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March 30, 2008

Racist? Or simply Clueless?

The very traditional New Yorker boasts it receives too many e-mails from readers to acknowledge and selects only three or four a week for publication on the single page (print edition only) it allots to “The Mail.” What follows is the first of three published for the week of March 31.


Michelle Obama, while on the stump for her husband, the Presidential candidate Barack Obama, makes the assessment that, as Lauren Collins writes, "life in America ... is not good.... We're a country that is 'Just downright mean,’ we are guided by fear,’ ‘we're a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents" ("The Other Obama," March 10th). What remains unexplained is how she came to make these dark assessments, notwithstanding her privileged life, which may culminate in becoming First Lady. Can she really believe that coming from a black blue-collar family, going to Princeton and Harvard, making a six-figure income, and living in a $1.6 million home is an anomaly, accident, or exception that says nothing about opportunity and social mobility in American society, and that her accomplishments and way of life have no relevance whatsoever to her harsh judgments about America?

Paul Hollander

Professor Emeritus of Sociology
University  Massachusetts
Amherst, Mass.

I’ve answered Hollander’s question in an e-mail to The New Yorker; however, based on previous experience, and knowing how few readers’ letters they publish, I'm also posting it here.

Doctor Tom

The rhetorical question Paul  Hollander saw fit to ask about Michelle Obama on the basis of Lauren Collins’ profile, requires an answer; if for no other reason than she may soon be America’s First Lady.  In essence, Hollander is annoyed that an intelligent and professionally successful black woman with degrees from Princeton and Harvard dares to criticize the nation in which she and her husband have prospered beyond the dreams of most of its (white) citizens.

I’ve had a unique opportunity to study another population this nation is treating unfairly (albeit considerably less savagely and over a shorter interval than Michelle Obama’s forebears) and have learned first hand how emotional trauma, particularly if associated with shaming during childhood, can be a potent source of long term emotional distress.

Although Collins makes it clear that Obama and her brother had exceptional parenting, I can also be certain that they, as well as her husband and parents, have been frequently snubbed or worse, simply because of their appearance. I’m equally certain all are more aware than Professor Hollander of the details of this nation’s shameful racial history from 1787 onward. That it’s less overt now must be small consolation to its victims; particularly when they are pointedly reminded of it every day.

What I find even more distressing than a professor of Sociology asking such a question is your decision to select his letter as one of three published this week. Because I’ve been a New Yorker subscriber for well over twenty years, I wanted you to know exactly why I will not be renewing.

Tom O’Connell MD
Redwood Shores California 

Posted by tjeffo at 07:14 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2008

What is Addiction?

Addiction is one of the more abused concepts in modern discourse; just what does the A word refer to? A disease? A state of mind? Both? Neither? Although it's clear from the diversity of that list that whatever I write here won't be definitive; the importance of the word to the drug war requires that I make some effort to both define and discuss it .

Right off the bat, I consider addiction to be a word best avoided because of the degree to which it has been abused by the drug war, but I also recognize that the very frequency of such abuse requires that it be dealt with; if for no other reason than to understand what it isn't.

Addiction is not a disease, despite rulings of the US Supreme Court, assertions of ex-NIDA Director Alan Leshner, or (even) the existence of ASAM to the contrary.

Addiction, in the broadest sense, is best thought of as repetitive behavior, whether working, exercise, reading, sex, or food. Even when it involves consumption of a "drug," and thus becomes "drug addiction," I still favor a restrictive use: "substance addiction," and then only when the substance in question has been shown to be  unsafe for chronic consumption.  To understand why I'm so finicky: the feds make a big thing of implying that smoking marijuana and smoking tobacco are equally dangerous to one's health. I know they are not and have considerable evidence to support my belief, whereas the feds have only their (usual) hot air.

Unfortunately, they have a lot more money in the form of the tax dollars they have been spending so lavishly to support drug prohibition and several
other terrible ideas at the top of the American national agenda.

