Memory Leaks

WWIII – A TV guerrilla war with no division between civil and military fronts.

– Marshall McLuhan *

As you enjoy the Wikileaks reality show circus, please remember to support to the Bradley Manning defense fund.

This week’s drama has been riveting and surreal. For years I have been describing the era we are embarking on as the End of Forgetting, and imagining the repercussions of this transformation on the fabric of social life. But my relationship with this saga goes well beyond the theoretical and is much more personal.

In December 2006post-Diebold memos and, synchronously, within weeks prior to Wikileaks’ launchI began researching the ZyprexaKills campaign (slides), a whistleblowing action implicating the drug company Eli Lilly which soon became the EFF’s first wiki case. That case was a significant milestone in life. The experience was a crash course in First Amendment Law, exposed me to the hybrid dynamics of new and traditional media, prepared me for epocal epistemic shifts, and confirmed the power of my information flow models.  On the ZyprexaKills case no one wanted to be forgotten more than the anonymous John Doe, and Eli Lilly undoubtedly wishes the world would forget that they marketed Zyprexa off-label to children and the elderly, even though their executives knew Zyprexa causes diabetes.

Which brings us to today. I am amazed at the wide speculation across the mainstream press around Assange’s motives when his own writings are widely available. Apparently, we are still transitioning to the age of  Scientific Journalism Assange dreams about. Bloggers and tweeters have finally helped  mainstream news outlets pick up the story–as Todd Gitlin writes, we should “Credit him with a theory”.

The potential fallout of the leaks goes well beyond the substantive contents of any particular document. To understand the potential impact of this communication its important to consider the different types of messages conveyed to various receivers. Some commentators, like Umberto Eco, have taken up the message of the medium itselfWhat do leaks of this type communicate? Beyond any specific cable or document, what messages do the leaks send, and to whom?

I don’t think the Wikileaks collaborators have much faith in the US political processes.  Like the Tea Party, I imagine they aim to usurp the agenda and change the language of the conversation itself.  I doubt they are overly preoccupied with any particular exchange.

Some have alleged a preventative coup against Hillary, but I think we need to read this in a more global context. Beyond the narrow lens of partisan, or even geo-politics, there cultural and ideological battles are raging. Wikileaks’ actions model and embody the maturing, politically conscious, hacker ethicand their actions alter people’s conception of the real and the possible. Their actions are floating and actualizing crucial thought experiments just in time for the showdowns around net neutrality, kill switches, and the future of journalism and the Internet.

All the more reason why They have to try to make an example here. Is the US Govt already caught in a chinese finger trap?

Whatever the outcome, at least its different. Last week’s media-policy talks at the Columbia J-school (Wu/John and Copps) articulated the historic challenges we face at this critical juncture in order to avoid the fate of all previous media revolutions. At this point I’m willing to try just about anything that might snap us out of the repetition compulsion of the 20th century. But, I like backgammon better than chess 😉

BTW – I love that my fact that my idea for this post’s image had already been drawn, and was discoverable within 10 second search. Long live the open, neutral, unkill-switchable,  World Wide Web!

Ongoing collection of my favorite Wikileaks coverage here.

Pick a world… any world…

abandon_despairLast week I attended the second half of the US Social Forum – not exactly a conference, but more of a convergence or a process, where 20,000 people gathered in Detroit to build coalitions, alliances, and movements. The World Social Forum began as a response to the World Economic Forum – Why should the power elite be the only ones planning humanity’s future?!?

The USSF web site and the People’s Media Center (made possible by some righteous radical techies, the Design Action Collective,, and May First/People Link) should give you a flavor of what the event was all about. But, be aware that the streaming video and social media barely scratches the surface of the experience.

The forum is organized around 2-hour long workshops, and over 100, 4-hour long People’s Movement Assembly’s.  The sessions were in depth and quite intensive. The format is designed to encourage small group interactions and for people to connect and get to know each other.

