I woke up this morning with the realization that I needed to make a meme about Nongqawuse. (Context.)
These were the result:
In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide in order to reach a UFO they believed was accompanying comet Hale-Bopp.
In 1978, 918 followers of cult leader Jim Jones committed suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid–the origin of the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”
Mathematician Ted Kaczynski, unable to find a publisher for his manifesto, Industrial Society And Its Future, turned to mailing bombs to professors.
82 Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, died when their compound burned down during a raid by the ATF. It appears that the Branch Davidians set the fire themselves.
The Thugs were an Indian cult that ritually strangled and murdered travelers.
Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in 1995 when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in what he claimed was revenge for ATF’s siege against the Branch Davidians.
Hong Xiuquan claimed to be Jesus’ little brother and lead the Taiping Rebellion, which resulted in the deaths of 20-30 million people.
Lee Harvey Oswald
Nongqawuse was a Xhosa prophet who convinced her people that if they sacrificed all of their cattle, the British would be “swept into the sea.” The Xhosa sacrificed their cattle, the British did not get swept into the sea, and mass famine resulted.
Charles Manson was a cult leader whose followers carried out 9 murders in the 70s.
The legal system was created by and for the ruling class (cishetero white males) in order to keep the rich rich and the poor and oppressed poor and oppressed.
To this end, crimes the poor commit (such as burglary) are heavily penalized, while crimes the rich commit (such as racism or insider trading) are not.
Many of the “crimes” of the oppressed (like rape, assault, mugging, and mass rioting) shouldn’t be considered crimes at all, but are just desperate attempts at survival
The “real crimes” are things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., which create the oppressive capitalist society that creates common street crime
When racism sexism, homophobia, etc. are outlawed, then we can create the perfect socialist state which will have no crime.
Creationism is more factually solid than Critical Criminology, but Critical Criminology is taught in real universities alongside real theories about how the world works.
But let’s step back a moment. #1 is at least partially true–the rich do have a disproportionate influence on the legal system and the poor are often at its mercy. Corporations and wealthy individuals do use their money and influence to get legislation written and enforced in ways that benefit themselves.
But which crimes, exactly, are the rich interested in prosecuting? Do they care if a drug addict steals wallets down in the ghetto? They don’t live in the ghetto. They use their money to insulate themselves from violent crime by buying houses in nice, gated neighborhoods with private security forces.
It’s the poor who are the primary victims of crime, and it’s the poor who’d like murderers to be arrested. Only someone who is rich enough not to live with the threat of violent crime could possibly say something as stupendously idiotic and insensitive as “rape and assault aren’t real crimes.”
If critical criminologists are the wealthy, then wouldn’t they, logically, be trying to reshape the legal system to benefit themselves?
Meanwhile, they accuse the wealthy of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., but these attitudes are actually associated with the poor. Rich whites absolutely pride themselves on being open-minded, tolerant, anti-racist, feminist, etc, and are horrified at all of the racist, sexist, Islamophobic bigotry embodied in low-class Trump voters.
So the crimes these wealthy critical theorists are trying to get outlawed are not things that the rich are doing, but things the rich want the poor to stop doing.
Here I could cite a dozen examples, from Hate Speech laws in Britain being more strongly enforced than rape laws to Hillary Clinton’s “Would bringing down the banks end racism?” speech to Piers Morgan complaining about Islamophobia.
Why are the capitalists so intent on smashing bigotry in all its forms?
Simple: Capitalism wants to make money. Capitalism doesn’t care about oppressing brown people, or women, or gays, or Muslims, or foreigners, or anyone. Capitalism just wants the best possible ratio of worker quality : worker cost. If Mexicans can do the same job as Americans for half the cost, then capitalists want to hire Mexicans and they want Americans to stop trying to pass laws limiting the number of Mexican immigrants who can come work for the capitalists. If Europe is facing a labor crisis because Europeans haven’t made enough new workers to fill the factories and finance the welfare state, then European capitalists must import new workers and they want European workers to stop complaining about the terrorist attacks. Capitalism just wants to hire “the best person for the job” or at least the cheapest person who’ll do an adequate job.
The only odd part is that capitalists are wrapping themselves in the Communist flag while imprisoning people for objecting to the importation of cheap, union-breaking labor. We could accuse them of lying–or gaslighting–except many of them seem to really believe it. Perhaps socialism provides the necessary tool for lying to themselves. “Oh, I am not actually screwing over the poor by advocating on behalf of my own profits.” Most people don’t like to think of themselves as nasty, evil, and self-serving, but they will often project those qualities onto others. (“I’m a nice person, it’s everyone else who’s backstabbing cheaters!”) By casting their enemies (middle and working class white males who don’t want to lose economic security)’s concerns onto the cartoonish figure of the evil capitalist, they simultaneously dismiss those concerns and recast themselves as heroic defenders of the “oppressed.”
Some evolutionary biologists, such as Robert Trivers, have suggested[page needed] that deception plays a significant part in human behavior, and in animal behavior, more generally speaking. One deceives oneself to trust something that is not true as to better convince others of that truth. When a person convinces himself of this untrue thing, they better mask the signs of deception.
This notion is based on the following logic: deception is a fundamental aspect of communication in nature, both between and within species. It has evolved so that one can have an advantage over another. From alarm calls to mimicry, animals use deception to further their survival. Those who are better able to perceive deception are more likely to survive. As a result, self-deception evolved to better mask deception from those who perceive it well, as Trivers puts it: “Hiding the truth from yourself to hide it more deeply from others.” In humans, awareness of the fact that one is acting deceptively often leads to tell-tale signs of deception, such as nostrils flaring, clammy skin, quality and tone of voice, eye movement, or excessive blinking. Therefore, if self-deception enables someone to believe her or his own distortions, they will not present such signs of deception and will therefore appear to be telling the truth.
I remember an article I read ages ago (that, alas, I cannot find now,) on the subject of what the Puritans thought of Indian gender relations. In Puritan society, men were expected to work in the fields or at trades/professions in the cities, while women were supposed to work in the home, raising children, cooking meals, and otherwise doing domestic labor.
In the nearby Indian tribes, by contrast, women worked in the fields, either alongside the men or while the men stayed at home, doing whatever needed to be done about the house or just relaxing with their friends. (This is not just something I read once, btw; here’s an article from Indian Country Today on Why do Tribes Have Matrilineal Societies?)
It is common enough today to read descriptions of the Puritan lifestyle which basically amount to denunciations of the Puritans as evil, patriarchal oppressors, and glowing descriptions of the Indians’ lifestyle as female-empowered matriarchies.
The funny thing is that the Puritans saw the Indians as evil, patriarchal oppressors. They viewed the Indian men like communists view evil capitalist oppressors who sit indolently at home while benefiting from the exploitation of their wives’ labor instead of working industriously in the fields so that their wives can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle at home.
These days, of course, one does not encounter denunciations of the Indians as evil, patriarchal oppressors. In fact, it is difficult to find a respectable source making any kind of denunciation of Indian culture at all, unlike the Puritans.
I’m going to quote Howard Zinn at greater length than I usually prefer to quote, just because I’m having trouble picking the best part:
“Societies based on private property and competition, in which monogamous families became practical units for work and socialization, found it especially useful to establish this special status of women, something akin to a house slave in the matter of intimacy and oppression, and yet requiring, because of that intimacy, and long-term connection with children, a special patronization, which on occasion, especially in the face of a show of strength, could slip over into treatment as an equal. An oppression so private would turn out hard to uproot.
Earlier societies-in America and elsewhere-in which property was held in common and families were extensive and complicated, with aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers all living together, seemed to treat women more as equals than did the white societies that later overran them, bringing “civilization” and private property.
In the Zuni tribes of the Southwest, for instance, extended families- large clans-were based on the woman, whose husband came to live with her family. It was assumed that women owned the houses, and the fields belonged to the clans, and the women had equal rights to what was produced. A woman was more secure, because she was with her own family, and she could divorce the man when she wanted to, keeping their property.
Women in the Plains Indian tribes of the Midwest did not have farming duties but had a very important place in the tribe as healers, herbalists, and sometimes holy people who gave advice. When bands lost their male leaders, women would become chieftains. Women learned to shoot small bows, and they carried knives, because among the Sioux a woman was supposed to be able to defend herself against attack.
The puberty ceremony of the Sioux was such as to give pride to a young Sioux maiden:
“Walk the good road, my daughter, and the buffalo herds wide and dark as cloud shadows moving over the prairie will follow you… . Be dutiful, respectful, gentle and modest, my daughter. And proud walking. If the pride and the virtue of the women are lost, the spring will come but the buffalo trails will turn to grass. Be strong, with the warm, strong heart of the earth. No people goes down until their women are weak and dishonored. . ..”It would be an exaggeration to say that women were treated equally with men; but they were treated with respect, and the communal nature of the society gave them a more important place.
