Hurl the Miserable Sychophant from his Exaltation

“We have had Democratic Presidents, Whig Presidents, a pseudo-Democratic-Whig President, and now it is time to have a President of the United States; and let the people of the whole Union, like the inflexible Romans, whenever they find a promise made by a candidate that is not practiced as an officer, hurl the miserable sycophant from his exaltation, as God did Nebuchadnezzar, to crop the grass of the field with a beast’s heart among the cattle.”

– The Prophet Joseph Smith

2015 State of the Union Address: Notes

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Tonight President Obama gave his sixth State of the Union Address.  He is a good speaker.  He had a lot of positive things to say.  He concluded his speech by declaring that “a brighter future is ours to write,” and “let’s start the work right now.”

While the Onion mocks Biden time and time again, and while Ron Paul gives his speech for liberty, it seems to be a harder task to put one over on the President.  He is an excellent orator.  His hair is neatly trimmed.

Toward the end of his speech, the President remarked,  “I have no more campaigns to run…” which he quickly followed up with, “I know ’cause I won both of them.”

He spoke of the mentally ill, of gays and lesbians, of immigration, GITMO, Ebola, cyber security, global warming, the Middle East, Cuba, Russia, trips to space and Mars, medicine and health care, terrorism, the minimum wage, women, graduation, student loans, and the economy.  As he put it, “The state of the union is strong.”

Is it?

“We are fifteen years into this new century,” Obama began, reminding us of the progressive age in which we live.  “There’s good news people.”

“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong.”

Fine.  I’m glad that the President is optimistic.  I’m glad that he wants to discuss common purposes.  I ‘m glad that he is interested in talking about values, issues and facts.

But I have some questions.

What exactly is “middle class economics”?

What does it mean that everyone needs a “fair shot” and to play “by the same set of rules”?

The most oft repeated phrase in the President’s speech was, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Is it?  Why?

“It’s 2015.  It’s time.”  Why?

“Level the playing field.”  Why?

“It’s the right thing to do.”

I was interested to learn that 95% of business customers live outside of the borders of the U.S.A.  That’s a lot.

What is “precision medicine”?

Why is Scott Kelly going to spend a year in space?  (That sounds lonely, but quite an adventure I suppose)

Obama made sure to note that in contrast to Putin, he leads “not with bluster” but with “persistent, steady resolve.”

Obama promised to do his utmost to stop future pandemics.  Does he know something that we don’t know?

All of these points pale in comparison to what the President considers to be the world’s greatest problem: “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

We must stop global warming.  Why?

“It’s the right thing to do.”

For a moment, the President began to speak about his personal journey, and then he noted that gay marriage used to be a “wedge issue,” but now it’s a “civil right.”  Progress.

I’m not sure that I buy much of what the President was selling tonight, but at least one thing made sense to me. President Barack Obama called for a “better politics.”  He called for debate without demonizing.

Debate without demonizing.  That, I can agree, is the right thing to do.

 

 

 

 

Two Thumbs Up for D’Souza’s America

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Well, I tried to find a serious review of Dinesh D’Souza’s new film America: Imagine the World without Her, but to no avail.  Just as they did with D’Souza’s film 2016: Obama’s America, most critics glibly and smugly dismissed D’Souza’s arguments without understanding or engaging them. While the Rotten Tomatoes audience approval rating of the film has already reached 91%, thus far only two out of seventeen film critics (12%) gave D’Souza’s America a positive review.  What is to account for this gap?  Are film critics just that much smarter than the average moviegoer?

Some have accused D’Souza of disseminating “propaganda,” “conspiracy theory” or “racism,” but by leveling such accusations the critics have inadvertently lent credence to D’Souza’s arguments.  As D’Souza himself observed: “The left is maybe not really sure how to attack the film, so critics are attacking the film as poorly made, arguing that ‘the production quality is really poor’ and insisting that ‘Michael Moore at least knows how to make a good movie.’ That’s just downright laughable, and I think our clips and trailers that are out there are enough to refute that claim.”

