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the world around us

Talk to me

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When I was 15, I took the bus from Stavanger to Bergen after saying goodbye to my boyfriend. The last thing I wanted, was to talk with anyone. I struggled to keep my tears back and wanted to have time to think about everything we did and he said (like a typical teenager). But to my horror, an old woman sat next to me and I knew immediately that she was a talker. Little did I know that this would be one of the very conversations I remember from that year. We talked about everything, and soon started on a philosophical journey together. I told her about my boyfriend, and how hard it was to live so far apart from him (over 10 hours with a car or bus). She responded by saying how healthy it is to meet people who live in a different place than where you grew up. Because they probably see the world a little bit different than you, and that means you might end up learning something new.
This woman was so wise, and I learnt something new too: By opening up to all kinds off people, even strangers, you might change the way you think and see the world. I was reminded of this event when I listened to “an organized mind” by Daniel Levitin in my car. He described a study where the researchers asked people if they thought they would prefer sitting alone or talk with a stranger on the bus. They were quite sure about what they would like the most, but it seems like we don`t always know how much we crave connections with others. The study is described below, and I hope you enjoy it as much as me. Maybe the next time you`r filled with dread, hoping that somebody won`t disturb you on a bus, plane or train, you might look at the commute as an opportunity instead of fear.

Why You Should Put Down Your Smartphone and Talk to Strangers

Credit: pio3 / Shutterstock.com

Talking to the stranger in seat 4B on a cross-country flight is often considered one of the torments of air travel, to be avoided at all costs. But new research suggests people are deeply wrong about the misery of striking up conversations on public transit.

Contrary to expectations, people are happier after a conversation with a stranger, the study revealed.

“At least in some cases, people don’t seem to be social enough for their own well-being,” said study researcher Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “They think that sitting in solitude will be more pleasant than engaging in conversation, when, in fact, the opposite is true.” [7 Thoughts That Are Bad For You]

Talking to strangers

Epley, author of the book “Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Feel, Believe and Want” (Knopf, 2014), studies social connection. Humans are social animals, he said, to the extent that having more and stronger friends and family connections is linked with a healthier life.

But in waiting rooms, trains, planes and other public spots, people fail to show their social stripes, Epley told Live Science. During his own commute in Chicago, he sees “highly social animals getting on the train every morning and being remarkably anti-social … They might as well be sitting next to a rock.”

Perhaps people know that interacting with a stranger is likely to be less pleasant than sitting in silence, so they choose the latter, Epley said.

Or maybe, just maybe, everybody is wrong about talking to strangers. Maybe it’s actually fun.

Only connect

To find out which is true, Epley and his colleagues recruited real-life commuters at Chicago train stations. They also conducted a series of experiments with bus riders. In some of these experiments, they simply asked people to imagine striking up a conversation on the bus or train. Would it be pleasant? Would they feel happy afterward?

By and large, people said “no,” it wouldn’t be pleasant, and that such an interaction wouldn’t result in a happiness boost. In addition, people guessed, on average, that fewer than half of strangers would be interested in chatting. They expected to be rebuffed.

In other experiments, the researchers actually asked the commuters to go through with the conversations. At random, some participants were assigned to start a conversation. Others were asked to sit silently, and a third group was told to go about their normal commute routine (which involved silence for some and speaking to a friend for others). The participants were given sealed surveys to complete and mail in after their commute.

The results? People had a more pleasant time when they talked to a stranger versus when they stayed silent. Incredibly, the findings held even when the researchers controlled for personality traits, like extraversion and introversion.

 Does the finding that talking to strangers makes people happier make you more likely to strike up conversations in public more often?
  • No way. You couldn’t pay me enough.
  • Maybe. I can see the upsides.
  • Definitely. I’d like to meet new people.
  • No – but only because I already chat with strangers.

“Everyone seems happier and has a more pleasant interaction when they connect versus sit in isolation,” Epley said.

Perhaps even more surprising, their conversation partners seemed to welcome the connection, too.

“Nobody was rejected in any of our studies, as far as I can tell,” Epley said. “Everybody who tried to talk to somebody was able to.”

In another study, the researchers set up participants in a waiting room, so they could test the happiness of both the conversation starter and their target. Again, everyone was happier after chatting — even the person who hadn’t started the conversation. Pairs of strangers deep in conversation also reported that the wait seemed shorter.

