Cognition & Reality

Thursday, 5 May 2011

AA & The Establishment Clause

Filed under: Justice System,Propaganda — drtone @ 3:47 pm

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…

Alcoholics Anonymous has become such an accepted part of American culture that it has become, among other things, an integral part of the justice system. When someone comes before a court for an infraction or as part of a civil action, and one of the issues at hand is the use of intoxicants, it has become SOP to order the person to attend AA meetings. For example, I met a young man recently who regained the right to drive after a DUI conviction by, among other things, attending seven AA meetings. Judges do this in spite of AA’s existence as a separate volunteer organization without, as far as I know, a legal designation in the laws regarding drunk driving or in any other laws. Furthermore, judges order individuals into AA in spite its being a religious organization with a credo that makes specific reference to belief in God.

The so-called “establishment clause” of the US Constitution is the foundation of the separation of church and state that we enjoy as Americans. Nevertheless, AA has been established as the “go-to” outfit for the justice system when it comes to dealing with the use of alcohol (and other drugs). I doubt that I am the first person to raise this issue, but it is baffling and irritating.

AA manages to evade being called a religion through various qualifications and circumlocutions. For example, it refers to a Higher Power in its main pitch, and it places dependence on “God, as we understand Him.” It should be obvious, if only because AA indicates belief in a male deity, and refers to that deity with capitalized nouns and pronouns, that we are dealing with a religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is a religion that has been melded with the forces of the state.

How can that continue to be? Arguments about the good that can come from AA membership have no weight in this domain. Good can come from membership in a variety of religious organizations, but courts do not force miscreants into Krishna Consciousness or the Catholic Church, or even into, say, Transcendental Meditation. It is only when it comes to AA that prohibitions we otherwise take for granted do not apply. I would suggest that this is in part because of the number of politicians and other powerful persons who are AA members, and because of the cowardice of many who are not.

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Monday, 2 May 2011

Bin Laden, 9-11 & False Consciousness

Filed under: Propaganda — drtone @ 6:28 pm

The term “false consciousness” has a technical meaning in Marxism. It refers to something like global confusion by members of a subordinate class, a confusion that serves the dominant class. I’m not sure that the combination of muddled ideas, rewriting of history, and misdirected anger regarding the events of 11 September, 2001, fits the Marxist meaning of “false consciousness,” but it sure seems to be to reflect a false consciousness.

Once again, we are to be treated to the flag-waving and chest-beating crap that followed the attack on the World Trade Center. I was sick of it then, and found it scary. I’m still sick of it, and it’s in some ways even scarier that it never went away. The death of Osama bin Laden, a decade after those attacks, has revived the sickening jingoism that led to the America’s disastrous adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. I suspect that the we’re in for weeks of rhetoric about the “war on terrorism,” a maybe worse than that. Who knows?

Let’s face it: This is about Americans, citizens of the most powerful nation on earth, having to see themselves as victims. Why this is ingrained in the American soul is a good question. Possibly, it is an inheritance from the Scots-Irish who peopled the early frontiers of this country, and who already had a long history of victimhood before they landed on these shores. Possibly, it is represents a reversal arising from an unwillingness to accept that our wealth and power derives from centuries of conquest, of victimizing weaker peoples, Native Americans, Africans, Arabs. Inevitably, we have turned those we wrong into the “savages” of our mind, casting them as brutes and barbarians, even as we kill and torture them. In any case, if our self-perception as having been terribly wronged is any kind of consciousness, it is a false one.

As a consequence of this despicable national habit, we have fetishized the great defeat on 9-11 in much the same way the Serbs fetishize the Battle of Kosovo, and with much the same result. We look backward. We blame. We fume and fuss. And hate. It is all based on lies about who the winners and losers are, and about what is wrong with our world.

I’m writing this in response to having heard the attack on the WTC referred to, during the broadcast of a basketball game, as “the attack on America.” That’s the way it’s been processed and homogenized and turned and twisted, finally retrofitted to involve us all in a giant Hatefest. As far as I am concerned, the only good thing the Bush Administration did was to lose Osama bin Laden in the wilderness. Now the Obama Administration has demonstrated its desperation by reviving the whole sick affair. Sad.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Antidepressant Addiction

Filed under: Chemical Imbalance,Diagnosis,Medical Morality,Propaganda,Science — drtone @ 12:08 pm

I doubt that I’m the first one to bring attention to the purely American tolerance of addiction to drugs that don’t actually make you high, the antidepressant medications. The United States, responding to a cultural mandate inherited from some of the earliest European settlers, has fought relentlessly to control and eradicate the use of all intoxicants. Nevertheless, established medical practice, encouraged and promoted by the authorities, involves offering selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and the other newer antidepressants to those complaining of a wide variety of ills, not confined to clinical depression. Despite evidence mounting since the first flush of Prozac’s popularity that they are ineffective, antidepressants are still prescribed to millions of patients, many of whom are suffering from the loss of a loved one or a job, as well as from headaches and a variety of other ailments, rather than from clinical depression.

