they're describing the dc drivetime woman as 'delusional', on the grounds that she believed the government had her under surveillance. but i will express my appreciation of our heroic first responders, capitol police, and everyone that helps turn dc into an armed and surveiled camp, a fucking beacon of democracy. with only automatic weapons, body armor, armored vehicles, and so on, they managed eventually to stop an unarmed dental hygienist and her toddler from assaulting the government of the united states. and yet the tea partiers don't think they should be paid!
they finally took her out in front of the botanical gardens, which eventually will be getting a historical plaque as the site of my first acid trip. looking back on that event, i'm glad it didn't include any rogue luxury cars or automatic-weapons fire, though i did see some pretty weird shit.
so it turns out that 11% of american children have been diagnosed with adhd, and the figure is twice that for high-school age boys. there are many theories, evidently, including something in the water, overdiagnosis, and so on. but i am going to explain this to you clearly and, i believe, decisively. even though psychologists want to go with 'chemical imbalance in the brain' and so on, with the usual completely vague scientific-sounding hooha designed to flummox and reassure us and establish their epistemic authority, adhd is not a condition of the brain. it is a condition of a person in a context. what has changed, i propose, is not anyone's brain, but the institutional context in which those brains are embedded. the american educational system has become ever-more authoritarian, rigid, mindless, and unconnected from anyone's actual body. the dedication to standardized tests means that sitting still and doing the prescribed task in exactly the same way everyone else does it at the same time are more or less all that's left. my daughter, who's in seventh grade, does not have recess. etc etc. 'adhd' the supposed dysfunction or illness or imbalance, would be perfectly normal or useful in a less structured or authoritarian context, or in a context that deployed any basic understanding of or connection with children as human beings. these institutions are really merely diagnosing themselves.
let me just remark that by a state of perfect chemical balance or health, these people just mean capitulation and extreme passivity. psychologists, far from being scientists of any sort, merely reflect the authoritarian institutions from which they emerged and the effortless self-subordination to authority which they literally define as health. say you're an inquisitor. the harder you crack down, the more sinful everyone appears, the more heretics you detect. you are manufacturing heretics by your definitions and the way you conduct your church, but then you think, as you define your arbitrary dogmata ever-more narrowly, that society is degenerating because there are more and more heretics. that's exactly as scientific, as reasonable, and as reflective as this.
so one might still be a bit disappointed, though hardly surprised, that lance armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. but i also have to say that the network of tattle-tales and informers is not exactly wholesome, either. that's one problem with this and various other kinds of drug enforcement (and public education, for example): there are very good reasons that no one likes a snitch, and very good reasons to not try to create a society of snitches by pressuring people to become turncoats, or to manifest loyalty (under pressure) to authorities or institutions rather than to the people in their immediate vicinity.
michael gerson is one of the most interesting - because one of the least mechanically ideological - opinion writers working today. i have a feeling that 'compassionate conservativism' was his invention, though obviously he didn't quite succeed in sneaking it by dick cheney. on the other hand, i'm not really sure that welfare-state right-wingers have a big future. they certainly don't have a bright present. one thing that a compassionate conservative is is the opposite of a libertarian, so it makes sense that gerson attacks ron paul's advocacy of legalizing all drugs and prostitution. it is astonishing, i must say, that a politician with as much mainstream play as paul - an actual congressman and a relatively credible candidate for president - can take this position. it's sort of an amazing moment in american politics; very fluid, for one thing.
and gerson's arguments are, if you ask me (and even if you don't, or even though you don't), confused in a fundamentally "statist" or "please oppress me" kind of way. when paul asks 'how many people out there would shoot heroin if it were legal?', he's pointing out that it's not the fact that it's a crime that keeps most people from riding the white pony. that's true, i believe. and when he 'mocks" addicts by saying “Oh yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don’t want to use heroin, so I need these laws,” he's pointing out that most addicts do not actually want to be arrested and imprisoned.
paul's idea of legalizing heroin, according to gerson, would "condemn a portion of his fellow citizens to self-destruction." but it's worth asking what imprisoning addicts condemns them to. it's worth asking whether the practice has actually had the effect of reducing heroin use or helping people overcome their addiction, overall. it's worth asking whether our vast gulag for drug offenders is an expression of our compassion. gerson says that paul's position expresses 'contempt for the vulnerable and suffering,' as if arresting them and throwing them in roach motels expresses just the opposite.