Perhaps the most basic concept required for thinking about addiction is that however defined, it's repetitive; thus whatever it is must be tried at least once. A word even those who disagree about addiction's definition can agree on is referring to one's first experience with the behavior in question as initiation.

More on initiation as time permits...
Doctor Tom


Posted by tjeffo at 06:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2008

Grim Prognosis?

I’ve just spent the last two evenings watching Bush’s War, Frontline’s competent and reasonably non-partisan dissection of the US invasion of Iraq, produced for Public Television to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the US invasion. I have no idea of what share of the total TV audience was watching, but am reasonably sure it was only a tiny fraction.

The good news is that it was a riveting documentary that brought home the stunning incompetence and lack of planning with which the Bush Administration has been abusing the public trust. The bad news, in addition to the fact that  it will probably have little impact on our distracted nation, is that it really missed the biggest point to be made: the Iraq war is just one failure of many. In fact, our species’ record is so bad and the intellectual dishonesty responsible for its many follies so pervasive as to raise serious doubts about whether humanity can ever cope with its own cognitive prowess.

The main theme pursued in this blog is that my relatively simple study of a drug policy long protected against scrutiny has shown that its effects are far worse than suspected. One of the ways I’ve been emphasizing the drug war’s folly has been by comparing it to Iraq, where the bodies have been more difficult to hide.

Every real war is a tragedy that might have been avoided with more foresight; nevertheless; and probably because they provide such excellent cover for the theft of public funds, metaphorical wars have become preferred “solutions” for variously perceived social problems ranging from drugs and crime through cancer and poverty. A prime example was Nixon’s opportunistic expansion of a failing policy of drug prohibition into a Drug War during his first term in office. Despite its continuing failure on a much grander scale, the drug war has remained bullet proof through a continued conspiracy of silence by nearly all American institutions.

The fall of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the Eighties soon provided an opportunity for expansion of metaphorical warfare into an updated variant of traditional warfare when resentful Muslim fanatics created a loosely affiliated structure
to take on the victorious capitalists.

Although the Muslim have-nots have been embarrassing their more affluent opponents thus far, neither side seems to be paying much attention to a growing scarcity of both water and petroleum, nor to  the real possibility that our continued dependence on oil may have already set the stage for disastrous coastal flooding; to say nothing of the possibility that implosion of the American economy may cause serious unrest in creditor nations over the next few months...

Rather than maximizing the benefits of empirical Science for the entire species, we humans seem intent on blindly pursuing our competitive urge to survive to the point of mutual destruction.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2008

Acceptable Truth

In 2006, a documentary film featuring Al Gore holding forth on the danger of climate change  won an Academy Award. The question of whether human activity is producing relatively rapid changes in the planet’s weather patterns and the possibility that related phenomena will adversely affect all life on Earth had only surfaced in the second half of the Twentieth Century. Although there has been increasing general agreement among scientists that the issue is real, the initial response of political leaders, particularly of industrial nations, was muted, to say the least. There was, at first, a general disagreement about the reality of the threat, the rapidity with which it has been developing, the best way to combat it, and the urgency with which such measures should be implemented. However; to the extent the issue had been studied in detail from about the late Eighties onward, the degree of scientific agreement has been increasing steadily.

 Finally, after six years of planning, a UN sponsored meeting in Japan produced the Kyoto Protocol by the Summer of 1998. It was signed by the US during the Clinton Administration, but despite the increasing degree of scientific endorsement, the Bush Administration formally rejected its implementation in 2005, a decision that places it (and the US)  in striking opposition to the rest of the world. Thus from the standpoint of history, the most important and far reaching decision of the "new" Millennium may have been made in the last month of the old one when the US Supreme Court awarded a disputed Presidential Election to the candidate with the fewest popular votes.

The link to drug policy is “truth,” that most elusive of all concepts, and the one responsible for virtually all human disagreements. Another policy, one with which, ironically, other UN nations do agree and generally  enforce, is the Single Convention on “Narcotic” Drugs. In essence, of two UN treaties based on “scientific” claims, the United States is an enthusiastic supporter of one and currently opposes the other.