Years ago, I began telling people that. as the end of the patents on the new antidepressants approached, evidence would begin to come out that they are dangerous and ineffective. My prediction was based on the fate of Valium and other benzodiapenes, relatively benign medications that actually do what they’re supposed to do. I remember when those were the “wonder drugs.” Then they were prescribed to hundreds of millions of people around the world. It is no wonder, partly because they are efficacious, that problems appeared among those taking them. I would suggest that it’s not a coincidence that these negative consequences emerged into the public consciousness when the price of these drugs approached zero AND the major pharmaceutical companies were releasing a new generation of drugs intended to address many of the same ills for which benzos were prescribed. Benzodiazapines were also easy to attack because they actually can produce a high. The medico-legal establishment, including the drug companies, clearly recognized both the necessity and ease of targeting benzodiazapenes as yet another group of intoxicants the use of which was seriously out of control.

Instead of “epidemic” use of drugs that work, such as Valium and Xanax, we have the specter of hundreds of millions of people chronically taking medications, such as Prozac and Paxil,  that are relatively ineffective. Although discontinuing their use can produce serious negative side-effects, SSRIs and similar drugs don’t make you high. For that reason alone, they will remain on the market for a long time to come. This is a country in which doctors will cut the supply of opiates to a terminal patient for fear that he or she will become an addict, but refuses to describe as “addiction” the dependence of millions on expensive medications that may do nothing.

I know from personal experience that antidepressants produce a condition indistinguishable from addiction. In about 2002, I started taking Paxil, having been offered it for the nth time as a treatment for headaches I have had since age five. The headaches diminished, and it’s also possible that my mood evened out. My weight, already a minor problem, ballooned by 40 pounds, probably putting the added strain on my lower back that resulted in the bulging disk at L4-5 that still fucks up my life. I was taking Wellbutrin in an attempt to counteract the weight gain. I began taking double doses of both drugs in 2008, after my most recent marriage blew up.

A year or so after that, having read many warnings about the problems attendant on discontinuing Paxil in particular, and discussed those warnings with physicians, I began a months-long process of tapering off one dose of the drug; I followed that not long ago, with a similar procedure to take myself off the other dose. I had to do the same thing with the Wellbutrin, of course. Imagine, therefore, the negative incentive for a patient who takes these drugs to stop taking them. It took me a long time to take the plunge. There must be many people who stay on these drugs, with the collusion of their physicians, because of legitimate fears about the potentially severe effects of discontinuing their use. What could be better for corporate drug dealers?

The difference between dependence on antidepressants and opiate or cocaine addiction is that those drugs make you feel good, whereas antidepressants, at best, make you feel OK. Consequently, the latter don’t count as “drugs of abuse.” Nevertheless, the circumstances under which they are used seem to me to constitute abuse of the public by physicians and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

“Alcoholism”

As I read a history of the disease theory of alcoholism, there is much about how describing addiction to alcohol as a disease de-stigmatizes those deemed to drink too much. For example, Bill W. thought that portraying excessive drinking as a “disease” was a useful metaphor, rather than a medically accurate description of the syndrome, because it removed blame from users. The problem with such metaphors, as the history of the “computer metaphor” in cognitive psychology shows, is that they are inevitably taken too seriously, leading to massive confusion and misunderstanding. In the case of alcoholism, it is widely assumed that it is, indeed, a disease of the brain, subject to treatment by medical professionals, although the the evidence that it represents an actual disease entity is thin, at best.

There are many reasons why the disease concept of alcoholism persists, among them that the confusion caused by applying the disease metaphor to the excessive use of alcohol benefits the makers of alcoholic beverages. If those who ruin their lives with alcohol are suffering from a “disease,” that takes the onus off alcoholic beverages and those who make them. It’s a perfect out. Temperance advocates at the turn of the previous century did blame the makers of alcoholic beverages for the “scourge” of drunkenness, as well as the moral weakness of those who drink. For that reason, the sellers of beer, wine and spirits have to be extremely happy that the approach of the rehabilitation movement blames neither them nor the users of alcohol. Instead, the problem is caused by a disease entity.

