2006-11-29

Musings on Psycho-Pharmacology

An interesting thought struck me the other night during a discussion on the medication of mood disorders, this thought was "What will we think of the current pharmaceutical treatment regime in 100 years?" While this question is purely hypothetical, and completely unanswerable, it does open up interesting avenues of thought. What is the chance that we might someday compare today's psychopharmacology with the eugenics of yesteryear? Oddly this is not as silly a comparison as it sounds at first blush, there are a disturbing amount of ideological similarities shared between these two areas.

Just like we can now look back on the racial views of the past with a large measure of understandable disdain and distaste, we might look back on today's psychological, and biological model with similar distaste. Both models revolve around the idea of a mythical ideal human. The difference is that in the past this model was racial, and based on physical characteristics, and today the model is based on a purely statistical profile. "Inferior" racial characteristics has been replaced with deviation from various physical and affective norms. In the past the "inferior" people were sterilized, or murdered, today deviation is medicated, or operated to bring us to conformity with some mythical peak of the bell-curve.

Eugenics was a social solution, whereas the current medical model is is a personal solution, both of these models of what is ideal humanity are both complete mythology. There is no master race, nor is there and ideal affective state, or physical ideal. In a sense both the mythical master race, and the idea of an ideal psychological state are forms of tyranny. Both in the more philosophical sense of the tyranny of a mere abstraction (an idea, an ideal) over individual persons, and in the more immediate sense of being forced to conform to authority (in this case the authority of collective opinion) at the cost of the freedom of the individual.

Granted that there are severe differences between eugenics, and medicating mood disorders, no one has yet been killed in the pursuit of affective idealism. But in a sense the current ideals are worse, since they subject individuals to norms, it is a more personal, and pervasive, form of tyranny. It changes our very view of ourselves, it makes us feel deficient and flawed. Being it is based on a statistical ideal, it turns all of us into deviants, and we believe it. We ignore, then and now, the fact that humanity is variant, we have moods, we all have different affects, looks, skin colors, etc... This is not a weakness, it is the way things are, it is no more a weakness than having thumbnails. Our so-called racial differences serve a purpose, as do our affective and psychological states.

Related to this is the increase of plastic, and other cosmetic, forms of surgery. It is far easier to change our appearance, than to actually be healthy, or accept our superficial, or perceived flaws from some celebrated ideal of appearance, and ideal that no one naturally meets. This ideal, in its very being as an ideal, matches none of us, it is not applicable to any real person. This has reached a level of absurdity, as seen by labia reduction surgery, testicular implants, and more absurdly anal bleaching. I wish I was making these ups, but sadly real people are fooled into actually getting these procedures done to them, just as they are fooled into taking taking anti-depressants for minor, and temporary (and completely normal) moods, or doping there children to behave better in a deficient education system. We've fooled people into thinking that there is something wrong with them, as opposed to forcing our racist opinions on them. While we were against diversity with eugenics, with terrible human costs, today we are against the very concept of the individual.

As a related quandary: Individual misery (or deviance) springs often from the structure of the current society failing to meet the needs of the individual, or even our core humanity. But the prescribed cure is US changing to cure the problem, as generally dictated by society. The reasoning goes: We are broken because the structure of society failed us. This irony is made deeper because WE are the masters of society, society is nothing but a collective noun for US. This is a nonsensical solution to an inane problem. Is the society as ideological entity really more important than its very real constituents? If we were to buy defective pants, missing one leg, would it make more sense to chop off one of our legs to make them fit, or to return them as defective? This is our current medical dilemma, and we proudly choose the former solution!

If our problems (such as anomie, and stress) spring for social structures not meeting our needs it would make more sense to change the social conditions to better meet our needs, rather than labeling us aberrant.

Oddly, after pursuing this line of thought, I picked up Dr. Ronald Dworkin's book, Artificial Happiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class, which is a critical view into a related topic, the rise of treatments of mood, creating a class of people who are happy for no real reason. There is a dissonance between there environment, and their affect. It has become far easier to change ourselves artificially, rather than fix the actual environmental causes to our problems. Moods, such as unhappiness, are essential to our lives, they are like the physical sensation of pain, they warn us that something is wrong, and something needs to be fixed, without them we put ourselves in unsafe, and undesirable situations out of pure ignorance, to our own detriment. Even the unpleasant things in life serve a purpose. Dworkin blames this primary care doctors treating human affect as an "engineering problem", something purely chemical. This is a false view of the human mental life. We are more than chemicals, and our problems are more than a neurochemical mistake, or mythological unbalance.

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For more about like topics: About a year and a half ago I wrote a small (and contentious) article for the website Kuro5hin, the article touched upon potential impacts on creativity from the use of pharmaceudical drugs to treat psychological ailments such as depression and ADD/ADHD (the original, complete, draft is now available through Google Documents, here).

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1 comment:

Jennifer Christini said...

While it is true that what we need to do is change what society thinks, that is a long way coming. More immediately, we need to change what doctors think. We go to doctors, whether for mental or physical help, because they are supposed to know something we don't and provide us the service of their intelligence and knowledge. But too often now, it seems, that doctors are swayed by the allure of money from drug companies to push the lastest perscription on the complacent and compliant masses. People want to believe that they can helped, and when a doctor says, "take these and you'll start to feel better in a week" you're inclined to believe it. Not all people have been raised to question authority - and doctors are generally seen as being an authority on the subject which they have been sought after for advice. You can't the mass opinion without first changing the "elite" opinion.