The Role of Narcissism in the Decline of America

In a 1900 article in Rivista, Alfredo Pareto commented on the radical movements at the turn of the century in France and Italy. He identified two factors, the circulation of elites and the irrationalism in politics. Change is associated with people always entering and leaving elites thereby tending to restore equilibrium. However, decisions in politics are emotional and non-rational. In such a system the function of reason is to justify past behavior or to show the way to future goals, which are determined not by reason, but by emotional wants. During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. These changes were problematic – lowering education standards to support positive self-esteem – created a milieu for extreme individualism. When there is too much self-esteem there are problems of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. This culture of extreme individualism ushered in the narcissism influencing decision-making and accountability today.

Narcissists dissociate (erase memories) a lot (are amnesiac) because their contact with the world and with others is via a fictitious construct: The false self. Narcissists never experience reality directly but through a distorting lens darkly. They get rid of any information that challenges their grandiose self-perception and the narrative they had constructed to explicate, excuse and legitimize their antisocial, self-centred and exploitative behaviors, choices and idiosyncrasies. In an attempt to compensate for the yawning gaps in memory, narcissists confabulate: They invent plausible “plug ins” and scenarios of how things might, could, or should have plausibly occurred. To outsiders, these fictional stopgaps appear as lies. But the narcissist fervently believes in their reality: He may not actually remember what had happened – but surely it could not have happened any other way! The narcissist does not remember their previous tales because they are not invested with the emotions and cognitions that are integral parts of real memories.

Feedback from other people regulates the narcissist’s sense of identity, self-worth, boundaries, even his reality test (his correct awareness of the world around him). The narcissist needs this constant input to maintain a sense of continuity. Thus, the narcissist’s nearest and dearest – his sources of secondary narcissistic supply – serve as “external memories” and as “flux regulators” whose function it is to maintain a regular, stable flow of affirming and cohering data. Having invented himself, the narcissist sees no problem in re-inventing that which he designed in the first place. The narcissist is his own creator. Hence his grandiosity. Moreover, the narcissist is a man for all seasons, forever adaptable, constantly imitating and emulating, a human sponge, a perfect mirror, a non-entity that is, at the same time, all entities combined.  To the narcissist, every day is a new beginning, a hunt, a new cycle of idealization or devaluation, a newly invented self.

Many people with narcissism struggle with pervasive feelings of insecurity underneath the outward superiority and entitlement they present to the world. But this experience may be most commonly associated with covert, or vulnerable narcissism. Many people with this subtype of narcissism do show outward signs of sensitivity to criticism and insecurity. This insecurity can manifest as difficulty accepting criticism, or anything seen as criticism, since critiques can trigger feelings of vulnerability. People with narcissism generally need a lot of admiration and approval, since receiving this admiration may help combat the underlying insecurity. They might use emotional abuse tactics, including gaslighting, to try and control partners or friends so they’ll remain in the relationship and continue offering admiration and regard. Insecurity can be hard to face, but it’s possible to work through this, along with any other emotional or mental health challenges like anxiety, without emotional abuse or other problematic behaviors.

The narcissist is typically at a state of constant antagonistic warfare with others in order to assert dominance. Collective narcissists are a group of people who desperately need their group to be admired, and validated by others. Hart and Stekler say such findings point to a psychological process that begins with narcissistic personality. They propose that the insecurity that characterizes narcissism leads people toward worldviews that accentuate power and control, like right-wing authoritarianism. At the same time, the grandiose aspect of narcissism leads people to adopt ego-enhancing views that degrade outgroups, like social dominance orientation. These ideologies then contribute to socially and economically conservative views that encourage negativity toward immigrants. Consequently, anti-immigrant attitudes then lead Trump to be seen as a desirable leader.

No one equivocates or dis-informs with greater conviction than the narcissist-politician, whose blatant disregard for facts can at times be mind-boggling. Trump’s opponents learned explaining and defending against the narcissist leaves you open to more abuse. When you address the content of what is being said and explain and defend your position, you endorse Trump’s right to judge, approve, or abuse you. Your reaction sends this message: “You have power over my self-esteem. You have the right to approve or disapprove of me. You’re entitled to be my judge.” People must appreciate how important emotions are in making decisions that impact on making a better world. People tend to overestimate their emotional intelligence – the ability to read, understand and respond to emotions in ourselves and others. Voters need to focus on the roll backs of previous progressive legislation, and not be overwhelmed by the manipulative rhetoric of the various front men for the economic elite.

As Price and Edwards explain, from 1947 through 1974, real incomes grew close to the rate of per capita economic growth across all income levels. That means that for three decades, those at the bottom and middle of the distribution saw their incomes grow at about the same rate as those at the top. This was the era in which America built the world’s largest and most prosperous middle class, an era in which inequality between income groups steadily shrank (even as shocking inequalities between the sexes and races largely remained). But around 1975, this extraordinary era of broadly shared prosperity came to an end. Since then, the wealthiest Americans, particularly those in the top 1 percent and 0.1 percent, have managed to capture an ever-larger share of our nation’s economic growth – in fact, almost all of it – their real incomes skyrocketing as the vast majority of Americans saw little if any gains.

Although we use social comparison in part to develop our self-concept – that is, to form accurate conclusions about our attitudes, abilities, and opinions – social comparison has perhaps an even bigger impact on our self-esteem. When we are able to compare ourselves favorably with others, we feel good about ourselves, but when the outcome of comparison suggests that others are better or better off than we are, then our self-esteem is likely to suffer. Upward comparison may lower our self-esteem by reminding us that we are not as well off as others. Self-esteem should be viewed as a continuum, and can be high, medium or low, and is often quantified as a number in empirical research. When considering self-esteem, it is important to note that both high and low levels can be emotionally and socially harmful for the individual. Indeed, it is thought an optimum level of self-esteem lies in the middle of the continuum. Individuals operating within this range are thought to be more socially dominant within relationships.

Resentment as a cultural response to economic struggle has political consequences. More than half of US workers are unhappy with their jobs. The frustration you experience by not living the life you imagined is created by the resentment that the outcome of an event is less than you imagined it would be. Donald Trump, himself is a cauldron of resentment, has deeply internalized a life-time of deep resentments, and thus is able to tap into, articulate, and mobilize the resentments of his followers, in a way that Democrats and other professional politicians are able. Trump appeals to resentment that ultimately rests on economic failure: working-class whites have been left behind by soaring inequality (but they mistakenly blame emigrants taking their jobs). Donald Trump – figured out how to harness their disillusionment and growing anger – is superior to the others in exploiting the narcissism of small differences to recruit the Republican base.

America has the circulation of elites and the irrationalism in politics. In the 2020 election voters in the US were reacting to the stagnation of the American economic system. Price and Edwards calculate that the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality had grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. Basically, the top 1% took this from the bottom 90% and this, in turn, has made the US less secure. The activities of the special interests and financial elites came home to roost.  The reason Trump was attractive is staring us in the face: a stampede of rising inequality that has been trampling the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of Americans, year after year after year. To reverse this, it is necessary to introduce a minimum wage, expand the earned income tax credit to low- and moderate-income workers and families, and invest in education.

Collective narcissism – may be defined by religion, social class, race, political stance, language, nationality, employment status, education level, cultural values, or any other ingroup – supports irrationalism in politics. Collective narcissism is associated with hypersensitivity to provocation and the belief that only hostile revenge is a desirable and rewarding response. It arises when the traditional group-based hierarchies are challenged and empowers extremists as well as populist politicians. Instead of alleviating the sense of threat to one’s self-importance, it refuels it. Former President Trump stays popular by fueling narcissism – by creating or promoting perceived ingroup disadvantages with his anti-immigrant, anti-elitist, and strongly nationalistic rhetoric. With the moral degradation of the present political governing elites; the lack of virtuous men in power positions, now politics is not a profession, but a profitable part-time job for some seeking to promote and attain certain private advantage. The task at hand is to reverse the decline of democracy in America.

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Understanding Cruelty is Part the Political System

The “American Dream” has always been about the prospect of success, but 100 years ago, the phrase meant the opposite of what it does now. The original “American Dream” was not a dream of individual wealth; it was a dream of equality, justice and democracy for the nation. The American Dream really starts off with the Progressive Era. It takes hold as people are talking about reacting to the first Gilded Age when the robber barons are consolidating all this power. At this time, you see people saying that a millionaire was a fundamentally un-American concept. It was seen as anti-democratic because it was seen as inherently unequal. The phrase has been repurposed by each generation. After the Cold War, it became an argument for a consumer capitalist version of democracy. A recent survey notes: the definition of the American dream is changing — from the opportunity for material success and social mobility to the “freedom of choice in how to live”.

During the past 40 years the dogma of minimal government and regulations with increase freedom for the individual was part of the political planning of neoliberals installing oligarchical elites at the centre of economic and state power. Now everyone invests in their own personal and familial capital and are responsible for their own risk taking and rewards. Thus, the poor are not a class, but a collection of individual failures. The neoliberal performance principle teaches us to conceive of social problems as personal problems – emphasizing individual responsibility while failing to address systemic state violence in all its manifestations – healthcare, education and the war on the poor. A culture of cruelty highlights both how systemic injustices are lived and experienced, and how iniquitous relations of power turn the “American dream” into a dystopian nightmare in which millions of individuals and families are struggling to merely survive. Limiting the public’s knowledge now becomes a precondition for cruelty.

