Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ayn Rand and Libertarian Utopia

As part of “Put Ayn Rand on a Spit and Roast Slowly Week,” we have strenuously avoided the term, “libertarianism.” Rand herself referred to libertarians as a “monstrous, disgusting bunch of people” who plagiarized her ideas. But, thanks to “Atlas Shrugged” and her other works, the term has become identified with her. But what is it?

Broadly speaking, libertarianism implies a soft form of anarchy, which views all forms of government as an infringement of individual liberty. The sentiment embraces the entire political spectrum, from communists who perceive the “withering away of the state” as the ultimate prize to their sworn enemies on the right who bristle at the thought of state interference in their activities.

Anarchy matured into a political philosophy under the 19th century French socialist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. “Property is theft!” he famously declared. Right-wing libertarians would strenuously disagree, and here is where Ayn Rand enters the picture.

In the final section of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” we are introduced to a right-wing libertarian utopia - Galt’s Gulch - sequestered in the mountains, where hero capitalists and related vocations live to their heart’s content mining ore and practicing medicine and producing music and lending money with no regulation and no taxes.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to perceive the absurdity of this arrangement. What happens, for instance, when the hero mining magnate decides to dump his tailings into the river the hero banker likes to fish for trout in? The situation reaches its ultimate level of absurdity when our heroes prepare to emerge from their seclusion with new terms to impose on the rest of the US. Get ready: they rewrite the US Constitution to expressly forbid the regulation of business.

So much for “We the people.”

Hmm - baby clothes that catch on fire, tainted products in supermarkets, cars that blow up, nuclear reactors built on fault lines ...

Hmm - workers on starvation wages, nine-year old chimney sweeps, Triangle Factory fires ..

Oh yeh, no public education, no public roads, no public health or sanitation, no social services or amenities ...

I’ll stop right there.

The movie version of “Atlas Shrugged” only covered part one of her book, so we have no visual version of Rand’s libertarian utopia. But I imagine the JR Ewing character (pictured on top) from the 80s TV hit, "Dallas," would be right at home in it.

But it pays to recall that there is also a Communist strain to libertarianism, and the Stalinist government in 1949 was thoughtful enough to provide us with this filmed utopia featuring singing peasant farmers:

Back in our real and very imperfect world, the reasoned among us acknowledge that an individual’s rights happen to extend to the right to band with other individuals “in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

There is a term for this type of imperfect but ultimately serviceable arrangement. The last thing anyone would call it is libertarianism.

Black Box Warning: Something Good About Ayn Rand

As part of “Put Ayn Rand on a Spit and Roast Slowly Week,” we compared the movie version of “Atlas Shrugged” to “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” unmasked her as “666” in the 2008 financial-economic apocalypse, and exposed her silly objectivist philosophizing as a fraud.

Okay, I know you’re not going to believe this, but Rand’s strongest critics back in her day weren’t communist sympathizers or left-wing intellectuals (or for that matter anyone with half a brain). No, it was the far right. This from a 1957 review of Atlas Shrugged by Whitaker Chambers in William Buckley’s National Review:

Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.

“To a gas chamber - go!” the review concluded.

In 1964, Buckley condemned "her desiccated philosophy's conclusive incompatibility with the conservative's emphasis on transcendence, intellectual and moral," comparing her unyielding dogmatism to the likes of Savonarola (the fanatical Florentine monk who burned books and works of art during the Renaissance).

Forgive me, but any enemy of the far right is a friend of mine.

Buckley’s major contribution to the conservative movement was in cloaking an essentially Visigoth creed in a veneer of civility. The far right, back in those days, had image problems. A country which had prospered and achieved world leadership under FDR and Truman (and let’s give Ike credit, too) was not about to display its gratitude by voting back into office the same people who had inflicted upon them the Great Depression, unemployment, bread lines, social injustice, isolationism, and union-busting.

By branding himself as a conservative that liberals could stomach, Buckley is credited for setting the scene for the Reagan Presidency and the unrelenting sorry mess that followed. But first, he had to purge those who might blow his cover. Segregationists and McCarthyites who essentially knew how to hold a knife and fork correctly were allowed to remain members in good standing. (Buckley was both a white supremacist and an ardent defender of the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts.)  Anti-Semites (even those with good table manners) were not. Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, was too much of a loose cannon.

Then there was Ayn Rand. As well as being an atheist (she once told Buckley, an observant Catholic, that he was too smart to believe in God), she preached a gospel of naked (she called it rational) self-interest.

Every right-winger worth his salt, Buckley included, believed in exactly the same thing. Free enterprise is based on the principle, and you can make a very good case that it serves the public interest far better than any system that claims to act in the greater good. I have greatly benefited from living in a society based on naked self-interest - I’m not stupid.

Ayn Rand sneered at the idea of altruism, but she wasn’t exactly against it, and it would be unfair to pin this rap on her. What she was against was forced altruism. According to Rand, that’s where the trouble starts, and she witnessed it first-hand in her native Russia after Lenin’s Bolsheviks took over. Once the greater good comes into play, it is time to get the hell out of Dodge. No longer does the state serve the individual. Rather, the individual serves the state. Always with catastrophic results.

Yes, we all long to be part of something greater than ourselves, but there exist no shortage of evil people most happy to exploit this noble side of our nature.

Obviously, the greater good was by no means a communist monopoly. Propagandists such as William Buckley needed to use it to make their case for a kinder and gentler brand of “screw-you-I’m-rich” conservatism. It also helped if they could use religion as a club to beat dissenters over the head.

But here was Ayn Rand, telling it like it was, undermining Buckley. Give Ayn Rand full marks for her honesty and courage. I came of age during the sixties. I read Buckley’s columns. I watched him on “Firing Line.” For all his collegial bantering with the likes of liberals such as John Kenneth Galbraith, this man was an enemy of democracy.

Make no mistake, it is the far right who originated politically correct. If you don't believe me, cast your mind back to the flag-burning amendment controversy and the people who supported it. Also, check the credentials of those who lead book burnings.

Heaven help back in the day if you believed in racial equality or social justice - that made you a communist. Heaven help if you objected to poor young boys being drafted to fight an ill-conceived war - that made you an some kind of traitor.

“Love it or leave it,” appeared on the bumper stickers of the day, and leading the chorus was the glib and smooth-talking Bill Buckley.

So whenever “the greater good” comes up in the name of country or religion of some other ideal, we need to pay attention to Ayn Rand. I’m proud to consider myself altruistic. I freely give my time to individuals and worthy causes. But when it comes to forced altruism - of someone else telling me how to think and behave and what stupid war I'm supposed to die in - put me foursquare in Rand’s corner.