Look.  This isn’t Citizen KaneLawrence of Arabia or Gone with the Wind.  But D’Souza’s new political documentary is one worth watching, at least for those who wish to engage in civil debate about important matters in American history.  In the film, D’Souza singles out five myths that are commonly deployed in the shaming of America (myths that have been perpetuated by the likes of Noam ChomskyHoward Zinn, and Saul Alinsky) and dismantles every one of them.  Essentially, D’Souza exposes the incoherence of the victimization and oppression narratives that are so frequently touted in order to demonize America.

The majority of Americans still have it right: D’Souza’s America: Imagine a World without Her deserves an emphatic two thumbs up.

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Becoming More Liberal

we-are-local-signWhat is provincialism?  The dictionary defines the adjective provincial as “1. of or concerning a province of a country or empire; 2. of or concerning the regions outside the capital city of a country, especially when regarded as unsophisticated or narrow-minded.”  Those who remain within the confines of their own province, village, town, or city, never venturing out to encounter people of different beliefs and backgrounds, or those whose intellectual curiosity is bound to their own rigid set of ideological preferences, unwilling to engage in discussions with those who hold differing opinions, are sometimes accused of being too provincial.  The label of provincialism categorizes a person as decidedly limited in his or her perspective.  Other synonyms for the word provincial include parochial, bigoted, sectarian, insular, petty, and uninformed.  In other words, the word provincial is often used in the pejorative sense; it is seldom written or uttered as a compliment.
Jesus-was-a-liberal-photoWhat then is the opposite of provincialism?  Someone who is not provincial may be described as broad-minded, tolerant, unbiased and liberal, which is to say, generousbeneficent and kind.  Unlike the pejorative provincial, these last words may be employed in commendation and praise. Whereas provincialism is most often mentioned as a vice, liberality is understood to be a virtue.  A liberal person is one who is well exercised in the art of listening, and is favorable to promoting freedom in thought and in action.  A liberal person possesses both critical thinkings skills and the ability to weigh out  a variety of ideas before forming opinions or reaching conclusions.  A liberal person is one who has cultivated the attributes of patience and of long-suffering.  In short, a truly liberal person is charitable.
In his novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) Marcel Proust wrote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  The capacity to see with “new eyes” is the capacity to think liberally and to vanquish provincialism.  Proust made an excellent point, but for many people the journey toward greater liberality requires more than merely metaphorical movement.  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” wrote Mark Twain, “and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, abandon_all_hopewholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  Just to mention a few hypothetical examples, imagine if Dante the Pilgrim, upon reading the inscription on the gates of hell “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”), had suddenly decided to stop following his poet-guide Virgil.  What if Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo had chosen to remain in the Shire rather than embarking on their respective quests?  What if Sinbad the Sailor had never set sail on his first voyage?  What if, instead of fighting in the Trojan War, Odysseus had simply stayed at home on the Island of Ithaca with his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus?
we_readOf course not everyone has the time, resources or inclination to travel to distant lands or to remote corners of the earth.  Fortunately, other catalysts for liberality, and antidotes to provincialism, such as reading, can be as close at hand as your bookshelf or as near as your local library.  Wrote C.S. Lewis, “We read to know that we are not alone.”  The books we choose to read, and the friends with whom we choose to associate, influence our thoughts and are a reflection of who we are.   “I feel the need of reading,” stated President Abraham Lincoln, “It is a loss to a man not to have grown up among books…  Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.”  In A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, a precursor to WaldenHenry David Thoreau counseled, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” Thoreau’s admonition takes for granted the reader’s ability to discern which books really are the best, but it is good advice nonetheless.