Floyd Arthur Harper (1905–1973), a member of the Mont Pèlerin Society, was present at the group’s first meeting in 1947 along with Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Karl Poppe. He helped start up the Foundation for Economic Education, and founded the Institute for Humane Studies. The unique thing that Harper brought to the table was a social Darwinian account of human progress. Harper believed that progress was generated by the “variation,” i.e. the bell curve distribution, which “seems to pervade the universe”.1 The ideas of the neoliberal thought collective led to a neglect of social goods not captured by economic indicators, an erosion of democracy, an unhealthy promotion of unbridled individualism and social Darwinism, along with economic inefficiency. Forces stimulating social change are stronger over time than barriers. So change is inevitable in the long term. But most people resist change in the short term.

An economic system that rewards psychopathic personality traits has changed our ethics and personalities. Freud claims there exists a dynamic balance between the individual and society that consists of aggressive instinctual impulses, but society attempts to oppress the individual into its requirements. Herbert Marcuse noted violence is a pain-causing process present whenever there is a difference between the actual and the potential for a person. It pervades the social fabric in insidious ways now made apparent when relations of repression result in outbursts, with root causes barely understood. Marcuse termed this ‘surplus-repression’ referring to the organized domination in modern society over and above the basic level of repression of instincts Freud believed necessary for civilization. Henry Giroux likens this more extreme form of repression to a widespread system of ‘culture of cruelty’, which tends to normalize violence to such a degree that even the common occurrence of gun violence fails to trigger a systemic analysis or response.

The polarizing of American politics has its strongest roots in Rand’s classic, Atlas Shrugged, where a capitalist elite engage in a perpetual cultural warfare for the soul of America, fighting society’s “moochers, looters and parasites,” anyone and everyone demanding government money to solve their problems. Ayn Rand was defined by her rage, not her advocacy of a fantasy version of capitalism. Her message of creative aspiration is laced with anger and cruelty, and endowed with idealized and moralized selfishness and greed. The individuals that Trump surrounds himself with is a collection of power- and wealth-obsessed closet Objectivists. Trump’s culture of cruelty views violence as a sacred means for addressing social problems and organizing society. His cabinet and donor lists are full of Rand fans who support neoliberal cruelty. The cure for economic crisis is more cruelty, through which feelings of resentment, fear, anger, and loathing are enacted against the weak, who are considered a drain on the worthy.

Contemporary labour markets around the world are pushing more and more people into cycles of un/underemployment, or what has been labelled precarious life. The pandemic had been predicted long before its appearance, but actions to prepare for such a crisis were barred by the cruel imperatives of an economic order in which “there’s no profit in preventing a future catastrophe,” Noam Chomsky points out, COVID exacerbates this morally obscene inequality. As many have observed, those who are best positioned to weather the COVID-19 storm are the wealthy and the well-paid workers with steady jobs, good benefits, and safe, stable housing. There will be recovery from the COVID crisis, at severe and possibly horrendous cost, particularly for the poor and more vulnerable. But there will be no recovery from the melting of the polar ice sheets and the other devastating consequences of global warming. Here, too, the catastrophe results from a market failure.

The depth of the pathology is revealed clearly by one of the most dramatic – and murderous – failures: the lack of ventilators that was one the major bottlenecks in confronting the pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services foresaw the problem, and contracted with a small firm to produce inexpensive, easy-to-use ventilators. But then capitalist logic intervened. In 2012, Covidien acquired Newport Medical Instruments, a small ventilator manufacturer supplier. Newport Medical Instruments had been contracted in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to design a cheap, portable ventilator. At the time, Newport Medical Instruments had three working prototypes produced, and was on schedule to file for market approval late 2013. Covidien then effectively halted the project, subsequently exiting the contract, as it was not going to be profitable enough. This contributed to the shortage of ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic.2

The not-so-hidden and terrifying message is that political opportunism, the drive for profits and the embrace of a cruel neoliberal ideology were embraced by the Trump administration without apology. Trump appears to take pleasure in belittling experts and expertise and only follows the advice of public health officials in the midst of the most dire warnings. He treated the pandemic as a partisan battle, disparaged governors desperately calling for supplies, and refused to implement a coordinated national federal approach to addressing the crisis. What is more, his often confused and contradictory public remarks are filled with hyperbole and falsehoods and serve to mislead the American public while potentially causing unimaginable misery. Dr. Bright’s complaint said the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response was marred by cronyism and denial about the virus’s severity.  In this instance, sheer incompetence coupled with an aversion to experts and scientific evidence rise to the status of being a public danger and a catastrophic crisis.

Under neoliberalism, the wealth generated by the productivity gains of the post-World War II era began to shift sharply towards the very top of society, leaving the previously stabilizing middle and working classes of the west behind and bloating the investor sector. This was the result of government policies that encouraged the off-shoring of jobs and profits while shrinking manufacturing employment, and provoked resentment from those who felt they had lost both economic security and dignity. The gradual shift in liberal focus from labor rights to civil and immigrant rights mollified the professional-managerial class, but it also suggested misplaced priorities to many of those who were treading water economically. Populists like Trump exploit working class grievances by proclaiming solidarity with the working class against a rights-obsessed liberal class for whom rights seem actionable in ways that economic policies have ceased to be. The broadly felt chronic inability to effect actual political or economic change invited such ideological and moral battles to fill the void.

Neoliberalism supports a hierarchical system with emphasis on commercial values rather than democratic values, its virulent ideology of extreme competitiveness and irrational selfishness, and its impatience with matters of ethics, justice and truth has undermined critical thought and the power of informed judgment. This political formation is characterized by a distinctive and all-embracing politics of disposability, a massive gutting of the social state, and support for pedagogical apparatuses of spectacularized violence, fearmongering and state terror. Economic elites believe that individual responsibility is the only way to address social problems, and consequently, there is no need to address broader systemic issues, hold power accountable or embrace matters of collective responsibility. Behind the smoke and mirrors of relying on the natural operations of the market to direct events, elites set up a system to redirect state efforts rather than diminish them.  In addition, think tanks/research centres continue to work to create new barriers to democratic decision-making.

Modern economics is not a scientific discipline but the rigorous elaboration of a very specific social theory, which has become deeply embedded in western thought.  The evolution of the neoliberal project should be understood, not as a meticulous manipulation of social reality, but a series of increasingly desperate attempts to hold the very fabric of reality together. Neoliberalism has become an anxious form of crisis management attempting to cover over the gaps in its ideological contradictions. Interrogating a culture of cruelty offers critics a political and moral lens for thinking through the convergence of power, politics and everyday life. It also offers the promise of unveiling the way in which a nation demoralizes itself by adopting the position that it has no duty to provide safety nets for its citizens or care for their well-being, especially in a time of misfortune.

1 Wages Stopped Rising: Unraveling the Libertarian Movement https://questioningandskepticism.com/wages-stopped-rising-unraveling-the-libertarian-movement/

2 Chomsky: Ventilator Shortage Exposes the Cruelty of Neoliberal Capitalism https://truthout.org/articles/chomsky-ventilator-shortage-exposes-the-cruelty-of-neoliberal-capitalism/

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The Paradigm Shift Created by the COVID Pandemic

A paradigm is our perception of reality, our view of the world. It is our interpretation of events based on previous teaching we have received. When physicist Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept in 1962 he wanted people to think of a paradigm shift as change in one way of thinking to another. It doesn’t just happen, its driven by agents of change. Kuhn states that “awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory”. Paradigms structure our perceptions of the world. There are no crucial experiments. Instead, anomalies accumulate and eventually advocates of an old paradigm die out and leave the field to practitioners of a new paradigm shift. Addressing the disparities and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic must be central to any approach to incorporating changes to the system. Progressives must become the agents of change 0f a new paradigm to alter the present way of doing things – to replace a system of minimal government and regulations.

Kuhn denied that science is constantly approaching the truth. Kuhn observed, “each paradigm will be shown to satisfy more or less the criteria that it dictates for itself and to fall short of a few of those dictated by its opponent … no paradigm ever solves all the problems it defines…” In the 1970s the monetarists sought to resurrect the pre-Keynesian view that market economies are inherently stable in the absence of major unexpected fluctuations in the money supply. Because of this belief in the stability of the free market economics, active demand management (by increasing government spending) was believed unnecessary and indeed likely to be harmful. This paradigm did not solve all the problems it defines, for example, the failure of a pure monetary policy to stimulate the economy in 2001-2003. Instead of recognizing that a paradigmatic change is necessary in mainstream economics, the economic profession stubbornly sticks to their existing mathematical models.

Know your place – poetry after the Black Death reflected fear of social change. Contemporary moralists complained about those who rose above their allotted station in life and so in 1363 a law was passed that specified the food and dress that were appropriate for each social class. In line with such attitudes, Langland railed against the presumption of laborers who disdained day-old vegetables, bacon and cheap ale and instead demanded fresh meat, fish and fine ale. The Black Death altered the fundamental paradigm of European life that included socio-economic and religious belief and practice, unleashing the forces that made the Renaissance possible. The Renaissance yielded scholars the ability to read the scriptures in their original languages, and this in part stimulated the Protestant Reformation. The 16th century reformers considered the root of corruptions to be doctrinal rather than simply a matter of moral weakness or lack of ecclesiastical discipline.

Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely. Kierkegaard made a distinction between objective and subjective truth. For Kierkegaard objective truth merely seeks attachment to the right object, corresponding with an independent reality. On the other hand, subjective truth seeks the achievement of the right attitude; an appropriate relation between object and knower. For Kierkegaard it was subjective truth that counts in life: how we believe is more important than what we believe. It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere. Kierkegaard argues that the falsehood of objectivity may be revealed by a lack of need for personal commitment, and by lack of need for decision-making, while the truth of subjectivity may be revealed by a need for personal commitment, and by a need for decision-making.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) believed that human reason is rationalization, and truth is simply the name given to the point of view of the people who have the power to enforce their point of view. Whatever man can make work in order to achieve his purposes becomes the truth in the system. There is no objective reality behind truth – different perspectives produce different truths. Nietzsche believes that science at its best keeps us in a simplified suitably constructed and suitably falsified world, and that the artificial world that concerns us is a fiction. Instead of using truth as the highest standard of value, Nietzsche argues, individuals need to develop their own powers of judgment and to produce ideas and ethics that will strengthen them and help them to live. Rationalization of the economy during the 1980s created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself.

Nietzsche claimed there are no facts only interpretations. In his view there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Subjective thinking can be the basis for a paradigm shift. Although Christianity is objectively merely one of many available religions in the world, it subjectively demands our complete attention. Pope Francis commented on the pursuit of money and criticized inequalities and the excesses of capitalism, based on his sincere belief of the gospels of Jesus of the New Testament. The Pope noted that once greed for money drives the economic system, it sets people against each other and harms the common home (ecosystem). The Pope seeks the truth through subjective thinking.

Bernie Sanders attracted attention during the US presidential campaign by proposing a paradigm shift. Saunders pursues subjective truths to support change. He claims, “our economic goals have to be redistributing a significant amount [of wealth] back from the top 1 percent… move to a society that provides a high quality of life for all our people.” Sanders notes that erosion of collective bargaining rights over the last 40 years have created an economy that delivers maximum profit to the corporations. Fox News labels Bernie Sanders “too extreme”, but that is the result of filtering Sanders’ public policy through the lens of objectivity which supports the profit paradigm. “A lot of what the Green New Deal is, is about shifting our political, economic and social paradigm on every issue,” claims Osteo-Cortez. “Because we don’t have time to wait …. the climate crisis along with economic and social inequality are far too serious to ignore.”

The failure of the existing consumerist institutions and supporting dogma has put the health and economic viability of citizens throughout the world in jeopardy. More and more individuals are ready to support a paradigm shift – that includes an effort to concentrate all practical efforts to bring the greatest good to the most people (and other species) over the longest time by rethinking and redesigning production and consumption patterns. John Kenneth Galbraith remained optimistic about the ability of government to improve the lot of the less fortunate. “Let there be a coalition of the concerned,” he urged. “The affluent would still be affluent, the comfortable still comfortable, but the poor would be part of the political system.” The violence exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis cries out for a new model of democratic governance. However, we must not let laissez-faire apologists explain away various failures during the pandemic by the (false) existence of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Through the COVID-19 window we recognize the importance of returning to laws based on equality of the person rather than laws of the market. All writing and all science are socially constructed and therefore subject to bias. It is important to first describe any bias that is inherent in the argument, and second to seek to determine whether political biases have influenced the selection and interpretation of evidence. We should accept there is no objective truth, only a variety of subjective views developed through dialogue with others. The principles for determining how evidence has been appraised must be explicit and transparent, the means of taking account of bias must be clear, and the thresholds of acceptability which have been used to accept or reject evidence should be open to external scrutiny. Once one controls for bias, it is possible to achieve a paradigm shift by changing from objective thinking to subjective thinking.

The COVID pandemic is forcing us to redefine what and who we value, how we govern, whose opinions we listen to, how we view facts and science, and even our relationships. Much of society used to focus on status, power, wealth and celebrity. As Thomas Kuhn defined it in his seminal 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “Paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm.” Where do we turn? “There is enough.” As Buckminster Fuller, futurist, famed architect, and creator of the geodesic dome said, there is enough of every resource for everyone on the planet; it’s just a matter of distribution. The coronavirus has upended the American way of life, influencing how we think, how we relate to others and what we value. While this makes us feel uncomfortable, we must not fear change. COVID may create a paradigm shift in society, with lasting effects creating a new normal.

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To create change: question everything, but separate skepticism from nihilism

Skepticism is a critical attitude that treats every claim to truth as up for debate. A skeptical attitude is doubt as to the truth of something. It’s an approach that goes beyond just demanding evidence and, instead, questions the evidence itself. Skepticism, in its best form, has opened up mind-boggling ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us. Using it to be combative is a short-sighted and corrosive way to undermine the difficult task of living a well examined life. Skepticism is a behavior. Someone who is a skeptic questions data before accepting it as fact. You could be skeptical and believe in anything so long as you had good evidence of it. Nihilism differs from skepticism in that skepticism does not reject claims to truth outright, it only rejects these claims if there is insufficient empirical evidence to support them. To create change we must seek out ideas that make a difference.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) considered nihilism a transitional stage that accompanies human development. It arises from frustration and weariness. When people feel alienated from values, and have lost the foundation of their value system but have not replaced it with anything, then they become nihilists. The nihilist neither accepts nor rejects the proposition or thesis. For that matter, the nihilist is unable to characterize the proposition or thesis as “meaningful” or “meaningless,” to begin with, because that would entail making a substantive evaluation or value judgment. The nihilist is indifferent. The most common mistake people make in trying to define nihilism is that they think it is “about” something. Not only is it not about something, it is not even about nothing. The nihilist doesn’t care that he doesn’t care, and so on recursively.  For these reasons, nihilism is not particularly useful for introducing change, except possibly as an extreme counterexample.

Skepticism is very much in vogue today. Buoyed by the efforts of an army of lobbyists, and a cash-strapped media keen to exploit controversial debates, the climate skeptic movement, in particular, has been extremely successful in popularizing the skeptical attitude, which is widely perceived as the appropriate stance of struggling working-class towards the policies of perceived elites. On the other side of the debate, we find scientists and progressive journalists struggling in vain to persuade the skeptical public that science is itself a skeptical enterprise; that it is driven forward through the process of disproving, or ‘falsifying’, the results of previous research, and thus that any consensus view is based on a firmer foundation than people might expect. The challenge of the COVID pandemic is that science and evidence and knowledge is always evolving and is emerging fast. The twists and turns around vaccination advice and authorizations led to skepticism and increased vaccine hesitancy.

Nihilism was notably cited during U.S. Senate deliberations after rioting Trump supporters had been cleared from the Capitol. “Don’t let nihilists become your drug dealers,” exhorted Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. “There are some who want to burn it all down. … Don’t let them be your prophets.” How else to describe the incendiary rhetoric and grievances that Donald Trump has peddled since November? What else to call the denial of the electorate’s will and his deep disdain for American institutions and traditions? Playacting at revolution at the behest of a man seeking to cling to power, the rioters ultimately only managed only to vandalize the building, though they left five people dead in their wake. Nonetheless, to act violently on the basis of such fictions – and to transgress against the humanity of others for nothing at all – is perhaps the most nihilistic act of them all. In his 1872 novel, Demons, Dostoevsky was appalled that politics could be dehumanizing to the point of murder.

Fyodor Dostoevsky had, in his work, explored what happens to society when people who rise to power lack any semblance of ideological or moral convictions and view society as bereft of meaning. But then a disturbing public trial spurred him in a more overtly political direction. What would happen when people lacking any semblance of ideological or moral convictions rise to power? A young student had been murdered by members of a revolutionary group, The Organization of the People’s Vengeance, at the behest of their leader, Sergei Nechaev. His focus turned not only to moral questions but also to political demagoguery, which, he argued, if left unchecked, could result in devastating loss of life. Although set in a sleepy provincial Russian town, Demons serves as a broader allegory for how thirst for power in some people, combined with the indifference and disavowal of responsibility by others, amount to a devastating nihilism that consumes society, fostering chaos and costing lives.1

It has been over a century now since Nietzsche explored nihilism and its implications for civilization. As he predicted, nihilism’s impact on the culture and values of the 21th century continue to be pervasive, its apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror. Interestingly, Nietzsche himself, a radical skeptic preoccupied with language, knowledge, and truth, anticipated many of the themes of postmodernity. It’s helpful to note, then, that he believed we could – at a terrible price – eventually work through nihilism. If we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could then perhaps discover the correct course for humankind. Extreme skepticism, then, is linked to epistemological nihilism which denies the possibility of knowledge and truth; this form of nihilism is currently identified with postmodern anti-foundationalism. An anti-foundationalist is one who does not believe that there is some fundamental belief or principle which is the basic ground or foundation of inquiry and knowledge.

French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern anti-foundationalists, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is. Since human beings participate in only an infinitesimal part of the whole, they are unable to grasp anything with certainty, and absolutes are merely “fictional forms.” This opens the door to gaslighting – a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

Gaslighting is typically a preferred tactic of narcissistic and aggressive personalities bent on doing whatever it takes to gain and maintain a position of advantage over others. Their point is to disorient and destabilize people. They want to harness people’s self-doubts, ruin their capacity for seeing the world ironically, destroy their capacity for making judgements, in order to drive them durably into submission. When (for instance) gaslighters say something, only later to say that they never said such a thing and that they would never have never dreamed of saying such a thing, their aim is gradually to turn citizens into mere playthings of power. When that happens, the victims of gaslighting no longer trust their own judgements. They buy into the tactics of the manipulator. Not knowing what to believe, they give up, shrug their shoulders and fall by default under the spell of the gaslighter.