Of all things, Ayn Rand has now become a right-wing folk hero, but probably only because Fox News has neglected to inform its viewers that their new role model was rabidly atheist, pro-abortion, slept around quite a bit, was ethnically Jewish, and insisted on marching to her own drum.

The world is a funny place ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is Ayn Rand Too Smart to Believe Her Own Crap?

On March 9, in anticipation of the release of the movie version of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity addressed his fellow traveler, John Stossel:

There were certain writers that just had this vision of the future. It seems like this out-of-control, know-no-bounds government ... they got it, they understood what could happen.

Stossel’s response:

Oh my God, how could she see 50 years ago what would happen now in America?

The answer is simple, really. As I mentioned in my most recent piece, Ayn Rand could easily foresee the situation because she in fact helped cause it. The architect of the 2008 financial-economic meltdown was Rand’s protege and one-time acolyte, Alan Greenspan. As long-serving Chairman of the Fed and de facto economic Czar answerable to virtually no one, Greenspan personally oversaw the dismantling of regulatory control of the finance industry and the American economy.

But instead of a golden age of the type of hero capitalism that Rand extolled, we witnessed rat bag opportunists running amok. We are still paying in full measure for their legalized sociopathy. As a result, we are in for years of the type of dragged-out economic stagnation that hit Japan in the nineties. The possibility of the apocalypse envisioned by Rand is not out of the question, either, particularly if the likes of Fox News is successful in promoting her timeless appeal.

Okay, let’s examine this timeless appeal:

Ayn Rand grew up in St Petersburg, Russia. She was 12 when the Czar was deposed in 1917. Soon after, Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power and confiscated her father’s pharmacy. Ayn’s family sought refuge in Crimea - then beyond the reach of the Soviets - where she completed high-school. Back in St Petersburg the Soviets had opened up universities to women and Jews. Her family was destitute, but - of all things, thanks to Communism - she was among the first generation of women in Russia to obtain a higher education.

In 1925, Rand emigrated to the US and broke into movies as a budding screen-writer. During the thirties, as the depression deepened, various movers and shakers in the US looked to Europe for alternative political/economic models. Facism was a strong favorite of the reactionary wing of the Republican party. Henry Ford was a Nazi sympathizer. Various liberals, with equal naivete, advanced an idealized view of Soviet Communism.

It was against this backdrop of misguided communist sympathizers that Rand was reacting to. She had witnessed first-hand the brutal reality in turning over the reins of government to collectivist thugs. This experience formed the basis of her 1936 novel, “We the Living,” set in Soviet Russia, which she describes as “near to an autobiography as I will ever write.”

But of course, this is where Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy is unmasked as a fraud. Rather than pointing to an “absolute reality” revealed by the powers of reason, Rand’s world view is highly colored by emotion and personal experience. Had she and her family been victimized by Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, instead, she would have been singing a highly different tune.

As it was, even those mildly sympathetic to FDR’s New Deal were seen by her as the enemy.

This decidedly anti-objectivist view of reality was the basis of her 1943 “The Fountainhead” and her 1957 “Atlas Shrugged,” both which idealized hero capitalists and visionaries ruggedly acting in their own rational self-interest, and which vilified liberals as effeminate schemers and back-stabbers.

But as morality tales, both novels work and work exceptionally well, on a similar level to Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm.” These were novels for their time, hardly novels for all time. Ironically, “Atlas Shrugged” was published during the second term of Eisenhower’s successful Presidency, what is regarded by many as a golden decade. The rich paid high taxes, the nation was gainfully employed, opportunities were expanding, the economy grew beyond expectations with regulations in place, and very few seemed to be complaining.

Nevertheless, there is universal appeal in Rand’s warning about being highly skeptical regarding those who claim to act in the greater good. Inevitably, we the gullible find our pockets picked and our freedoms taken away. But in this day and age, the enemy turns out to be Rand’s own legacy.

If Ayn Rand were alive today, would she fall for her own crap? Interesting question ... 

More to come ...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ayn Rand: Author of the Catastophe She Envisioned

“Atlas Shrugged” the movie is set in 2016. The US is in economic ruins caused by big government and do-gooder liberalism. The only thing standing between civilization as we know it and a new dark ages is a small band of hero capitalists, who are mysteriously disappearing.

According to the likes of Sean Hannity, Ayn Rand was monumentally visionary in forecasting this scenario fifty years ago. Was she ever. After all, she helped caused it.

The year 2016 may well be the new 1984, but if it eventuates it will be for entirely different reasons than imagined by either Ayn Rand or Fox News. To refresh your memories, the economic-financial meltdown of 2008 was caused by rat bag capitalists operating unfettered in an unregulated economy. Civilization was saved by big government and hero do-gooders. Hero capitalists were in short supply. We are still not out of the woods. Economic recovery is still bogged down and things may yet disintegrate to the bleak and harsh 1984 of 2016.

I have a depressive temperament and an active imagination. The collapse of western civilization - sudden or gradual - is not an alien thought to me.

Now rewind back more than a half a century, when Ayn Rand was working on “Atlas Shrugged.” During the time, she ran a salon frequented by her acolytes spouting her creed. Get ready for this: Prominent among her acolytes was a young Alan Greenspan.

That’s right, Alan Greenspan, legendary Chairman of the Fed, the economic czar virtually answerable to no one, who had only recently stepped down from his position when the shit hit the fan. As he later testified to a Congressional committee:

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

Translation: Ayn Rand’s fantasy view of hero capitalists acting in their own rational self-interest for the common good is totally unsustainable.

So was Ayn Rand partly responsible for 2008 and by extension the new 1984 she envisioned? Hate the sorry mess we’re in, love the irony.

Atlas Snored

After a nearly a whole lifetime of deliberately avoiding Ayn Rand’s 1957 classic “Atlas Shrugged,” five or six years ago I finally unavoided it. I could cite more reasons to not like this book than Martin Luther had theses to nail to the Wittenberg door, but one simple fact trumps all of my objections - namely that I couldn’t put the damned thing down. Say what you want, the book is a page-turner.

Compare that to the movie version, released as “Atlas Shrugged - Part 1.” Inside 30 seconds I was looking at my watch. Let’s put it this way. The movie invites comparisons to such classics as “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” and Ed Wood’s immortal “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Really, we’re talking “Mystery Science Theater 3000” quality here.

Ayn Rand’s dystopic novel asks us to identify with a band of hero capitalists getting squashed by big government, who in their frustration stage their own version of going on a strike led by the mysterious John Galt. Everything ends happily when the US of the future is plunged into the Dark Ages as a result, setting the stage for a return to reason.

Crazy as it seems, Rand pulls it off. The story centers on a hard-as-nails railroad heiress, Dagny Taggart and a much-maligned self-made steel magnate, Hank Rearden, who team up to save the country from its own stupidity (but only in pursuit of their own rational self-interest, which is Rand creed), and fall in a higher kind of love in the process, only to bow to the inevitable and join John Galt.

