Saturday, 7 February 2015

A 'Sick' Society - What It Really Means ...

Managing the self as both body and mind, where both have an influence on each other, where both have significant unconscious aspects and where both are dependent on external inputs (such as nutritional on the one side or perceptual on the other) is an art and not a science. It takes place in real time with multiple changes in many components. If, as physicians have suggested, severe stress results in atrophy of the hippocampus and this reduces the memory resources available to allow the body to react appropriately to future stress, this has consequences.

It means that we must engineer our environment (which includes society) to avoid severe stress and we must seek means to engineer our bodies to recover from past severe stress so that they can deal with current and future stress. A degree of social engineering and a degree of corrective personal engineering may be necessary to enable us to live the good life and to make informed decisions about preserving it, but the choice of what constitutes the good life always remains an individual and not a social one.

Social or bodily engineering that creates stress or is non-consensual or is imposed from without (except under the most extreme of diseased or psychotic conditions) is counter-productive. There is a point of balance at which most people most of the time will have to accept their 'difference' from the normal as ‘just who they are’. Take the range of mental issues created by dysfunctionality of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis [HPA axis]: anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, insomnia, post-traumatic stress, borderline personality disorder, ADHD, deep depression, burnout, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel and addiction.

The decision on where these issues are dysfunctional is too often a social one and not an individual one. The social often imposes the very demands on the body that result in the mental problem and then the social, instead of changing its own practices, seeks its own solution to a problem that it created. As a result, and this applies across social policy to issues of social exploitation and abuse, instead of a serious problem of painful dysfunction being dealt with under conditions of personal care for a relatively few, large numbers of people divert skilled time into patching up so that people can go back into battle.

Much of modern psychological medicine has degenerated into a form of ‘normalisation’ and into a castigation by implication of 'difference'. This has happened, as in social policy, because a large class of persons can only get a living and meaning from acting as definers of others. We all see the absurdity of a doctor working through the night to save the life of a man who is to be executed next morning. At least the patching up of warriors and workers has the cynical social purpose of defending the system or keeping its economic wheels turning but, today, we are in a different condition again.

Mass health and social services provision has created a half-baked world where a vast class of persons exists to maintain people whose trauma and miseries are real enough but are as likely to be created by social circumstances, poor nutrition and crowded conditions as they are by something organic. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, our economic structures now depend on an industry of helpers and a vast mass of persons who must be helped. They do not rely on strong, willful, self-reliant individuals in a position to intevene directly to support the weakest members of the community - we drive the vulnerable into a 'system'.

The sheer scale of the resources required to maintain this system means that the socially isolated and the psycho-somatically ill are increasingly taking resources from the minority who badly need short term sustained intensive help. These last just fall into the mass - the helped - to add more customers for the growing class of helpers. The height of absurdity is reached when our entire culture becomes geared to helping those who appear to need to help by hiring them as helpers ('full employment'), a worthwhile palliative up to a point but one which, in effect, simply accepts that the way we conduct our social affairs should be 'normalised' as a shared 'lesser misery'.

The poverty of aspiration is staggering. The height of our aspiration is now that everyone has a 'job', a functioning role in a dysfunctional system. Nobody appears to be able to consider how the system might be made more functional - perhaps everyone just accepts that it cannot in a form of conservative pessimism that has merely been re-labeled ‘progressive’. Worse, this conservative pessimism on the 'official' Left (which is now the ruling order regardless of party) must bring everyone under the same health and welfare model. No matter that placebos, shamans and herbal medicines might actually reduce demand on the system. These must always be avoided in favour of more expensive interventions (although we re-assert here the absolute primacy of scientific medecine).

Herbal medicines almost certainly regulate the HPA system and, under experienced guidance, can be made to accord with individual body chemistries. The placebo effect may offend rationalists but works - and if it works, why not embrace it pragmatically? Our concern should only be that people do not use alternative self-medication in preference to scientific medication but only to supplement and self-treat in the grey area between serious dysfunction and apparent health. The truth is that a purely scientific approach to the body-mind continuum is not truly scientific when dealing with most needs most of the time - as opposed to serious need some of the time. It is an ideology of rational intervention that has reached its lowest point with the recent bureaucratic interference by the EU to ban the use of herbal substances as ‘untested’. If the fear is that people will believe the local witch can cure cancer, then the fear is justified but if the fear is that people will choose minor irrationalities that offend the sensibilities of rationalists, then the fear is neurotic - and, oddly, irrational.

This ideology of excessive mass scientific interventionism, as opposed to precautionary advice on nutrition, exercise and mental health based on treating people not as children but as autonomous adults, is the last gasp of an over-simplified scientific materialism and it deserves underground resistance at every level. The real reason why this ideology is dominant is because we are talking here about economics and power and not about any real concern for the self development and empowerment of those autonomous individuals.

Welfare systems arose out of real need - the sort of need that still exists in much of the emerging world. Unfortunately, like roads, the solution creates more demand. Because basic care and emergency intervention required taxation, the class interest of the public sector and the need to keep the taxpaying majority supportive came to meant that 'universalism' spread services widely instead of where they were needed most. Hence the anomaly of a massive, expensive and unnecessary child benefits system in place while over a 1,000 kids in a rotten English borough faced appalling sexual abuse because the resources of time and money were not there to protect them.

As demand and expense has increased, the subsequent and necessary 'cutting' process has meant that the same services are just more thinly spread. There is a failure to invest in the wider social infrastructure that caused the stress-related illnesses in the first place and neglect of those who most need expensive but decisive intervention. We now have a grossly inflated public sector whose politics are a deadweight on the economy and on our culture, enforced 'cuts' which harm those in most dire need for political reasons and a grossly dysfunctional social structure that drives psychological and psychosomatic illness.

And what is at the heart of this degraded system in which the 'official' Left is fully complicit? Scientists have found evidence to suggest that social subordination leads to chronic stress - the subordinated are less aggressive, less in control of themselves and constantly anxious about dominant others in our own species. Does this not sound familiar? We have a culture that is ostensibly free but one in which there is no connection between the mass and political decision-making, in which the economy is volatile and dependent on 'global factors' and where most wealth and power trickles down from a tiny group at the top of our tree. We may as well be apes.

And the consequences of this widespread social subordination is chronic stress, expressed as psychosomatic illness and neurosis but also as a lack of engagement in the local community or in enterprise, as addictive behaviour and impulsiveness (especially with bank credit before 2008) and as cynicism. Our politicians are obsessed with grandstanding overseas (apparently we are diminished in the eyes of some Parliamentarians because our Prime Minister is not grandstanding in Kiev instead of worrying about Rotherham), process and keeping the busted system ticking over but none of them understands the central problem of our time - how to return a sense of power and meaning to the people they clearly despise in their hearts or see just as fodder for their own drive to have the power to 'do good' at them or for them instead of with them.

Given our conditions, our problem is not that we are too aggressive as a population but that we are not aggressive enough. Every now and then, some extreme case of violence (such as Raoul Moat, the Ipswich serial killer or gun-killings in South London) creates a surge of anxiety about the psychopaths in our midst but these are tiny events in a country of over 60 million people. What is far more worrying is that the vast bulk of our huge population simply takes the unutterable amount of ordure heaped on them by incompetent governors and experts without protest - and then goes home, gets sick and thanks the system for treating them for the disease the system brought on them in the first place. We are back to the world of Milgram. The few who can capture the machine, the alpha apes, can command millions ... and that should really worry and depress us.