Even more ironically, neither global warming nor a generally unworkable and divisive drug policy may produce the most grief in the time remaining between now and November. That dubious honor could easily go to the US Economy, clearly the world’s biggest, still its most important, and perhaps also its most unhealthy.

Most astounding of all, at least to this observer, is that we’re still trying to carry on “business as usual.”

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday Headlines

 I still have one Sunday paper delivered (the SF Chronicle) and read another online (the NY Times). Today, both carried items reflecting the way the popular culture in this country has been influenced by our drug war; although the linkages may not be clear to many without a short explanation.

 The Times gave more emphasis to a report on the growing life expectancy gap between rich and poor. At the extremes, a white female born into an affluent family can now expect to live almost fifteen years longer than a black male born into poverty.  As a recently retired surgeon, I’m very aware of the impact of modern medical interventions on life expectancy, particularly for those who can afford health insurance, so the only real surprise here was dismay at the degree of difference measured; and the speed with which the gap seems to be increasing. The drug war connection is well known: blacks don’t use illegal drugs as much as whites, but are punished more severely when caught.

 The story given more emphasis in the Chronicle was also of more local interest: former SLA member Sara Jane Olson was literally yanked back to prison after a mysterious recalculation of her sentence and parole disclosed that she’d served one year less than she should have. As someone who has lived in the Bay Area since 1967 and followed the unlikely events Olson became caught up in as a youthful member of the counterculture, I was even more dismayed by the gleeful stupidity manifested by a majority of those readers moved to comment. It wasn’t so much their point of view that I found discouraging; it was that such unrestrained malevolence would be encountered in the “liberal” Bay Area.

 But then we ARE nation presided over by Dubya for the past eight years and we still have more interest in NASCAR racing than in concepts as nebulous as energy conservation and the fate of the species. In any event, our global incarceration lead seems safe for a while...
Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2008

An Enduring Mystery

The major reason I first became interested in drug policy was that I couldn’t understand why a notion that had always been such an obvious failure would command so much loyalty and respect at the federal level. Also, as I progressed in the practice of medicine, it seemed the more I learned of practical surgical pharmacology, especially as related to pain management, the more out of synch with reality American drug policy dogma seemed.

When I had the (unexpected) opportunity Proposition 215 afforded to interview pot smokers in detail, I found that I hadn’t been prepared for just how truly mistaken and destructive the policy really is; not only was is it far worse than I’d imagined, the reasons that drug prohibition and similar punitive policies have always found favor with a significant fraction of humans probably has a lot to do with our physical evolution; but not necessarily as imagined. In other words, a profoundly mistaken policy has now been based on erroneous assumptions for nearly a century. By making policy preservation a dominant requirement for approval  of drug research, the policy has also seriously skewed our thinking about our own behavior. Ironically, the crucial principles of strict objectivity and elimination of bias that allowed us to benefit from scientific empiricism starting  about five centuries ago appear not to have been understood to the extent necessary: we may need to actually live by those  principles, and not just pay them lip service while pursuing wealth and power.

In fact, the best way to understand the situation we humans now find ourselves in is that fixing the mess we’ve created  may actually be impossible in the time left to pull it off.  On the other hand, Earth is the only planet we’ve got; so long as there’s even a remote chance of saving it as our habitat, we’d be foolish not to make the effort.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 10:09 PM | Comments (0)

Credit and Credibility (Historical)

Each passing day headlines warn that America’s home mortgage problems seem a little worse; however the articles accompanying those headlines suggest that the fears expressed are more vague than specific and don’t even mention the worst possibility: the nation itself may be bankrupt.

Credit, in the final analysis, measures one’s ability to borrow, which, in turn, reflects potential lenders’ confidence they will be repaid, a concept that quickly exposes one of several systemic weaknesses of the “Global Economy” that distributes goods and services 24/7 to an estimated six-point-six billion humans. The real question might well be: have we reached the limit of the global economy’s ability to function? Can it survive the bankruptcy of its most productive nation?