In The Banalization of Nihilism (1992) Karen Carr discusses the anti-foundationalist response to nihilism. Although it still inflames a paralyzing relativism and subverts critical tools, “cheerful nihilism” carries the day, she notes, distinguished by an easy-going acceptance of meaninglessness. Such a development, Carr concludes, is alarming. If we accept that all perspectives are equally non-binding, then intellectual or moral arrogance will determine which perspective has precedence. Worse still, the banalization of nihilism creates an environment where ideas can be imposed forcibly with little resistance, raw power alone determining intellectual and moral hierarchies. It’s a conclusion that dovetails nicely with Nietzsche’s, who pointed out that all interpretations of the world are simply manifestations of will-to-power. Today, the government of Justin Trudeau operates with smug indifference and patented, virtue-perfumed arrogance towards the House of Commons.

Not only do we pick and choose information that best suits us, we are not privy to all the information available to us. Psychologists have found that our attention is selective; our brains simply cannot process the trillions of bits of information hitting our senses at any one moment, so it focuses down on some of the information and blurs out the rest. But it gets worse. We fail to understand risk. This influences our perceptions and how irrational beliefs develop. Though driving the car to work is likely the most dangerous thing we do everyday, we are more afraid of flying. With social media driving beliefs, the anti-vaccination movement is gaining strength, promises of personal genomics is spawning new and dubious treatments, and health gurus sprinkling the word “natural supplement” on everything like an over-used spice, skepticism should be, now more than ever, a liberally applied tool.2

Where is the main resistance to change? There is a small group who have been made very wealthy by the existing system. Change is a threat to them. It is this group that loves its status quo so much that it sees its own change as an underhanded attack on its way of life. The debate is no longer how fast the ocean is rising, rather how fast will we rise to the occasion to introduce change. This is about introducing equality, justice and fairness so that it not just a perception, but a reality, that the system is no longer gamed for those at the top. For the critical thinker, discovering and understanding our cognitive foundations is tantamount to a new beginning, a fresh way to look at the world. Learning how to think about thinking, learning how to navigate the perils of human cognition, is the road map for change.

1 Ani Kokobobo (17 Jan 2021) https://www.salon.com/2021/01/17/dostoevsky-warned-of-the-strain-of-nihilism-that-infects-donald-trump-and-his-movement_partner/

2 Kyle Hill (26 July 2012) Skepticism And The Second Enlightenment https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/student-voices/skepticism_and_the_second_enlightenment/

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The Middle Class Can Counter Today’s Zero-sum Game

The phrase the end of history was first used by French philosopher and mathematician Antoine Augustin Cournot in 1861 “to refer to the end of the historical dynamic with the perfection of civil society”. The disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991 brought about unexpected joys to the West. Francis Fukuyama analyzed this particular historic event as an inevitable one and constructed a set of comforting “end of history” theories from this case. Ironically, the theories were so successfully spread, making the US-led West live in a state of self-hypnosis, squandering the dividends they have been benefiting from the Cold War. But at the end of the dream, they were awakened up by the setbacks in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities subsequently encountered unexpected sufferings. From working conditions to welfare policies, from immigration to the internet – this zero-sum game of winners and losers benefits only the far right.

Fukuyama, who was also a member of RAND Corporation, made the political statement in 1989 that the liberal democracy with its neoliberal economic system is the best and final one in our history. Neoliberalism has promoted a self-centeredness that pushes Adam Smith-style individualism to an extreme, turning selfishness into a virtue, as Ayn Rand has done. It is a closed ontology since it does not admit the other, the stranger, into the circle of those towards whom we have a duty of responsibility and care. It thus completes capitalism as a zero-sum game of winners and ‘losers’. Apart from the alt-right in the USA, we find its exemplary advocates amongst leading Brexiteers in the UK, backed by dark money. It is not the social democratic compromise of capitalism with a human face that could support the welfare state. Seen in this context, there is an essential affinity between alt-right, neoliberal political economy and neo-fascism, punctuated by aggressivity, intolerance, exclusion, expulsion and generalized hostility.

Capitalist growth is not only visibly coming up against ecological limits of sustainability, especially in regions of the Global South. It also struggles with problems of economic deceleration, especially in deindustrialized countries of the Global North. The range of possible alternatives for post-growth capitalist (post-)democracies includes populist-authoritarian projects of national enrichment over elitist-authoritarian projects for securing transnational capital accumulation to technological solutionism. All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth, observes Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s vision of the world requires force, coercion, and assumes a limited amount of space and resources. It also assumes that all exchanges of power, a word that in this framework is synonymous with force, are zero-sum transactions. Zero-sum transactions are transactions where one person’s wealth increases by exactly the amount decreased in the wealth of the other person involved in the exchange.

Neoliberalism is a complex and ambiguous concept that has been consistently referred to by critics of an economic policy based, at least rhetorically, on free market and free trade in the last few decades. These two major tenets of neoliberalism have dominated the discourse of American presidents since the beginning of the 1980s. The same period has also been characterized by an increased tendency to tie these economic policies to freedom, a core value of American identity that came to be defined primarily in economic terms. Starting with Ronald Reagan, economic freedom rather than political liberty became the measure of virtue, as the “free world” admitted more authoritarian regimes in its ranks in the name of anti-communism (Numberg 2003). The collapse of the Soviet bloc only served to bolster the vision that free market and free trade alone could bring prosperity and political freedom.

Francis Fukuyama reports today’s polarization is the result of identity politics. For the most part, economic issues defined twentieth-century politics. On the left, politics was centered on workers, trade unions, social welfare programs, and redistributive policies. The right, by contrast, was primarily interested in reducing the size of government and promoting the private sector. Politics today, however, is defined less by economic or ideological concerns than by questions of identity. Now, in many democracies, the left focuses less on creating broad economic equality and more on promoting the interests of a wide variety of marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants and refugees, women, and LGBT people. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity, or religion. Identity politics has become an ideology that explains much of what is going on in global affairs.1

‘No bourgeois, no democracy’ is the racy formulation penned half a century ago by the American historian Barrington Moore Jr. It’s a well-known political maxim, one that’s often used in support of the view that to be middle class is to be solidly, instinctively on the side of parliamentary democracy. As the middle class shrinks in size, it loses its bearings, or suffers potential outright social disintegration. Fukuyama observes ‘globalized capitalism’ is today eroding the middle-class social base on which ‘liberal democracy’ rests. We’re moving, he said, back into societies where extremes of wealth and poverty are fuelling ‘oligarchic domination’ and nasty forms of populism. Middle class earnings are declining, despite longer working hours and rocketing numbers of two-income households. Middle class optimism has waned. Few of its members now believe the old precept that rising tides raise all boats. Saving for a rainy day belongs to a past gilded age. The middle class owes more than its disposable income.

Fukuyama’s original thesis had not foreseen the rise of identity politics, and how identity fueled resentments would undermine democracy, even in powerful countries like the United States. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity, or religion. The Internet is responsible for the global rise of identity politics. Fukuyama and friends claim it is necessary to end Big Tech’s information monopoly to save democracy. The giant Internet platforms not only hold so much power, they wield so much control over political communication. The end-of-history assumption that liberal democracy was the final point of progress has been disrupted as religious and other identities stubbornly persist, and continue to drive events. The failure of governments to meet the rising expectations of the newly prosperous and educated supports populist identity politics.

The capitalist need for accumulation persists, political parties and civil society actors continue to advocate versions of growth, and expansive dispositions continue to be nourished on an individual and cultural level. Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of life, as the economy continues to change as we grapple with life during the pandemic. After hitting the highest level of unemployment the US has seen since the Great Depression in April 2020, the unemployment rate has steadily fallen. Some sectors have been able to adjust (more or less) to the realities of the pandemic, but others, like leisure and hospitality and education and health services, have left their workers in a painful no-win situation. These disparities are important to remember because even when employment appears to be approaching pre-pandemic normalcy, a lot of people aren’t part of that economic rebound — and those workers are still disproportionately likely to be people of color, young and low-wage.

Libertarian populists cast politics as a zero-sum game between corporations and the poor. In the conservative version of identity politics, also, everything’s a zero-sum game: Freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or other characteristics doesn’t unleash greater human potential to the benefit of all. Instead, it’s a step backward for everyone else, part of the never-ending war of all against all. Your gain is necessarily my loss. This is the root of Trump’s popularity. His grassroot supporters (excluding the economic elite) are simply those who see themselves on the losing end of change, with no one in power giving much of a damn. The fact is that, even with a growing pie overall, in a changing world some will see their share shrinking, even in absolute terms. While the elite are comfortable with a more pluralist and global America, wage earners are more concerned about their dwindling economic prospects, more inclined to 20th century-style government intervention, and less concerned about, shall we say, politically-correct social views.

Since 1979, the households right at the top of the distribution, the much-vilified 1 percent, have seen their incomes rise fastest, more than doubling since 1979 even after taxes, while the middle class has experienced sluggish growth. In relative terms, the impact of taxes and transfers on income share can be seen most strongly for the richest (who lose) and the poorest (who gain). But in the long run, redistribution cannot be the primary means for increasing the incomes of middle-class households. Higher market incomes will be needed. That means higher wages, which in turn means a rebalancing of power in the labor market toward workers, and investment in skills to drive up labor productivity. Rather than simply ensuring the middle class gets a bigger slice of the pie, it is necessary to ensure that the middle class can help to grow the pie more quickly; to be the engine of economic growth as well as its beneficiary.2

The failure of governance mechanisms and models under neoliberalism is reflected by the failure of the attempts to control the impact of the COVID pandemic in Europe and the US, while it is quickly controlled in China. The “end of history” debate yet serves a purpose today. It serves as evidence that current minimal government / minimal taxes ideology has been shaken to the core. We need change. We need to recognize the role of the middle class in countering the zero-sum game. At the heart of democracy is an economic contract between citizens who consent to pay taxes and a government that, in exchange, safeguards the security and welfare of the nation by providing public goods such as education, health care, infrastructure and national security. In essence, any economic challenge that threatens the middle class places this contract – and ultimately, democracy – in peril.