The assemblies were geared around crafting resolutions and actions – I attended parts of the transformative justice and healing PMA, and it was really well facilitated. During the closing ceremony the assemblies synthesized their resolutions, scheduled actions, and asked for commitments of solidarity around their issues.  I don’t think that this forum represents the Left’s answer to the Tea Party, but I did gain a much better appreciation for the scope of issues comprising The Agenda(s). And, considering that anyone passionate about an issue was welcome to participate, the assemblies offered an authentic glimpse into everyone’s priorities. It felt like a determined effort to take things into account, and put them in order.

Here are some of the resolutions that emerged from the Progressive Techie Congress Principles and the Transformative Justice and Healing assembly.

Collective Liberation and Radical Mental Health

The main draw for me to the conference were the Icarus Project workshops and the convergence of Icaristas, in person. We took over and transformed a house in a Detroit suburb, and mad dreaming and plotting ensued. The place was quickly transformed into a safe space for people to brilliantly  navigate the madness of the forums, and it was quite amazing to spend quality time, face to face, with friends and allies. I gravitated to the heath tracks, taking up issue of self-care, mutual aid, and wellness.  I also caught some great music, ate some amazing homemade food (and not bombs), visited some incredible collective living spaces, and was pretty inspired by everyone who cared and showed up.

This Icarus workshop I attended (there was another that I missed, plus a screening of Crooked Beauty) was eagerly anticipated and well attended – the participants were open and receptive to the core messages, and there was a palpable desire to embrace these issues locally. The session leaders shared their personal stories and modeled peer-support as we broke into groups (photos, highlight reel to be posted shortly). People shared details of their individual and organizational neuro-diversity and how dysfunctional feedback loops undermine many organizing efforts. The relationship between personal and collective liberation emerged from the workshop and will travel far beyond Detroit’s (shrinking) city limits.

Detroit is pretty beat up – we stayed two blocks away from a refinery that belched flames into the night sky – but there are some wonderful people and projects that were really cool to experience. It’s also the only city I have ever been to that has a monument to organized labor.

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolutionEmma Goldman, Radical Feminist

Mad Men, Women, and Children

This season Fox premiered a new television series called Mental (this post has nothing to do w/ AMC’s fabulous Mad Men):

a medical mystery drama featuring Dr. Jack Gallagher, a radically unorthodox psychiatrist who becomes Director of Mental Health Services at a Los Angeles hospital where he takes on patients battling unknown, misunderstood and often misdiagnosed psychiatric conditions. Dr. Gallagher delves inside their minds to gain a true understanding of who his patients are, allowing him to uncover what might be the key to their long-term recovery.

The show’s format (very) closely resembles the hit TV show House, except that Mental is set in a nuthouse. The show has received lukewarm reviews and mediocre ratings, but very well might get renewed. Mental health consumer advocates like (pharma funded) NAMI have not reached a consensus on how to respond to these pop culture representations, and even the some of the radical Icarus Project’s membership were (initially) impressed by the show’s message.

While this show might seem innocuous, it really deserves a careful, critical analysis. We seem to be approaching a turning point in perceptions around altered states, as powerful marketing forces are hard at work working to remove the stigma around mental “illness”.  Brittany Spears was the unpaid celebrity spokesperson for the normlization of psychiatric crises, but Glenn Close will soon be leading up the BringChange2Mind campaign.  Don’t get me wrong — removing stigma is generally a good thing, but if the stigma is removed in order to increase the legitimacy of pharmaceutical treatments, the message (and outcome) is mixed.  We are all dying, sick and crazy.

I am reminded of a fantastic book I read last year called Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity.  In this work, Joshua Gameson examines hundreds of hours of trashy talk show footage from the 80’s and 90’s – Ricki Lake, Montell Williams, Phil Donaue, Jerry Springer, the works. During the period examined, LGBT guests were featured regularly on these shows, amongst some of the first representations of gay people in mainstream popular culture.