Epley’s research isn’t the first to find that interactions with strangers influence mood. Findings reported in 2012 showed that even smiling and nodding at strangers makes people feel more connected. [5 Wacky Things That Are Good for Your Health]

“Flawed individuals will victimize you”: A top FBI profiler’s lessons on extreme narcissists like Trump

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There are 130 warning signs of the narcissistic personality. Trump checks off at least 90

"Flawed individuals will victimize you": A top FBI profiler's lessons on extreme narcissists like TrumpDonald Trump (Credit: AP/Paul Sancya)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetI recently spoke with former FBI agent Joe Navarro about Donald Trump. Navarro was one of the FBI’s top profilers, a founding member of their elite Behavioral Analysis Unit and author of several books on human behavior, including “Dangerous Personalities: An FBI Profiler Shows You How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People.”

To be clear, at no time did Navarro diagnose Trump as having a narcissistic or predator personality. He says we should leave formal diagnoses to professionals  —  but that each of us still needs to be able to identify and protect ourselves from harmful people in our lives. And so he created behavior checklists and published them in his book to let you do just that.

Navarro’s book warns that if a “person has a preponderance of the major features of a narcissistic personality,” then he “is an emotional, psychological, financial or physical danger to you or others.” As the book “The Narcissism Epidemic” explained, “A recent psychiatric study found that the biggest consequences of narcissism — especially when other psychiatric symptoms were held constant — was suffering by people close to them.”

It’s even more important for journalists to decide if Trump behaves like a narcissist — as James Fallows explains in his must-read post at the Atlantic. Fallows cites a reader’s note to him “on how journalism should prepare for Trump, especially in thinking about his nonstop string of lies.”

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“Nobody seems to realize that normal rules do not apply when you are interviewing a narcissist,” this behavior expert explains to Fallows. “You can’t go about this in the way you were trained, because he is an expert at manipulating the very rules you learned.” He criticizes The New York Times for believing what Trump said when they interviewed him (which is the same point I’ve made). Finally, he warns:

“… anyone who’s dealt with a narcissist knows you never, ever believe what they say — because they will say whatever the person they are talking to wants to hear. DT is a master at phrasing things vaguely enough that multiple listeners will be able to hear exactly what they want. It isn’t word salad; it’s overt deception, which is much more pernicious.”

I’ve been professionally interested in behavior assessment because to achieve and sustain serious climate action, empathy may be the most important quality in a president or political leader.

After all, climate change requires us to take very significant if not drastic measures today in order to avoid catastrophe for billions of others in the future who contributed little or nothing to the problem. Without empathic leaders, the necessary climate action becomes all but impossible.

That is a why the Pope ends his landmark 2015 climate encyclical calling on God to “Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak and care for this world in which we live. The poor and the earth are crying out.”

What I learned from Joe Navarro’s work

To leap to the conclusion, people on the far end of the narcissist spectrum lack empathy. And, Navarro told me, “these personality traits are fixed and rigid.” That person doesn’t change. They don’t pivot. Not what you would want in the leader of the world’s most powerful nation.

So, if you come to the conclusion that Trump (or anyone in your life) is on the extreme end of the narcissist spectrum  —  using the tools Navarro provides   — then that person is, as his book explains, “an emotional, psychological, financial, physical danger to you or others.”

Navarro urged me to get his book and go through the checklists and make my own decision. In my scoring, Trump is off the charts. Your scoring may be different.

Interestingly, it was one of the checklists Navarro posted online that motivated me to contact him in the first place. I had been engaged with the question of whether Trump was delusional or a con man (or neither) since late May, when he told Californians suffering their worst drought in a thousand years, “There is no drought.”

As any potential levity about Trump’s participation in the GOP nomination fight was stamped out by the serious and growing concern that he might actually become president  —  or merely trample our democracy in the process of losing  —  I kept reading up on the subject. I came across the work of Navarro, who spent a quarter century as an FBI agent and supervisor focusing on counterintelligence and behavioral assessment. Now Navarro writes, consults and speaks on human behavior.

In particular, because few people are professional psychological diagnosticians or FBI profilers — but we all run across people who might be a danger to us or others  —  Navarro wanted to empower laypeople to be able to decide for themselves if someone they knew had a dangerous personality.

The cult of Donald Trump?

I came across a 2012 article from Psychology Today Navarro wrote listing “the typical traits of the pathological cult leader … you should watch for and which shout caution, get away, run or avoid if possible.” Here are just the first nine of the 50 traits he lists:

  1. Has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power or brilliance.
  3. Demands blind unquestioned obedience.
  4. Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement  —  expecting to be treated special at all times.
  6. Is exploitative of others by asking for their money or that of relatives, putting others at financial risk.
  7. Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.
  8. Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.
  9. Takes sexual advantage of members of his sect or cult.

