And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. ~Revelations, 20:14-15
By Adriana Gamondes
Part 1, Demon Seed
In September, 2011, Manitoba judge Robert Heinrichs ruled that a sixteen year old accused of murder would remain in youth court where he faces a maximum sentence of four years rather than the possibility of life without parole in adult court. Family members of the fifteen year old victim were outraged by the ruling, though Heinrichs stated that the accused’s “basic normalcy now further confirms he no longer poses a risk of violence to anyone and that his mental deterioration and resulting violence would not have taken place without exposure to Prozac…He has none of the characteristics of a perpetrator of violence.”
Dr. Peter Breggin, the reform psychiatrist and psychopharmaceutical expert who testified on antidepressant-induced psychosis and violence in the Manitoba case, was sued for his medical license in 1987—the very year that Prozac was first mass marketed by Eli Lilly. The charges were filed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a consumer group which has always lobbied for forced institutionalization and mandated treatment of the mentally ill ( Section 9.2 of NAMI’s Public Policy Platform)—including drugs and electroconvulsive therapy or ECT— and was recently exposed as a long-standing pharmaceutical industry front organization in The New York Times.
Due to his success in banning forced lobotomy in institutions coupled with efforts to raise the alarm on clinical risks of ECT and psychiatric drugs, Dr. Breggin has been a thorn in the side of industry and its various front organizations since the 1970’s. After Breggin went on Oprah and reported that Eli Lilly’s own trial data showed that even individuals lacking histories of violence or serious mental illness who were exposed to the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant Prozac and antipsychotics would frequently develop violent ideation or violent psychosis, NAMI claimed that Breggin’s remarks could cause patients to discontinue their meds. Following an outpouring of support for Breggin from the international medical reform community, the Maryland licensure board dropped the charges and Breggin prevailed. Seventeen years later, the FDA adopted black box warnings for suicide and violence on SSRI antidepressants. The black box warnings are, almost word for word, the precise clinical caveats that Breggin repeatedly submitted to the FDA and in Congressional hearings.
The previously concealed Prozac trial data Breggin uncovered and exposed in 1987 included cases of child subjects on Prozac who suddenly developed intrusive dreams and visions of going to school with guns and shooting classmates. There were also far more attempted and completed suicides among drug-exposed subjects than in the placebo groups.
Over the years, Breggin and other researchers have worked to identify the mechanism by which certain psychopharmaceutical drugs induce violence and suicidality. Breggin has described phenomenon such as drug-induced akathisia, an uncontrollable sense of restless inner torment caused by an amphetamine-like and even LSD-like effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRI’s, and has written about prescription drug-induced “intoxication anosognosia” or “medication spellbinding:
Medication spellbinding has four basic effects.
First, people taking psychiatric drugs rarely realize how much the drugs are impairing them mentally or emotionally. They often do not recognize that they’ve become irrational, depressed, angry, or even euphoric since beginning the medication.
Second, if they do realize that they are having painful emotional feelings, medication spellbinding causes them to blame their feelings on something other than the drug. They may get angry at their husbands, wives or children, and become abusive. Or they might blame themselves and become suicidal. Often they confuse the harmful drug effect with their emotional problems and attribute their emotional distress to “mental illness.”
Third, medication spellbinding makes some people feel that they are doing better than ever when in reality they are doing much worse than ever. In one case, a man who was high on a combination of an antidepressant and a tranquilizer happily went on a daylight robbery spree in his hometown wearing no disguise. Another otherwise ethical citizen happily embezzled money while documenting the details in easily accessible company computer files. Both men thought they were on top of the world.
Fourth, some people become so medication spellbound that they lose control of themselves and perpetrate horrendously destructive actions. My book opens with the story an otherwise kind and gentle man who became agitated on an antidepressant and drove his car into a policeman to knock him down to get his gun to try to kill himself. In another case, a ten-year-old boy with no history of depression hung himself after taking a prescription stimulant for ADHD. He documented the dreadful unfolding events while speaking in a robotic monotone into his computer.
According to journalist and author Robert Whitaker, after the failed suit against Breggin, Eli Lilly—one of NAMI’s largest corporate sponsors from the group’s inception— reputedly began making anonymous donations and guiding media attention to a very different type of organization, a then obscure California religious group called Scientology. Scientology, as the story goes, didn’t look the gift horse in the mouth and soon became the symbol of coercive pseudoscientific cults in the US—the “devil” which the drug industry needed in order to erect a good and evil binary and counterpart to the “angel” of its consumer front beneficiaries. Frau Koma only deals in black and white—except when shades of gray are needed to couch moral relativism.
Scientology would not have been chosen as a target because it was the most dangerous alternative religion in that era of high profile violent and suicidal cults. But the group conveniently embodied “anti-psychiatry”: Scientology claimed to offer a form of therapy for mental suffering by way of earthly transcendence and seemed to view organized psychiatry as competition. Industry might also have noted that Scientology offered a drug-free reverse parallel for its own utopian marketing approach, promising the public a future paradise on earth free from disease, pain, suffering, violence and fear in exchange for uncritical faith in commercial science and the wonders of modern chemistry— while Scientology offered this through commitment to the church’s rites and practices. In any case, Lilly and Company likely recognized the potential to build up a straw-man target on which to project its own “sins” and as a means to silence critics like Breggin by generating associative cult smears in the media it sponsors.
Between 1988 and 2007, use of antidepressants in the US has risen by 400%, a fact which drug proponents claim is due to “increased recognition” of mental illness. But increased prescribing has not brought with it the expected improvement in mental health among Americans: instead, the rate of mental disability has increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from 1 in 184 Americans to 1 in 76. For children, the rise is far more staggering—the number of children so disabled by mental illness that they qualify for SSI and SSDI has risen 35-fold in the same two decades. Antidepressants are currently the third most common drugs prescribed to Americans 12 and older.
If there’s any basis to rumors of Eli Lilly’s straw-man-engineering, it was unquestionably a brilliant strategy. For twenty years—until the Zyprexa Papers Scandal in 2007 exposed Lilly’s fraud, spurred on Senator Grassley’s investigations, resulted in billions paid out in injury suits and took the wind out of the tactic—anyone who publicly criticized the safety or efficacy of mental health drugs or the integrity of industry, no matter how independent or credentialed, was instantly accused of being part of a cult and, for the purposes of public credibility, effectively censored. Frau Koma is clever.
About the device: “Koma“ is “amok” spelled backwards; amok—as in “to run amok.” “Amoklaufen” is the German expression for “spree-killer.” After a mass shooting at the Johannes Gutenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt, Eastern Germany in 2002, police developed a new emergency code for school shootings—“Frau Koma kommt”—“Frau Koma is coming.” The code was activated again on March 13th, 2009, the day that 17 year old student Tim Kretschmer rampaged through a school in Winnedon, Germany, killing 13 and then himself.
The term “amok” isn’t exactly new. After the Dutch East India Company began shipping 100 tons of opium a year to Indonesia in the 17th century during the first and lesser-known Opium War to pacify the region, “amoklaufen”— derived from the Javan “amoak” or “kill”— was popularized by colonists who began observing random mass stabbings perpetrated by opium-crazed Malayans. Without making reference to opium or its source, Rudyard Kipling first used the term “run amok” in English to describe rampaging Malayans who would senselessly hack through crowds with daggers until they were either subdued and killed or took their own lives according to historical accounts.
This type of crime— non-ideological mass killing, mostly performed outside a combat zone by an individual who is not acting as part of a militant group, who is motivated neither by specific sexual nor financial incentives, who most often has no extended history of criminality or serious mental disturbance and who uses no stealth in covering the evidence of their crimes which are frequently committed in public or broad daylight—also isn’t precisely new, though the explosive prevalence of it in developed countries is. Although the stated motive just prior to many mass killings has often been a bizarre generalized grudge or a contradictory hash of recently adopted political-sounding views, these individuals will attack strangers or groups of people with little relevance to their irrational complaints if any are even expressed. Though they may function enough to systematically and robotically plan an assault, the modern non-ideological “massacrist” doesn’t engage in the escape strategies expected of an addictively compulsive killer who wishes to remain free to kill again.
Even in certain mass killings committed by active duty members of the military, a breach in historical pattern has emerged. Because of consistent media misreporting on the history of the Mai Lai massacre and other atrocities during Vietnam, this might not seem the case. But, according to linguist and political media analyst Noam Chomsky, Mai Lai was not a rogue act by servicemen going against orders as it’s been portrayed. Instead Chomsky refers to Mai Lai as simply a “footnote” of the Post-Tet “Accelerated Pacification” campaign which systematically and by design killed over 10,000 civilians in Vietnam in 1968. What happened in Mai Lai was intentional and approved and, in military history, it isn’t unusual.
But when Staff Sergeant Robert Bales killed seventeen Afghan civilian adults and children while they slept in their beds and set several on fire in March, 2012, he was not acting on even inferred orders at that moment but against them. There was no machinery in place to cover up or shift around responsibility for the horrific events as there has been for planned atrocities like Mai Lai or Abu Ghraib. He acted alone, not as part of classic “deindividuated violence” (Phillip Zimbardo, 1969) performed by mobs which are typically very attuned to “group think” and guided by ideological authority according to Canadian forensic psychologist Donald Dutton. Unlike serial murderers, Bales made no attempt to cover his tracks. And the media began investigating reports that Bales may have taken Lariam, the anti-malarial drug which Dan Olmstead and Mark Benjamin investigated in 2002 in association with a spate of domestic murder-suicides among members of the military. As Olmsted noted, the Lariam killers lacked histories of escalating violence typical in lethal domestic assaults.
Lariam and other medications commonly prescribed to military personnel have recently been the focus of Congressional inquiry due to the unprecedented one-a-day suicide rate among service people, a statistic which is all the more disconcerting since prospective recruits must pass screens for mental illness before enlisting. Obviously there’s been an enormous lag in undertaking the investigation by war machinery responsible for using its ranks as clinical guinea pigs by widely prescribing powerful medications to patch up battle-fatigued combatants rather than relieving them of duty. Peter Breggin, testifying this time before the Veterans Affair Committee in February, 2010, painted a chilling picture of suicidal and violent psychoactive drug reactions that have been covered up by pharmaceutical companies for decades.
If some believe the traumas of war alone explain Bales’ rampage and suicides among military personnel, it’s unclear why military suicide rates are currently so much higher than during Vietnam and 3-fold higher than during the American Civil War. In fact, as reported in journalist Robert Whitaker’s website, Mad in America, a recent study found that the drugs may be specifically counterproductive in the treatment of trauma:
Bruce McEwen and Joseph LeDoux, whose pioneering research in eliminating fear-related memories opened up new avenues for the potential treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, show in research published in Biological Psychiatry on December 20, 2012 that chronic treatment with citalopram (selective serotonin inhibitor Celexa) or tianeptine (selective serotonin reuptake enhancer Stablon) impairs amygdala-dependent learning and consequently the ability to learn new responses to fear-related stimuli and to unlearn conditioned fear responses.
And how would the extreme trauma of war explain the same upsurge of bizarre violence and suicide among civilians? Like 19 year old Gutenberg killer Robert Steinhauser, teen shooter Tim Kretschmer of Winnedon had recently taken medication which contained black box warnings for violent behavior and suicide. Like Kretschmer, Steinhauser killed himself as police closed in.
Though Steinhauser’s post-mortem tox screen showed an absence of drugs or alcohol, just prior to his death he’d confessed in an interview to dabbling with the painkiller Tilidine and LSD, both of which can have lingering psychiatric effects after withdrawal. Tilidine is associated with aggression and violent behavior in human and animal studies. In fact, researchers found the carcinogenic effects of Tilidine difficult to study because most male lab animals exposed to the drug would die from aggression and mutilation. Police in Germany have found that an abnormal amount of force is often needed to subdue suspects under the influence of the drug due to an almost total lack of pain response. Pepper spray reportedly has no effect.
Because Tilidine is banned in the US, it might seem irrelevant to the rise in certain types of American violence. But like SSRI antidepressants and LSD, Tilidine is associated with lack of atonic paralysis in REM sleep: those under the influence may act out their dreams. Dreams experienced on these drugs are frequently reported to be violent and terrifying—another effect associated with Lariam. Suspension of REM sleep atonia has been tied to inexplicably violent acts.
Following the Erfurt and Winnedon shootings, the media response in Germany ranged from calling for stricter gun controls, bans on violent video games, screening students for mental illness to throwback conjectures about Hoover Era Manchurian candidate schemes. This has always been the response. A list of prescription drug-associated murders and suicides (compiled from several online sources and the website SSRI Stories):
1. Huntsville, Alabama – February 5, 2012: 15-year-old Hammad Memon shot and killed another Discover Middle School student Todd Brown. Memon had a history for being treated for ADHD and depression. He was taking the antidepressant Zoloft and “other drugs for the conditions.”
2. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – March 8, 2012: 30-year-old John Shick, former patient of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and former student at nearby Duquesne University, shot and killed one and injured six inside UPMC’s Western Psychiatrist Institute. Nine antidepressants were identified among the drugs police found in Shick’s apartment.
3. Seal Beach, California – October 12, 2011: Scott DeKraai, a harbor tugboat worker, entered the hair salon where his ex-wife worked, killing her and seven others and injuring one. At DeKraai’s initial hearing, his attorney indicated to the judge that DeKraai was prescribed the antidepressant Trazodone and the “mood stabilizer” Topamax.
4. Lakeland, Florida – May 3, 2009: Toxicology test results showed that 34-year-old Troy Bellar was on Tegretol, a drug prescribed for “bi-polar disorder,” when he shot and killed his wife and two of his three children in their home before killing himself.
5. Granberry Crossing, Alabama – April 26, 2009: 53-year-old Fred B. Davis shot and killed a police officer and wounded a sheriff’s deputy who had responded to a call that Davis had threatened a neighbor with a gun. Prescription drug bottles found at the scene showed that Davis was prescribed the antipsychotic drug Geodon.
6. Middletown, Maryland – April 17, 2009: Christopher Wood shot and killed his wife, three small children and himself inside their home. Toxicology test results verified that Wood had been taking the antidepressants Cymbalta and Paxil and the anti-anxiety drugs BuSpar and Xanax.
7. Concord, California – January 11, 2009: Jason Montes, 33, shot and killed his wife and then himself at home. Montes had earlier begun taking the antidepressant Prozac for depression in response to his impending divorce and a recent bankruptcy.
8. Little Rock, Arkansas – August 14, 2008: Less than 48 hours after Timothy Johnson shot and killed Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney, the Little Rock Police declared they were investigating shooter’s use of the antidepressant Effexor, which was found in Johnson’s house. A Little Rock city police report later stated that Johnson “was on an anti-depressant and that the drug may have played a part in his ‘irrational and violent behavior.’”
9. Kauhajoki, Finland – September 23, 2008: 22-year-old culinary student Matti Saari shot and killed 9 students and a teacher, and wounded another student, before killing himself. Saari was taking an SSRI and a benzodiazepine.
10. Dekalb, Illinois – February 14, 2008: 27-year-old Steven Kazmierczak shot and killed five people and wounded 21 others before killing himself in a Northern Illinois University auditorium. According to his girlfriend, he had recently been taking Prozac, Xanax and Ambien. Toxicology results showed that he still had trace amount of Xanax in his system.
11. Omaha, Nebraska—December 5th, 2007: 19-year-old Robert Hawkins had been taking antidepressants before he killed eight and then himself in an Omaha shopping mall. Hawkins had reportedly taken Zoloft and Ritalin since age five.
12. Jokela, Finland – November 7, 2007: 18-year-old Finnish gunman Pekka-Eric Auvinen had been taking antidepressants before he killed eight people and wounded a dozen more at Jokela High School in southern Finland, then committed suicide.
13. Cleveland, Ohio – October 10, 2007: 14-year-old Asa Coon stormed through his school with a gun in each hand, shooting and wounding four before taking his own life. Court records show Coon had been placed on the antidepressant Trazodone.
14. Blacksburg, Virginia—April 18, 2007: 23 year old Seung Hui Cho kills 32 and himself at Virginia Tech; according to The New York Times, “prescription medications related to the treatment of psychological problems had been found among Mr. Cho’s effects.” Cho had taken Paxil (Paroxetine) as a child. Cho’s medical records were sealed by court order against the protests of victims’ surviving family members.
15. Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania—October 2, 2006: Charles Carl Roberts murdered five Amish girls and then himself. His family reported that he took antidepressants.
16. Platte Canyon, Colorado— December 27, 2006: 53-year-old Duane Morrison claimed he had a bomb when he entered Platte Canyon High School. He held hostage and sexually assaulted six female students and killed one before killing himself. Antidepressants were found among his effects.
17. Red Lake, Minnesota – March 2005: 16-year-old Jeff Weise, on Prozac, shot and killed his grandparents, then went to his school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation where he shot dead 7 students and a teacher, then wounded 7 before killing himself.
18. Greenbush, New York – February 2004: 16-year-old Jon Romano walked into his high school in east Greenbush and opened fire with a shotgun. Special education teacher Michael Bennett was hit in the leg. Romano had been taking “medication for depression”.
19. North Meridian, Florida – July 8, 2003: Doug Williams killed five and wounded nine of his fellow Lockheed Martin employees before killing himself. Williams was reportedly taking the antidepressants Zoloft and Celexa for depression after a failed marriage.
20. El Cajon, California – March 22, 2001: 18-year-old Jason Hoffman, on the antidepressants Celexa and Effexor, opened fire on his classmates, wounding three students and two teachers at Granite Hills High School.
21. Williamsport, Pennsylvania – March 7, 2001: 14-year-old Elizabeth Bush was taking the antidepressant Prozac when she shot at fellow students, wounding one.
22. Wakefield, Massachusetts – December 26, 2000: 42-year-old computer technician Michael McDermott had been taking three antidepressants when he hunted down employees in the accounting and human resources offices where he worked, killing seven.
23. Honolulu, Hawaii—November 2, 1999: Gunman Bryan Uyesugi entered a Xerox Corporation building armed with a Glock, killing seven coworkers. Widows of the slain attempted to sue Kaiser Permanente for failing to monitor Uyesugi, who was reportedly treated with antidepressants by a psychiatrist at the medical center.
24. Conyers, Georgia – May 20, 1999: 15-year-old T.J. Solomon was being treated with antidepressants when he opened fire on and wounded six of his classmates.
25. Columbine, Colorado – April 20, 1999: 18-year-old Eric Harris and his accomplice, Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 26 others before killing themselves. Harris was on the antidepressant Luvox. Klebold’s medical records remain sealed.
26. Notus, Idaho – April 16, 1999: 15-year-old Shawn Cooper fired two shotgun rounds in his school, narrowly missing students. He was taking a prescribed SSRI antidepressant and Ritalin.