Gameson closely studies the controversy around these appearances. On the one hand, the guests were not always portrayed in the best light (to put it mildly). These shows thrived on sensational confrontations and humiliating storylines. On the other hand, alternative lifestyles were being featured and discussed on national television, and beamed into living rooms across the country. Is there ever such a thing as bad media?

What Gameson teases out of his exhaustive study are the subtle underlying ideologies these encounters embody. While homosexuals were often defended by the talk show audiences, trans and bi guests were often vilified.  He makes a convincing case that these shows endorsed monogamy and static identities, but were decisively hostile towards alternative lifestyles and choices that veered from these mainstream values.

Our critical “Mental” challenge is all about trying to tease out the underlying ideologies and unquestioned assumptions that permeate the storylines in this series. On the face of it, Mental offers a diverse range of voices and perspectives — from financially-motivated hospital administrator, to the confrontational interns, to the purportedly radical director – Mental gives watchers the impression that the mainstream is being represented, and challenged.

Consider Dr. Galleger’s establishing introduction:

Establishing Dr. Gallager from Generic Prescriptions on Vimeo.

He certainly seems like an alternative psychiatrist, who will do anything to help his patients. He even goes on to insist that patients participate in the staff meetings:

Medical Deities from Generic Prescriptions on Vimeo.

… a device that disappears immediately after its introduction. It doesn’t even come up in later meetings in this pilot, never mind later in the series. Here is the next meeting, where the shows truer colors begin to shine through – Drugs for life, no hope of a cure, and the problem lies with pharmas old drugs, like Haldol, but their new miracle treatments are a panacea:

He's gonna need drugs from Generic Prescriptions on Vimeo.

The rubber really hits the road in S01E04 (Manic at the Disco) — about a young boy named Conner who is eventually diagnosed with pediatric bipolar.

Elective Mutism, Conduct Disorder from Generic Prescriptions on Vimeo.

The attending staff discuss Conner’s case and authoritatively toss around dozens of diagnoses, never questioning the legitimacy of pediatric bipolar — a diagnoses that is currently hotly debated, and does not (yet) even exist in the DSM!

Conner's Diagnosis from Generic Prescriptions on Vimeo.

“There is no cure, as such”

There is no cure, as such from Generic Prescriptions on Vimeo.

and of course, “you can’t ignore the symptoms.”

You can't ignore the symptoms from Generic Prescriptions on Vimeo.

The decisive “evidence” of a broken brain was a brain scan – a technique which is highly controversial, profiled in the Frontline investigative piece The Medicated Child.

So much for alternative psychiatry.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in favor of treating people instead of bodies, but the psychiatrists on Mental still treat brains instead of minds.

I’m not sure if this kind of publicity is fooling anyone, but I am afraid it is. As folks like smartmeme describe, narratives are often far more persuasive than stats, facts, or logic.

We need to keep a close watch on shows and campaigns like these, that implicitly establish a baseline acceptance of disorders and treatments when there are vibrant alternatives to consider. People cannot make informed choices about their mental health if the questions they are deciding are deceptively framed. Mental is far more insidious than its seemingly innocuous plotlines and banal characters suggest.

[For more critical clips from Mental S01E01 and S01E04 see GenericPrescriptions].

The Remover of Obstacles

Javier TellezOn last weekend’s visit to the Shivananda ashram I chanted away life’s worries while imagining an elephant effortlessly clearing obstacles from its path.

Om gam ganapataye namaha! [*]

The elephants returned this weekend on my visit to Boston. I spent a wonderful afternoon biking around the city, inhaling the streets, waterways, and parks and internalizing its expanse.  I visited the ICA, a great new museum designed by the same crew that just finished New York’s great new High Line park.  The main attraction at the ICA was the Shepard Fairey exhibit, but I was much more drawn to the “Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video”

Does contemporary art have any visible social impact? Film is a way to intervene, fight for something, inform, educate, update knowledge, tell fairy tales, persuade, call attention to problems, critical junctures, etc. [*]

There were only a few video installations, but there was one in particular that really stuck with me for its simplicity and brilliance. Javier Téllez’s Letter on the Blind For the Use of Those Who See (it premiered at the Whitney Biennial ’08, but I missed it) is a reenactment of the ancient parable of the 6 blind wise men and the elephant (various sources).