Rand’s oddball over-philosophizing is about as subtle as a headache (and just as painful) and the various plots and sub-plots and sub-sub-sub plots unfold like George Orwell on acid, only not nearly so coherent, but she does stick to literary convention in serving up virtuous and heroic (and ultimately doomed) Arthurian archetypes with whom we can easily identify.

This is far from the case in the movie version, which effectively turns our heroes into JR Ewing and Marie Antoinette.

No, it’s worse than that. At least JR Ewing was fun to watch. Whatever induced the producers to think that a main course of thudding right-wing speechifying would make compelling cinema? “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” by contrast, is a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, my cinema seat did not come equipped with a fast-forward button.

It was no coincidence that the Dagny Taggart character seemed to have come straight from a Fox News desk. It was as if the producers felt that we would instantly identify with a limo-riding blond in short skirts, gorging herself on fine delicacies while the rest of the country couldn’t afford to feed their families. Any second, I expected this bloodless wonder to spout on about the evils of Obama Care.

What idiot could possibly identify with a character like this? I could only think. Oops, that’s right, Sean Hannity. He loved the movie. Then again, he probably wrote the screen play.

I’m sure the military right now is playing this movie to suspect terrorists at Gitmo to get them to confess. Where water-boarding failed, this horrible excuse for a movie may well succeed. In the name of humanity, we need to find a more humane form of torture.

Poor Ayn Rand. This is the last thing she would have wished for. “Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.” Alas, she is doomed to a similar fate as her Nietzschian supermen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ayn Rand Mike Wallace Interview 1959 part 1

I'm headed out the door to see the movie "Atlas Shrugged - Part I." I am no subscriber to Ayn Rand or libertarianism or objectivism, but I do applaud her for her intellectual honesty and moral integrity. You can see both qualities on ample display in this 1959 interview with Mike Wallace. You can search out Parts II and III of the interview for yourself

I look forward to at least two or three blogs on the Ayn Ran and her legacy, and to lively discussions. Enjoy ...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Song of Deliverance

You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

- Psalm 32

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rebirth, Resurrection, and Deliverance

Shot with my iPhone this afternoon, six or seven miles from where I live, East County, San Diego.

The Day I Fired God

God and I have issues. It all came to a head yesterday morning when I leisurely double-checked my 1 PM lunch appointment only to discover it was for 12 noon. I had to leave now, right now. Now as in NOW!


It was all God’s fault, of course. Was it too much trouble on His part to actually equip me with a brain that worked? Or at least a non-working brain that came with technical support? Ever try getting through to God? I’ve been on hold all my life. Never mind. Just grab my wallet and I’m outta here. Wallet? Wallet!

One minute ... no wallet. Two minutes ... no wallet.

Now I was really mad at God.

Three minutes, four minutes ...

I’m late! Or rather late for being a half-hour early. I had to give myself time for getting lost, stuck in traffic, or a comet randomly landing on my head. And the way things were going with my day, there was clearly a high probability of things falling out of the sky, totally exclusive to me.

There’s a passage in Homer’s Iliad that best describes how I was feeling. This is when the Greek’s mighty warrior, Achilles, discovers that the god Apollo has played a trick on him (sort of equivalent to hiding my wallet on me). As Homer describes it: “Achilles of the nimble feet was furious.”

“You have made a fool of me!” Achilles lashes out at Apollo. To add a bit of context to the conversation, our mere mortal only minutes before had had a run-in with the river god Xanthus, who “towered up and rushed upon Achilles with an angry surge, seething with foam and blood and corpses.”

First the river god, and now Apollo. “Much as I should like to pay you out,” Achilles rages at the son of Zeus, “if I only had the power.”

Being a mere mortal totally sucks.

At least Achilles got to vent his anger on Troy’s best warrior, Hector, whom he confronted “looking like the god of War, in his flashing helmet, girt for battle,” brandishing “the formidable ashen spear of Pelion.”

Me, I had the option of punching the crap out of my throw pillow-laden love seat.

I looked up at the ceiling instead. “God, you’re fired!” I said in a voice that would have caused all the plants in the house to shrivel and die had I been a god, myself. The plants paid no attention.
Minutes later, I found my wallet, or rather God surreptitiously returned it to where I had left it in the first place. At least, where I think I may have left it. How the hell would I know where I left it, me with my factory-reject brain with no tech support.

I looked back up at the ceiling. Let this be a lesson to you, God, said the look on my face.

Nothing dropped out of the sky on me on the way to my lunch appointment. Lunch was great.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Can an Extravert Do My Job?

This is from a recent article on mcmanweb, which in turn is based on three pieces I did for HealthCentral's BipolarConnect. At the moment, I am back in my element of restorative splendid isolation following a Saturday of being on conspicuous public display during our NAMI San Diego Walk.

The NAMI San Diego Walk video I posted a couple of days ago lends the impression that I'm an extravert who thrives amongst people. Wrong! It's very complicated, but chances are a lot of this applies to you, as well. Let's get crackin' ...  

In a post from last year, I reported that most of us with mood disorders are introverts rather than extraverts, which brings on a dangerous tendency to isolate. This in turn makes us sitting ducks for depression.

I am a card-carrying introvert. I can testify to this. But neither introversion nor extraversion is all good or all bad, though not everybody sees it that way. "What's concerning me," commented one of my readers, "Jane", on HealthCentral's BipolarConnect, "is that the pdocs of the world have decided we need to be a nation of Rotarians."

Nothing against Rotarians, but you get the picture. Give me a nice quiet cave on a mountain top in the most remote region of Tibet for the next ten years, any day of the week. But eventually, I must return to a world of Rotarians. I may be a one-man majority in my personal cave, but out in the real world three out of four individuals on this planet are extraverts.

So, the ex's have it. Extraversion IS the norm, with introverts the outsiders, struggling to fit into a world set up for the numerical majority.

If anything, psychiatry is collaborating with our oppressors. Personality tests based on the five factor model (FFM) measure for positive traits, including extraversion. The new version of the DSM, due out in 2013, incorporates the FFM into its new criteria for personality disorders, focusing on what it sees as the negative trait of introversion. This might be forgivable if extraversion/introversion were only a small piece in the personality puzzle, but that is hardly the case. The FFM, for instance, also tests for "openness" and "agreeability." An "agreeable" personality to an introvert is hardly going to be an agreeable personality to an extravert, and guess who is likely to be doing the assessing? As Freda at BipolarConnect remarked:

Where [introversion] was once, some years back, considered quaint and "tolerable," it is now considered snobbish, offensive, and completely not accepted, at least in my circle of the world. ... I am repeatedly informed and I must be trained and taught and given "coping skills" to master.

