Trying to Understand The Harvey Weinsteins of this World

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Harvey Weinstein. We can call his behaviour evil, reprehensible, outrageous, nasty, illegal, criminal, or sick, but is there a way to understand it? Such behaviour does require a degree of sociopathy, the absence of empathy, of guilt or remorse. It does require a degree of self-importance, of narcissism. It does not bother him much that he hurts people.

But the cloying, nasty, crude, pleading, begging, and disgusting aspects of his behaviour, combined with the physical reality of the man speak to a different impulse. The same with most of the others who have been recently exposed, with the exception of George H. W. Bush, whose fixation on a single play of words that provides him the excuse for a fanny squeeze suggests a little frontal lobe dementia is at work.

But the others, what of the others? What strikes me is that they are physically repulsive men living in a world that values youth and beauty.

To some extent we all live in that world. Beautiful young, and beautiful not-so-young women are paraded before us on our screens, on our billboards, at the office, on the campus, in our newspapers and magazines. Every man notices. Every man enjoys this visual treat. Every man is attracted to this spectacle. And if drag queens are anything to go by, the attraction is not limited to the heterosexual male. Even gay men are fascinated by the adornment, the display, the theatricality, the vigour, the exhibitionism – youth and beauty.

If the Harvey Weinsteins of this world took advantage of their positions to court, seduce, and then maintain as mistresses a couple of beautiful young women, it would be understandable as the fulfillment of a natural biological yearning experienced by an Alpha Male. Common around the world, with humans and other primates.

But that is not what they do. They display their own disgusting selves, their bodies, and then force these young women to degrade themselves, to experience the disgust they must feel for themselves.

So Harvey looks in the mirror and finds himself physically repulsive, unhealthy, weighted with an excess of mortal flesh. His successes in film making do not remove this repulsion, this self-disgust. Especially when he is reminded every day that some others, most notably young female actors, glow with health and beauty, and command the eyes of everyone else in the room.

He will make them suffer too, and suffer with the same sense of self-disgust he feels. And then make them flee from him as they must, but now reduced and no longer threatening.

………………..

There is a cartoon circulating now with a father explaining to his son that, regarding sexual abuse, “We hold our movie stars to a higher standard than our presidents.”

But is there a real link here? I mean between the presidency of Donald Trump and so many women now blowing the whistle on abusive male behaviour?

It is not surprising that Donald Trump has provoked a backlash of Democrats being elected. Maybe a little surprising that one of those Democrats is a transsexual. But has the election of Donald Trump and his band of privileged rich white males caused a reactionary wave of female empowerment? Maybe.

That would be a treat. Perhaps Trumpism will ultimately produce, by reaction, a universal health care system, some environmental protection, some concern about global warming, a more equitable distribution of wealth, some actual gun control, less racism rather than more, a rational, thoughtful and more realistic assessment of America’s place and role within an interdependent world.

It is the silver lining to this mess. His two steps backward may cause a mighty leap forward.

But I am surprised and troubled by just how many rich privileged males have been behaving as if they were 16 year old brain damaged boys living in a group home.

Advertisements

Addictions and Mental Illness – Continued

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Folk wisdom tells us that with alcoholism and addiction, at several points in the spectrum of these afflictions, there lies choice. Free will is at play. The law generally agrees. Drunkenness is not grounds for “not responsible due to mental illness.” Even science and rehab experience agree. All treatment and rehabilitation programs for addiction and alcoholism are founded on a principle of choice and free will.

No doubt alcoholics and addicts develop a sort of tunnel vision. The big picture is lost to them. The effect they are having on others is lost to them. The ability to plan beyond the next few hours is lost to them. Reality for the addict becomes a set of shadings and lies he tells himself and others.

Scholars and philosophers can debate the myth, reality or limitations of free will, but the concept is in itself a foundation of community, of organized society. To function communally we must assume that individuals generally have free will and are responsible for their actions. We are careful and strict when we allow exceptions to this rule, as we must be. Science and compassion inform these decisions.