Navarro writes, “If these traits sound familiar to leaders, groups, sects or organizations known to you then expect those who associate with them to live in despair and to suffer even if they don’t know it, yet.”

And yet they do sound familiar, don’t they?

Navarro had “studied at length the life, teachings and behaviors of” people like Jim Jones (Jonestown, Guyana), David Koresh (Branch Davidians), Charles Manson and other infamous cult leaders, and concluded: “what stands out about these individuals is that they were or are all pathologically narcissistic.”

Indeed, when I contacted Navarro, he explained that someone could meet most of these criteria and be pathologically narcissistic, but still not necessarily be a cult leader because cult leaders have other traits. For instance, they generally try to isolate people from their families.

In August, GQ interviewed cult expert Rick Alan Ross, director of the Cult Education Institute and a Republican, about Trump. Ross had been watching Trump’s rise with concern and was especially struck by his words at the GOP convention, “I alone can fix it.” Ross said, “That kind of pronouncement is typical of many cult leaders, who say that ‘my way is the only way, I am the only one.’”

Trump shares many key traits with cult leaders including extreme narcissism, Ross said. But “we’re not talking about a compound with a thousand people,” referring to the Reverend Jim Jones. Jones gave cyanide-laced Kool-Aid to more than 900 of his followers in Jonestown — some 300 of them children. “We’re talking about a nation with over 300 million people. So the consequences of Trumpism could affect us in a way Jim Jones never did.”

As I’ve written, if Trump simply follows through on his repeated campaign pledges to kill the Paris climate agreement and all domestic climate action, then he will ruin a livable climate for billions and billions of people for hundreds of years.

That doesn’t make Trump a cult leader, of course, but it does make him very dangerous.

Navarro told me that in the past year, many people have contacted him to comment on Trump’s personality after they came across the behavior checklists he published on narcissistic personality. Understandably, he declined to make a judgment about Trump. He would like to “personally observe” Trump before making any such pronouncement.

Does Donald Trump behave like a narcissist?

As you may have read, the question of whether a psychologist should publicly diagnose someone they haven’t personally observed has a long history. A bunch of psychiatrists responding to a survey offered harsh diagnoses of Barry Goldwater, which ultimately led the American Psychiatric Association to issue a rule that “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”

Yet some psychiatrists became so concerned about a Trump presidency last November that they broke the rule and were quoted in a Vanity Fair piece, “Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In!”:

“Textbook narcissistic personality disorder,” echoed clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis. “He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his characteristics,” said clinical psychologist George Simon, who conducts lectures and seminars on manipulative behavior. “Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”

Are such diagnoses untenable and/or meaningless? Not necessarily, says psychiatrist Dr. Sally Satel, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in an article in Slate in October, “It’s OK to Speculate About Trump’s Mental Health.”

She argues we used to diagnose people by spending a lot of time talking to them. Now the “gold standard” is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), which bases diagnoses on observations. For instance, these are the nine diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in DSM-V (“Five are needed to be eligible for the diagnosis”):

  • A grandiose logic of self-importance
  • A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty or idyllic love
  • A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions
  • A desire for unwarranted admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally oppressive behavior
  • No form of empathy
  • Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
  • A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes

One of Satel’s main points is that even an official NPD diagnosis by a professional should not necessarily be disqualifying for a presidential candidate.

Interestingly, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in August that Trump’s behavior “is beyond narcissism.” In mid-October, he listed “a dazzling array” of “reasons for disqualification: habitual mendacity, pathological narcissism, profound ignorance and an astonishing dearth of basic human empathy.” And so despite how much he despises Hillary Clinton, he could not bring himself to vote for Trump.

Coincidentally, Krauthammer, a trained psychiatrist, “contributed to the creation of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, currently referred to as the DSM-5.”

Ultimately, Fallows himself writes, you don’t need a “medical diagnosis” to realize “there are commonsense meanings for terms to describe behavior,” and “in commonsense terms, anyone can see that Trump’s behavior is narcissistic, regardless of underlying cause.”

The “Warning Signs of the Narcissistic Personality” checklist

The bottom line is that the degree of narcissistic tendencies  —  and the related lack of empathy  —  matters when assessing potential leaders.

Two key reasons Navarro developed his extensive checklists for dangerous personalities are 1) DSM-V has too few criteria to discriminate between degrees of narcissism and 2) he wants to empower individuals to be able to identify these dangerous personalities, because we will never get official diagnoses for the overwhelming majority of people in our lives.

Navarro actually has behavior checklists for four key personality types in his book: the Narcissist, the Paranoid, the Unstable Personality and the Predator. You can see a short version of the “most central” criteria for each type in this 2014 Psychology Today interview.

