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Friday, December 28, 2012

Russian blog

This blog is over a year out-of-date, but Russian readers (and those with fancy browsers that machine translate) might be interested in seeing this:

I have not been through much of it, so I'm not sure of all that's there.  So, I can't say if it's good or bad.  But, there are a few interesting articles to peruse.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Self-Esteem versus Self-Respect

I thought I had written something on this a while back, but since I can't find it, I'm going to post this.

After having several head-butting sessions with a couple of people who were, let's just say, 'acting inappropriately,' I began to wonder how these folks could be so self-confident as to abandon their rather high social status and behave in utterly shameful ways.  Then it occurred to me...

These days, people have far more self-esteem than self-respect.

There is a difference, though modern culture has abandoned teaching self-respect and so people now confuse it with self-esteem.  There is a difference.


  • "I love me no matter what I do."
  • "My thoughts and opinions are equal to anyone else's."
  • "I can do whatever I decide to because I am equal to all other people."
  • "No one else can judge me because no one else's opinions have more value than anyone else."
  • "I don't have to be weighed down by accountability to others when accountability interferes with my intentions."
  • "I am not bad, nor am I doing anything bad, unless I intend to."
  • "I love me in proportion to the level I have risen, because I have proved myself in adversity."
  • "My thoughts and opinions are of value to the extent that they well-informed, and others may have thoughts and opinions that are better than mine."
  • "I cannot do things which are not in keeping with either the goodness I have attained to or even the goodness that I seek to rise to."
  • "I am proud to be accountable to others, because this accountability keeps me safe and helps others."
  • "When I act in a manner beneath me, then I fall from where I was and will now have to rebuild what my lack of self-restraint destroyed."
If I have self-respect, then I will always remember who I am to others and myself, whereas self-esteem is all about the 'freedom' from guilt and shame that often safe-guard us from harming ourselves and others.  It is not like 'pride' since this is a false narrative of the self, whereas true self-respect must be grounded in reality.

These days, people who are often well-respected will act in horrendously embarrassing ways... all because they have plenty of self-esteem.  They esteem themselves to the point where they act in silly and childish ways, yet want to turn around and be treated as adults... or even higher than that.  The problem is that the self-esteem robs them of their dignity and respect.

Part of the problem with American culture is that, in losing the understanding of the difference between these two concepts, we now place the greatest value on people with the highest self-esteem.  Actors and 'Celebutards' have lots of self-esteem... enough to get in front of a camera and not be worried about looking bad.  We reward that, and many young people even try to emulate this abandonment of dignity.

The problem with self-esteem is that it is built upon so many lies.  Not all my opinions are of equal value: no one should come to me asking for advice on cancer treatment.  I can't jettison my responsibilities and not expect others, and even myself, to be hurt in the process.

Self-esteem focuses on the self, but self-respect focuses on the respect.

The addict is often characterized as an 'egomaniac with an inferiority complex.'  This means that he operates in self-esteem and pride, but then realizes his shame and is depressed by it.  He does not have self-respect, otherwise he would not indulge in the behaviors that he does in his disease.

By not teaching people how to have self-respect, we are laying the foundations for addiction.  Self-esteem suppresses the impulse control mechanisms that we need to have to be part of a functioning society.  As we lose our impulse control, we increase our chances of engaging in behavior that will lead to addiction.

A big part of recovery is learning about what it is to have self-respect.  By serving others, we feel better about our own real value.  True self-respect cuts off self-doubt and other destabilizing worries.  That is because self-respect is grounded in our own proven merits rather than a false feeling of infinite equality or superiority.

Friday, December 21, 2012

'Tis the Season

Holidays are often horrid for alcoholics.  While the routine of life, with it regular, predictable rhythms brings the comfort of the knowable, the holidays are full of wildly aprosodical opportunities for misunderstanding and temptation.

If you are new to recovery and are finding this time really challenging, then I urge you to find other alcoholics in the same boat and hang on tight to each other.  You need the help, but so do they... so, you can all help each other.  Through your camaraderie, you will find some peace and hope during this deluge that normal people engage in... trying to make themselves happy by indulging in celebrations that exclude the original cause.

The Christmas holidays are miserable because they they are all about trying to be happy by doing more.  This is an immature mindset, but we must remember the rule of the 'lowest common denominator.'

Therefore, when we think of 'Peace on Earth' it really means 'Appeasement on Earth.'  We must appease the expectations and demands of those who will even purposefully misunderstand our attempts at love and kindness.  We offer gifts with the hope the receiver will be pleased... so as not to complicate things even more.

Now, maybe some of you don't have these problems.  Congratulations.  Keep it that way.

However, I'm willing to be that many more people have big plate of expected duties and obligations, bathed in a sauce of shame and guilt, roasted on the fiery coals of memories past.  Yummy!

