The Clare Spark Blog

December 12, 2013

The Wall Street Journal discovers lobotomy craze for vets

VA quackeryAs late as today, December 12, 2013, The Wall Street Journal, has discovered that traumatized veterans of WW2 and even later conflicts were routinely lobotomized, a procedure that is said to have its greatest application in the 1940s and 1950s. Written by Michael M. Phillips (pages A1, A8-A9), the author relies on “dusty” boxes found in the National Archives.  The surgery was primarily applied to “depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.”

Where have journalists been all these years? Even anti-science, anti-psychiatry students of the history of medicine consider this lurid chapter to be closed, though my blog index to lobotomies remains popular. See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/.

But even more relevant to the WSJ alarming discovery is the series on military psychiatry, which remains in a primitive state, perhaps owing to the assumption that wars are inevitable, and that fighting men are expendable, whereas blundering diplomats and governments are not. Above all, we must maintain hierarchies and obedience to our betters, a message amplified by such favorite television series as NCIS, where the good father (Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon) protects his cohesive fighting family, ever the uncomplaining “team.” https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/. On blundering diplomats see https://clarespark.com/2013/08/31/the-devil-in-history-a-j-p-taylor-vs-r-palme-dutt/ (with an addendum by Niall Ferguson).

As I have argued before, WSJ, like Fox News Channel or Commentary is an outpost of the moderate men. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.) I had hoped that the WSJ article would exhibit some homework in other archives, hence pointing to our continued confusion over the causes of anxiety, depression, “shell shock,” “PTSD,” and other mental illnesses that might be preventable without the taboo associated with any of the “personality disorders” said to be curable now with cognitive behavioral therapy, guided by DSM-5.  (See https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/nobody-is-perfect/, one of my items in the lobotomy blogs.)

Quacks

The point of this blog is that ordinary people take the rap when our “betters” give the orders and fail in their jobs to keep individual, social, and international peace. Is it possible that our world is run by quacks? Are we quacks for trusting them? If so, what can we do about it? Leave your comments on the blog.

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December 13, 2012

The “Brain Trust” at UCLA

Blue EagleThe discourse on mental health is troubling, for psychosurgery in the form of lobotomies were deployed for many decades before they were stigmatized.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/.) Moreover, the notion of psychiatrists or other mental health workers proposing medical interventions in the body, particularly the brain, arouses fears that government surveillance (mind-control and/or mind-management, even psychosurgery on imprisoned black people) are the intended outcomes. Meanwhile, amateurs write self-help books that instruct the unschooled masses with remedies that are wild surmises and/or quackery.

As I have shown, there is a basis for such “paranoid” ideation in ordinary people, for the structural-functionalists (misnamed) in sociology and the burgeoning field of social relations at Harvard and other elite universities did draw upon authoritarian social theory and testing to weed out potential radicals and to direct popular opinion along “progressive” lines, i.e. lines that would support FDR’s New Deal and the welfare state generally. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/12/12/white-rage-black-surrogates/, especially the introductory lines identifying the academic pedigree of Dr. Bertram P. Karon.)

Dr. Karon holds that schizophrenia is not a genetic disease requiring sedating medication, but rather (controversially) proposes that psychoanalytically oriented therapy can provide cure. He stresses the widespread need of people generally to have a willing ear to listen to her or his troubles. Given that health insurers (including Medicare) are reluctant to pay for anything but short term counseling and medication, one wonders if willing friends and relatives are not called upon to listen to those of us with emotional difficulties that are manifested in biological symptoms and general misery. For the willing ear, the key would be in not judging the speaker, and in controlling one’s own emotional responses to loaded material, a feat that few of us are up for, especially in our youth (or in the endless youth that the rhetoric of “family” or the fashion industry promotes: see https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/).

BrainTrust

Yesterday I received a magazine from the UCLA Health System David Geffen School of Medicine, featuring an article by Dan Gordon, “Brain Trust,” a six-page article soliciting support for the Neuropsychiatric Institute as directed by Dr. Peter Whybrow, a celebrity neuroscientist and psychiatrist. The article caught my attention because it represented, as “interdisciplinary” social theory, exactly the same social theory that I had encountered in the UCLA Department of History as I pursued my doctorate. This social theory was “progressive” in that it stressed the “interactions” between genetic inheritance and vaguely defined “environmental” influences.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/.)