1 Francis Fukuyama – Against Identity Politics. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/francis-fukuyama-against-identity-politics

2 Richard V. Reeves (20 Nov 2018) Restoring middle-class incomes: redistribution won’t do https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/11/20/restoring-middle-class-incomes-redistribution-wont-do/

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On the Waning of Democracy in America

In a democracy every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them. In political philosophy, the phrase consent of the governed refers to the idea that a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use state power is justified and lawful only when consented to by the people or society over which that political power is exercised. Elections are the practical means for people to assert their sovereignty. This evolves around free elections – means all adult citizens can vote in the election that are fair, which means all votes must be accurately counted. Much of democracy is rooted in constitutionalism, which means the people limit government power by authoritative fundamental laws called “constitutions”. These documents state what power government shall have.  In defining theses powers, constitutions limit them. This is so a government may exercise only those powers defined in the constitution.

There are forces in a democracy that serve to hold the excesses of government in check. This force is called liberalism. Liberalism includes activities such as freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. US judiciary has the power of judicial review – the power to declare laws passed by legislatures to be null and void if they contradicted the nations constitution. Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, Judge Gorsuch is a natural law thinker. Such court nominations tend to support the tradition of natural law of a market – small government and minimal regulations. Kevin Gross notes, technology can improve or undermine democracy depending on how it is used and who controls it. Right now, it is controlled by too few. History knows that when a great deal of power is concentrated in the hands of a few, the outcome is not good for the many, not good for democracy.

When a small group of people rules a society, the political system is considered an oligarchy; when only money and wealth determine how a society is controlled, the political system is a plutocracy. From the standpoint of a democratic society, both oligarchy and plutocracy are inherently unjust and corrupt. The job of the politician in a plutocracy is always to find the line that provides the lowest level of pay, security, housing, consumer protection, health care and political access for society so that the economic elite can extract and hoard the greatest amount of wealth, power, and immunity from justice for themselves. In a plutocracy, commercialization dominates far beyond the realm of economics and business, everything is ‘for sale’, and money is power. But in an authentic democracy, there must be commercial-free zones where the power of human rights, citizenship, community, equality and justice, are free from the corrupting influence of money.

John Sniadowsk wrote, “It is proving very difficult to regulate multinational corporations because of the variety of different national government agendas. A globally enacted set of rules to control multinationals is unlikely to happen because some sovereign states have very illiberal and hierarchical control over agendas and see technology as a way to dominate their citizens with their agendas as well as influence the democratic viewpoints of what they consider to be hostile states. Democracy in technological terms can be weaponized.” Basically, one must now believe that governments don’t fully understand the tools, and they will fail repeatedly to regulate or organize them properly. In addition, one should not have faith the private companies are democratic, and therefore they are apt to reinforce capitalism alone, not democracy. Until the balance is reorganized, and we shift to support soft capitalism/strong democracy, any technology we create will continue to underserve democracy.

Robert Epstein observes randomized, controlled experiments show that Google search results alone can easily shift more than 20% of undecided voters – up to 80% in some demographic groups – without people knowing and without leaving a paper trail – based on search engine manipulation effect. The genie is out of the bottle and it does not bode well for systems of democracy that have already been undermined in Western states. A state of global cyber war now exists and is likely to persist over the next decade. The oligopoly of state-supported tech companies, whether in the U.S. or China, will be difficult to break. David Golumbia wrote, “Unless there is a massive change to democratic control over digital technology, that technology will continue to erode democracy as it was designed to do and as its most ardent advocates openly say they want, despite [the fact that they] sometimes use the language of democracy and allied values like free expression to justify their antidemocratic actions.”1

The Koch brothers first entered politics as the financiers of the nascent Libertarian Party in the 1970s that was formed in response to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 defeat. Reagan’s smashing political success pushed libertarianism in new directions. The Kochs focused their funding on institutions such as the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, to promote ideas on neoliberalism – minimize the role of government, regulations and unions – to create wealth. The main difference between libertarianism and neoliberalism – a controversial term that refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism, is basically, neoliberalism has a lower threshold of government ability to cope with problems. Their support for a largely uncompromising libertarian philosophy and politics helped to create the modern Republican Party – and therefore indirectly lay the groundwork for the polarization in the present congress.

To distract voters, Republicans now embrace the uncertain populist policies of division and misinformation. Fox News tells viewers they are the only reliable source of political information – re-enforcing the alt-right propaganda in social media. In post-truth politics social media assists political actors who mobilize voters through a crude blend of outlandish conspiracy theories and suggestive half-truths, barely concealed hate-speech, as well as outright lies. These “populist” voters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it, or believe it if told. We now realize the need to control how social media is manipulated by big money. Friedrich Nietzsche claimed there are no facts only interpretations. In his view there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure.

Identity politics is an ideology that convinces people to band together in society and agree to a common project. There is now concern identity politics is hampering empathy and communication. The Senate cloture rule – which requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote – poses a steep barrier to President Biden’s policy agenda. Voices on both sides have called for reform in the face of partisan gridlock, because a filibuster is used to extend debate, allowing one or more senators to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal. A Republican minority can block the size of relief bills; like they did in 2008; and like they are now presently for the size of 2021 COVID response. There has been dramatic use of the filibuster in the last 50 years. Because of the polarized climate, it is necessary to change the cloture rules to ensure the voice of the majority is heard.

The Protect My Vote campaign shows how online outfits are at work creating the appearance of evidence for assertions of rampant fraud, promoting “mail balloting results in lost votes and lost rights.” This group purchased over 150 ads on their associated page on Facebook which was viewed over 100 thousand times in a month. They were designed to tap existing anxiety about the integrity of the voting system to convince voters in swing states where minority turnout could be decisive that mail-in votes are not reliable. During the spring of 2020, mostly conservative activists held protests in at least a dozen states to protest ongoing state stay-at-home orders. FreedomWorks, a Washington-based conservative advocacy organization, helped with promotion and logistics. While most of the protests have taken place in states with Republican governors, they highlighted only those in states with Democratic governors.

It is about a system, corrupted by the influence of big donors and powerful interests, that makes voting more difficult than necessary, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups. Republicans are using the same baseless lies about voting fraud to push a staggering number of laws to scale back voting rights. The reason they’re willing to weaken American democracy is very simple: it’s all about retaining power. The rules being put into place will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for many minority voters to participate in elections. In addition, these states are allowing partisan groups to take over running elections. As a group Republicans, are pushing towards replacing democracy with a system where a powerful minority holds disproportionate and borderline tyrannical control over government and blocks the majority of Americans from having meaningful say over the direction of the country. There is a need for federal legislation to prevent partisan bias from determining whether elections were conducted properly.

A plot to weaken US democracy has been in play for 50 years. In 1980 Charles Koch sought ways to steer American politics to the right without having to win the popular vote. He chose do it through philanthropy, with it’s guarantee of anonymity. This led to the founding of think tanks like the Kato Institute to create so-called discussion papers that would drive discussion of right-wing policy issues like minimal government and regulations into mainstream media. This was done with such consistency that people forgot that the saying “capitalism and freedom were interchangeable” was an ideology, not established fact. Reconciliation hasn’t just excluded types of legislation; it has had a bad effect on the legislation it includes. Any change will be an uphill journey, as the people now in control – the economic elite – will not readily let go of their power without legislation to control big money in elections.

1 Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie (21 Feb 2020) Concerns about democracy in the digital age. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/02/21/concerns-about-democracy-in-the-digital-age/

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The Urgent Need to Investigate Chronic Dementia

In the 17th century, even though peasants were strong, healthy and robust, they wanted to emulate the powerful and elite and be “refined” like the rich. This was the milieu in which processed food was born and glorified. Sugar had become the chief crop of the West Indies in the second half of the seventeenth century because of the dramatic fall of tobacco, which had become the main crop of the 16th century. (The stiff competition of Virginian tobacco created the downfall of the West Indian tobacco.) The new industrial workers diet shifted to more fat, sugar, and refined flour. A biscuit or cake is a good example. Flour was refined so that it would not support weevils and, like refined sugar, and saturated fat would not go rancid. These cheap, energy-providing foods were considered ‘fuel’ for the Industrial Revolution. Not surprisingly, health declined during the 19th century.

During the 19th century Britain became an urban nation. Because of the smoke of the Industrial Revolution, the working-class women and children did not spend a lot of time outdoors, nor were they exposed to much direct sunlight. In addition, they subsided on a diet of bread, tea, sugar and margarine. The screening of recruits for the Boer War identified the poor health of many recruits. Over 40% of recruits in some jurisdictions, were found to be unfit for military service, most suffered from poverty-related illnesses, such as rickets. This hidden disease of the 19th century didn’t appear among the certified causes of death; not being a killer it was not on the public health radar. The poor health of recruits focused the attention to the state of the poor in Britain and led to the introduction of population screening. Based on folklore from coastal towns of Britain, cod liver oil was recommended in the 1930s to combat rickets.