if you think the law against embezzlement expresses compassion for embezzlers or that constitutional amendments prohibiting gay marriage express compassion for gay couples, i say you are oddly confused.
let me put it like this: that we don't want people to be heroin addicts does not entail that we must treat addiction as a crime, any more than the fact that we disapprove of lady gaga videos entails that they should be censored, or that we disapprove of wal-marts entails that we should launch airstrikes. and long prison sentences are a hell of a way to show how deeply you care.
i thought i might have a crack at some examples of what i might call strategic beliefs, which i think raise important questions in both epistemology and actual science and social policy. so here are my examples:
(1) alcoholism (or in general addiction) is a disease.
(2) people are born straight or gay.
(3) depression (or for example bipolar disorder) is a chemical imbalance in the brain.
now i am not a researcher and i haven't really had a serious crack at the evidence. but my view is that these assertions are either false, misleading, or so vague as to be unevaluable for truth value (for example: the notion of "disease" is an extremely vague, ambiguous, and problematic folk concept). but i also think that in certain situations each of these might be extremely important to believe: those circumstances are, roughly, treating addiction or depression, and making peace with one's sexual orientation and allowing people to have whatever sexual orientation they have.
each of these claims relieves the depressed, addicted, or gay person from personal responsibility for their situation: they all declare that the situation is not the result of the free decisions of the subject. now i think this actually has basically good consequences. i think this is the fundamental reason, for example, for the success of twelve-step programs, which i have experienced at first hand. it is a dogma in aa that alcoholism is a disease (or, as the big book says at one point, an allergy). if you think that your alcoholism is your fault, you will be filled with self-loathing, particularly at the point where it has destroyed your career or family. well this self-loathing will get you drinking. the typical drinking alcoholic is in a cycle where he desperately tries to exercise will power over his condition, which might work for a while, then lead to a collapse in which he succumbs. the typical addict runs through this cycle again and again. so you "turn your will over," you stop thinking that you can make yourself stop and are a horrible person because you fail. then you can stop.
so i would say that the recovering addict may need to believe that alcoholism is a disease (whatever that means, exactly). i might encourage someone to believe this - and i have - because it is more or less essential to recovery. and recovering addicts often are entirely outraged even by asking questions about this. but that does not make it true, which shows among many other things that the pragmatic theory of truth is false.
the "evidence" that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain is kind of pathetic. i'll believe that when doctors are diagnosing depression by pet scan or urine test. depression is diagnosed on the basis of..sleep patters or energy levels, "suicidal ideation," etc. and of course even if there were chemical changes in the brain associated with depression, that would not establish direction of causation: the emotional condition could be causing the brain changes as well as the other way round. the fact that seratonin re-uptake inhibitors are (sort of) effective in treating depression no more shows that depression is a chemical imbalance than the fact that you can treat pain with morphine shows that pain just is a morphine shortage.
try saying something like this to someone who believes or needs to believe that bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance, and you will just get rejected with extreme dogmatic insistence. no it just is a fact. but that you believe it the way a christian loves jesus doesn't show it's true.
honestly i think that sexual orientation probably has extremely complex or chaotic origins, including i would think the nature of one's early sexual experiences, what sort of person one comes to associate with orgasm. but saying that is dangerous: it indicates that we could manipulate people into heterosexuality etc; it hints at a kind of genocide or something. it hints that if we want our kids to be het we should keep them away from gay people at all costs. basic acknowledgment of the full humanity and basic rights of gay people may be well-served by 'born that way.' but that doesn't make it true.
there might be a hundred-year scientific consensus that depression is a chemical imbalance. but then, one might notice that much of the research is actually paid for by people who manufacture chemicals. and after it's over it might be entirely obvious that the claim was vague, ill-formed, and...wrong. that doesn't mean science doesn't converge on it for decades. to say that scientists are subject to social consensus, economic context, peer pressure, the models under which they were educated, etc is an understatement. well, there will be a new social consensus in 2045, and science will explore and explain the useful or consensus notion as the objective truth. it's happened many times, and will happen many more.