I have lots of church services to conduct, which will largely go partly-attended because people are too busy 'celebrating' or 'preparing to celebrate'... so as to appease those around them rather than thank God for what the holiday represents.

As I got older, it all became more odd that we celebrated a feast for a God we did not believe in, just because of these expectations.  But, now that I do believe, it seems stranger still that buying gifts and hassling over parties has anything to do with the Birth of the Christ.  He was born poor, and we celebrate with displays of decadence.  Just weird.

My advice: laugh at it, don't play into it.  You don't have to mock the people to see the humor in their delusion.  You can be a good Christian without having to fall for all the panic.  In fact, you can be better for it.

If possible, resolve to be the source of peace for others.  You will likely encounter those fretting over their duties... bring them the message of faith and serenity.  It may not work for them, but I guarantee you will feel better.

Whatever you do, don't drink or use.  Don't let this petty stuff get between you and your true happiness.

The 'Peace on Earth' is found in our relationship with God.  that's all that really matters.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Visual Library

I'm building a 'Visual Library' (see the sidebar to the right under 'Pages' or of anti-alcoholism and addictions graphics.  Most of this type of material has no effect on the addict, but is does tell an interesting narrative of how non-addicts see the disease and what they think ought to be done.

I lot of it is shame-based, which we all know does not work.  Alcoholics are full of shame that they try to escape, but you can't add more shame to someone who is already full... and still can't quit.

If you have some material you would like to share, please email it to me (see the right sidebar under 'Kontakt') and I will post it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Genes and Addiction

Is addiction hereditary?  There is some evidence for it.  There is also evidence that lots of mental disorders, from hoarding to schizophrenia, can be passed down through genes.  Here we see evidence of a gene that appears with folks having internet and nicotine addictions: 

There is a ways to go before we understand much of anything about genes, but there is one thing we do know about addiction: it is treatable.  Therefore, genes may give one a predisposition to addiction, but they do not make us addicts.

There are plenty of people who have given up smoking and the internet.  What it requires is a treatment.  We must not become fatalistic about such studies and abandon ourselves to 'fate.'

We are more than our genes...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The 'New Brain'

You may have noticed that I've lately been posting a lot of articles about the brain.  That's because the most cutting-edge scientific work is being done in this area.  Psychology has hit a wall, partly of its own construction.  I'll get into that in a post tomorrow/

This article about brain theories caught my attention:

This loss of perception that the article mentions is important for our purposes.  Loss of attention is, in essence, a loss of our ability to participate in the world as it is.  If we 'tune out' our world, we begin to become prisoners of fantasy.

What technology can do is create 'alternate realities.'  What we have done, through our basic knowledge of human perception, is created 'convincing' alternate realities.  We can play video games that create worlds that seem just as real (in many respects) as the 'real thing.'  We have become masters at tricking ourselves.

Illusion, however, is always incomplete.  Yet, if we repeatedly 'tune out' the discrepancies between our illusions and reality, it makes sense that our brains/minds may very well 're-program' and simply drop any effort to perceive in those areas.

What is important to keep in mind (pardon the pun) is that all of this is 'soft change.'  Nothing significant about the human person has changed since the 'Stone Age.'  All of humanity's technological advances have done nothing, except perhaps slow down the 'weeding out' process of natural selection.  Yes, we have found ways to keep people alive who would not have lived in times past:

Even something as simple as expecting to survive Type 1 diabetes has an effect on our attitudes about life and fear of death.  This impacts our ability to deal with the realities of life's delicacy and impermanence.

In my opinion, one of the tragedies that technology has brought is difficulty in appreciating a non-manufactured moment.  Our brains obsess about the 'flaws' of real life and become addicted to the perfection of the manufactured.  This dissatisfaction dispels gratitude and sets the stage for many, many emotional disorders and addiction. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Medicating Children, Controlling Behavior, & Social Codependency

This is a dire warning, and some would call it alarmist, but our recent obsession with medicating all our problems away makes this seem quite plausible:

With the recent shooting in Connecticut, there will be lots of talk about mental illness, moody people, and what we are going to 'do' for (read 'to') them.  As I mentioned before this tragedy, mental illness does not make one immoral.

The problem with medicating problems is that the medications themselves don't always work.  In fact, many anti-depressants have been linked to violence and suicide.  The truth is that medications have a 'chance' to work, so we must embrace the idea that we cannot control everything.

This is what we are struggling with as a society: we always need to be in control.  Not only that, but we expect to be in control to the point that nothing bad ever happens.

When I was a substitute teacher, I never expected the kids to sit perfectly still or do their work in a perfect way.  I still don't when it comes to home-schooling... children are by their developmental state 'uncooperative' and will act up.  Eventually, they will be trained, but training is hard.  It requires patience.