The diet of North Americans has changed more in the past fifty years than the last 5,000 years. The average supermarket carries over 47,000 products. Multi-national corporations are involved in processing foods in assembly-line fashion. Choice becomes a challenge for consumers: Where is their food coming from and how is it processed?  In the 1970s high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) replaced cane sugar as the sweetener of choice. From 1970 to 1990 the annual intake of HFCS increases 1000%, greatly exceeding the changes of any food or food-group in history. With the appearance of an epidemic of obesity and metabolic syndrome legislation required foods containing HFCS to be labelled. In the 1970s the switch from grass-fed beef to corn-fed beef changed the ratio of omega-6 (that is associated with heart disease and other chronic diseases, to conjugate linoleic acid (CLA), a naturally occurring nutrient associate with lower cancer rates.) Grass-fed beef has more CLA than grain fed. Now vendors label grass-fed beef for consumers. However, GMO is not labelled.1

Studies done by the WHO identified that pesticides remain on wheat after harvest, and milling does not remove them. This means there can be long-term exposure to low-level pesticides and now there is a need to know the long-term cumulative health impacts of long-term exposure in food. These studies need to take into account that glyphosate sequesters in the bone and internal organs. Regulatory bodies raised the maximum permitted residue on crops directly sprayed with glyphosate such as GM corn, by 200% in the 1990s. These changes coincided with the introduction of glyphosate-resistant crops. The result is resistant insect pests and increased appearance of a chemical which is very toxic to fish and aquatic life. A study of 7955 samples of fresh fruits and vegetables, milled grain products, pulse products, and finished foods collected from April 2015 to March 2017 in the Canadian retail market identified 3366 samples (42.3%) contained detectable glyphosate residues. This study did not rule out the long-term cumulative health impacts of long-term exposure.2

GMO crops produced in North America include apples, canola, corn, eggplant, potatoes, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. Soybeans, corn, and canola dominate the GM crop market today. New research shows that GMO crops, with heavy herbicide use, destroy the microbiome of the soil, reduce the nutritional content of the food (organic food is more nutritious) and leave higher residues of chemicals on the food. This means that GMOs are substantially different and warrant labeling.  GMOs and related pesticides have been wrongly classified a process, not an additive, to intentionally get around the requirement that additives are safety tested and labeled on the package. When a herbicide classified as a probable carcinogen is sprayed on your food and it does not dry off, wash off for cook off, you might want to know that it is there and be given the choice to buy that food or not.

Numerous new studies nullify the 40-year-old science which claims these chemicals are safe. These studies show that glyphosate, atrazine, 2,4-D and many more chemicals are neurotoxins, destroy the gut bacteria which is where 70 percent of the immune system lies, cause liver and kidney damage, cause organ damage, increase antibiotic resistance, cause placental cell death and breast cancer cell growth. The fact that RNAi GMOs have promoters and “silencers” that silence the function of genes should be of grave concern to everyone. How do you know that those promoters are not “waking up” rare disease genes or silencers are not “silencing” the functioning of organs in your loved ones which could fight rare diseases? The problem is that we will never know, because we cannot retroactively prove that the bite of GMO corn led to the “waking up” of a rare disease gene in your child.

Studies have shown preliminary evidence that chronic, low-dose exposure to pesticides increases the risk of cognitive impairments and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s later in life.  A study of 50 pesticides and more than 30,000 licensed pesticide applicators linked exposure of seven pesticides that contain chlorinated compounds (including two herbicides, two organophosphate insecticides, and two organochlorines) to increased risk of diabetes.  Exposure to pesticides has also been associated with increased infertility in women and developmental problems in children. Pesticides are well-known neurotoxins and are associated with many neurodegenerative disorders, including mild cognitive impairment and dementia, which are strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Mild cognitive impairment is a prodromal phase of cognitive decline that may precede the emergence of Alzheimer’s disease. Some research has suggested that mild cognitive impairment and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease are essentially part of the same pathophysiological process, sharing a number of etiological factors.

Epigenetic risk is not merely a medical risk, but implicates the fundamental principles of fairness and justice underlying the present social contract. The role of epigenetics provides high quality evidence supporting the importance of DNA in shaping people’s lives. While epigenetic changes can be passed on from parents to children, they can also be altered by stress, diet, environment and behavior. Early life stress alters how DNA is packaged, which makes cells function differently than their original mandate. These epigenetic switches are triggered by many factors such as our lifestyle, environment, diet, stress, emotional deprivation or hormones and our age, and as the development of a growing fetus in the womb is totally dependent on these signals, it can alter the function of its cells. Epigenetics explains how environmental factors such as prolonged exposure to low does chemicals can switch genes on and off, based on choices we make.

Two of the most clinically problematic classes of disease impacting the world’s aging populations are cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. Although there are stark differences between cancer cells and neurons, with the former dividing rapidly and the latter relatively quiescent and non-replicating, a growing body of evidence supports common genetic mechanisms involved in dysregulated cancer cell growth and the progression of neurodegenerative disease. Mutations in a variety of genes involved in regulation of the cell cycle, DNA repair pathways, protein turnover, oxidative stress, and autophagy have been implicated in both of these otherwise dichotomous diseases. Most gene mutations occur after you’re born and aren’t inherited. A number of forces can cause gene mutations, such as smoking, radiation, viruses, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise. Trends in incidence, on the other hand, would suggest changes in risk. Existing studies of trends in the incidence or prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease need further analysis.

In his influential article on the social and cultural framing of disease, historian Charles E. Rosenberg argued, “In some ways disease does not exist until we have agreed that it does, by perceiving, naming and responding to it”. From mid-1930s through the 1950s, a number of American psychiatrists led by David Rothschild responded to the challenge of dementia in the state hospitals by framing dementia as a psychosocial problem rather than a brain disease. Rothschild and his followers argued that the observation of inconsistent correlations between clinical manifestations of dementia and pathological findings could best be accounted for by people’s differing ability to compensate for brain damage. Seen this way, age-associated dementia was more than the simple and inevitable outcome of a brain that was deteriorating due to aging and/or disease. It was the interaction between the brain and the psychosocial context in which the aging person was situated.3

Research has confirmed widespread exposure and bioaccumulation of chemical toxicants. The problem of toxicant exposure and bioaccumulation in the population appears to be rising rapidly, yet this escalating health threat remains insufficiently recognized by many within the medical community. This is best studied with respect to formaldehyde. However, many other classes of common bioaccumulative organic compounds have also been recognized to have neurotoxic effects including brominated flame retardants (PBDEs), solvents, “nonstick” perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and various types of pesticides. With further research, it remains to be seen which organic pollutants alone or in combination will be significant determinants of the growing epidemic of dementia. If toxicant bioaccumulation is evident, interventions should be undertaken to eliminate the toxicant burden. These factors lead to the need for the introduction of population screening for several toxic chemicals such as pesticides which are widespread in the food chain.

Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of mortality in the developed world with 70% risk attributable to genetics. The remaining 30% of Alzheimer’s disease risk is hypothesized to include environmental factors and human lifestyle patterns. Knowing about contributing factors is especially important for the study and development of prevention strategies, and prevention is often key to better control of epidemics, including those of chronic diseases. While certain modifiable risk factors have been identified for dementia, there remains a substantial proportion of unexplained risk. Research must focus on a short list of environmental risk factors for dementia. These need to be longitudinal studies with repeated measures of environmental exposure in order to confirm these associations. Mammalian laboratory experiments demonstrate that neuronal nicotinic acetyl cholinesterase receptors are susceptible to toxicity induced by carbamate pesticides and may contribute to long-term disruption of the nervous system. Though environmental exposures are known to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, the specific agents and exposure thresholds remain an area of both investigation and speculation.

1 7 Reasons Why the U.S. Government Must Label GMOs (8 March 2016) https://www.ecowatch.com/7-reasons-why-the-u-s-government-must-label-gmos-1882188137.html

2 Analysis of Glyphosate Residues in Foods from the Canadian Retail Markets between 2015 and 2017 by Beata M. Kolakowski*, Leigh Miller, Angela Murray, Andrea Leclair, Henri Bietlot, and Jeffrey M. van de Riet, J. Agric. Food Chem. 2020, 68, 18, 5201–5211 https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jafc.9b07819

3 Jesse F. Ballenger (July 2017) Framing Confusion: Dementia, Society, and History https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/framing-confusion-dementia-society-and-history/2017-07

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The Lie Behind Unbridled Capitalism

Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Even what we believe we see with our own eyes is made up from memory. When referring to blind spots in our vision that we do not notice, much of what you see ‘out there’ is actually manufactured ‘in here’ by your brain. Malleable memory, the brain filling in gaps in vision, and the biggest culprit, defense mechanisms, as well as the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain leading to an implicit preference toward a lie, should at least contribute to one realizing thinking cannot be trusted. People want to hear what they want to hear. When two candidates are running and one of them tells the truth and the other says what the public wants to hear, the one who says what the public wants to hear wins the election.

There is not one big reason Trump won. His election promises represented an appeal to popular resentment, to so-called herd instincts. Donald Trump made a string of promises during his long campaign to be the 45th president of the United States. Taking back control of immigration included banning all Muslims entering the US and building a wall along the border with Mexico. He echoed Republicans attacking Obamacare, saying the law imposes too many costs on business, describing it as a “job killer” and decrying the reforms as an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of private businesses and individuals. Under his ‘America first’ doctrine in January, 2017 the president promises his plans will create 25 million new jobs in the next decade. Trump claimed, “We will bring back our jobs … our borders … our wealth, and … our dreams.”

