Thursday, June 30, 2005

Elites: Rebelling or Merely Revolting?

ShrinkWrapped has picked up the ball on the relationship of the Elites (scientists, in this case) to Leftism. He suggests:

1) that the immense effort required to master specialized knowledge tends to crowd out a general understanding of politics, history, literature, etc;

2) the lifestyle required is sufficiently "uncommon" as to supplant common sense;

3) that most physicians, neuroscientists, etc. go into their fields with a "do-gooder" desire;

The combination of wishing to do good and social naivety creates a crucial predisposition to Utopianism. Since the intellectual elites are too often not well versed in common sense and have given little thought to political philosophy, they are easily convinced by superficially coherent Utopian ideologies... I suspect very few members of the intellectual class can explain why they are leftists. It takes intellectual work to develop a political philosophy and if all one's time is spent contemplating the ways in which neural networks form and change in response to input, there is not much time and energy left for the mundane tasks of everyday life.
In the comments section, "Judith" responds that such an explanation is too benign, and that leftists are motivated by power: "Their job, as they see it, is to mold, shape and direct. To *manage* -- and we are to be the managed. "

I think that this debate on the motivations of the intellectuals is extremely important for those of us who wish to deprive the left of that power. At a personal level, this topic is important to me for two additional reasons: First, I am increasingly troubled by the response of commenters and private e-mailers, all of whom are uniformly in favor of anonymity for academic conservatives, and express a fear of a truly malign wrath from the predominant intellectual establishment. Second, I would hope to avoid the name-calling and imputation of dark motives that seems to characterize much of the contemporary left's critique of George W. Bush. (Can't we all just get along?)

Hayek might present a compromise view, consistent with both ShrinkWrapped and Judith's surmises. As many readers are probably aware, Hayek argues that a "rationalist error" (the belief that "man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes") forms a "fatal conceit" at the root of the socialist impulse. Intruigingly, Hayek had a more than passing interest in neuroscience and psychology. His understanding of complexity and self-organizing systems was critical to his view of both society and the individual mind, and has been instrumental in shaping my own worldview.

In passing, I would also like to point out Mark Lilla's thoughts on the political temptations of the intellectuals are relevant in this regard; it is not coincidental that this was the first (nonfiction) book I read after 9/11 . (In brief, Lilla's book describes the embrace of totalitarianisms of the left and right by a number of the leading intellectuals of the 20th Century, including Heidegger, Sartre, and Foucault). It would be an interesting exercise to confront any major university intellectual with a list of the political crimes documented in that book. It is not merely the magnitude of the errors committed, but the uniformity in their totalitarian nature.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The 10 Commandment Decisions and Neuroscience

Shortly before he died, Christopher Lasch diagnosed a fundamental disorder in our democracy: The Revolt of the Elites. While I don't agree with his argument in toto, the 10 Commandments decision (and for that matter, the Kelo decision) reveals the stark divide in mores between the self-serving intellectual constructs of judicial elites and the common sense of the average American. At this point, the Supreme Court is at the cutting edge of the culture wars insofar as it represents the pinnacle of power achieved by the elites (and here I refer to the intellectual avant-garde amongst the elites, not the entire managerial class). And these elites have, of course, attempted to stack the deck in their own favor.

I am certainly not the first to point out that the culture war tracks the rise of the New Elite. And it is clear that the main battlefronts are those social spheres in which the Elites dominate, including the media, arts, and academia. As I noted in a previous post, these are (for some) calculated power grabs in the Gramscian mode. And the tightening of the reins of power in these domains is accomplished, in part, by an esotericization of knowledge and discourse, effectively blocking participation by "ordinary" citizens. These trends ultimately lead to deeply anti-democratic calamities such as the EU Constitution crisis.

With the rise of the blogosphere, we have seen the counter-revolt of the citizenry (note that I will not use the term "masses"). So far, this movement has been most effective in domains nominally concerned with the polis, namely politics and political coverage in the media. The blogosphere's greatest impact on the academy has been the exposure of the Ward Churchill scandal(s), which has direct overlap with the blogosphere's primary concerns. To date, the left's dominance over the substance of the curriculum has been untouched. Just ask Larry Summers.