It gets worse. The FFM fails to measure for traits that play into our strengths, such as introspection, insight, imagination, and creativity. In other words, psychiatry - reflecting the world-at-large - values sociability over personal reflection, superficial social connections over deep thinking, pat answers over nuanced problem-solving, and conformity over breaking the mold.

Off the top of my head, George W Bush would be psychiatry's ideal poster boy. Is something very wrong with this picture?

What psychiatry fails to recognize is that someone out there needs to be generating ideas and new ways of looking at the world, and these tend to come from the type of people who enjoy being alone over long stretches of time, or at least know how to function in solitude. Even those who perform in public are obliged to master their craft in lonely settings. Writers definitely need to be alone. Same with those in science and technology and a host of other disciplines.

How does an extravert handle these situations? Not too well. As Diana reports on her younger sister:

She dies a thousand deaths each night she is alone. She lives for companionship and would almost rather be with the wrong person than to be alone. She is either on the phone or with someone or planning her next outing - all the time. ... And when she is alone, she feels abandoned.

Ironically, when we introverts do surface, we are often mistaken for extraverts, precisely because we're bubbling with fresh thoughts and ideas, much to the amusement (or consternation) of the extraverts in our company. But if they are fascinated (or appalled) by us, we quickly become bored with them, unless they, too, can feed us new insights.

Extraverts thrive in glad-handing, banal-conversation situations. We suffocate. The air we breathe is in our nourishing and stimulating private world. Diana's sister can't hack it in this environment, yet she is considered the normal one, an FFM-DSM model of perfection.

To each his own, you may say. If only that were the case. But not with the extravert majority judging us.

Could an extravert do my job? I asked in a post on Bipolar Connect. Over six weeks in the beginning of 2011, I hunkered down in my quiet corner of the universe, blotting out all distractions, completely overhauling my website. This involved being at the keyboard at about nine every morning, and calling it a day around midnight, seven days a week, with frequent (but mostly solitary) breaks in between.

I was totally in my element. By contrast, an extravert - a citizen in "a nation of Rotarians" -  would be climbing walls. Or, perhaps Citizen Rotarian would have attempted to drag me out the door, thinking he was doing me a favor.

Oh, and by the way, introversion nearly killed me (though that was much earlier).

The extraverts are right about one thing. Strange things happen to our brains when we shut ourselves off from the outside world for too long. Extraverts need to come up for air, fast, which is why they could never do my job. But, eventually, there comes a time when I can't do my job, either.

They can't spend too much time in my world. I can't spend too much time in theirs. But for my own sanity, I do need to set aside special time for their world. Of all things, once I acclimate myself to the chill waters, I do enjoy myself. I perk up, I become animated. Neurons spark. I make connections.

But the effort drains me, and I have to return to my world. It's all about balance. My concept of balance is very different from an extravert's concept of balance, or, for that matter psychiatry's concept of balance. We're the minority. The majority out there is never going to understand us. They think that what's good for them is good for us. They're wrong, of course, but every once in awhile they're right.

Postscript: My post-Walk recuperation ends today. I'm meeting a couple of mental health advocates for the first time for lunch in a restaurant with valet parking. Shit! The place probably has tablecloths, too, which means no jeans for me. The last time I wore dress slacks had to have been six months ago, which I recall throwing very carefully on the bedroom floor. I think they're still there. I'll be fine ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rerun: The Ultimate Self-Awareness Dialogue

I'm taking a bit of a post-Walk blogging break. This oldie-but-goodie from Dec 2009 ...

India, sometime during the second century AD: Indo-Greek King Milanda and his retinue drop in on the famed Buddhist sage, Nagasena. “How is your reverence called?” Milanda asks.

“O great king,” Nagasena responds. “As Nagasena I am known, and as Nagasena do my fellow religious habitually address me.  … Nevertheless this word ‘Nagasena’ is just a denomination, a designation, a conceptual term, a current appellation, a mere name.  For no real person can here be apprehended.”

We should have known better than to expect a straightforward answer from a sage. Fortunately, ancient heads of state had a lot of time on their hands:

“Now listen, you 500 Greeks and 80,000 monks,” Milanda responds. “This Nagasena tells me that he is not a real person. How can I be expected to agree with that?” Then, addressing Nagasena, he enquires that if the party to whom he is speaking is not real, then who is it who consumes food and medicine, guards morality, and practices meditation? And because he really has a lot of time on his hands, Milanda throws in a generous litany of all manner of activities a sage - and a sage in non-sage moments - might indulge in. Finally, he ties a bow on his query with this question:

“What then is this ‘Nagasena’? Are perhaps the hairs of the head ‘Nagasena’?”

This is the cue for a laconic change-up: “No, great king!” Nagasena responds.

“Or perhaps the hairs of the body?”

“No, great king!”

We’ll compassionately spare you the full inventory of teeth, skin, muscles, sinew, and snot, not to mention feelings, perceptions, and so on, and in combination, that flow off Milanda's regal tongue. Now Nagasena turns the conversation around to Milanda’s mode of transportation:

“Please explain to me what a chariot is. Is the pole the chariot?”

“No, reverend Sir!”

The wheels, the framework, the flag-staff, the yoke, the reins, the goadstick? In combination?

At last, Milanda is forced to concede there is no chariot, that it is simply a “designation, this conceptual term, a current appellation, and a mere name.”

So who the hell are we? Draw any lesson you wish from the conversation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My NAMI San Diego Walk Video

The video speaks for itself. Great weather, great day, great people. Special thanks to Annie Dunlop for her efforts and the crew supporting her.

You can still donate by going to my NAMI San Diego Walk page.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Scenes From My NAMI San Diego Walk

These are freeze frames from video footage I shot of the NAMI San Diego Walk on Saturday. I serve on the board of NAMI SD and was on the committee that planned the Walk. My main task was to bring my didgeridoo, round up drummers, and shoot video. I showed up at 5:30 AM to film people setting up and organizing. Then the mobs descended.

We had gorgeous weather, it was a great turn-out, and Annie and her crew did a spectacular job making this event truly special.

I arrived back at my place 5 PM, immediately crashed, and didn't wake up for 14 hours.

Stay tuned for the video ...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My NAMI San Diego Walk

This is video I shot last year. I'm walking again on Saturday, with about 3,000 others. I'm bringing my didgeridoo and hope to be able to round up some drummers. I can't emphasize enough the positive experience of walking for NAMI, and the video makes my case.

This summer NAMI San Diego will be honored by NAMI national as the local affiliate of the year. We're out there in the community, we're there in small groups, we're there one-on-one. Our people on every level are an inspiration, employees and volunteers. Many first came to NAMI San Diego in a state of extreme distress, then stayed in all kinds of capacities, helping out any which way they could, with the kind of determination and drive and compassion that words do no justice to.