The parable is a classic, and I even recently encountered a free-software remix – Six Tuxes and the Elephant. But I was really moved by the personal and philosophical perspectives that Tellez’s film captures.  When you actually situate real humans into a living context, something amazing happens.  Their subjectivities spring to life as the magnificent Elephant animates their fears and desires. Most of them had never before touched an elephant (ha!), and the encounter evokes vivid visceral reactions from everybody involved (audience included).

The reintroduction of subjectivity into our theories of everything is a project that will likely extend beyond this century, even if we survive it.  This film manages to  capture the central themes I encountered in Disabilities Studies, and how obnoxious it is to rely on these coarse, crude metaphors without vividly imagining their underlying reality.  It also highlights the myopia of cleaving objective reality from subjective experience.

A reviewer at the Boston Globe shared my enthusiasm for this piece, and their story describes the film in more detail that I do here.  Hopefully we can arrange to screen this doc sometime at DisThis

Pathological Soothsayers

halloween-straight-jacketA recent post at Furious Seasons on the spooky future of psychiatry prompted me to dig a little deeper into the origins of prodromal diagnoses.

A prodrome is “a symptom or group of symptoms that appears shortly before an acute attack of illness. The term comes from a Greek word that means “running ahead of.”” A spooky emerging trend in clinical psychiatry is the appropriation of this concept under the paradigm of “early intervention in psychosis” for “at risk” patients. Psychiatrists are preventively diagnosing mental illness and treating people prior to them exhibiting any behavioral symptoms.

Earlier diagnosis and early intervention. The past decade has witnessed a surge of progress in identifying individuals at high risk for psychosis or mood disorders. The “prodrome” has become a fertile area of research, with a focus on early “treatment” even before the clinical syndrome of schizophrenia or mania appears. The goal is to try to delay, modify, or ameliorate incipient serious mental illness by using both pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy.(“Psychiatry’s Future is Here“)

Instinctively, preventative health care seems like a good thing. Western medicine is often criticized for primarily responding to acute crises, instead of proactively promoting health and well-being. However, the reductionist flattening of minds into brains leads to categorical errors which pervert the Hippocratic principle to “do no harm”. Applying the medical paradigm of treating risks (instead of disorders) to mental conditions stretches the dangerously elastic diagnostic net beyond the breaking point.

Analogies between mental conditions and diseases of the body, such as the measles or heart failure, are often the point of departure for proponents of prodromal treatment. However, this rhetorical sleight of hand disguises many relevant disanalogies.  The pathologization of diverse mental states remains controversial, unlike life threatening viruses or organ failures. Furthermore, there is currently no casual theory explaining why some people’s psychological experiences degenerate into crisis. Arguably, there can never be such a theory until we make significant progress towards resolving the mind/body problem, (a.k.a. the “hard problem” of consciousness). Without a causal theory explaining the transitions between mental states, all prodromal diagnoses of mental conditions are necessarily speculative correlations.

The roots of prodromal diagnosis of mental conditions can be traced back to work on the prodromal identification of schizophrenia.

What is needed is not the early diagnosis of schizophrenia, but the diagnosis of pre-psychotic schizophrenia. We must learn to recognize that state of mind which will develop into schizophrenia unless appropriate measures are taken to prevent deterioration.[*]

However, the identification of reliable predictors of schizophrenia has proven to be notoriously difficult and conceptually slippery:

Identifying symptoms or signs that reliably predict onset would obviously aid attempts to prevent mental disorders. Such specific predictors do not currently exist. In fact, one could argue that if any such risk factors were identified they would be conceptualized as early phenomena of the disorder itself… The nonspecific nature of these common features is notable. [*]

The Diganostic Statistical Manual is the psychiatric bible, effectively the working definition of insanity. The clinical gaze embodied in its pages is rooted in behaviorism – the symptoms it defines are all observable behaviors. The trend towards prodromal mental diagnoses is frightening precisely because it cedes even more power to an already cold and inhumane apparatus, which fails to listen to the voices of the people it claims to treat. The risks of preemptive discipline and prescriptive moral judgment reek of rhymes with eugenics, and are simply too great and horrifying for this practice to continue. Patients are being indicted on the basis of hereditary factors, thought crimes, and innocuous deviant behavior.