By the way, I didn’t pick Zinn because he’s a famous liberal historian, but because he was the first Google hit when I searched for opinions the Puritans held about the Indians. Zinn strikes me as one of those guys who would insist to my face that I am being oppressed and that my lack of feeling oppressed is just a sign of how oppressed I am, which never fails to infuriate.
Zinn says the women of the Sioux had to learn to kill people and walked around armed because violence against women was so prevalent in their society, and then claims they were treated with respect. A Sioux girl becomes a woman not because she has accomplished some great skill or acquired some learning, but because she becomes fertile and capable of conceiving children, at which point she is lectured on the importance of being dutiful, respectful, and preserving her “virtue,” which sounds a lot like code for virginity to me. If she doesn’t, her tribe will starve, because goodness knows all misfortune comes as a result of women. Eve, Pandora, dishonored Sioux maidens…
Honestly, I have no idea how the Sioux felt (and feel) about women, but this little excerpt is inadequate to support to the idea that women were more respected by the Sioux than by, say, Queen Elizabeth’s England, where women did not even have to walk around armed for fear of constant violence.
A while back, I posted about the similarities between West African Child-Rearing Norms and African-American Norms. The point of this post was not that the two are similar because of genetics–though that would be very interesting if they are–but that the exact same behavior that anthropologists laud as evidence of cultures that respect and empower women, when practiced over in Africa, is derided as the source of all of the black community’s problems over here in the US.
Be careful what you believe. Everybody has an agenda. Anthropologists want to push the narrative that non-whites are morally superior than whites, generally by claiming that they are peaceful paragons of gender equality, which turns out to be factually untrue in a lot of ways, especially homicide rates. Conservative Americans want to push the narrative that loss of traditional values and family structures created the social decay, crime, and low educational achievement now seen in African American communities. This is likely also untrue, but I grant the possibility.
Most Sioux probably liked (and like) their culture and did not feel oppressed by it. Most Nigerians probably liked (and like) their culture. Likewise, most of the English probably liked English culture, and most of the Puritan women probably liked Puritan culture. This is the way of people virtually everywhere.
One thing all of these descriptions of Puritan and Indian life tend to miss (though Zinn comes close to noticing it) is that there is an important reason why women were more active in economic production in Indian life than in European life: the European economy (including the Pilgrims’) was more complicated and closer to achieving full industrialization, and industrialization requires specialization. Anyone can gather yams; most people can fish. Men probably have an advantage drawing a bow or throwing a spear, but women are perfectly good butchers of most game.
But working cattle, building windmills, and driving fence posts are hard, difficult tasks that require a great deal of muscle.
Did you know that the Amish use automatic milking machines? Yes, the Amish use some technology, if they decide it will be a boon to their culture. They use milking machines because Amish women are too weak to easily lift the 70 lb milk jugs, and these are people who were raised on a farm.
Obviously European society in the early 1600s had not yet “Industrialized” as we use the word, but it had reached a high level of technical development, including the use of wind, water, and tidal mills for grinding grain; large guilds for the production of standardized goods and regulation of commerce; orderly societies with falling homicide rates; printing presses and widespread literacy.
The Indians practiced low-scale agriculture/horticulture, hunting, gathering, fishing, and some forms of resource management. They also killed all of the wooly mammoths in North America, because they love and respect nature so much just as much as virtually everyone else on the entire planet. They did not have cows or horses (or any domestic animals besides dogs;) so they could not plow or pull wagons. Trade had to be carried one one’s back or a sled dragged on the ground, pulled by a dog. They had no need to fence in large herds of enormous bovines. Farming by hand, as was common in much of the world at that time, does not require the same strength as plowing with oxen, and can easily be accomplished by women.
Lack of task specialization and resource exploitation had little to do with the Indians being fabulous people who loved women and nature way more than the Pilgrims. It was just the result of low levels of technological sophistication that did not therefore require intense labor, specialization, or large-scale resource extraction.
It’s easy to roll your eyes at people demanding that we teach the history of Africa and other non-Western locales. But I support such a move, so long as the history is honest.
Of course it wouldn’t be honest; we are a society of liars.
Here is Madam Efunroye Tinubu (c. 1810 – 1887) :
Madam Tinubu was a wealthy and powerful chieftess of the Egba clan (Youruba people, Nigeria.) She made her money through the slave trade, and resisted the British Colonial Government because it was interfering with he ability to make money by selling humans into bondage.
Tinubu Square in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, is named in her honor.
Cosmic Yoruba has some interesting things to say about the next chieftess of the Egba, Efunsetan Aniwura:
“…she was a WSW [note: woman who has sex with women] who never married, never had any children and was referred to as lakiriboto [a woman with no vaginal opening] …
“Efunsetan Aniwura rose to become a very powerful and wealthy trader in the 19th century, she is one of the few Yoruba women that has withstood the test of history. Oral tradition states that she had three large farms, and that no less than 100 slaves worked in each at a time. Apparently she owned over 2,000 slaves in her lifetime.
“Like other Yoruba women traders, Efunsetan travelled across the land trading with all sorts of people. Her speciality was in arms and ammunition, she would lend these to warriors when they were going on military expeditions and it seems she also went to war a few times herself.”
“I wonder if this is a classic example of history erasing a woman’s achievements. I will never get tired of pointing out how our current ideas on how our female ancestors lived are very different from the reality. We believe that they all married, lived “under” their husbands, never divorced, spent their lives in the kitchen while the men went out to work, never enjoyed sex, were all straight and so on. Powerful women like Efunsetan, who may have never married or had children and may have even been queer will have their stories snipped and trimmed, molded to become a warning for other women…so as to discourage them from craving power perhaps.”
Cosmic Yoruba has done a lot more research about traditional Nigerian life than I have, so I am inclined to trust her. Besides, her accounts line up with most other accounts I have read.
Cosmic Yoruba ends with songs praising Efunestan:
“The woman, who instils fear in others,
the fearsome one, who slaughters slaves to celebrate Id-el-Kabir.
Efunsetan is one force, Ibadan is another.
The valiant that challenges the Almighty God,
if the most high does not answer her on time,
Efunsetan leaves the earth to go and meet him in Heaven…”
Have you heard the story that Africa was a developed, thriving place full of wealthy economies and fabulous cities, until evil Europeans showed up, enslaved a bunch of people and colonized the rest?
Cities did exist in Sub-Saharan Africa, but they were few and far between. They were in the sorts of places you would expect them to, like the intersections of major trade routes or major ports. There were a few major trade items, like gold, ivory, and human beings. There were empires with wealthy individuals.
But the overall level of economic development throughout the sub-continent was very low. Those who claim that Europeans are responsible for the current levels of African development need to explain why African development was so low before the Europeans got there.
Edited to add: hey, look, we have a new graph! It is far superior to the old one, though it covers a different time range, so well still have to use both:
Back in the year one, most of the world was engaged in hunter-gathering, small-scale agriculture, or herding. The GDP of most of the world reflects this. Africa at least has gold to export, unlike the steppe. Africa is still less developed than Western Europe (and this is including northern Africa, which is quite different from Sub-Saharan Africa.)
By 1300-1400, various estimates put British per cap GDP around $1,000, with the average for Western Europe as a whole a little lower, but still more than the current per capita GDP of many modern Sub-Saharan countries. And it’s more than SSA had in 1400, well before European colonialism began. If anything, Africa’s GDP only took off after colonialsim; there is no sign that colonialism caused economic collapse.
According to Peter Frost, “In sub-Saharan Africa, high polygyny rates are associated with ‘female farming’ societies, and such societies began to spread outward from a point of origin near the Niger’s headwaters some 6,000 to 7,000 years ago (Murdock, 1959, pp. 44, 64-68).”
In The African Outlier, Frost quotes Draper, 1989 (PDF): “Much of rural African subsistence is based on the work of women in their gardens; men make only modest contributions. Typically, rights in land are held by men by virtue of their membership in kinship or village units. A man who wishes to add another wife is under few constraints (provided his kinship group has the land and bridewealth), since women, in effect, pay their own way. They produce food, and they rear children. In rural areas, when a man marries an additional wife, he is awarded additional fields for this woman and her children (Bryson 1981). The importance of male labor to support such households is reduced. In former times, before colonially imposed peace, the male role in defense was important. But since central governments have been present, men who remain in rural villages spend their time in leisure, in management of household labor, or in local political affairs…”
And in The Beginnings of Black Slavery and The Beginnings of Black Slavery II, Frost argues that, “… It looks like black slaves began to enter the Middle East in growing numbers some time before 0 AD, the result being a slow but steady increase in the region’s black population throughout the early Christian era and into the Islamic era.”
