially around the long term effects and whether or not as the subjects age any long term damage will emerge. And whether the very essence and nature of a human being-our consciousness-should be manipulated to the extent that our actions are predetermined and we lose our capacity to exercise our free will. Perhaps we’ll find out in a similar fashion as we did when we had humans observe those nuclear tests in the deserts of the US and Australia during the 1950s when a horror was unleashed on humanity. It really is a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

References
Young, E. (2014, June 3). BBC Future. Retrieved from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140603-brain-zapping-the-future-of-war

Breaking Bad or Mad in Santa Barbara?

As I listened in disbelief to the aired YouTube clip of the wealthy, middle class young man who went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara California recently, I was outraged more so by the rehearsed nature of his script, his choice of quite specific language along with the scene from which he chose to record this moment of cold calculated madness. It was life imitating art in its most gruesome and callous genre-reality.
It mirrored a movie set; the sun set reflecting on his face and plush car interior as his carefully chosen words told the world about his coming ‘day of retribution’ and his inability to form social relationships, particularly with young women of his age.
I thought “and this is his reason he gives for killing 6 young people whose lives were just beginning to experience the joy and excitement of independence and autonomy around making their own choices in life.”
A family lawyer of the killer suggested he might have been bullied at some point, while the police found him to be ‘polite and timid’, when they went to investigate family concerns about his threats posted via social media. Others have been quick to point out a relationship between his mental state and access to weapons of mass destruction.
Nobody knows now-because he killed himself-we can suppose and speculate, but we’ll never know if he was mad, bad or both.
Many wealthy middle class young people in the USA have access to guns. Most, if not all do not suffer from mental illness. Most, if not all manage to navigate their way through the difficult waters of puberty and adolescence in order to form social and intimate consensual relationships with their chosen others. Some more easily than others. Growing up in any culture/society is never easy.
Yet, as a society we in the West are quick to find excuses to assuage our guilt over heinous crimes committed by the ‘worried well’. The attacker quickly becomes a victim: a traumatic upbringing, some years of bullying, and some kind of abuse in their early years etc. Yet, the reality is that some people are just bad. They make clear choices based on sound reasoning to commit harm against others. Their choice is to hate rather than love and to be bad rather than good.

Elliot Rodger was bad in every way. His actions were executed out of a hatred and vindictiveness towards others’ joy and happiness. The world marvels and extols the resilience of children and young people who overcome appalling family backgrounds to make good their lives. Many do. In other instances we also understand why children can develop problems in their adult years too, but help is never far away if the warning signs are read in time. However, it is essential that we must accept that sometimes good parents have bad children.
Stephen Pinker, the Canadian Linguist and Experimental Psychologist says ”genetics and neuroscience are showing that a heart of darkness cannot always be blamed on parents or society”. In addition Cambridge psychiatrist Professor Simon Baron-Cohen proposes that evil is the absence of empathy, and that narcissists, borderline personalities, psychopaths possess no empathetic responses (Griffen, 2011). In other words like Elliot Rodger they are born bad and must take responsibility for the choices they make-even if that has to occur posthumously

References
Griffen, M. (2011, September 19). Bad to the bone – Some children are just born evil. Retrieved from Scott.Net: Signs of the Times: http://www.sott.net/article/235158-Bad-to-the-bone-Some-children-are-just-born-evil

Thailand’s Game of Thrones

I remember being introduced to the ideas of Machiavelli in my political science class at university-the assignment title was “Is Machiavelli a teacher of evil?” The question was framed around the 16th century hatred of the man by the clergy and was somewhat biased in its understanding of this great political thinker and reformer. Ironically it was Pope Leo X who gave Machiavelli the job of reforming the failed state of Florence-which he did successfully, but he did fall foul of the Medici after their restoration and was imprisoned and tortured before retiring from public life. Some would argue he was ‘hoisted with his own petar’ so-to-speak-given his treatise on how to rule in his (in) famous work ‘The Prince’.
Machiavelli’s political theories are evident everywhere today in the modern nation state-regardless of the flavour of the system-democracy, absolute monarchies, communist dictatorships, military rule etc. It was often said that the late Margaret Thatcher knew her Machiavelli very well.
They are also resurrected regularly in popular culture and are found in characters like Tony Soprano, Francis Urquhart in House of Cards but more so in the engaging and riveting fictional, historically theme based political drama, Game of Thrones, which explores the Machiavellian issues of social hierarchy, religion, loyalty, corruption, civil war, crime, and punishment – all current themes of the 21st century political landscape.