Pierre Charron (1541-1603), the French skeptic, claimed humanity’s essential qualities were vanity, weakness, inconstancy, and presumption. Writing late in the 16th century, Pierre Charron asked his readers to “observe how all mankind are made up of falsehood and deceit, of tricks and lies, how unfaithful and dangerous, how full of disguise and design all conversation is at present become, but especially, how much more it abounds near [the prince], and how manifestly hypocrisy and dissimulation are the reigning qualities of princes’ courts.” Until the French Revolution, the problem of lying and hypocrisy often seemed to be experienced most keenly in the courts of the European elite, those hybrid spaces, both public and private, political and domestic, in which eager courtiers and all manner of hangers-on sought their fortunes. A zero-sum game, fortune hunting required the self-serving courtier to deceive and slander his competitors, to fawn over and flatter his superiors.

Adolf Hitler wrote: The purpose of propaganda is not to provide interesting distraction for blasé young gentlemen, but to convince …the masses. But the masses are slow-moving, and they always require a certain time before they are ready even to notice a thing, and only after the simplest ideas are repeated thousands of times will the masses finally remember them… All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be. …The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses. The fact that our bright boys do not understand this merely shows how mentally lazy and conceited they are.

Leo Strauss rejects all the elements of political morality we associate with liberal democracy as defended by modern philosophers like Locke or Kant. Strauss claimed: The elite must, in a word, lie to the masses; the elite must manipulate them – arguably for their own good. These lies are necessary in order to keep the ignorant masses in line. The Straussian elite see themselves as “the superior few who know the truth and are entitled to rule.” A combination of lies and religion are used to control the people. There is no difference between the fake news, misinformation, disinformation of today – such lies have been churned out for years, but today it is designed to support the plutocracy. There is an orchestrated counter-revolution based on polarization. Trump’s victim politics is a complete fraud, an old trick used by economic elite to keep working-class Americans fighting each other rather than focusing on processes to counter the plutocrats who are ripping them off.

Valery Legasov, the chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster, observes: “What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.” Basically, the more you lie, the easier it is to do it, and the bigger the lies get. Donald Trump merely replaced one swamp with another. He and his henchmen sabotage democracy by creating their own swamp where one cannot tell truth from fiction, where rational debate evaporates as he diverts, distracts, and deflects accountability. Trump has attacked some branches of law enforcement, especially those pursuing white-collar malfeasance, as his allies and former campaign officials are ensnared in various investigations. Facing impeachment, Trump unleashed a torrent of baseless claims surrounding his dealings with Ukraine in the final months of 2019.

What makes social media spread so fast? The “power-law” of social media, a well-documented pattern in social networks, holds that messages replicate most rapidly if they are targeted at relatively small numbers of influential people with large followings. In post-truth politics social media assists political actors who mobilize voters through a crude blend of outlandish conspiracy theories and suggestive half-truths, barely concealed hate-speech, as well as outright lies. These “populist” voters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it, or believe it if told. Populist economic policy claims to design policies for people who fear losing status in society, and those who believe they have been abandoned by the political establishment. The purpose of such activities is to turn the country into warring tribes by creating unyielding one-sidedness and enemies.

A narcissist like Trump is operating from a place of defense all the time. The lie is more of a PR stunt, a marketing ploy rather than a cohesive integrated set of values. The narcissistic personality is more of a store front designed to hide that there isn’t any there, there. Under neoliberalism, lies become an accepted feature of political leadership. The goal is purely to instrumentalize democratic legitimacy, in order to gain the power to make the necessary decisions that ordinary people can never understand or be persuaded of. We are being manipulated by a deluded group of powerful people who think they benefit from it – because they buy into the basic illusion that their own well-being is separate from that of other people. They too are victims of their own propaganda, caught up in the webs of collective delusion that infects virtually all of us, by one of the poisons – ignorance. 

Truth, much like knowledge, is bound to power and similarly operates amidst the individuals and institutions that generate and sustain it. The economic elite do not hesitate to present their ideology as interpretation of truth. The “truth” the market reveals is never in actuality some eternal, given fact. The market is never a neutral arbiter of truth, so the “truth” it reveals about government practice has always required interpretation. Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of the illusory nature of what is considered truth, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values. It is necessary to create the social environment or milieu to support good governance to control cognitive dissonance and the consequent balancing of perception that leads to misperception. The truth is that capitalism creates enormous wealth, but it concentrates into oligopolies and monopolies, to the extent the economic elite creates and normalizes a culture of lying to itself leading to its inherent instability.

Republicans are playing Russian roulette with American democracy by supporting the lies of an aspirational authoritarian. They’ll continue doing so by supporting Trump’s paranoid attacks on the electoral process. The false claims repeatedly made by Donald Trump in the months after his presidential defeat to Joe Biden is embraced by Republicans. It is about a system, corrupted by the influence of big donors and powerful interests, that makes voting more difficult than necessary, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups. Republicans are using the same baseless lies about voting fraud to push a staggering number of laws to scale back voting rights. The reason they’re willing to weaken American democracy is very simple: it’s all about retaining power. However, there is more to introducing change than just countering Trump’s lies, there is a need to change beliefs to eliminate this pervasive irrationality in which democracy is equated to unbridled capitalism.

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The Deception Behind the Existential Threats to American Democracy

Trump was tolerated by Republican elites in the belief that “norms” were corrupt and needed to be destroyed. Trump supposedly failed because he lacked the discipline to target his creative/destructive tendencies effectively. In addition, he lacked advisors with the insight to discern and explain what needs to be destroyed and why. On the other hand, the Claremont Institute provides the missing argument in the battle to win public sentiment by teaching and promoting the philosophical reasoning that is the foundation of limited government and the statesmanship required to bring that reasoning into practice. This work supports a complex concept of self-deception, including self-serving lies and manipulation. Rather than concentrate on policy like many other think tanks, the Claremont Institute teaches the principles and ideas that shape policy over time to the few that will go on to positions of leadership in media, politics, law, speechwriting, and academia.1

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a classical political philosopher who read Nietzsche and had considerable influence on the neocons. From 1949 to 1967 Strauss served as a professor in the University of Chicago political science department, and became the source of the inspiration of the neoconservative ideology of the Republican Party. He developed a political philosophy based on deception, the power of religion, and aggressive nationalism. This was a system in which the people are told no more than they need to know as deception is a norm in political life. He recommended the use of religion for the morals of the masses, but not applying to the leaders. If the masses really knew what was going on it would lead to nihilism. The void was to be filled with religious values. Also, Strauss proposed the use of aggressive foreign policy to unite the masses.

Trump draws fervent support from conservatives who believe the president is willing to restore the country to its moral and constitutional foundations. Conservatives accepted Trump because he appointed their judges, and rolled back regulations they hate. These conservatives claim liberals pose “an existential threat” to the country, and the response includes need to turn to Natural law which is the foundation upon which the spirit of the US Constitution is built. Today followers are reverse-engineering an intellectual doctrine to match Trump’s basic instincts. The movement has two disciples from California: Tucker Carlson advances a form of victim-politics populism and has learned to translate the New Right’s most interesting ideas into Fox-worthy bombast. Stephen Miller is credited with shaping the racist and draconian immigration policies of President Trump, which include the zero-tolerance policy, that includes family separation, the Muslim ban and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Both support Trump’s politics of white fear.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered the natural laws of motion which provided the final piece to the puzzle to explain why the Earth revolves around the sun. Newton was aware of specific problems in the solar system that his laws did not explain which included the fact that Saturn was moving away from the sun while Jupiter was moving closer. To account for movements not able to be explained by his formula, Newton proposed the hand of God to guide the planets in various circumstances – providing long-term stability to the universe. Adam Smith’s claim about the ‘invisible hand’ in Wealth, first published in 1776, pertains to a scheme consisting of all the voluntary actions of people who engage in buying, hiring, producing, consuming, and selling, typically mediating these actions by exchanges involving money. Smith’s point is that, if certain conditions are met, these actions will collectively produce a result that a benevolent God would wish for us.

Just as Isaac Newton explained the laws of motion and gravitation, Adam Smith analyzed the laws of motion of the economic categories of civil society as if they were the laws of nature. Smith’s work was popular because it provided an ‘ethical’ rationale for the capitalist system that explained how, when one acted in their own interest, it actually helped someone he did not even know. The early positivists like Comte attempted to equate the study of society with the study of nature and tried to discover laws of societal development on a par with the structural principles of human anatomy in biology. This leads to positivism, the term used to describe an approach to the study of society that relies specifically on scientific evidence, such as experiments and statistics, to reveal a true nature of how society operates. Although the positivists set out to explain and control the social world, they actually take a back seat to the people who control the social wealth and the social relations of production – the monopoly capitalist class in league with the elected officials beholding to the oligarchs – a structure which comprises ‘the power elite’.