And in Larry Summers' dilemma, we see the link to neuroscience. As I have hinted in previous posts, the level of complexity encountered in the study of the brain and of the genome raises the possibility of an intellectual elite serving as the guardians of special knowledge. For sociological and historical reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, these guardians are nearly as uniformly leftist in ideology as the other Elites.

The foremost purpose of this blog is to provide a link between a common-sense conservative understanding of ethics and politics, and the exponentially expanding knowledge base of neuroscience, including brain imaging, psychopharmacology, and genetics. It has been my continuing observation that le plus ca change..., and that these new discoveries need not fundamentally undermine a traditional understanding of human nature and its political needs.

Monday, June 27, 2005

10 Commandments and the West

While I am fairly conservative, I do not identify myself as a Christian conservative, and I am coming from more of a libertarian background intellectually (it is amazing how high school Randianism takes so many years to shed, even long after you have forgotten the name of the guy who was left to die in desert).

Nevertheless, I think today's Supreme Court decisions on the 10 Commandments will have a potentially profound (and profoundly negative) impact on our society. While I leave the legal commentary and political analysis to others, I have an observation that I haven't seen elsewhere today, one that has been stinging at my brain since last fall.

As many of you will recall (unless you get your news from the MSM), Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was brutally murdered on Nov. 2, 2004. The motive: he directed a documentary exposing the mistreatment of women in Muslim culture.

What was even less widely reported in the US was (as Paul Harvey would say) "the rest of the story":
In the Netherlands, artist Chris Ripke reacted to the murder on Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic fundamentalist by painting a mural with the text "Gij zult niet doden" ("Thou Shalt Not Kill"), one of the ten commandments of the Christian religion. But because the head of the nearby mosque complained to the police that this was 'offensive' and 'racist', the cops came and sent in city workers to sandblast the mural. A local journalist, Wim Nottroth, who wanted to protest against this by standing in front of the mural was arrested.
Are we really living in a society in which the Koran must literally be treated with kid gloves, in which all manners of speech (including flag-burning) are to be tolerated, yet the 10 Commandments are singled out for special opprobrium? There is a word for this.

Chilling Effect

This is the term frequently invoked by liberals to describe the Patriot Act's impact on free speech, or Congress' latest empty threats on PBS funding or some such. Somehow, despite all these chilling effects of our "fascist" regime, the liberals and leftists that I know are never chilled out -- they're always yelling their opinions from the mountaintops, comparing Bush to Hitler, and so on. Somehow, it seems that conservatives like myself are the ones who must remain anonymous for fear of political retribution, particularly in academia.

Today, I literally got a chill down my spine when a commenter (the first to arrive via neo-neocon), told me to watch my back:
dave s said...
the more you say, the quicker folks will figure out who you
are. look at what happened to the adjunct at Southern Methodist. leave it alone
- your research area is too small a town. [link added]
On the other hand, I did get a very nice e-mail from a closeted conservative academic at a prominent medical school encouraging me to keep going (but keep secret). I wrote back to him about the profoundly alienating feeling I often have, like a Jew secretly roaming an old-school country club or a homosexual caught in the middle of insulting locker-room banter, when politics comes up in work conversations and words like "fascist" and "disgusting" (or much worse) are thrown around.

Please comment or e-mail me your thoughts and experiences, especially if you are a (closeted or out) conservative academic. Sometimes I wonder if I am just being paranoid, and I might actually be accepted as a quirky novelty. Other times, I am absolutely sickened by some of the things that I hear, when others make the casual assumption that I automatically agree with them.

Pull the Shower Curtain

Cue the shrieking music: neo-neocon has dubbed me a psycho-blogger! Actually, many thanks to neo-neocon for her kind introduction to the world of blogging; hers is one of my favorite new (to me) blogs, and served as an inspiration for the title of this blog. I also find that I am gravitating more to the long-form and serialized think-pieces for which she has such proficiency (curse you for making it look easier than it is!). Today she has a must-read piece on the motives and methods of the anti-war left -- it is absolutely vital to recognize that the most critical battlefield in this war is the American living room television set. As Arnaud DeBorchgrave concludes in this brief history of the coverage of the Tet Offensive and its role in the ultimate fall of Vietnam:

Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army, received South Vietnam's unconditional surrender on April 30, 1975. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his retirement, he made clear the anti-war movement in the United States, which led to the collapse of political will in Washington, was "essential to our strategy." Visits to Hanoi by Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and various church ministers "gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses." America lost the war, concluded Bui Tin, "because of its democracy. Through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win."