By taking the blame away from the substance and from the the user, the treatment of alcoholism as a disease resembles the date rape drugs phantom.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Selling Drunken Sex IV

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Sex & Love,Television — drtone @ 2:59 pm

I knew yesterday that there was more I wanted to say about the Bud Light commercials. So I beg your indulgence as I continue to pursue this topic.

As the persistence of the belief in a widespread threat of “date rape drugs” shows, the marketing of beer as a sexual intoxicant by Anheuser-Busch does not exist in isolation. Post-industrial society is struggling with the effects of having freed women from most of the traditional constraints on their behavior. The process of integrating men and women into a culture that recognizes their inherent equality is not finished, if “finishing” is a possibility for social change. In fact, change is continuous and almost always appears to be more predictable than it actually is. The hypocrisy regarding women and alcohol with which I have recently been obsessed represents an unanticipated consequence of what, for want of a better term, we call “women’s liberation.”

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Katie Roiphe & Date Rape

Filed under: Date Rape,Propaganda,Sex & Love — drtone @ 10:18 am

It seems that I have reinvented yet another wheel. Not surprisingly, the arguments I have made about the standards against which “date rape” is measured were put forward before. They were presented, in the face of angry criticism, a little less than twenty years ago by Katie Roiphe. In an article, and later a book, The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus, both published in 1993, she raised the same questions I have in recent posts on this subject, and in much the same way. For example, she suggested that the typical characterization of “date rape” casts young women–at least those from the higher social strata–as “chaste objects,” much as they were portrayed in pre-feminist times. Of course, Roiphe also raised questions about the definition of rape and date rape with particular emphasis on problem of differentiating date rape from bad sex. Predictably, she was denounced by an army of feminist writers, who may have felt an extra sting of betrayal because Roiphe’s mother, Anne, is a prominent feminist.

There is much that could be said about the content of both Katie Roiphe’s article and the comments of various critics. For now, however, I wish to point out that Roiphe pushed a hot button about the status of women. The button is “hot” at least partly because it is connected to rape, but I do not believe that what is at issue here is confined to questions about what does or does not constitute rape.

The date rape “debate” is encrusted with a brand of social commentary that I have criticized elsewhere, which involves placing an issue of importance on the Procrustean bed of left-right politics. Unfortunately for someone like me who identifies with the left, it is a ploy used by those on the left more than by those on the right. This anti-Roiphe article, for example, addresses much of  its criticism of Roiphe to the resemblance between her stand and that of some of those on the right. It need hardly be said that this form of special pleading would count as frivolous were it not also widespread.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Bud Light: Selling Drunken Sex II

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Television,Urban Myths — drtone @ 11:51 am

For whatever reason, my post yesterday about the current Bud Light commercials garnered the highest number of hits of any entry I have ever made on this blog. Maybe it was just that it said “Bud Light,” and everyone is so excited about the product because of those commercials. Maybe it’s that people are sick and tired of the pervasive hypocrisy surrounding the relationship of alcohol to sex. I’d love to hear from readers about why they tuned in here.

In case it wasn’t perfectly obvious, the point I was making about the commercial featuring the write-on labels is that they facilitate the classic “date rape” scenario: An incapacitated young woman gets together with a young man she does not know well… The entire purpose of the ad in question, as with the other Bud Light ads, is the selling of beer as an aid to getting laid. The message to young men is clear: DRUNK WOMEN ARE EASY. BUY OUR PRODUCT AND SEE FOR YOURSELF. I have singled out the Bud Light spots because they appear to me to push this envelope more than similar ads by Miller, Coors, and others.

This is where so-called “date rape drugs” come into the picture for Anheuser-Busch and other companies that sell alcohol. While the public and the duly constituted authorities, both inside and outside law enforcement, chase after the “date rape drug” phantom, the corporate sellers of alcohol can continue unabated in their campaigns to market their legal products for use as stimulants to sex. I am not the only person to see the sad humor in the furor over these other drugs, and the hypocrisy involved. Nor is it out of the question that A-B and other alcohol distributors are involved, sub rosa, in creating an atmosphere of concern about “date rape drugs,” as part of a PR strategy, which they did in connection with the related issue of marketing beer to underage drinkers.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Bud Light: Selling Drunken Sex

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Television,Urban Myths — drtone @ 11:54 am

In discussing the urban myth of “date rape drugs,” I suggested that the corporate sellers of alcohol have an interest in distracting attention from their own business, selling the most potent and widely used date rape drug of all time. Throughout human history, the consumption of alcohol has been connected with the reduction of sexual inhibitions in both men and women, although with different effects on each. It is not as if the makers and sellers of alcoholic beverages are ignorant of its use as a sexual lubricant. Far from it.