In this era of instant everything, we are losing patience for everything... including each other.  Within hours of the Connecticut shooting, people were making grand declarations about the shooting and what 'must' be done.  They could not even wait for the funeral... or all of the facts.

What I am saying is that the children are not the ones with all the problems... we are.  We are impatient, arrogant, and intolerant.  If you disagree with people these days, you are more likely to get insulted than an intelligent conversation.  Of course, the other person feels free to insult you because he thinks himself the 'reasonable' one and you are... well, stupid.  Now we can freely insult the horse because the horse does not understand the insult.

To this mindset, both children and those adults they disagree with have just become another problem to manage.  And, that really is at the core, isn't it?  Society is no longer about people deciding to get along, but persons in need of management.  Obedience and compliance trumps liberty and real diversity.  Liberty does mean the freedom to make bad decisions.

It is natural, as in the case of raising children, that we want to control their behavior because adults are responsible for guiding the outcomes and caring for the welfare of those who, by nature, cannot care for themselves.  The difficulty comes when adults expand this definition into an enormous 'societal codependency' where we are busy trying to control and manage all kinds of adult dysfunction.

As painful as it is, we have to let people fail.  That's how they learn.  It requires patience, because we must control our rescuing instincts and wait for the right opportunity... the point where someone sincerely asks for help with a desire to change.  We should be looking for repentance instead of regret.  Many people regret their problems in terms of outcomes rather than process.  When 'healed' they will return to doing what hurt them to begin with, sometimes trying even harder.

We must be patient with children, and we must be tolerant of one another.  Controlling people, either with drugs or restrictive laws, is not going to work because errors and mistakes are part of the struggle of the free will.  If we take free will away from people, we rob them of their humanity.

This is my greatest concern: in seeking a humane world, we are become inhuman.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tetris, PTSD, Working Memory, and Addiction

So, there I was, minding my own business, when I started to read an article about the game Tetris:

Stories on the brain have always fascinated me, and this one proved interesting because of the theoretical work going on in the scientific world just in explaining why people become 'hooked' on this game.  In short, the main reason has to do with increased brain metabolism that occurs with all of the tiny tasks that Tetris demands:

If you recall the previous post about Working Memory, there you have it.  Tetris fills the WM with lots of small tasks that crowd out all other thought processes and fills the brain with neuro-chemicals... now you have a high.  This high is powerful enough to reprogram the brain, and is being looked at as a way to treat PTSD:

There is a drawback: the effect of the game's high wears off once the brain 'learns' the game and less resources are needed to play.  Now, you have one of the elements of addiction... chasing the high.

Heroin addicts will tell you that nothing is better than the first high on the drug.  People will spend years trying to recreate it.  This is often called 'chasing the dragon.'  It never works because it is a chemical illusion caused by the brain's first reaction to the drug.  Like the surprise scene in a movie, the more times you watch the movie, the less surprised you are.

But, what about the PTSD angle?  How can a game help?  Very simple: the human mind wants a sense of control, and PTSD is caused by a sense of helplessness in the face of a disaster.  Tetris is an easy way to regain the sense of control, because it is an easy game.  If PTSD memories are crowding the WM, the mind uses the sense of power from Tetris to 'put away' the 'unfinished business' of traumatic experiences.

Another analogy is that of a child who is delaying the finish of his dinner.  This is the mind on PTSD... a child versus Brussel Sprouts.  The mind does not want to 'put away' the trauma and store it, but would rather avoid it so as not to internalize these memories.

Then, out comes a 'dessert' like Tetris.  You can't have a mouthful of Tetris while chewing on other thoughts, and so the mind 'puts away the traumatic memories from the WM in order to play the gratifying game.

Addicts do the same thing with their own addictions, trading alcoholism for gambling, or pornography for drinking.  The mind can go from one distracting 'dessert' to another.  In the case of addictions, the only real solution is working through the issues that occupy the WM.  The 12 Steps are all about clearing these unresolved matters so the mind can focus on the tasks at hand.

What I would like to see is a study that compares people with 'cleared' WMs versus those with addiction issues to see who gets 'more hooked' on Tetris...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Military and Religion

In the previous post, I spoke a bit about PTSD.  The military has a huge problem with it.  The preferred treatment: religion.

Yes, the US military has relied on religious services to help servicemen cope with the stress of war.  The generals and admirals realized a long time ago that men of faith have fewer personal problems.  Sure, psychology can be very helpful, but over-all studies have shown that people with deep spiritual life prior to entering into trauma have a higher statistical chance of avoiding severe PTSD problems afterwards.  That's not to say that all religions are equally effective.  I think a lot of the shallow religions do a disservice to people.

But, healthy beliefs in the power and love of God help men process their experiences and get through their suffering without resorting to drinking, drugs, and other forms of escapism.  So, the military has always advocated attendance at chapel and use of the chaplains.