Our courts debate these decisions every day. The age at which one can be tried in court as an adult rather than a child has been changing and varies from state to state. At what level of mental development should we assume a mentally handicapped person is fully responsible for his crime? Harvey Weinstein will claim he is a sex addict and couldn’t help himself; the prosecutor will point out he is a serial predator who chose to debase women over and over because he could get away with it.

Within our long history we have only recently absolved people of personal, moral responsibility for falling ill with recognizable physical diseases. Though not totally, for we still expect them to assume some responsibility for working to get better, take their medicines, and do the things that prevent illness in the first place. e.g stop smoking, get vaccinations, use condoms.

It is only more recently, within two hundred years, that we began to include severe mental illnesses in the body of afflictions for which people should not be held morally responsible. Nobody chooses at any point in their lives to become schizophrenic, bipolar, depressed, have regular panic attacks. These are illnesses. Nobody chooses for these illnesses to continue.

Folk wisdom regarding who with mental illness should be absolved of moral and personal responsibility (and therefore not punished if a crime is committed) remains fluid. The question is often decided, in the public’s mind, by our visceral reaction to the crime itself.

But at least without horrendous crimes occurring, folk wisdom generally, today, accepts that severe mental illnesses are indeed illnesses and no personal decision making is involved.

But this is always a tenuous belief.

Which is why it was such a setback for the public’s attitude toward mental illness when our institutions for addictions and for psychiatric illnesses were merged, and many of the philosophies for “treating” addictions slipped over to mental illness. I could argue that this merger has set us back a hundred years and allowed us to believe (or by inaction accept) that many with mental illness choose to live on the street or cycle in and out of our jails. (I put treatment for addictions here in quotation marks because there is no treatment as such. All programs for addictions are forms of organized browbeating to quit, and then to stay abstinent. Whereas we actually have effective medical treatments for severe mental illness.)

I might even argue (with the exception of it providing more resources for addictions) this merging of the services was also a disfavor for society, addicts, and alcoholics. For when we absolve people of responsibility for their behaviour, we give it wings.

Hence the astounding human behaviour we see today in all our communities in which a person is offered in a back alley or a house party a substance that promises to alleviate any suffering (emotional or physical) for a few hours, maybe cause the experience of a little euphoria, but which has a 30% chance of being lethal – and still that substance is greedily taken and snorted or injected.

Conflating mental illness and addictions has caused a paradoxical shift. It has allowed us to absolve addicts of personal responsibility for their addictions and, at least tacitly, blame the mentally ill for their illnesses.

Though I am in favour of suing, for billions of dollars, the pharmaceutical company that lied about and promoted oxycontin/oxycocet/oxycodone  and then pouring that money into “treatment” and prevention of drug addiction.

Addictions and Mental Illness Do Not Belong Together

By Marvin Ross

For some inexplicable reason addictions is lumped in with mental illness or, to be politically correct, mental health. Combining the two is, in my opinion, like putting orthopaedic surgery together with chiropractic. Addictions are quite separate from mental illness and combining them does a disservice to the mentally ill.

I do no want to demean the seriousness of addictions but there is a fundamental difference. Addictions at some point involve choice. You made a decision to go into a bar and start drinking or to snort coke, take opioids or inject heroin. No one has a choice to become schizophrenic, bipolar, depressed or any other serious mental illness. There is no choice involved whatsoever.

Before you jump all over me, take a look at a court case before the Massachusetts supreme court called Commonwealth v. Eldred . Ms Eldred admitted to stealing in order to support her drug habit and was sentenced to probation with the term that she not use drugs and submit to regular drug testing. Ms Eldred tested positive for drugs in one of her tests and her probation was revoked and she was put in jail pending the availability of a treatment bed.

She appealed using the argument that the sentence of abstinence was cruel and unusual punishment as she has no choice but to take drugs as she is an addict. Addiction psychiatrist, Dr Sally Satel, co-wrote a brief with others arguing against the grounds for this appeal. Those grounds are that addicts are involuntary drug users who cannot be held responsible for their drug use. If that is upheld then it would “affect the future of successful treatment programs that are based on the verified principle that addicts can and often do say no to drugs” and “it would hobble successful judicial interventions that help addicts stay out of jail by making probation and parole contingent on testing clean for drugs”.