He goes on to argue that polygamy basically drove the slave trade. Do the math; if one man has 5 wives, then four men have no wives. What do you do with your extra men? Attack the next village over, capture their women and sell all of their extra men into slavery.
There are other possible explanations, but I happen to find Frost’s convincing.
The idea that things were going swimmingly until Europeans showed up and started enslaving everyone is pure a-historical baloney. In fact, did you catch this little bit above: “Madam Tinubu … resisted the British Colonial Government because it was interfering with he ability to make money by selling humans into bondage.”
According to the Wikipedia page on Colonial Nigeria, “British influence began with prohibition of slave trade to British subjects in 1807. The resulting collapse of African slave trade led to the decline and eventual collapse of the Edo Empire. ”
So Nigerian heroes were actively resisting British influence in Nigeria because the British were trying to stop them from enslaving people, and the slave trade is supposed to be the fault of the colonizers?
It really should come as no surprise that I was bullied in school, though I know a lot of people have had it far worse than I did.
From simplicity’s sake, I’ve reduced the bullying stories I’ve heard to three basic classes:
1. Sporadic or short-term bullying. This bullying lasts less than two years and/or involves fewer than five bullies. A typical case: “After moving to a new school, two girls were mean to me for about four months, but they got bored after Christmas.”
2. Long-term bullying. These kids are consistently at the bottom of the social totem pole, for years on end. They have few to no friends; most other kids are indifferent to cruel toward them.
3. Intense bullying. The bullied child is beaten; assaulted; raped; frequently told they should commit suicide; or frequently threatened with physical violence, rape, or murder.
My own experiences lie in Type 2. I can only imagine what a hellscape life has been for folks subject to Type 3.
If there’s anything I hate, it’s lies, and oh boy, do grown ups ever lie to children about bullying. The lie generally goes something like this:
“Everyone gets bullied in school! You just have to learn how to deal with it. If you ignore the bullies, they’ll get bored and stop. And besides, they’re only bullies because they feel bad about themselves. If you could just make them feel better about themselves, you’d become magic friends!”
“I hate like the gates of Hades the man who says one thing and holds another in his heart.” Achilles, Iliad 9.314.
About a quarter, or 24 percent, of girls said they were bullied compared to 20 percent of boys.
A higher percentage of white students — 24 percent — said they were bullied than black, Hispanic or Asian students. Twenty percent of black students said they were bullied compared to 19 percent of Hispanic students and 9 percent of Asian students.
Some lies, like the ones about how animals are kinder and more altruistic than humans, are basically sentimental slop that’s probably harmless. But the lies about bullying are a slap in the face to a kid who’s already been slapped in the face, and so deeply offensive.
Bullying is not just something sad kids do to entertain themselves. Bullying is an emergent feature of the control mechanisms of the social order. Or to put it another way, where there is hierarchy, someone is at the bottom, and that is the kid who gets bullied. Bullies, by definition, are higher-status than the kids they bully, because without status, they could not get away with bullying.
And bullies do not have low self esteem; people with low self-esteem hole up in their bedrooms and don’t talk to other humans except via the internet. Bullies have so much self-esteem, they believe themselves entitled to violently dictate the entire social order around themselves.
Seriously, have you ever looked at a picture of Hitler and thought, “If only he’d been a little more self-confident, he wouldn’t have invaded Poland.”?
High status comes in many forms, such as height, wealth, or gregarious aggression. Low status also comes in many forms, like being trusting, short, or shy. Low status people generally remain low status even after switching schools, ignoring the bullies, or otherwise following adult advice.
In a conflict between two people of unknown status, we can tell which is which by the excuses others make for their behavior. If the low-status person is the aggressor, then there will be virtually no debate. The majority of people, especially the elites, will all agree that the low-status person is to blame. If the high status person is the aggressor, then even a neutral finding that the low-status person is not at fault will not be believed, and the elites will make every excuse they can to rationalize the high-status person’s behavior. This is because the elites agree with the actions of the high-status person in putting the low-status person in their place and so preserving the social order.
Man is a political animal, after all.
Yes, I am talking about grown ups, not just kids. Bullying doesn’t go away just because you leave school. It is a fundamental aspect of human social relations. It probably can’t be eliminated, and it’s possible that trying to fully eliminate bullying would just backfire in some horrible way. We should, however, use our understanding of bullying to identify who is–and isn’t–at the bottom of the social totem pole.
(To be clear: we live in a nation of 320 or so million people (or I do, anyway.) There does not exist some great big ladder with each and every person’s absolute position ranked relative to everyone else. Different groups, times, places, etc., have different rankings; your status may be very different in Mississippi than in Oregon, or different if you’re hanging out among college students or church ladies.
Indeed, if we had some sort of absolute system, we might have less bullying, as status-displays and making sure the outgroups stay down could be less necessary.)
But let’s return to the photos at the top of the post and see where this theory leads us.
In the photo on the right, Elizabeth Eckford was one of the first nine black students to break the segregation barriers and attend a white school in Little Rock, Arkansas. While we cannot exactly call the Supreme Court a neutral, unbiased group of robots immune to human passions or politics, they are supposed to try, and they found that black students like Elizabeth were in the right, and segregationists were in the wrong.
As we can see, Elizabeth continued being the target of bullying by higher-class whites, despite an official pronouncement in her favor. At this time in Arkansas, the Feds might be able to force integration, (the Feds, after all, have the bomb,) but this did not change the local social situation. Had the whites been low-status, they would not have been allowed to bully the black students, nor would the community at large have supported or excused their behavior.
In the photo on the left, Black Lives Matter advocates stormed the stage at presidential hopeful and Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent speech in Seattle, WA.
Here are some screenshots of statements from BLM supporters on the subject:
While the BLM folks are truthful about their ultimate agenda, nowhere is there an honest admission of what is clearly visible in the photograph: a woman screaming in Sanders’ face. That is hate, pure and simple.
Obviously Sanders, as an individual, has more power than his hecklers. But his social category–old white men–is not a category that enjoys high social status. Had Sanders’s hecklers been, say, NAMBLA representatives instead of BLM supporters, it is unimaginable that they would have been allowed to take over the stage. Those whom society hates are not allowed to run rough-shod over others; those at the bottom of the social order do not get to act like they aren’t at the bottom.
If you find yourself at the bottom of society, you have several options:
I remember when I first heard about epigenetics–the concept sounded awesome.
Now I cringe at the word.
To over simplify, “epigenetics” refers to biological processes that help turn on and off specific parts of DNA. For example, while every cell in your body (except sperm and eggs and I think blood cells?) have identical DNA, they obviously do different stuff. Eyeball cells and brain cells and muscle cells are all coded from the exact same DNA, but epigenetic factors make sure you don’t end up with muscles wiggling around in your eye sockets–or as an undifferentiated mass of slime.
If external environmental things can have epigenetic effects, I’d expect cancer to be a biggie, due to cell division and differentiation being epigenetic.
What epigenetics probably doesn’t do is everything people want it to do.
There’s a history, here, of people really wanting genetics to do things it doesn’t–to impose free will onto it.* Lamarck can be forgiven–we didn’t know about DNA back then. His theory was that an organism can pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring, thus driving evolution. The classic example given is that if a giraffe stretches its neck to reach leaves high up in the trees, its descendants will be born with long necks. It’s not a bad theory for a guy born in the mid 1700s, but science has advanced a bit since then.
The USSR put substantial resources into trying to make environmental effects show up in one’s descendants–including shooting anyone who disagreed.
Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet agronomist, claimed to be able to make wheat that would grow in winter–and pass on the trait to its offspring–by exposing the wheat seeds to cold. Of course, if that actually worked, Europeans would have developed cold-weather wheat thousands of years ago.
Lysenko was essentially the USSR’s version of an Affirmative Action hire:
“By the late 1920s, the Soviet political leaders had given their support to Lysenko. This support was a consequence, in part, of policies put in place by the Communist Party to rapidly promote members of the proletariat into leadership positions in agriculture, science and industry. Party officials were looking for promising candidates with backgrounds similar to Lysenko’s: born of a peasant family, without formal academic training or affiliations to the academic community.” (From the Wikipedia page on Lysenko)
In 1940, Lysenko became director of the USSR’s Academy of Science’s Institute of Genetics–a position he would hold until 1964. In 1948, scientific dissent from Lysenkoism was formally outlawed.
“From 1934 to 1940, under Lysenko’s admonitions and with Stalin’s approval, many geneticists were executed (including Isaak Agol, Solomon Levit, Grigorii Levitskii, Georgii Karpechenko and Georgii Nadson) or sent to labor camps. The famous Soviet geneticist Nikolai Vavilov was arrested in 1940 and died in prison in 1943. Hermann Joseph Muller (and his teachings about genetics) was criticized as a bourgeois, capitalist, imperialist, and promoting fascism so he left the USSR, to return to the USA via Republican Spain.