Navarro, however, directed me to his book for the full checklists. Given my interest in Trump, he pointed me toward the checklists for both the predator and the narcissist. I focused on the latter.

There are 130 “warning signs of the narcissistic personality.” The behavior checklist “will help you determine if someone has the features of the narcissistic personality and where that person falls on a continuum or spectrum (from arrogant and obnoxious to indifferent and callous to abusive and dangerous).”

If you find someone has between 15 and 25 of these features, they’ll “occasionally take an emotional toll on others and may be difficult to live or work with.” Someone who scores between 26 and 65 “has all the features of and behaves as a narcissistic personality. This person needs help and will cause turmoil in the life of anyone close to him or her.” Lastly, Navarro warns:

“If the score is above 65, this person has a preponderance of the major features of a narcissistic personality and is an emotional, psychological, financial or physical danger to you or others.”

Personally, no matter how many times I go through this checklist and give him the benefit of the doubt, I get a score for Trump of over 90. I suspect a great many people would score over him well over 100.

Of course, I’m not asserting that my assessment of his behavior means anything whatsoever. It doesn’t. Nor am I suggesting anything about his followers.

What I am trying to do is to persuade you to download Navarro’s book and do the assessment yourself. That way you can assess for yourself whether or not his behavior is so pathologically narcissistic, so devoid of empathy , that the only viable response to his election is to actively oppose him and his divisive and destructive agenda. As a side benefit, you’ll end up with an important book you can use to identify and protect yourself from the various harmful people you will come across in your life.

If you’re a journalist, you’ll be able to assess whether you need to alter your strategy for interviewing and reporting on him. Again, the key lesson for dealing with a narcissist is “never, ever believe what they say.”

It has been crystal clear for a while that the election of Trump would be catastrophic for humanity, that it would jeopardize the health and well-being of billions and billions of people in the coming decades and centuries. Now that he has been elected, it appears he may move even faster than we thought to destroy the Paris climate agreement, the world’s last, best hope to preserve a livable climate.

If you have any remaining belief that somehow Trump is not a threat to our very way of life  —  if you have the tiniest belief that his pattern of behaviors suggests he could grow into the presidency, as some others have in our history — you should do the checklist. As Navarro told me, “the purpose is to warn people that these traits are fixed and rigid” and that those who possess them in the extreme are a danger to everyone they have power or influence over.

All they never got

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They never got the chance to live in a warm home, cooking dinner. Laughing with their children. Instead some ended up at hospits, another shot of ampethamine running through their veins. One bad decision, and their lives were changed forever. 

I have just watched an episode of ‘Kristine moves in’. It’s about a journalist moving into different institutions, and in this episode, she stayed at a hospits. She met wonderful people. 

One of the addicts was an artist, paining beautiful pictures. But he had a difficult life, and he made some bad choices that will haunt him for the rest of his life. His talent in front of him in form of a perfect picture. If only he could wake up and see it clearly. 

Whk are we to judge? Could we not be in the same position? What if we’d experienced abuse and trauma? Wouldn’t we want to escape? 

We can sit in our warm houses. We can live our privileged lives. But we should never forget how lucky we are. When we tuck our children into bed at night, remember all the people who lost their chance to do the same. The people who could not provide for the people they love the most. Who were helpless against the addiction.

 Remember all they never got. 

The sound of Cuba

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I have travelled a lot, and many of the places I’ve visited I also forgot easily. Cuba was different. I travelled with my friend Solhild, who has travelled even more than me, and she said the same thing. We still both feel that we have to try to take it all in, after two weeks since we went there. While there, I told my friend that had to read more about Cuba, because I realized how much I did not know about the country. Never before have I felt unsafe while traveling, never before have I felt so ill-prepared and confused. Never before have I felt poverty so close, and the understood better how lucky I am. It was all the small differences added up that made me realize how it must be to live a place where you get by on so little: The Cubans with their rationing cards, the lack of milk in the few cafeterias we found (especially in Havana) because it is so expensive. The lack of wifi, making it hard to contact loved ones. The man who tried to rob my friend in what we thought was the most tranquil places in Cuba we visited (Vinales) and how almost no one talked English. The children in the street who played until 9 or 10 in the evening (because they did not go to school?). The masses of hungry dogs and cats. So now I have read more, and am truly surprised at just how much I didn’t know and wish I knew before I came to the country.