Dr Satel argues that this position runs counter to accepted science in her blog Addiction, she says, is not a chronic and relapsing brain disease. Addicts can and do learn to say no to drugs and recover in large numbers without intervention. Three epidemiological studies done in the US found that “among those who ever met the criteria for addiction to controlled substances, 76% to 83% were at the time of the surveys ex-addicts. They no longer used drugs at levels that met the criteria for substance dependence.”

Dr Satel also points out that the argument that is often used is that the drugs or alcohol change the structure of the brain so that the addiction continues and cannot be controlled. However, as she points out, all actions, including reading an article, change the brain and thus brain changes are not a valid marker for loss of self control.

One analogy that comes to my mind is smoking. It is generally recognized that nicotine is a very strong addicting substance and it is not easy to quit. My generation smoked a great deal as it was socially acceptable and allowed just about everywhere. One brand even advertised that 4 out of 5 doctors smoked whatever. Then, we were given more and more evidence of how harmful it was and it became socially unacceptable. The vast majority of us were able to quit and I don’t recall anyone ever arguing that we suffered from an illness and that we had a brain disease. Once we determined to stop, we did using a variety of methods. What was key in each and every case was a true desire to do so.

During the Vietnam War, it was discovered that 40% of US servicemen had used heroin and that nearly 20% were addicted. Government officials were stunned and worried and Richard Nixon set up a new office called The Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention. Its goal was to prevent and rehabilitate as well as to track troops returning from Vietnam. What they found shocked them. Nearly 95% of the addicted servicemen gave up heroin voluntarily upon return to the US.

They stopped, it was hypothesized because they found themselves in a totally different environment from that of a hostile war zone. In contrast are drug users who go into rehab who relapse at a rate of about 90% once they return to their regular environment. That is an environment and life situation that caused them to become addicted in the first place.

The solution to addiction is not to treat it like it is a brain disease where the addict has no control but to try to change the life circumstances of those who do become addicted.

As Dr Satel said, addiction is not a conventional brain disease like Alzheimer’s. “Addiction is self-destructive drug use, and those who are destroying their lives with drugs deserve our help and sympathy, but they are not helpless victims” like those with serious mental illnesses.

Trick or Trump

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I had in my office yesterday an 11 year old who was in a bit of trouble at school. His defense was “Kevin did worse than me and he didn’t get in trouble.”

I laughed and then explained to the parents that I had just read a Donald Trump tweet along the same lines, “What about Crooked Hillary and the Dems.”

The parents smiled warily, but the boy took offense. He did not like being compared to Donald Trump. I tried to explain that deflecting the blame, or trying to do that from an immature sense of playground fairness, was quite appropriate at his age. He was still unhappy that I had compared him to Donald Trump.

Then I saw a 12 year boy, a little fire-plug of a kid who happens to have a mop of blonde hair, a square face, and a passable rendition of a Donald Trump pout. I asked if he was going to go out Halloween as Donald Trump. No way he told me. There are too many Donald Trumps. He was dressing as a robber. Besides, Donald Trump is stupid.

So, at least, I concluded, the fear that Donald Trump might be a role model for our children, at least our Canadian children, is unfounded.

Trump And/Or God?

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In Richard Russo’s novel, “Nobody’s Fool”, Rub Squeers, sometime friend of Sully (played by Paul Newman in the movie), often says with a stutter, sometimes to Sully, sometimes to himself, “You know what I w-wish -t?”

His wish is usually for a small improvement in his circumstances, never realized. Yet, he is optimistic and quite endearing.

The moment science reported that those among us with a modicum of optimism live longer, recover faster from illness, and tolerate chronic illness better than pessimists, a poster went up in the hallway of a mental health center I visit, proclaiming HOPE in bold letters. It has since come down.