serviceIn addition to travel and study, service is perhaps the best antidote to provincialism.  As we reach outward to lift another person, our love increases, our perspective enlarges, and our horizons expand.  We leave the little world that we have constructed in our own minds to encounter a better world, where every man is our brother, and every woman is our sister.  G.K. Chesterton wisely observed: “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”  In his Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth rightly observed that the “best portion of a good man’s life” consists of “His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”  That best portion, that liberal portion, increases only by serving others.  In the words of Spencer Kimball, “the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. We become more significant individuals as we serve others. We become more substantive as we serve others—indeed, it is easier to ‘find’ ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!”
Although there have been bounteous beacons of liberality in the past to light the way, Proust, Twain, Dante, Tolkien, Galland, Homer, Lewis, Lincoln, Thoreau, Chesterton, Wordsworth, and Kimball were each provincial, as are we, in that they occupied, as we now occupy, a tiny little province in the universe known as the planet earth.  The circumference of the earth, approximately 24,901 miles (a distance which many may travel during their life-time) is universeseemingly very long, unless we also consider the distance from the earth to the sun, some 92,960,000 miles, or the distance from the sun to the nearest star, a mere 4.24 light-years.  In the vast ocean of the universe, the terrestrial sphere which we inhabit is but a grain of sand on the beach of a small island that we call the solar system.  The most broad-minded, tolerant, and liberal soul, though of infinite worth, is but a microscopic speck of dust on that minuscule, though beautiful, grain of sand.  The combined knowledge of every human being, from Adam and Eve (or even from the earliest bipedal hominid or Australopithicene) to the present time, along with the combined wisdom of all the world’s greatest sages, would amount to far less than the single most foolish thought ever to cross the mind of God (if God were indeed capable of thinking a foolish thought). Therefore, when taking into consideration the vast expanse of the universe, we earthlings are quite provincial.
tissot-christ-appears-on-the-shore-of-lake-tiberias-741x484Must it always be thus?  Is there a way to transcend provincialism and attain unto true liberality? After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and the disciple that desired to tarry upon the earth recorded: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)  Jesus, whose earthly travels before His resurrection covered but a small region of the land of Palestine, and whose library probably consisted only of those books of which He Himself was already the true author, was anything but provincial. His divine liberality puts all mortal liberality to shame:
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: / Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. / For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)
Though He was the Son of God, Jesus was maltreated by Annas and Caiaphas, and then arraigned before Pontius Pilate.  Pilate pressed Jesus to answer whether or not He were the King of the Jews, to which question Jesus responded: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36)  For His true liberality, Jesus suffered in Gethsemane and was crucified on the cruel cross of Calvary, having been betrayed by the most sinister provincialism in history.
Quotation-Joseph-Smith-Jr--god-wisdom-truth-prayer-teaching-best-Meetville-Quotes-104929Through travel, study and service we may do much to conquer provincialism and increase in liberality, but until our thoughts escape the gravitational pull of human knowledge, and until, with new eyes, we see beyond the confines of mortal wisdom, we will remain forever enclosed within a provincial paradigm.  “The best way to obtain truth and wisdom,” wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith, “is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.” (History of the Church, 4:425)  Of course, this does not mean that we shouldn’t strive to acquire all the knowledge and wisdom that we can, but even the longest lifetime of the most rigorous study can yield only that which the Apostle Paul referred to as “foolishness” (1 Cor. 3:19)  While celebrating mass on the Feast of St. Nicholas, the great theologian Thomas Aquinas received a revelation so powerful that he left his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, unfinished. Aquinas informed his secretary and friend that, “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”  When his friend urged him to continue writing, Aquinas again replied, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.”
if_any_of_you_lack_wisdomThe Prophet Joseph Smith affirmed, “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”  This does not mean that we shouldn’t travel, study and serve, but that by turning away from our own provincial thoughts and seeking the source of all liberality we can receive divine teaching: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5)

What is Mental Illness?

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What is Mental Illness?

Yesterday columnist Natalie Crofts reported that Utah has the highest rate of mental illness in the United States.  Since she reported from Rockville, Maryland (a state that ranks near the bottom of the scale), we can safely trust that the survey represents a sane diagnosis of a national malady.