The philosophical approach of Soren Kierkegaard has for many years been recognized as one of the outstanding attempts within the Lutheran Church to construct and formulate a Christian philosophy. Kierkegaard describes Hegel’s philosophy as representing a speculative mode of thinking. Hegel describes truth as a continuous world-historical process, and as the becoming of an absolute reality. Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely. According to Kierkegaard, a person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. The force of Kierkegaard’s philosophy rests in the notion that human life is paradoxical and absurd and that to confront this absurdity is to become truly human. Kierkegaard observes, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Max Weber noted by loosening the hold of custom and tradition, rationalization led to new practices that were chosen because they were efficient and predictable, rather than customary. A rational society is one built around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. Rationalization of the economy during the 1980s created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself. This, in turn, created the notion that there exists an inherent natural law unaffected by human endeavor and weakness that drives the economy. So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

According to the natural law tradition, we must sometimes consult our understanding of morality before we can know what the law actually is. So on this view, judges may have to appeal to their own beliefs about morality to decide on a case. In other words, morality acts as a sort of legislative failsafe: When legislatures write horrible laws, morality steps in to rewrite them. And so when a judge strikes down a deeply unjust law by invoking a moral principle, the moral filter view allows him/her to say that she’s merely enforcing a more basic law that is, so to speak, already on the books. Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, Judge Gorsuch is a natural law thinker. The Republican deception is to use the existential threat of socialism to ensure that they can win elections. This allows control of court nominations who tend to support the tradition of natural law of a market.

There is a special role here for judges, whose ability to check abusive bureaucratic discretion is often constrained, or so it seems, by contemporary canons of positive law. The struggle that Hegel envisioned is the great tension between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The world of fact was chaotic and evil – an affront to man’s senses of order and good. The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought. Kierkegaard believed that a human being’s relationship with God must be hard-won, a matter of devotion and suffering. According to Kierkegaard, a person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. Kierkegaard rejects naturalism. It isn’t the idea that there are laws of nature that Kierkegaard rejects, but the idea that these laws necessarily determine human behavior.

An existential threat, put simply, is a threat to society – a veritable threat to existence does not have to be present for someone to experience a sense of existential threat. If Trump could earn more votes than any sitting president ever, the thinking goes, then clearly his movement is real. Think tanks will use the political utility of white fear, replacing whites and endangering civilization to organize a coalition from Trump supporters to win the next election. It will be organized around natural law – natural rights of life, liberty, and property protected implicitly in the original Constitution. This includes adjudicate disputes about the nature of rights by simply leaving the decision up to whoever happens to hold power at any given moment. Stephen Miller and Tucker Carlson have a role in the necessary deception to promote this existential threat. However, the removal of Liz Cheney actually poses an existential threat to the future of the Republican Party, for the war to come within the Republican Party.

1 Jean Guerrrero. Donald Trump’s Politics of White Fear Have Roots in Southern California (20 Sept 2020) https://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/claremont-institute-trump/

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Addiction: a Chronic Disease Requiring a Community Response

Health care approaches for chronic conditions include primary and secondary prevention, acute episodic interventions, and expansion of the care circle to recognize the role of caregivers and family. People with chronic conditions require care that is as seamless as possible as they move between primary, acute, specialty, and community care. In high-income countries, chronic diseases have long been the leading causes of death and disability. Health care systems need to realize that the complex chronic conditions affecting their patients’ health cannot be addressed successfully in the doctor’s office alone and that responsible health care isn’t just about the personal responsibility of patients but also requires that the health care system itself be responsible in providing health care consumers with appropriate options. These options can be provided by partnerships with local governments, community organizations, and other health and human service providers to develop strategies to address the social determinants of health.

Nietzsche called free will “a theologians’ artifice” that permits us to “judge and punish.” However, many thinkers believe, as Smilansky does, that institutions of judgment and punishment are necessary if we are to avoid a fall into barbarism. Today, people’s belief in free will is shown to influence the perception of personal control in self and others. The current studies tested the hypothesis that individuals who believe in free will attribute stronger personal blame to obese people and to people with mental illness (schizophrenia) for their adverse health outcomes. Free will beliefs are correlated with attribution of blame to people with obesity and mental health issues. The stigma of addiction is that people with substance abuse disorders are weak, immoral, and simply out for a good time at society’s expense. However, addiction impairs the brain. The earlier the drug exposure, or trauma to the brain, the greater the damage.

The challenge of stopping drugs has to do with deficiency of the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain involved with executive function. The job of the prefrontal cortex is self-monitoring, delaying reward, and integrating whatever the intellect tells you is important with respect to what the libido is telling you. The flood of intoxicating brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (chiefly dopamine) during drug use makes the brain relatively insensitive to normal sources of pleasure such as good conversation with a friend, or a beautiful sunset. Agonist medications such as methadone or bupropion can stabilize the craving brain while planning and reasoning processes get back in shape. The person who self-isolates themselves in order to use drugs without inhibition may need to work in a purposeful way to re-acquire habitual joy, such as social interactions, physical pleasure like a swim or bicycle ride, and other healthy enjoyable rewards.

In the healthy brain dopamine is released in response to natural reward, such as food or exercise. Some drugs are able to bind to brain cells and trigger the release of dopamine. Taking drugs produces a euphoria feeling, which in turn, re-enforces drug using behaviour. Drugs release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards release. As substance use continues the brain produces less dopamine and/or reduces the number of brain structures that receive dopamine. Thus, dopamine’s impact on the reward network diminishes along with the individual’s ability to experience pleasure. This can explain why individuals who chronically abuse drugs begin to appear lethargic, unmotivated and depressed and report a lack of pleasure in things that were once pleasurable. To counter, they increase their substance abuse in attempts to feel the same pleasure they use to. This creates a vicious cycle of taking increasing amounts of drugs that leads to tolerance.

The dopamine pathway is involved in mediating reward-motivated behaviour. However, biology is involved – a combination of personality and experiences over which they have no control. There is the challenge to deny the reward of craving – it is necessary to avoid the cues that set off cravings. People with addiction lose control over their actions. They crave and seek out drugs, alcohol, or other substances no matter what the cost – even at the risk of damaging friendships, hurting family, or losing jobs. People often describe drug addiction as a habit, and one that is difficult to break. When people attempt to discontinue an addiction like drug use, they can experience withdrawal. The memory of withdrawal is such an unpleasant experience that it serves as a powerful motivator (or cue) to resume the addictive behavior to avoid the unpleasant experience.  Eventually, the relief from withdrawal (by resuming use) becomes pleasurable in and of itself.

Both genetic and environmental variables contribute to the initiation of use of addictive agents and to the transition from use to addiction. Addictions are moderately to highly heritable. Many just appear to be at risk for addiction, then it makes addiction a chronic disease of the brain. Addictive drugs induce adaptive changes in gene expression in brain reward regions, including the striatum, representing a mechanism for tolerance and habit formation with craving and negative affect that persist long after consumption ceases. These neuroadaptive changes are key elements in relapse. Once an individual becomes addicted, the clinical options are untargeted and only partially effective. Counseling for addiction aims to help people change behaviors and attitudes around using a substance, as well as strengthening life skills and supporting other treatments. Some forms of treatment for addictive disorders focuses on the underlying cause of the addictive disorder in addition to behaviors characteristic of the addiction.

The rise in heroin use is believed to be linked to prescription drug abuse.  Many people who abuse painkillers switch to heroin for two reasons: It is cheaper and often easier to get. Over the past decade fatal opioid overdose has emerged as a major public health issue. Losses of tolerance and concomitant use of alcohol and other CNS depressants clearly play a major role in fatality; however, such risk factors do not account for the strong age and gender patterns observed consistently among victims of overdose. There is evidence that systemic disease may be more prevalent in users at greatest risk of overdose. Compton cautions against conflating all increased drug use directly with COVID-19. For example, shifts in drug availability may also be to blame for increased illicit opioid use deaths; if heroin isn’t easy to access, someone might take fentanyl, which is much stronger.

Existential crisis and dual diagnosis confound the response. An existential crisis is when questions about life, the universe, and humanity’s role in the scheme of things become so important to the individual that deep psychological pain occurs when there are no answers. And when this happens, some use illicit drugs to numb themselves to the profound pain they’re feeling. The qualifications for dual diagnosis are broad. Obviously struggling with depression and alcohol use disorder is a far cry in many ways from a schizophrenia diagnosis with a heroin addiction. However, both are dual diagnoses. Determining which disorder came first, and whether or not it caused the other, can be a tricky situation. Either substance abuse or mental illness can develop first. Someone with a mental health disorder may abuse drugs and/or alcohol as a self-medication for the initial mental problem. Drug and/or alcohol abuse only makes the symptoms of mental health disorders worse.

But experts agree based on research and clinical observation that pandemic-related pressures, from economic stress and loneliness to general anxiety about the virus, are a major driver for the increase. Fentanyl has been linked to many of these overdose deaths. Fentanyl is an opioid that is prescribed as a skin patch. It is 100 times more powerful than morphine and used to treat severe pain. Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and allow time for medical help to arrive, is part of acute care. Harm reduction is part of long-term intervention in substance abuse. Safe injection sites complement existing services; they prevent death, not the problem. Essential to a harm reduction approach is that it provides people who use substances a choice of how they will minimize harms through non-judgemental and non-coercive strategies in order to enhance skills and knowledge to live safer and healthier lives.

Although there is much to learn, we do know that both primary and secondary prevention are crucial to reducing the harms of addiction. The social determinants of health are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems. Drug addiction is a chronic disorder typically characterized with intermittent relapses. Hence, a short-term one-time treatment is generally not sufficient. Research shows that addictions can be managed successfully. Individuals who enter and remain in treatment can manage their addiction and improve their quality of life. It is important to recognize addiction is not about moral failure, rather a chronic disease that requires community support for getting into and staying in recovery.

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