 

Here is some information taken from Wikipedia

Starting from the mid-1980s,[143] Cuba experienced a crisis referred to as the “Special Period”. When the Soviet Union, the country’s primary source of trade, was dissolved in late 1991, a major supporter of Cuba’s economy was lost, leaving it essentially paralyzed because of the economy’s narrow basis, focused on just a few products with just a few buyers. National oil supplies, which were mostly imported, were severely reduced. Over 80% of Cuba’s trade was lost and living conditions declined. A “Special Period in Peacetime” was declared, which included cutbacks on transport and electricity and even food rationing. In response, the United States tightened up its trade embargo, hoping it would lead to Castro’s downfall. But the government tapped into a pre-revolutionary source of income and opened the country to tourism, entering into several joint ventures with foreign companies for hotel, agricultural and industrial projects. As a result, the use of U.S. dollars was legalized in 1994, with special stores being opened which only sold in dollars. There were two separate economies, dollar-economy and the peso-economy, creating a social split in the island because those in the dollar-economy made much more money (as in the tourist-industry).
A Canadian Medical Association Journal paper states that “The famine in Cuba during the Special Period was caused by political and economic factors similar to the ones that caused a famine in North Korea in the mid-1990s. Both countries were run by authoritarian regimes that denied ordinary people the food to which they were entitled when the public food distribution collapsed; priority was given to the elite classes and the military.”[144] The government did not accept American donations of food, medicines and money until 1993,[144] forcing many Cubans to eat anything they could find. In the Havana zoo, the peacocks, the buffalo and even the rhea were reported to have disappeared during this period.[145] Even domestic cats were reportedly eaten.[145]
Extreme food shortages and electrical blackouts led to a brief period of unrest, including numerous anti-government protests and widespread increases in urban crime. In response, the Cuban Communist Party formed hundreds of “rapid-action brigades” to confront protesters. The Communist Party’s daily publication, Granma, stated that “delinquents and anti-social elements who try to create disorder and an atmosphere of mistrust and impunity in our society will receive a crushing reply from the people”.

In July 1994, 41 Cubans drowned attempting to flee the country aboard a tugboat; the Cuban government was later accused of sinking the vessel deliberately.[146]
Thousands of Cubans protested in Havana during the Maleconazo uprising on 5 August 1994. However, the regime’s security forces swiftly dispersed them.[147] A paper published in the Journal of Democracy states this was the closest that the Cuban opposition could come to asserting itself decisively.[147]

Continued isolation and regional engagement

Although contacts between Cubans and foreign visitors were made legal in 1997,[148][149] extensive censorship has isolated it from the rest of the world. In 1997, a group led by Vladimiro Roca, a decorated veteran of the Angolan war and the son of the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, sent a petition, entitled La Patria es de Todos (“the homeland belongs to all”) to the Cuban general assembly, requesting democratic and human rights reforms. As a result, Roca and his three associates were sentenced to imprisonment, from which they were eventually released.[150] In 2001, a group of Cuban activists collected thousands of signatures for the Varela Project, a petition requesting a referendum on the island’s political process, which was openly supported by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during his 2002 visit to Cuba. The petition gathered sufficient signatures to be considered by the Cuban government, but was rejected on an alleged technicality. Instead, a plebiscite was held in which it was formally proclaimed that Castro’s brand of socialism would be perpetual.
In 2003, Castro cracked down on independent journalists and other dissidents in an episode which became known as the “Black Spring”.[151][152][153][154] The government imprisoned 75 dissident thinkers, including 29 journalists,[151] librarians, human rights activists, and democracy activists, on the basis that they were acting as agents of the United States by accepting aid from the U.S. government.
Though it was largely diplomatically isolated from the West at this time, Cuba nonetheless cultivated regional allies. After the rise to power of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1999, Cuba and Venezuela formed an increasingly close relationship based on their shared leftist ideologies, trade links and mutual opposition to U.S. influence in Latin America.[155] Additionally, Cuba continued its post-revolution practice of dispatching doctors to assist poorer countries in Africa and Latin America, with over 30,000 health workers deployed overseas by 2007.[156]
End of Fidel Castro’s presidency Edit

In the autumn of 2008, Cuba was struck by three separate hurricanes, in the most destructive hurricane season in the country’s history; over 200,000 were left homeless, and over US$5 billion of property damage was caused.[158][159]

As of 2015, Cuba remains one of the few officially socialist states in the world. Though it remains diplomatically isolated and afflicted by economic inefficiency, major currency reforms were begun in the 2010s, and efforts to free up domestic private enterprise are now underway.[9] Living standards in the country have improved significantly since the turmoil of the Special Period, with GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power parity rising from less than US$2,000 in 1999 to nearly $10,000 in 2010.[161] Tourism has furthermore become a significant source of prosperity for Cuba.[162]

Kiran Sethi: Kids, take charge

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Kiran Bir Sethi shows how her groundbreaking Riverside School in India teaches kids life’s most valuable lesson: “I can.” Watch her students take local issues into their own hands, lead other young People and even educate their parents.

