The Clare Spark Blog

December 16, 2015

The Depression Grand Challenge: UCLA style

Human brain, conceptual computer artwork. HuffPo

Human brain, conceptual computer artwork. HuffPo

The well-funded David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has issued its monthly fund-raising magazine, this one titled “The Golden Age of Brain Science.” Removing the stigma from genetically transmitted “depression” is one of their major themes. Turns out that “depression” is entirely inherited, and their interdisciplinary team includes no historians or even anthropologists, but not to worry, psychiatrists are included.

Lest the reader think that social responsibility has been abandoned by the new neuroscientists, note that final paragraph in the featured article: it is a typical liberal double bind/mixed message. Has the Nature-Nurture controversy been resolved?https://clarespark.com/2016/02/09/is-the-nature-nurture-debate-over/

As the Golden Age progresses, neuroscience will transform society: Artificial limbs controlled by thought. Enhanced cognition. Drugs precisely targeted to individuals. Understanding of how external forces like poverty affect the brain.

And a looming new responsibility.

Our brain is not just a reflection of our genetics but is also very much a reflection of our environment,’ says [Kelsey] Martin [interim Dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine]. We have a social responsibility to make sure that the environment is one in which human beings flourish.’

Forget socially-induced trauma, forget [Freudians or Kleinians or socially irresponsible Republicans and Milton Friedman-esque advocates of free markets/upward mobility]. UCLA’s message of genetically engineered and psychotropic-drug-induced “hope” will usher us into the Brave New World.

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

As for myself, between the bread and circus atmosphere of political “debates” this election season, or the rise of ISIS and the general incompetence of the political class, I hold on to my environmentally-induced anxiety and depression like Captain Ahab’s red flag.

October 31, 2015

UCLA and the “Depression Grand Challenge”

Malcolm McDowell photo Robert Grant Archive

Malcolm McDowell photo Robert Grant Archive

“U,” the latest publication of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (Fall 2015), has just proclaimed a new genetic research program that promises “The End of Darkness.” The cover shows a cartoon male escaping from a coiled space with his arms reaching toward the light, hands open to optimism. But without this intervention by geneticists, there is a dire warning, “By 2030 depression will be the single largest contributor to the global burden of disease.” And it will cost plenty, which may be the reason for the Latest Big Thing for us to worry about.

Since the most provocative sidebar to this lengthy piece makes a nod toward influences outside inherited genomes, the reader learns that environmental factors will not be neglected in this project:  “None of us live [sic] in a vacuum. …The way to think about depression is not only individually, but also how does the individual relate to the social space and how does the social space relate to the individual.” (my emph.)

Huh?! Social spaces are now individualized, rather than being identified as distinct and multiple, each demanding historical analysis? For instance, there is the family, the site of primary conditioning and emotional learning, but also schools that may bore the student or may be irrelevant to the development of critical thought. There are also churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. that either demand or undermine the “respect for authority” that Fox’s Eric Bolling (trained in a Jesuit school) lamented was being lost these days as police become targets of criticism rather than admired representatives of law and order. I have mentioned two of many institutions that affect our moods. These are nowhere enumerated or analyzed in all their variability, but condensed into the one and only “social space,” now likened to a person.

Worse, by ignoring the non-inherited predisposition to depression, anxiety, and anhedonia (the latter two conditions appear late in the article), this clearly fund-raising essay erased the many relevant contexts that interact with genes. But wait, I don’t want to be unfair to the project, grand in its results as promised. Its last paragraph somewhat repairs the prior sole emphasis on genetic inheritance: “Through dialog and scientific discovery, the Depression Grand Challenge hopes to lift the veil of depression. ‘It’s like being an explorer on a globe that nobody has traveled on before,’ says Dr. Martin. ‘We may not know exactly how the answers will affect the treatment of depression, but by understanding how the brain functions and changes with experience, we will understand how it can be changed in a positive way.’”