An equally imponderable collateral question then becomes: what would be the long term consequences of such a failure?

One answer is that the current crisis is (at least) another bump along the road of human history; at least reminiscent of the Great Depression of the Nineteen Thirties. While we know how that one played out (the species survived and went on increasing its numbers), it was nevertheless, a painful and expensive process, involving, as it did, a Second World War and the development of nuclear weapons.

Although WW II’s aftermath included US sponsorship of the United Nations to replace the short-lived League of Nations, it had been the US that emphatically rejected the very idea of world government as put forth  by an American President re-elected in 1916 because he “kept us out of war,” during his first term, but then led us into the (same) “war to end all wars” during his second. Shortly before that second term ended, he'd sustained a fatal stroke and thus never learned of US refusal to participate in the idea he’d pinned so much hope on.

In searching for an equivalent policy failure, the Eighteenth Amendment, also passed in 1919, the same year the Peace of Versailles was implemented, qualifies easily. Although the hyperinflation of the rarly Weimar Republic had ended in the early Twenties,  it set the stage for Hitler's “legal” elevation to Chancellor by a gravely ill Hindenburg in January 1933. The League itself was totally  ineffective from then on, although it wasn’t finally pronounced dead until after V-J Day.

To the extent credibility also depends on one’s record for meeting financial obligations;  experience has shown that the amount demanded may be significantgly reduced by the perceived impact of a given debtor’s bankruptcy on the overall economy.

 In terms of the current US debt owed to China for consumer goods delivered since Hong Kong and the Kowloon Peninsula were returned by Great Britain under terms of the treaty that ended the Second Opium War, that example, plus Chrysler’s rescue in the Seventies, and that of Bear Stearns today, all seem laden with significance.

Perhaps the most durable notion to emerge from all this is very familiar: there’s still no such thing as a free lunch...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2008

A Timely Program

An uncanny event just took place. Earlier this evening, as I began composing a new post to the blog, I was also watching Sixty Minutes out of the corner of my eye and quickly became enthralled with Leslie Stahl’s segment on sleep deprivation because it reinforces what I’ve been suggesting about the tension between our cognitive centers and the mesolimbic system (amygdala).

More later when I’ve had a chance to watch it again.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 04:26 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2008

Why is Drug Policy Important? (Historical, Political)

As noted earlier, the current selection process for picking presidential nominees has avoided any direct questions of the candidates about the drug war. Given the campaign’s current intensity, the only possible conclusion about that avoidance is that it meets with the approval of the candidates, the media, and the public at large.

An important corollary is that those who stubbornly attempt to raise drug policy as an issue are being ignored and will probably continue to be ignored unless some untoward event changes the status quo. So unclear is the present situation (and so profound is the denial), that just what such an event might be can’t even be anticipated, however several possibilities do exist and those that focus attention on the same behavioral tendency (denial) most often employed to avoid “inconvenient truth,” (like climate change) could become a surrogate; if for no other reason than the hour for effective action is so late.

To repeat the familiar theme of this blog, favorable modulation of common adolescent emotional symptoms was clearly the main reason for the explosive success of marijuana as a product when it first became available to youthful initiates around 1965. The subsequent rapid growth in that youthful market, as documented by MTF studies in 1975, is further clarified by initiation data supplied by candidates of all ages now seeking to use it legally almost forty years after the drug war was declared and nearly seventy years after the MTA was passed.

The most reasonable interpretation of their data is that the ridiculous rationale for cannabis prohibition as implemented by the MTA  was a huge mistake,  one that was further compounded by its expansion into a “war” on drugs  by the CSA which can also be seen as stimulating the illegal markets for all designated “drugs of abuse” from 1970 onward.

The unifying concept underpinning such admittedly “radical” assertions is provided by data supplied by pot applicants and confirmed by recurrent MTF studies from 1975 on: we humans tend to sample (“initiate”) most of the drugs we will ever use between the ages of 12 and 18, a pattern that also suggests that the need to self-medicate symptoms of adolescent angst is much more important than simple youthful hedonism.