The study, conducted by an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ostensibly demonstrates that 22.4% of the adult population in Utah experienced a mental disorder in the past year, of which 5.14% suffered from a severe mental disorder.  Crofts elaborated: “The study estimated 42.5 million people over the age of 18 in the U.S. have experienced a mental illness in the past year, at a rate of 18.2 percent. Severe mental illness affected 9.3 million people, at a rate of 4 percent.”

What Crofts conveniently failed to make clear in her report is that the organization that conducted the survey (The SAMHSA) defines mental illness based on diagnostic criteria in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).  This same organization defines “Serious Mental Illness” or “SMI” as “a disorder that substantially interfered with or limited one or more major life activities” requiring “the most urgent need for treatment.”  The study concludes that “The presence of SMI (Serious Mental Illness) and AMI (Any Mental Illness)  in every state reinforces that mental illness is a major public health concern in the United States,” with the caveat that “Factors that potentially contribute to the variation are not well understood and need further study.”

In basic terms, the Center for Behavioral Health and Statistics has determined that “Mental illness is a major public health concern in the United States,” and Utah has the highest rate of mental illness in the nation.

But just what is mental illness?  How does one determine whether another person is mentally ill?  How would one know whether the person at the head of the agency, or the person who designed the survey, were mentally ill?  How is mental illness measured?  Can mental health be measured?  What sort of thoughts does a 100% sane person think?   What is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? How was it created?  How were these surveys to determine mental illness conducted?

Setting aside the other questions for a moment, let us focus on the last question.  To begin the survey, people were selected using the following process:

“A scientific random sample of households is selected across the United States, and a professional RTI interviewer makes a personal visit to each selected household. Once a household is chosen, no other household can be substituted for any reason. This practice is to ensure the NSDUH data represent the many different types of people in the United States.

After answering a few general questions during the in-person visit by the interviewer, one or two residents of the household may be asked to participate in the survey by completing an interview. It is possible no one will be selected for the interview. If an individual is selected for the interview, their participation is voluntary, but no other person can take their place. Since the survey is based on a random sample, each selected person represents more than 4,500 United States residents. At the end of the completed interview, the selected person will receive $30 in cash.”

Once the person was selected, how was the interview then conducted?

“Participants complete the interview in the privacy of their own home. A professional RTI interviewer personally visits each selected person to administer the interview using a laptop computer. No prior computer skills are necessary. Individuals answer most of the interview questions in private and enter their responses directly into the computer so even the interviewer does not know the answer entered. For some items, the interviewer reads the question aloud and enters the participant’s response into the computer. The interview takes about an hour to complete.”

And what sort of questions did the interviewer ask?  Here are a few examples:

“During the last 30 days, how often did you feel nervous? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel hopeless? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel restless or fidgety? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel so sad or depressed that nothing could cheer you up? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel that everything was an effort? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel down on yourself, no good or worthless?”

Those chosen to take the survey then entered one of the following answers for each question: “1 All of the time / 2 Most of the time / 3 Some of the time / 4 A little of the time / 5 None of the time / Don’t know/Refused”

If those questions weren’t enough to make a person feel nervous or hopeless, I don’t know what else could.  Furthermore, if, after an hour of questioning, the interviewee didn’t start to feel restless or fidgety, that individual might just be superhuman.  But a barrage of more specific questions were posed to determine whether or not the participant suffered from what the “experts” of the DSM have labelled “MDD,” or “Major Depressive Disorder”:

“1. Depressed mood most of the day: The following questions refer to the worst or most recent period of time when the respondent experienced any or all of the following: sadness, discouragement, or lack of interest in most things.

During that [worst/most recent] period of time…

  1. … did you feel sad, empty, or depressed most of the day nearly every day?
  2. … did you feel discouraged about how things were going in your life most of the day nearly every day?
  1. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day
  1. … did you lose interest in almost all things like work and hobbies and things you like to do for fun?
  2. … did you lose the ability to take pleasure in having good things happen to you, like winning something or being praised or complimented?
  1. Weight

In answering the next questions, think about the [worst/most recent] period of time.