Then, you have this:

In short, you have a stressed out and angry young man, coming from a family where his father committed suicide, who suddenly wants to change the whole system.  Even his fellow atheists at West Point are not on board with him.  Why does he get the attention?

Well, let's look at the situation: when you are in the US military, you serve the Commander in Chief (the President) without question.  If he says, "Wear a pink coat," you better put it on.  So, the people within the system are particularly vulnerable to presidential whims.  He's hoping to pressure the White House to remove the religious activity in military institutions.

But, like the 'court card' problem in civilian life, the problem is this: if you utterly cut God out of the military, can you provide an effective replacement?

In the case of alcoholism, nothing has been found to be as effective as the spiritual program of the 12 Steps.

What about the military?

So far, I have not seen any studies of, let's say, PTSD among Soviet veterans of WW2 or the Afghan Occupation.  If it is anything like the rest of Soviet society, then there was no religion but lots of vodka.  I've posted previously on the Soviet view of vodka: at once a blessing (taking the stress out of a repressive society) and a curse (having so much of your population drunk is no path to success, or even survival).

If the US strips all religious activity out of its institutions, it had better have a a more effective and proven way to handle the coping aids that religion has traditionally played in military life.  what's more, there must be a way to instill a real conscience in servicemen who will continually have their morality challenged by their environment.  Failures in this respect will not only lead to PTSD, but also inhuman acts and war crimes.

This is the flip side: do we want a military when all conscience is externally enforced?  Sure, there can be punishments for immoral behavior... but you have to get caught first.  Can an utterly secularized military use a single approach to give all servicemen a sense of conscience that will keep them from trying to 'get away' with atrocities?

I think it is dehumanizing and stupid.  Not everyone is going to respond the same way to a single program.  This is why I think that chaplain services, counselors, and psychologists should all be offered together rather than trying to remove religion utterly from the scene.

Trying to treat humans like widgets is the mistake of the modern scientific mind.  It never works, and we have crowded prisons to prove it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Meditation and Working Memory

This is a fascinating story on the US military's adoption of meditation as a way to combat stress-related anxiety:

The article mentions the problems that alcoholism presents for combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which leads to symptoms such as violence and addiction.  Right now, scientists studying the brain are using the term 'Working Memory' to describe our active conscious state, and how alcoholism impairs it.

How would alcoholism impair it?

Well, the life of the alcoholic is full of unresolved issues.  Guilt and shame are things that cannot be 'put away' by the mind.  After all, they govern our behavior, and so they must always be 'on the table' of the Working Memory.  The more you have, the less room you have to think about anything else.  PTSD also fills the table of the WM with fears and concerns.  Again, this leaves little room for other processes.

Addicts can think little of anything else but their problems because the WM is overwhelmed.  It makes clear thinking impossible.

So, what can meditation do?

Well, meditation, along with counseling and spiritual growth, can help the sufferer to organize his WM and resolve the many open problems so that the WM is less cluttered.  He will be able to think more clearly and observe more of his surroundings.

The common problem of a cluttered WM is that, as with any 'hoarding' problem, the number of issues overwhelms the person's ability to identify and treat one single issue.  All of the problems become a single blob.

The Church has always taught the importance of silence in spiritual growth, hence the importance of Hesychasm as it has developed over the centuries, particularly within monasticism:

But, inner stillness and 'mindfulness meditation' as it is now being called in an important component of recovery.  The Big Book stresses both prayer and meditation:

"We usually conclude the period of meditation with a prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we be given whatever we need to take care of such problems." 

Chapter 6, "Into Action," describes the process of integrating meditation into the daily life of the recovering addict and how the WM is an analyzed.  Problems are are noted and either prayer or some other resolving action is then taken to remove the issue from the WM.

My experience is that this process is no longer taught much in AA, I think in large part because the larger AA culture, through its popularity and the vast number of 'court card' carriers coming to meetings, is getting watered down.  Treatment programs are also not using meditation with prayer, but focus more on 'relaxation' techniques rather than prayerful mindfulness.

It is pretty hard to get a recovering 'tweaker' to sit still and meditate.  So, sponsors and programs skip the difficult bits... and rely on repetition of attempts to get sober to knock down much of the resistance and WM problems the addict may be carrying around.

But, we must practice silence.  Otherwise, we are captives to the 'noise.' 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Controlling the Brain and Stress Shrinkage

Here's another example of how the 'mind' can manipulate the 'brain':

This study reminds me an awful lot of Dr. Ramachandran's famous discovery for the treatment of 'phantom limbs':

In the 'mirror box,' the person suffering from phantom limb pain places his remaining limb in one part of the box that has a mirror, which make a mirror image of the limb in the other side which appears to be the phantom limb.  The sufferer can then look into the box and see the phantom limb, and his brain will tell him it is real and give him the sensation of its reality.

