Monday, May 22, 2017

MIND GAMES: Cyberspace and Psychiatric Drugs

At least 10 percent of all Americans over six-years-old are on antidepressants. That’s more than 35 million people, double the number from less than two decades ago. Meanwhile, anti-psychotics have eclipsed cholesterol treatments as the country’s fastest selling and most profitable drugs, even though half the prescriptions treat disorders for which they haven’t been proven effective. At least 5 million children and adolescents use them, in part because more kids are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

This raises some troubling alternatives: Are a growing number of people experiencing psychological troubles? Have we just become better at recognizing them? Or is some other dynamic at work?

One possibility is that the criteria for what constitutes a mental illness or disability may have expanded to the point that a vast number appear to have clinical problems. But there’s an even more insidious development: the drugs being used to treat many of the new diagnoses could cause long-term effects that persist after the original trouble has been resolved. That’s the case made by Robert Whitaker in his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.

Speaking of long-term impacts on the brain, we’re also heading toward a world where humans are directly linked with computers that profoundly influence their perceptions and ideas. Despite many potential benefits, there is danger here as well. Rather than simply augmenting our memories by providing neutral information, the brain-computer connection may lead people into separate realities based on their assumptions and politics.

Brain-altering drugs and digital “indoctrination” – a potent combination. Together, they pose a potential threat not only to the stability of many individuals but of society itself. Seduced by the promise that our brains can be managed and enhanced without serious side-effects, we may be creating a future where psychological dysfunction becomes a post-modern plague and powerful forces use cyberspace to reshape “reality” in their private interest.

Do prescription drugs create new mental problems? And if so, how could it be happening? For Whitaker the answer lies in the effects of drugs on neurotransmitters, a process he calls negative feedback. When a drug blocks neurotransmitters or increases the level of serotonin, for instance, neurons initially attempt to counteract the effects. When the drug is used over a long period, however, it can produce “substantial and long-lasting alterations in neural function,” claims Steven Hyman, former director of the National Institutes of Mental Health. The brain begins to function differently. Its ability to compensate starts to fail and side effects created by the drug emerge.

What comes next? More drugs and, along with them, new side effects, an evolving chemical mixture often accompanied by a revised diagnosis. According to Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, it can go this way: use of an antidepressant leads to mania, which leads to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which leads to the prescription of mood stabilizers. Through such a process people can end up taking several drugs daily for many years.

What may happen after that is deeply troubling. Researcher Nancy Andreasen claims the brain begins to shrink, an effect she links directly to dosage and duration. “The prefrontal cortex doesn’t get the input it needs and is being shut down by drugs,” she explained in The New York Times. “That reduces the psychotic symptoms.” But the pre-frontal cortex gradually atrophies.

Anyone who has been on the psychiatric drug roller coaster understands some of the ride’s risks and how hard it can be to get off. But the new implication is that we may be experiencing a medically-induced outbreak of brain dysfunction caused by the exploding use of drugs. One big unanswered question at the moment: What does Big Pharma really know, and when did they learn it?

Drug companies are not the only ones experimenting with our brains. Bold research is also being pursued to create brain-computer interfaces that can help people overcome problems like memory loss. According to writer Michael Chorost, author of World Wide Mind and interface enthusiast who benefited from ear implants after going deaf, we may soon be directly connected to the Internet through neural implants. It sounds convenient and liberating. Ask yourself a question and, presto, there’s the answer. Google co-founder Larry Page can imagine a not-too-distant future in which you simply think about something and “your cell phone whispers the answer in your ear.”

Beyond the fact that this could become irritating, there’s an unspoken assumption that the information received is basically unbiased, like consulting an excellent encyclopedia or a great library catalog. This is where the trouble starts. As Sue Halperin noted in a New York Review of Books essay, “Mind Control and the Internet,” Search engines like Google use an algorithm to show us what’s important. But even without the manipulation of marketing companies and consultants who influence some listings, each search is increasingly shaped to fit the profile of the person asking. If you think that we both get the same results from the same inquiry, guess again.