The most important corollary is, as with other drug policy issues, the one most assiduously avoided in all discussions: when we study our own behavior, we humans tend to deny the importance of our emotions, despite (overwhelming) evidence that our evolutionarily more primitive feelings often trump our more recently evolved logical processes.

In other words, the process of cultural evolution, dependent on the same adaptive changes in the brain that gave rise to our language and cognitive ability, has also involved participation of emotional centers that have been evolving in parallel, since (at least) the age of reptiles. Once that possibility is admitted, we can start to see that the thrust of recorded human history reflects the influence of our remarkably common existential anxiety on our behavior.

To use Economic jargon similar to that borrowed by drug war apologists to justify their policy, an aggregation of perceived individual needs (symptoms) probably represent the microeconomics that drive illegal drug market macroeconomics. The real absurdity of the policy can best be understood by realizing the degree to which both components have been effectively placed off limits by the policy itself, which can thus be seen as flagrant use of taxpayer dollars to lobby for its own continued expansion despite an abysmal record of failure.

Like most prolonged wars, the drug war has simply become another opportunity for the unscrupulous to steal from the unwary.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 02:03 AM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2008

A Basic Evolutionary Conflict? (Logical, Scientific, Historical)

As previously noted, the origins of empirical science, although murky, go back (at least) to the time of Copernicus (1473-1543), whose informed speculation about the relationship of Earth and Sun were also known to Galileo (1564-1642 ), and Kepler (1571-1630).  An enduring schism between Science and Religion began when Galileo's early observations with the telescope confirmed the heliocentric nature of the then-known Universe.  Although our powers of observation have since been augmented by technologic discoveries Galilieo could not have imagined, we continue to explore the limits of the Universe without knowing if the “answer” (which may require an understanding of infinity) will even be comprehensible.

 In any event, human curiosity now seems sufficient to guarantee a continuing quest for ultimate knowledge, absent such rude interruption as the extinction of our species. Ironically, such an event would more likely be seen as chance by atheists, simply because committed theists would assume any such cosmic events would have to be preordained by an all-powerful creator.

A recent entry (March 4) promised a hypothesis explaining how our cognitive process might have became so flawed as to bog humanity down in controversy at a time when it also faces an unprecedented existential threat. The part of that threat I won’t address is that it can only be dealt with by an equally unprecedented degree of cooperation; thus so long as a majority of humans are either unable or unwilling to even acknowledge it, effective response is unlikely.

A similar existential threat was posed by the Cold War between 1950 and 1990. We now know that during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, nuclear war was narrowly averted because Kruschev and Kennedy compromised. The current threat, an as-yet unknown degree of global climate change, is far too diverse to be avoided by cooperation between two, or even a majority, of powerful national leaders; it will require that our species, now more numerous than ever, cooperate in ways that are literally unprecedented. A major limitation of Science in this instance is that despite (or perhaps, because of) the overwhelming technologic advantages it has provided over the last two centuries, it has remained diverse and under the control of older, more hierarchical institutions, whether nations, religions, or other transnational organizations.

To return to this blog’s basic commitment, a study of patients previously placed out of reach by an authoritarian  drug policy has allowed a more precise understanding of why that policy’s global effort to ban cannabis has  proven so unsuccessful. The next, and largely unanticipated problem I faced was why information gathered during the course of that study has been so completely denied by those with the most reason to (at least) discuss it. The totality of that denial, when considered in the light of both the study’s main conclusion: that human behavior is driven at least as much by our emotions as by logic, is also daily reinforced by readily available evidence from all over. At some point, it seems almost inevitable that a significant minority of thinking people will have to agree; what remains unknown at this writing is whether that agreement might lead to a serious effort to address present problems.