The treatment of depression using imagery of the brain appears to resemble this phenomenon.

What does this tell us?

If depression has a physiological component, and this component can be manipulated by thought, then mood is not only influenced by thought, but can also be changed by guided thought.  Does this mean that we can simply decide to change our moods at any time?  No.  This study does not suggest this at all.  But, it does bring up important questions about addiction.

The question is this: how much of our cravings and impulses, the ones that seem to run so deep, are attributable to the imagery we receive and the changes this imagery has on our brains?  Do we see the world as bleak and hopeless because we have created bleak and hopeless worlds around us?

I think we need to look at how we are influencing ourselves, and whether this influence is positive or not.    What does modern architecture do to us?  More importantly, what is the entertainment industry drumming into our heads in ways that we do not realize?

Sure, there are not accompanying photos of the brain to 'reinforce' the message as used in this study, but the study is showing a very short period of time where demonstrable changes were taking place.  The study opens the possibility that brain changes can be made, and accelerated using brain imagery, but this does not exclude slower processes without the confirmation.

Again, we are talking about the 'brain' as opposed to the 'mind.'  Perhaps, the mind may be able to function well on a certain plane which the brain suffers for it.

Here's another study:

This one concludes that stress 'shrinks' the brains of people who have 'healthy' minds.  Eventually, the damage done to the brain system then, in turn (like depression), affects the mind in a negative way.

So, we may think that our minds are dealing well with the stress, but in reality we are experiencing brain damage that will affect our minds later on when we exit the stress.  If we are bombarding our minds with negative images, could we be altering our brains in such a way that escaping the draw of these images becomes inescapable?

I suppose my real question is this: are we creating the modern escalation of addictions by flooding our minds with images that alter us and leave us vulnerable to addiction?  

It would seem that our modern world has expanded to a point we cannot tolerate according to our nature.  We are aware of far more than we ever have in any point in history.  We are intimately connected to the entire world, and see consequences in every act.  Are we overloading ourselves with concerns and cares which increase our worries and concerns, making them intolerable without some reliance on a Higher Power to keep this world of madness from exploding?

I have not even gotten into music and the forces of nature battling our sedentary lives...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Devolution and Depression

So, I've been talking about the brain and how evidence points towards the idea that thought affects the brain's structure and function.  Quite literally, addictions research suggests that the mind controls the brain, though there is obvious evidence that brain impairment can effect thought.

This is why I believe the brain is more of an 'antenna' than a thought-producer.  After all, damage to an antenna will effect the signal quality both sending and receiving.

We have a hard time with this idea because of materialism and how unproven theories about the brain have become 'fact' because no alternative theories are permitted under modern medical and scientific 'orthodoxy.'  At the same time, there are more troubling challenges to modern attitudes.

Let's take this study versus the 'Law of Natural Selection':

This study makes sense, in that the more we 'rescue' people through medical and social means, the more genetic defects will prosper and be passed down into the 'gene pool.'  However, the assumption here is that advances will continue to occur... even while we are getting dumber.  The scientist even suggests, "...we may be able to magically correct any mutation that has occurred in all cells of any organism at any developmental stage."  Rubbish.

Magic?  Seriously?  This is wishful thinking, unless you envision a time when you have an intelligent class or sub-species of intelligent people ruling over the 'dumb and dumber' crowd.

I agree that the human genome is going through 'devolution,' because that is what happens with fallen creation... it devolves.  Yet, we do have an overall increase in the body of knowledge that man possesses.  So, why the drop in intelligence?

My theory it that any theoretical drop in intelligence could only be proved through a visible drop in function.  Right now, we are beginning to see some signs of human intellectual deterioration.  If we look at addictions, mental illness (particularly depression and the amount of pharmacology devoted to maintaining human functionality), and the creation of permanent social stratification, we see a real problem.  Human society is not working.

But, neither are we.  We are not working our minds.  Sure, we go to school and learn lots of data.  We also receive massive amounts of information.

But we are not processing it.  It rushes over us, without time to digest.

So, the mind 'tunes out.'  This is where the real danger in the drop in intelligence lies.  We are not exercising our minds, and in turn we will begin to lose function over time.  Like muscles, thinking must be exercised or it becomes weakened.

The sign of this are the vast number of emotional problems that now stunt the development of the modern character.  We are not trained up to be people of good character.

Right now, our society values a pliable character.  Just as long as you are willing to agree to the common narrative, just about anything else is acceptable.

So, you can be a murderer... just don't be a racist.  You can advocate any kind of sexual exploit... just don't tell people not to have sex.   

Look at where popular outrage comes from in America: we spend so much time arguing about racism but store up killers with little concern.