  1. Did you have a much smaller appetite than usual nearly every day during that time?
  2. Did you have a much larger appetite than usual nearly every day?
  3. Did you gain weight without trying to during that [worst/most recent] period of time?
  1. … because you were growing?
  2. … because you were pregnant?
  3. How many pounds did you gain?
  1. Did you lose weight without trying to?
  1. … because you were sick or on a diet?
  2. How many pounds did you lose?
  1. Insomnia or hypersomnia
  1. Did you have a lot more trouble than usual falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early nearly every night during that [worst/most recent] period of time?
  2. During that [worst/most recent] period of time, did you sleep a lot more than usual nearly every night?
  1. Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  1. Did you talk or move more slowly than is normal for you nearly every day?
  2. Were you so restless or jittery nearly every day that you paced up and down or couldn’t sit still?
  1. Fatigue or loss of energy
  1. During that [worst/most recent] period of time, did you feel tired or low in energy nearly every day even when you had not been working very hard?
  1. Feelings of worthlessness
  1. Did you feel that you were not as good as other people nearly every day?
  2. Did you feel totally worthless nearly every day?
  1. Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness
  1. During that [worst/most recent] time period, did your thoughts come much more slowly than usual or seem confused nearly every day?
  2. Did you have a lot more trouble concentrating than usual nearly every day?
  3. Were you unable to make decisions about things you ordinarily have no trouble deciding about?
  1. Recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal ideation
  1. Did you often think about death, either your own, someone else’s, or death in general?
  2. During that period, did you ever think it would be better if you were dead?
  3. Did you think about committing suicide?”

Even if the participant made it through all of those questions, he or she might well be depressed just by reading them.  By answering all of the questions, and then pocketing the $30 payment, the participant at least demonstrated that he or she was mentally healthy enough to endure an hour-long survey.  But remember, all of these questions refer to “the worst or most recent period of time when the respondent experienced any or all of the following: sadness, discouragement, or lack of interest in most things.”  It just so happens that if you are a human being, feelings of sadness, discouragement, or lack of interest just might be natural, particularly during difficult times.  This survey could have been administered to someone who just lost a job.  The participant might have recently lost a loved one, had a baby, or been injured in a hockey fight.  In short, there is no real objective way to determine whether a person is mentally ill or not, in part because there is no real consensus about what it means to be mentally ill.

But this hasn’t stopped people from systematizing and spreading theories of illness.  Nor has it stopped government agencies from conducting surveys to determine how ill America is.  When asked what mental illness means, many would answer that it is a problem that results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, or a physiological problem with genetic links… but where is the medical proof that this is actually the case?  I’ll let you in on a secret… there is none.  In fact, the entire Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Bible of psychiatry, is a work of fiction, albeit a very clever work of fiction.  This ever-expanding handbook of mental illnesses has yet to include a diagnosis for those who obsessively diagnose and over-medicate innocent people, and thereby brand them with a heavy psychiatric stigma.  Perhaps it should include FDS (Fanatical Diagnosing Syndrome) in its more than 800 pages.  Of course, in that case, too many doctors and psychiatrists would have to be medicated and hospitalized along with their patients.

In sum, Natalie’s article contributes to a burgeoning branch of media attention given to a nebulous idea that Americans in general, and particularly people from Utah, are becoming more and more mentally ill.  This may or may not be true, but the results of the survey, and the statistics that follow, do little, if nothing, to explain what exactly mental illness means, or what exactly causes mental illness. The truth is that nobody knows.  Those who claim to know often have something in a bottle to sell.  Nevertheless, one thing is certain… if nobody were labelled mentally ill, an entire government agency would have to be dismantled, the profession of psychiatry would disintegrate, and pharmaceutical factories and offices would be razed to the ground.  As it is, someone stands to profit from distributing labels, spreading rumors of mental illness and measuring each with statistics… and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the people to whom the stigma is attached.