Keep up the good work, neo, and thanks again.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Politics of Genetics (intro)

I have discovered that one of the pleasures of having a blog is receiving thoughtful and provocative correspondence from total strangers. The downside is being scooped by one's own comments section! R.L.A. Schaefer of Dubuque Iowa posted a comment on the politics of genetics that anticipates my own thoughts.

His key point to start the discussion: Opinions on the nature/nurture debate are shaped by one's take on Original Sin, with leftists tending to believe in the perfectability of man through social engineering. Conservatives "tend to conclude that humans are not easily changed; thus the potency of nature is in that sense stressed." Thus, liberals are more likely to be skittish about genetic research and its political implications. This fear is made explicit in the lengthy and apologetic discussion section of the APSR article discussed in prior posts.

Conservative vs liberal views on equality point in the same direction. Conservatives emphasize equality of opportunity, and are far more comfortable with Aristotelian notions of justice ("that justice involves treating equal persons equally, and treating unequal persons unequally"). However, the liberal ideal of egalitarianism is threatened by noticing individual differences, especially if they appear to be "hardwired" and not amenable to social engineering. (Group differences are to be celebrated, but only to the extent they are culturally constructed and can be thus deconstructed.)

Finally, the left's (self-acclaimed and somewhat romanticized) historical role in opposing Nazi ideology, which of course included eugenics, additionally points in the same direction. Nevermind the fact that in pre-WWII America, eugenics was a "progressive" idea, endorsed in varying measures by Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Margaret Sanger; even Planned Parenthood has to deftly apologize for their founder. And I think that the left's own fantasy image of itself is a critical determinant of its current reactions to events (see here and here).

I think that these three ideological trends are fairly obvious to those familiar with political philosphy and Conservatism 101; Jonah makes some related points more cleverly in his most recent article. Still, I think these ideas set the stage for much of what I will have to say in future posts on this topic (yet another promissory note!).

Friday, June 24, 2005

Does anyone take medical advice from

Tom Cruise?

Especially about mental health?

I was going to write a rebuttal, but I think that his "argument" rebuts itself.

Or else his behavior does.

Still, I am concerned that the general public still has a very mystified understanding of the essence of psychopharmacology, and is easily scared by Newsweek cover stories about teens committing suicide on Prozac and the like.

One common misconception is stated emphatically by Cruise (can he state things any other way?): "But what happens, the antidepressant, all it does is mask the problem."

Of course, no blanket statement applies in all cases. But for many, many patients, antidepressants are the first step towards being able to face one's problems. If someone with severe depression (or OCD, etc etc) is gripped by suicidal thoughts, or compulsive behaviors, or is sleeping 12 hours per day, he is not facing his problems, he is consumed by them. Depression itself is a sort of mask; many patients report a deadened feeling inside. A course of antidepressants can often provide the opportunity to reduce self-destructive or self-defeating thoughts and behaviors for long enough to pro-actively tackle one's larger life-problems with concomitant psychotherapy.

I doubt that Tom Cruise has too many spiritual followers anymore, but this meme is a persistent one, which has probably served many people as an excuse not to take that first step.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Junk Science as Trojan Horse

for left-wing MSM memes.

Shrinkwrapped has a great post today on a brief Yahoo news piece, entitled "Brain sees violent video games as real life -study."

I think he does a great job separating fact from fantasy (in several meanings of that phrase), most importantly in his observation that the whole news story is truly devoid of scientific content, serving merely as a vehicle for spreading left-wing memes.