Furthermore, the psychopharmacological treatments prescribed for these prodromal diagnoses are physically dangerous and psychologically damaging.  The atypical anti-psychotics that are often prescribed in these circumstances have been linked to excessive weight gain, metabolic disorders, and diabetes. The stigma attached to these diagnoses is also emotionally threatening. Advertising campaigns such as the award winning “Prescribe Early” poster have heightened the pressure to preventively prescribe dangerous medication, before it is too late. Children and teens often traverse defiant emotional terrain on their journey of self-discovery and becoming. Adult disapproval towards behaviors (smoking, drinking, inappropriateness, and irritability) and appearances (fashion, body piercings, hair style) has increasingly taken the form of chemical discipline,[*] with psychiatry’s permission and blessing.

That future of psychiatry is quite disturbed. Prodromal treatment is the latest progression in an ever constricting system of control. Preventative psychiatric treatment hints at forms of control that resonate with fears of omniscient surveillance, and we can begin to glimpse how grotesque these practices will become in an era of electronic medical records. Pathologizing the neurologically diverse is bad enough. Extending this attitude (and treatment) to those at risk of being neurologically diverse is downright evil.

Disorganized thinking

poison_pillAs I’ve claimed previously, Big Pharma’s crimes and cover-ups will soon make Big Tobacco’s scandals look like jaywalking.

AstraZeneca’s Seroquel trial began last week, and the industry’s criminal antics surrounding anti-psychotics are coming into better focus.  Documents introduced as evidence are confirming that, like Eli Lilly with Zyprexa(Kills), AstraZeneca knowingly downplayed the fatal side-effects of their toxic pills. They covered up the fact that Seroquel causes diabetes and massive weight gain, and have been gaming the drug approval process to expand the diagnostic reach of their drugs.

In a move which hits new lows, even for Pharma, documents introduced into evidence reveal sex scandals and conflicts of interest in the approval of Seroquel for treating depression, the burying of unfavourable studies, and deeper insight into the pathological cognitive dissonance underlying Pharma’s logic. Get ’em while they’re hot!

43_Exhibit 15.pdf

There may be a rationale to explain why acutely psychotic patients may gain weight in the short term, following effective therapy. The relief of negative symptoms, apathy, etc, disorganized thinking, may result in return to normal activities like having regular meals.

I see. Blame the weight gain on the crazy people. Gotta love it. I am reminded of the current economic situation, where corporations privatize the profits and socialize the risks/loses. All the good is caused by the drugs, the patients/victims take all responsibility and blame for the bad.

Meanwhile, this week yielded a few more alternate hypotheses on behavioural issues in children:

Are Bad Sleeping Habbits Driving us Mad?

The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess

adding to the growing list (nutritional issues, boredom, and increased stress) of plausible explanations for children’s irritability, restlessness, and erratic behaviour.

I thought the scientific method was supposed to be about systematically exploring causal possibility spaces, and iteratively refining our narrative understanding based on critical observation. Pharma’s scientists have seriously lost their way. They have betrayed the sceptical stance at the foundation of scientific knowledge production.

That’s some abstract, theoretical jargon, but the threat here is quite concrete and real.  Just ask these horrifically abused elderly patients. People who have never manifested psychotic symptoms are no longer safe!

That future of psychiatry is quite disturbed. They might actually beat
omniscient surveillance to the punch on absolute control over the populace. But heaven help us if/when Big Brother forges an alliance with Big Pharma.

