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docu-mental: mapping the american states of mind
60 minutes | Apr 30, 2021
Are you ready for medical astrology?
vol. 3 issue 20Greetings,On this episode, I talk with botanist and medical astrologer, Lee Lehman, PhD. A medical astrologer can’t diagnose, can’t prescribe, and most likely does not have a medical degree, although more modern-day physicians have studied this ancient pillar of traditional Western medicine than you might expect. So, why bother to learn, much less use, this antiquated approach to helping patients?These are the kinds of questions I put to Dr. Lehman. In that way, this interview is an adjunct to the conversation I had with award-winning author and Guggenheim scholar, Dr. Victoria Sweet, about her successful experiences with what she termed “slow medicine”. Inspired by the Medieval German abbess, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179 AD; I give the wrong dates in this interview with Dr. Lehman — sorry), and until the hospital where she worked was overrun by consultants, Dr. Sweet practiced a kind of medicine that took its time, viewed people as plants in need of elemental balance, and allowed her patients to heal on their body’s own terms, not the 30 days typically mandated by federal regulations and insurance companies. (The notion that a person could heal within 30 days traces its roots back to one full moon cycle and the timing of “critical days” when an ailment would either take a turn for the worst or better. In traditional 17th Century Western medicine, the kind Dr. Lehman practices — there are others, such as Jyotish-Ayurvedic, India’s own tradition — tracking the phases of the moon is key to prognosis.)Time and space are what lie at the heart of medical astrology. It does not purport to treat anything, only frame it within a temporal context. Although using a humoral, elemental perspective can aid a medical astrologer in determining the cause of illness, as Dr. Lehman explains, actual diagnosis and treatment are considered discrete areas of specialization, which is why this field is an adjunct to medical training, not a replacement. Physicians of old received integrated training, unlike today where considering the human body as a compound mixture of earth, water, fire, and air is today considered medical vulgate, it worked and was an obvious solution to align one’s medical condition with the planets, which also were — and are — considered elemental in their respective natures.Applying these techniques requires a cyclical, not a linear perspective, in that astrology places every person at their unique crossroads of possibility and promise, infused with purpose. Such a framework is beyond the scope of actuarial science that collects and collapses what is rare and precious, even if paradoxically common, into probability and risk, devoid of any consideration of what the point to it all might be. Still, as Dr. Lehman points out, plenty of insurance executives might like to know how medical astrology, with its ability to zero in on what is the matter, might save them a few bucks.To that end, Dr. Lehman and I also discuss how, before medicine turned into healthcare, physicians relied upon their commerce with the stars to determine if they thought cure possible, and would only take on patients they were confident they could help, and accepted payment only after the cure was indeed proven and the patient restored to health.As of March, I completed Dr. Lehman’s online medical astrology practitioner’s certification program through a school in the UK. I was drawn to the field first from an historical perspective, but then seeing that it was effective in helping clear up medical mysteries by looking at them elementally (sometimes keeping things simple makes what is inherently complex easier to comprehend) and recommending optimal times for surgery, realized its utility for people who get stuck in the doom loop of our modern healthcare system. I began to consider how, for less money and aggravation, it might be possible for people to get some valid information to help themselves and their physician get the heart of the matter faster, not waste time or money on unnecessary tests, and also cut out the middle man of insurance companies for non-acute situations. In short, I saw it as a compassionate, personalized form of medical empowerment with limited so-called “barriers to access”. At first, I approached this field with skepticism. What could humoral medicine, with its primitive and often wrong conclusions offer (eg, blood is not manufactured in the liver, as Galenic medicine taught, but is cleansed there, we now know)? Our modern understanding of anatomy, chemistry, germ theory, genetics, hormones, molecular biology, neurology, and every other -ology exponentially outstrips the knowledge of the 17th Century physicians who combined astrological understanding with Galen’s concepts of humoral medicine, drawn from Hippocrates’ own, with a little Aristotelian physics thrown in. But the scientific method accurately applied – asking questions, testing theories, and having the humility to be wrong and start over – actually helped me see there is efficacy in this way medicine was practiced for centuries before modern technology and other influences dimmed our view of it. This approach to connecting imbalances to where a person’s animation is sourced, and how it sings in time with the celestial bodies is indelibly humble. Without requiring an allegiance to a particular god, medical astrology acknowledges the presence of the