27. Fort Worth, Texas—September 15th, 1999: 47-year-old Larry Gene Ashbrook shot and killed eight, including children, and then himself at the Wedgewood Baptist Church. A prescription bottle for Prozac with Ashbrook’s name on it was found at the gunman’s home.
28. Springfield, Oregon – May 21, 1998: 15-year-old Kip Kinkel murdered his parents and then proceeded to school where he opened fire on students in the cafeteria, killing two and wounding 25. Kinkel had been taking the antidepressant Prozac.
29. Moses Lake, Washington—February 2nd, 1996: 14 year old Barry Dale Loukaitis entered Frontier Middle school, shooting an algebra teacher and two students. Loukaitis had reportedly been prescribed Ritalin for hyperactivity. Loukaitis is currently serving two life sentences and an additional 205 years.
30. Dunblane, Scotland—March 13, 1996: 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton entered the Dunblane Primary School armed with four handguns, shooting and killing 15 children, one adult and then himself. According to a local inquest, Hamilton had been prescribed Prozac.
31. Louisville, Kentucky– September 14, 1989: 47-year-old Joseph Wesbecker, pressman for the Standard Gravure Company, entered his place of work, killing eight and then himself. He had recently begun taking the antidepressant Prozac. Surviving families of several victims attempted to sue Eli Lilly.
32. Austin, Texas—August 1st, 1966: 25-year-old gunman Charles Whitman, addicted to amphetamines, suffering from a brain tumor and severe migraines for which he may have been prescribed one of the new MAOI inhibitors, killed his mother and wife, then climbed the tower at the University of Texas at Austin wounding 49, killing 14 and then himself.
In Japan, which has the most stringent gun control in the democratic world, Japanese bloggers and advocates have called for investigations into a spate of psychiatric drug-related knife attacks and other crimes:
- 2001, Ikeda, Osaka, man kills eight children with small knife
- 2003, Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture, child stabs man twice
- 2005, Chiba Prefecture, man with knife enters high school, attacks officials
- 2005, Neyagawa City, Osaka Prefecture, boy with knife kills teacher, two officials, wounds several.
“Knife Rampage” is the new expression in Japan for an increasingly common category of crime. Frau Koma is cosmopolitan and doesn’t rely solely on firearms.
And then there was Aurora, Colorado. According the Goldwater Rule or Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s ethics principles, psychiatrists are forbidden from commenting on individuals’ mental states without examining and being authorized by the individuals to diagnose them. But this hasn’t stopped a bevy of newscasters, print journalists, armchair experts and even psychiatric professionals from theorizing on 24 year-old shooter James Holmes’ mental status after he gunned down 12 and wounded 58 at the Century 16 movie theater on July 20th, 2012. Some blamed genetic psychosis coupled with access to guns or violent videos or have turned the Aurora massacre into a political football, conjecturing that Holmes was involved with the Tea Party or the Occupy Movement. It’s not surprising that those populations which are being associatively smeared in the course of the diagnostic frenzy are then driven to defend themselves by reframing the dialogue. Though none of it has gotten network coverage, psychiatric reform groups have not been shy in protesting that the investigation too quickly discounted psychiatric drugs with black box warnings for violence and suicide and, for the first time, so have defenders of the right to bear arms.
The truth may never come out. Holmes’ files were sealed by court order, just as in the case of Virginia Tech’s Seung Ho Cho and Columbine’s Dylan Klebold.
An Arapahoe County Court judge has granted a request to seal the case against James Holmes, the 24-year-old shooter who killed 12 and wounded 50 during a screening last night of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The motion, filed in Arapahoe County court, asks for the records in the case to be sealed, including search warrants, affidavits, orders and the “case file.” The District Attorney’s affidavit says prosecutors are investigating first-degree murder charges against Holmes, but that disclosure of the court records would be “contrary to public interest” and “could jeopardize the ongoing investigation.”
The necessity of the seal could be argued as due to Holmes’ background, which, at least on the face of it, provides some good fodder for conspiracy theories. A cloak-and-dagger report states that Holmes interned at the Salk Institute just after the institute had partnered with the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to investigate the use of an antioxidant found in cocoa as a blood flow increasing agent to prevent combat fatigue as part of a larger project to develop brain-machine interfaces for the battlefield. Holmes’ father, identified as statistician Dr. Robert Holmes, was also apparently professionally enmeshed with DARPA when a company he works for— HNC Software, Inc., now the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO)— developed a “cortronic neural network” allowing machines to respond like the human brain to aural and visual stimuli. Holmes’ grandfather, Lt. Colonel Robert Holmes, was a language expert with the army and may have worked in intelligence.
But unless Holmes’ internship involved enrollment as a test subject for top secret military experiments, it seems unlikely that Holmes’ medical records had much to do with the 8 week summer program at Salk for college bound teens. One Salk scientist claimed Holmes should never have been admitted to the program since Holmes was merely an “average” student.
During the OJ Simpson trial, American media viewers were privy to Simpson’s every pill and pang in prison. These types of seals in capital murder cases are a new phenomenon and there’s another potential explanation for the lockdown on Holmes’ medical history: despite claims that Holmes was not on drugs during his “sleepy” performance in trial, reports emerged that Holmes took prescription Vicodin and that his psychiatrist, an assistant professor at Colorado University’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Dr. Lynne Fenton, had been reprimanded by the state board in 2005 for illegally prescribing herself, her husband and an employee drugs such as Vicodin, Xanax, Ativan and Ambien, all of which are associated with REM sleep disturbance, violent dreams and sudden acts of extreme violence.
Up to three psychiatrists at the university may have treated Holmes prior to his crime and it’s interesting that the law firm which the university hired to shield Fenton and perhaps other mental health practitioners on staff, Wells Anderson and Race, has professional ties to GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb. GSK is the maker of the antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin and Bristol-Myers Squibb manufactures the atypical antipsychotic Abilify—all of which are also clinically associated with radical personality changes, suicide and violence.
Torrence Brown, one of the victims of the Aurora shooting, filed suit in July against three defendants: the Aurora Century 16 theater for leaving an exit door unguarded and without alarms; Warner Brothers for releasing a film so violent that theater goers could not immediately register that Holmes’ assault was not part of the movie; and Holmes’ prescribing doctors at Colorado University’s Anchultz Medical Center for not properly monitoring Holmes’ prescription drug use. Though Brown was uninjured, he claims extreme emotional trauma after his friend, 18-year-old A.J. Boik, was shot in the chest and killed in the attack.
It’s unclear how the seal on the case will effect injury suits. Could “contrary to public interest”— the justification for concealing Holmes’ medical records— be interpreted as: “people would stop taking their mental health drugs on hearing what Holmes was prescribed”? This was NAMI’s grounds for suing Breggin in the 1980’s and appears to be unwritten policy at the National Institute of Mental Health. The NIMH has remained mum on the association between violence and psychotropic drugs in the wake of every high profile mass killing, even in the many instances when prescription drug use of perpetrators was established fact.
Information blackouts tend to only fuel controversy. Behind a seal, anything is possible and, stemming from the Aurora tragedy, as in the German school shootings, there are continuing conjectures that Holmes was a hypnotized “Manchurian candidate,” on street drugs or that, like Bell Tower killer Charles Whitman, Holmes might suffer from a specific brain disease.
The drug link might not be immediately apparent from the Whitman Bell Tower case in 1966: Though the amphetamines which Whitman was reportedly addicted to had long been known to induce psychosis in adults, the synthetic form of ephedrine was discovered in 1887 and had been marketed in the US since 1933—yet Whitman set the general precedent for “school shootings” in the US. So it’s curious that no one has ever investigated whether Whitman had been prescribed other drugs by his psychiatrist (he was seeing one), such as the then-new beta-blockers which, by 1966, had become standard treatment for the “horrendous” migraines Whitman suffered due to an undiagnosed brain tumor. Beta-blockers can induce schizophrenia-like psychosis in some individuals and are contraindicated in combination with stimulants. In between killing his mother and wife and then committing the massacre at the University of Austin, Whitman left a note in his home requesting that money from his life insurance plan be donated to a mental health foundation to prevent “further tragedies of this type.” Whitman also requested that an autopsy be done after his death to investigate whether anything could explain his actions and worsening migraines.
All told, what’s especially disturbing about the Bell Tower case is that it may have taken a combination of older class prescription and illegal drugs, dysfunctional family history and brain tumor to generate an approximation of the rage, dementia and robotic planning involved in modern mass assaults which are frequently linked to only a single newer class prescription medication. This would lend to conjectures that a particularly modern type of prescription drug psychosis could be the common denominator in this type of relatively modern killing.
Although the seal on the Holmes case means the public won’t know the facts any time soon—or at all as in the case of the other crimes mentioned above— for the moment it appears that James Holmes, the formerly timid, “mediocre” student with no history of violence, fits a pattern.
Frau Koma is like the Statue of Liberty—always welcoming to the wretched refuse of our teeming shore: the lonely, the tired, the sick, the shy, the toxically injured and the career-tracked grad student who doesn’t question the scientific establishment they aspire to. In an article entitled Gunman who massacred 12 at movie premiere used same drugs that killed Batman star Heath Ledger the Daily Mail straddles an uncomfortable fence between drug-induced Jekyll/Hyde transformation and genetic apologia:
Sumit Shah, a friend at Westview High School in San Diego, said: “Jimmy was pretty shy but once he got comfortable with you he was the funniest, smartest guy. The guy I knew was harmless.” Experts believe it is more likely that Holmes was suffering from a genetic psychotic illness which could have acted like a ‘time bomb’ set to go off any time between the ages of 15 and 25.
The killings in Aurora nearly overlapped a pre-election Heritage Foundation conference in which then-Romney administration hopefuls E. Fuller Torrey and former Bush appointee Sally Satel presented a thinly euphemized argument for forced institutionalization and drugging of the mentally ill, mixing the message with a states’ rights platform. Frau Koma has a sense of humor.
E. Fuller Torrey, author of The Insanity Offense: How America’s Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens, has long promoted mandated drugging for “at risk” populations. But it’s really Satel—the PR maven with the beltway flare—who’s particularly ominous. Satel is a science board alum (along with Paul Offit, Michael Fumento, Steven Novella, Breggin-nemesis Stephen Barrett of “Quackwatch,” and Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer) for the corporate front group ACSH, the American Council on Science and Health. ACSH promotes and defends GMO’s, pesticides, drugs, food coloring, vaccines, military funding of academic science, etc., for corporate and institutional sponsors. On a “stopped clock” model—or like E. Fuller Torrey’s occasional ironic, credence-grubbing criticisms of psychiatry’s drug industry conflicts— ACSH decided to champion global warming warnings and to reverse its original Big Tobacco loyalty to an anti-tobacco message. Otherwise the group has never met an industrial agenda or product it didn’t like.
Satel was appointed by President Bush to the National Advisory Council (NAC) for the US Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), presumably to carry out Bush’s vision for the Orwellian New Freedom Commission on Mental Health which sought to screen all Americans for mental illness. The New Freedom Commission championed the grossly corrupt Texas Medication Algorithm Program (TMAP), one of the model programs which increased child drugging in some states in which it was instituted by up to 100% in under a year. TMAP was funded by Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Astrazeneca, Pfizer, Novartis, Janssen-Ortho-McNeil, GlaxoSmithKline, Abbott, Bristol Myers Squibb, what was then called Wyeth-Ayerst (now part of Pfizer) and Forrest Laboratories. Satel also promoted Teenscreen, the Columbia University mental health screening program launched in public schools across the country in 2003 which boasted an 84% false positive rate in identifying teen “suicidality.”After 9 years of routing children to psychiatric treatment, the Teenscreen program finally met its demise in November, 2012.
Satel is also a “counterinsurgency” missionary– the go-to media mouthpiece for generating PR strategies to defeat and silence pharmaceutical critics. In 2002, Satel stated flatly that there was an “overemphasis” on patient “rights” that “people need to be protected from themselves” and that often “coercion” is essential. Advocates who attended the recent conference consistently reported that Satel made the aside that the mental health system needs a “strong dose of paternalism.”
When she was in power under Bush, Satel was considered one of the more chilling pharmaceutical operatives by consumer and reform advocates because of her skilled doublespeak in promoting mental health screening and drugging across political lines. All the same, the barely disguised racism in some of her published work and her record on ECT and mandated treatment tend to belie her equal opportunity cover. In PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine, Satel bitterly complains about the political pressure on medical and mental health practitioners to spout egalitarian open-mindedness. More recently, in a NYT’s opinion piece, Satel pretends a temperate approach that she has never once displayed when she formerly guided policy, though the real Satel comes through: In the Times, her only remark about the new DSM autism category is that those with higher functioning forms of autism don’t like being lumped with the “intellectually impaired.” She fails to mention that a majority of individuals with autism, including low functioning, will lose the label under the new DSM recommendations and will be herded into newly devised diagnoses like Social Communication Disorder, a label which has already been intensely targeted for corresponding drugs with the usual deadly side effects.
Reading between the lines of the language used in the Heritage Foundation video presentation, when Satel talks about the 1% of the “severely mentally ill” who will be denied a say in their treatment under the proposed program, she is referring to a population which is exploding. And that’s not including the “tsunami” of children with autism aging into the adult mental health system. According to bastions of radicalism like the U.S. Census Bureau and Social Security, rates of disabled mental illness have risen 100 fold in 150 years, with huge leaps in prevalence corresponding to broadening use of various pharmaceutical products (From Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, table from page 25):
Year Disabled mentally ill per 1000
As Whitaker points out, the irony of the above statistics is that E. Fuller Torrey himself originally compiled them for his 2001 book The Invisible Plague— though Torrey does not blame pharmaceutical age practices for the mass decline of mental health in the US. Even so, Torrey himself is not Frau Koma.
And Satel, as much as she represents the corruption and fanaticism of organized psychiatry and commercial science, is not the sole ultimate embodiment of Frau Koma either. “Frau Koma” is non-partisan. Less than two months after the Columbine massacre, President and First Lady Clinton arranged the first Whitehouse Conference on Mental Health in which they trotted out Satel’s partisan psychiatric counterpart Harold Koplewicz who called for mandatory mental health screening and intervention on children and teens in response to the tragedy. Teenscreen was one of the programs that arose from this edict. Koplewicz was more recently the force behind the controversial NYU “ransom notes” billboard campaign, a fear-mongering dragnet to bring children in for treatment.
What Koplewicz intended by way of intervention and “treatment” was explicit: for decades, reform psychiatrists have identified Koplewicz as among the most radical proponents of drugging children, consistently claiming that mental disorders cannot be caused by rape, violence, trauma or abandonment unless the child has a “preexisting” genetic brain chemical imbalance that requires medication lest children prove “detriments” to themselves and society. At the White House conference, Hilary Clinton—clearly under the influence of Koplewicz but also driven by her own faith in technological progress— vowed that these supposedly at-risk children would get treatment “whether or not they want it or are willing to accept it” (Breggin, Talking Back to Ritalin, pp. 18-19) and that the program would be enforced through public schools.
Koplewicz was a co-author of the infamous Paxil 329 study which was threatened with retraction when it emerged that authors minimized suicide-related adverse events by fivefold and grossly overstated the efficacy of GlaxoSmithKline’s blockbuster in the treatment of adolescents. This study also fell under the scrutiny of Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley in the course of his ongoing investigation for the US Senate Finance Committee. It was one of a slew of industry conflicted studies attempting to defend child prescribing practices against mounting evidence that these medication increase violence, suicide, alcohol and other drug abuse and were associated with worsening long term outcomes for patients as they reached adulthood. Grassley’s investigation focused on “millions in undisclosed payments” flowing between psychopharmaceutical makers and “key opinion leaders” in the field of child psychiatry.
Koplewicz remains a “key opinion leader” and continues to claim that Virginia Tech could have been prevented by forced treatment with the very drugs repeatedly linked to these crimes. Advocacy attorney Jim Gottstein recently wrote about the impact of this brand of dogma on public views in an op-ed for Pharmalot:
I think it is important to understand a couple of pervasive public attitudes that shape the setting. One is that we need to lock up people diagnosed with mental illness and make sure they take their “medications” to keep them from going on killing rampages. The truth, however, is that both of these approaches, especially psychiatric drugs, increase rather than decrease violence. People diagnosed with serious mental illness are no more likely to be violent than is the general population, if one takes into account the impact of psychiatric drugs. They are far more likely to be victims of violence than to be perpetrators. For some research on this, click here. For a recent article on how neuroleptics (misnomered “antipsychotics”) might be causing this violence, click here.
To the extent that victims of Columbine, Virginia Tech and similar “inexplicable” modern mass killings back to the Bell Tower murders have been turned into logos to peddle a coercive treatment model, they remain publicly unhonored and undistinguished by the actual collective meaning of their deaths. For a very blunt example of this, the victims of drug-addled killers are never added up within the FDA’s Medwatch database list of drug deaths and injuries. The website SSRI Stories provides a database by which a death toll could be tallied, though the site is limited to the minority of accounts in which the antidepressant use of perpetrators (other classes of psychoactives aren’t included) actually made the news.
Enough time has passed for key facts to be solidly confirmed regarding many civilian mass crimes. There are more and more victims every year, yet the nature of the acts is never officially acknowledged. From Berthold Brecht,
When evil-doing comes like falling rain, no body calls out ‘stop!’
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible.
When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard.
The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.
Sadly the same may be true of those who died in Aurora in the summer of 2012. Will anything emerge before their names are dropped from public memory? Jessica Ghawi, six year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, Alex Sullivan, Micayla Medek, Jesse Childress, Gordon W. Cowden, Rebecca Ann Wingo, Alexander J. Boik, Matt McQuinn, John Larimer, Alexander C. Teves, Jonathan T. Blunk.
The intense but carefully edited media attention on Aurora killer James Holmes’ persona, methods and possible motives has set off protests that the focus should rightfully be on those who were injured or killed. But at least four— McQuinn, Larimer, Teves and Blunk— died defending others. There were probably more among the dead and injured who did the same.
Would those who risked or gave their lives for other people object to a search for interpretations that might prevent a repeat of the same tragedy? Survivors and the bereaved are also victims and might be traumatized by the discussion, but when those who are supposed to inquire in depth do not, it’s left to those left behind. This is often a reality in the wake of politicized tragedy.
For better or worse, there’s no question that non-ideological modern massacres, while they are not political, have been politicized. For worse, as illustrated earlier, the tragedies have become partisan footballs and industry selling points. But politicization may be unavoidable in attempting to understand the tragedies from an individual perspective, in terms of social response and within a framework for why they occur and continue.