Open Letter to the FDA

To: Sandy Walsh <>
Cc: World
Subject: Establishing the Validity of Pediatric Bipolar Disorder

Dear Miss Walsh,

I am a professional educator, software architect, and a doctoral candidate at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. I am outraged that the FDA is abusing its power and violating the public trust by supporting the corporate interests of the pharmaceutical lobby. The drug companies are shamefully maneuvering to expand the market for the multi-billion dollar a year anti-psychotic industry by extending the diagnostic criteria of the purported mental illnesses their toxic pills are prescribed to treat.

The FDA has recently taken the unprecedented action of effectively legislating the existence of a disease, a disease whose existence is denied by many experts on both mind and body. The diagnosis of Pediatric Bipolar Disorder does not exist in the DSM IV, is not recognized by public or private insurance companies, and is the subject of intense debate between psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and therapists. When did the FDA become authorized to construct/validate new diagnoses or decide who is mentally ill?

I have been closely following the heated controversy surrounding the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in children since the tragic death of Rebecca Riley. Rebecca was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at 2 years old, and was killed when she was 4 by an overdose of anti-psychotics. This past year, Frontline aired The Medicated Child, a provocative investigation of the widespread experiment being conducted on the innocent children of America. I beg you to watch this documentary before making any more decisions about the existence of this alleged disorder. The piece demonstrates how our children are being chemically swaddled, and how these drugs are being systematically deployed as instruments of discipline and control.

The public has a right to full disclosure on this important matter of public health! I am shocked that you have still not issued a statement explaining your position on Pediatric Bipolar Disorder – What behavioural symptoms constitute this alleged disease, and how were these criteria arrived at? What is the progression of this illness and what are the mechanisms are involved in its treatment? Who was consulted in the validation of this disease, and have their research findings been vetted by a disinterested scientific community?

The FDA’s complicit involvement in a mass experiment on an entire generation of American children demands transparent accounting. It is absolutely imperative that the FDA shine some light on its backroom dealings with the Big Pharma.

Jonah Bossewitch

Magic potions, strange trips, and healing plants

Last week I paid tribute to Albert Hoffman at an event hosted by Reality Sandwich. I have been following the site for a while, and really enjoyed the screenings and the conversation (led by John Perry Barlow and Daniel Pinchbeck).

I was a bit startled to encounter a perspective that I hadn’t thought about for a while. There were psychedelic enthusiasts who faithfully imagined the world being a better place if we all took a little trip (slight caricature, but bear with me). After a few years working on the Icarus Project and immersed in academia I found this attitude slightly jarring. Talk about technological determinism – our salvation in the form of an external molecule?

I happen to think that a bit of psychedelic experimentation might certainly help make the world a better place, but for one thing, if society were truly tolerant of freaks and drugs, we wouldn’t need them so badly in first place. For another, psychedelics are arguably more available now than ever before, and they haven’t (yet) catalysed the transformation imagined.

But what really bugged me is how this counter-cultural rhetoric would play directly into the hands of Big Pharma. Their message for years is that happiness can be found at the bottom of a pill bottle. Try to vividly imagine what these drugs would look like in their hands – the clinical administration of extracted active ingredients, outside of the usual cultural sacred context. This wouldn’t accelerate the evolution of consciousness, just the flow of capital into Pharma’s coffers. I also found it interesting to trace the genealogy of LSD back to psychiatry.

To be completely fair, Reality Sandwich’s message isn’t so simple, but I do feel its important to imagine how these messages might be appropriated.

I’ll leave you with one of the shorts from Post Modern Times: Consciousness is the Key

Supervillains, Systemic Corruption, and the Children

were_not_candy.jpgI’ve been drafting this post on Frontline’s provocative investigative piece The Medicated Child since it aired, and the longer I put off finishing this the more connections pile up.

Since this has aired, we have learned that anti-depressants are no more effective than placebos (although more expensive placebos bring more relief than the generics ;-), there really is prozac in the drinking water, and the $15.9 billion ’07 market for anti-psychotics is expected to grow to $17.8 billion by ’11.