In 1948, genetics was officially declared “a bourgeois pseudoscience”; all geneticists were fired from their jobs (some were also arrested), and all genetic research was discontinued.” (From the Wikipedia page on Lysenkoism.)
Alas, the Wikipedia does not tell me if anyone died from Lyskenkoism itself, say, after their crops failed, but I hear the USSR doesn’t have a great agricultural record.
Lysenko got kicked out in the 60s, but his theories have returned in the form of SJW-inspired claims of the magic of epigenetics to explain how any differences in average group performance or behavior is actually the fault of long-dead white people. Eg:
” The science of epigenetics, literally “above the gene,” proposes that we pass along more than DNA in our genes; it suggests that our genes can carry memories of trauma experienced by our ancestors and can influence how we react to trauma and stress.”
That’s a bold statement. At least Pember is making Walker’s argument for him.
Of course, that’s not actually what epigenetics says, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
“The Academy of Pediatrics reports that the way genes work in our bodies determines neuroendocrine structure and is strongly influenced by experience.”
That’s an interesting source. While I am sure the A of P knows its stuff, their specialty is medical care for small children, not genetics. Why did Pember not use an authority on genetics?
Note: when thinking about whether or not to trust an article’s science claims, consider the sources they use. If they don’t cite a source or cite an unusual, obscure, or less-than-authoritative source, then there’s a good chance they are lying or cherry-picking data to make a claim that is not actually backed up by the bulk of findings in the field. Notice that Pember does not provide a link to the A of P’s report on the subject, nor provide any other information so that an interested reader can go read the full report.
Wikipedia is actually a decent source on most subjects. Not perfect, of course, but it is usually decent. If I were writing science articles for pay, I would have subscriptions to major science journals and devote part of my day to reading them, as that would be my job. Since I’m just a dude with a blog who doesn’t get paid and so can’t afford a lot of journal memberships and has to do a real job for most of the day, I use a lot of Wikipedia. Sorry.
Also, I just want to note that the structure of this sentence is really wonky. “The way genes work in our bodies”? As opposed to how they work outside of our bodies? Do I have a bunch of DNA running around building neurotransmitters in the carpet or something? Written properly, this sentence would read, “According to the A of P, genes determine neuroenodcrine structures, in a process strongly influenced by experience.”
“Trauma experienced by earlier generations can influence the structure of our genes, making them more likely to “switch on” negative responses to stress and trauma.”
Pember does not clarify whether she is continuing to cite from the A of P, or just giving her own opinions. The structure of the paragraph implies that this statement comes from the A of P, but again, no link to the original source is given, so I am hard pressed to figure out which it is.
At any rate, this doesn’t sound like something the A of P would say, because it is obviously and blatantly incorrect. Trauma *may* affect the structure of one’s epigenetics, but not the structure of one’s genes. The difference is rather large. Viruses and ionizing radiation can change the structure of your DNA, but “trauma” won’t.
” The now famous 1998 ACES study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente showed that such adverse experiences could contribute to mental and physical illness.”
Um, no shit? Is this one of those cases of paying smart people tons of money to tell us grass is green and sky is blue? Also, that’s a really funny definition of “famous.” Looks like the author is trying to claim her sources have more authority than they actually do.
“Folks in Indian country wonder what took science so long to catch up with traditional Native knowledge.”
“According to Bitsoi, epigenetics is beginning to uncover scientific proof that intergenerational trauma is real. Historical trauma, therefore, can be seen as a contributing cause in the development of illnesses such as PTSD, depression and type 2 diabetes.”
Okay, do you know what epigenetics actually shows?
The experiment Wikipedia cites is of male mice who were trained to fear a certain smell by giving them small electric shocks when they smelled the smell. The children of these mice, conceived after the foot-shocking was finished, startled in response to the smell–they had inherited their father’s epigenetic markers that enhanced their response to that specific smell.
It’s a big jump from “mice startle at smells” to “causes PTSD.” This is a big jump in particular because of two things:
1. Your epigenetics change all the time. It’s like learning. You don’t just learn one thing and then have this one thing you’ve learned stuck in your head for the entire rest of your life, unable to learn anything new. Your epigenetics change in response to life circumstances throughout your entire life.
“One of the first high-throughput studies of epigenetic differences between monozygotic twins focused in comparing global and locus-specific changes in DNA methylation and histone modifications in a sample of 40 monozygotic twin pairs. In this case, only healthy twin pairs were studied, but a wide range of ages was represented, between 3 and 74 years. One of the major conclusions from this study was that there is an age-dependent accumulation of epigenetic differences between the two siblings of twin pairs. This accumulation suggests the existence of epigenetic “drift”.
In other words, when identical twins are babies, they have very similar epigenetics. As they get older, their epigenetics get more and more different because they have had different experiences out in the world, and their experiences have changed their epigenetics. Your epigenetics change as you age.
Which means that the chances of the exact same epigenetics being passed down from father to child over many generations are essentially zilch.
2. Tons of populations have experienced trauma. If you go back far enough in anyone’s family tree, you can probably find someone who has experienced trauma. My grandparents went through trauma during the Great Depression and WWII. My biological parents were both traumatized as children. So have millions, perhaps billions of other people on this earth. If trauma gets encoded in people’s DNA (or their epigenetics,) then it’s encoded in virtually every person on the face of this planet.
Type 2 Diabetes, Depression, and PTSD are not evenly distributed across the planet. Hell, they aren’t even common in all peoples who have had recent, large oppression events. African Americans have low levels of depression and commit suicide at much lower rates than whites–have white Americans suffered more oppression than black Americans? Whites commit suicide at a higher rate than Indians–have the whites suffered more historical trauma? On a global scale, Israel has a relatively low suicide rate–lower than India’s. Did India recently experience some tragedy worse than the Holocaust? (See yesterday’s post for all stats.)
Type 2 Diabetes reaches its global maximum in Saudia Arabia, Oman, and the UAE, which as far as I know have not been particularly traumatized lately, and is much lower among Holocaust descendants in nearby Israel:
It’s also very low in Sub-Saharan Africa, even though all of the stuff that causes “intergenerational trauma” probably happened there in spades. Have Americans been traumatized more than the Congolese?
This map doesn’t make any sense from the POV of historical trauma. It makes perfect sense if you know who’s eating fatty Waestern diets they aren’t adapted to. Saudia Arabia and the UAE are fucking rich (I bet Oman is, too,) and their population of nomadic goat herders has settled down to eat all the cake they want. The former nomadic lifestyle did not equip them to digest lots of refined grains, which are hard to grow in the desert. Most of Africa (and Yemen) is too poor to gorge on enough food to get Type-2 Diabetes; China and Mongolia have stuck to their traditional diets, to which they are well adapted. Mexicans are probably not adapted to wheat. The former Soviet countries have probably adopted Western diets. Etc., etc.
Why bring up Type-2 Diabetes at all? Well, it appears Indians get Type-2 Diabetes at about the same rate as Mexicans, [Note: PDF] probably for the exact same reasons: their ancestors didn’t eat a lot of wheat, refined sugar, and refined fats, and so they aren’t adapted to the Western diet. (FWIW, White Americans aren’t all that well adapted to the Western Diet, either.)
Everybody who isn’t adapted to the Western Diet gets high rates of diabetes and obesity if they start eating it, whether they had historical trauma or not. We don’t need epigenetic trauma to explain this.
“The researchers found that Native peoples have high rates of ACE’s and health problems such as posttraumatic stress, depression and substance abuse, diabetes all linked with methylation of genes regulating the body’s response to stress. “The persistence of stress associated with discrimination and historical trauma converges to add immeasurably to these challenges,” the researchers wrote.
Since there is a dearth of studies examining these findings, the researchers stated they were unable to conclude a direct cause between epigenetics and high rates of certain diseases among Native Americans.”
There’s a dearth of studies due to it being really immoral to purposefully traumatize humans and then breed them to see if their kids come out fucked up. Luckily for us, (or not luckily, depending on how you look at it,) however, humans have been traumatizing each other for ages, so we can just look at actually traumatized populations. There does seem to be an effect down the road for people whose parents or grandparents went through famines, but, “the effects could last for two generations.”
As horrible as the treatment of the Indians has been, I am pretty sure they didn’t go through a famine two generations ago on the order of what happened when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands and 18-22,000 people starved.
In other words, there’s no evidence of any long-term epigenetic effects large enough to create the effects they’re claiming. As I’ve said, if epigenetics actually acted like that, virtually everyone on earth would show the effects.
The reason they don’t is because epigenetic effects are relatively short-lived. Your epigenetics get re-written throughout your lifetime.