Is it time to take another look at  A Clockwork Orange? (https://clarespark.com/2010/05/17/beethoven-and-some-rosy-prometheans/). Or, give a listen to this Doris Day version of “I want to be happy.” (1961) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31ifejRMVvg. (My deployment of this song is intended to be ironic, not celebratory. I am happy to think positively when conditions warrant it, but the world outside hardly warrants daily affirmations. Sorry.)

a_clockwork_orange_beethoven

March 6, 2014

Crises: real and manufactured

MAD“What, me worry?” Someone looked up this blog, written last year on the D-Day anniversary. https://clarespark.com/2013/06/06/morale-in-the-time-of-crisis-overload/. D-Day, 6 June, 1944, was a true crisis, not a mass media manufactured one. This blog is about both real crises and those emergencies that are ideological in origin.

Giving too much weight to crises that are not “real” can affect physical and mental health, not to speak of where we should put our primary efforts in coping with problems, both personal and social. I got the idea for this blog after reading all of “U” a periodical put out by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Although positive in outlook, this important public health magazine is worried about the size of the Baby Boomer generation and the shortage of trained physicians who understand the needs of geriatric patients that is likely to result. It should be mentioned that this is a generally liberal magazine, optimistically progressive, reformist in tone, and certainly not alarmist, as they support ACA without reservation, including a warning about the pointless excessive cost of end of life critical care (i.e., death panels are not mentioned). As good multicultural liberals, they write to everyone (including veterans with PTSD and brain injuries), celebrating both recent discoveries in medicine (e.g. the Genome project, genetic sources of schizophrenia), and the healing power of “faith” and “happiness.”

And as good liberals, they published a letter from a doctor irate with the notion that faith heals, as opposed to science. But that letter is immediately followed by another celebrating faith and spirituality. There is no problem with the marketplace of ideas at UCLA, not here at least.

The rest of this blog lists some emergencies that I, from the distance of my years, can identify as real crises. Some are personal, some are social in origin. All affect personal and public health. As one example of a manufactured crisis, think of “anxiety and depression.” What sane person is not anxious and depressed given the real intertwined crises listed below in capital letters.

REAL CRISES.

True of false? According to Marxist-Leninist theory, capitalism is in a permanent state of crisis, being a “weak and unstable system” [Hyman Minsky’s diagnosis]. For lefties I have known, such an emphasis on the past and future crises (that either should have led to socialism/communism, or are guides for future action, sans errors), can lead to a carelessness or minimizing of personal crises: the ageing and death of parents, divorces, troubled attachments to lovers, families and children. Such persons, it has been widely observed, are living in hopes of a future utopia, not a past Golden Age, as reactionaries do. Their Leninist critiques of the present tend to be framed as “will it advance the working-class revolution?”, or will this or that movement advance such disasters as “false consciousness” allegedly caused by mass media and consumerism. Or, they may infiltrate reformist groups such as environmentalism, in order to turn “Greens” into Reds. Such tactics can lead to alarm over irreversible climate change, an alarm that is intended to delegitimize current types of energy usage. Or, and this is the worst: leftists have bonded with Islamic jihadists on the theory that they are correct to destroy “imperialist” Israel.

Here are some crises that should receive more attention from those of us who give at least lip service to capitalism as either social democrats, neocons, libertarians, or conservatives. Each of these has preoccupied me for the last four or five years on the website. I will not attempt to specify the causes of the intertwined crises that I have emphasized, but I have no love for the progressive activist reading of the “living” Constitution.

DUMBING DOWN.  THE CONFUSION OF PAIN WITH PLEASURE (systemic masochism).  LOSS OF FOCUS (CHANGING THE SUBJECT). THE LEFTIST TAKEOVER OF THE HUMANITIES AND MASS MEDIA. USE OF THE INTERNET TO FIND PARANOID CONSPIRACY THEORIES OR TO VENT RAGE. COUNTER-ENLIGHTENMENT/ANTI-SCIENCE. POSTMODERNISM. NEEDLESS POLARIZATION. NONCHALANCE and DROPPING OUT. THE ADMINISTERED STATE.* MULTICULTURALISM/IDENTITY POLITICS. INDIFFERENCE TO TERRORIST THREAT FROM ISLAMIC JIHADISM.

*By including “the administered state” I do not imply that concern with progressive statism is not a crisis, but that it is the source of  most of the other crises as listed. In this I am following Richard Epstein’s new book The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government (Harvard UP, 2014). By including “postmodernism” I am agreeing with Epstein’s claim that all text are not inherently ambiguous, hence unresponsive to interpretation. This postulate of his is more significant than many would imagine.

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