I thought of these things while watching a bunch of religious (or faith community) leaders praise Donald Trump and the power of prayer in the oval office. One went as far as to announce that we all know prayer works. They each thanked Donald within the same paragraph they thanked God, knowing, I’m sure, who really had the power to dispense favour at this moment.

Of all the players in these three separate stories I think I prefer the simple honesty of Rub Squeers. He wishes, and momentarily it gives him hope and small pleasure, but he has few expectations as he trundles on getting by.

And prayer itself. I have always had a problem with prayer. Okay, it can support hope; it can strengthen community, but this juxtaposition of the stroking of Trump’s ego and the appeals to God certainly drew a clear parallel. For prayer itself implies that before God might notice my suffering, I must praise him. Not just praise him, but prostrate myself before him, beg him to intervene. So that image of God, that particular concept of God, involves an ego even bigger than Donald Trump’s. God the narcissist.

And as long as they have prayer I suppose they can continue to pave over the wetlands, ignore the disrepair of the damns, dykes, levees and drainage systems, cut taxes, remove environmental regulation, promote unfettered growth, and ignore climate change.

The Obama Legacy

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I have had a lifetime of sitting in a comfortable chair, walking safe streets, and observing the struggles of our neighbour to the south. Beneath their constant boasting I witnessed their progress, through Kennedy, desegregation, Johnson, Alabama, Martin Luther King, until finally they elected a black president. Which meant, I thought, that at least half of the population of the United States had worked through their demons of oppression and slavery, of segregation, of racism. Their future looked bright. And if the future of the USA looks bright so does that of the rest of the world.

But when I listen to Donald Trump, to Steve Bannon, to Harvey Weinstein for that matter, and many other white male Americans of age, I realize how much their terrible history is still in play. For beneath all of their bluster, their provocations, their aggression, there lies a deep pool of fear and guilt. Or guilt and then fear, which would be the correct order. Guilt to fear and then to aggression.

It is embodied by Donald Trump. It is being played out by Donald Trump on the world stage. His narcissism is astounding, as is his ability to lie, but he embodies another dynamic that must be addressed if the USA is not going to implode. And that is Donald’s fixation on Barack Obama.

With much of what Trump says he leaves unspoken a final sentence that is beginning to ring loudly in my ears. And that is the removal of the “stain” of Barack Obama; the castration and lynching of Obama, expunging him from history.

The dynamic is guilt (guilt from deeds and thoughts and a denied history) which leads to a fear of retaliation, which is quickly turned into aggression.

It is risky applying individual psychology to the behaviour of groups and nations but over the past 50 years I think I have been watching Cognitive Behavioural Therapy being applied to America’s history of slavery, violence, segregation and racism. Superficially much progress has been made. “We shall overcome.” But I think they need Desmond Tutu. Some truth and reconciliation. A full catharsis if we are not to see this cycle repeated again and again.

That is (and perhaps it will be possible in the backlash choice of president after Donald Trump), they need to really face their history, the truth of slavery, the remnants of the civil war, their guilt and fear. It could start with a loud and public discussion about all those civil war monuments and what to do with them.

After that they could look at the guilt they must feel for the destruction they unleashed on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Perhaps if that is ever faced we will no longer read that 50% of Republicans are in favour of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

The ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ and Other Consoling Fictions

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I understand the families of soldiers killed in war must find ways of understanding their loss, their grief, of honouring their sons and daughters, their husbands, brothers, sisters. I understand that those who send these young men and women into war must find ways, beyond guilt and despair, of understanding, of justifying their responsibilities.

I understand that when most of us conclude that the war in question was unnecessary, foolish, and tragic, the families and generals must double down on their consoling fictions.

General John Kelly, as a military commander who sends young men and women into war zones, and who lost a son in Afghanistan has as much a need as anyone to find consoling fictions. And in his recent press conference defending Donald Trump he did just that. He elevated the fallen, those killed in battle, to a very restricted strata of society, the best of the best. He lessened his guilt by emphasizing that these young people know what they are signing up for, that they are fully aware they may be sacrificing their lives, that they do it for “love of country”.