Since so much modern psychological and social research on mass atrocity arises from epic events in the last century, in Hope and Memory, philosopher Tzvetan Todorov studies the social impact of a search for meaning among survivors of 20th century crimes against humanity. Todorov questions whether victims should ever be forced to analyze their perpetrators because “Understanding relies on some degree of identification with the perpetrator (be it partial and temporary), and that could be highly damaging for a victim.” But the author also argues that, as bystanders to evil, we can’t equivocate “understanding” with “justifying” in order to avoid the task of comprehending the acts because “The whole modern apparatus of modern criminal justice is based on a quite different premise. Murderers, torturers, and rapists must pay for the crimes to be sure. But society does not only punish the criminals; it also seeks to understand why the crimes were committed and to take appropriate action to prevent their recurrence…No crime is ever the automatic consequence of a cause. Understanding evil is not to justify it.”
In the same book, Todorov also analyzes the ideological cults of science which gave rise to horrific events in the past century. In attempting to grasp the causes and consequences of more modern atrocities, there may be a very limited but still unavoidably politicized analogy to twentieth century totalitarian violence within a supposition that so many of the high profile killings could have involved drugs with black box warnings for radical personality change and violence: Those searching for answers 1) may be forced to contend with the “science” justifying a power apparatus which encouraged or even forced certain perpetrators to take particular actions which led to the destruction of lives; and 2) they may be forced to struggle with the relative guilt of those who might claim to have been “following orders”—though in the case of modern parallels, this could involve “doctor’s orders.”
Even though some Aurora survivors have called for forgiveness of the killer, the attempt to understand is not a bid for clemency for murderers, drug fueled or not. Breggin argued in his most recent book on drug-induced psychosis, Medication Madness, that as more information is available on side effects, fewer will be able to claim that they didn’t know the risks and there will come a day when adults who take the drugs—and especially those who prescribe them—will be genuinely and by all accounts responsible for crimes committed under the influence. Of the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, the worst shooting on a domestic military base in history in which military psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 and wounded 29, Breggin called the drug link the “elephant in the room” which the press and public would not discuss, though he also pointed out in an article for Huffington Post that Hasan would not have been an innocent victim of adverse effects:
Some in the media have expressed surprise that a man whose profession is about caring would turn to violence. According to one theory, Dr. Hasan was driven to the breaking point by the stress of counseling returning soldiers and having to listen to their horrific stories. Totally false. Psychiatrists are no longer trained to listen to or to counsel their patients. Nor do they care to.I’ve given seminars to the staff at both hospitals where Hasan was trained, Walter Reed in DC and the national military medical center in Bethesda, Maryland. The psychiatrists had no interest in anything except medicating their patients… being an ordinary [i.e., a psychiatric drug-dispensing] psychiatrist is deadly depressing. Psychiatrists routinely commit spiritual murder by disregarding and suppressing their patients’ feelings and even their cognitive functions, making it impossible for them to conquer their emotional struggles. It’s no wonder my colleagues have such high suicide and drug addiction rates.
At first glance, there are other twists and contradictions within the theory of substance-induced violence, though personal histories of perpetrators may only emphasize the difference between those who deliberately choose a mind-altering agent to amplify aggression or those without histories of violence who suddenly commit heinous acts on prescription drugs.
It was not always understood, for instance, that while alcoholism can increase violent tendencies, it may not be the cause of violence. When Carrie Nation led the campaign for the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s, she and her followers were fueled by then-prevalent medical theories that domestic abusers were driven to commit violence against women due to the “demon whiskey.” More recent research argues that dissociative “battering” personality traits stem from repeat childhood humiliation and abuse by a same-sex role model and/or witnessing domestic violence against a parent— experiences which long precede the use of alcohol. This is also demonstrated by high rates of domestic violence in some cultures which traditionally prohibit alcohol consumption. Battering statistics don’t hinge on banning alcohol—they hinge on banning the act itself: domestic violence rates are highest where there’s the least enforcement against it. Furthermore, author, expert and clinical researcher Donald Dutton also noted that some chronic abusers who display both pathological and criminal tendencies will reportedly use substances in order to ramp up aggression and to manufacture an alibi for their actions.
Overlaps between drug-induced and deliberately drug-boosted violence in an era where more— and more dangerous—prescription drugs are available are admittedly confusing. Due to his long-standing ties to neo-Nazi and right-wing anti-Muslim organizations, Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik fits the more traditional profile of ideologically-motivated and militant mass-murderer. But even Breivik reportedly took a cocktail of ephedrine, steroids and caffeine “to be strong, efficient and awake” before he bombed government buildings, killing eight, and opened fire in a Utøya island camp linked with the Norwegian Labor Party, where he killed 69, mostly teenagers.
According to some reports, Anders took ephedrine and steroids for many years to combat a weight problem and he’d been “off” since anyone outside his militant circles remembered him. Whether or not long term substance abuse could account for long-standing psychopathology, Breivik attested that his use of “ECA Stack”—the combination of ephedrine, steroids, aspirin and caffeine— was chosen deliberately in order to increase aggressiveness in pre-attack journal entries:
Noticing that the testo[erone] withdrawal is contributing to increased aggressiveness. As I’m now continuing with 50mg it will most likely pass. I wish it would be possible to somehow manipulate this effect to my advantage later on when it is needed. Because the state seems to very efficiently suppress fear. I wonder if it is possible to acquire specialized “aggressiveness” pills on the market. It would probably be extremely useful in select military operations, especially when combined with steroids and ECA stack…! It would turn you into a superhuman one-man-army for 2 hours!
The degree to which any drug fueled killer may have had special access to information on clinical warnings and took the drugs anyway obviously reflects degrees of responsibility. It may not always imply—as it most likely does in Breivik’s case— that the drugs were taken either as a facilitator or as an alibi for intent to kill just as it’s unlikely most drunk drivers got behind the wheel with the aim of committing vehicular manslaughter. But drunk drivers are still held responsible. It’s also clear that anyone forcibly placed on drugs who lacks the capacity to give truly informed consent— such as minor children, those forced to take medications by court order or for life-threatening medical conditions (e.g., seizures) and the elderly suffering from dementia— are therefore not responsible for the effects, though their prescribers and industry are doubly so.
For some onlookers, any explanation for these crimes which casts killers as anything less than inherently, willfully, murderously evil is “politicized” in a negative sense, whether the search for mitigating factors is framed as a “bleeding heart” social posture or as motivated by an agenda towards pharmaceutical manufacturers or corporate power in general. But this view ignores the fact that the “black and white” analysis of these crimes is politically guided in itself and, in the case that drugs play a role in certain cases of modern violence, this is incredibly dangerous. The degree to which “experts” refuse to educate themselves on the growing body of evidence that certain prescription medications alone can drive some individuals, particularly minors, to commit violence who might not have otherwise ensures that the trend continues.
Why would anyone want the trend to continue? If the trend is largely drug-fueled, even within the idea that it’s being allowed to continue solely for profit and related politicized reasons such as tort deflection and a good-money-after-bad defense of clinical and corporate reputations, a great deal is lost in a simplistic analysis of human motivation which ignores belief and ideology. It’s curious, on the one hand, how easily some observers will ascribe a willful motive to take ultimate power over human life to individuals who explode in violence in public, make few attempts to conceal their identity and invariably end up dead or in prison. But, on the other hand, it can be difficult for the same observers to understand that certain authorities might not be exempt from a motive to take power over other human beings in a scenario that results not in death, imprisonment and infamy for those in control but nearly magical status in the realm of science and public health.
For example, organized psychiatry faced a conundrum in light of landmark legal cases which exposed conflicting drives: when held responsible for the actions of patients in Tarasoff, members of the American Psychiatric Association protested that psychiatrists are incapable of predicting future actions of patients. Psychiatrists, who had long claimed the ability to gauge the future course of patients’ conditions and their future actions, were suddenly scrambling to slough off responsibility when the threat of being held liable for crimes committed by these patients began to loom… although the profession continues to demand control over patients under their charge. And so psychiatry argues for the power to force high risk treatments on patients who’ve neither committed nor threatened violence as Satel and Torrey propose, based simply on a practitioner’s assessment that the individual is “seriously mentally ill” and therefore a potential danger to the public or themselves.
How does psychiatry maintain the precarious posture between disdaining responsibility and pleading that they have no crystal ball when things go wrong while still demanding the power to remove medical choice based on predictive prowess? Through fraud.
In response to Torrey’s Heritage Foundation presentation, The Guardian referred to Torrey as a “perjury proponent” in reference to statement appearing in Torrey’s books in an article entitled, Heritage Foundation Presents Next Step in Evolution of Police State: Perjury,
It would probably be difficult to find any American psychiatrist working with the mentally ill who has not, at a minimum, exaggerated the dangerousness of a mentally ill person’s behavior to obtain a judicial order for commitment.
Torrey also quotes psychiatrist Paul Applebaum in defense of this strategy,
Confronted with psychotic persons who might well benefit from treatment and might certainly suffer without it, mental health professionals and judges alike were reluctant to comply with the law…in the dominance of the commonsense model, the laws are sometimes simply disregarded.
Fabricating predictive powers in order to force treatment and ignoring the increased risk of violence from those proposed treatments all direct the attention to motives and incentives. An obvious incentive: one-fifth of the American Psychiatric Association’s funding comes from industry and that individual members are steeped in financial conflicts— from industry kickbacks for promoting and prescribing, to financial incentives in DSM panel policy, to hiding conflicts by hiring doctors through third parties to conduct industry funded continuing medical education forums.
But again, profit isn’t the only human motivation which science and medicine are subject to along with any other human undertaking.
Part 2, Profectus
“No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.” ~Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
In the introduction to Nuclear Rites, Stanford anthropologist Hugh Gusterson explains why he approached a formal study of atomic weapons scientists in the same manner he’d approach a tribal culture: “one powerful Western institution that is particularly understudied by anthropologists is science.”
Gusterson concludes that, though typical psychological analyses of weapons production bear some truth—that the power of nuclear weapons systems become an extension of the self, an expression of potency,etc.—the view too easily dismisses scientists’ own rationalizations and ideology as mere distractions from driving psychosexual motives. Instead, according to Gusterson, scientists’ faith in the ultimate morality of their work and the fact that this stems from the problems they’re charged with solving (namely the belief that winning the arms race would prevent nuclear strikes by less evolved nations) might better explain the field’s euphemization of risks, romanticization of their technology and exaggerated self-assurance that this technology can be controlled even in the face of repeated human error and equipment malfunction potentially costing the lives of millions. Gusterson discusses profit mostly as it pertains to scientific status, coveted name-rights and the ritual of “initiation and transcendence” involved in creation and testing.
The word “profit” is derived from the Latin profectus—“to gain, advance or progress.“ There are a variety of interweaving gains to be made in ventures that are perceived to advance humanity in the name of progress—money is only one of them. Gusterson quotes Robert Budwine, head of the USA Delegation and director of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory:
The United States, for all our manifest faults, is without a doubt the best hope for a future world of peace and prosperity… Weapons research simply must continue at a determined and intensive level for our nation to have the opportunity to lead humankind towards some future utopian world order.
Several of Gusterson’s works begin with a quote from E.L. Doctorow: “The bomb first was our weapon. Then it became our diplomacy. Next it became our economy. Now it’s become our culture. We’ve become the people of the bomb.”
“To the victor go the spoils” has a different meaning in that sense. Gusterson also points out in The Insecure American that by becoming terrifying on the path to progress—even if this is rationalized, as it always has been, as the conscious pursuit of the “greater good”—we’ve terrified ourselves. Fear sells, but we’re the chief consumers of it.
Every social policy which requires the cover of morality and pursuit of a shining future to rationalize human and ecological collateral is now framed as a “war” on some frightening specter or other: the war on terror, the war on disease, the war on street drugs, and the war on mental illness (providing the sanctioned replacement for street drugs). Some are beginning to recognize that whenever the “war on” prefix is attached to any problem, whatever the “war” has been declared on will expand.
The voting public might backlash against some of these proverbial wars (case in point, the legalization of recreational marijuana in two states), but public opinion is increasingly feeble when it comes up against corporate interests. Most Americans wanted withdrawal from Afghanistan and for Wall Street bankers to be held accountable. Many were repelled by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut limits on corporate campaign financing and almost 90% of Americans are concerned about vaccine and prescription drug safety. But as clinical psychologist Bruce Levine wrote in a Huffington Post article entitled The Myth of U.S. Democracy and the Reality of U.S. Corporatocracy, “’We the People’ have zero impact on policy.”
In one sense, the pharmaceutical juggernaut in the US plays the role of military medical corpsmen, culling the wounded from the battle fields of various ideological and actual wars. When commercial distractions fail to dull anxiety over an increasingly surveilled, controlled and body-scanned society and worsening economies, ecology and human health statistics, even those who remain relatively unaffected by the fallout might blame their own or their children’s mental defects and reach for the pills in an attempt to bring thoughts and feelings in line with perceived norms.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” As social animals, it’s psychologically painful for most people to feel out of step with context. By the same principle, as the new norm becomes a medicated state, it may be increasingly painful to work out life’s woes without chemical aid if no one else is doing it, especially when normal emotional responses to life challenges such as grief and concern over illness are creeping out of the margins of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and being turned into full blown clinical mental illnesses with corresponding pharmaceutical “cures.” E.L. Doctorow could easily have written, “Drugs first were our weapons. Then they became our diplomacy. Next they became our economy. Now they’ve become our culture. We’ve become the people of the drugs.”
We’ve also become the people of the side effects. Psychiatrist, drug expert and Pharmageddon author David Healy explains how tobacco science keeps prescription drugs off the media list of causal conjectures for modern increases in violence and suicides and how, in turn, social denial sustains itself on denialist science. He calls the research fudging a “Doubt is our Product” strategy once used by tobacco companies to hijack statistics on rising life expectancy in the 1970’s as proof that smoking is safe.
…most of us know people on antidepressants none of whom are violent. This makes it difficult to accept a link to prescription drugs. For many even raising the idea that Holmes may have been crazed by a prescription medicine is likely to sound deranged or the excuse of a bleeding heart liberal.
But in fact there is a great deal of publicly available clinical trial (Hammad 2004, p40-41) and other data highlighting the risks of violence from psychotropic drugs. There is far more hidden data. There is in fact no other area of medicine in which there is so much hidden data on a risk that has consequences for the lives of so many innocent third parties…
In the case of violence, the published trials show antidepressants cause it, probably at a greater rate than alcohol, cannabis, cocaine or speed would be linked to violence if put through the same trial protocols that brought the antidepressants on the market. The labels for the drugs in a number of countries say the drugs cause violence. And there is at least one clear and well-known factor, just like autopsy rates, that can account for the findings – young men. Violence is linked to young men, and episodes of lethal violence are falling in all countries where the numbers of young men are declining.
Shortly after Healy’s article was published, a study in the The American Journal of Public Health reported that suicides now outnumber car accidents. The old adage about suicide is that violence turned inward may often turn out.
Does the drug industry fear that, if it were known certain prescription drugs could lead formerly average individuals to commit deadly acts, survivors would accuse industry of providing a justification/alibi for perpetrators? Probably not. Drug makers more likely fear being held accountable as perpetrators in high profile crimes. It’s hardly out of concern for victims that industry favors the message that med madness is merely an empty defense to avoid prosecution, which is why pharmaceutical giants have repeatedly offered and provided free legal resources to prosecutors to combat the use of the “Prozac defense” by defendants even when survivors and surviving family members felt defendants’ prescription drug use played a role.
Not that non-criminal monetary penalties meted out to companies which hide product risks or bribe doctors to commit dangerous prescribing inspire much board room terror. From Sick system: Record $11 Bln Fines Do Not Deter Pharma Giants from Crime:
Pharmaceutical companies have been fined a record $11 billion over the past 3 years for unethical and illegal practices. But leading researchers says companies will carry on breaking the law, regarding fines as “the cost of doing business.”
Eight out of 10 of the biggest pharmaceutical producers in the world have been caught breaking the law in this period. All in all 26 healthcare companies have signed “corporate integrity agreements” with US authorities, a form of probation following serious fraud.
Industry might easily absorbs the litigious “cost of doing business” but it still fears a reverse profit slide from corrected public perception of risk/benefit ratio. Accordingly, while the Times plays hero by reporting coercive drugging practices and certain drug injuries, industry embedded media doesn’t consistently disclose the science associating violence to the medications, the counter-evidence to the idea that the drugs correct brain chemical imbalance or that the drugs have no proven clinical efficacy beyond functioning as chemical straight-jackets, providing limited seizure control or temporary psychic and sometimes physical painkilling properties.
Painkillers may have a place in medicine; but the problem for marketing strategy is they can’t be mandated and practitioners who overprescribe can face criminal charges. Since court-mandated drugging is largely based on efficacy theory—the idea that these drugs essentially “fix” the brain in order to improve cognitive functioning or reduce violent behavior— and since forced drugging in institutions, foster care and prisons and drugging as a condition of receiving social services or Medicaid (effectively forced) represent a large chunk of the psychopharmaceutical market— this explains the need for tobacco science to argue clinical benefits, from fake studies of “brain chemical imbalance correction” to genetic theories of mental illness.
Since Senator Grassley began his investigations of pharmaceutical marketing and research fraud, regulatory and industry cover-up and academic capitulation, the public has become slightly more aware of the body of research questioning drug safety. But if information is power, the public remains crucially disempowered. Some individuals, for example, may choose to avoid drugs as a personal choice because their evolving awareness of risk reports outweighed the seriousness of their own complaints. But the same individuals might still believe public safety could be compromised if certain other people weren’t forced to take medication, particularly since only a few independent investigative journalists like Evelyn Pringle have resisted industry pressure to withhold key facts which might change the assumptions.
According to Pringle, the pyramid of front groups set up and funded by psychiatric drug makers over the past 25 years have made it nearly impossible to educate the public about the serious adverse effects associated with psychotropic drugs, particularly suicide and violence.
Like members of many prominent industry front groups which began as consumer non-profits, local NAMI chapter members may be largely ignorant of NAMI’s history and driving policies. NAMI’s members may claim to be working for internal change, though that change has not been forthcoming in the 33 years the group has existed. Despite pleas of benign intent, NAMI has managed to attach itself and its medication/forced treatment models to criminal, juvenile and family court systems and law enforcement nationwide. NAMI is also officially sanctioned and has also been slated by compromised National Institute of Mental Health director Tom Insel as one of only two “consumer partners” of the NIMH, along with another industry front group, Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association). The NIMH itself has long been identified as an industry-captured regulatory body which maintains a “revolving door” employment exchange with pharmaceutical companies which share board members with mainstream media corporations and collectively rank next to fast food and the automotive industry for ad spending.