This little story provides a crystal-clear example of a cascading effect I have noticed in science reporting. In this case, it appears that the researchers themselves probably got the ball rolling with a seemingly frivolous fMRI study designed to either to promote an agenda, amuse themselves, or garner attention (probably all three). Either way, the MSM gets a hold of it and proceeds to drain all relevant detail from its reporting. This serves to transmit the relevant meme (eg, violent video games are bad) with authoritative imprimatur, and simultaneously to disarm the non-expert reader from any ability to critically evaluate the meme. In a case as egregious as this little gem, there is not even a published study for the diligent reader to turn to. As with politically biased MSM reporting, the opinions of the reporter are placed into the story by means of an oddly pithy quotation from a participant, in this case the scientist. Finally, the headline writer then disregards any actual content of the story at all, including even the minimal caveats inserted in the piece by the reporter, and simply writes a falsehood.

Are these guys really that stupid and lazy, or are they actually diligent in their propaganda mission?

More on Political Genetics

Greetings, Cornerites! In lieu of the promised post on the politics of genetics, I want to emphasize a point made in my original post on the genetic basis of political belief. An e-mailer posed the following well-put question:
Is it possible that the study’s findings can be explained by there being a genetic predisposition to certain traits that in the particular circumstances of today leads to an affinity with one of the parties? For example, let’s say that timid people tend these days to be [conservatives] and reckless people to be [liberals], and that these underlying traits were strongly influenced by genes. Would it then make sense to say that that party affiliation is inherited, or that these traits are?
The e-mailer's point is spot-on, and can be taken even further. It is of course absurd to claim that genes would directly impact one's political beliefs (ie, natural selection has not had a long enough time to act on that basis), and the APSR article is careful not to suggest that. The NY Times article on the other hand, well -- don't get me started. In any discussion of genetics, it must always be emphasized that genes code for protein manufacture -- behaviors only emerge after a long chain of biochemical events lead to a functioning brain.

Still, certain basic behavioral tendencies (particularly evolutionarily more primitive traits such as recklessness/timidity, as in an example given by ), likely are influenced to some extent by genetic variation, and are likely correlated to some extent with political beliefs. In the APSR article, the authors invoke a construct of absolutism vs contextualism as two opposing personality traits that might be under genetic influence. I will let you guess which one is ascribed to conservatives, and which one is cast in the more favorable light. (HINT: The last sentence of the article is: "As loathe as contextualists and absolutists are to admit it, the presence of the other orientation may make society stronger.")

While the authors clearly are either flattering themselves or catering to their presumed audience, I think that consideration of putative "intermediate phenotypes" between biology and political ideology can be an interesting exercise. However, as Jonah and Derb realized pretty quickly, there can be no simple, one-to-one mapping of personality to politics. As a simple example, a contrarian personality raised in a conservative household (or community, or society) might turn out quite differently than one raised on a commune. Not to mention those individuals whose politics are actually idealized inversions of their own characters (I think of certain gluttonous, narcissistic movie directors and Senators whose politics are oh-so-selfless)...

Optimism, Pessimism, Conservatism

It occurs to me that the temperamental difference I observed between Jonah Goldberg and John Derbyshire may reflect an interesting interplay of optimism and pessimism in the conservative mindset. Put very crudely (which is all that I am capable of at this hour), I see Jonah's conservatism as being affectively optimistic and cognitively pessimistic, which I think is a distinctively American mode of conservatism. For example, I think that the Founding Fathers, while intellectually fully aware of the limitations and frailties of human nature, were gut-level optimistic that these could be successfully managed by the proper governmental arrangement. John's pessimism seems more affective, though he can convince himself intellectually that we will somehow muddle through, if only through sheer orneriness ("We shall find out that our cherished beliefs about the Self are largely illusions, and we shall come to terms with that somehow -- but we'll protest every inch of the way there"). This feels more consistent with some elements of the British conservative tradition.

The Genetics of Politics

Great discussion over at the Corner on this NYT article, (misleadingly -- surprise!) entitled "Some politics may be etched in the genes." I think it is most interesting, and (meta-)relevant to this discussion, that the distinctive political personalities of Jonah and the Derb were so clearly manifest in their debate. Although each made good points and the two ultimately had much agreement, I saw Jonah as being characteristically more dismissive of this sort of novelty, and thus more optimistic about the study's low likelihood of undermining his ideals, while John's conservatism often appears born of his inclination to see things a bit more darkly, and accept that his ideals will and must struggle against a hard reality. (NOTE: I hope I am being fair to each, as I tend to oscillate between these two conservatisms myself.)