ineffable. It is the well-delineated system that endures, and has proven itself flexible enough to accommodate any of modern medical advances to date.The efficacy is its poetry. The poetry is its efficacy.This was certainly not the direction I figured my career as a former healthcare insider would take, but in fact my background as both a hospice volunteer and clinical medicine and healthcare policy reporter paired well with understanding the holistic nature of this system. And, I know from personal experience that this system works. It gave me answers I sought after thousands of dollars and countless hours of aggravation winding my way through the “System” failed me. Once I got the answers I needed, I got better.And so, I now wonder: Is there a way we can re-introduce this humble approach to health, one predicated on the belief that we are all connected to every living thing, to our modern gee-whiz but life-saving medicine? Perhaps. Certainly, at a time when the world is in utter crisis of climate-change collapse, and our status-quo driven hierarchies are failing, hastened ironically by the conspiratuality fanatics who seek to claw their way to the top of such poisonous structures, it seems to me we have no time to waste in looking for utility in places the status quo previously has told us to ignore. This is also why before I brought Dr. Lehman to your attention, I featured the conversation with the Lakota Music Project, to show that such a holistic perspective on the world has great power to heal, not just Indians, but whites and others – all of us.I took the approach of interviewing Dr. Lehman as though I am myself naive to the subject, although I am not, in order to put myself in the place of most of my audience. I am sure some of you will dismiss this interview as frivolous, or worse. Others will listen and completely miss the point. Others will be bemused. Plenty of you will be intrigued. But it will get you to think, to consider your health and your reliance upon the world at large for its stability. If nothing else, maybe ponder where you, in your light body, stand at the crossroads of time and space, and how it aligns with other bodies.Here’s the video version:For a complete list of the audio “chapters” of our discussion, complete with time stamps, see the end of this post.Thanks so much for reading and for your material support. The strength of docu-mental gives me such joy. It is testament to my not being alone in my questions. I am not alone in my refusal to be discouraged in search of freedom that is truly free, not transactional, not laden with freakshow b******t.Upcoming in the next two months are such great guests, I can hardly wait for you to hear our conversations. In addition to my line-up in May to discuss the implications of psychedelic use, I’ve also added new authors and thinkers who will challenge you to reconsider the symbology you’ve been relying upon to tell your personal and collective stories…don’t be scared! Be excited! You can choose your own adventure…and be a solid citizen at the same time. Peace,WhitneyFor more information about Lee Lehman, PhD, and the study of medical astrology: STA School of Traditional Astrology.Don’t forget to visit our sister publication, Ensouled: the journal of applied and cultural astronomy. The next issue of this monthly online publication comes out May 3. It will address the odd threads quickly knitting together between the Catholic Church, the Department of Defense, and one of GAIA media’s most popular presenter as the world awaits further information about the implications of aliens among us. Thank you to the many docu-mental subscribers who have also added their names to the list of Ensouled supporters.Here’s the audio chapter list for this podcast:0:00 Introduction3:44 What is a medical astrologer?6:30 What is humoral medicine and why might it still be relevant?7:30 Evolution of deism to empiricism in Greek medicine9:40 The material meets the metaphorical in humoral medicine; blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm (sanguine, choleric, melancholy, and phlegmatic)11:17 How astrology helps anticipate humoral imbalance13:42 Case study – stopping snoring15:20 Coordinating the planets to the body through the elements18:07 The role of divinity20:23 Why did blood-letting ‘stop working’?23:34 How politics helped drive astrology from medicine24:41 The original patient-centered care in Roman times. ‘No cure, no payment.’31:54 Is there a compelling reason to return to this 17th Century form of medical counsel?32:33 Is there value in today’s medicine for astrology’s capacity to evaluate the quality of time?36:41 The personalized v. the averaged (astrological v. actuarial) perspective on treatment44:30 Who are medical astrologers’ typical clientele? What results count as ‘s
46 minutes | Nov 13, 2020
Interview: How opera is helping mend fences in a small mountain town