Senator Grassley’s investigation of these “charity” organizations which Pringle participated in verified that their budgets are largely supported by money from drug companies – “results that sadly got very little coverage in the MSM— leaving the public unsuspecting of the underlying motives of all these so-called ‘patient advocacy groups,’” she warns.
In return for the massive funding, Pringle reports that front groups have done a great deal to protect psych drugs profits over the years:
For instance, their leaders have showed up at every single FDA advisory meeting held to decide whether to add warnings about suicide and violence to the labels of antidepressants and testified against adding the warnings. And every year, the groups recruit family members and friends of suicide victims in communities all over the US to unwittingly participate in drug marketing schemes disguised as ‘suicide prevention’ walks and programs without ever mentioning that the majority of people who commit suicide are already on the medications the schemes are aimed at selling that cause people to become suicidal.
Year after year they recruit using the same old phony lines. Family members and friends are told to be on the look-out for loved ones who might be depressed – people are committing suicide because not enough are getting treatment - which translates into drugs, drugs and more drugs only.
The MSM actually helps the groups promote these blatant drug peddling schemes with public service announcements…Obviously because their budgets are also so overly dependent on Big Pharma advertising dollars.
If money is only one “gain” to be had in pushing the drug paradigm, it’s a big one. But Pringle can easily attest how drugs have become our culture and how the public and scientific authorities alike are turned into psychiatric “informants” through disinformation and the cultural currency of fear, faith in progress and the universal need to believe that the devil wears horns.
And the culture-capture doesn’t stop at the 6 o’clock news. Cannes nominated film We Need to Talk About Kevin tells the now overly familiar story of an empathy-impaired-from-birth mass murdering teen with a curious resemblance to the young Hitler clones in Boys from Brazil. It’s The Omen for pop-psych millenarians and too lousy a movie to be worth dissecting in many ways, but the message and timing are telling and the film could serve as a “lurid parable” as a Guardian reviewer wrote, though not in the way the reviewer probably intended it. At the end of the We Need to Talk About Kevin, the fictional mom tells her incarcerated killer son how he played his cards in court: “You managed it all so well. Tried as a minor, out of your head on Prozac…You’ll be out of there in a couple of years.”
On the meaning of that particular line, author Lionel Shriver is very clear:
Of course, Kevin is indeed sent to a psychiatrist as an adolescent (which many of these why-didn’t-the-parents-seek-professional-help readers fail to notice). But he’s a wiley, manipulative little fellow, isn’t he, and merely uses a prescription for Prozac to plan his post-Thursday judicial defence—since Prozac has been identified as having a psychotic effect on a small minority of patients.
Without quite denying that drugs might cause a few rare psychotic outbursts, the author attempts to inoculate viewers against increasing suspicions that prescription drugs might partly or even greatly explain many modern mass murders. Even if it’s admitted that Prozac didn’t work to curb a character’s violent impulses, the film implicitly sells force and a horned devil—that those who are born evil must be identified and preemptively managed. As another scathing review summed it up,
Probably viewed by all involved as an important contribution to the nature/ nurture debate and a stark commentary on the taxonomy of evil, the only thing this movie succeeds in doing is dumbing down a complex issue to the point where it feels like an episode of Sesame Street brought to you by the word ‘dysfunction’, the number ‘666’ and the colour ‘red’…The problem with Kevin in that he’s such an unambiguous sociopath that there’s no room for any kind of empathy – and it doesn’t take a degree in psychiatry to know from about ten minutes in that he needs to be taken as far away from civilisation as possible – maybe to Swindon – and put in a padded cell on a diet of bread, water and really, really strong anti-psychotics.
Shriver mentions in the Bookgroup interview that there are more dimensions in the overlap between “nature and nurture” than in one or the other in terms of depicting psychopathology, though she doesn’t seem to grasp that by “genetic,” mainstream geneticists aren’t indicating “100% genetic” but “largely genetic” or “mostly genetic”—just as Shriver implies of her fictional assassin. In an obviously coordinated press junket for the film, UK autism researcher and pharmaceutical defender Simon Baron-Cohen similarly hems and haws on the “nature/nurture” quandary only to ultimately land, like Kevin’s author, on the “largely genetic” interpretation in a Daily Mail review:
At zero degrees of empathy we find the psychopath, such as Kevin. From everything we are shown in this gripping film, psychopaths are born callous.
And yet, the film (like the science) does not want us to settle too comfortably into the idea that the cause of psychopathic low empathy is purely genetic. It hints, disturbingly, at the role of psychological conflict in Kevin’s mother, about whether she is trying to love him without truly loving him. The science confirms that environmental and emotional factors do also play a role in the development of antisocial personality disorder, but teasing apart cause and effect in such hard-to-parent children is a tall order.
In people who end up as psychopaths, brain regions connected with empathy are under-active. The science also tells us that empathy is a complex skill, with several components. Two major ones are “cognitive” empathy (the capacity to recognise what someone else thinks or feels) and “affective” empathy (the capacity to feel an appropriate emotion in response to someone else’s thoughts and feelings).
Psychopaths such as Kevin have zero degrees of affective empathy (they just don’t care about someone else’s feelings) but have excellent cognitive empathy (able to worm their way into someone else’s mind by using their ability to figure out what someone else might think, want or feel; able to manipulate others through deception).
The film doesn’t touch more established “environmental” patterns of the deliberate and organized use of substances to fuel violence, such as Hitler ordering the Luftwaffe to consume huge amounts of methamphetamines, the forced drugging of abducted boy soldiers in Sierra Leon, or Breivik’s deliberate doping in service of a violent political movement. This is because the film seeks to generalize on a disconnected new phenomenon—non-ideological mass murder performed mostly by lone perpetrators with no association to violent militant organizations, who have no criminal background, make no attempt to escape and harbor no specifically personal gripes against targets. Instead the film attempts to offer a stand-in for group affiliation, organized ideology and personal resentment in the idea that our entertainment culture is fomenting the deadly nihilism of the demon seeds lurking among us. At one point Kevin mumbles out a monologue peppered with teen-ironic emotional quotation marks:
You wake up and watch TV. You get in your car and listen to the radio. You go to your job or your little school. But you’re not going to hear about that on the six o’clock new. Why? Because nothing is really happening… I mean it’s got so bad that half the time the people on TV—in the TV—they’re watching TV. And what are all these people watching? Huh? People like me. And what are all you doing right now but watching me? You don’t think they would have changed the channel by now if all I did was get an A in geometry?
But the character’s goth nihilism is no more or less meaningless or untouched by history and context than Baron-Cohen’s or the filmmakers’. The film’s villain isn’t alone in assuming the public is hopelessly clueless and unworthy.
First, one of many things making the news media so hollow and making the public so lost on the issues—and at risk—in the age of chemical psychosis is, as Evelyn Pringle demonstrates, the lack of reporting on prescription drug-induced violence and suicide. Even when the major media presents a supposedly “balanced view” of the hunt for identifying factors among populations “at risk” for violence, particularly in terms of predicting random mass killings, prescription drugs receive no scrutiny. So if the Kevin character conceivably knew anything about the phenomenon, he would have had to perform pointed searches from the previously mentioned scarce alternative media sources to generate a Prozac defense. In doing this, he would have figured out that such a strategy would never be allowed to succeed in what would be, in real life, a high profile mass murder case. Only in a few obscure cases has the prescription defense managed to even reduce charges.
It’s difficult to find an apt historical analogy for the Kevin creators’ handling of the subject in reference to actual public attitudes and judicial policy because mass murders committed by school children are such modern phenomena, but it might be compared to producing a fictional account of a scheming individual falsely winning a product liability suit against a tobacco company the same year Big Tobacco executives testified before Congress that smoking isn’t addictive and doesn’t cause cancer. If a creative effort rides a prevailing public-attitude zeitgeist, it’s difficult for the artists to then claim the standard creative alibi for stretching the limits of credibility: disinterest in and transcendence of the status quo in pursuit of “truth.” And then the “truth” they pursue had better be incontestable.
But why haven’t students mass murdered their classmates for as long as there have been schools if violent psychopathology is “largely genetic”? Why didn’t these specific crimes occur—moreover undergo a spike in rate— during eras when Dickensian child-rearing, legal domestic violence and taking children to public executions were commonplace if these zero-empathy-gene carriers only need a subtle environmental jump-start?
Using Wikipedia’s list of American school shootings as a guide but weeding out “classic” crimes (the types of crimes that have always existed), a pattern emerges which is illustrated in a simple table below. The table includes only mass assaults by students against students and staff (qualified as attacks on two or more students, or attacks on one or more student if coupled with an assault on staff), or by adults not associated with a school assaulting students and staff with no comprehensible motive, such as targeted revenge against a specific individual for a perceived wrong, sexual, financial or ideological/militant motives. If the attacker killed themselves and other bystanders or family member in the course of the spree, these are included.
To explain why it was used for this purpose, the Wikipedia list is the only publicly accessible “active” list (with new additions made and citations added) and has the benefit of being slanted in the reverse direction of the argument being made here: Wikipedia, known to be monitored and edited by various industries which closely control certain entries, does not focus on the prescription drug use of mass school shooters or may not mention it at all, even when this information was confirmed after a particular crime. The school shootings excluded are those such as targeted revenge attacks by adults on adults or specifically targeted revenge assaults by students on staff or students; “duels”; single suicides on school grounds; domestic or sexually motivated murders of female students and staff (the most frequent type of school shooting until 1966); family members seeking revenge for staff physical punishments on students (also a seemingly common cause of school shootings prior to 1966); deaths occurring in the course of staff physical abuse of students; gang or mob-related violence and related ideologically motivated militant terrorist attacks on schools, including Wiki’s bizarre inclusion of an act of war by Native Americans in 1764 without mention of settlers’ terrorist attacks on Indian children (presumably because Native Americans did not refer to the education process as “school”). What remains in the estimate are crimes in the “inexplicable” category of mass school attacks which the film extrapolates on.
In 1966, Charles Whitman, the amphetamine-addicted Bell Tower shooter who suffered from an undiagnosed brain tumor and migraines— for which he may have been prescribed other drugs— set the precedent for a student committing a lethal mass school shooting against students and staff. According to available information, prior to 1966, there was a single lethal mass assault on students and staff by an adult staff member of a school in the US and only one non-lethal attack by an adult with no relationship to a school. Before 1966, there were no recorded mass assaults by a student on other students and staff.
1960-1970: 3 mass assaults by students or recent former students on students and staff; 1 assault on students and staff by adult with no relationship to the school. 22 dead (17 connected to Whitman attack).
1970- 1980: 3 mass assaults by students or recent former students on students and staff; 2 assaults on students and staff by adults with no relationship to the schools. 15 dead.
1980-1990: 5 mass assaults by students or recent former students on students and staff. 5 dead.
1990-2000: 15 mass assaults by students or recent former students on students and staff. 42 dead.
2000- 2010: 5 mass shootings by students or recent former students on other students and staff; 2 mass assaults on students and staff by adults with no relationship to the schools. 72 dead.
2010- 2013: 5 mass shootings by students or recent former students on students and staff. 41 dead.
While some insist that there’s been “increased recognition” of mental illness, it would be strange to argue for “increased recognition” of mass civilian murder or increased recognition of the determination to commit it: The rarity of the earliest mass school shootings, particularly those perpetrated by children on other children, meant they made headlines around the globe. Today, hardly anyone is familiar with One Goh’s lethal mass attack in 2012. Med-madness may not explain every crime, though the increase in non-ideological, “inexplicable” mass killing incidents in schools would appear to mesh with the availability of certain drugs more closely than it does population increase or other societal advents, such as the availability of powerful assault weapons. The sheer death tolls from separate attacks are clearly related to the types of weapons used; but Charles Whitman managed to slay 16 with circa-1960 bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles. People in farming and mining communities once had easy, undocumented access to explosives and there’s never been a shortage of matches; but if these types of attacks follow the patterns seen in other developed countries and had been included in the estimate, the increase might appear even more staggering.
Although Prozac wasn’t FDA approved for use in children until 2003, it was increasingly prescribed to school-aged children from the time it was first marketed in the late 1980’s, followed by a series of spinoff blockbuster selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and second generation or “atypical” antipsychotics. Prior to that, stimulants and first generation antipsychotics had been marketed for use in children since the 1950’s, followed by earlier generation antidepressants, Valium and other “anxiolytics” and sedatives. To repeat, the number of children so disabled by mental illness that they qualify for SSI and SSDI has risen 35-fold in the past two decades along with the increase in prescription drug use.
(Drug ads from Dr. Bonker’s Institute.)
Like Baron-Cohen, the creative team behind We Need to Talk About Kevin is forced to tuck forgone conclusions on the genetic roots of violence behind a feigned spirit of “exploration” as they waffle around the total lack of science supporting the existence of a gene or “set of genes” for violent criminality. It’s a leap of faith that they seem sure science will eventually exonerate, but they hedge the bet for credibility. Among the “environmental accents” dribbled through the plot, the film offers enigmas for popular generalization: If someone harbors shallow political criticisms of shallow media culture, they might walk away with a sense of satisfaction that a glimpse of Kevin playing a video game with his dad advances their pet theory that modern mass killings are caused by violent gaming and the commercialized void. If they think junk food explains it, they can watch pre-school Kevin angrily stuffing his mouth with neon orange cheese puffs in one brief scene. Viewers who prefer the view that cold, selfish mothers cause modern school shootings can find fodder watching Kevin’s mother struggle not to hate or physically assault her malicious offspring. The happiest viewers will be those who already leaned to the idea of the born psychopath. But if a viewer believes that relatively new prescription drugs could play a role in the modern advent of mass school killings, they’ll walk away with suspicions about the film’s financial backing.
But the film didn’t go blockbuster and the casting and unhappy hipster style suggest it was never intended as anything other than an art house sleeper aimed at an influential, progressive boutique audience who are predisposed, like Baron-Cohen, to accept the film’s dominant genetic take.
As it happens, Kevin was co-produced by Steven Soderbergh who was arguably at the top of his game when he made a radical shift from championing consumer advocates (Erin Brockovich) to attacking them in two films, Contagion and Kevin, which both play like extended public service announcements for the pharmaceutical industry and public health.
Those who point out that Che, Soderbergh’s biopic on Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, hardly qualified as pro-corporate would be missing the point. Though Guevara—who happened to be a medical doctor— may arguably have been part of an inevitable counter-force attempting to release Latin America from the clutches of North American corporate slave labor, the Marxist and Cuban template for public health share the same roots as that of the US—namely the French revolutionary model generated by radical Jacobin anti-monarchists which sought to replace the divine right of kings with the secular collective divinity of the state. Not all countries’ social health structures verge on utopian extremes; but as reform psychiatrist Thomas Szasz writes in Coercion as Cure, the “sacralizing of the state” occurs when physicians are “converted from servants of their patients to agents of public health.”
Even Contagion, which had a more blockbustery early run than Kevin, made only a fifth of the box office for Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen. The project choices probably weren’t about the money. Instead Soderbergh’s recent spree appears to be some kind of ideological fork strategy to correct growing public rebellion against commercial science, public suspicion over regulatory conflicts and, considering the common thread running between the two projects, to adjust “misguided” public conceptions of autism.
What I need to find out, from someone like Malcolm Gladwell, is how do people change their minds? What is the process by which a person changes their mind about a deeply held belief? What’s the thing that clicks over for them? I have no idea. Clearly people do change their mind about things, but how does that work? Is it gradual, sudden? Is it through a peer? What’s the source of the information?
Gladwell is famed for using Bernaisian “obfuscation, distraction, suggestion” and the “the subtle introduction of doubt” to shill in defense of financial institutions, Penn State’s inaction in the Sandusky scandal, Big Tobacco and Big Pharma, including apologias for psychopharmaceuticals and the purported genetic roots of mental disorders:
What further confounds the culture-of-Ritalin school is that A.D.H.D. turns out to have a considerable genetic component. As a result of numerous studies of twins conducted around the world over the past decade, scientists now estimate that A.D.H.D. is about seventy per cent heritable. This puts it up there with the most genetically influenced of traits–traits such as blood pressure, height, and weight. Meanwhile, the remaining thirty per cent–the environmental contribution to the disorder–seems to fall under what behavioral geneticists call “non-shared environment,” meaning that it is likely to be attributable to such factors as fetal environment or illness and injury rather than factors that siblings share, such as parenting styles or socioeconomic class. That’s why the way researchers describe A.D.H.D. has changed over the past decade. There is now less discussion of the role of bad parents, television, and diet and a lot more discussion of neurology and the role of specific genes.
In Contagion, Soderbergh’s possible homage to Gladwell’s conception of “epidemic” ideas and the “Mavens” and “Connectors” who push them forward, public health officials and vaccine makers are defended as martyred heroes. In keeping with Bernay’s and Gladwell’s methods of doubt-implantation and view of “the masses” as “herd-like.” the public are depicted as hysterical fad-magnets who die in droves because they have forsaken true science to follow a criminal charlatan who questions the safety of vaccines and suggest that vaccines cause autism.
In The Tipping Point, Gladwell writes, “There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it.” Jude Law, the actor playing criminal “naturopath” Krumweide (German for “krummen”= crooked; “weide”= field) claimed the character was based on Lancet Paper author Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield, who lost his license to practice medicine in politicized attacks on the study’s findings that novel bowel disorders in autistic children might have an association with the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, was remotely exonerated when colleague John Walker Smith won a reversal of the General Medical Council’s verdict in British court at about the time the film was released. In Contagion, Soderbergh didn’t need to look very far to find irresistible packaging for his “good and evil” idea-Mavens: in order to make the character instantly detestable, Law’s bandy-legged, angry-Cockney characterization resembled, sort of confusingly, not so much Wakefield as Brian Deer, the reportedly pharma-funded Murdoch freelancer who filed the initial viral complaint against Wakefield and is named in an appealed libel claim.
In his pop-think bestseller Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses Simon-Baron Cohen’s conception of autistic “mind-blindness” and, in roundabout terms, Baron-Cohen and Yale autism researcher Ami Klin’s views of autistic empathy deficits. With the backing of Kevin, Soderbergh seems to finish his Gladwellian tactical assault by attempting to counter the view that pharmaceutical drugs have some association with modern mass murder. By deduction, what remains is the idea that autism may relate to genetic psychopathology.
At the start of the film, which follows Kevin’s mother and father from courtship to parenthood, the screaming, sleepless bringing-up-baby sequences are every inch the experience of many autism parents, except “Kevin” is clearly “born with it.” Whatever “it” is, it looks a lot like autism. The fictional mother, played by Tilda Swinton, even asks a pediatrician— whose exam room is covered in huge, grotesque posters of clowns— if toddler-Kevin is autistic but is reassured that Kevin’s lack of “rocking behavior” rules out the condition.