What advice would the great Florentine political thinker offer a divided state in the early years of the 21st century? Perhaps he might suggest that “all courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” It remains to be seen whether his advice will be followed in Thailand.

References
http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/machiavelli.html (accessed 22/5/2014)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/05/20/thailands-army-says-this-definitely-isnt-a-coup-heres-11-times-it-definitely-was/ (accessed 23/5/2014)
Machiavelli, N, The Prince, Oxford University Press, reprint, 2008.

Why be forgotten-Who Wants to Remember You Anyway?

I’d never heard of Mario Costeja González, until a few days ago when I learnt that he’d suffered a personal financial set back in 1998, and having since recovered wanted that information deleted from the world wide web.
According to the Court of Justice of the European Union, individuals have a right to control their private data, especially if they are not public figures. Great news, but not very helpful or insightful after the fact of the Snowden revelations!
In the virtual world the wish to be forgotten is simply that-wishful thinking, while in the real world anything we upload or disseminate online will never, ever be deleted. It might be harder to find-but the original data will always remain-somewhere out there until it is ‘remembered’ through an online search. But, memory is a tricky concept because it
“throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap” (Eliot, 1920)

No-one is truly forgotten, but they may not be remembered unless they choose to remind us so.

References
Eliot, T. (1920). Prufrock and Other Observations. London: Faber & Faber.

The BBC & Political Correctness – Is this as good as it gets?

The headline read “BBC Radio Devon DJ David Lowe loses job over racist word” (BBC News , 2014) and as I read I was looking for the word David Lowe was alleged to have uttered on air, but to my dismay I soon discovered that the had played a song with a word in its lyrics which is considered by many to be offensive today. A 1932 version of ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ includes the n-word and Lowe had played this song on his Singers and Swingers show. A listener objected to this word in the song; despite it being an integral part of the lyric since 1932. In addition the aforesaid word makes regular appearances courtesy of a number of high profile African-American rappers.
David Lowe had been a loyal serving employee of the BBC for over three decades. In an attempt to save his job and outstanding career he offered an on air apology-but this was rejected by BBC management. Another well known BBC presenter, Jeremy Clarkson was recently cautioned over an old tape was replayed alleging he used a racist term too-he has since apologized. Both these incidents follow on from the taping of a private conversation between LA Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling and his girlfriend in which he is purportedly making disparaging remarks about people of color. Sterling’s girlfriend later released these private recordings into the public domain for reasons only she’ll ever know.
Political correctness has created an atmosphere of fear and dread everywhere, but more so in the broadcasting houses of the world- is this really as good as it gets?

References
BBC News . (2014, May 11). BBC News Devon. Retrieved from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-devon-27360884

Saints or Sinners?

A couple of years ago I spent part of my summer walking the Camino de Santiago. As a New Zealander, it was my first trip to France and Spain, and while I had read some of their histories, and understood the influence of Roman Catholicism in both countries, nothing prepared me for the glorification of the history of religious wars and the Crusades, especially in Northern Spain. In most of the grand cathedrals along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, St James is celebrated and portrayed as a Moor slayer astride a white horse decapitating Muslims as he liberates Catholic Spain from Islamic rule and influence. I found it all quite repugnant, especially Catholicism’s glorification of killing people of another faith in the name of religion. It’s the antithesis of the Gospel message. Equally so is the 21st century aristocratic portrayal of Roman Catholicism under the new Pope, Francis. Initially renowned for adopting the name of one Catholicism’s great reformers, Francis of Assisi, the new Pope’s ‘simple life’ captured the imagination of millions of Catholic Christians, of whom I was one, who hoped for an authentic form of Christianity as preached through Jesus’ message in the gospels.
Recently, Pope Francis presided over an ancient and archaic ritual in which two former Popes, John Xlll and John Paul ll were canonised and declared saints. “We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church,” said Francis in the official proclamation. Leaving aside the arrogance of this claim, the ceremony itself was anything but simple, and showed the Roman Catholic Church in all its refined, aristocratic glory. The Princes of the Church, in their royal finery portrayed a whole other story of wealth and privilege at the expense of the two thirds of the world’s Catholics who are abjectly poor.

What kind of church did these two ‘Saints’ preside over? Here’s an apt summary from the late Christopher Hitchens:

How could anyone be declared a Saint while presiding over such an institution which was inflicting so much pain and suffering on its members-especially its children?