Monthly Archives: March 2018

Update on Jagmeet Singh and Cultural Inclusion

By Dr David Laing Dawson

A comment on my last blog asked what the question to Jagmeet Singh was and wondered about the relevance of his turban.  Well, the question posed to him by the CBC was if there were any circumstances in which he would support violence. The background to this was his equivocation regarding the Air India mass murder, and his attendance at gatherings alongside Sikh extremists.

Canada is a wonderful experiment. So far one hundred and fifty-one years of a gradually evolving, gradually improving liberal democracy of inclusion. The world needs to watch Toronto: People from a hundred different cultures speaking dozens of different languages living and working within one large metropolis and (as a friend put it with a tone of incredulity) they are not killing one another. This is unique in our world.

There has been a recent increase in gun violence in Toronto but usually it’s young men killing other young men from the same tribe (or gang).

We struggle with, argue about, but make accommodation for religious practice and the wearing of religious and tribal symbols. As long as it does not conflict with the laws of Canada and the rights of others we usually accommodate.

These symbols (dress, hair cutting or covering, metal adornments, tattoos, markings, face coverings) are statements of separation, exclusion, and speak of membership in a specific tribe, religion or cult that may or may not want to adhere to our evolved Canadian social contract. Hence we need to be vigilant and ensure that the practices within these cults do not contravene our laws and our charter of rights and freedoms.

But there is another unspoken but clear message declared by these symbols. And it is the very message we are trying to eliminate in Canada. And that is the message of superiority, of tribal superiority.

These symbols (wearing a cross, a turban, a ceremonial dagger, ringlets and yarmulkes) are statements of membership, but also of superiority. For the unspoken, subtle message is that “I am righteous and you are not; I am going to heaven and you are not; I am favoured by God and you are not.”

I trust that by living in Canada, attending our public schools, and finding life here not too bad, after a couple of generations most will relegate the wearing of these symbols to celebrations and yearly rituals, and think of them only as historical reminders, connections to a past of struggle and sacrifice.

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The Way of Politicians

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The other day I listened to Jagmeet Singh being interviewed by the CBC. He was asked a very specific question. He danced, avoided, interrupted, distracted for a good ten minutes. His performance reminded me of Marco Rubio when asked a direct question by a student: “In the future will you accept donations from the NRA?”

Marco danced around this question like a verbal Nureyev. “I’m glad you asked that question.” is always the first response of faux sincerity. Often followed by “That is a very important question.”

I wondered then if politicians all go to the same politician school.
The one that teaches you how to avoid a question and still sound smart, knowledgeable, reasonable, thoughtful, and absolutely of a firm opinion that something or other is the morally right position. And that “something or other” will be sufficiently vague to offend no one.

Or, slowly but surely, everyone.

No wonder we don’t trust politicians. No wonder we are willing to elect a bullshit artist like Donald Trump, or a Ford brother, because they are, if no more honest than the rest, at least more entertaining. It is almost refreshing to hear Donald Trump lie rather than avoid acknowledging a fact, a truth. He even boasts that he was making it up all along. And then denies that as well. In a funny way, we know where he stands. But not Singh or Rubio.

Politicians. Agggghhh.

But let me keep this close to home. Mr. Singh, you seem smart and modern. Perhaps you are ready to participate in our liberal democracy and lead one of our three political parties. I accept that you practice some clothing and hair worship that dates to the seventeenth century. Every cult leader invents some magical interpretations and incantations to keep his flock in line.

But please leave these historical tribal grievances on the continents from which they sprang and continue to be fertilized. Do not. I repeat, do not bring them here.

And a one act play from David Laing Dawson

Is Science Fiction Becoming Reality?

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Good Science Fiction takes contemporary science, knowledge and theory, and extrapolates, sometimes getting it dead on, or at least exploring in very imaginative ways the moral and ethical issues, the comfort and dangers that might arise from our “progress”. But two common themes have puzzled me over the years: While the heroes and villains zip around in space, or toil on ships, or cross inhospitable planets, the political structure imagined is often feudal, or fascist, or at least Imperial. Not an extrapolation of better and better liberal democracies but usually a dystopian vision of medieval governance with high tech means of citizen control.