Since rocking behavior isn’t a required criterion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the scene could be taken as a comment on clinical cluelessness. The clowns aren’t subtle and the filmmakers are clearly presenting infantile autism as a kind of genetic roulette spin that could somehow land on “violent psychopath.” Though most autism families witness their healthy infants regressing into illness and disability, the regression, illness and physical pain are excised, reinforcing the “mystery” of the born killer and its supposed cold-blooded connection to “genetic autism.” The dead giveaway that Kevin’s creators scoured the deepest recesses of autism research for the killer’s characterization is a moment when preschool Kevin gets the flu and, for a fleeting time during his fever, normalizes into an affectionate and responsive child.
Still, defining autism and sanctifying psychiatric drugs may not be the actual endgame of Soderbergh’s project choices. They’re “lurid parables” for something larger.
Partly as a consequences of parsed and filtered “murdertainment” depictions of mass murder and censored data on adverse drug effects, the rate of consumers who take psychotropic medications without full consciousness of risks continues to rise: one in ten adults and children in the US take one or more psychiatric drugs including antidepressants. 5-20% of these individuals will experience drug-induced psychosis and mania according to the American Psychiatric Association, accounting for 8.1% of all psychiatric hospital admissions. Robert Whitaker factors that if 8% of the 10.741 million “patient care episodes” reported by the federal government in 2000 were indeed prescription drug-induced mania and psychosis, this could mean up to 860,000 Americans have this type of reaction.
That’s 860,000 Americans who could, at any given moment, go postal. It’s interesting that the term “going postal,” according to Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, entered the vernacular because of a number of postal workers who experienced violent mania and killed while taking antidepressants. If fear sells, there’s a great deal of selling potential in every disaster that arises from these statistics as long as the association to prescription drugs is obscured. But what exactly is being sold?
The purported genetic origins of various forms of mental disability as well as fear of violence from affected populations are essential to psychopharmaceutical marketing and the marketing of mental illness. In their paper, Schizophrenia: Medical Students are Taught it’s All in the Genes but Are They Hearing the Whole Story?, neuroscientists Jonathan Leo and Jay Joseph write,
The idea that schizophrenia is due at least in part to a genetic predisposition is seen as an accepted fact in modern day psychiatry. The acceptance of this theory is not only important for how psychiatrists approach the research and treatment of schizophrenia, but also has implications for the entire field of psychiatry…The genetic theory of schizophrenia is frequently cited as evidence in favor of genetic predisposition to other conditions; the thinking being that if schizophrenia is genetic, then depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and a host of other DSM IV categories must also have their roots in problematic genes. (By the expression “genetic theory of schizophrenia,” we mean the view that although environmental factors might be important, genetic factors are equally if not more important). Scientists have spent countless hours and numerous resources investigating the role of genes in certain behaviors, but a specific gene has never been found for those disorders which have no known neurochemical or neuropathological markers. in the case of schizophrenia, several scientists have reported finding a “schizophrenia gene” only to eventually retract their findings (e.g., Marshall, 1994; Sherrington et al., 1988).
Before autism, schizophrenia was central in attempting to demonstrate the genetic root of mental illness as well as for generating public approval for forced institutionalization and treatment due to public safety concerns.
The late Loren Mosher, while directing schizophrenia studies for the National Institute of Mental Health, declared that schizophrenia was clearly “environmental” after the agency completed extensive analyses (Breggin, The War Against Children of Color, 1998; p. 54). Mosher made this statement to counter the agency’s press releases at the time, which inexplicably reported the reverse of the NIMH’s actual findings. Leo’s and Joseph’s review, like many other studies, found that the famed twin and adoptive studies once thought to prove the genetic basis for the condition not only didn’t provide support for the gene theory but undercut it. Jay Joseph also authored The Missing Gene: Psychiatry, Heredity and the Fruitless Search for Genes which questions the “twin method” standard for emphasizing genetic cause of conditions over environmental. As with autism, independent research is discovering immune and toxic factors which may influence the development of schizophrenia.
As far as whether drug treatment actually improves conditions like schizophrenia or makes the public or patients themselves safer, Whitaker points out that, according to historical documents and institutional statistics, those with schizophrenia weren’t generally more violent than typical members of the public prior to the invention of mental health drugs. Whitaker further argues that mental illness, particularly schizophrenia and other conditions involving delusional or erratic states have been used to back fear-based marketing strategies to peddle drugs, a scheme which is self-fulfilling because violent personality changes and suicidality have been increasingly associated with the atypical and traditional antipsychotics used to treat the disorder.
What’s more, Mosher also analyzed data from two World Health Organization schizophrenia studies from the 1970s which concluded that those not exposed to prescription drugs typically had a roughly two to three fold increased rate of recovery over those chronically exposed to psychiatric medications. But Frau Koma isn’t interested in the small print.
Neither is Paul Steinberg of The New York Times, who frequently weighs in on the supposedly genetic origins of autism and recently called for greater “risk management” of mental disability (forced institutionalization and forced medication) in the wake of recent mass shootings in a strangely contradictory op-ed entitled Our Failed Approach to Schizophrenia in which he poses schizophrenics as both less violent and more violent than the general population:
…we have too much concern about privacy, labeling and stereotyping, about the civil liberties of people who have horrifically distorted thinking. In our concern for the rights of people with mental illness, we have come to neglect the rights of ordinary Americans to be safe from the fear of being shot — at home and at schools, in movie theaters, houses of worship and shopping malls…The vast majority of people with schizophrenia, treated or untreated, are not violent, though they are more likely than others to commit violent crimes. When treated with medication after a rampage, many perpetrators who have shown signs of schizophrenia — including John Lennon’s killer and Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin — have recognized the heinousness of their actions and expressed deep remorse.
The small print again: John Hinkley Jr. had taken antidepressants and tranquilizers prior to his attempted assassination of Ronald Reagon; Mark David Chapman had abused a combination of prescription drugs and LSD before killing John Lennon. Steinberg complains that the Goldwater Rule prohibiting psychiatric professionals like himself from making unauthorized assessments have a “chilling effect” on discussions of violent crime.
After mass murders, our airwaves are filled with unfounded speculations about video games, our culture of hedonism and our loss of religious faith, while psychiatrists, the ones who know the most about severe mental illness, are largely marginalized.
But psychiatric views haven’t been marginalized in regard to making the latest staple conjecture that mass shooters may have some form of autism.
Various theories attempting to meld criminality and autism have appeared since Hans Asperger subtitled his discovery “autistic psychopathology.” In essence, Asperger meant extreme disconnectedness but his choice of terminology has set off speculative scrambles in every new generation of scientists bent on nailing down, once and for all, the ever-elusive “crime gene.” In response to ongoing semantic confusion, a team of Austrian researchers tracked the life histories of all 177 of Asperger’s original patients, searching for any statistical increase in criminal activity. They found none. From No increase in criminal convictions in Hans Asperger’s original cohort:
Hans Asperger originally used the term “autistic psychopathy” to describe his patients on the autism spectrum, leading to a possible confusion with psychopathic disorder and delinquent behaviour. We conducted a penal register search for 177 former patients of Asperger’s clinic with a childhood diagnosis of “autistic psychopathy” or features of the disorder in Austria. The mean percentage of registered convictions was similar to that in the general male population of Austria over the studied time period. A qualitative assessment of offence types in Asperger’s former patients suggests that the nature of offences does not differ from that in the general population. In this original cohort of Asperger’s patients, convictions were no more common than in the general male population.
Nevertheless, autism continues to be drawn into the debate on modern crimes, from financial villainy to murder. Most recently, autism has been linked to the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Massachusetts on December 14th which left up to 28 people dead—20 of them children under the age of 7. Sean Hannity of Fox News convened with Drs. Marc Siegel and Keith Ablow on lack of empathy, autism and violent crime. None appeared to be “chilled” by Goldwater or concerns over labeling or stereotyping:
Sean Hannity: Now we had heard reports—personality disorder. I had heard the term “autism” today, Asperger’s syndrome… Obviously this kid, at this age, shooting his mother, going in to shoot with abandon all these kids, obviously something’s wrong. Would any of those conditions tell you that could happen?
Siegel: One thing’s for sure, Sean, he’s out of touch with reality at the time this occurs. If he had something called Asperger’s, he may have had ongoing meltdowns which are associated with violent behavior. That’s possible. It’s possible he was on medication, that the medication wasn’t working, that he didn’t have empathy, that he wasn’t relating well to others, that he had social problems..But that still doesn’t explain everything. It’s also possible given he’s the age of 20 that he became psychotic, that he lost touch with reality completely and that he had some kind of delusional system going on that led to this heinous crime.
Hannity: Is it always a medical condition, I mean… I’m asking this as a question…If someone is disconnected from reality, no sympathy, no empathy, no conscience, no consciousness, no soul…There is human evil. I mean, someone can kill innocent children like this, it seems to me that that is human evil.
Siegel: You know Sean, I don’t know what Dr. Ablow’s opinion is on this and we’re going to hear it in a second, but I personally don’t let people off the hook and say ‘this is a mental health condition, they’re not evil.’ I think the two can coexist.I think there is an issue of evil here as well.
Ablow: Here’s what I think. I think the final common denominator here is lack of empathy. You can’t walk up to one child after another, kill that child and see each child fall to the ground and slump over in his or her seat while maintaining any empathy. So why can you lose human empathy? You could be delusional, schizophrenic perhaps, and be working on a delusional system. I don’t know that to be the case here, but you could be where you think “If I do this, I save the whole world.” That’s one level of things. Secondly, sure, personality disorders can do this, and there are other conditions that can do this, like drug abuse combined with either a mood disorder or personality disorder or all three. But listen, is it a mental illness? Of course it is, because that lack of mental illness doesn’t come from nowhere. And in twenty years, Sean, I’ve never found anybody who does anything like this who hasn’t been through hell him or herself in a way that creates mental illness. Not genetics, it’s partly life.
Though limited information on the shooter has been made available and little of it is substantiated, according to the Washington Post, the Newtown perpetrator who killed himself after the attack has been identified as 20 year old Adam Lanza, a socially awkward A student with possible Asperger’s syndrome who had once attended Sandy Hook. Other news releases state that Lanza had become depressed after his parents’ divorce and reportedly took the atypical antipsychotic Fanapt.
Fanapt is FDA-approved for the treatment of schizophrenia. Medical side effects of the drug include tardive dyskinesia, male breast development, cardiometabolic damage and Parkinsonism. Psychiatric side effects of Fanapt include akathisia, aggression, mania, delusion, hostility, suicide.
The report that Lanza took Fanapt originally appeared in the The New York Daily News which then excised mention of the drug when it was disclosed that the source of the information may not have been Lanza’s uncle but an imposter. The twist has confounded the issue, but there are further reports that Adam Lanza took medication, probably since the age of ten at least and that Lanza’s mother was in the process of filing for conservatorship of her son in order have him committed.
If the court trend of sealing medical records in high profile mass shootings continues, as with Columbine, Virginia Tech and Aurora, the truth may never be confirmed and the hot potato for “cause” lands on other targets. The only excessive concern expressed for privacy center on perpetrators’ pre-crime medical treatment and the only speculations being chilled are over what prescription drugs they may have taken.
Following the Newtown massacre, several seemingly legitimate sources within the killer’s family told the media that Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, though newscasters don’t always hold out for confirmation before guessing at a possible link between violence and autism spectrum disorders. After a series of these premature proclamations, some made within hours of several initial mass assault reports, it’s clear the theoretical association between autism and criminality was simply lying in wait all along. With the Connecticut tragedy, the pundits might have come up aces at last. But in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, Joe Scarborough of Fox, an autism father himself, jumped the gun when he stated that James Holmes’ behavior smacked of autism.
Joe Scarborough speculated Monday that James Holmes, the alleged shooter in Aurora, Colorado, might have been “on the autism scale.” Holmes was behind the mass shooting at a midnight showing of “Dark Knight Rises.” He shot over 70 people, killing twelve of them. On Monday, Scarborough weighed in on the tragic event and said that it was a “mental health issue.” The MSNBC host said he “did not want to generalize,” but that he knew who was responsible as soon as he heard about the shooting. “I knew it was a young, white male, probably from an affluent neighborhood, disconnected from society, it happens time and time again,” he remarked.“Most of it has to do with mental health. You have these people that are somewhere, I believe, probably on the autism scale,” said Scarborough, whose own son has Asperger’s syndrome. “I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not. People that can walk around in society, they can function on college campuses, they can even excel on college campuses, but are socially disconnected.
Norwegian mass shooter Anders Behring Breivik, who again quite clearly fit a more traditional profile of militant mass murderer, has also been suppositionally diagnosed with Asperger’s by an expert who had never interviewed nor treated Breivik.
Ulrik Fredrik Malt, a psychiatry professor at the University of Oslo, said the 33-year-old Breivik was suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and narcissistic personality disorder, but was likely not psychotic.
The question of Breivik’s sanity is key to his ongoing trial. Though judges are certain to find him guilty, they must decide if he was criminally sane or not.
Their decision would affect whether he gets mental treatment in a secure psychiatric facility.
Asperger’s is a developmental disorder on the autistic spectrum that often is characterized by a lack of empathy. Tourette’s is a neurological disorder marked by tics and verbal outbursts…
Malt said Tourette’s could explain why Breivik has frequently smiled inappropriately throughout the trial.
Malt’s opinion is based on his observations of Breivik during his trial, which started on April 16th, but he has not interviewed the defendant.
Although Malt’s opinion would appear to have been along the lines of what Breivik is trying to prove in court, the defendant lashed out against the diagnosis.
“I want to congratulate Malt for a very good demolition of my personality,” he said.
Once a campaign manager for Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential run, serial killer Ted Bundy—by all accounts an infamous showman, master manipulator and adept liar— lured victims through personal charm or by playing on sympathies and attracted serial killer groupies during his trials. According to biographers, he was raised by his grandfather, a “tyrannical bully,” who exposed Bundy to sadistic pornography as a child. Bundy has been speculatively labeled as “manic-depressive,” “sadistic sociopath” or, due to his infamous charisma, a psychopath. A Tampa, Florida news station is currently in possession of the single witness recreation drawing of Bundy’s execution by electric chair: he was smiling before the hood was pulled over his head. Before he died, Bundy smirked and smiled inappropriately throughout court proceedings, can be seen smiling in photographs taken in between his 30 or more murders. So much for smiling inappropriately as a diagnostic criterion— Bundy was never diagnosed with autism or Tourette’s while he lived, though reports of Bundy’s timidity in junior high have brought even Bundy in line for the current trend in armchair “autism screening.”
In the wake of buckshot, post-crime diagnostics, the autism community, like any group misguidedly framed for disaster, has been put on the defense while trying to avoid the ugly pitfall of drawing attention from the immediate victims, most recently 20 innocent first graders, including a six year-old boy with autism.
In the midst of the Dec. 14 shooting in Connecticut, the shooter’s brother, Ryan Lanza, has been reported saying that his brother suffered from mental illness and was autistic. Unfortunately, those in the mental health communities and autism communities do not get the chance to mourn America’s loss of all these children but instead are doing what they can to advocate for autism and other mental health concerns before all of us with autistic children or adults of [sic] autism are all labeled as potential murderers.
Perhaps more unfortunately, the label has a particular tendency to stick to certain targets within the gap of information surrounding modern mass murders and the labels may distract from uncovering actual cause and stopping future crimes. Many mainstream advocacy organizations, possibly in order to avoid being labeled as luddites or to avoid losing corporate sponsorship, steer clear of speculating on the pharmaceutical association. This is true of some groups even when growing evidence of the link between prescription medications and violence could provide enough reasonable doubt in the common confusion between autism and violent criminality to slow the adoption of damaging institutional policies against the disabled—or vigilantism.
The blinkered approach neither mourns the direct victims of the crimes nor does it prevent smear attacks which threaten to add the disabled population to the roster of victims in the aftermath. But to address any of it, advocates would have to first acknowledge why the confusion persists.
Similar to the environmental injuries strongly associated with the exploding rate of autism—whether the injuries are fast-tracked by vaccine damage, exposure to drugs with similar cellular damage profiles to mercury and other vaccine components, or due to an increasingly toxic environment— the adverse effects of certain prescription drugs appear to be the great equalizers: no matter how unique an individual started out, some will end up, post adverse event or regression, displaying very similar external behaviors. For autism, there are recognizable patterns of regression into stereotypies and injured social and communication capacities across the spectrum which vary mostly by degree of intensity. In the case of drug induced psychosis, many reportedly display almost identical behavior and cognitions.
First-hand and expert accounts have documented a senseless Stepford-wife aspect to drug transformations that seem to involve a shedding of imagination and individuality and sudden convoluted attraction to stock representations of aggression. The sudden, extreme fixation on stock symbols is nearly a given among non-ideological modern killers in the Western Hemisphere: formerly “nice” or “average” or merely “troubled” or “bullied” kids—not to mention children with ethnic identities that might have, at one time, made them victims of Nazi eugenics—developing an obsession with the most culturally accessible, cookie-cutter representations of violence and atrocity.
Young men and boys often surround themselves with the fetishes of their favorite violent video games and films. If there were any doubts that violent imagery increases aggression, the modern military wouldn’t use digital battle simulation in training recruits to kill. But there’s another issue of extreme, uncharacteristic and delusory identification. Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold, though he was half Jewish, developed a sudden Nazi fixation after he reportedly began taking an unnamed antidepressant. Finnish shooter Auvinen, being a bit closer to the Russian border but paradoxically from a culture with historical resentment of violent Russian expansionism, also wove Stalinism into the sudden onset of his Celexa-induced, gun-worshipping violent delusions, though his focus also included the Western psychotic staple—Nazism. As one Finnish drug critic put it when commenting on the Jokela school shooting, “Now we know what put the ‘SS’ in SSRI.” Even the fact that Holmes— who spent summers as a nondenominational counselor for Camp Max Strauss serving underprivileged children—suddenly identified with “The Joker” wasn’t much of a departure from the trend.
Anders Breivik is probably a red herring within the assessment since he was long associated with neo-Nazi organizations; his ideology, though repulsive, was relatively cohesive and drawn from an organized militant movement. But for the majority of modern mass killers, the focus on violent symbols might appear too random and disorganized to amount to any structured ideology. According to other documented cases of med madness, formerly agnostic or nonobservant individuals have developed an overnight belief in the devil.
In Talking Back to Prozac, Breggin describes the loss of individuality, loss of empathy and the “robot-like” state induced by drugs which deactivate the frontal lobe. This description of modern, drug-fueled mass killers has been as consistent as their pre-drug histories were not:
Kip Kinkel, Oregon, Prozac, “expressionless.”
Luke Woodham, Mississippi; Prozac: “expressionless.”