” Researchers such as Shannon Sullivan, professor of philosophy at UNC Charlotte, suggests in her article “Inheriting Racist Disparities in Health: Epigenetics and the Transgenerational Effects of White Racism,” that the science has faint echoes of eugenics, the social movement claiming to improve genetic features of humans through selective breeding and sterilization.”
I’m glad the philosophers are weighing in on science. I am sure philosophers know all about genetics. Hey, remember what I said about citing sources that are actual authorities on the subject at hand? My cousin Bob has all sorts of things to say about epigenetics, but that doesn’t mean his opinions are worth sharing.
The article ends:
“Isolating and nurturing a resilience gene may well be on the horizon.”
How do you nurture a gene?
There are things that epigenetics do. Just not the things people want them to do.
Important backstory: once upon a time, I made some offhand comments about mental health/psychiatric drugs that accidentally influenced someone else to go off their medication, which began a downward spiral that ended with them in the hospital after attempting suicide. Several years later, you could still see the words “I suck” scarred into their skin.
There were obviously some other nasty things that had nothing to do with me before the attempt, but regardless, there’s an important lesson: don’t say stupid ass things about mental health shit you know nothing about.
Also, don’t take mental health advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
In my entirely inadequate defense, I was young and very dumb. David Walker is neither–and he is being published by irresponsible people who ought to know better.
To be clear: I am not a psychiatrist. I’m a dumb person on the internet with opinions. I am going to do my very damn best to counteract even dumber ideas, but for god’s sakes, if you have mental health issues, consult with someone with actual expertise in the field.
Also, you know few things bug me like watching science and logic be abused. So let’s get down to business:
This is one of those articles where SJW-logic plus sketchy research of the sort that I suspect originated with funding from guys trying to prove that all mental illnesses were caused by Galactic Overlord Xenu combine to make a not very satisfying article. I suppose it is petty to complain that the piece didn’t flow well, but still, it irked.
Basically, to sum: The Indian Health Service is evil because it uses standard psychiatry language and treatment–the exact same language and treatment as everyone else in the country is getting–instead of filling its manuals with a bunch of social-justice buzzwords like “colonization” and “historical trauma”. The article does not tell us how, exactly, inclusion of these buzzwords is supposed to actually change the practice of psychiatry–part of what made the piece frustrating on a technical level.
The author then makes a bunch of absolutist claims about standard depression treatment that range from the obviously false to matters of real debate in the field. Very few of his claims are based on what I’d call “settled science”–and if you’re going to make absolutist claims about medical related things, please, try to only say things that are actually settled.
The crux of Walker’s argument is a claim that anti-depressants actually kill people and decrease libido, so therefore the IHS is committing genocide by murdering Indians and preventing the births of new ones.
Ugh, when I put it like that, it sounds so obviously dumb.
Some actual quotes:
“In the last 40 years, certain English words and phrases have become more acceptable to indigenous scholars, thought leaders, and elders for describing shared Native experiences. They include genocide, cultural destruction, colonization, forced assimilation, loss of language, boarding school, termination, historical trauma and more general terms, such as racism, poverty, life expectancy, and educational barriers. There are many more.”
Historical trauma is horribly sad, of course, but as a cause for depression, I suspect it ranks pretty low. If historical trauma suffered by one’s ancestors results in continued difficulties several generations down the line, then the descendants of all traumatized groups ought to show similar effects. Most of Europe got pretty traumatized during WWII, but most of Europe seems to have recovered. Even the Jews, who practically invented modern psychiatry, use standard psychiatric models for talking about their depression without invoking the Holocaust. (Probably because depression rates are pretty low in Israel.)
But if you want to pursue this line of argument, you would need to show first that Indians are being diagnosed with depression (or other mental disorders) at a higher rate than the rest of the population, and then you would want to show that a large % of the excess are actually suffering some form of long-term effects of historical trauma. Third, you’d want to show that some alternative method of treatment is more effective than the current method.
To be fair, I am sure there are many ways that psychiatry sucks or could be improved. I just prefer good arguments on the subject.
“…the agency’s behavioral health manual mentions psychiatrist and psychiatric 23 times, therapy 18 times, pharmacotherapy, medication, drugs, and prescription 16 times, and the word treatment, a whopping 89 times. But it only uses the word violence once, and you won’t find a single mention of genocide, cultural destruction, colonization, historical trauma, etc.—nor even racism, poverty, life expectancy or educational barriers.”
It’s absolutely shocking that a government-issued psychiatry manual uses standard terms used in the psychiatry field like “medication” and “psychiatrist,” but doesn’t talk about particular left-wing political theories. It’s almost like the gov’t is trying to be responsible and follow accepted practice in the field or something. Of course, to SJWs, even medical care should be sacrificed before the altar of advancing the buzz-word agenda.
“This federal agency doesn’t acknowledge the reality of oppression within the lives of Native people.”
and… so? I know it sucks to deal with people who don’t acknowledge what you’re going through. My own approach to such people is to avoid them. If you don’t like what the IHS has to offer, then offer something better. Start your own organization offering support to people suffering from historical trauma. If your system is superior, you’ll not only benefit thousands (perhaps millions!) of people, and probably become highly respected and well-off in the process. Even if you, personally, don’t have the resources to start such a project, surely someone does.
If you can’t do that, you can at least avoid the IHS if you don’t like them. No one is forcing you to go to them.
“The Indian Health Service (IHS) is an operating division (OPDIV) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). IHS is responsible for providing medical and public health services to members of federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Natives. … its goal is to raise their health status to the highest possible level. … IHS currently provides health services to approximately 1.8 million of the 3.3 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to more than 557 federally recognized tribes in 35 states. The agency’s annual budget is about $4.3 billion (as of December 2011).”
Sounds nefarious. So who runs this evil agency of health?
“The IHS employs approximately 2,700 nurses, 900 physicians, 400 engineers, 500 pharmacists, and 300 dentists, as well as other health professionals totaling more than 15,000 in all. The Indian Health Service is one of two federal agencies mandated to use Indian Preference in hiring. This law requires the agency to give preference hiring to qualified Indian applicants before considering non-Indian candidates for positions. … The Indian Health Service is headed by Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, M.D., M.P.H., a member of the Rosebud Sioux in South Dakota.”
So… the IHS, run by Indians, is trying to genocide other Indians by giving them mental health care?
And maybe I’m missing something, but don’t you think Dr. Roubideaux has some idea about the historical oppression of her own people?
Then we get into some anti-Pfizer/Zoloft business:
“For about a decade, IHS has set as one of its goals the detection of Native depression. [How evil of them!] This has been done by seeking to widen use of the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), which asks patients to describe to what degree they feel discouraged, downhearted, tired, low appetite, unable to sleep, slow-moving, easily distracted or as though life is no longer worth living.
The PHQ-9 was developed in the 1990s for drug behemoth Pfizer Corporation by prominent psychiatrist and contract researcher Robert Spitzer and several others. Although it owns the copyright, Pfizer offers the PHQ-9 for free use by primary health care providers. Why so generous? Perhaps because Pfizer is a top manufacturer of psychiatric medications, including its flagship antidepressant Zoloft® which earned the company as much as $2.9 billion annually before it went generic in 2006.”
I agree that it is reasonable to be skeptical of companies trying to sell you things, but the mere fact that a company is selling a product does not automatically render it evil. For example, the umbrella company makes money if you buy umbrellas, but that doesn’t make the umbrella company evil. Pfizer wants to promote its product, but also wants to make sure it gets prescribed properly.
” Even with the discovery that the drug can increase the risk of birth defects, 41 million prescriptions for Zoloft® were filled in 2013.”
Probably to people who weren’t pregnant.
“The DSM III-R created 110 new psychiatric labels, a number that had climbed by another 100 more by the time I started working at an IHS clinic in 2000.
Around that time, Pfizer, like many other big pharmaceutical corporations, was pouring millions of dollars into lavish marketing seminars disguised as “continuing education” on the uses of psychiatric medication for physicians and nurses with no mental health training.
… After this event, several primary care colleagues began touting their new expertise in mental health, and I was regularly advised that psychiatric medications were (obviously) the new “treatment of choice.” ”
Seriously, he’s claiming that psychiatric medications were the “new” “treatment of choice” in the year 2000? Zoloft was introduced in 1991. Prozac revolutionized the treatment of depression way back in 1987. Walker’s off by over a decade.
Now, as Scott Alexander says, beware the man of one study: you can visit Prozac and Zoloft’s Wikipedia pages yourself and read the debate about effectiveness.
Long story short, as I understand it: psychiatric medication is actually way cheaper than psychological therapy. If your primary care doctor can prescribe you Zoloft, then you can skip paying to see a psychiatrist all together.