The cognitive flaw referred to earlier, and hypothesized here, seems structural: our evolutionarily older (emotional) centers are functionally at odds with our newer (younger) cognitive centers. Although both have literally been evolving together in all surviving species, it hasn’t been until quite recently that the problem was manifest enough to be appreciated. Put another way, our highly evolved brain remains an organ with critical “executive” function over basic life processes, just as in older, less highly evolved species. However, with the addition of abstract thought including both language (as a specific
brain function) and communication (the meaningful transmission of information requiring a response), a new evolutionary entity came into existence: human culture. Although our ever-accelerating cultural evolution is dependent on our cognitive function in ways we are still unraveling, its emotional component is clearly an inextricable part of that function and generally traceable to the mesolimbic system, an older brain region that first appeared in reptiles. To pursue the concept further: humans, as the most recently evolved primates, have, through their cultural evolution, particularly as recently accelerated by Science, further developed human cognitive abilities to a degree that has allowed us far greater control over the planetary environment than possible by any other species.

Even though far from the complete understanding of the universe humanity’s leading thinkers have been seeking for the past several thousand years, those empirical skills have accelerated both population growth and the means of sustaining it to such a degree that sheer human numbers and the resources needed to sustain them pose significant threats our viability.

From the perspective of drugs and drug policy, the flaw strongly suggested  by the relatively brief history of global cannabis prohibition is fairly precise: a conflict between the mesolimbic system and the neocortex. Beyond that, although both are still relatively poorly understood components of our brain, we have new and urgent reasons to both understand and resolve the conflict between them.

Doctor Tom


Posted by tjeffo at 08:28 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2008

A Diversion Occasioned by a Death. (Historical, Personal)

The unexpected, but  hardly surprising, sudden death of William F. Buckley Jr. at 82 was a reminder of my own involvement with the drug Policy Reform Movement. It began in April 1995 with an Op-ed by Joe McNamara in the San Francisco Chronicle. I was so impressed by its rare, but accurate criticism of what I already knew to be a pernicious policy that I wrote to ask a naive question: was he part of a formal organization? He responded by sending me the cover of a brochure for the Drug Policy Foundation’s Ninth annual convention to be held in Santa Monica in October. The good news was that there was a group opposing the drug war; the bad news was that it was nearly invisible and, as I would soon discover, struggling for both recognition and credibility against the enormous power of the federal government I’d once served for thirteen years as a physician in its regular Army.  

 I later attended the convention in Santa Monica and soon became an enthusiatic member of “reform.” The timing was just right; I’d been phasing into retirement, had just bought my first computer, and was already a member of the fledgling online community. Reform membership soon had me immersed in internet activism. As a physician willing to write letters critical of drug policy, I was a welcome recruit and soon found myself on the Board of a new organization. That we elected to support Proposition 215 as one of our first projects would put me at the epicenter of “medical marijuana” for the next twelve years.

My awareness of Buckley had come at about the same time because he unsettled the drug war heirarchy by declaring publicly in National Review that even though he continued to believe that drug use was "wrong," the policy should be modifiied because of its obvious failure. I recognized at the time that such a position was incomplete, but like many others, was so grateful for articulate criticism of drug policy by a Right Wing icon that I saw it as a turning point; a belief based on the wishful thinking I would learn soon enough was one of the more deeply ingrained tendencies of reform culture. Unfortunately, another that took longer to discover, and turned out to be the even more deeply ingrained,  is the essentially (human) tendency toward
intellectually dishonest competition that can be found in most (all?) of our species’ organizations.

It is precisely that tendency that is accounted for by the cognitive flaw I suggested in yesterday’s entry and will describe more fully in the next.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2008

Apocalypse in Slo-Mo? (Speculative)

For those paying attention, "speculative" is a new category and the drift of this blog over the past several months has been that the widespread acceptance of such a lame and unscientific drug policy suggests that the unique human cognitive abilities that have allowed the extreme planetary dominance achieved by us since the Industrial Revolution may be seriously flawed.

 Once the possibility of such an unsettling notion is admitted, the mechanism by which that flaw may have developed becomes (relatively) easy to understand; as do the consequences of failing to recognize and deal with it.