I'm proud to be serving with them and walking with them.

We're walking to send the world a message and to raise money. Even when we are offering a free service run by volunteers, money is involved. The second someone switches on the lights, money is involved. Lights switch on. More money. More lights, points of lights. Lights, illumination. Money-money-money.

We want to switch on more lights. You can help by going to my Walk Page and making a donation.

Better, yet. Join me on the Walk. One of my readers from Arizona contacted me to say he'll be in San Diego this weekend and wants to walk with me. I can't begin to tell you how this made my day. But you can walk with me in spirit. Some of my readers are involved in their own local NAMI Walks, from places such as Iowa and Connecticut, and I'm there in spirit with them as well. Connections, community, healing.

This is about all of us. Physically apart, perhaps, but together - together - big time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hats Off to Whitaker

Just a quick note that last week Robert Whitaker received the prestigious Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for his book, "Anatomy of an Epidemic." As regular readers of this blog are well aware, I have published at least 10 commentaries here based on his book, plus several more that used his book as a starting point for other topics. Some of my commentary was highly critical of Whitaker, but always in the context of acknowledging him as a welcome and vital voice and a breath of fresh air.

In singling out Whitaker, the IRE notes:

This eye-opening investigation of the pharmaceutical industry and its relationship with the medical system lays out troubling evidence that the very medications prescribed for mental illness may, in increasing measure, be part of the problem. Whitaker marshals evidence to suggest medications “increase the risk that a person will become disabled” permanently by disorders such as depression, bipolar illness and schizophrenia. This book provides an in-depth exploration of medical studies and science and intersperses compelling anecdotal examples. In the end, Whitaker punches holes in the conventional wisdom of treatment of mental illness with drugs.

Took the words right out of my mouth. Please-please-please, read his book. Warm congrats, Robert, from a sometimes critic but a very ardent supporter.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Invest in a New Chick Magnet (But Did I Make the Right Decision?)

When shopping for cars, most of us engage in months of careful research, only to drive off the lot in the first thing that appeals to our fancy. Last week I decided that it would be far more efficient, instead, to simply dispense with the research phase of the process.

“What the f... ?” I could only wonder, an hour later, as I sized up my new purchase in the parking space to my apartment complex.

Let’s see: I had neglected to ask about things like gas mileage and how to pop open the hood, much less what kind of engine was actually beneath the hood. Minor stuff. Okay, forgetting to scrutinize the cup-holder for possible design flaws, that was major, but better to err on the side of simplicity. Keep simple things simple.

According to Jonah Lehrer in “How We Decide,” the average American spends 35 hours comparing automotive models before making a decision. See? I’m a lot smarter than that. Let me explain:

On Tuesday, my trusty old beater - a 1992 Tercel (“The Chick Magnet,” pictured below) - died on me. Four years earlier, I went way over my budget in paying $800 for the thing. Then I made a five-dollar investment in a blanket to conceal the gashes in the back seat.

I know, I know. Excessive spending is a sign of mania, but I did get three good years out of the thing. (My first year, I didn’t drive it - minor technicality about not having driven in 30 years, but that’s another story.) Anyway, here I was, Tuesday of last week, with a dead Chick Magnet, and me living 30 miles out of town with no wheels.

No sense in panicking, I decided, once I got through with my obligatory Peter Finch in “Network” scene, the one where he fulminates, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” (bless you director Sidney Lumet, RIP). Thursday morning, I got hold of a cab driver and we negotiated a flat rate to go shopping for used cars. “They say it’s best to buy a Japanese car,” I opened. (Who said I didn’t do my research?)

The cab driver (who was incidentally driving a Lexus) enthusiastically concurred.

We pulled into the first car lot on my list. Five VWs with silver paint were lined up in a row. “Get the car with the silver paint!” the two-year-old part of my brain screamed at me. But I’m way too sophisticated for that.

“Uh, German is kind of like Japanese,” I said tentatively to the cab driver. Yes, he agreed. Good enough for me. After all, they both lost World War II. I zeroed in on the one with a $4,999 price tag. One dollar under my budget. I could blow the rest on a 99-cent taco. No shortage of taco stands in this part of town.

The cab driver and I got in for a test drive. What do they call this thing? I asked him. It sounded like he said Pasada. A 1999 VW Pasada. Bigger than a VW Jedi. Clearly, the vehicle met all my major criteria, namely: It had an engine that started when I twisted the key in the ignition. Okay, the fact that the engine didn’t sound like a re-enactment of Pearl Harbor was slightly unnerving, but I could get used to that.

Plus, it’s got silver paint!

I test-drove one more car with silver paint, just to make sure. My cab driver suggested I try some other car lots in the neighborhood, but there was no sense in over-thinking this. Silver paint job, kinda Japanese, engine included. Good enough for me.

I called up my brother as the dealer was completing the paperwork. What kind of car is it? he asked. A Pasada, I replied. I checked the piece of paper in my hand. A Passat, I corrected. It’s even got a radio that works.

Jonah Lehrer’s book cites a series of studies by Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis. The first study was simple and hypothetical: Subjects were presented with four different used cars based on four features, representing 16 pieces of information. One car, for instance, handled poorly but had lots of leg room. Then he gave his subjects a few minutes to contemplate their choices. More than half wound up picking the “best” car. Easy.

Then Dr Dijksterhuis distracted his second group of subjects, forcing them to make an unconscious or emotional decision. These hypothetical buyers made bad choices. Obvious, right?

Not so fast. This time, the buyers were provided with 12 features (such as cup holders and trunk space), totaling 48 pieces of information. Their brains couldn’t handle the overload, even when given time to think things through. Less than one-quarter chose the best car, worse than chance. But the group he distracted actually made the best choice 60 percent of the time. What gives?

Dijksterhuis followed up with real-world studies on all kinds of consumer products, plus further hypothetical exercises. The gist of his findings is that our brains are designed for choosing simple products such as toilet paper and vegetable peelers, where buyers can zero in on important things, such as price. Emotions can mess up your thinking, here, and lead to bad choices.

That all changes, though, when we’re buying a couch at IKEA. Will the couch, for instance, match the drapes? Will the cat scratch the leather? On and on, way too many things to think about. Inevitably - without input from our emotions - we are going to make the wrong decision.

Yes, we need to do our homework. Yes, we need to rationally sift through our options. But Dijksterhuis found an important qualification to this. When it’s a complex decision, we need to distract ourselves, let our thoughts marinate in our unconscious for awhile, then have faith in our feelings. According to Lehrer: “Complex problems ... require the the processing powers of the emotional brain, the supercomputer of the mind.”

Anyway, here I am stuck with a car that has defective cup-holder that doesn’t slide out. It’s also way too huge for me. But it handles beautifully and it’s a pleasure to drive (a totally alien experience to me), and I didn't exceed my budget. Plus, it just FEELS right.