The second oddity is private enterprise. In these imagined futures big and often evil corporations own the spaceships, orbiting platforms and planetary settlements.

And I thought neither of these two imagined futures was likely. Surely our democracies will win out, improve, flourish. And surely space exploration will always be the purview of governments and alliances of governments, ideally of the United Nations of this planet.

But I am naïve as usual. Once again the Sci Fi writers may be prophetic. It seems they already imagined the Elon Musks and Donald Trumps of this century. Space exploration may devolve into competing profit-driven private corporations. Our current space station, if Donald gets his way, may become a Disney World/Jurassic Park for well heeled adventurers. And our forms of governance in the 22nd and 23rd century? Who knows?

I watched an old science fiction film the other day. I remembered the first time I saw it it’s impact was minimal, a forgettable entertainment. This time it seemed more closely allied to a horror film. The questions it posed about robots and AI are now upon us. When they, bots, are doing all the work, what will we be doing? When will AI become simply I? And might it turn on us?

It even seemed to me, reading Huxley’s Brave New World, that it was unlikely in our future that some of us humans would be living lives of leisure with our magic technologies in protected cities while thousands of other humans would be living in primitive squalor outside these cities, a step away from being Soylent Green. But now this seems all too possible as well.

Many of these science fiction writers imagined a future in which Big Brother, the Overlords, the Government, the Oligarchy could watch us, listen to us, and then manipulate us with messages designed to fit our psychological profiles. In these stories we are already there; it is already fully developed. Few of them explore the early phases and try to explain how we got there.

Well, now we know. Social Media plus Cambridge Analytica plus Robert Mercer plus his useful idiots. The future is upon us and we need to move quickly to not let it become the dystopias imagined by Huxley,  Wells, Asimov, Dick, and Ursula Le Guin.

And now, for your enjoyment, David Laing Dawson’s musical MacBush – Macbeth done as Bush:

A Porn Star May Be Our Last Hope

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII), and Germany’s vice chancellor, Franz von Papen, formally signed a concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich on July 20, 1933.

Hitler had been appointed Chancellor in January of that year.

But this Concordat was just one of the incremental events that opened the door for a criminal dictatorship to evolve and unleash the worst of human potentials.

Trump is not Hitler. Hitler harboured some extreme ideologies and hatreds from the beginning. Trump’s ideology is Trump. America in 2018 is not Germany in 1933. But, like Hitler, Trump is systematically undermining the safeguards of democracy.

Today Trump does not need an agreement with the Vatican to stay away from politics. But he does need, just as Hitler needed Papen, the generals, and the aristocrats – he does need the leaders of the Republican party to treat him like a useful idiot, to faun over him, to excuse him, to believe they are merely using him to achieve their own goals and maintain their power.

Trump has rendered the fourth estate powerless. Any one of their reported scandals and satires might have unseated a politician years ago. But today it all feels like a reality TV show, and thus more entertaining than consequential.

So we are left with an independent judiciary and independent law enforcement. But now it appears we are entering the end game.

I have described Trump as mentally and emotionally about 14. He says he is a “stable genius”. I would dispute the “stable” qualifier, but he just might be a genius, an evil genius, an evil genius with the emotional stability, cognitive apparatus, and vocabulary of a 14 year old. His methods, be they accidental or planned, of commanding the news cycles, provoking others to do his dirty work, testing the waters (“Maybe we should kill the drug dealers”), sewing the seeds of distraction, sewing rumours, bold lies repeated and repeated, and first killing off the ground support of any major impediment – this may be narcissistic and sociopathic, but it is clever.

And now, one of his few major obstacles is Mueller. Nunes, Fox and Friends have been kicking at Mueller’s shins. And now Trump, unfettered, is attacking him directly. There is talk of a “constitutional crisis” if Mueller is fired. But it seems to me it will only be a crisis if the Republican party and the judiciary object.