I understand his need to think as he thinks, to imagine his son sitting with Athenian Gods in a Parthenon of heroes. It is no less a fiction than the stories told to ISIS fighters, and to all young men and women in totalitarian states.

We must grieve and honour these soldiers and console their families. We must do this in a way that does not perpetuate the myth of glory, that does not undermine the more important message, “never again”. We must do this in a way that does not perpetuate the fictions of a warrior culture.

For it is these fictions, “the ultimate sacrifice” for “love of country” as a “choice made by the best of the best” by fully cognizant young men and women, by a special elevated breed of human — it is these fictions that will allow us to go to war again, nay, require us to go to war again.

More Assault on Democracy

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In my list of instructions (the order was arbitrary) for undermining democracy, point 9 included curtailing unfavourable reporting by newspapers and TV networks via “licensing bodies”. Donald Trump floated the idea in a tweet earlier this week, “at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license?” and then, apparently emboldened, directly suggested it a day later. “…licenses must be challenged and if appropriate, revoked…” His target this time is NBC.

The outrage has not been deafening. Perhaps because another Trump tweet suggested pulling FEMA out of Puerto Rico while accusing them of being in a financial mess of their own making, and he is about to sign a bill that will undermine the Affordable Care Act. He is also busy undermining multiple international agreements from NAFTA to UNESCO. And we are distracted by the crimes and misdemeanors of Harvey Weinstein and the killing spree of Mr. Paddock.

A serial killer inures himself to remnants of fear and anxiety by engaging in a self-designed desensitization process. The same process works with large populations. “This is an unusual presidency”, someone says on CNN, “He doesn’t fit the mold.” “Should we take him literally?” “Should we take him seriously?” someone else asks.

But I think I have been most disturbed of late to hear even the thoughtful and presumably liberal experts and pundits on CNN tell me that, with respect to North Korea, “Diplomacy has failed. We have tried diplomacy for 25 years and it has failed.”

And then even when they say war is not an option, they calculate the cost of war, conventional or otherwise, as being a few thousand U.S citizens residing in South Korea, perhaps a few million South Korean lives, and the devastation of the Korean peninsula.

So this is where we stand at the moment, 9 months in:

  • Limit, by threat and licensing, the free press
  • Create chaos and anxiety at home (the soil from which grows tyranny)
  • Vilify and dehumanize an enemy
  • Desensitize the population to the truth and reality of war.

(in case anybody missed the point, North Korea has not attacked anyone in 25 years, so “diplomacy” has been working)

Reality VS Reality TV, Las Vegas and Packing

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I confess I have been watching too much CNN of late. This is not conducive to good mental health. But one of the things very apparent this week has been the struggle on the part of hosts, interviewers, guests and pundits to find a clear narrative in the Las Vegas story. Somehow there seems to be a need for this real life event to conform to the conceits of fiction.

Perhaps this should not be surprising for so-called reality TV does just that. It takes recordings of (albeit within a contrived and manipulated context) real human behaviours and organizes them in the editing room to fit, to satisfy the demands of story telling and fiction. Perhaps the presidency of Donald Trump is another symptom of fiction infiltrating reality; he certainly treats his job as if he is still the producer and star of a reality TV show. “Maybe this is the calm before the storm.” “What storm, Mr. President?” “You’ll see.”

Fiction requires a definable conflict, clear motivation, and an inciting incident. In a Hollywood movie the inciting incident occurs 5 to15 minutes in. Fiction supplies a background that explains the principal characters’ personalities in simple terms. Each character has an arc of development. The second act comprises variations on the theme building to the third act resolution. We are seldom happy with an inconclusive ending. We crave identifiable heroes and villains. We crave motivation in the form of a logical sequence of events, or something with which we can empathize. For a series to work each episode must end in a cliffhanger. If not a cliffhanger at least a little foreshadowing.

Fiction abounds in our lives these days. We can spend every waking hour engrossed in fiction and not run out of new shows. And so it should not be surprising that the conceits of fiction are falsely shaping our perceptions of reality, or our expectations of reality. They even creep into popular psychology and mental health jargon. They have crept into our body politic. They have enthralled a substantial number of Americans into believing such a sorry specimen as Donald Trump would make a good president. They form the parameters of our questions about the Las Vega shooter.