Not to mention the silver paint job. My new Chick Magnet. Honestly, could I have made a better choice?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why I Walk

 Following is a talk I gave six weeks ago at a NAMI San Diego Walk kick-off event. Our Walk takes place April 16 ...

I walk because I am haunted.

I am haunted by my childhood. By the strange looks from family members, from kids in school. They knew. I knew. Even way back then, I wasn’t normal.

I am haunted by my adulthood. A bright promise denied. They knew. I knew. I’m normal! I wanted to shout.

I’m haunted by what I encounter. A question by a father about his kid who refuses to acknowledge his illness - one I can’t answer. Queries I get from my readers - their loved one is acting strange, very strange. What is wrong? More questions - my doctor won’t listen, my insurance is running out. What the hell is wrong with me?

I’m haunted by a world that doesn’t give a damn. People who are supposed to be helping us who tell us that we have a highly treatable illness that at times is barely treatable, and then turn around and say we should be happy where we are - stuck in a miserable half-life, alone, left to fend for ourselves.

I’m haunted by the fact that everything I read or listen to bears no relation at all to my world, your world. Isn’t anyone paying attention? Doesn’t anyone give a damn?

I’m haunted, you’re haunted. Everyone in this room is haunted. That is why we come out in the rain on a Saturday. That is why we get on the phone. We make noise. That is why we show up at meetings. That is why seven weeks from now, rain or shine, we will show up. We will walk. A family, bound together by experiences that haunt us. We will walk. We will send the world a message.

So much to do, so few of us. A good deal of the time it seems hopeless. But we get involved, anyway. Anyway we can.

No one - absolutely no one - should have to endure one day of what we have been through. Not one day. We will walk.

I will conclude with this:

Back in 2004, when I was newly into my second marriage, I was facilitating a DBSA support group in Princeton, NJ. In walked Kevin, exuding a goofy charm, baseball cap on backward. But there was something about his presence that indicated he was no mere goofball. The others in the room felt it, too.

Over the weeks, I couldn't help but be impressed by the way Kevin carried himself. He would walk up to newcomers and introduce himself and start up a conversation. In the group, he was a great listener, dispensing the wisdom of a sage, leavened by a keen sense of humor.

It was amazing to observe him with people much older. At once, he was deferential, compassionate, and exuding great authority. You simply forgot you were talking to someone much younger. You simply wanted to be around him, laugh with him, seek advice from him. 

He had his setbacks, his dark moments. Yet, over time - in group, over coffee, over sandwiches, hanging out - I watched him blossom. With his extraordinary people skills, the sky was the limit.

In late 2006, my marriage broke up. Kevin was the first to offer me support. He also reached out to Susan.

Suddenly, I had my life in seven or eight FedEx cartons and a one-way ticket to San Diego. I popped into the DBSA group one last time. Kevin was facilitating. He gave me a heartfelt tribute. I felt the goodness in the man. Goodness, true goodness. That was the last time I saw him alive.

He had so much to live for, so much to offer. Yet, on a miserable muggy New Jersey morning, his brain tricked him into believing otherwise. He was 28. Years later, Susan and I, plus all those he left behind, are still dealing with it.

I've been suicidal. So have most people with this illness. We fully understand, yet - we totally don't understand.

Kevin, you still shine a light on the world. Nothing - nothing - is ever going to extinguish it.

That is why I walk.


Our Walk takes place this Saturday - April 16 - in Balboa Park - 6th and Quince - at 8AM. Please come, if you live in the area, and bring your family. If you wish to support me in my walk, please go to my NAMI San Diego Walk page.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NAMI San Diego Walk - We Need Your Support

I put this together for NAMI San Diego. Our annual Walk is taking place this Saturday, 8 AM April 16 at Balboa Park (6th and Quince), and I urge you to attend if you're living in the area. You can register on site (beginning at 6:30 AM) or in advance on the NAMI San Diego website).

Also, if you are a fan of this blog, I urge you to support me in supporting NAMI San Diego by making a donation on my Walk Page.

I serve on the board of NAMI San Diego, and I put way too much time into it, which is nothing compared to the heroes who founded NAMI and gave those of us living with mental illness a voice, and more heroes who kept the vision alive and more heroes pushing the vision forward. I am inspired by these people and the great work they do, so please pay attention:

I provide Knowledge is Necessity as a free service, along with mcmanweb. This is the only time I hit readers up for money, and it's not even going to me. Any small gesture of support would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Depression-Proofing Your Home

This is a chopped version of an article I just uploaded on mcmanweb. It's amazing I've never written on this before. Better late than never ...

Let’s start with the proposition that people with mood disorders are extremely sensitive to their environments. You may be stuck where you are, but your entire well-being is riding on making the best of what you’ve got.


Essential adjectives are vital: Cheery, bright, relaxing, calm. Your home is a key player in setting the right mood. If what comes to mind, instead, is, say, depressing, you are on the wrong adjective.

There is a direct connection between light and mood. If vast quantities of natural sunlight aren’t streaming into your place, then you need to buy stock in a lamp company and make yourself rich by purchasing their entire inventory. You may also want to consider a light box, normally used to treat seasonal affective disorder.

Meanwhile, fresh air (charged with negative ions) is linked to good health, both physical and mental. Cracking open a window is the obvious solution, but if you are you living in a sealed enclosure and inhaling central heating or air conditioning (charged with positive ions), you may need to consider investing in an ionizer.

You also need to be extremely mindful of breathing in anything toxic, from mold proliferating behind the wallboard to chemicals in the carpet to germs the central air-conditioning spits out.

The Bedroom

The basics: A comfortable bed that supports your back, good lighting (for bedtime winding down and for waking up), and as close as possible to absolute quiet.

The quiet aspect deserves special consideration. Many of us have hair-trigger stress responses that can be set off by loud noises. A lot of us also have great difficulty tuning out background noise (such as air-conditioning). These should not be regarded as inconveniences we have to get used to.

Family members: You will be doing both yourself and your entire family a favor by bending over backwards to accommodate the needs of your affected son or daughter (or other family member). If he or she sleeps peacefully, you all sleep peacefully. And daytime will be much easier on all of you, as well. Whatever it takes.

Your Own Special Room

Having your own hideaway is essential, whether in catching your breath or catching up. This is your special piece of the world. It needs to reflect you in all your quirky glory, from the First Folio Shakespeare in the bookcase to the neon Budweiser sign in the window.

However you choose to set up the room, it is giving You permission to be You, whether smoking cigars or meditating, building model airplanes or running a business.

The Kitchen

You are what you eat, but living with a mood disorder means you are often going to be too depressed to want to cook. Therefore, it’s vital to be well-stocked on healthy pre-prepared slap-together stuff. Bags of mixed greens, stir-fry, you get the picture.