Back in the day, before we had much in the way of medication for anything, the preferred method for helping people cope with their problems was telling them that they secretly wanted to fuck their mothers. This sounds dumb, but it beats the shit out of locking up mentally ill people in asylums where they tended to die hideously. Unfortunately, talking to people about their problems doesn’t seem to have worked all that well, though you could bill a ton for half hour session every week for forty years straight or until the patient ran out of money.
Modern anti-depressant medications appear to actually work for people with moderate to severe depression, though last time I checked, medication combined with therapy/support had the best outcomes–if anything, I suspect a lot of people could use a lot more support in their lives.
I should clarify: when I say “work,” I don’t mean they cure the depression. This has not been my personal observation of the depressed people I know, though maybe they do for some people. What they do seem to do is lessen the severity of the depression, allowing the depressed person to function.
” Since those days, affixing the depression label to Native experience has become big business. IHS depends a great deal upon this activity—follow-up “medication management” encounters allow the agency to pull considerable extra revenue from Medicaid. One part of the federal government supplements funding for the other. That’s one reason it might be in the best interest of IHS to diagnose and treat depression, rather than acknowledge the emotional and behavioral difficulties resulting from chronic, intergenerational oppression.”
It’s totally awful of the US gov’t to give free medication and health care to people. Medically responsible follow up to make sure the patients are responding properly to their medication and not having awful side effects is especially evil. The government should totally cut that out. From now on, lets cancel health services for the Native Peoples. That will totally end oppression.
Also, anyone who has ever paid an ounce of attention to anything the government does knows that expanding the IHS’s mandate to acknowledge the results of oppression would increase their funding, not decrease it.
Forgive me if it sounds a bit like Walker is actually trying to increase his pay.
“The most recent U.S. Public Health Service practice guidelines, which IHS primary care providers are required to use, states that “depression is a medical illness,” and in a nod to Big Pharma suppliers like Pfizer, serotonin-correcting medications (SSRIs) like Zoloft® “are frequently recommended as first-line antidepressant treatment options.” ”
My god, they use completely standard terminology and make factual statements about their field! Just like, IDK, all other mental healthcare providers in the country and throughout most of the developed world.
“This means IHS considers Native patients with a positive PHQ-9 screen to be mentally ill with depression.”
Dude, this means the that patients of EVERY RACE with a positive PHQ-9 are mentally ill with depression. Seriously, it’s not like Pfizer issues a separate screening guide for different races. If I visit a shrink, I’m going to get the exact same questionaires as you are.
Also, yes, depression is considered a mental illness, but Walker knows as well as I do that there’s a big difference between mentally ill with depression and, say, mentally ill with untreated schizophrenia.
” instance, the biomedical theory IHS is still promoting is obsolete. After more than 50 years of research, there’s no valid Western science to back up this theory of depression (or any other psychiatric disorder besides dementia and intoxication). There’s no chemical imbalance to correct.”
Slate Star Codex did a very long and thorough takedown of this particular claim: simply put, Walker is full of shit and should be ashamed of himself. The “chemical imbalance” model of depression, while an oversimplification, is actually pretty darn accurate, mostly because your brain is full of chemicals. As Scott Alexander points out:
“And this starts to get into the next important point I want to bring up, which is chemical imbalance is a really broad idea.
Like, some of these articles seem to want to contrast the “discredited” chemical imbalance theory with up-and-coming “more sophisticated” theories based on hippocampal neurogenesis and neuroinflammation. Well, I have bad news for you. Hippocampal neurogenesis is heavily regulated by brain-derived neutrophic factor, a chemical. Neuroinflammation is mediated by cytokines. Which are also chemicals. Do you think depression is caused by stress? The stress hormone cortisol is…a chemical. Do you think it’s entirely genetic? Genes code for proteins – chemicals again. Do you think it’s caused by poor diet? What exactly do you think food is made of?”
One of the most important things about the “chemical imbalance model” is that it helps the patient (again quoting Scott):
” People come in with depression, and they think it means they’re lazy, or they don’t have enough willpower, or they’re bad people. Or else they don’t think it, but their families do: why can’t she just pull herself up with her own bootstraps, make a bit of an effort? Or: we were good parents, we did everything right, why is he still doing this? Doesn’t he love us?
And I could say: “Well, it’s complicated, but basically in people who are genetically predisposed, some sort of precipitating factor, which can be anything from a disruption in circadian rhythm to a stressful event that increases levels of cortisol to anything that activates the immune system into a pro-inflammatory mode, is going to trigger a bunch of different changes along metabolic pathways that shifts all of them into a different attractor state. This can involve the release of cytokines which cause neuroinflammation which shifts the balance between kynurinins and serotonin in the tryptophan pathway, or a decrease in secretion of brain-derived neutrotrophic factor which inhibits hippocampal neurogenesis, and for some reason all of this also seems to elevate serotonin in the raphe nuclei but decrease it in the hippocampus, and probably other monoamines like dopamine and norepinephrine are involved as well, and of course we can’t forget the hypothalamopituitaryadrenocortical axis, although for all I know this is all total bunk and the real culprit is some other system that has downstream effects on all of these or just…”
Or I could say: “Fuck you, it’s a chemical imbalance.””
I’m going to quote Scott a little more:
“I’ve previously said we use talk of disease and biology to distinguish between things we can expect to respond to rational choice and social incentives and things that don’t. If I’m lying in bed because I’m sleepy, then yelling at me to get up will solve the problem, so we call sleepiness a natural state. If I’m lying in bed because I’m paralyzed, then yelling at me to get up won’t change anything, so we call paralysis a disease state. Talk of biology tells people to shut off their normal intuitive ways of modeling the world. Intuitively, if my son is refusing to go to work, it means I didn’t raise him very well and he doesn’t love me enough to help support the family. If I say “depression is a chemical imbalance”, well, that means that the problem is some sort of complicated science thing and I should stop using my “mirror neurons” and my social skills module to figure out where I went wrong or where he went wrong. …
“What “chemical imbalance” does for depression is try to force it down to this lower level, tell people to stop trying to use rational and emotional explanations for why their friend or family member is acting this way. It’s not a claim that nothing caused the chemical imbalance – maybe a recent breakup did – but if you try to use your normal social intuitions to determine why your friend or family member is behaving the way they are after the breakup, you’re going to get screwy results. …
“So this is my answer to the accusation that psychiatry erred in promoting the idea of a “chemical imbalance”. The idea that depression is a drop-dead simple serotonin deficiency was never taken seriously by mainstream psychiatry. The idea that depression was a complicated pattern of derangement in several different brain chemicals that may well be interacting with or downstream from other causes has always been taken seriously, and continues to be pretty plausible. Whatever depression is, it’s very likely it will involve chemicals in some way, and it’s useful to emphasize that fact in order to convince people to take depression seriously as something that is beyond the intuitively-modeled “free will” of the people suffering it. “Chemical imbalance” is probably no longer the best phrase for that because of the baggage it’s taken on, but the best phrase will probably be one that captures a lot of the same idea.”
Back to the article.
Walker states, ” Even psychiatrist Ronald Pies, editor-in-chief emeritus of Psychiatric Times, admitted “the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend.” ”
Oh, look, Dr. Pies was kind enough to actually comment on the article. You can scroll to the bottom to read his evisceration of Walker’s points–” …First, while I have indeed called the “chemical imbalance” explanation of mood disorders an “urban legend”—it was never a real theory propounded by well-informed psychiatrists—this in no way means that antidepressants are ineffective, harmful, or no better than “sugar pills.” The precise mechanism of action of antidepressants is not relevant to how effective they are, when the patient is properly diagnosed and carefully monitored. …
” Even Kirsch’s data (which have been roundly criticized if not discredited) found that antidepressants were more effective than the placebo condition for severe major depression. In a re-analysis of the United States Food and Drug Administration database studies previously analyzed by Kirsch et al, Vöhringer and Ghaemi concluded that antidepressant benefit is seen not only in severe depression but also in moderate (though not mild) depression. …
” While there is no clear evidence that antidepressants significantly reduce suicide rates, neither is there convincing evidence that they increase suicide rates.”
Here’s my own suspicion: depressed people on anti-depressants have highs and lows, just like everyone else, but because their medication can’t completely 100% cure them, sooner or later they end up feeling pretty damn shitty during a low point and start thinking about suicide or actually try it.
However, Pies notes that there are plenty of studies that have found that anti-depressants reduce a person’s overall risk of suicide.
In other words, Walker is, at best, completely misrepresenting the science to make his particular side sound like the established wisdom in the field when he is, in fact, on the minority side. That doesn’t guarantee that he’s wrong–it just means he is a liar.
And you know what I think about liars.
And you can probably imagine what I think about liars who lie in ways that might endanger the mental health of other people and cause them to commit suicide.
