The new DSM? Psych wonks can be well meaning, and dangerous

So, I’m going to rant a bit. My ranting will be restrained, but I will rant.

Amusingly enough my CD changer just randomly plucked Kate Bush’s “Hammer Horror” and started playing it as I sat down to write this. The general… eh, let’s say ‘maniacal’.. nature of Kate bush’s music needs no * further comments. The synchronicity is awesome

One should never let technocrats rule. Have you ever watched the movie “Brazil” ? A good deal of Monty Python’s humor poked at the amusing excesses of technocracy and bureaucracy?

Seriously folks.

I came across an article in the Daily Mail (you can read it by clicking here commenting on the recent revisions to the psychiatric DSM. The article pissed me off. actually, it blows.

Interestingly enough, the DSM now documents an array of new disorder categories that, in effect, pathologize certain fringes of normal emotional behavior.

Like what? Well, like a predisposition to extreme anger, or a tendency to collect certain things beyond what may be considered normal.. in our culture. Also interesting, there is a disorder that describes a tendency to become disgusted and, even, enraged by pornography.

Getting excessively pissed off is now a mental disorder. Who sets what is normative? Experts? Ever personally known psychiatrists ? (or psychologists, for that matter) They are not exactly more well adjusted than the rest of us. In fact I’ve noticed a tendency of people to go into these fields as a way of working out their own inner demons.

There is nothing wrong with this, it is to be expected. We are all trying to heal. We all need to heal.

The problem with such diagnostic criteria is that there always lurks not only obedience to a general social and political correctness as a normalizing factor, but a very well documented history of psychiatry’s general conformity to political tendencies that can, plainly put, be seen as totalitarian. And even if this wasn’t the case, the ability of ideology to affect the socially acceptable definitions of sanity is dangerous.

It’s bloody amazing, most people go through 4 years of undergrad, and learn almost nothing about eugenics, the most profoundly far reaching and influential scientifically motivated social and intellectual movement in the 19th and 20th century.

The history’s there, But only recently have people largely started interrogating it, questioning it, opening it and exposing its secrets.

Eugenics has affected so many things, like a hidden ghost, whose lingering fingertips has left marks on just about every social institution in the English and Germanic Western world. Public education? Buy me a coffee and I could lecture your ears off for 2 hours about the role of eugenics in molding curricula and informing institutional changes in mass public education. Medicine ? Ditto. Psychiatry? Well, ditto. I’m not even talking about German psychology and psychiatry’s broad complicity in the third Reich, I’m talking about in America, and England.

This is history that people should know, consider, and be informed about. Only by being informed can we really take a place in the debates of the day.. if we care to (and most people, arguably, do not. but rather prefer lunching out in front of American Idol.. which does provide fuel to the arguments of the pro-eugenicists, one supposes..)

There are countless social institutions that we still have whose initial impetus lay in the eugenic regimentation of society. Take marriage licenses, for instance. They gained circulation as a way of registering and tracking racial AND CLASS miscegenation. This is well documented in academic literature, and even better documented in the popular press, on the part of investigative journalists.

Now, back to, psychology and psychiatry, they played interesting roles in this affair early on, this is but one instance of how social and political ideologies can sway dispassionate science. When that science has the ability to declare normal, or abnormal, anything in the range of human emotional responses, you have unimaginable power being held in the hands of a dangerous cognitive elite.

I’ve all but given up thinking that the population at large will care much about these matters unless it affects them personally, and intimately. What they do not realize is that such matters do affect them.. personally. Even if this hasn’t personally manifested in one’s life yet, it lurks unseen.. the ability of a wonk in a white coat to declare your personal peculiarities, what hither were but simple quirks, like personality quirks, as pathological, diseased, medicalized.

..the power, to declare what were previously simply slight twists of your personality as unnatural, abnormal, and in need of correction… is a dangerous power..

And by way of correction, most likely what is contemplated is by pharmacological means.

If, when, you allow governance by social scientists, what you will end up with shall be a centralized technocracy, capable of absurdities that would make the most bizarre characters in any random Terry Gilliam movie seem normal by comparison. A society upside down, pill popping, and medicated into safety. Safe homeostasis.

It is a critical and tragic mistake, in our society, to medicalize what was once normal human behavior, and to pathologize extremes of emotional expression. You may not see it as a mistake, but think it through.

There is nothing pathological about extreme anger or extreme joy, nor in what lies in between. Joy, rage, hate, love – these are normal expressions of human emotion when faced with crisis.

A crisis is not a bad thing, it is simply a critical state, a state of imbalance. Life is full of balance and imbalance alike.

When an influential cognitive elite, in this case the psychiatric profession, declares much of the normal range of human behavior as abnormal and thus pathological, this can pose far reaching threats to our well being.