The Bathroom

Think of all the stuff that goes on in this room besides the usual - uh - stuff. From looking in the mirror to all the rest of it, you are on display. The other you is evaluating, assessing, taking stock. Don’t like what you see? It’s going to be a rough day.

Likewise, there you are, in your inner sanctum, alone with your thoughts. Is the atmosphere conducive to a meditative experience, a breather, a pleasant time-out? Or is your decompression chamber a depression chamber?

Of all the rooms in the house, the bathroom is the one room where you need to walk out of it feeling much better than you went in. If this isn’t happening, you need to closely evaluate the situation - and treat it as a high priority.

Home Maintenance

Things can easily run away from us, even when we are not depressed. I know for a fact that if I go to bed with two dirty plates in the sink, I will wake up to a family of dirty little saucers. As for clothes on the floor, it’s like tumbleweed piling up against a fence. My theory on rubber bands is they morph into power cables for electronic devices that don’t exist. All my cables, incidentally, defy the law of entropy by self-organizing into gordian knots.

By now, you recognize that the front line in the battle against depression is played out literally on the home front, in our own homes. Make yourself at home and live well ...      

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

McMan's Dispensable Rules and Observations for Right Living

My grandson’s birth in Sept 2009 inspired me to come up with two posts along the lines of the clan elder (me) offering his sage advice to the newest member of the tribe. The piece below represents a reshuffle of my original two lists, plus some new stuff. I make no claim to originality (one of my aphorisms is a shameless rehash of Diogenes). My status as a dispenser of wisdom derives from an unparalleled lifetime streak of doing everything wrong. Enjoy ... 

Four Rules for Living with Perspective
  1. Remember, Hannibal never won a battle with his elephants.
  2. Caviar is fine, but peanut butter will always be your friend.
  3. We elude happiness far more than happiness eludes us.
  4. God has a sense of humor. Trust me, every day you will do something to make Him snort milk out His nose.
Four Rules for Making Wise Decisions
  1. The Wise Man knows when to quit while he’s behind.
  2. If you challenge Tiger Woods to a game - make sure it’s not golf.
  3. Ration your hate. Don’t indulge.
  4. When you reach into your pocket searching for a one dollar bill and all you can come up with is twenties - try not to express your disappointment.
Four Rules for Right Conduct
  1. There is no excuse for dancing like a white man.
  2. You are a book responsible for your own cover. Expect people to judge.
  3. We are who we pretend to be. You can’t go wrong pretending to be JFK or Martin Luther King.
  4. If you suck up to the rich and powerful, you won’t have to do your own laundry. If you do your own laundry, you won’t have to suck up to the rich and powerful.
Four Observations About Meaning
  1. Friends are a way better investment than money.
  2. A good poop is way better than mediocre sex.
  3. Our purpose here on earth is to laugh at farts.
  4. There is one constant in life: Ursula Andress will always be the all-time number one Bond Girl.
Four Observations About the Mysteries of Life
  1. Thoreau danced to a different drummer, but he also died a virgin.
  2. Napoleon lost an entire army in north Africa and an entire army in Russia. Still, he had no trouble recruiting volunteers for Waterloo. Go figure.
  3. God has a funny way of treating people He loves most. Just ask Joan of Arc.
  4. The oldest known redwood is 2,200 years old. An idiot with a chainsaw only needs one day.
Four Observations on Reality
  1. If you think you are experiencing God - it’s probably dopamine.
  2. If you think you are experiencing love - it’s probably dopamine.
  3. That doesn’t mean God or love is not real ...
  4. ... but we know dopamine is.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Where Does Hypomania End and Mania Begin?

As part of my overhaul to mcmanweb, I've scrapped most of my old articles on the diagnostic aspects of bipolar and replaced them with new pieces. The following is extracted from a much longer piece on hypomania. Enjoy ...

The DSM mandates that if psychosis is present, then it has to be mania, not hypomania. Otherwise the only separator is severity, and here the DSM is highly confusing and contradictory. On one hand the DSM reassures us:

The episode is not severe enough to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning, or to necessitate hospitalization ...

On the other, symptom number seven (a direct copy and paste from the mania symptom list) tells us:

Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences ...

So - wait! First, we're being informed that there is nothing to worry about. Next, we're being told to go to DEFCON One. Which one is it?

There are no easy answers, but one possible solution is to eliminate symptom seven in hypomania and make it mandatory (rather than merely optional) for mania. In other words, if the individual is entering the danger zone - putting his or her livelihood, relationships, and safety at risk - then it is mania, not hypomania.

Another piece of the puzzle is control. In my article on mania, I suggest my own diagnostic guide:

Behavior must be out of control to the point that subject can no longer responsibly manage his or her affairs or reasonably interact with others. ... Thinking must be out of control to the point where subject has a grossly distorted perception of him or herself and his or her surroundings, and is no longer capable of making realistic or responsible decisions.

Whereas with hypomania, it's more like this:

Subject may exhibit unusual or unexpected behavior, but is still capable of responsibly managing his or her affairs and interacting with others. ... Subject may have a mildly distorted perception of him or herself and his or her surroundings, but is still capable of making realistic and responsible decisions.

Finally, there is the matter of presentation. In euphoric states, I would contrast a "magnanimous larger than life presence" (mania) with a rather more diminutive "sociable charismatic presence" (hypomania). In dysphoric states, I would contrast a "hostile menacing presence" with an "unpleasant mildly threatening presence."

But nothing is ever that simple. In bipolar, our brains are always in perpetual motion, so even in a seemingly benign hypomania there is always room for worry.


New mcmanweb bipolar articles:

Bipolar Disorder - Really a Cycling Illness
Bipolar I and Mania
Bipolar II and Hypomania

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Letter From an Asshole

Yesterday, I published two April Fools pieces on assholes (Imaging Studies Reveal Brains of Assholes, Psychiatry Come Up With New Diagnosis of Asshole). Naturally, I expected assholes to take offense, and sure enough ...

Dear Sir:

Speaking as an asshole, I take extreme umbrage to your posts. Just because we treat people like shit doesn't mean we're full of shit. We are people, too, and we expect you to treat us much differently than we would treat you.

Don't you realize? You and everyone else are mere outer planets in my universe. Not even a gas giant. Not even a moon rock. Not even a piece of Pluto that has been demoted to renegade asteroid status. No, more like a cosmic speck of dust, and the lowest order cosmic speck of dust at that. Sort of like a molecular splinter of a dirty space-floating chunk of ice.

For your information, I'll have you know, Assholes are very compassionate. Why just the other day, I suppressed the urge to jump the curb and run over a mother with her baby, fucking mewling screeching poop machine. The only thing they're good for is as the main ingredient on Iron Chef. Roast rack of baby with rosemary, now we're talking.