Novaturient

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Are you a novaturient?

The Myth of Mental Illness: Thomas Szasz on Freedom and Psychotherapy

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 INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS SZASZ ON PSYHOTHERAPY.NET

Thomas Szasz on Freedom and Psychotherapy

by Randall C. Wyatt
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The foremost psychiatric critic of our times, Thomas Szasz, engages in an in-depth dialogue of his life’s work including freedom and liberty, the myth of mental illness, drug laws, the fragile state of psychotherapy, and his passion for humanistic values and social justice.
Randall C. Wyatt: I am going to ask you a wide variety of questions, given the diversity of your interests, and I want to make sure to also focus on your work as a psychotherapist. A little background first. You’ve been well-known for the phrase, “the myth of mental illness.” In less than 1000 words, what does it mean?
Thomas Szasz: The phrase “the myth of mental illness” means that mental illness qua illness does not exist. The scientific concept of illness refers to a bodily lesion, that is, to a material — structural or functional — abnormality of the body, as a machine. This is the classic, Virchowian, pathological definition of disease and it is still the definition of disease used by pathologists and physicians as scientific healers.

The brain is an organ — like the bones, liver, kidney, and so on — and of course can be diseased. That’s the domain of neurology. Since a mind is not a bodily organ, it cannot be diseased, except in a metaphorical sense — in the sense in which we also say that a joke is sick or the economy is sick. Those are metaphorical ways of saying that some behavior or condition is bad, disapproved, causing unhappiness, etc.

In other words, talking about “sick minds” is analogous to talking about “sick jokes” or “sick economies.”

In other words, talking about “sick minds” is analogous to talking about “sick jokes” or “sick economies.” In the case of mental illness, we are dealing with a metaphorical way of expressing the view that the speaker thinks there is something wrong about the behavior of the person to whom he attributes the “illness.”

In short, just as there were no witches, only women disapproved and called “witches,” so there are no mental diseases, only behaviors of which psychiatrists disapprove and call them “mental illnesses.” Let’s say a person has a fear of going out into the open. Psychiatrists call that “agoraphobia” and claim it is an illness. Or if a person has odd ideas or perceptions, psychiatrists say he has “delusions” or “hallucinations.” Or he uses illegal drugs or commits mass murder. These are all instances of behaviors, not diseases. Nearly everything I say about psychiatry follows from that.

RW: Let’s say that modern science, with all the advances in genetics and biochemistry, finds out that there are some behavioral correlates of biological deficits or imbalances, or genetic defects. Let’s say people who have hallucinations or are delusional have some biological deficits. What does that make of your ideas?
TS: Such a development would validate my views, not invalidate them, as my critics think. Obviously, I don’t deny the existence of brain diseases; on the contrary, my point is that if mental illnesses are brain diseases, we ought to call them brain diseases and treat them as brain diseases — and not call them mental illnesses and treat them as such. In the 19th century, madhouses were full of people who were “crazy”; more than half of them, as it turned out, had brain diseases — mainly neurosyphilis, or brain injuries, intoxications, or infections. Once that was understood, neurosyphilis ceased to be a mental illness and became a brain disease. The same thing happened with epilepsy.
RW: It’s interesting, because a lot of students of mine, and colleagues, who have read your work or heard of your ideas, think that when condition previously thought to be mental is to be a brain disease, as noted, your ideas become moot.
TS: That’s because they are not familiar with the history of psychiatry, don’t really understand what a metaphor is, and don’t want to see how and why psychiatric diagnoses are attached to people. Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, was diagnosed as schizophrenic by government psychiatrists. If people want to believe that a “genetic defect” causes a person to commit such a series of brilliantly conceived crimes — but that when a person composes a great symphony, that’s due to his talent and free will — so be it.

Objective, medical diagnostic tests measure chemical and physical changes in tissues; they do not evaluate or judge ideas or behaviors. Before there were sophisticated diagnostic tests, physicians had a hard time distinguishing between real epilepsy — that is to say, neurological seizures — and what we call “hysterical seizures,” which is simply faking epilepsy, pretending to have a seizure. When epilepsy became understood as due to an increased excitability of some area of the brain, then it ceased to be psychopathology or mental illness, and became neuropathology or brain disease. It then becomes a part of neurology. Epilepsy still exists. Neurosyphilis, though very rare, still exists, and is not treated by psychiatrists; it is treated by specialists in infectious diseases, because it’s an infection of the brain.