vol. 2 issue 54Note: docu-mental’s coverage of The Blacksmith is a joint venture with DC Metro Theater Arts. You can read a slightly different version of this feature and review/preview of Opera Lafayette’s production of The Blacksmith, here. The video interview above and the commentary in this feature is exclusive to docu-mental. Greetings,Take any decent road trip through the American West and you’re bound to pass half-a-dozen old opera houses in varying states of disrepair, or repair — if there happens to be a local renaissance underway. That’s because contrary to what you might expect, opera houses were essential for offering respite to the dusty rustiness of life on the frontier, being as they were the venue for itinerant entertainers, politicians, preachers, lecturers, and other speakers with news from back East. Put another way: outside of the saloon, especially if a settlement lacked a strong enough contingent of righteous folks to see to there being a church erected, the opera house was the Old West’s quintessential all-comers meeting place.And so it is with Mancos, Colorado, where a downtown rebirth is underway, the centerpiece of it being the opera house built in 1910, when the frontier was still rough. It’s a movement co-led by ranchers and artists, many of them retirees from the rat race, or newcomers fleeing fire-ravaged coastal areas. The collaboration is worth noting since, even if so far, there haven’t been any shoot outs, there has been plenty of hollerin’ over what constitutes correct land use and water rights, pitting oldtimers against the newbies. Still, the shared vision is that the opera house will become a thriving performing arts and community center, a small business incubator, and all-around place where differences can be put aside and friends and enemies alike can come together, learn from one another, and focus on the future, while not forgetting their past, whether or not is a shared past. Standing ovation from the socially-distanced audience for a performance of Opera Lafayette’s The Blacksmith, at Reddert Ranch in Mancos, Colo. Photo: Paul Boyer.Enter into this fray, the Washington-based Opera Lafayette, which earlier this year was set to premiere its Old Westernized version of The Blacksmith (Le Maréchal ferrant), an 18th-century French comic opera composed in the mid-1700s by François-André Danican Philidor with libretto by François-André Quétant. OL stage director and musical arranger Nick Olcott along with OL founding artistic director and violinist, Ryan Brown, set their adaptation of the work in an 1890s American frontier town. The premiere was intended as the restored opera house’s gala fundraiser opening night back in May, but then ol’ covid came riding into town and busted up the whole shindig. Of course, the show must go on, and so it did, even if a little later than planned.This past October, with audience members seated on hay bales placed 6 feet apart, the show premiered on the Reddert Ranch just outside Mancos, the working cattle farm that has been in Brown’s family for generations, and where he has spent nearly every summer of his life. Turns out, Reddert Ranch is also home to an historic blacksmith shop that served as the perfect backdrop for two well-attended, late afternoon performances, both of which were held on behalf of the Mancos Cattlemen’s Association and the Mancos Creative District. Each performance ended just as the sun was setting over the La Plata Mountains, not far from Mesa Verde National Park. Full cast (L-R) Sarah Shafer as Jeannie, Arnold Livingston Geis as Cody, Dominique Cote as Marcel the Blacksmith, Joshua Conyers as Eustis, Pascale Beaudin as Claudine, Frank Kelley as Slim MacBride. Reddert Ranch outside Mancos, Colorado October 2020. Photo Credit: Paul Boyer. The Blacksmith is typical 18th-century comedic opera fare: father arranges marriage for his daughter, daughter wants to make her own choice in love, daughter wants man who also happens to be her aunt’s object of affection, a fight breaks out, daughter accidentally “kills” their mutual paramour, chaos and comedy ensue, the dead comes alive, everyone sings about how they will now all live and love happily ever after.It’s silly, but it’s human. And of course, no one lives happily ever after, they just live their lives, and everybody knows it, too. That’s why comic opera works, and why, once this particular show was re-worked to reflect the local memes and meanings, folks went nuts for it. But there’s more to it than a good time was had by all. It was performed on the land, and above all else in the West, it is the land that matters. Opera Lafayette founder and artistic director, Ryan Brown with musician and horsewoman, Lynne Lewis. Photo: Whitney Fishburn.That’s what makes this interview with Maestro Brown and his friend and fellow rancher and musician, Lynne Lewis (who also plays guitar in the adaptation), so special to me. It’s a talk about music but it’s really about the place that we romanticize as the heart and soul of what America “is”: the Old West. And it’s a place that is finite, and people know that, too. Ain’t no one making any more of it, no matter how many of us want a piece of it.It’s that scramble for limited resources that turns one group against another in our nation, forcing us to ask who deserves those resources more. And yet, there is another way, we just don’t want as a nation to admit it: a return to how most indigenous peoples see the land. That is, that we belong to it. It does not belong to us. It is what hosts us, feeds us, provides for us. This interview, the sixth video in the series docu-mental: healing the american states of mind, takes us back to the first and second videos where we considered how to move forward as a soulful nation, we need to own our sins, which include how we have treated the indigenous of this land, and enslaved black Africans. It also connects with our third video, where we discussed how the performing arts can help us to create the necessary rituals for us to come together as a nation, but also as micro-communities, where it is easier to find common ground and values that bind, even if they do so in overlapping circles, where we might share a love for our local land, but not share a love of the