But do they ever put me on the short list for a Nobel Prize? Me, with all the abuse I have to put up with? Just yesterday, some diphthong-mangling, border-jumping, Obama-loving excuse of a waiter actually had the effrontery to serve me water in a wine glass.

How the hell was I supposed to react? Of course I made him rue the day he was born. You'd think the patrons in the restaurant would have supported me in my moment of need, but no, they were whispering and looking at me. ME!

As if I were the one who did something wrong. No, all they see is me summoning the manager and saying in a very loud voice that even the slop-ladlers in the kitchen can hear that I will call the health authorities and have them shut down their filthy cockroach-infested excuse of a Dairy Queen if he doesn't fire Gunga Din immediately.

What they didn't see was that I generously tipped the ungrateful wretch one dollar.

See, a regular Mother Teresa I am, and my therapist agrees with me. She better, the bitch. She's the third one I've had in three months and she can be replaced and she knows it. Christ! I've texted her eleven times in the last 20 minutes. Why isn't she responding?

Damn! I just noticed I forgot to put my ice cream back in the freezer. The price I paid for this yuppie shit named in honor of some over-rated dead rock star, the stuff shouldn't melt. Cherry Garcia, my ass. I'm going to file a class-action law suit.

Well, that completely shoots my day to hell. Should I call my reiki specialist to say I'm not coming in? No, not my problem.

Anyway, I trust you have an appreciation for what Assholes have to endure. Why I had to point this out to you is beyond my comprehension, but then again coming from a lowly piece of space junk like yourself, don't get me started.

Respectfully yours ...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rerun: New Imaging Studies Reveal Brains of Assholes

In a study about to be published in "Nature," researchers at the NIMH reveal the first-ever fMRI scans of assholes at work.

Said lead researcher Y Mee MD, PhD, "We've always known an asshole when we see one, but it never occurred to us to actually scan their brains. I mean, seriously, who would want to?"

Nevertheless, the researchers overcame their strong revulsion and recruited 10 assholes plus 10 control subjects.

"I mean - crap - I was ready to quit my job in the first five minutes of the study," said co-author I Hadinoff PhD. First the assholes filled out their intake forms completely wrong, then abused the staff when they had to fill them out again. Next, they kept pushing and shoving to be the first one into the MRI machine. But once in, they couldn't stop complaining.

This posed a special difficulty because study protocol required that first the assholes' brains be scanned while in a resting state.

"So here we are," said Dr Hadinoff, "having to be nice to these fucking assholes. No sooner do I get one calmed down than another one gets started, and next thing they're all setting each other off like mousetraps going off in a room."

One asshole lady complained that her no-good son-in-law refused to finish cleaning the leaves out of her gutter, as he had promised. A world-class therapist had to be called in to remind the individual that her son-in-law had fallen off the ladder while she was shaking it and had cracked nine vertebrae and would be a quadriplegic the rest of his life.

"But I'm on a fixed income," the woman retorted. "How the hell am I going to find affordable help?"

Said Dr Hadinoff: "You know that show where that guy does all those shit jobs? I'm on the short list for the Nobel Prize, but, believe me, I was ready to throw it all in and go to work standing up to my ears in cow shit. Seriously, anything had to be better than dealing with this shit."

Eventually, the researchers got the assholes settled down and were able to get images of their brains at rest. On close inspection, the scans revealed certain structural abnormalities to the posterior corpus rumpus section of the brain. (See image above.)

"It's uncanny," said Dr Y Mee. "It's as if their brains had 'asshole' written all over them."

Then the assholes were made to perform certain tasks while their brains were being scanned. In one task, the subjects were asked to imagine lying on a beach on a tropical island.

"What? I'm just supposed to lie there in the hot sun with all the mosquitoes and sandflies and who knows what?" was the typical response. "Screw you, I did that for my second honeymoon, and let me tell you, it wound up to be our first divorce."

In other tasks, the assholes were asked to imagine something good about a member of their family, any accomplishment they could be proud of, a waitress they were nice to, and something that went wrong that they were willing to accept responsibility for. They failed every task spectacularly.

As their brains were thus engaged, a certain part of the posterior corpus rumpus, known as the temporal anal cortex, lit up like a Christmas tree. (See image below.)

"It's amazing," said Dr Y Mee. "For the first time ever, we are looking into the mind of an asshole - and the last time, I can assure you. Believe me, after what we went through, no one in their right mind is going to want to try to replicate our findings."

The findings are expected to provide valuable insights into radio talk show hosts, Fox News commentators, and antipsychiatry bloggers.

Drs Y Mee and I Hadinoff are at present in intensive therapy. Their prognosis is poor to miserable.

A happy and meaningful April Fools ...

Rerun: Breaking News: Psychiatry Comes Up With New Diagnosis of Asshole

A Knowledge is Necessity exclusive.

In a surprise move expected to be announced shortly, the American Psychiatric Association's Task Force responsible for overseeing the revision of the DSM - psychiatry's diagnostic bible - has come up with the new diagnosis of "Asshole."

Unlike other disorders, episodes, types, and specifiers listed in the DSM, the diagnosis of Asshole fails to mention any symptoms. Nor does it offer a description of the illness.

"Let's put it this way," said Ru Dayborn MD, director of the Darwin Awards Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins and member of the working group that came up with the new diagnosis, "you know one when you see one."

The new diagnosis is the result of heated discussion throughout the Task Force's many working groups, in particular the one responsible for updating the bipolar diagnosis. According to I Gitswoureigh MD of the University of Northern South Dakota, speaking strictly off the record: "We were sick of hearing from our bipolar patients about the bad rap they were getting as a result of Assholes who had mistakenly been diagnosed as bipolar."

Leading bipolar patient advocate Phil Toogood was ecstatic over the news. "It's about time," he commented. "Since the dawn of history we've been putting up with their shit. Every time someone like Charlie Sheen does some asshole thing, people automatically assume the jerk must be bipolar. Maybe now the public won't confuse us."

It isn't just bipolars. Reports Charles Manson from his prison cell: "For years, assholes have been giving us sociopaths a bad name."

The illness is considered chronic and untreatable. When asked to give an example, Dr Dayborn commented, "That's easy. Rush Limbaugh. Say no more." Dr Dayborn did add that Assholes can go on to lead productive lives. "Look at all those idiot commentators on Fox News," he observed. "See, there is hope."

When advised that not every Asshole can aspire to a position on Fox News, Dr Dayborn replied: "No problem. They can always become antipsychiatry bloggers."

The new diagnosis of Asshole is expected to become official in 2013, when the American Psychiatric Association is scheduled to publish the fifth edition of the DSM.

A happy and meaningful April Fools ...