I see this influence in the current search for specific childhood traumas that might explain the development of psychotic illness. I see it in the words “trigger” and “closure”, borrowed just like Multiple Personality Disorder and “alters” from fiction, in “recovered memory” and “flashback”. I see more than a bit of fiction in the popularity of CBT.

But real life seldom conforms to the rules of fiction. Lives are messy. Variables are plentiful. Folly is more common than conspiracy. Motives are seldom clear. Judgment is always limited. Feeling states can be fleeting or persistent. Pain, addiction, depression, and psychosis all cause tunnel vision, an inability to see anything beyond that which might alleviate the suffering. People do not acquire insight and learn great lessons within a 60 or 90 minute narrative.

It is reasonable I suppose, and very human, to try to figure out what mental state could guide a person like Mr. Paddock to do what he did.

But while we try to figure this out it distracts from the simple truth that a human being can slip into the kind of mental state that leads to the acquisition and use of immense fire power. If that serious lethal weaponry is readily available. If that serious lethal weaponry is readily available it will be acquired and used by someone to kill.

**

I was at a party last night. A wedding celebration. Several generations, kids to octogenarians, many people I did not know. The theme was Halloween or Goth so devils, fallen angels, bent priests, strict nuns, metal, blood, and hints of S & M abounded. The music was loud, the bar open, the speeches emotional, and, as with any such celebration, some of the relationships quite complex. With Trump and Las Vegas not far from anyone’s mind, they intruded into the otherwise congenial conversation. And I wondered out loud what it would be like attending this kind of event in the USA. Would I be calculating how many guests were packing (indulging in concealed carry that is), would I worry that one of the bride’s sketchy ex-boyfriends might arrive with semi-automatic weapon, would I feel this relaxed and safe, would I worry more about the morose uncle putting away his fifth glass of whiskey, would I worry about the veiled insult within one of the speeches?

My American friends. You are crazy. Do you not understand the sense of peace and security and safety that comes from knowing the man next to you is unlikely to be carrying a gun?

 

Las Vegas Massacre

By Dr David Laing Dawson

At any age there are some conditions (medical and other) that can befall us and cause aberrations in thinking and behavior. At age 64 they are unlikely to include the propaganda of ISIS or the illness schizophrenia or a drug induced psychosis. But they do include psychotic depression, brain tumour, frontal lobe dementia, and/or a combination of depression and early dementia. Psychotic depression refers to a combination of depression and paranoia.

When such a condition leads to violence it is usually isolated to suicide or murder-suicide. Even then the difference between suicide and murder/suicide (the murder usually being of a spouse) is often decided by the presence or absence of a lethal weapon.

An excellent available and affordable health and mental health system could catch some of these, institute treatment and prevent tragedy. But the simple solution to preventing 20 kids in a school or 59 people at a music festival from dying is gun control. Of course it’s gun control. At least banning absolutely those kinds of weapons that can kill so many so easily.

I am writing this as professionals, journalists and armchair diagnosticians are all looking for a cause or motive for the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. But my point is that such breakdowns, such dramatic (sometimes surprising, sometimes not surprising) changes in behaviour will always be with us. Sometimes an alert relative or family doctor can prevent a tragedy. But the difference between a single suicide or limited murder/suicide and mass casualties will always depend on available weapons.

I could make my guesses about what condition lay under Mr. Haddock’s murderous actions and suicide but I shouldn’t. For that is the wrong focus for any prevention of similar events in the future. If Americans, Congress and Senate are at all serious about preventing this kind of tragedy they need to forget trying to figure out what drove Mr. Haddock and look instead at the insane ease which which he acquired his guns.

PLEASE NOTE: the name of the shooter used here is Haddock in order to illustrate just how unimportant that person’s name is. The issue is gun violence and this article describes just how absurd the US emphasis on guns is https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/2/16399418/us-gun-violence-statistics-maps-charts