For many years now, partly in response to legal restrictions on showing the actual drinking of alcohol, the major purveyors of alcohol have advertised the effects of their product. One need only look at almost any beer commercial to know that what it is selling is drunkenness itself. I don’t know if they began the trend, but the famous “Tastes great…Less filling” Miller Lite commercials of the late 70s and early 80s typify this approach. These spots told the viewer about the characteristics of light beer, then a new product, in the context of raucous fun that featured famous athletes, several of them notorious drunks. The selling of drunkenness is not confined to beer commercials, as the sales campaign for Captain Morgan Rum demonstrates.

Although some commercials sell beer, wine or spirits as “cool,” mostly they depict consumers having fun in bizarre situations that resemble drunken fantasies. Many suggest that, in the context of the drunken fun, it’s a useful ploy for young men to supply alcohol to young women. Recent commercials for Bud Light, an Anheuser-Busch product, exemplify this sales approach, unabashedly exploiting women and drunkenness to sell beer.

“3D Test”, a spot that has aired for some time on sporting events, which disproportionately attract young men, can be interpreted as doing nothing but selling inebriation, with special emphasis on the ability of beer to render a woman confused and suggestible. The premise is that the company refrained from airing a 3D beer commercial, because it was too effective and therefore dangerous. The rest of the spot depicts the “dangers” of the commercial discovered during market testing: A young man dives into a television set in order to obtain a virtual beer; a young woman, mouth open and tongue out, abandons herself to a giant holographic glass of beer. At the end of the commercial, the same young woman runs headlong from a bowl of frosty Bud Light bottles into what appears to be the one-way mirror in the “test” room. The “host” of the commercial does not need to say that a woman who, manifestly numb after a few beers, will run into her own reflection (or an imaginary beer) is going to be “easy.”

Another spot illustrates the capacity of beer to make a young man appear attractive to young woman. Two young men are throwing a party on what could be a large pleasure craft. When one of them discovers that they are out of beer, the other demonstrates the Bud Light “app” on his smart phone. The “app” features a video of a Bud Light bottle that opens and from which real beer can be poured. Several scenes follow that show the young man who owns the app entertaining young women with his antics and conversation. In case we were wondering whether the important ingredient in his success with women is the beer or something special about the young man, the spot ends with his friend complaining that he wants a Bud Light app, too.

I can’t find the video for the most recent Bud Light spot, one that comes close to shocking me with its frank suggestion that young men entice young women into sex with the help of beer. The new spot introduces Bud Light bottles with labels you can write on with “a coin or a car key.” One of two young male roommates distributes bottles of Bud Light to the young women in their building, each inscribed with the time and location of a party. In one scene, he literally “lures” a young woman with a bottle lowered to her apartment window on a string. In another scene, when he leaves a bottled invitation with a young woman in the laundry room, she looks back with a welcoming, sexy look. At the subsequent party, young men and women are using the bottles to share names and phone numbers. Not only the beer, but also the package it comes in, help drunk couples to get together.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Date Rape Drugs And The “Good Girl”

Filed under: Date Rape,Propaganda,Sex & Love,Urban Myths — drtone @ 12:10 pm

I promise that I will soon get off the topic of date rape, but not quite yet. When I wrote my first entry on “date rape drugs” after watching a stupid movie, I discovered the depth of the topic, how it drills down to some core values in our society. Now that I’m there, it’s hard to stop.

A fascinating aspect of the prevailing fantasy about date rape drugs is that it makes contact with a societal trope one would have thought had died in the sexual revolution. The “good girl” no longer must abstain from sex before marriage. Instead, she does have sex with her boyfriend in a committed relationship, but  she doesn’t have sex with a random Joe she happened to meet at a bar or party. At least, she doesn’t do so regularly. A magic substance that can be slipped into an alcoholic drink, transforming it into something that render a person unconscious, as if alcohol couldn’t already do that, obviously taps into deep hypocrisy about the consumption of alcohol by women. It not only “explains” the effect of alcohol on a woman’s inhibitions, but also “explains” the non-virtuous behavior of a supposedly virtuous woman.