Look, we need to feel, as human beings, and sometimes what we need to feel are extremes of feeling, this is necessary to maintain a truly holistic balance in our lives. Deprive people of this and you deprive them of something quite important.

When our emotional wings are clipped at the edges, to make us fit square boxes defined by professionals who are as flawed as we are, and perhaps more, this will impoverish our emotional and personal lives.

Hmm, the CD changer just popped up the Afghan Whigs. Amusing synchronicity Greg Duli’s crooning about one of his (somewhat well known) neurosis’s..

“…it’s in our hearts, it’s in our heads, it’s in our love, baby it’s in our beds…
tonight I go to hell, for what I’ve done to you..”

Poll question.
Post-punk Crooner time.
Craig Wedren, or Greg Duli. Best voice contest guys, thoughts?

Who’s the better post-punk male singer
Craig Wedren, of Shudder to Think
Greg Duli, of The Afghan Whiggs
David Yow, the Jesus Lizard
I could put Chris Cornell here.. but I won’t. free polls

* This isn’t to rag on Kate Bush, she’s talented.. hence she’s in, or rather her music is in, my CD changer.

Unique encounters, and mendacity

I treasure encountering new people.

It’s a strange thing, I like feeling like I am discovering a new world, and when conversing with a stranger, I get this feeling. Every encounter with a new person, if we are receptive, can be as superficial or deep as we make it. For example, I met a delightful lady in her late 80s the other day, at a bookstore cafe.

So there I was, on Sunday afternoon sitting at the bar in Joseph Beth’s cafe, buried in my laptop and a couple of books I bought (William Gibson’s Spook Country, and a dystopian tale called the Second After).

Out of boredom I decide to chat up the barista, but our conversation is somewhat flat. Superficial.
At some point an older lady, with a delightfully frumpy looking hat, a few seats down, comments on something I said. So I turn and we find ourselves in a very deep two hour long conversation, first on the art of cooking, and then books, and then on to other things. Her home town in Pennsylvania, the decay of industry, our observations about younger generations and older generations.

The randomness of our connecting was part of the delight. Here we were, separated by 3 generations, and able to find a meaningful connection and relate to each other. To talk about apples in fields, solar power (she worked in the field of alternative energy decades ago), about cooking, how so few young people take the time out to ask questions about cooking, about the utter importance of the nuances, in marinating, in how you use fruit juice to baste fish or meat, I shared my chai recipe, she shared other matters. We discussed the economy, and change itself.

When we encounter a new person we can, if we choose, explore an entire world which is their experience, as they express it. Honesty, or being able to risk opening ourselves up, entails some vulnerability.

It is a sign of intelligence.

Mendacity, on the other hand, is often a sign of stupidity. Not always, but often. Usually a sort of subtle stupidity masked by cleverness.

Why? It shows a deficiency in the intellect. I will explain this shortly.

This manifests when you are dishonest in trying to get something from someone in a way that causes them to lack, this colors their experiences of the world, and in subtle ways conditions their future lives. This is to be noted, in particular, in friendships and romantic relationships.

In the long term this can cause a sort of feedback that adversely affects you and them.

Now, if lack empathy then the suffering, however small, of someone else is not likely to be of concern. However realizing that your causing suffering to someone else might be a cause of longer term effects that may return to affect you, this is a mark of intelligence and foresight.

Mendacity is often stupid because what it achieves, tactically, in the short term is nothing compared to what could be achieved strategically in the long term by other courses.

It is true that dishonestly may have long term advantages, and may even prevent greater harm. Therefore these matters need to be considered, “what will be the effects of this action, this word?”

I think it was Sidi Ahmed al-Zayruq, one of the sufi sages of Morocco, who said that a sign of a man’s intellect is that he weighs what he says always, before speaking. And that there is on men an obligation to obtain knowledge of the affairs before speaking and action.

Awareness, of yourself, and of others, is necessary if you want to act in a way that brings as much benefit as possible and avoids loss. Good is what benefits, evil is what harms, there is no moral weight to good or evil, rather both are practical and existential matters. Mendacity is frequently evil because it causes harm, and the harm it causes in breaching trust can have ramifications beyond one’s immediate realization.


Caves, Killory, and Cool Disco Dan

cool disco dan

cool disco dan

Sometimes ideas can take on lives of their own, becoming transmittable memes, replicating themselves in a bewildering array of permutations.

So, when I was in high school, as a young tagger, my buddies and I all wondered “Who is Cool Disco Dan?”

Cool Disco Dan, whose name could be seen stretched along buildings, warehouses, signs, all along the Red Line. A name without a face. Cool Disco Dan’s tag could be seen stretching throughout the east coast, in 1996 I even saw a Cool Disco Dan tag in England, yes in London. Now it’s highly likely other people had caught the Disco Dan craze, and were effacing their own individuality by becoming propagators of another identity.