The discovery that all mental diseases are brain diseases would mean the disappearance of psychiatry into neurology. But that would mean that a condition would be a “mental disease” only if it could be demonstrated, by objective tests, that a person has got it, or has not got it. You can prove — objectively, not by making a “clinical diagnosis” — that X has neurosyphilis or does not have it; but you cannot prove, objectively, that X has or does not have schizophrenia or “clinical depression” or post traumatic stress disorder. Like most nouns and verbs, the word “disease” will always be used both literally and metaphorically. As long as psychiatrists are unwilling to fix the literal meaning of mental illness to an objective standard, there will remain no way of distinguishing between literal and metaphorical “mental diseases.”

RW: Psychiatrists, of course, don’t want to be pushed out of the picture. They want to hold on to schizophrenia as long as they can, and now depression and gambling, and drug abuse, and so on, are proposed as biological or genetically determined. Everything is thought to have a genetic marker, perhaps even normality. What do you make of this?
TS: I hardly know what to say about this silliness. Unless a person understands the history of psychiatry and something about semantics, it’s very difficult to deal with this. Diagnoses are NOT diseases. Period.

Psychiatrists have had some very famous diseases for which they have never apologized, the two most obvious ones being masturbation and homosexuality.

Psychiatrists have had some very famous diseases for which they have never apologized, the two most obvious ones being masturbation and homosexuality. People with these so-called “diseases” were tortured by psychiatrists — for hundreds of years. Children were tortured by antimasturbation treatments. Homosexuals were incarcerated and tortured by psychiatrists. Now all that is conveniently forgotten, while psychiatrists — prostitutes of the dominant ethic — invent new diseases, like the ones you mentioned. The war on drugs is the current psychiatric-judicial pogrom. And so is the war on children called “hyperactive,” poisoned in schools with the illegal street drug called “speed,” which, when called “Ritalin,” is a miracle cure for them.

Let me mention another, closely related characteristic of psychiatry, as distinct from the rest of medicine. Only in psychiatry are there “patients” who don’t want to be patients. This is crucial because my critique of psychiatry is two-pronged. One of my criticisms is conceptual: that is, that mental illness is not a real illness. The other one is political: that is, that mental illness is a piece of justificatory rhetoric, legitimizing civil commitment and the insanity defense.

Dermatologists, ophthalmologists, gynecologists, don’t have any patients who don’t want to be their patients. But the psychiatrists’ patients are paradigmatically involuntarily.

Dermatologists, ophthalmologists, gynecologists, don’t have any patients who don’t want to be their patients. But the psychiatrists’ patients are paradigmatically involuntarily.

Originally, all mental patients were involuntary, state hospital patients. That concept, that phenomenon, still forms the nucleus of psychiatry. And that is what is basically wrong with psychiatry. In my view, involuntary hospitalization and the insanity defense ought to be abolished, exactly as slavery was abolished, or the disfranchisement of women was abolished, or the persecution of homosexuals was abolished. Only then could we begin to examine so-called “mental illnesses” as forms of behavior, like other behaviors.

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Mental health problems aren’t all in the brain

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This is a reblog from a guardian article about mental health.You find the original by following this link.

Brain being dissected
 ‘It seems to me that the decision of the BBC to portray mental health problems simply as brain disorders is a highly troubling one.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

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Aopen letter to the BBC written by a group of psychologists and other mental health professionals has attracted more than 1,000 signatures. The letter outlines concerns regarding the recent In the Mind season of programmes exploring mental health issues and, in particular, the almost total lack of any social perspective on mental health in the programmes. The psychologist, Richard Bentall also wrote about this in an excellent piece in the Guardian last week.

I share these concerns, though not because I believe that mental health problems have no biological basis, nor because I think environmental factors invariably play a role in mental ill health; I simply wouldn’t know. But because I do know from listening to the stories of dozens of fellow service users, that adverse life experience such as physical and sexual abuse, racism, bullying and neglect is depressingly common on a psychiatric ward, and understood by a great many patients to have played at least a significant role in the development of their problems. Moreover, it is striking how often problems with housing, for example, or the stress of being assessed for benefits (which are, ironically enough, supposed to support the most vulnerable) are understood by patients to be the trigger for a relapse.

In this context, it seems to me that the decision of the BBC to portray mental health problems simply as brain disorders is a highly troubling one. While some people do undoubtedly interpret their mental health in this way, there are many who do not, many indeed who would resist the attachment of any diagnostic label, who see their mental health difficulties as a natural, rational response to adverse experience. In failing to represent their perspective, the BBC has not only presented an extremely one-sided picture, it has broadcast a message to such individuals, and to society generally, that their experience doesn’t matter.