Our last hope may be Stormy Daniels. God speed Stormy, bring this monster down.

In Memory of an Exceptional Advocate

By Marvin RossCarolyn-Dobbins-1517838422

In her life that was cut too short, Dr Carolyn Dobbins has had a tremendous positive influence on those with serious mental illness and their families thanks in part to her book What A Life Can Be: One Therapist’s Take on Schizoaffective Disorder. Carolyn passed away suddenly at the age of 57 in February at her home in Knoxville, TN

Carolyn had schizoaffective disorder and wrote her book to try to give people a better understanding of that disease. Her book is written in a very unique style as a series of therapy sessions between a therapist and a patient. Initially, she did not want anyone to know that she, herself, had this affliction but I convinced her to “come out of the closet” and she did. By doing so, the impact of what she wrote was much greater.

Carolyn was an alpine skier who could have made the US Olympic team competing at the Lake Placid games had she not become ill. Despite her struggles, she graduated from the University of Utah, did a PhD in psychology at Vanderbilt and worked as a director of an addiction centre in Branson, MO for 12 years and then went into private practice. At one point, she lived in her car during her undergraduate years and was involuntarily committed while doing her PhD. In fact, she was discharged from a mental hospital and then went straight to Vanderbilt to defend her doctoral thesis.

Christina Bruni who writes a blog on serious mental illness and is the author of Left of the Dial: A Memoir of Schizophrenia, Recovery, and Hope, did an interview with Carolyn on her blog on Health Central. When she learned of Carolyn’s passing, she told me that “She was a true inspiration to many while she was alive”.

My own blurb for her work is that it is “A fascinating look into the world of schizoaffective disorder which, at times, is funny, heartbreaking, but above all uplifting. Dr. Carolyn Dobbins describes the onset and progression of this debilitating disease and gives all readers hope.”

My own hype was shared by many others. Dr E Fuller Torrey described it as “an inspiration for all who have ever experienced psychosis” and highly recommends it. Dr. Thomas G Burish, a professor of psychology and Provost of Notre Dame said “powerful and revealing, and provides a unique insight into chronic mental disease”

George E Doebler M Div. Special Advisor, Dept. of Pastoral Care, U of Tennessee Medical Center:, Executive Director, emeritus: Association of Mental Health Clergy (now Association of Professional Chaplains) said “It will challenge your thinking about mental illness, about hope, about faith, about who you are.”

The review in Library Journal said “people who have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorders and those close to them will welcome it as an advocacy tool”

Her reviews on Amazon have been incredible. To date, there have been 21 and they are all 5 Star. Carolyn’s father tells me that the Barnes and Noble in Knoxville keeps selling out and her book is being used as a text in Psychology at UT Knoxville.

Carolyn was so focused on helping others that she listed her e-mail address in the book so that readers could contact her and many did.

She will be sorely missed but her book is her legacy and it will continue to give help and comfort to those who need it.

The Ungovernables

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In response to an anarchist destruction spree in Hamilton

The sixteen year old tells me he doesn’t think he should ever have to do something someone else wants him to do. He should be able to go to work when and if he wants to. He should eat lunch when he wants to, not at “lunch break like a bunch of sheep”. He should be able to come and go as he pleases. There shouldn’t be rules.

He goes on in this vein as an infant in a large male body. The egocentricity is astonishing. Sometimes it is the product of a recent failure or loss. Sometimes I can see anxiety and depression in the background. Sometimes I wonder about the parenting, and the grade 11 teacher who says to his students, “Call me Steve.” Usually it’s a phase, a brief developmental phase. The carefree egocentrism of the child bumping hard against the challenge and complexity of the adult world. The smart kid throws in a bit of existential philosophy. The not so smart kid just wants to keep his bong in his bedroom.

They have usually grown past this phase in a couple of years, developed some empathy for others, found some satisfaction and confidence in completing something and being praised for it, lost some of their fear of this big clumsy chaotic but organized world.