once upon a time i had a student named alex, one of the more problematic in my career as a teacher. i taught him in several classes from his first to last semester, which was a year ago. he usually showed up full of enthusiasm for the first couple of classes, then disappeared for weeks or months on end, then desperately tried to get the work done the last week or whatever. bright as hell, albeit the only student i ever saw drinking a beer in class.
he initially did the disciple thing a bit, was all about my books and blog etc. but he went off me because i was way too depressing and pessimistic. he cultivated optimism as a religion and became an aficionado of the ray kurzweil singularity thesis, which i hadn't previously heard of. he spent a few hours in my office trying to persuade me, indeed proving the whole thing mathematically: some moore's law-type argument, mustering all the greatest advances in human history into an accelerating pattern of amazing and inevitable progress. not only were we, in particular he, going to live forever, but when we achieved immortality we'd immediately realize that war and environmental destruction were non-optimal. in other words, if we could make it to 2035, we would be living in heaven. forever. it would be perverse or crazy, he said, to disagree with people as smart and informed as these singularity dudes.
he was disappointed that i just kept rolling my eyes, kept saying i doubt it, and kept saying i am just not the sort of person who can believe something like that, being profoundly disaffected, cynical, etc. i kept telling him that the people who were going to be doing all this were, unfortunately, people, and that it could be expected to be a disaster, whether or not it was immortality. he was extremely disappointed by my irrationality.
the singularity was an argument, in alex's hands, for smoking, drinking, and doing drugs: soon it wouldn't matter what you were doing to yourself. the dickinsonian, unforgivably, does not give causes of death. but i assume alex died of an overdose. of optimism.
one thing to see: whomever is running afghanistan is going to turn a blind eye to opium production. otherwise, you're going to destroy the economy and consign peasants to starvation. drugs are no more to be associated with terrorism than with democracy etc.
and then the question of whether addiction is a disease is far more complex even than the bipolar case. first, it would support the externalist notions: you can't be an addict just in virtue of brain states: you've got to ingest external substances. which you ingest and how are relevant to the brain chemistry, of course. here we have a huge family of behaviors and stuffs, on a continuum: i've known addicts who didn't last more than a year or two: just did what they did all the time until death or recovery. and i've known addicts who could probably go on to a normal life span, having, say, a few drinks every day, more or less. (let's hold in abeyance addictions to food, pornography, love, sex: good christ.) that it's a coherently-describable brain syndrome seems ridiculous. on the other hand, the disease model(s) gives you important truths about the phenomenology: it doesn't seem to be fully under your conscious control, it seems to have a genetic piece, and so on. and believing that it is a disease turns out to be pragmatically effective to some extent: it means you are not yourself completely to blame, or the people around you, and if you feel completely responsible, that's a collapsing burden of guilt that will keep you using unto death. but again, what is of use to believe and what is true are radically distinct questions. at any rate, i think it's extremely unlikely that you'll find the one wrong gene, or screwed-up synapse. keep trying, though, please.
Addiction, I tell you, isn't an epic tale of redemption, material for your amazing memoir and appearance on Oprah. It isn't a James Dean movie, a Hemingway story, or a Jimi Hendrix/Kurt Cobain song of suffering, hyper-intense genius. It's dying by choking on your own vomit. It's common as excrement and as profound: reeking, valueless, purposeless, pointless, meaningless. There's no little essence of wisdom suspended in the whiskey, no sparkling geode crystals inside the rock, no signal in the smoke. There just is nothing there.
my column finally endorses the drug war. btw these are the last few columns i'll be writing for creators syndicate. they were always perfectly nice, and their editors let me get away nearly with murder, while aslso referring to myself as a "syndicated columnist." but on the other hand they never managed to sell my column to anyoned who wasn't buying it already. lately not even that. i feel a little bit burned out op-edwise; i'd rather go back to a whenever-the-spirit-moves-me type mode. 6.5 will be the last. next time: the age of cowardice.
i feel sorry for patrick kennedy, since i too have various addiction problems. and i feel sorry for tom delay, addicted to golf, self-serving claptrap, hyper-moralistic vicious hypocrisy etc. i hear, actually, that betty ford has a new clinic for self-serving hypocrisy, one of the most difficult conditions in today's contemporary word.