But the focus in the essay was obviously to locate “brain disorders” as subject to medical interventions, combining [cognitive behavioral] “therapy,”  molecular biology, MRI scans, genomics, and  pharmaceuticals, while holding out hope for surgery that would cure such ailments as bipolar disease, perhaps even depression, insomnia, obesity, Alzheimer’s and so on.

Here are some representative fuzzy quotes:

“Thomas Strouse, M.D., medical director of the Resnick Hospital, notes that when the NPI first opened its doors, the prevailing theories were that manic depression, severe depression and even schizophrenia were attributable to parental missteps. ‘Now,’ says Dr. Strouse, ‘we tend to understand most major mental illnesses as brain diseases that are the manifestation of a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors.’

“This recognition of a genetic-environmental interplay comes after a period some 20 to 30 years ago, during which most of the focus was on the biological. ‘Biology is not destiny. That also is something we have learned in this explosion of knowledge that is behavioral neuroscience,’ says Dr. Whybrow. ‘The brain learns from what it encounters. Thus, while the genes inherited from our parents help to shape our path and the vulnerabilities we carry, it is experience and those who nurture us that eventually determine who we are.’

“The implications of this understanding are profound. Where once it was thought that people were entirely responsible for their own mood and behavior, and then it was believed that any aberrant behavior was simply a product of wayward brain chemistry, it’s now clear that both a person’s developmental path and his or her biology play a role, along with a third significant factor: the social environment. Even with medication interventions, the best results are achieved with medication and supportive therapy that calls for an understanding of the person, the family and the environment.” (U Magazine, Winter, 2013, pp.16-17)

The late Louis Jolyon West

The late Louis Jolyon West

What was glaringly absent in the article was the role of flawed institutions in promoting “brain disorders.” The word “institution” was never mentioned. “Lifestyle choices” and hopeful subjection to the regimen of  the federally funded “Nexus Project” (with its “interdisciplinary” and “community” focus), now in progress, were mentioned. In other words, we are sort of on our own, but can look forward to the “magic” of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, according to “Fawzy I. Fawzy M.D., the  Louis Jolyon West Professor of Psychiatry and and Biobehavioral Sciences and executive associate director of the Semel Institute.”

Beggars can’t be choosers.

November 29, 2010

Index to lobotomy blogs

Dr. Walter Freeman and patient

The History of Madness website has noted the research of Miriam Posner into Walter Freeman’s photos of his patients before and after lobotomy. Here is what already existed on the YDS website. [I found a website on lobotomies that claimed that Freeman had been killed by a “berserk” patient in 1955. This is not true: he died of cancer in 1976.]

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/07/disparities-between-image-and-text-some-cases-of-lobotomy/. (This image shows case 123 before and after lobotomy, along with Rockwell Kent illustration for Moby-Dick that erases the male-bonding and tattoos. I have seen the preliminary drawings for this text and it morphed from realism to primitivism. Kent obviously pulled back from insinuations of homosexuality.)

https://clarespark.com/2010/03/04/before-lobotomy-case-123/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/03/04/after-lobotomy-case-123/. (These illustrations from Freeman’s book are the single most shocking example of medical malpractice that I have found in my work on the history of medicine. Please read the before and after sequence together.)

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/when-lobotomies-cured-the-romantic-agony/. (Lobotomy was originally seen as a cure for anxiety and depression, but it also seemed from the pictures, and from Freeman’s book Psychosurgery, as a way to control rebellious females.)

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/nobody-is-perfect/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/09/27/cannibals-negro-jazz-and-servile-revolt/. This is about Tennessee Williams and the film Suddenly, Last Summer, with its terrifying mob scene, redolent of the French Revolution. Video clip of the movie included. Elizabeth Taylor’s character is threatened with lobotomy.

March 4, 2010

After Lobotomy, Case 123

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from Walter Freeman's Psychosurgery

Before Lobotomy, Case 123

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from Walter Freeman's Psychosurgery

November 7, 2009

Disparities between image and text: some cases of lobotomy

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Image (85)

Queequeg and Ishmael, not, and a confident man

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