Perhaps there is something liberating in this, after all whoever Cool disco Dan originally was, the individual himself was a cipher, subsumed in a meta-identity that could and did exist beyond the flesh and blood. In this sense Cool Disco Dan could be a collective identity, a shirt worn by many, not just nationwide, but worldwide (I mean, if I saw Cool Disco Dan tags in London of all places then who knows what other places bore his tag)

I just discovered that there is now, actually a Cool Disco Dan website – quite obviously enough at

There is also a documentary in the works.

Somehow this takes the mystery out of it, but it does place it into history. One of the byways of history, of course, but in history all the same. At the same time it removes the collective aspect of the Cool Disco Dan identity. One of the things about Cool Disco Dan was that while it was an identity, of a man, named Dan, who likes to tag buildings however he can, there was a diffuse nature. Any imposter could slip into the tag of Dan. But would it be an imposter? Is it possible that Cool Disco Dan was larger than the man, Dan, who was Cool Disco Dan?

The old Killroy Was Here meme after World War II was similar, except far more profound in its social impact. It has evolved, as a creature in the wild, spawning children and grandchildren who somehow resemble the original killroy, but with their own unique traits, as every good child should. In some cases you see an echo of the original inspiration, taken up by, owned by, people with no memory or knowledge of the original Killroy.

Beauty Hides

Beauty Hides

I like this one, done by a local beauty, hidden in an out of the way spot in Cincinnati.

Obviously a daughter of Killroy, she has her daddy’s head, and his sense of wonder.

Sometimes it’s the little things that serve to nudge you out of your daily waking hallucination, that make you pause for a moment, and return to right here, right now, with all of its nuances. The peeling paint on the bricks, the smell of dirt and leaves on the air, the way the sun shadow casts a web of darkness across the building, flowing into the mortar joints, rippling across the textured surface. It’s possible to be quite pretentious about Graffiti art, a stilted thing, the fact that theorists actually write about something that’s such a natural outburst of human creativity. A manifestation of a human desire to leave our mark on something, something that may be noticed years, or even centuries after our passing.

Graffiti is one of the most ancient forms of human expression, from tens of thousands of years old cave paintings and scratchings, to  thousands of years old desert carvings in ancient now lost dialects of Arabic, to political cartoons scratched by bemused Romans in Pompeii 2000 years ago. The Romans, it seems, were rather prolific in their graffiti, if entombed city of Pompeii  reflects things. Some amusing  Graffiti from Pompeii includes service descriptions and the address of a very much in demand prostitute, and a rather angry ode to love along the lines of “..Whoever loves, go to hell. I want to break Venus’s ribs.. If she can break my tender heart, why can’t I hit her over the head?”

Indeed, it seems that the human heart has always been what it is, how many of us sometimes wish we could smash love itself in the face, now and then? I guess broken hearts are nothing new.

Someday scholars 1000 years from now will come across the rock scribblings of backpackers in the woods of Kentucky, they will examine sharpie marker inscriptions and with serious, drawn faces, pontificate on the social significance of lovers now long dead, their bodies dust, and nothing physical left on the earth to reflect their passage except a few words drawn in a sharpie marker, on a rock outcropping wall. Perhaps then men will wonder about us, how we thought and felt, what we experienced. Perhaps the will come to the conclusions that we were vastly similar to them, and also vastly different.

Much like those we look at, who now are dust, but whose scribblings are studied with much serious concentration, by our learned doctors and scholars.


Fun Linkage Feb 17 2010

Does beauty inspire higher sperm counts?

Bayer Admits GMO Contamination is Out of Control

Copenhagen climate summit: 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges

Our Brains overloaded daily with more info than a laptop can handle

Modern-Day Slavery in Mexico and the United States

The Copenhagen Crash and Global Cooling

Night owls have more lovers


I awoke to a world painted in shades of milk

I forgot how much I love the snow.

Granted, it doesn’t suit my equatorial genotype, but God, I swear I love the pristine and crisp freshness of it all.

The landscape is overlain with a fatal beauty, you know looking at it that in this desert of frozen white sands, you could die. There is a danger lying beneath the beauty of it all. And it chills your spine, it sucks the heat from your chest and limbs.

But by God I swear, it is all beautiful. And quiet. And still.

For the first time in years I’m glad, however, that I’m no longer in DC. An Ohio modest 6 inches is much nicer than the 24 inch wrath of God dumped on-top of DC.  My Grandma’s afraid that her roof may cave in from the weight, and Yasin tells me Metro service was at a halt.

So I’ll enjoy the modest disaster here in Cincy, and feel gratitude that things aren’t as bad as on the East Coast.