Unfortunately, our species’ penchant for denial of unpleasant (“inconvenient”) truth is both attributable to the same flaw and so universally manifest in America that, once recognized, it can seen in any TV news broadcast or  newspaper. In essence, the more an idea is sensed as a threat to human existence, the more we seem to need to deny it; both as individuals and as societies. An important corollary is that the creation of some means for deterring such doctrinal heresy has also been favored throughout history. Nearly every successful human society devised some means for punishing those who think “outside the box.”

Finally; the major monotheistic religions all regard doctrinal heresy as anathema and the mere suggestion that a divine error  could be compromising Intelligent Design would be categorically unacceptable to most fundamentalists. Just for the sake of argument, and realizing that most Creationists will not have read this far, what could possibly account for the presence of such a flaw in our highly evolved brains?

The answer lies within the process Evolution itself and will be outlined in due time; first, it's necessary to  recognize one other easily overlooked fact: the brain is a visceral organ. Over the several thousand years of human existence that we were lacking any ability to examine brain function directly, most languages developed a conceptual framework and vocabulary that dealt with thoughts as products of some mysterious disembodied process;  closer to religion than to chemistry.  Even now, although we acknowledge that a physiological process accounts for our cognitive function, we still have as much dificulty defining consciousness as we do accounting for gravity.

To return to the phenomenon of denial; further evidence of its pervasive and subtle nature is that another concept, one that recently commanded considerable attention at a time when its consequences were more speculative, but now that they are better defined, is hardly mentioned, is human overpopulation. That others have also noted the recent loss of interest in Malthusian fears is gratifying; similarly, the fact that scattered references to the planet’s carrying capacity are now being heard is a second comforting bit of evidence that all may not be lost.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 08:26 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2008

The Good German Syndrome as normal behavior (Opinion)

Typically, although there is general agreement with the theme of Pastor Niemöller's famous lament over the progression of fascism in Nazi Germany, its specifics are obscured by controversy. As obvious as it is  that Hitler’s rise to power depended on the refusal of ordinary Germans to speak out against the Nazis, there is little evidence of substantial numbers of our species avoiding the same behavior in similar circumstances. Rather; it seems deeply rooted, as evidenced by our penchant for cognitive dissonance and denial.

In fact, there now seems more controversy over just what Niemöller actually said (or didn’t say) and the purity of his own personal motivation than any disagreement over his sentiments.  Unfortunately, evidence that similar behavior is still humanity’s norm can be found found in virtually every newspaper, news broadcast, and commercial advertisement. Indeed, controversy and hypocrisy may permeate human popular culture to a greater degree than ever.

A compelling example is CNN’s Lou Dobbs who, for the past few years, has been fussing at America’s “broken government,” for its failure to halt the flow of illegal immigrants and illegal drugs across the Mexican Border, charges that are so at odds with reality it’s difficult to know if he intends them seriously. A Harvard graduate who allegedly majored in Economics, Dobbs doesn’t seem to recognize that the rules applying to illegal markets are different.  Composed of willing buyers and sellers, their attempted suppression by police inevitably becomes both futile and counterproductive while also ultimately corrupting the enforcement bureaucracy.

Of considerable interest to me is that although criticism of Dobbs has been mounting, it’s almost always leveled at his stance on Immigration, while his equally absurd position of drugs is almost never mentioned.

In exactly the same way, the three (or four?) Presidential candidates still left in the “race,” along with the media pundits grilling them in the public interest (and for their networks'
profits) all seem to assume US drug policy works so well no changes need be suggested by the candidates. nor questions asked by the press, exactly what I had gleaned from the “drug debate” between Bush the elder, H. Ross Perot, and a boyish Bill Clinton in the Fall of 1992. I remember well,  because I'd taken the trouble to tune in from Spain at 2 AM and couldn’t believe such an important issue could be disposed of so quickly.

Little did I know that wouldn’t change for the next sixteen years...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)