What really happens is that you get results assembled just for you. Information is prioritized in a way that reinforces one’s previous choices, influenced by suggested assumptions and preferences. As Eli Pariser argues in The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, environmental activists and energy executives get very different listings when they inquire about climate science. It looks and feels “objective” but they’re being fed data that fits with their existing view – and probably not seeing much that conflicts.

A study discussed in Sociological Quarterly looked at this development by following attitudes about climate science over a decade. Here’s a strange but significant finding: Although a consensus emerged among most scientists over the years, the number of Republicans who accepted their conclusion dropped. Why? Because the Republicans were getting different information than the Democrats and others who embraced the basic premise. In other words, their viewpoint was being reflected back at them.

Does this sound dangerous? Pariser thinks so, and suggests that the type of reinforcement made common by search engines is leading to inadvertent self-indoctrination. For democracy to function effectively, people need exposure to various viewpoints, “but instead we’re more and more enclosed in our own bubbles,” he writes. Rather than agreeing on a set of shared facts we’re being led deeper into our different worlds.

Whether this is a problem depends somewhat on your expectations. For some people it is merely a bump in the road, a faltering step in the inevitable evolution of human consciousness. Techno-shamen and other cosmic optimists see the potential of drug-induced enlightenment and an Internet-assisted “hive mind,” and believe that the long-term outcome will be less violence, more trust, and a better world. But others have doubts, questioning whether we’ll really end up with technological liberation and a psychic leap forward. It could go quite differently, they worry. We could instead see millions of brain-addled casualties and even deeper social polarization.

How will current trends influence democracy and basic human relations? Increased trust and participation don’t immediately come to mind. Rather, the result could be more suspicion, denial and paranoia, as if we don’t have enough. In fact, even the recent upsurge in anger and resentment may be drug and Internet-assisted, creating fertile ground for opportunists and demagogues.

In False Alarm: The truth about the epidemic of fear, New York internist Marc Siegel noted that when the amygdala — the Brain’s central station for processing emotions – detects a threatening situation, it pours out stress hormones. If the stress persists too long, however, it can malfunction, overwhelm the hippocampus (center of the "thinking" brain), and be difficult to turn off. In the long term, this "fear biology" can wear people down, inducing paralysis or making them susceptible to diseases and delusions that they might otherwise resist. Addressing this problem with drugs that change the brain’s neural functioning isn’t apt to help. Either will the Internet’s tendency to provide information that reinforces whatever one already thinks.

More than half a century ago, Aldous Huxley – who knew a bit about drugs – issued a dire prediction. He didn’t see the Internet coming, but other than that his vision remains relevant. “There will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude,” he wrote in Brave New World, “and producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods."

Pretty grim, but there’s no going back. Despite any dangers posed by computer algorithms and anti-psychotic drugs, they are with us for the foreseeable future. Still, what we’ve learned about them in recent years could help us to reduce the negatives. Not every illness listed in the DMS – that constantly growing, Big Pharma-influenced psychiatric bible – requires drug treatment. And the results of your online searches will very likely tell you what you want to know, but that does not mean you’re getting a “balanced” or comprehensive picture.

(Originally published on 6/15/11, based on a radio broadcast)

Dangerous Words: A Political Memoir

MUCKRAKING MEDIA CONSPIRACY CIA TERRORISM RIGHTS FBI UN-AMERICAN REPRESSION DOOMSDAY NARCISSISM COLD WAR SURVEILLANCE LITERACY ANTI-NUCLEAR ANARCHISM FATALISM FREEDOM LIBERATION REACTIONARY MERGER DISINFORMATION PEACE MISSILES ALTERNATIVE CONTRAS DOUBLESPEAK FASCISM DRUGS SECRET IMPERIAL SUPERPOWER MULTIPOLAR RELIGION ECOLOGY CRIME NON-ALIGNED DISSENT DEMOCRACY...   (Links Below)

  Dangerous Words: A Political Memoir
   By Greg Guma

Contents

Audio Prologue ON THE AIR: Burlington Reflections (May 2016)
(One month later Burlington College was closed)

Part One: Education of an Outsider (1960-1968)

Part Two: Fragile Paradise  (1968-1978)


Part Three: Prelude to a Revolution (1974-1978)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The People's Republic: Vermont & Bernie Sanders

A revealing look at the rise of Bernie Sanders and the progressive movement that changed Vermont

Available from Maverick Media

Mentioned during the 2016 Presidential campaign in...