So far, though, only My Pet Jawa seems to have read the actual article in American Political Science Review (Jonah's e-mailer had the article in front of him, but unfortunately mischaracterized the contents in several ways). Jawaprovides a pretty detailed summary of the article, which compares monozygotic (identical) twins to dizygotic (fraternal twins) on a survey of political attitudes. To make a long story short, the authors of the article demonstrate that MZ twins, who are genetically identical, have much greater "ideological" agreement than DZ twins, who are only as genetically similar as any 2 siblings (about 50% genetic similarity on average).

I think that the findings themselves appear to be robust, as the sample size is enormous, and the findings are generally well-replicated in a second sample of Australian twins. Further, the influence of parental attitudes is accounted for (albeit in a very narrow statistical sense, and only for a limited subsample). I think it is indisputable that the study shows that MZ twins have more political agreement (on certain survey items phrased in a particular way) than DZ twins.

So, the sticky wicket is the interpretation. The authors use a mathematical approach to defining heritability that has been widely-used in behavioral genetics (though never before in political science per se), but is very controversial philosophically and is prone to misinterpretation. In a nutshell, the mathematics superficially ascribe discrete packets of causality (percentages of variance explained) to genes, shared (familial) environment, and external events (unshared environment). Yet it is a fundamental philosophical error to reify these constructs, and a whopping scientific error to ignore the centrality of interaction effects. Any of these potential subtleties are, predictably, almost completely lost on the hapless NYT reporter, as ShrinkWrapped correctly details.

However, the authors of the APSR article are actually much more sophisticated in their approach than the NYT, especially in their introduction. They clearly point out how genes "provide instructions for the production of proteins," which then are expressed in the brain, leading to a cascade of biological events that may ultimately be manifest in behavior; thus, it is absurd to infer that genes would ever specifically encode for substantive policy beliefs. Moreover, they use examples from the most up-to-date psychiatric literature to emphasize the role of gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. For example, a particular variant in the serotonin transporter gene only results in increased risk for depression when the individual is exposed to highly stressful life events. Individuals with the risk variant who do not experience as much trauma do not manifest depression. (Another popular example, not cited in the article, is the role of genetics in smoking behavior. Several decades ago, when most men smoked and very few women were smokers, smoking behavior was less genetically determined than today, in which a very different social environment has made it more likely that predisposed-women will smoke, and non-predisposed men will not.)

These points cannot be emphasized enough, and at some point the MSM is going to have to figure out how to convey them. As I hinted in a previous post, there are certain newly-emerging biological facts that the public will soon be forced to reckon with, and the MSM need to be the first to do so or must step aside. At best, it will be like that period in 1997-98, when the NY Times had to slug the same stock paragraph explaining "The Internet" into just about every article.

Where the authors go off the rails is in their conclusions, where they seem to have been swept away by their own data, and ignore the caveats of their own introduction. They also seem to have two pages worth of liberal propaganda, which reveals either their own biases or was required by the journal's editor and reviewers for publication. The following quote, picked up also by Jawa, is illustrative:
Similarly,if a Republican president had committed adultery with a young intern or if a Democratic president had dramatically worsened the deficit and taken
the country to war in a far-off land on the basis of undeniably incorrect beliefs about the opponents' nuclear and chemical weapons capabilities, the positions of most voters on the acceptability of these conditions would be completely reversed.

It is getting very late, and this post is getting very long, so I will pick up on this point later, in a post to be entitled: The Politics of Genetics.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Of course

I'm really grateful for the Corner-lanche and all, but why did it come before I installed my site-meter? How will I ever be able to cash in on my blog-millions?

Damn you, Corner! Damn you all to hell!


to Jonah and the gang for some helpful comments, that have allowed me to get a little more un-stuck. I agree with Jonah that Freud's political progeny have been entirely unfortunate, and I suspect that the cause of this phenomenon is embedded in a future answer to my original question. I will ponder that further.

In particular I want to thank Rick for pointing me towards a most beautiful poem, that puts my apologia for Freud better than I will in 10,000 blog posts.