Micheal Kasmierczak, Illiniois; Prozac withdrawal: “expressionless.”
Seung-Hui Cho, Virginia; “antidepressant”: “expressionless.”
Tim Kretschmer, Winnedon, Germany; “psych services”: “no emotion.”
Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold; Colorado; Luvox; “antidepressants”: “no expressions.”
Michael McLendon, Alabama; “antidepressants”: “expressionless.”
Autism is sometimes clinically defined by “lack of normal expressiveness,” fixations on particular icons (for instance, Thomas the Train), and various degrees of repetitive speech and choreiform movement which can sometimes give affected individuals a “robotic” appearance. Long before studies showing a correlation between autism risk and drugs in the water or drugs in pregnancy were published, with the latter setting off speculations on future “SSRI autism” lawsuits, psychopharmaceutical critics had noted the “autistic-like” transformations of individuals under the influence of psychiatric drugs, particularly antidepressants, amphetamines and antipsychotics. But the point of the observations was not that the subjects had been born this way. Instead it was understood that subjects were undergoing a sort of “regression” from expressive normalcy to OCD, robotic behavior, language and memory impairment, stereotypies, self-injury, paranoia and social withdrawal. There’s a “before” and an “after.” It bears repeating that, unlike the relatively rare schizophrenic “psychotic break” in eras before prescription psychopharmaceuticals, the modern epidemic of psychosis more often involves immediately identifiable mitigating factors and vastly higher and more predictable rates of violence and suicide. Even the “before and after” has a before and after.
Another overlap with pharmaceutical brain injury which also doesn’t amount to a parallel to regressive infantile autism is that those suffering from genetic or environmentally-caused mitochondrial insufficiency—which mounting research indicates may underlie autism and other modern chronic diseases which are also on the rise— may be at increased risk for experiencing drug-induced psychosis.
It’s uncertain why this may be so, though it’s known that certain psychiatric drugs impair mitochondrial function. In The Silent Spring published forty years ago, Rachel Carson summarizes a chapter devoted to the mitochondrial-toxic effects of modern drugs and chemicals:
Some of the defects and malformations in tomorrow’s children, grimly anticipated by the Office of Vital Statistics, will almost certainly be caused by these chemicals which permeate our outer and inner worlds.
There’s also the question of whether symptoms of chronic toxicity, either subclinical or full-blown, could fast track some children into biopsychiatric clutches in the first place. All the same, even several mainstream, industry sponsored autism researchers and organizations agree that autism in itself has no clinical association to planned violence. Furthermore, individuals with autism are vastly underrepresented among perpetrators in crime statistics and those with mental or other disabilities are far more likely to be victims of crime than to commit them. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that,
- Persons age 12 or older who had disabilities experienced an estimated 567,000 nonfatal violent crimes in 2010.
- In 2010, the age-adjusted violent victimization rate for persons with disabilities (28 violent victimizations per 1,000) was almost twice the rate among persons without disabilities (15 violent victimizations per 1,000).
- In 2010, for both males and females the age-adjusted rate of violent crime was greater for those with disabilities than the rate against those without disabilities. The rate for males with disabilities was 23 per 1,000, compared to 16 per 1,000 for males without disabilities; for females with disabilities the rate was 26 per 1,000, compared to 15 per 1,000 for females without disabilities.
The above estimations are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. There’s no data available on categories of disability (cognitive, physical or a combination) regarding disabled crime victims nor any data on disabled child victims of crime under the age of 12. This is a problem that Executive Director L.E.A.N. On Us and law enforcement response specialist Carolyn Gammicchia attempted to address through yearly formal requests for data gathering programs from the Department of Justice and the federal Office for Victims of Crime since 2005. So far, no program has been put in place and the holes in the data remain. Gammicchia’s organization did uncover that 50% of disabled victims never seek legal or medical assistance, more than half the crimes against the disabled are perpetrated against those with more than one type of disability and that individuals with developmental disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to be victims of criminal acts than the general population— far higher than the estimated twofold risk of victimization faced by the disabled population as a whole.
Cognitive injuries also open the door to psychiatric abuse. This may have been true of John Ogdren and Sky Walker Steuernagel. Would they have had autism if not for environmental factors? Would they have killed if they had not exposed to further environmental factors— drugs with black box warnings for violence and suicide? Would Ogdren and Steuernagel have been medicated if not for developmental disorders?
The answer to the last question is that they might have been medicated even without serious disabilities. Many American children are, whether this happens because, as Breggin wrote, a child is bright and bored in a mediocre school, suffering from moderate lead or mercury exposure, traumatic stress, closed head injury, simply due to minority status or any number of reasons. But even though the cognitively disabled are drugged at a far higher rate than the general population and would predictably experience a proportionate increase in side effects, the vast majority of drug-fueled killers had no remarkable preexisting mental disability. Though several mass killers had come from troubled backgrounds, there’s no evidence this was true of the whole. The common denominator for med madness is not necessarily genetics or “partly life”: not autism, not preexisting conditions, not even horrific childhoods.
Reading the comments’ sections of articles on school/mass shootings, one sees members of the public conjecturing on the rumored autism of Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho. Reading comments for articles about autistic individuals who kill, there are frequent references to school shootings. And in the previously mentioned film We Need to Talk About Kevin, the communal musings are brought together into a neat little PR bomb.
What these two issues—mass murder and autism— may have in common, mostly, is that they’re becoming systematically blurred in public perceptions and there’s a method to it. Joe Scarborough’s remarks on Fox were not off the cuff and neither were Sean Hannity’s. When pharmaceutical front group Autism Speaks remained silent over Scarborough’s statements, this was not an accident. There’s something in the message that’s important to media sponsors and to mainstream public health authorities.
Along the same bipartisan lines mentioned earlier, liberals are hardly immune from drawing sociopathic parallels to autism. In an op-ed railing against conservative self-centeredness, liberal pundit Paul Wallis recites a list of hateful conservative views, including “Ethnic groups are criminals,” “The poor are criminals,” “Obstructing any type of assistance to those who need it is standard [conservative] procedure,” “Sick people only get sick to take money away from the rich,” and then adds:
Can this possibly be considered anything but an autistic viewpoint? Even the lying is based on the same mentality as a 2 year old who thinks they can get away with anything. Apparently anything which doesn’t directly benefit or relate to oneself isn’t on the conservative radar. That’s autism, incarnate.
If there’s one area of bipartisan agreement to be found in the partisan media circus, it’s that “autism incarnate” is criminal incarnate.
Part 3, The Enlightened Rapture
Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell. ~Karl Raimund Popper
Autism, the fastest growing developmental disorder in the US, represents more than 7% of a $40 billion dollar psychopharmaceutical market for a demographic of roughly 1 to 2% of individuals under age 25, where roughly 85% of autism diagnoses are found. Marking a condition as a public safety hazard and those with the traits as near devils is the time honored manner of manufacturing public consent for exploitative and coercive treatment and dehumanization. In other words, a wide belief that those with autism are likely to kill could effectively snuff protest against drugging mandates which Torry, Satel, Koplewicz, NAMI, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, a steady procession of presidential administrations and the pharmaceutical industry have pushed for all along.
But the population with autism may be only one of many targets of this particular campaign. Autism research provides an endless supply of unsubstantiated genetic corollaries which have the distinction of being protected by the state in order to obfuscate the role of government public health agencies in contributing to an epidemic. And, of course, these unsubstantiated genetic corollaries have endless applications for political and industrial exploits.
Questioning the “largely genetic” foundations of autism has ruined medical, scientific and media careers, and this may partly be because, as with the elusive schizophrenia “genes,” so many reputations and articles of scientific faith hinge on the theory. For instance, if a group of researchers needs to prove that pigs fly to serve an industrial sponsor or as part of an exercise in “weaponized anthropology” targeting a strategic or ideological foe, all they need do is link “proofs” of the imaginary flight of pigs to autism to create an automatic credibility shield.
One example of the use of an “autism shield” arose from research defining the Maori in New Zealand as genetically violent due to the so-called “Warrior Gene.” Viewed through the lens of Weaponizing Anthropology author David H. Price, social scientists conducting portions of the ongoing Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study—which turned 30 in 2012— might appear to have been “unleashed” for a particular mission. In the case of Dunedin, the campaign to “understand” the Maori synchronized suspiciously with a corporate war to gain access to oil and gas reserves on Maori tribal lands. And so when the MacArthur Foundation funded the Law and Neuroscience project promoting “Minority Report” style programs to identify and cull the “genetically violence prone” before they endanger entire regions and the planet, it was quite natural to try to link the “Warrior Gene” or monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene to other target groups for various agendas: Associating the “Warrior Gene” to African Americans might justify a consistently biased for-profit carceral system and continuing economic disparity; associating the “Warrior Gene” to Africans and Asians might justify Western competition against China to exploit African oil, etc.
Not surprisingly, the credibility-shielding sealant was added to the MAOA theory when in his book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Human Cruelty, UK autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen attempts to cast violent psychopathology—by way of “Warrior Gene” research—as a genetic cousin to autism via another hypothesis, the “zero empathy” theory. The difference between the two, he soothingly asserts, is that individuals with autism don’t intend the harm they do whereas the nondisabled zero-empathy gene carriers, though they really can’t help it either, do intend harm. What possible difference this would make in terms of public safety response to these marked populations if the ideas were presumed true and manifested as policy is an issue which Baron-Cohen washes his hands of with a few bids for clemency for these genetic burdens on our race.
In Eugenics and Other Evils originally published in 1922, journalist, social critic and philosopher G.K. Chesterton described individuals who separate themselves from the policy consequences of their conceptual campaigns—the “Eugenicist as Autocrat”:
If you let loose a law, it will behave as a dog does. It will obey its own nature, not yours. Such sense as you have put into the law (or the dog) will be fulfilled. But you will not be able to fulfill a fragment of anything you have forgotten to put into it.
Baron-Cohen repeatedly assures readers of his noble intent in pushing forward his theories. If his campaign feeds questionable policy and it all ends badly, he may argue that he didn’t intend for it to. Seeing hypotheses “misbehave” in application is an ironic risk embedded in the theory of genetic empathy or genetic-lack-thereof which also led premier “psychopathology” expert Robert Hare to lament judicial misuse of his “Psychopathology Checklist” in an NPR interview . Still, Hare makes no effort to disclaim the genetic theories which, as he admits himself, make his diagnostic instrument especially dangerous:
Mr. HARE: I’m very concerned about the inappropriate use of this instrument for purposes that have serious implications for the individual and for society.
SPIEGEL: Still, use of the test continues to spread. It’s now even mandated in several states. And the test has helped cause a shift in our ideas about where crime comes from, as well.
The idea that criminal behavior is primarily a product of poor environments has much less power today, in part because Hare’s work seemed to teach us that crime resides inside the person, that inborn personality traits like empathy can influence whether people participate in crime. Bob Hare.
Mr. HARE: Empathy is highly genetic in origin, modified and shaped by the environment, of course. But if you’ve got an adult who has virtually no empathy in the normal sense of the term, you’re not going to send him to school to learn empathy, Empathy 101. It’s just not going to work.
SPIEGEL: And when you think about criminals in this way, as people who are almost genetically predisposed to crime, you are much less likely to invest in their rehabilitation than if you saw their acts as a product of unfortunate environmental circumstances.
This is why it’s so important to figure out if bias and bad training are affecting Hare’s test to the point that it is potentially mislabeling people. After all, once someone is labeled as a psychopath, what can you do with him? Nothing but lock him away.
Mainstream media has attempted to popularize the “Warrior Gene” theory as science writer Josh Horgan noted in Scientific American:
Just when you think the blame-it-on-our-genes craze can’t get worse, the “warrior gene” goes viral. The latest media outlet to flog it is the Dr. Phil show, which on April 4 broadcast “Born to Rage?“. From the promo: “Scientists believe they may know why some people are quicker to anger than others. A new study suggests that inside a rageaholic’s DNA, ‘a warrior gene’ may be pulling the strings. Could today’s guests be genetically predisposed to fits of fury?”…
This cheesy talk show is hardly alone in hyping the warrior gene. In fact, Dr. Phil borrowed his headline from a recent National Geographic broadcast, “Born to Rage?“, which also explores “the disturbing possibility that some people are born to rage.” The show follows Henry Rollins, a self-described former punk rocker with a nasty temper, as he interviews “outlaw bikers, mixed–martial arts fighters” and other tough guys…
Race, inevitably, reared its head. In 2007 Rod Lea and Geoffrey Chambers, researchers at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, reported that MAOA-L [alleles with “low expression” of MAOA are linked to higher rates of violence and Antisocial Personality Disorder] occurs in 56 percent of Maori men. “It is well recognized,” the researchers commented in The New Zealand Medical Journal, “that historically Maori were fearless warriors.” The researchers’ racial profiling was based on a study of 46 men, who needed to have only one Maori parent to be defined as Maori. Lea and Chambers reported that MAOA-L was less common among Caucasians (34 percent) and Hispanics (29 percent) but even more common among Africans (59 percent) and Chinese (77 percent).
Baron-Cohen laments the same risk of “misapplications” as Hare, though neither complains when their genetic empathy theories are liberally applied to generalizations of modern non-ideological, “inexplicable” massacres—speaking of things which end badly. This brings up the question of whether these scientists are even conscious of what they’re potentially unleashing.
In The Science of Evil Baron-Cohen offers only a surface review of the theoretical underpinnings of the “zero empathy” conception, including the MAOA criminal “Warrior Gene” theory, and tries to downplay evidence that the gist of the overall body of work supporting the MAOA theory is unambiguously racialist. The fact that the Maori are the sole ethnic group Baron-Cohen mentions in association with the gene merely amplifies his squeamish awareness of the implications. For example, Reti et al. attempted to argue that the most “dangerous” form of the MAOA gene—a 2-repeat allele—correlates to violence without association with childhood abuse. Like Baron-Cohen’s book, the study is rich in egalitarian qualifiers but the real story being sold is tucked within the stats. The authors claim that 2-repeat or “low expression” alleles are nearly ten times more frequent among African American males—4.7% of whom, according to the authors, carry the most dangerous or “low expression” 2-repeat allele— than white males— 0.5% of whom, according to authors, carry the 2-repeat allele.
MAOA gene mutations are also being associated with gang membership—the “gang-gene.”
As a researcher who deeply influences public and institutional policy regarding autism and is actively setting up a theory franchise on criminality, if Baron-Cohen does not wish readers to assume he supports a racialist conception of violence or the enactment of policies based upon these conceptions, he might not have “forgotten” to cite arguments which run counter to his support sources, such as Zammit et al.’s critique of the MAOA hypothesis, Misconceptions about gene–environment interactions in psychiatry:
MAOA x maltreatment on antisocial or violent behaviour
An interaction between variation in the monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) and childhood maltreatment on antisocial and violent behaviour in males was reported,17 such that the effect of maltreatment was greater with the low-activity variants of MAOA compared to those with high activity. Again, this relationship was greater than multiplicative.
Of 11 studies that have since examined this in males (see online supplement), only 4 have examined whether this relationship was indeed greater than multiplicative. Of these, 3 found no evidence for such a relationship, while 1 found support present only when reporting a 1-tailed p value. Of 10 studies that examined additive models, 5 reported evidence of a greater than additive effect (2 of these in subgroup analyses only), 4 found no evidence and 1 found evidence of an interaction but in the opposite direction to that originally reported. In samples that also included females, 1 study examined a multiplicative relationship and found an interaction in the opposite direction. Of 6 studies that examined additive models, 2 found evidence of a greater than additive effect, 3 failed to do so and 1 found an effect in the opposite direction. Studies finding, or failing to find evidence of interaction were equable in size.
In the closing passage of his 1998 book, Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others in Germany, 1933-1945, Cologne geneticist Benno Muller-Hill leaves readers with a final warning that MAOA gene research would likely be where the “new eugenics” reared its head. For unknown reasons, when Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press republished Muller-Hill’s book in English, the original title— Tödliche Wissenschaft. Die Aussonderung von Juden, Zigeunern und Geisteskranken 1933-1945— was changed in a way that dulled the impact ofthe author’s essential premise: rather than “Others,” the final category in theoriginal German title, “Geisteskranken,” literally translates as “the insane,” aka, the mentally disabled. The omission is a bit stunning since Muller-Hill’s book is widely considered the first comprehensive chronicle of the mass extermination of the disabled under Nazi eugenic policies. But the editorial blunting of Muller-Hill’s intent to include mental disability in a litany of targets of eugenic racialism isn’t surprising considering that the current direction of commercial genetics grossly contradicts the deep-seated need of modern commercial science to characterize its campaigns as humanistic, enlightened and unbiased: continuing “weaponized” research against specifically racial groups often cut its teeth on weaponized research targeting the disabled and vice-versa.
Baron-Cohen is deeply alarmed when critics infer he’s a eugenicist policy shill. Given the implications of Baron-Cohen’s choice of supporting sources and disavowal of responsibility for any unfortunate outcomes arising from his theories, it’s fascinating that he feels the need to step clear of the intended targets by assuring his readers in the book’s dedication that, quite unlike the Maori (and, implicitly, other less favored ethnicities), violent psychopaths and individuals with autism, he is genetically bequeathed with empathy which he equates to a “pot of gold” inherited from his grandmother.
It’s become very fashionable for autism and mental health pundits to brandish a badge of “empathy” as if this affirmed elite genetic fitness for the role of institutional policy maker. In an interview for Gelf Magazine in 2009, vaccine defender, front group blogger, overnight autism expert and Panic Virus author Seth Mnookin, who relies on Baron-Cohen’s work in his support sources, waves his own “empathy” badge at the proverbial genetic ivory tower security scanner: “I find myself being incredibly empathetic; it’s very easy for me to see the world from someone’s perspective. I find myself bending over backwards in my head to see their side…”
It’s also fascinating how small this world of euphemistic autocrats becomes once the focus is narrowed to the supposed “bridge” between autism and violence genes: one of the lead authors of a phase of Dunedin Maori research cited by science writer Josh Horgan was Sir Michael Rutter— another “impaired empathy/autism” expert. This is the same Sir Michael Rutter who acted as star witness against Dr. Andrew Wakefield at the General Medical Council proceeding, as well as the same who balked at discussing the ethics of the use of spinal tap on autistic subjects— since Rutter himself had performed precisely this type of research years earlier. Rutter was co-author of the book, Sex Differences in Antisocial Behavior: Conduct Disorder, Deliquency and Violence in the Dunedin Longitudinal Study along with husband-wife researchers Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffit, whose work the MAOA “Warrior Gene” theory is pinioned on.