Some don’t grow out of this phase it seems and they become “anarchists”. They have learned enough to use that word to describe their state of mind, their second hand philosophies, without learning about the historical consequences of anarchy. They crave an absolute freedom that always breeds a terrible tyranny.

Fortunately the very concept of anarchy is antithetical to organization. Anarchists can’t get together and form a club and expand that into a movement that holds and succeeds.

At least that was not possible until Social Media. Now with social media it is possible to gather together at least a small group of “anarchists”  and wreak havoc for a night.

I don’t know if the “Ungovernables” or anarchists appreciate the irony of being organized for a night of havoc, destruction, and terror. Fortunately their very rebellious nature precludes a large and persistent and successful organization.

Social media has made it possible for some very good gatherings and organizations to occur, and these can grow and flourish and stay organized and bring about positive change in our social contracts and societal rules. So I think we needn’t be horrified when a small group of so-called “Ungovernables” manage to wreak a night of havoc. No matter their rallying cry and their stated childish grievances they are just adolescents engaged in some thrill seeking vandalism.

We should simply investigate, arrest when possible, and apply our laws and our due process.

Donald Trump is Helping My Psychiatry Practice – An Open Letter

Dear Donald from Dr David Laing Dawson

As much as I dislike your intrusion into my thoughts and my life several times every single day, Donald, I must say you are a gift to clinical work. No longer do I have to rely on obscure references, examples that may or may not be known to my patients; no longer do I need to dream up ice breakers to relax an anxious family; no longer do I need to struggle to find a topic that will provoke an emotional reaction in a silent, sullen teenager; no longer do I need to search for a way of introducing the topics of narcissism, empathy, sociopathy, and adolescent cognitive development.

Just today I asked a 17 year old how he thought he might react if he were outside the Florida school while the shooting was occurring. He thought for a few seconds and then said he would probably take cover and call the police. Seventeen Donald, and he has already outgrown that adolescent fantasy of yours you told the governors. Or at least he has reached a level of cognitive development when he understands those common male heroic rescue fantasies are just that, fantasies.

At what age does one still boast about these superhero fantasies? I suspect thirteen, fourteen maybe. And then, usually, a little more self awareness creeps in. I was able to congratulate my patient on being more thoughtful and mature than the President of the United States. He didn’t think it was much of a compliment.

An anxious family, a parent with unruly or sullen child seeing a psychiatrist for the first time: I’m getting cautious one-word answers; I throw “Donald Trump” into this and the parents and the child all start talking with hand gestures, vivid facial expressions.

The mother tells me the 14 year old boy stole money from her purse. The boy launches into his defense, following the exact pattern of Donald’s tweets that very morning: Denial, fake news, someone else did it, you shouldn’t leave your purse out, I don’t get an allowance, my sister did it, you never blame her, she gets away with lots, you don’t like me, you’re unfair.

I point out the similarity. The mother smiles; the boy is insulted.

The teen girl over thinks everything. It is part of an OCD/anxiety problem. She is so worried and conscious of what she might say, and what she has said, that she avoids talking to all but family. I tell her I would like to inject her with a half ounce of Donald Trump. And there we have an extreme opposite to her problem that we can talk about.

The parents are very upset their child lies. I talk about lying, for a child, is natural, and how a developmental task for the child and teen, aided by their parents, is learning, by adulthood, when to lie or obfuscate a little bit, and when to tell the truth. At this age, the boy’s lying does not mean he’s going to grow into a Donald Trump or a career criminal.

It’s a measure of severe depression when someone does not have the energy to become animated by the topic of Donald Trump.

It’s a measure of excess idealism when a teenager is extremely distressed, outraged, horrified by the very mention of the name.

And there was a time when a fairly large percentage of teenagers, unable to answer any questions on current events, politics, governance, would explain, “It doesn’t effect me; I’m not interested in it.”

But they all now pay some attention to American Politics. They know your name and they all react. So there is one demographic the better for your existence: teens and youth. Let’s hope they maintain their awareness and idealism.