He wasn't clever at all: he merely told
the unhappy Present to recite the Past
like a poetry lesson till sooner
or later it faltered at the line where

long ago the accusations had begun,
and suddenly knew by whom it had been judged,
how rich life had been and how silly,
and was life-forgiven and more humble,

able to approach the Future as a friend
without a wardrobe of excuses, without
a set mask of rectitude or an
embarrassing over-familiar gesture.
Thanks also to my new e-mail friends. Receiving your e-mails has been a delightful part of this new experience for me. I will be responding to each of you in the next day or so. Shout out to Adam and Kathy.

In case you were wondering...

That much-ballyhooed "sacred" commitment to academic freedom at today's universities is why this blog must remain pseudonymous. I need to continue to earn a living, and I don't have tenure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Freud and Conservative Discontent

Just one week into my blog and I have already recycled the same title pun. This is either a sign of a perseverative frontal lobe syndrome, or at some point I am going to need to write a lengthier treatment of the subject of Freud and conservatives.

Tonight I noticed that Jonah Goldberg, a favorite of mine, has casually tossed Freud in with Marx, while separating him from Darwin. I think that Freud has much more in common with the latter (both substantively and meta-theoretically).

I have spent a lot of time wondering why there is universal disdain for Freud on the right (which is more than equalled by the disdain for the right amongst contemporary psychoanalysts!). To be sure, in the context of Victorian society, Freud's impact was radical. However, I would argue that his fundamental understanding of human nature as tragic is one that is shared by most conservatives today, and interestingly is rejected by many (if not most) contemporary analysts.

I am by no means a Freudian, nor am I suggesting that Freud was a conservative. However, I would at least say that: 1) many of his views, like Darwin's, are neither liberal nor conservative and should be evaluated in a non-politicized context; 2) while his critique of religion may understandably offend many on the right, he was not advocating a total societal revolution, or revaluation of all values, in a Nietzschean or Marxist fashion; and 3) there is at least room for dialogue between Freud's insights and today's conservative thought.

Comments policy

For the time being, I have comments disabled. I am not sure if I will have the time to monitor them for civility, spam, etc. Let me know what you think by e-mail:

Also, if you are a blogger, please let me know your experiences with comments, good and bad, since I am rather new at this.

If they build it ...

What ghosts will come to this abomination? Jeff Jarvis has it right -- don't build it. Not on hallowed ground.

Please visit

Putting one or two more token conservatives on the Board of Advisors is not going to change the fact that Gramscian leftists at "leading universities" (including Charter member -- the University of Cape Town!) will control the debate, according to this press release from the IFC, from which I quote below without comment:

The character of a university allows for this form of “sacred space.” John Sexton, the president of New York University, describes the role of the great universities as “modern sanctuaries…sustaining and enhancing scholarship, creativity, and learning.” Universities, Sexton believes, have a special “commitment to free, unbridled, and ideologically unconstrained discourse in which claims of knowledge are examined, confirmed, deepened or replaced.” This commitment parallels the Center’s own commitment to a full and open exchange of ideas. President Sexton helped conceive the new Consortium.
Actually, I can't help myself -- I must comment. Perhaps you actually believe that the IFC will somehow show less Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism than the faculty of Charter member Columbia University. Or that the IFC itself is/will be more balanced than the sum of its institutional advisors. Then I recommend you look at the FAQ: "With respect to the importance of this work, Archbishop Desmond Tutu may have put it best..." Tutu's quote is pure pablum, but what sort of person, when thinking about 9/11, America, and the theme of freedom, would first turn to Desmond Tutu for a quote?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The long march through the institutions...

ends in downtown Manhattan.

Perhaps the most important function of the blogosphere so far has been to call out the extreme left's (until now successful) efforts to destroy our culture's sustaining values by its near-total control of the mass-informational establishment (including the media, academia, and the arts). This Orwellian effort to corrupt our society's memetic structure has met its challenge in the citizens' media, but that hasn't stopped them from this latest insidious assault:

The World Trade Center Memorial Cultural Complex will be an imposing edifice wedged in the place where the Twin Towers once stood. It will serve as the primary "gateway" to the underground area where the names of the lost are chiseled into concrete. The organizers of its principal tenant, the International Freedom Center (IFC), have stated that they intend to take us on "a journey through the history of freedom" -- but do not be fooled into thinking that their idea of freedom is the same as that of those Marines. To the IFC's organizers, it is not only history's triumphs that illuminate, but also its failures. The public will have come to see 9/11 but will be given a high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man, from Native American genocide to the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Jim Crow South, from the Third Reich's Final Solution to the Soviet gulags and beyond.