But the Frontline doc is a must watch for lots of reasons. The piece profiles three children who have been mis-diagnosed as bipolar. While the plausibility of a bipolar diagnosis in children is still being hotly debated, diagnoses are up 4000% between ’98-’03. In this piece we meet the lazy, obese, depressed parents who impose their sick worlds on their unsuspecting children who show glimmers of imagination and life, even as they are being chemically swaddled.

In one scene we watch a mother feeding her son corndogs, gatorade, goldfish, and cookies, and wondering why his behaviour becomes hyperactive sometimes. In another, a young girl is setup and goaded by her psychiatrist to share her violent fantasies, which she likely learned from here father, an Iraqi war veteran. In another, a mother is told by the psychiatrist that drugs are the only therapeutic option, and she leaves the office with an additional prescription for Xanax for her son’s first day-of-school anxiety. And the images of the poor boy who developed a neck tick on Risperidol were so disturbing I almost couldn’t bring myself to write this post.

The extent of the systemic corruption that these profiles reveal is mind boggling. Not only must we be concerned with conspiracies within the pharmaceutical industry, but now Big Food is getting in on the action. So, get out your tin-foil hat and lets start constructing a few narratives to help our feeble minds comprehend this complex, emergent phenomenon. The high-fructose corn syrup in our nations food supply, is modifying our children’s behaviour so they are diagnosed with a condition that is treated with a drug which makes them insatiably hungry! These drugs also cause obesity and diabetes, but that’s OK, because Big Pharma is investing heavily in diabetes treatments as well.

I don’t actually believe that the world has been overrun by super-villains. But these narratives do beg the question (which I have written about here before) – are conspiracy theories ever a useful heuristic for teasing out the emergent correlations from complex systems. Are these causal? Who would you charge with the crime? With corruption this systemic, the responsibility is distributed, accountability nil, and momentum virtually unstoppable.

An entirely alternative perspective which skirts the ideologically loaded value judgement of designating these behaviors “illnesses” is suggested by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
(watch his 18 minute TED talk here). Perhaps the conditions that the pharma funded psychiatric establishment brands as illnesses are actually the normal responses of our psychological immune systems. The world is currently a very traumatic environment, and I think we need to seriously reconsider ways we can, in the words of The Icarus Project “inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world.”

I recently learned about ridiculously simple casual game called mind habbits, which seems rather superficial at first blush, but indicates just how malleable and programmable the 3lb lump of neurons on our shoulders can be. The researches behind the game began with the question “Can we purposefully design a game that helps people feel good about themselves?” Their initial amazing results suggest alternate approaches to scaling up talking therapy, other than miracle pills.

So, learn more about psych-pharmacological harm reduction, ignore those frowns, and think good thoughts – positivity takes practice.

We are all dying, sick, and crazy

looney_tunes.jpgMy visits to the Informedia lab have consistently generated futuristic ideas (and corresponding posts), and my trip this spring was no exception.

This time I was thinking alot about what kinds of schemas will be employed after their prototype moves beyond watching grandma? When this kind of a system is inevitably rigged up to a school or a prison, or fed raw streams from live surveillance cameras?

My money is on the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, an instrument that is arguably becoming the de-facto catalog for the full range of human behavior and experience.

In some respects, this progression parallels the notion that nobody dies of old age anymore – they die of heart failure, cancer, or other diseases. And, as the title of this post cheerily states, we are all dying, we are all sick, and we are all crazy.

As crazy as it sounds, the DSM is poised to become the lens through which we interpret all of human behavior. Given its breadth of coverage, I challenge anyone to find me a normal, healthy individual. It’s ambition reminds me of William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, except in our generation, the full range of human experience has been radically pathologized.

BTW – the folks who brought us Sexual Orientation Disorder are hard at work on V 5.0 of this catalog – and there is a call out for diagnosis suggestions.

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