It’s curious, given the focus on empathy, that extreme poverty and rampant, enduring racial discrimination in New Zealand were not featured as identifiable contributors to what Dunedin study authors categorize as “mood disorder” or “depressive disease”, i.e., sadness, among the Maori of Dunedin—just as Baron-Cohen and institutional and commercial scientists refuse to correlate pharmaceuticals to modern epidemics.
The autism epidemic is useful as a fear pitch for a range of ideological and product campaigns because the condition itself and the shock value of visible prevalence blind the public with terror– but only as long as the terrifying numbers are not actually identified as “epidemic.” Instead the public are being told they’re simply seeing more cases because these individuals are no longer hidden in institutions in our perhaps excessively (it’s implied, given the supposed danger) empathic and magnanimous age. But if the public believes that autism can happen in any family—which a genuine rise implies— those whose families are not yet impacted are less likely to support coercive management of affected or dubiously “genetically related” populations on the chance they could be condemning members of their own family one day. In short, coercive approaches and demonization might be frustrated by a prevailing “there but for the Grace of God go I” perception.
As an officially sanctioned and protected sealant for weaponized genetics— one that cannot be peeled off, inspected or questioned—aligning any condition to autism can be used to designate certain groups of people as inherently dangerous, lacking in empathy, less worthy and therefore exploitable and disposable. Black and white, angels and devils, us and them—the all-purpose absolutes which have served every form of social coercion, political turf battle, preemptive war and expansionism from time immemorial. If history is any guide, the more the “autism sealant” is applied for these purposes, the more good research money will go after bad and the more violently the doctrine will be defended until it becomes a sacrosanct core of institutional ideology. Anyone who believes in separation of church and state should be seriously concerned.
There’s no way around it: in terms of industry and institutional science, autism is becoming the “mark of the devil” along with the classic frothing finger-pointers differentiating their own worthy credentials.
As an estimated three or more individuals with special needs are killed every week in US schools and institutions due to abusive practices; as the news reports more and more children with autism arrested in schools, brutalized by police, denied organ transplants, found face down in ponds and subjected to a lottery for services; and as disability services around the country are trimmed to the bone; as the US drops to #49 on the world infant mortality index; as 1 in 8 children of Somali immigrants in Minnesota are diagnosed with autism and the national rate soars beyond the official 1 in 88; and as toddlers are drugged with increasing frequency, the act of binding together every frightening human impulse and condition with the “autism sealant” also protects societal conscience: we can cut our losses because the bulk of human evil can be found rolled up in a few tidy gene sequences which science has become suddenly divinely adept at identifying. Baron-Cohen argues, “…rather than there being some runaway escalation of autism, we have year by year simply become better at detection.”
Since there’s no such thing as a genetic epidemic, attempts to explain away the catastrophic rise in autism and a nearly parallel rise in violent insanity as due to increased recognition or diagnostic substitution seem like a genomic version of the End of Days, complete with genetically determined zero-empathy massacrists as a sort of collective Anti-Christ and the scientific Second Coming separating the genetically worthy wheat from the genetically unworthy chaff in a ramped up selection. The Enlightened Rapture has come at last.
Even the genetically founded “self-esteem” campaign promoted by some high functioning adult self-advocates with autism or “neurodiverse” falls into the same schema. By denying the existence of an epidemic or that the majority of those affected are not high functioning and often suffer early mortality, and by drafting dead celebrities like Einstein and Mozart to autism in order to portray the condition as a type of technologically proficient genetic master race that has always existed and is responsible for nearly all human innovation, neurodiverse are basically characterizing themselves as something akin to the Wise Virgins: the chosen who lead the Ascension to a progressive, techno-centric paradise, leaving behind the less fit among their own ranks. Oddly enough, in the Book of Revelations, the unfit are those deemed too “foolish” to power up their gadgets.
In real life, a self advocate member of the neurodiversity movement and panel member of the federal Inter-agency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) voted against a medical code for deadly wandering among children with more severe or debilitating forms of autism on the grounds that such a code might impinge on “self determination” and issued objections to autism being framed as a medical condition.
Currently there’s an ICD-9 code and “Silver Alert” only for adults with dementia, for whom wandering is considered a potential feature of the medical condition, though no medical code for parents to provide to schools, state programs or insurers to access services and resources for affected children who, though many may be on the severe end of the spectrum, frequently display Houdini-ish skills in breaching locked windows, doors and gated yards or may bolt so quickly from caretakers that they’re able to wander into danger. Children with autism who wander currently don’t qualify for Amber Alerts, though weekly reports of deaths by drowning and exposure have become seasonal norms in the US.
Although 90% of autism parents polled reported their affected children have wandered into harm’s way, the neurodiverse disdain the claim that the majority of individuals with autism are so impaired that they lack the self determination to prevent them from bolting onto a highway at night or into an icy lake. Furthermore, requisite data collection for an ICD-9 code would prove that the rate of wandering and wandering deaths among affected individuals is a very new phenomenon. But this statistical reality of autism clashes with the neurodiverse view of autism as simply a genetic “difference” that has always existed and is even, in adaptive genetic terms, superior in some ways. And so the “Wise Virgins” deny resources to the “foolish” and don’t speak up when God/government denies their existence. But the neurodiverse view fails to grasp that the creation of genetic castes is the underpinning of any tribalist social order by which the disabled have always been marginalized and disposed of— cast into the lake, so to speak, where children with autism are too often found face-down and dead.
It’s more than a little ironic that the neurodiverse frequently pin their genetic defenses and denial of environmental cause on the work of commercial scientists like Baron-Cohen, Sir Michael Rutter and Michael Fitzgerald who, out of the other sides of their mouths, promote various versions of the zero empathy association. But if ignoring the suffering of the least fortunate were simply chalked up to more “proof” that individuals with autism lack empathy, it doesn’t seem to be much of a distinguishing feature since the same is typical in the field of autism research itself: it was just more “casting into the lake of fire” when commercial researchers fell on the “vasopressin gene” theory of ruthlessness and criminality and linked the concept to autism.
Environmental pituitary damage may very well be a feature of the array of physiological injuries involved in autism since a rash of research has linked autism to reduced oxytocin— no surprise since both oxytocin and vasopressin are released into the blood via the pituitary from the same neurons as a key mechanism of the central autonomic network. Whatever the cause, some individuals with autism may have abnormal vasopressin. Impaired vasopressin may be a biomarker for Alzheimer’s as well.
Being tested could potentially save lives among those with or without cognitive disability because impaired vasopressin—otherwise known as the antidiuretic hormone or ADH which is critical in preventing the body from squandering water from the kidneys when there’s a risk of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance—can lead to increased risk of serious illness, more extreme complications in autism-associated diseases like mastocytosis or death from hypernatremia, catabolic and hypovolemic stress. Detection and treatment of abnormal vasopressin would hardly be a cure-all for conditions with complex medical profiles like autism, but some believe it could partly explain incontinence in certain neurological syndromes, lowered seizure threshold, cardiac insufficiency and heat intolerance among other things. There’s an old, relatively safe drug to treat it. But because potential medical risks of low ADH were not included in the media fanfare over vasopressin “criminal gene” research, many might be afraid to test for the marker.
During the Second World War, on one side of the Russian Front lay absurd Nazi eugenic “nature” theories condemning the mentally and physically disabled as dangers to society and to the purity of the race; on the other side lurked Stalinist promotion of Lamarckian genetics—the idea that acquired personality traits (e.g., “bourgeois corruption”) can be passed on to offspring, adulterating the purity of society. As Pulitzer-winning journalist, political activist and former Harvard seminarian Chris Hedges stresses in When Atheism Becomes Religion: America’s New Fundamentalism, both “bad seed” views, like two sides of the same coin, were used to rationalize torture, grotesque human experimentation and the wiping out of entire families and ethnicities on the concept that all evil lay within recognizably tainted evolutionary strains of human beings.
The terms “totalitarian,” “fascist,” etc., are overused and worn thin as moral hostage takers in the current political climate, though as philosopher Tzvetan Todorov suggests, the era crystalized a still persisting danger of parareligious scientism. What appears to set 20th century totalitarianism apart from other historical instances of mass injustice is that the externalization of evil from “us” to “them” was justified in scientific-sounding language. Considering the choices left to those with autism and families of environmentally injured children in calling for support for challenges and health issues, and considering the estimated six-fold increase in early mortality among affected individuals by a number of causes, many of them preventable, the autism community as a whole are a bit like refugees trapped on a battle front— caught between deadly “scientific-sounding” ideology to the east and more deadly “scientific-sounding” ideology to the west—or left and right as the case may be. In viewing autism, the demonizing pseudoscience—the “fronts”— can be swapped and switched or sometimes combined according to convenience. And so a bastardized hybrid of Lamarckian and Mendelian genetics has come together in the recent theory that autism mothers are, as Bettelheim claimed, emotionally cold (“refrigerated”), but due to a defective “vasopressin gene” linked to sociopathic greed and violent psychopathology.
Disclosure of actual medical ramifications and causes of impaired vasopressin could get in the way of marketing “behavior control” drugs for designated conditions, many of which reduce the expression of vasopressin/ADH, effectively increasing risk of the above complications. Also mercury is known to impair vasopressin secretion from the pituitary—a fact which, if disclosed, could lead to another profit inhibitor: prevention. But more importantly, admitting to physiological injuries and medical complications in autism detracts from the purely genetic-psychiatric paradigm which is so crucial to marginalizing and targeting groups of people through the concept of “genetically programmed devils.” It’s only a matter of time before industry-sponsored teams of geneticists and social scientists attempt to link the “vasopressin gene” to other strategic foes or targets in order to justify exploiting their labor, taking their land or bombing them to Kingdom Come for oil or other resources.
The theories and choice of targets give away a great deal. Even the Manchurian candidate theory for mass shootings has an element of externalization in that it attributes evil conscious intent to all of its engineers. That doesn’t mean the Hoover era drug and brainwashing experiments didn’t happen or that they aren’t continuing in some form— or even that current “happy pills” aren’t potentially the mass marketed end result of those now declassified social control experiments. But what if the conscious intent of so many secondary agents pushing certain risky pharmaceuticals in our culture—from school nurses to family doctors to public health officials—is to “help”?
In Why Progressives Don’t Get Autism, Age of Autism author and Editor Dan Olmsted wrote,
Progressivism, the idea that government can and should intervene to improve the lives of its citizens, arose early in the last century in response to the Darwinian excesses of Industrial Revolution, laissez-faire capitalism – child labor, abject poverty in the elderly, untaxed corporate profits that went right back into the pockets of the richest. It peaked during the New Deal, then plummeted during Reagan – “Government is not the solution to the problem, government IS the problem,” he famously said.
While this political philosophy waxes and wanes, as it should, I would argue that the word has a wider meaning now – that our country, great as it is and has been, faces challenges and problems that can be addressed by doing something, by making progress, sometimes but not necessarily led or funded by government. So it’s not so much a left-right issue as one of the static status quo versus the impulse to improve on it.
The “conspiracy for good” also doesn’t mean more aggressive unconscious motives can’t underlie benevolent intentions or that good intentions exonerate action, but if we endow the majority of capitulators with anything other than a devious conscious intent to control for the purposes of exploitation and destruction as part of some vast conspiracy, that would make them too much like us. There are criminals in every institution and conspiracies exist, but these are always sold to the bulk of those carrying them out as necessary means to some beneficial end.
The point is that belief in the “bad seed” theory of genetic disorder or criminality articulates a universal human impulse to externalize and quarantine evil in order to feel assured of our complete separateness from it. The plea of many humanist philosophers is that only through recognizing the universality of the impulse and the rationalizations it hides under can it be impeded. If something can happen to anyone given various environmental conditions (such as upbringing or trauma or toxic assault), it’s no longer possible to displace the capacity for defect, “sin” and crime or to divert self-scrutiny. “Frau Koma” is really nothing other than a “lurid parable” for the externalization of evil.
Externalization of evil is one of the earmarks of fundamentalist fanaticism as much as more serious theology and scientific inquiry, if they have anything in common, are defined by self-scrutiny and humility in facing, as Hedges puts it, that “there are forces in the universe which will always lie beyond the capacity of the human mind.” He argues that while more deeply considered theology and evolutionary theory share a view of collective human nature as “fixed,” the ultimate mark of fundamentalism and the root of every utopian scheme that ever existed is the idea that the human race is “perfectible.” What would better sum up the pharmaceutical sales pitch other than the fanatical idea that we can drug or plan away everything that makes us human? And the first step on the way to the shining future has always been the identification of those “castes” which hold back human progress and upon whom all human weakness and evil are externalized.
This also isn’t to say that factors which trigger violent impulses and cause suffering can’t be addressed in what 20th Century philosopher Karl Raimund Popper regarded as “piecemeal social engineering” as opposed to “Utopian engineering,” which Popper equates to Plato’s conception for the perfectibility of the race, the precursor of eugenics. In The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato, Part 1, Popper warns about the “greater good” doctrine:
Before proceeding to criticize “Utopian” engineering in detail, I wish to outline another approach, namely that of piecemeal engineering. It is an approach which I think to be methologically sound. The politician who adopts this method may or may not have a blueprint of society before his mind. He may or may not hope that humanity will reach an ideal state, and achieve happiness and perfection on earth. But he will be aware that perfection, if at all attainable, is far distant, and that every generation of men, and also the living, have a claim; perhaps not so much to be made happy, for there are no institutional means of making man happy, but a claim not to be made unhappy, where it can be avoided. They have a claim to be given all possible help if they suffer. The piecemeal engineer will, accordingly, adopt the message of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good.
But don’t certain drugs and biotechnologies alleviate suffering? For some, not all. And, for some, certain treatments may cause irreversible damage, increased suffering, disability or death. The upshot of Popper’s discussion is that sacrificing the few for the “greatest ultimate good” is not justified in civil society, therefore whatever form of suffering-reduction is being proposed can’t be forced even if it’s offered as an option.
The controversy of parsing “lesser evils” in war will continue as long as there are wars, but social engineering is assumed to be a matter of domestic betterment—which probably explains how the prefix “war on” has been pasted to any forced domestic palliative campaign (war on drugs, war on disease, war on mental illness, etc.), not to mention questionable forms of foreign “humanitarian aid” in which the “greater good” rationale and the modified values of war are needed to pardon collateral human costs.
Informed choice is a different matter. People who take psychoactive drugs often like the effects. There are some conditions—life threatening seizures or intractable self-injury—which are so far presented with few other options and, unless the current model is changed, are unlikely to be provided with safer or more effective options. Thinking all human evil and all violent psychosis would disappear if these drugs were forever banned is a bit like saying the world would be perfect if only we could get rid of this damned utopianism. Drug induced violence would certainly be reduced if marketing were strictly limited, if firewalls were erected between regulatory agencies and industry and if consumers were stringently informed of risks and given wide access to non-psychopharmaceutical alternatives. But human beings have always had and always will have an attraction to mind altering substances and to try to legislate against it is to legislate morality, something which Todorov describes as one of the three central linchpins of totalitarianism. And it doesn’t work.
Prescribing doctors can’t make long term predictions over which individuals will go mad on drugs and they also can’t predict who won’t, though it’s become abundantly clear that the standard practice of seeing medicated patients twice or four times a year for fifteen minutes to renew prescriptions is a recipe for disaster. Money plays an obvious role in the practice. But as anthropologist Hugh Gusterson indicates in his study of atomic scientists, ascribing only the basest motives to a profession—greed, dominance, the drive to express potency— isn’t actually the worst that can be said about it because the view ignores the ideology and rationalizations underlying the euphemization of risks, romanticization of technology and exaggerated self-assurance that this technology can be controlled even in the face of repeat error and loss of life— the assumptions of utopian engineers.
Among the identifying factors which Popper uses to illustrate the difference between piecemeal and utopian social engineering are force, fraud and what Popper describes as the key element of fraud, the division of castes or “racialism.” All are in operation in the pharmaceutical paradigm where authorities are somehow endowed with the power to ensure that collateral is written off as well as denied.
According to Popper, racialism is intrinsic to a social form of “historicism”— the idea that history is essentially controlled by set laws of “history and evolution…whose discovery would enable us to prophesy the destiny of man.” “Historicism”—the pursuit of the secret scientific formula which would supposedly endow the few with the tools to direct the fate of all— is based on a genealogical caste system separating the inherently inferior from the inherently superior, with the latter supposedly (divinely or through superior evolution) “chosen” to decide which is which and to lead humanity to perfection and transcendence.
Popper proposes that racialism—a key part of the “organic theory of the state”— is at the root of what Plato rationalized as the “noble lie” imbuing the propaganda and fraud necessary to sell utopian schemes in service of power:
Concerning the use of lies and deceit, Plato urges that these are “useful only as medicine”, but the ruler of the state, Plato insists, must not behave like those “ordinary doctors” who have not the courage to administer strong medicine. The philosopher king…must be determined to administer “a great many lies and deceptions”—for the benefit of the ruled, Plato hastens to add. Which means, as we already know, and as we may learn here again from Plato’s reference to medicine, for the benefit of the state. What kind of lies has Plato in mind when he exhorts his rulers to use strong medicine? Crossman rightly emphasizes that Plato means “Propaganda, the technique of controlling…the bulk of the ruled majority”…”by means of both persuasion and force.”
Like beauty pageant contestants, everyone hopes for world peace and a shining future for humanity. But when, as always happens with utopian schemes, the promise of fantastic transformation, for which the public were persuaded to trade rights and freedoms, begins to crumble under abuse of power and the sheer emptiness of claims, force kicks in. As Orwell elaborated, “All tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but once the fraud is exposed, they must rely exclusively on force.”
In marketing certain pharmaceutical drugs and technologies, persuasion often is fraud. In 2005, a research team directed by Dr. John Ioannidis of the Ioannina School of Medicine, Greece, demonstrated that there’s less than a 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper will be true. A Cochrane Collaboration analysis discovered that industry funded studies are reviewed more favorably by medical journals even when the studies were of poor quality (cited by Mercola). Jon Jureidini, head of the Department of Psychological Medicine at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, Australia, found corruption and fraud running through every stage of bringing forth blockbuster drugs, from the peer review process to marketing. As for the “genetic underpinnings” of disease and psychiatric disorders, a large number of findings turn out to be false. But rather than being subject to retractions, findings are often recycled or researchers tweak data until they achieve their desired results. In a special report for The Guardian entitled, Genetic ‘Breakthroughs’ in Medicine Are Often Nothing of the Sort , psychologist Marcus Munafò and geneticist Jonathan Flint write:
In the years following media coverage of discoveries of a gene for depression, for intelligence, and so on, journals less prestigious than Science or Nature often publish reports that contradict the original claim, some even saying that the findings are quite compatible with chance.