Even now, we are not having any type of popular discussion of psychotropic medication and the vast number of people taking anti-depressants.  The statistics in the UK are astounding:

Depression is probably the #1 contributing factor to addiction: people become addicted when they feel depression and despair.  This is the real devolution of the human mind.  Despite all out luxury, we are more depressed than ever.  This could very well hasten the genetic process the other study suggests in under way.  It also says something about the wrong direction we are heading.

More on this tomorrow...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Materialism and Bad Science

I found this article to be absolutely fascinating:

In a nutshell, Dr. Sheldrake argues that science has many more 'explanations' than it has provable facts, and most of these unproven facts rest on the assumption that materialism, which we have been discussing here as a contributing factor in the development of alcoholism and addiction, is an absolute truth.  Science cannot explain how genes really work, or even how your brain really operates.

Of course, science has a more difficult task than I do.  I am not interested in explanations as much as results: just because I can explain addiction does not mean I can treat it, and I only am interested in explanations so long as they lead to a treatment.  My interest is in treatment.  I want results, because I suffer for lack of them.

Religion is a type of 'experimental science.'  It is often proved by 'results,' though many people would call these results 'superstitions.'  I've read plenty of books about 'magical thinking' and how superstitions develop because the human mind draws associations between cause and effect that are not there.  The problem with the scientists who argue such points is that, by Dr. Sheldrake's analysis, science has its own superstitions.

That makes sense: the scientist and the shaman have the same 'hard wiring.'  Human beings have had the same demonstrable needs and desires since recorded history began.  The Papua New Guinea witch-doctor shares all the same attributes as the Oxford professor... only the assumptions change.

The only changes from human to human occur in illness.  The disease of addiction, for example, changes the brain.  Yet, no one can really argue that the brain changes occur before the onset of the disease... it is not causal.  What is changing the brain?  Scientists shrug.  Why?  Because the materialist model would argue that the brain has to change first to create the disease, but that would leave open the question as to how that change would be initiated.

If we can use our own thought processes to change the structure of the brain, then the question remains: how then can one say that all thought originates in the brain if the brain is, in fact, subjected to the influence of thoughts?  It is a Catch-22.  If the brain influences thoughts, and thoughts influences the brain, then which is the originating actor?

Science has already ruled: the brain, as the physical and material organ, must be the origin.  But, we are not bound by science's pronouncements, particularly when science cannot conclusively prove this theory and there is evidence (such as addictions research in neurology) which shine light on the obvious problem of origin.

Christians believe that there is more to the person than just an animated corpse: we are Body, Spirit, and Soul.  This spiritual aspect of man rest with and in the body, but is not material.  Therefore, the best analogy I can give for the brain is that it is like an 'antenna' between the body and soul.  Damage to it effects the signals going back and forth, thus a head injury can affect our perceptions, yet the loss of brain matter does not mean that thoughts and memories are utterly erased.  We have seen stroke and brain injury victims, who lose a lot of gray matter, regain not only functions but memories as well.

Those of us in the world of recovery are looking for treatments rather than explanations.  I don't believe that science is bad... I think that it is rather good.  But, having all the scientific information possible and being totally miserable is not for me.  I got into my spiritual journey wanting to find happiness.  I believe I am on that road, and I don't think that science has done all that much about happiness.

Mind you, science has presented some wonderful solutions to human misery, from disease to starvation... our world is much easier to survive in thanks to science.  But, people are still miserable, and I don't think that materialism has helped at all.  In fact, I believe that materialism is a major culprit in modern misery.

There is much more to say, but I will save it for later.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What is making us crazy?

So, why are we going mad?  There are a few theories.

First, I think that, from a 12 Step perspective, the heart of our modern madness lies in the elimination of God from the modern mind.  In the West, God has been driven out of philosophy and the social sciences as far back as the French Revolution.  The 18th century started this gradual path, in part because of the sheer madness of Western Christianity from the time of the Schism in 1054 until the insanity of the Reformation (the Reformation was undoubtedly a time of madness, and even the most committed Protestant will agree that most of what came out of it he rejects, since no one person could follow all the various streams of Protestant thought at once).

The frustration of so many conflicting theological paths led men to seen 'alternatives' to the unity that Christianity in the West once offered.  Nationalism, Masonry, and eventually Science came to be seen as common ground.  Now, it is Money.  Each stage represented a more and more materialistic approach, since the assumption is that it is easier to come to agreement over physical, visible things than it is to come to agreement over invisible, sublime things.

Yet, materialism is failing miserably.  It does not feed the deeper yearnings of man for something profound, nor does it offer reliable salvation.  Right now, the American people are in turmoil because they are clamoring for 'salvation' from Money through government and business.  God is an 'option' and more like a distraction on Sundays... perhaps a quick 'fix' of something vaguely spiritual just to take the edge off of our deeper desires that never seem to get met.