Of course, it would be rather convenient if it didn’t. It would be especially convenient for David Cameron. It would mean that when he talks about our need to “focus on mental health”, at the same time as bringing in benefit changes that have been found to have led to the suicide of at least one person and beenimplicated in the deaths of dozens of others, we might almost be able to take him seriously. It would mean that we wouldn’t have to worry about creating a more equal society. Mental health problems are repeatedly shown to be most prevalent in countries with the highest levels of financial and social inequality. What a relief to realise it doesn’t matter!

A purely biological view of mental ill health locates the problem firmly within the head of the individual, and as a society this is dangerous because it absolves us of the responsibility, the need, to examine ourselves. Imagine a lung cancer specialist who refuses to talk about the link between smoking and lung cancer. I’m sure the comparison is simplistic but I don’t believe it’s entirely inaccurate either. There is copious evidence to suggest that adverse events, especially in childhood, increase the likelihood of developing all sorts of mental health problems. Which is not to say that biology doesn’t play a part as well. But as a society there’s little we can do to tackle the causes of mental ill health on a biological level. Whereas, with adequate will and commitment, there is absolutely masses that could be done to create a mentally healthier environment for children and adults alike.

This is why mental health must be seen as an urgent political and social issue, as well as a biological and psychological one. And it’s not just a question of responding to the needs of people with mental health problems, though this is of course important, but of being prepared, as a society, to consider what we might do to reduce people’s risk of developing them in the first place. I’d like to see a programme on that.

Balancing act: Anders Behring Breivik

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How do we decide between giving people a chance and not trusting them? In Norway, Anders Behring Breivik shot and killed innocent people on Utøya. The cruelty of it all, shocked us. Norway used to be safe. Suddenly everything was turned upside down. Today my room-mate asked me: Should Anders Behring Breivik be released from prison after he`s done his time? An ethical dilemma that raises a lot of questions with no clear-cut answers. I won`t even try to answer this question, because I am not sure. My attitudes normally veers towards giving people second chances, but I also know that some people never change. Would it potentially harm more people if he was released? Could he do the same thing again?

This is a dilemma that engages all Norwegians. When the “Utøya” massacre happened, we stood together. We showed that we would not react with hate or fear. Even the families of those who died, tried to suppress their hatred and focused on getting through it all. The way we Norwegians reacted was talked about in the media all over the world. How could be talk about love after such a tragedy? Where was our blood-lust, or need for revenge? Off course, it was there. But something else was more important: To show that no matter what, we stand together.

But what happened to us, happens all over the world today. Unfathomable acts of violence happens every day. Refugees flee for their life, and tyrannic leaders kill thousands without guilt. What would be the right thing to do in these cases ? Could we forgive the ones who have so much blood on their hands that it never can be washed off? What about child-soldiers, and what about rapists and torturists? Here too, it is hard for me to say what would be the right way to react. Don`t we foster more hatred, mor war, more blood-lust by doing to them what they do to us? The balancing act of giving people another chance, and punishing them for life, is a tough one. But in my heart and mind I must believe that we don`t accomplish anything by being cruel. This doesn`t mean not to take action, but I do believe that we should consider more options than putting criminals in prison for life or executing them. Because there might be some potential for change, and as I see it, where there is potential there is hope. And if we don`t start to do things differently, the balance might just tip us all over the edge.

More:

Norway`s reaction after the 22th of July massacre

Typisk norsk

The sound of hearts beating in tune

The brain of a serial killer

 

 

The sound of hearts beating in tune

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There are so many good people in the world. I like to think about this when the news coverage of another war scares me to death. I also need to remember it when I read about psychopaths destroying the life of others. Because it’s so easy to give up. To throw in the towel and think: It is hopeless, me doing something good will just not have a real effect on all the problems around us. But think about it: if around 5-6 percent of the human race does things that makes others suffer in the worst way imaginable, that means that 95 percent of our population, want to help others. And this fact gives hope, it means that we can do something, every one of us. When this knowledge combines with the fact that people with mental illnesses actually get better when they dedicate themselves to helping others, I feel optimistic. I have met many clients who did just that when their anxiety or depression lifted. They finally got enough energy to be there for others, and discovered that this gave them even more reasons to continue doing good things in life. So yes; We have a lot of people killing and abusing others, but for every harmful act,  there are so many good deeds, and somehow that can be enough to make a difference. My burning heart believes in this, I have seen it with my own eyes; We can change the world.

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