…so many high-profile findings can be explained by chance alone that one genetic epidemiologist, John Ioannidis, has taken on the task of explaining, “Why most published research findings are false”4. Some of the reasons are due to the misuse of statistics and poor study design, but what Ioannidis and others now looking at this problem also point to are the social and political factors. These contribute to his claim that:
“The greater the financial and other interests and prejudices in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true. The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true.”
Even as the American Psychiatric Association protests that they cannot be held responsible for a patient’s actions because they cannot predict those actions, organized psychiatry advises state and federal legislature in forming laws regarding use of force in mental health policy. Organized psychiatry also guides jurisprudence on public safety and death penalty cases, often on the basis of deeply flawed genetic research or, as The Guardian flatly stated, perjury. They are policy makers endowed with the awesome power to pull the strings of life and death. To quote Popper again,
What a monument of human smallness is this idea of the philosopher king. What a contrast between it and the simplicity of humaneness of Socrates, who warned the statesmen against the danger of being dazzled by his own power, excellence, and wisdom, and who tried to teach him what matters most — that we are all frail human beings. What a decline from this world of irony and reason and truthfulness down to Plato’s kingdom of the sage whose magical powers raise him high above ordinary men; although not quite high enough to forgo the use of lies, or to neglect the sorry trade of every shaman — the selling of spells, of breeding spells, in exchange for power over his fellow-men.
Fundamentalism expresses this shamanism through the promise of paradise; and scientism sells the idea through a “vulgarization” of Darwin’s theory in service to a Platonic style of racialism: the laughable concept that select human beings are destined to teleologically evolve—i.e., evolve for the better. What’s more, scientism demands the customary recognition of a wise caste among scientists who can accelerate this evolution through the wonders of modern chemistry and social engineering in order to make our species smarter, more rational, happier, healthier, less violent—and, as those positioning themselves as the evolutionary vanguard claim of themselves, “incredibly empathetic.” Never mind the predictable body count of this particular social model.
“Empathy” has become the trendy tagline for supposed degree of evolution from ape aggression or transcendence from “original sin” depending on whether the rationalization is framed as scientific or religious. But in Efficiency, Sustainability, and Justice to Future Generations (p. 68), Klaus Mathis and Fabian Diriwachter write:
The ability to put oneself in other people’s position is generally evaluated as a positive quality. This circumstance must not blind us to the fact that empathy can be utilized for very different purposes. An evolutionary benefit of empathy is thought to be that of understanding competitors in order to eliminate them more efficiently. Someone with empathy can understand their counterpart more easily and therefore engage more effectively with their desires and interests. But it is also empathy that helps the sadist to find out how to torture his victim with particular cruelty.
One could argue that enjoyment of pornography requires a type of empathy: after all, the viewer is not actually participating in the depicted scene yet somehow identifies with the excitement they imagine the participants experience—which would include those who are titillated by depictions of cruelty and sadism. In The Office and Philosophy: Scenes from the Unexamined Life, Jeremy Wisnewski argues,
In everyday language, people tend not to discriminate between the kinds of empathy. But philosophy is about being careful with words so that we do not confuse our concepts and get misled about our conclusions. For example, one would normally say that a psychopath does not have empathy. This is somewhat misleading, since a psychopath who lacked cognitive empathy would be very frustrated. After all, if his goal were to harm or torture people, then he would not know whether or not he was doing it right! It would seem then, that if he lacked anything it would be affective empathy—he doesn’t truly feel the pain he is causing.
Simon Baron-Cohen, in his review of We Need to Talk About Kevin, concedes that “cognitive empathy” or the ability to guess what someone is thinking or feeling, differs from “affective empathy”— the ability to feel what someone else is feeling. The capacity for cognitive empathy in the absence of affective empathy would not rule out sadism and psychopathology in other words. But even affective empathy, like any human faculty, is morally ambiguous, merely a color in a paint box: what defines it is what picture is painted with it as law professor Lynne Henderson suggests in Legality and Empathy:
The reality of empathy is that we are more likely to empathize with people similar to ourselves, and that such empathic understanding may be so automatic that it goes unnoticed: elites will empathize with the experience of elites, men empathize with men, women empathize with women, whites with whites. I would call this ‘unreflective’ empathy.
And as empathy becomes a mark of the “chosen” and lack of it a diagnostic criterion of the damned, what picture does it paint? An unreflective division of castes, a replacement for fundamentalist interpretations of “sin” and “sinlessness” and a manner of casting off all sins onto designated societal scapegoats.
The cult of science does this by projecting all “primitive” destructiveness stemming from various genetic deficits—original sins— to a less- or defectively-evolved grade of human. This in itself is not a “sin” of course because investigators have “bent over backwards” to “understand” the targets.
In the same way that tribal cultures engage in “totem meal” rites of projecting all the sins of tribe members onto a sacrificial animal, when commercial science pundits claim to be “incredibly empathetic” while participating in crusades against consumer freedom, what they really mean is something closer to a tribal ritual of identification— where the “chosen” dance around in the scapegoat’s skin a bit after cutting its throat.
In this sense, “empathy” has become the semantic stand-in for purity because “sin,” like the idea of swinging from a prehensile tail, has disappeared from the repertoire of the self-designated “rationalist” class.
Hedges defines sin as “a stark acknowledgment that we can never be omnipotent, that we are bound and limited by human flaws and self-interest. The concept of sin is a check on the utopian dream of a perfect world.” In Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a character sums up the fatal flaw of his fictional father, Felix Hoenikker, the novel’s Oppenheimer-like “Father of the Atom Bomb” and one of the “smartest scientists on Earth”:
There are lots of good anecdotes about the bomb and Father … For instance, do you know the story about Father on the day they first tested a bomb out at Alamagordo? After the things went off, after it was a sure thing that America could wipe out a city with just one bomb, a scientist turned to Father and said, ‘Science has now known sin.’ And do you know what Father said? He said, ‘What is sin?’
Utopian cults baptize an immaculate earthly elite who justify force as the means to achieve a progressive paradise and the sacrifice or weeding out of the inferior for the good of the race. The elite, according to the cult of science, are the more “purely rational,” supposedly freer of superstition, irrationality and magical thinking and somehow less bound by human flaws, self-interest and selfishness, therefore more effectively empathic. The irony of the current scientific cult, like many religious cults, is that it ultimately rationalizes a preemptive withdrawal of mercy, “empathy” and basic civil rights from those classes of people who are diagnostically undeserving of self-determination because they’re deemed to intrinsically lack empathy or, in a wider societal sense, collectively lacking in rational cognitive processing—another “deadly sin” on the list of diagnostic vices— and therefore selfishly obstructive of the march to progress and the achievement of the greatest ultimate good for mankind.
In the past few years, there have been an increasing number of industry-supported “weaponized sociology” studies and subsequent media reports arguing that growing consumer dissidence against certain technological innovations like genetically modified crops, vaccines and psychiatric drugs stems from an irrational health belief model and that, furthermore, this tendency to cult-like, short-sighted superstitious irrationality may be genetic.
Both “Skeptic” icon Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, and Richard Brodie, former technical assistant to Bill Gates and author of Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme, have advocated engineering evolution by manipulating social consciousness—aka, “memetic engineering”— and thus guiding natural selection and evolution itself to eradicate irrationality and “false belief” from the species. Malcolm Gladwell has been accused of lifting the “meme” conception for his “epidemic” theory of contagious ideas and beliefs. But Gladwell, possibly more of an opportunist than ideologue, shies slightly away from Dawkins’ proposal that thought and belief not only impact the evolution of ideas but may actually impact evolution itself. As outrageous as it sounds, commercial science and the media are increasingly filled with true believers in the creed.
Imagine the horror of the Anti-Defamation League when on January 9th, 2009, journalist Bill Moyers presented an argument about violence in Gaza entitled, Bill Moyers Reflects on Middle East Violence (scroll to 2:50).
What we are seeing in Gaza is the latest battle in the oldest family quarrel on record. Open your Bible: the sons of the patriarch Abraham become Arab and Jew. Go to the Book of Deuteronomy. When the ancient Israelites entered Canaan their leaders urged violence against its inhabitants. The very Moses who had brought down the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” now proclaimed, “You must destroy completely all the places where the nations have served their gods. You must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, cut down their sacred poles, set fire to the carved images of their gods, and wipe out their name from that place…So God-soaked violence became genetically coded.
Wherever one stands on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and there are many Israelis and Palestinians who hope for an end to violence—Moyers’ summary remark was ethically craven, aside from having no basis in science, history or anthropology. Tzvetan Todorov makes the simple point that more human beings were killed in the name of science and twisted concepts of genetics in the twentieth century than died in human conflict or anthropogenic disasters in previous recorded history. Our ape ancestors, according to primatologist Richard Wrangham, committed routine lethal raids, cannibalism, rape, battering and infanticide. Apes are not generally believed to be religious. The fact that so many human lives have been squandered in religious conflicts throughout history simply makes the question of religion moot to the discussion. The faculty of belief—belief in anything— is just another color in the paint box. It can paint pictures of courage and tolerance or arrogance and extremism.
Moyers conducted a reverent interview with Richard Dawkins in 2004 in which Dawkins does his usual fish-in-a-barrel routine by highlighting the more extreme and destructive fanatical religious and paranormal views in order to comparatively prop up his own brand of “rationalism,” though Moyers avoids questioning Dawkins over the no less absurd idea of memetic engineering, a concept which Moyers later invokes with the “God-soaked” remark.
The picture that emerges from the utopian palette never seems to change. For all its enlightened claims, the concept of memetic engineering doesn’t differ much from ancient alchemy. Along with their faith that they would eventually be capable of transmuting lead into gold, alchemists sought to uncover an Elixir of Life—a magic bullet to end all suffering, disease and death—and divined that the human species could be permanently delivered from its imperfect state through thought and belief. Inherent to the magical side of ancient alchemy, like in its modern practice in India, is the caste system.
Dawkins and other supporters of memetic evolution have watched as their theories “evolve” into literal application: the idea that thought and belief alter DNA—Lamarckian genetics reincarnated. This has been taken to such fanatical heights that Dawkins’ Skeptic comrade Sam Harris has called for the total annihilation of Islamic culture on the idea that believers are inherently tainted with violent ideology. Like Baron-Cohen’s cries of kinder-gentler intent in response to protests that his push for prenatal autism screening could bring about mass abortions, many members of the Skeptic front movement recently reacted to public criticism by momentarily distancing themselves from Harris’s more concrete interpretation of memetic evolution (while still defending its core assumptions). From Chesterton’s “Eugenicist as Euphemist”:
Most Eugenicists are Euphemists. I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words sooth them. And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing. Say to them “The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generation does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females”; say this to them and they will sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them “Murder your mother,” and they sit up quite suddenly. Yet the two sentences, in cold logic, are exactly the same.
Dawkins pulls slightly short of blunt about his ideological aims: “We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” But Harris doesn’t euphemize at all: “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing in them.” He states that “honest people” should “destroy bad ideas” (and apparently their “bad” human vectors) where they find them.
Dawkins and his Skeptic/radical atheist followers demonstrate that there’s no better cover for a secular form of fundamentalist historicism than externalizing and generalizing the same fanatical paradigm solely to groups which self-identify as non-secular—extremist members of which have frequently also been guilty of externalizing all evil to nonbelievers. Both extremes fail to account for historical acts of valor and selflessness committed by the ideological opposition, or when mass atrocities and heinous deeds were performed under their own banner. It doesn’t take a PhD to recognize that the degree to which any religious or secular ideology purports more than symbolic infallibility in select (honest) human beings—at least sufficient sinlessness to condemn others without rigorous due process— is also the degree to which it’s cult-like.
The tribal caste conceit is hard to escape—it exists to some extent in every human institution and is reflected in commonplace impulses like celebrity worship. In Escape from Evil, anthropologist Ernest Becker chides humanity for the way our hearts palpitate at the sight of an admired idol. How do we know we’re each endowed with “dark” as well as “light”? Aside from the simple fact of being human, Becker indicates that our primitive humanity can be measured by those worshipful palpitations. Viewing some human beings as virtually transcendent gives hope and can fuel aspirations. And it’s entertaining. But the dark side of the same impulse is the usual division of castes and dangerous reverence for authority. As Hedges argues, Christ’s “My kingdom is not of this world” can be taken as an allegorical warning that perfection cannot be found in any human institution. When the idea is projected into a hereafter or, for secular purposes, to a far off goal of social engineering as Popper describes, it fulfills a common human need for hope in addressing social ills and human suffering. But all cults promise previews—transcendence in the here and now and naturally an elite which will decide who is or is not in “the book of life.”
For its part, commercial science has anointed a higher order endowed with special wisdom in gauging by DNA who is “Round-Up Ready” enough to join the worthy on the march to a shining future and who shall be cursed to the fire of disability, disease, dangerous insanity and extinction.
Secular or not, scientific fanaticism is still a form of faith, but one which, like any cult, creates angels and devils in earthly form. Why continue the pretense that this isn’t an alternative religion with its own shamans, gods, devils and divine messengers? Hence the ultimate cheap gimmick—the Frau Koma avatar—on which to project all the pseudo-rationalist absolutes.
The argument isn’t new. As mid-twentieth century philosopher and originator of the “Serenity Prayer” Reinhold Niebuhr warns in The Irony of American History and in The Children of Darkness and the Children of Light, the creation of absolutes and the externalization of evil are the means by which we inadvertently take on the evil attributes we project onto ideological foes. He warns that this will happen when the state and science attempt to combine the human need for transcendence by offering a paradise on earth, which invariably leads to the use of power without scruples under an illusion that a particular “conception of an unambiguously ideal end” justifies such abuse: “As politics deals with the proximate ends of life, and religion deals with ultimate ones, it is always a source of illusion when the one is invested with the other…This unification is spurious and dangerous; but this in fact adds to, rather than detracts from, its striking power. Religion and science are combined in such a way that the modern cult of science is brought completely into the service of an existential faith.”
In his book on technological and progressive fanaticism, When Atheism Becomes Religion, Hedges reiterates Niebuhr’s warning for modern application: “Those who, in the name of science, claim that we can overcome our imperfect human nature create a belief system that functions like religion. It gives meaning. It gives purpose and hope. But it is a myth. It is not true. And there is nothing, when you cut through their scientific jargon, to support their absurd propositions.”
Vonnegut asks, “See the cat? See the cradle?”
Todorov, also cited by Hedges, defines scientism—the “religion” of science— as the campaign to create a paradise on earth by “curing humanity of its criminal instincts” and warns further that scientism is an intrinsic element of totalitarian doctrine: “At a particular point in history, however, a conjunction occurred bringing together several preexisting strands: revolutionary ardor, implying the use of force; the millenarian dream of building an earthly paradise here and now; and the pseudoscientific doctrine asserting that complete knowledge of the human species was about to become available. The moment of this meeting marks the birth of totalitarian ideology.”
Members of the new “rationalist” front who issue organized defenses of commercial genetics and pharmaceutical policies are fond of quoting Karl Popper’s scientific theories, though they tend to steer clear of his social hypotheses because Popper is unequivocal on the irrelevance of whether certain utopian theories are framed as mystical or scientific: in either case, any attempts to apply these types of theories to society are, as Popper warns, “veiled forms of propaganda to return to tribalism.”
When rationalized as a scientific crusade for the betterment of humanity, mystical, caste-dependent tribalism—with its scapegoating rites and totem meals to displace evil and achieve the purity of the tribe— is simply a veiled bid for totalitarianism. In this sense, there’s nothing more politically ominous than the hunt to identify the born killer.
Much more substantial than the imagined genetic overlap between conditions like autism and mass murdering psychosis is the similarity between modern drug-fueled massacrists and their creators: what’s shared by those in the throes of violent side effects and those whose pseudoscientific doctrine led to the forceful marketing of harmful pharmaceutical products is a sort of “avenging angel” or avatar delusion leading some to expedite a virtual “day of reckoning.” Elements of this are reflected in the totalitarian or fundamentalist symbol-fragments that so many of the chemically-driven mass killers may suddenly identify with. Both creator and creation are convinced they are “fixing” the world by taking power over the unworthy, no matter what scale is used to judge other human beings and find them wanting. Both imagine themselves to possess a supernatural ability to identify the inherently “bad strains” who can no longer be reached by human means. Both ultimately move towards the use of force— one through fraud and mandated treatment, the other with bullets.
Erich Fromm wrote in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, “As long as one believes that the evil man wears horns, one will not discover an evil man.” One will also fail to see any potential for evil in the mirror. The similar mentality between purveyors of modern pharmaceutical “progress” and those driven mad by it might not be simply poetic accident to the extent that those creating, profiting by, prescribing and forcing certain treatments in the guise of “helping” would naturally be blind to side effects representing something in themselves they wished to deny.
Holocaust survivor and novelist Primo Levi warns of what he called the “Manichean” view that human beings can be divided into absolutes of pure good or pure evil. Levi protested any blurring of the line between perpetrators and victims as a “precious service rendered (intentionally or not) to the negators of truth.” “I do not know,” he wrote, “and it does not much interest me to know, whether in my depths there lurks a murderer, but I do know that I was a guiltless victim and I was not a murderer.” But Levi also stresses that “Nobody can know for how long and under what trials his soul can resist before yielding or breaking,” and “every one of us can potentially turn into monsters.”
Levi’s point is potentiality, not actuality. Not everyone will yield to destructive impulses but denial of universal monster-potential seems to be central to genetic fundamentalism: those pushing for forced treatment instead prefer to quarantine the roots of violence to a genetically defective caste rather than recognizing that their technology had merely unmasked and unleashed something which exists as a capacity in themselves along with everyone else, though it might otherwise not be expressed. So just as many modern pharmaceuticals may, in the extreme, strip the mind of more sophisticated social inhibitions, destroy the faculty of love and amplify a capacity for violence which is at the root of our species— the parallels of “original sin” according to western theology and “ape aggression” according to Darwinism—medication madness may be the ultimate expression of the mentality of its inventors: the externalization of evil and the conceit of God-like status in justifying the performance of the ultimate triage or Last Judgment.
If modern drug-fueled killers expose the messianic, “millenarian” core of scientific overreach, it’s not surprising: the primitive parts of our brains seem geared to a simplistic view of good and evil, worthy or unworthy, so that any ideology or “science” based in this tendency can’t claim to be enlightened or humane. Like any human drive run amok, it’s simply naked tribalism dressed in rationality. But this is precisely why it sells and why “Frau Koma” will be resurrected again and again whenever we deny by any means that every one of us, regardless of status, carries the “gene” for this potential and there is no cure.
Disclaimer: Withdrawal from psychotropic drugs can often be more dangerous than continuing on a medication. It is important to withdraw extremely slowly from these drugs under the supervision of a qualified specialist. Withdrawal symptoms are sometimes more severe than the original symptoms or problems.