A “good girl” doesn’t get hammered and end up in bed with an ill-mannered stranger. Maybe she entertains the notion that there’s someone like that deep inside her, but does not contemplate letting her out. Therefore, if she wakes up in a strange place, certain that she behaved recklessly, ashamed of herself, it must have been the result of a “date rape drug,” and not the result of a chain of bad judgments that began when she went to a a party the night before. Clearly, the scenario of a drunken woman leaving a party with a stranger could be a prelude to sex that is truly forced and qualifies as rape. But just as clearly, an alcohol-fueled sexual liaison can simply be confusing, uncomfortable, and something for which one would like not to take responsibility. A “good girl” doesn’t, by definition, act like a slut…unless she’s been drugged.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Alchohol And Unwanted Sexual Advances

Filed under: Date Rape,Propaganda — drtone @ 11:52 am

Forgive me, dear readers, but I seem to be stuck on the subject of  date rape.

Women_s_Responses_To_Unwanted_Sexual_Advances__The_Role_Of_Alcohol

The article at the above link purports to present an account of the inhibitory effects of alcohol on the ability of young women to resist a series of sexual advances culminating in a “rape threat.” I have read literally thousands of psychology articles and I have to say that this is among the worst I have ever seen in a refereed journal. Rather than being a serious effort at social science, it is a piece of propaganda freighted with a mass of hidden assumptions, many of which are false.

To investigate the effect of alcohol on the ability of young women to resist a man’s sexual advances, the investigators used a vignette  (a story) describing, in the second person, an escalating series of sexual advances, culminating in a “rape threat.” The first thing that is wrong with the article is that it never specifies the form of this “threat.” It’s pretty obvious that most young women, drunk or sober, confronted with a story in which they themselves are described as being explicitly threatened with rape, would state that they would resist such a threat. For that reason alone, it was important for the authors to provide the text of the vignette. They did not do so, but that is not the worst thing about the article.

The worst thing is that the use of the vignette licenses both the authors and the subjects to pretend that the events described in the vignette would not, in real life, be an interaction involving two people. In the story, the man kisses the young woman (referred to as “you…”) and fondles her breasts, then he fondles her genitals and asks for sex, and then he issues the “rape threat.” As far as we can tell from the description of the vignette, it presupposes that man is becoming sexually excited, but doesn’t suppose the same thing about the woman. Let me just say that I’ve been fondling females for going on 50 years and (stipulating that female body parts are nice to touch) the main thing that makes that fondling of sufficient interest to continue  is the positive sexual response of the woman.

Although I’m sure that there are many men who indiscriminately grope women, in the “dating situation” described, it is absurd to ignore the high likelihood that the young woman would be responding sexually, at least partly explaining her continuing implicit or explicit consent to the young man’s advances. To put it another way, a guy who would continue to engage in genital fondling that was not arousing his partner is a guy who is going to have a hard time getting laid. Ever. If that were what was going on in the real life situation the vignette supposedly represents, it would be no surprise that the young woman tries to shut the poor schmuck down, rape threat or no.

For all their talk of subjects’ “high level of conflict” and “low level of conflict,” the authors leave out the principal source of conflict for a young woman who has a man’s hand between her legs. In what must be a high proportion of such encounters, she’s liking it that his hand is there and her level of sexual excitement is commensurate with her letting him continue the highly intimate act of fondling her vagina. He can feel her excitement, both implicitly and explicitly, and keeps on doing what he’s doing until someone wants to change position. In real life, she might have her hand on his ass or his crotch. For a variety of reasons, probably including the investigators’ concern for the feminine delicacy of their subjects, as well as their lack of concern for anything resembling verisimilitude, those elements do not seem to have made it into the vignette.

Therefore, when the investigators cite the effect of alcohol in explaining subjects’ description of a “passive” response to a man’s aggressive advances, they are in the world of make-believe. News flash: Sex is not all about a man satisfying his gross desires on a passive female, which would be rape. I’m going to go out on a limb to say that most sexual encounters begin just as the vignette suggests, except that they are events in which both partners participate. I’m going out on another limb to say that, in many sexual encounters that end in fucking, at least one of the partners had no initial intention of having intercourse. That’s what it means when we say, “One thing led to another…”

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