Mother Jones: How Bernie Sanders Became a Real Politician
New York Times: Bernie Sanders' Revolutionary Roots
CNN: Can Bernie Sanders Win Black Voters?
Politico: 14 Things Bernie Has Said about Socialism
Politico: Bernie Sanders Has a Secret
Washington Post: Sanders is in with the enemy, so old allies say
CNN: How Bernie Sanders Turned Himself into a Serious Contender
Mother Jones: Here's How Bernie May Be Changing Politics for Good
Washington Post: Sanders Prepares for His National Debate Debut
New York Times: Setting Bernie Sanders Apart from the Debate Field
Mother Jones: Here's What Bernie Sanders is like as a Debater
CNN Video: What is Bernie Sanders' Debate Style?
ABC: What to Expect from Bernie Sanders in Tuesday's Debate
International Business Times: Bernie Sanders' Debate Plan
Washington Post: A Somewhat Reluctant Socialist

Bernie Sanders' election as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981 caught the attention of the entire nation and inspired progressives throughout the world. Originally published in 1989, just before Sanders won his first race for the US House of Representatives in 1990, The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution was the first comprehensive analysis of Sanders' mayoral years and the progressive movement in Vermont. It remains the most intimate and revealing. 

Greg Guma's exploration of the "revolution" goes far beyond Sanders and his impact on Burlington. The factors behind the initial surprise victory, the tension between leftist ideals and pragmatic politics, the evolution of an effective political coaliton outside the two-party system -- all these topics and more Guma investigates, with an eye on global political implications as well as the immediate local impact. The People's Republic is for all those interested in progressive politics and political history, not to mention those in places where a similar "revolution" is possible.

A fast-moving description that illustrates one of the great efforts at innovative government of the past fifty years…
--Pierre Clavel, Cornell University

If you were going to create somebody to write about Bernie Sanders’ years as socialist mayor of Burlington, you might make him a fortysomething Vermont journalist and bookstore founder and former government worker who almost ran for mayor of Burlington himself…That’s what you have in Greg Guma.
—Mark Satin, New Options

A treasure house of first-hand information and perceptive, if often controversial analysis of great value to anyone concerned to explore realistically the possibilities for combining third-party electoral politics with other methods of working for justice, peace, environmental sanity and genuine democracy.
– David Dellinger, author/activist

If you are at all interested in Vermont and Burlington, and public policy, get this book.
– Phil Hoff, former Vermont Governor


More Books from Maverick Media HERE 

Uneasy Empire
How an international establishment has used fear of socialism, communism and terrorism to justify repression and a massive military establishment. Pointing past nationalism and corporate empire, Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization, and What We Can Do combines a radical critique with hopeful solutions and a vision of democratic globalism through which people can regain control of their futures.

Spirits of Desire
Set during the spirtualist craze of the 1870s, Spirits of Desire follows a group of extraordinary people, including Russian theosophist Helena Blavatsky, paranormal investigator Henry Olcott and Oneida Community leader Theo Noyes, as they search for the truth about ghosts through a notorious family of Vermont mediums. The trail leads them into a world of seances, deadly elementals, astral forces and past lives.

Dons of Time
Unsolved mysteries collide with cutting edge science and altered states of consciousness in a world of corporate gangsters, infamous crimes and top-secret experiments. Based on eyewitness accounts, suppressed documents and the lives of world-changers Nikola Tesla, Annie Besant, Ignatius Donnelly and Jack the Ripper, Dons of Time is a speculative adventure, a glimpse of an alternative future and a quantum leap to Gilded Age London at the tipping point of invention, revolution and murder.