Please see Little Green Footballs here and here for more details. I will be contacting Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Pataki, Sens. Clinton and Schumer first thing in the morning. I strongly encourage you to do what you can. (Hint: BLOGSWARM!)

Mental Illness as Identity

Compared to denial, the alternate extreme is to embrace (or even exalt) one's particular mental illness as a fixed identity. This stance is as contrary to the ideal of the "examined life" as denial, and equally represents a retreat from the ambiguities of our humanness. I see the pro-ana movement as an extremely regrettable and destructive manifestation of our contemporary identity politics, which turns victimhood into an immutable identity, thereby reifying our miseries and denying our own free will to overcome adversity.

Psychiatry and its Discontents

According to a series of studies, the prevalence of mental health problems has been vastly underestimated. When it hits too close to home, the topic of mental illness inspires its usual mix of dread (as evidenced by the headline writer at the NY Times: "Most will be mentally ill at some point, study says"), and denial. The latter is reflected in this quote by Dr. Paul McHugh, whom I have long admired and often agree with (I'd like to think the Times writer has taken him out of context):

"Fifty percent of Americans mentally impaired - are you kidding me?" ... "Pretty soon," he said, "we'll have a syndrome for short, fat Irish guys with a Boston accent, and I'll be mentally ill."

On the other hand, I think that the studies' lead author, Dr. Ronald Kessler, puts the matter into perspective:

"If I told you that 99 percent of Americans have had a physical illness, you wouldn't blink an eye," he said in an interview. "The fact is that there is a very wide range included here, with the equivalent of many psychiatric hangnails. We don't want to demonize those, but we don't want to trivialize them, either, because we know in many cases they lead to serious problems later on."

Even the illness metaphor itself can be very misleading, since some mental suffering is a condition of our living in civilization (as Freud said, the goal of psychoanalysis is the transformation of "hysterical misery into common unhappiness"). Analagous to the role of genes in our lives, which I posted on previously, it seems difficult for many in today's society to accept that psychological problems are part of the fabric of life, an essential part of our humanity. Some are fleeting, some are enduring; some are ennobling, others, crippling. Not all problems deserve the attention of mental health professionals, but all of us could probably benefit at one time or another from guided introspection with the help of a caring and knowledgeable other.

Still, the fact that everyone gets the flu doesn't mean that everyone will get Ebola; the fact that some die of Ebola does not mean that I am doomed if my temperature goes above 100. And while I don't enjoy hangnails, broken bones, or the flu, I wouldn't trade them for an android body. Why do so many want to believe that they have an android's mind?

Levi's Genes

This story has been getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere, and I will address the substance of the article in future posts.

My first impression, though, is to note that reputable, scientific inquiry in this area is actually as old as the hills, yet it is always clouded by the disreputable and/or despicable political purposes to which it has been yoked. Regardless of the specific claims made in this particular article (which might be right or horribly wrong), the general public is going to have to get used to more and more of these articles popping up in the scientific literature. Specific genes that impact upon cognitive performance have already been identified; this kind of research is not science fiction (or Nazi propaganda), even if it has nothing to do with the medieval history of the Ashekenazi Jews. By the same token, individual effects of any single genetic variant are very modest, do not rule out environmental effects, may be offset by other effects of the same gene, etc. Most importantly, none of these findings, nor the sum of them, will ever diminish (or even speak to) any individual's human dignity.

The way I see it, we are entering a period in which we will see story after story about such research, and ultimately the general public will come to understand that "genetically influenced" does not mean "fully determined," "doomed," or "deserving to be weeded out of the population". Hopefully, along the way, the issue will not be needlessly polarized.

Bottom line: Don't panic. If you were smart before you read this article, you are still smart, whether or not you are Jewish. And if you are Jewish, and your Aunt Gertie is dumb as a stone, she still is.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Who am I?

A very large question, one that might take a while to figure out.

For now, just let it be said that I am a conservative with a Ph.D. in psychology, working in the field of neuroscience research.

Welcome to my blog.