The second source of madness is availability of distractions.  Rather than having the pain of our madness drive us to real change and a return to sanity, we now have millions of distractions... literally at our fingertips.  Here's an example:

Now, I'm a bit old and the idea of getting more than a few texts in a week seems overwhelming, but I have camped a keyboard waiting for an email more than once.  There is a sense of immediacy in this age which often destroys our ability to prioritize and focus.  We are losing the ability to be patient, because there is so little need to be patient in the microwave era.

We wait for nothing.  And so, we lose the ability to be patient.  Life takes on a maddening pace that overwhelms while it exhilarates.  The only consolation is the arrival of our desired object, be it the consoling text of a friend, a new jacket, or sexual climax.

In fact, we are clamoring for things even while getting what we want.  The point of the article about cell phones is that people are interrupting the gratification of relationships with more more relationships than a single moment can hold.  What is thrilling at first, however, soon becomes exhausting.  Suddenly, we are juggling too much.  We become exhausted with all these people are their various needs and demands.

We retreat into loneliness.

This solitude is not really a recuperative one.  It is more like a defeated retreat, where we leave the scene without what we really want: a sense of being valued.  We want to feel desired, but no one else can hold still long enough to value us (likewise, we are not holding still either... and we know it).  Because no one values, we feel that we are not valued, and so we fall for the next available 'coping' skill... self-arousal.

This leads to our third contributing factor: we are also now in a time where people are physically isolating from one another.  Internet porn, as well as prostitution and promiscuity, require the ability to isolate and be alone.  If it acceptable for a young lady or man to roam the streets by his or herself, then you are setting the stage for the 'sins of darkness.'

Sitting in a room by yourself with a computer is a dangerous thing for someone who is lonely.

The idea of every child having his own room is a revolutionary.  In most of human history, families shared every space in the home.  You had to really work at finding a 'private place' to be alone.  The default position was communal.  Now, our default position is privacy, yet humans have not changed in their need for community.  We are busy trying to 'construct communities' because TV and internet have come to replace that communal sense, but in an incomplete way.  Problems around us don't get met because we are too busy watching video streams of other peoples' crises.

This isolation leaves us desperate for some sense of fellowship and value.  Porn and promiscuity are easy fixes in the Age of Isolation.  But, the despair they leave behind only makes the problem spin out of control.

The solution?  I'm not sure we've really hit bottom yet.  Some part of me thinks that the lights will really have to go out for the long haul before we will wake up to what we are doing to ourselves.

Perhaps I sound like a crank, but I don't see the way things are going as the right direction.

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things"

As usual, Ioan gets what I'm trying to say and says it better than I do! 

Biological insanity, be it schizophrenia or psychosis or some other psychiatric disorder, is not intentional.  The afflicted person is not 'immoral' because he does not choose to break with reality.  I think the civil law here in the US has this approach, when it rules that 'legal insanity' is the inability to discern right from wrong.

I think that this is half-right: the psychiatric patient is most often trying to do the right thing, but with the wrong information.  He tries to be moral, but just does not have the ability to make good decisions because of the impairment he experiences.  He is not making 'stupid' decisions in the sense of being carefree or, as Ioan points out, intentionally stupid.

There is another kind of insanity, a moral insanity.  This is "doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things."  This insanity is intentional, done with full knowledge of what is true, and thus moral.

Morality is the description of behavior that is according to nature, thus according to what is right and good.  Immorality is not a random act, but an intention to rebel against the natural order.  When we know what is good but refuse to act accordingly, we are departing into moral insanity.

The addict often starts off in the arena of moral insanity.  He will drink or use knowing that what he is doing is perhaps against morality, but his pride (driven by pain and fear) tells him he is entitled to act out in an immoral manner.

However, once the disease sets in and his intellect is sufficiently distorted, he enters into a type of biological insanity where his free will is impaired by a disease which he has no control of.  Addiction has one foot in each type of insanity.  One is treatable through a therapeutic and rational process, but the other is not.  Biological insanity cannot be counselled, but moral insanity can.

The difficulty is being able to discern when the addict is acting out of either type of insanity.  Does he have a choice not to drink or use?  This is a tricky question: on the one hand, his moral insanity is treatable and so he does have a choice, yet his biological insanity compels him to use beyond his ability to control.  The addict must learn to take responsibility for his intentional insanity, and leave the treatment of his biological insanity to the care of God.  This is what the 12 Steps does.

However, there are many people who do "insane things for the sake of doing insane things."  They are purposefully immoral.  They have no biological impairment, and so they are truly insane.  The person with biological insanity, if he can be properly treated, willingly embraces sanity in the same proportion as the general public (with perhaps a higher level of compassion and virtue on account of his experience of suffering with his disease).  But, those who are purposefully immoral have a curable problem which only needs willingness.