But wait, he keeps going:
“In an astonishing twist, researchers working with the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that building more mental health services is a major factor in increasing the suicide rate. This finding may feel implausible, but it’s been repeated several times across large studies. WHO first studied suicide in relation to mental health systems in 100 countries in 2004, and then did so again in 2010, concluding that:
“[S]uicide rates… were increased in countries with mental health legislation, there was a significant positive correlation between suicide rates, and the percentage of the total health budget spent on mental health; and… suicide rates… were higher in countries with greater provision of mental health services, including the number of psychiatric beds, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, and the availability of training in mental health for primary care professionals.””
Do you know why I’ve been referring to Walker as “Walker” and not “Dr. Walker,” despite his apparent PhD? It’s because anyone who does not understand the difference between correlation and causation does not deserve a doctorate degree–or even a highschool degree–of any sort. Maybe people spend more on mental health because of suicides?
Oh, look, here’s the map he uses to support his claim:
I don’t know about you, but it looks to me like the former USSR, India/Bhutan/Nepal, Sub-Saharan Africa, Guyana, and Japan & the Koreas have the highest suicide rates in the world. Among these countries, all but Japan and S. Korea are either extremely poor and probably have little to no public spending on mental healthcare, or are former Soviet countries that are both less-developed than their lower-suicide brothers to the West and whatever is going on in them is probably related to them all being former Soviet countries, rather than their fabulous mental healthcare funding.
In other words, this map shows the opposite of what Walker claims it does.
Again, this doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong. It just means that the data on the subject is mixed and does not clearly support his case in the manner he claims.
” Despite what’s known about their significant limitations and scientific groundlessness, antidepressants are still valued by some people for creating “emotional numbness,” according to psychiatric researcher David Healy.”
So they don’t have any effects, but people keep using them for their… effects? Which is it? Do they work or not work?
And emotional numbness is a damn sight better than wanting to kill yourself. That Walker does not recognize this shows just how disconnected he is from the realities of life for many people struggling with depression.
“The side effect of antidepressants, however, in decreasing sexual energy (libido) is much stronger than this numbing effect—sexual disinterest or difficulty becoming aroused or achieving orgasm occurs in as many as 60 percent of consumers.”
Which, again, is still better than wanting to kill yourself. I hear death really puts a dent in your sex life.
However, I will note that this is a real side effect, and if you are taking anti-depressants and really can’t stand the mood kill (pardon the pun,) talk to your doctor, because there’s always the possibility that a different medication will treat your depression without affecting your libido.
“A formal report on IHS internal “Suicide Surveillance” data issued by Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Epidemiology Center states the suicide rate for all U.S. adults currently hovers at 10 for every 100,000 people, while for the Native patients IHS tracked, the rate was 17 per 100,000. This rate varied widely across the regions IHS serves—in California it was 5.5, while in Alaska, 38.5.”
Interesting statistics. I’m guessing the difference between Alaska and California holds true for whites, too–I suspect it’s the long, cold, dark winters.
“In 2013, the highest U.S. suicide rate (14.2) was among Whites and the second highest rate (11.7) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives (Figure 5). Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.8), Blacks (5.4) and Hispanics (5.7).”
Hey, do you know which American ethnic group also has a history of trauma and oppression? Besides the Jews. Black people.
If trauma and oppression leads to depression and suicide, then the black suicide rate ought to be closer to the Indian suicide rate, and the white rate ought to be down at the bottom.
I guess this is a point in favor of my “whites are depressive” theory, though.
Also, “In 2013, nine U.S. states, all in the West, had age-adjusted suicide rates in excess of 18: Montana (23.7), Alaska (23.1), Utah (21.4), Wyoming (21.4), New Mexico (20.3), Idaho (19.2), Nevada (18.2), Colorado (18.5), and South Dakota (18.2). Five locales had age-adjusted suicide rates lower than 9 per 100,000: District of Columbia (5.8), New Jersey (8.0), New York (8.1), Massachusetts (8.2), and Connecticut (8.7).”
Hrm, looks like there’s also a guns and impulsivity/violence correlation–I think the West was generally settled by more violent, impulsive whites who like the rough and tumble lifestyle, and where there are guns, people kill themselves with them.
I bet CA has some restrictive gun laws and some extensive mental health services.
You know the dark blue doesn’t look like it correllates with?
Back to Walker. “Nearly one in four of these suicidal medication overdoses used psychiatric medications. The majority of these medications originated through the Indian Health Service itself and included amphetamine and stimulants, tricyclic and other antidepressants, sedatives, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.”
Shockingly, people diagnosed with depression sometimes try to commit suicide.
Wait, aren’t amphetamines and “stimulants” used primarily for treating conditions like ADHD or to help people stay awake, not depression? And aren’t sedatives, benzos, and barbiturates used primarily for things like anxiety and pain relief? I don’t think these were the drugs Walker is looking for.
” What’s truly remarkable is that this is not the first time the mental health movement in Indian Country has helped to destroy Native people. Today’s making of a Mentally Ill Indian to “treat” is just a variation on an old idea, … The Native mental health system has been a tool of cultural genocide for over 175 years—seven generations. Long before there was this Mentally Ill Indian to treat, this movement was busy creating and perpetuating the Crazy Indian, the Dumb Indian, and the Drunken Indian.”
Walker’s depiction of the past may be accurate. His depiction of the present sounds like total nonsense.
” We must make peace with the fabled Firewater Myth, a false tale of heightened susceptibility to alcoholism and substances that even Native people sometimes tell themselves.”
The fuck? Of course Indians are more susceptible to alcoholism than non-Indians–everyone on earth whose ancestors haven’t had a long exposure to wheat tends to handle alcohol badly. Hell, the Scottich are more susceptible to alcoholism than, say, the Greeks:
Some people just have trouble with alcohol. Like the Russians.
Look, I don’t know if the IHS does a good job. Maybe its employes are poorly-trained, abrasive pharmaceutical shills who diagnose everyone who comes through their doors with depression and then prescribes them massive quantities of barbiturates.
And it could well be that the American psychiatric establishment is doing all sorts of things wrong.
But the things Walker cites in the article don’t indicate anything of the sort.
And for goodness sakes, if you’re depressed or have any other mental health problem, get advice from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.
I remember it like it was, well, maybe a year ago. I was on my way to the children’s section at Borders and Noble when I spotted Isabella Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey‘s bright yellow cover, beckoning to me from a nearby table. My parents claim I was in middle school; I think it was highschool. Either way, the book went home with me: my first ethnography.
As an American–and a clueless teenager–I knew virtually nothing about Gypsies. I didn’t know that Europeans view them negatively, as tramps and thieves. I held romantic American notions of free-spirited musical wanderers, sculpted by the Renaissance Faire and Disney’s The Hunchback of Nortre Dame.
You might have guessed that I really liked Esmeralda*, even though I thought the movie overall was all wrong for its target market.
*To be frank, kid-me didn’t differentiate much between different sorts of medium-toned people.
So I was really interested in Gypsies.
Short pause for terminology discussion: Yes, I am well aware of the terms Rom/Roma/Romani, which were discussed in the book. While I am perfectly happy to call anyone by whatever name they prefer, I really dislike euphemistic treadmills, because they end up as ways for snobbish people to signal their superiority over the hoi polloi who don’t yet know the newest words, and then the old terms become ways for other people to signal dislike of the group. I don’t like getting pressured into signaling one of these two things, and dispute that anyone has the right to force others into this dichotomy. “Gypsy” is not used as an insult or ethnic slur in the US, and it is the name which most Americans are familiar with; “Romani,” by contrast, is largely unknown. Therefore I use Gypsy, though I mean no insult.
Anyway, as you might expect, the ethnography did its best to cast its subject matter in a positive light–anthropologists feel an ethical obligation not to negatively impact the people who were nice enough to give them interviews and let them live in their homes and tell them about their culture, after all.
I have not revisited the book in years, so I don’t feel entitled to make many claims about its quality. Obviously teen-me liked it, but teen-me didn’t have much to compare it to. If you want to learn about the Gypsies, its probably as good a starting point as any, so long as you keep in mind that anthropologists tend to wear rose-tinted glasses.
One thing I remember well, though, was the author’s explanation for why Gypsy yards are so full of trash: Gypsies have strong notions of purity, and abhor touching anything unclean–including other people’s trash.
I was recently thinking back on this (not coincidentally, while cleaning up some trash that had gotten scattered down my street,) and realized, “Wait a minute! Everyone thinks trash is dirty! No one likes touching it! But you do it anyway, because otherwise your yard ends up full of trash.” Obviously I wash my hands after handling trash; so can everyone else. In retrospect, it seems so obvious.
So often we claim deep cultural significance for completely ordinary things. Trash ends up in people’s yards because they don’t bother to pick it up.