mental_illness_stigma

Think About It

Welcome to Obamatopia

Barack_Obama_stateoftheunion2014                                                             obamatopia1

President Obama just concluded his fifth State of the Union address.  In a speech that lasted just over an hour, he was interrupted 85 times by applause, even after he mentioned the Sandy Hook tragedy.  In the small spaces between his use of the pronoun “I,” President Obama announced his plan for progress that will include taking as many steps as possible without legislation.  While employing rhetoric reminiscent of Orwell’s doublespeak, the President proceeded to congratulate his wife for reducing childhood obesity, and to congratulate himself for becoming the President of the United States.  Was anyone comforted by his declaration that the federal government has had a hand in creating Google and Smart Phones?  Did anyone flinch at his promise to use his “authority” to protect pristine federal lands for future generations and to provide better education for children despite his reticence in opposing abortions that prevent future generations from being born?

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Growing unemployment and a massive federal debt hang over the country, but the President has the audacity to flaunt American prosperity as evidence of his wise and benevolent governance.  Not only that, but the President’s power has grown so great that by his word alone he can alter reality: “The debate is settled, climate change is a fact.”  He also promised to fix a broken immigration system, to provide greater equality for women, and to “give America a raise.”  What can possibly be meant by the promise to reduce inequality?  How does he intend to accomplish this?  How can this President claim to remain “true to our constitutional ideals” while at the same time completely ignoring the time honored principle of the separation of powers?  But he will make up for all of this through his promise to eradicate asthma?  The President’s speech bore the unsurprising news that more executive orders are forthcoming, as well as the surprising news that Iran will be coaxed into submission through diplomacy.  Welcome to Obamatopia.

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A Toxic Trade: From Alchemy and the Apothecary to the Modern Pharmacy

At the beginning of the 14th century AD, a young poet, soldier and politician was condemned to exile from his beloved home in Florence, Italy.  His crime?  Fighting for greater freedom from the papal influence of Rome.  While in exile, he began to compose an epic poem that is now considered the greatest literary work ever written in the Italian language.  He called the poem La Commedia, meaning, The Comedy.  A later Italian poet gave the poem another label, Divina, meaning Divine.  This masterpiece of world literature can now be found under the title, La Divina Commedia, or, The Divine Comedy.

Dante_Alighieri01

The author of this epic poem, a man who is now considered to be the father of the Italian language, was none other than Durante degli Alighieri, or simply, Dante.  An aspiring politician, Dante enrolled in the Physicians’ and Apothecaries’ guild.  He did not intend to practice pharmacy, but nobles who aspired to public office were required to join a commercial or artisan guild, and young Dante chose the medical guild.  Perhaps not coincidentally, apothecary shops at the time also served as bookstores.

Why then, as a former apothecary, would Dante place certain alchemists in the tenth gulf of hell in his 29th Canto of the Inferno?  The alchemists that Dante depicted as tormented and stricken with scabs and leprosy were among the charlatans and falsifiers of metals.  In other words, Dante’s profession in the apothecary shop enjoyed a certain honor and prestige which contrasted sharply with the work of pseudo-scientific alchemists who were often known to be thieves and liars.

Both apothecaries and the practice of alchemy can be traced back to ancient Babylon and Egypt.  Practitioners of alchemy often sought for power and wealth through the creation of a philosopher’s stone, the ability to transmutate (see chrysopoeia) base metals into noble metals, and the concoction of an elixir of life to provide sustained youth.  Not all alchemists were motivated by power and gain, but it appears as though some of them had failed to learn from the lessons of King Midas in Greek Mythology, who, according to Aristotle, died of starvation as a result of his vain prayer for the golden touch.   By Dante’s time, Griffolino d’Arezzo had been condemned as a fraud and falsifier of metals, guilty of the sin of alchemy: “Ma nell ‘ultima bolgia de le diece / me per l’alchìmia che nel mondo usai  / dannò Minòs, a cui fallar non lece.” (“But unto the last Bolgia of the ten, / For alchemy, which in the world I practised, / Minos, who cannot err, has me condemned.”)