My greatest concern for our modern world is that we are working overtime to redefine good in such a way that makes addictions recovery and true morality an impossibility.  Our cultures stokes the fires of personal irresponsibility and self-indulgence even when it talks about altruistic notions of community and charity.

We arrest and fine people for destroying unborn turtles in their eggs because it is killing an endangered species, but say that abortion does not kill a human being.  But, then again, we send people to prison for murder should they cause a woman to miscarry even in her first trimester, when it is perfectly legal for her to abort the child.

Why such a conflicted logic?  Because we have become imprisoned by our desires for things, and are willing to abandon reason and logic for the sake of our goals: avoiding the consequences of voluntary, unprotected sex.

Abortion is just one example of many.  So, how is it that we can teach the addict about morality when his own world is so distorted by immorality?  We celebrate "doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things."  Just look at the celebrity culture!  Turn on your TV and watch what is going on.

The world is "doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things."  We revel in our lawlessness, yet we wonder why we need to medicate ourselves.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Locked Up for Crazy

My friend Red once posted this: "They don't lock you up for being crazy, they lock you up for acting crazy."

When I read it, I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair.  It is true: there are plenty of people who are crazy who don't get locked up.  So, why am I posting this?

Well, previously I posted on marijuana and mental illness (, and didn't quite finish my thought.  One of the links I put up had to do with the stigma of mental illness and how we, as a society react to it.  So, why do we assign a stigma to mental illness?

There are a number of reasons: first, people with mental illness have impaired judgement.  They make bad decisions, and so there's always a risk factor to themselves and others.  Someone who is 'high' gets the same stigma.

But, second and perhaps more important, is that we value, as a society, human life because it is intelligent.  We place a high value on intelligence.  That's why we emphasize education in the secular world and the study of Scriptures in religious traditions.

Because people with mental illness don't process information the way an 'intelligent' person does, we assume that the mentally ill are 'stupid' and therefore 'less-than.'

There is a third reason, a bit less influential, and that is that the mentally ill suffer for their disease, and suffering makes human life far less valuable in the secular world.  Think about it: there are many people who justify euthanasia because it 'ends suffering.'  They would never think of killing a healthy person.  Others will justify killing a child in the womb because it would be 'unwanted' and thus subjected to a life of suffering from deprivation.

I'm going to focus on the second one (in part because I am sick right now and don't want to think much about suffering) because I think that we have a hard time reconciling the intelligence of the mentally ill with their behavior.

We lock people up for 'acting crazy.'

But, acting crazy is not the same as acting stupid.  A person who makes bad decisions again and again is not mentally ill, and the reverse holds true.

It is undeniable that addiction is a type of mental illness.  As with all mental illness, it is complex and not entirely understood, though I think we can say that it is far less 'organic' than schizophrenia or psychosis.

We often look at addictive behavior as stupid.  Some of it certainly is.  But, it is not come by through stupidity or low IQ.  It comes through a broken mind.

But, just so that you can see where I'm coming from on this, I will take the opposite tack and say that intelligence does not always produce the most rational decisions either.

Now I know you are scratching your head, because we assume that intelligence governs one's ability to make good decisions.  Well, that is true when it comes to attaining facts.  But, there is another axis to decision-making: morality.

Education does not make someone moral.  Morality and the ability to care about others cannot be taught, nor does a PhD make anyone more or less likely to be moral.  Education gives information, and that's about it.

The mentally ill do not necessarily lose their morality because of their disease.  While they may have gross misconceptions about the people around them, the truth is that they are far less violent than, let's say, their 'chronically normal' peers.  Even mental illness does not entirely rob a person of his will and his reason.

The real problem of addiction and mental illness, at a social level, has to do with self-care.  In both cases, people with mental illness and addictions invariably become a drain on public systems.  This can be the family at first, but eventually the state will get involved in having to pay for treatment either of the disorder or something caused by the disorder.

People must be held accountable for their own self-care, and it is only through this approach that we can really engage those who are sick and have a fair standard: if you can care for yourself by your own rules, then do what you want... but if you can't care for yourself, then those who care for you will make the rules.

This is how we deal with childhood, right?  Children are 'wards' of their parents until they can 'self-care.'

Rather than arguing endlessly over law and programs, we first need to set a standard of self-care.  That's what being crazy really is: you are not caring for yourself.  After all, if you are crazy but can care for yourself, we just call you eccentric.  people have a right to be eccentric, but they do not have a right to be a burden without making any attempt to help themselves.

To refuse to help yourself makes you a candidate for an asylum rather than a hospital (

I think we need to clarify what it means to make good decisions and what it really means to be crazy.

Thanks to Red and Christina for all the input.