I confess: I felt like I’d been lied to–and like an idiot taking so long to notice.
Back in anthropology class, we talked rather extensively about ethics–specifically, What if you write things that hurt the people you’re studying?
Take the Yanomami (also spelled Yanomamo, not to be confused with the Yamnaya.) While there is some dispute over why the Yanomami are violent, and they probably aren’t the most violent people on Earth, they certainly commit their fair share of violence:
In 1967, anthropologist Napoleon Alphonseau Chagnon published Yanomamö: The Fierce People, which quickly became a bestseller, both for anthropology students and the popular public. On the less scholarly side, Ruggero Deodato released the horror film “Cannibal Holocaust” in 1980, fictional account of Yanomami cannibalism. I have truly never understood the interest in or psychology behind the horror genre, but apparently the film has been banned in 50 countries and highly regarded by people who like that sort of thing–Total Film ranked it the tenth greatest horror film of all time, Wired included it in its list of the top 25 horror films, and IGN ranked it 8th on its list of the ten greatest grindhouse films–so I assume that means it was very horrific and very popular.
Aside from allegations that the anthropologists themselves gave/traded the Yanomami a bunch of weapons that resulted in a big increase in the number of deaths, there are claims that, due to the Yanomamis’ violent reputation, miners in the area have opted to just shoot them on sight. The Yanomami are a rather small, isolated people with no political power to speak of, little immunity to Western diseases, and a lot of negative interactions with miners.
In a more mundane example, an anthropologist I spoke with referred to widespread illegal drug use among a people they had lived with. No one wants to cause legal trouble for their friends/companions/hosts–getting people arrested after they opened their homes and lives to you would be really shitty. But the behavior remains. None of us is perfect; every group does things that other people disapprove of or that would not look so great if someone wrote it down and published it.
The Thumper approach–that most favored by Americans, I suspect–is to just try not to say anything that might be perceived as not-nice. Report all of the good, and just leave out the bad.
My inner Kantian insists that this is lying, and that lying is bad. Maybe I can gloss over illegal drug use, but if I write a book about the Yanomami and don’t mention violence, I am a baldfaced liar, and you, my reader, should be mad at me for deceiving you. If I am in the business of describing humans and fail to do so, then like a stool with two legs, I am not doing my job.
The other solution I see people employ is to dress up all of the potentially negative things in dry, technical language so that normal people don’t notice. This would be the opposite of making a movie like Cannibal Holocaust. We use terms like “genetic introgression” and “affective empathy” and “clades,” which people who don’t generally read technical materials on the subject tend not to be familiar with.
But there are times when there are no two ways about it–there are no polite, responsible ways to disguise the truth, you don’t want to lie, and you genuinely don’t want to cause distress or trouble for anyone.
We never came up with a solution back in class. I still don’t have one.
I know it shouldn’t surprise me when people post outright, bold-faced lies about, say, the nature of humanity, but somehow I still stare in shock for a split second or two before struggling with whether or not to respond.
It’s generally a bad idea to respond, another thing you would think I’d have learned by now. No one likes the guy who starts every comment with, “Actually…”
Today’s lie was, to paraphrase slightly due to memory being imperfect, “Animals are so loving and compassionate, even to members not of their own species! Humans totally fail at compassion. We should learn from our ape cousins and ancestors!” The sentiments were accompanied by an adorable picture of an orangutan holding a baby tiger.
Okay, the exclamation points are my own additions.
First, the obvious: This shit is a baldfaced lie. If animals were regularly compassionate and loving to members of other species, lions would be vegans and running adoption agencies for baby gazelles whose parents had fallen victim to unfortunate accidents. If animals were regularly loving and compassionate, we wouldn’t make a big deal out of it every time a hippo and turtle hang out together. Does someone write a picture book documenting every set of human kids who become friends? Or every human who feeds a pet? Of course not. We only document these animal stories because they’re unusual.
Reality is boring. Lies entertain.
“But wait,” I hear you saying, “My dog totally loves me.”
Your dog is the result of thousands of years of selective breeding specifically for friendliness to humans. Also, you give it food. Does your dog give you food?
Anyway, how nice are animals?
“Altruism” is defined (by the Wikipedia, anyway,) as, “behaviour by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the actor.” Wikipedia defines “compassion” as a, “response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.”
I’m not going to even try to define “love.”
Now, the definition of altruism itself hints that inter-species altruism probably isn’t a thing you’re going to see very often, because if the altruist increases the genes of another species at the expense of their own genes, then whatever genes originally drove the altruist to be altruistic become less common. Over time, the inter-species altruist gets replaced by everyone else, and altruism disappears.
This doesn’t mean that no one can ever be altruistic–altruism works just fine if it’s directed at your near kin. Animals that have a strong instinct to care for their family members and a certain level of intelligence can even apply that caring instinct to non-family. But I wouldn’t expect much friendliness from a crocodile.
It does means that claims about widespread altruism among animals toward other animals that aren’t family are probably nonsense.
The vast majority of observed instances of animal altruism involve close kin, pack members, or behavior that would normally be directed toward one’s kin but happened, by accident, to involve a non-related individual. The Wikipedia list on the subject, while incomplete and imperfect, gives a good impression.
In reality, the vast, vast majority of animals in this world do not give a shit about members not of their own species. Most of them don’t even care about members of their own species who aren’t family, and some will even eat their own children.
What about claim two, that humans suck at compassion?
Certainly some of us do. Humans aren’t as nice as I wish we were. Compassion, trust, kindness, etc., are all traits I would like to see more of in humans. But compared to animals, we look like Mother Theresa. How many animals set out little houses, baths, and seed-filled feeders for other animals? How many animals buy cancer treatments for their pets? For that matter, how many animals feed and care for a pet, period?
These behaviors are almost exclusively human.
Humans adopt orphans, run into burning buildings to rescue each other, fund social welfare nets, and spend a lot of time trying to prove to each other just how much they care about each other. Movies and novels basically wouldn’t exist without our capacity to empathize with strangers.
Humans support this level of altruism because our societies have bred us, like dogs, for it. (And since different societies are different, that means that different societies have bred different types/levels of altruism and compassion.) It is only in modern, first-world societies that we see anything resembling wide-spread altruism. Slavery–generally outlawed throughout the West in the late 17 or 1800s–is still common throughout many parts of Africa and the rest of the third world. If you really want to break your heart, just go read about Cambodian children sold as sex slaves at the age of 5. (Clearly the solution is more orangutans.)
(Seriously, what is the point of having a military if we don’t occasionally swoop into those brothels, behead everyone running the place, and then leave their heads on pikes about the city as warnings to everyone else?)
How about the final claim: Should we learn from the other apes?
Which do you think is friendlier, your dog or a wolf? The dog, obviously.
Human society has been getting steadily less violent for about as long as we’ve managed to account. Everyday life in non-state and pre-state societies is/was about as violent as Russia during WWII, only a bit more spread out. Chimpanzees, like wolves, are well-known for their violence. They wage war, form alliances to overthrow their leaders, and murder chimpanzee babies in order to breed faster with their mothers.
But what about bonobos?
I’ll grant that they have a lot of sex. They’re also known to be less aggressive than chimpanzees. This is not the same as being less aggressive than H sapiens. Until I see some data on bonobo homicide, I’m going to continue suspecting that bonobos are more violent than humans. Remember, some human societies–25 of them, though several of those are teeny–have gotten their murder rates down below 1 in 100,000 people. Since 50,000 is the high end estimate of number of bonobos on earth, if even one bonobo kills another bonobo once every two years, they’d still have 6x the homicide rate of Japan.
Not to mention that, unsurprisingly, empathy and “emotional intelligence” appear to correlaterather well withregular intelligence–and since humans are noticeably smarter (on average) than chimps, gorillas, bonobos, or tigers, this implies that we are probably better at empathizing with others, feeling compassion, and being generally altruistic.
This is pretty obvious to just about anyone who has ever had to deal with a bully, or looked at the average IQs of criminals.
All of which leads us back to our initial quandary: Why do people tell (and believe) such obvious lies?
I posit two reasons:
1. The other is but a foil for the self, and most people don’t really process words into their exact meanings, but into internal feeling-states. So when they say, “Animals are so caring and compassionate; we should be more like them,” they actually mean, “I like being caring and compassionate; you should be more like me.”
2. People who are caring and compassionate tend also to be caring and compassionate about animals, so thinking nice things about animals because it makes them happy.
Most of the time, people seem to remember that crime rates are actually lower among humans than among wild animals, and so don’t get too close to bears. (Sometimes they forget, but Gnon has his way with them.) But I do occasionally encounter people who really, truly seem to believe this. They really think that humans are irredeemably evil, and the world would be better off without us. But a world without humans would be a world with even less empathy and compassion than our current world, not more.