Alchemy and the work of apothecaries may also be considered as the proto-sciences or precursors to modern chemistry and medicine.  In the early 16th century, an eccentric physician, alchemist and occultist named Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine.  Paracelsus was highly critical of scholastic methods in medicine and in other fields, favoring empirical methods and the observation of nature above reverence for ancient texts.  Paracelsus is credited for founding the discipline of toxicology and for coining the word “alcohol” (a substance that he imbibed quite frequently).  Paracelsus wrote that, “Many have said of Alchemy, that it is for the making of gold and silver. For me such is not the aim, but to consider only what virtue and power may lie in medicines.” (Holmyard, Eric John. Alchemy. p. 170.)  He was a controversial figure in the history of medicine whose speaking style was notoriously bombastic: “I am Theophrastus, and greater than those to whom you liken me; I am Theophrastus, and in addition I am monarcha medicorum and I can prove to you what you cannot prove…I need not don a coat of mail or a buckler against you, for you are not learned or experienced enough to refute even a word of mine…As for you, you can defend your kingdom with belly-crawling and flattery. How long do you think this will last?…Let me tell you this: every little hair on my neck knows more than you and all your scribes, and my shoe buckles are more learned than your Galen and Avicenna, and my beard has more experience than all your high colleges.” (Paracelsus, Selected Writings, ed. with an introduction by Jolande Jacobi, trans. Norbert Guterman, (New York: Pantheon, 1951), p. 79-80)  Many centuries later, the father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, latched onto the writings of Paracelsus and studied them intensely.  The influence of Paracelsus on Jung, and the influence of Jung on modern psychiatry can hardly be understated.

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Interestingly, Dr. Faust’s character in Goethe’s Faust can been traced back to Paracelsus.  According to German legend, Faust was a dissatisfied scholar who made a pact with the devil to give his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.  Like Paracelsus, Faust was on a quest to discover the true essence of life, and through alchemical processes was able to convert base metal into gold.  This was a sad bargain for Dr. Faust, a bargain like that of Simon Magus that could not pay, especially in light of Jesus Christ’s teaching: “For whosoever will save his life, must be willing to lose it for my sake; and whosoever will be willing to lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.  For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and yet he receive him not whom God hath ordained, and he lose his own soul, and he himself be a castaway?” (JST, Luke 9:24-25)

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By the end of the 19th century, however, chemistry had gradually replaced alchemy and the pharmacy had already begun to replace the apothecary.  But the modern versions of alchemy and the apothecary have proven to be no less dangerous and no less worthy of condemnation than Dante’s sinners or the foolish desires of Dr. Faust.  In fact, one might be surprised to learn that the root of the word pharmacy comes from the Greek work pharmakeia, meaning the “use of drugs, medicines, potions, or spells; poisoning, witchcraft; remedy, cure.”  In other words, one possible meaning of the word pharmacist is “a poisoner.” (see also pharmakos)

In his recent book Cracked, the Unhappy Truth about Psychiatry, author and psychiatrist James Davies exposes many of the nefarious secrets of modern psychiatry and the modern pharmaceutical industry.  The interviews and the data that Davies has painstakingly collected and analyzed demonstrate that the current state of psychiatry is worse than King Midas, the alchemists, Dr. Faust and Simon Magus rolled up in one.  One could argue that the preceding statement was hyperbolic, were it not for the fact that the pharmaceutical industry rakes in an inconceivably large amount of money at the expense of patients’ health, and often at the expense of patients’ lives.

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With unrelenting effort and piercing precision, Davies reveals the early breakdown of psychiatry and the history behind the rise of the DSM, or The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  Davies demonstrates that this manual of more than 800 pages is not only a work of fiction, but one that has helped the APA to accrue a hefty sum (the DSM-IV already pulls in a whopping $5 million per year).  Davies reveals how psychiatry has succeeded in medicalizing misery, pushing placebo pills, and marketing both illness and toxic “remedies” to an unsuspecting public.  Behind all the machinations of the pharmaceutical industry is the ever mighty dollar, and behind that mighty dollar is a myth so intricate that one can only begin to fathom it after reading Davies’ book.   Not only this, but there is an intense effort to propagate this myth globally in an attempt to medicate the entire world. (Psychologist Dr. Timothy Scott has also written extensively on the truth about psychiatry, anti-depressants, and antipsychotics in books such as America Fooled.)

Keep in mind that the author of this book is himself a psychiatrist.  Like Dante (who was an apothecary) depicting the alchemists in a leprous torment in hell,  Davies exposes the treachery of a multi-billion dollar industry, and the rapidly spreading effects of that treachery upon millions of innocent people, some of whom have aptly named themselves “survivors“.   Davies has both sickening science and staggering statistics to report.  For example, in 2011 alone 254 million prescriptions of antidepressants were dispensed to the American public (p. x)  These mind-altering substances have not only failed to produce any concrete results toward curing or improving the health of patients, but in some cases they have led to impairment and death.  Some have sought to defend the peddling of drugs through a system of “Evidence-based medicine.”  One caution that Davies raises is to thoroughly research the “evidence” that is being put forth, considering that much “evidence” is sponsored and promulgated by pharmaceutical companies with a vested interest in the sales of their products.

Of course, there are many good people, such as Davies, who are working in the field of psychiatry, who care deeply about helping their patients.  One psychiatrist that Davies interviewed, Dr. Peter Breggin, emphasized the importance of considering contextual solutions before chemical intervention: “People who are breaking down are often like canaries in a mineshaft.  They are a signal of a severe family issue.  And sometimes the one who is breaking down is being scapegoated; sometimes they are the most sensitive, creative member of the family, or sometimes they are the one person in the family with a really different personality.” (p.226)  This sad pattern is a reflection of the practice of pharmakós in Ancient Greece, or in other words, the ritualistic sacrifice or exile by the sorcerers of a human scapegoat or victim.  By this ritual, a slave, a cripple or a criminal was chosen by the pharmakon, or sorcerer, and “expelled from the community at times of disaster (famine, invasion or plague) or at times of calendrical crisis, after being given pharmakeus or drugs by the pharmakon or sorcerer who was a practitioner of pharmakeia or pharmaceutics. It was believed that this would bring about purification.”  This may sound like an outdated pagan practice of a bygone era, a reminder of Dante’s exile, but what James Davies’ research reveals is that this practice has found a new and opprobrious expression in our modern society.  Recall that the man who reluctantly sold poison to the young Romeo in Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet was an apothecary, and the man whose name has become a byword for treason or betrayal in America, Benedict Arnold, was also an apothecary.  In other words, think twice before you casually accept a “professional” diagnosis along with a powerful, mind-altering prescription drug.  Take caution not to become the human scapegoat of the modern pharmaceutical industry.  If you or someone you know and love is currently taking anti-depressants or another type of pharmaceutical, consider well the research in this book.  If you find yourself working in some arena of psychiatry or in health care, take caution not to become like the greedy Midas of ancient Greece or the falsifiers of metals in Dante’s Inferno.  Furthermore, avoid like the plague anything that would lead you to the devil’s bargain of Dr. Faust or the priestcraft of Simon Magus.  For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?

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Davies issues a final warning at the end of his book for those who are currently taking pharmaceuticals or those who know someone who is taking them: “While most psychiatric drugs have harmful side effects, they also can have powerful withdrawal effects.  Therefore, any precipitous or sudden withdrawal is always dangerous.  It is therefore crucial that anyone deciding to withdraw from any kind of psychiatric medication do so under the supervision of an experienced physician who is, of course, well-informed and thus able to respect fully any patient’s desire to explore non-medication alternatives.” (p. 249)

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