same political point of view. In that spirit, in this conversation, through the lens of a Westernized version of a French comic opera, with thoughts from two musicians, yes, but also two ranchers, we get to the heart of what’s been bugging all those other ranchers and newcomers to Mancos: who is entitled to the land and all it has to offer. It’s important for the integrity of Brown and Olcott’s actual artistic intentions, to state that a discussion about land use wasn’t the point of their adaptation. That was more along the lines of how to succeed at the challenge of whether the use of cowboy vernacular and American folk tunes to “break the fourth wall” that separates the audience from the stage was possible. Yet, what they have achieved offers the opportunity for anyone who cares to take it, the chance to consider what’s really at stake.Some in this nation love what land like that in southwestern Colorado, and so many other places, can do for them, and so don’t really love the land itself, but the idea that it can confer power that others then can’t have, hoo-howdy! That’s sexy.But, if you have been as lucky as I have been to spend a fair amount of time out West, riding, singing, hiking, or just visiting with folks who live on land, it’s impossible not to notice that these people really love the land. They also respect it. They have to! It’s beautiful, but it’s also dangerous. And even if they wouldn’t say it outright, they understand what it means to belong to the land and not the other way around. Howdy boy! That’s sacred.It might not be in our respective lifetimes that it happens, but I envision there will be a day where, in part because we are moving to an increasingly virtual world, it will become natural to live according to the belief system still inherent to the indigenous nations of this continent, the one that doesn’t have us dominating the land, but living in dominion with it, and we will create economic systems and policies accordingly.One reason I believe this is because, without the land we die. Enough of us are starting to understand at a basic level that simple, obvious, critical fact. It might take a while before those who want power over instead of partnership with the land die out, lose their grip, or otherwise get out of our way, but I believe it will happen.And we can live at peace with our national soul again.Although Brown demurred in an interview to affirm or deny whether his opera had outright helped heal the divide in his mountain town, he did acknowledge the feedback from The Blacksmith attendees was overwhelmingly positive, and described other opera projects he is hatching to more directly address what he called “hot button issues” on the minds of his fellow Mancosians.“Everyone was all smiles and happy about what they were there for,” says Lewis. “Yeah, there’s a unity there. Not that it’s permanent, but it’s the kind of thing we need.”Which is why once again, my faith in the power of the performing arts is redoubled.Anytime opera demonstrates its power to tell stories that show how rifts can be mended, even if it’s with humor and silliness, we have the opportunity to remember what is possible once we put aside our differences: peace and prosperity. When you listen to this interview, keep an ear open for the cattle lowing in the background…they’re there!Tickets and other information for Opera Lafayette’s online production of Philidor’s The Blacksmith (Le Marchant ferrant) are available here. A live, one-time event on this Sunday, November 15, 2020, 2:00 p.m. (EST), includes a pre-show discussion with Maestro Ryan Brown, a virtual screening of the show, and a post-performance conversation with the artists. On-demand access to the show runs from Nov. 16 through Nov. 29, 2020.Here are the timestamps for this interview:00:00 Introduction 11:30 By internationalizing opera, we've removed it from its power to speak to local audiences 12: 38 Opera's
100 minutes | Nov 1, 2020
Astrologer Elisabeth Grace on the election, the US tough guy fetish, & what's to come in 2021
vol. 2 issue 52Greetings,It’s rare that docu-mental publishes on Sunday, but that is the way things turned out in this week of ghosts, goblins, and now with this issue, astrologers. Today for many is known as El Dia de los Muertes — The Day of the Dead, also All Souls Day (although apparently, some calendars claim it is tomorrow). And of course, Tuesday, November 3rd, is our election.What do all these events at this time have in common? It is not the spookiness, the goons, nor the horror, but the liminal. It is a time of the in-between, when what comes next is either a continuation of what was, or a chance to pass through a portal to what has never been. And so, I thought it was time to offer something completely new and perhaps unexpected to my audience.But first, a story.Cum hoc ergo propter hoc“Just because two things occur simultaneously does not mean there is a cause and effect,” the head of the National Cancer Institute once boomed at me from across his desk. “Cum hoc ergo propter hoc. It’s Latin for, ‘With this, therefore because of this,’ but it isn’t, and I don’t see why the authors of this paper want to say that it is, so this interview is not worth the time.” The doctor glared at my video crewman.Thinking quickly, I dropped the offending study I’d been sent to discuss with Dr. Rosenberg, and changed the topic to the latest research coming out of the NCI – research where cause and effect had been established, and which would go on to be covered widely – and so managed to get some footage of the doc, even if it wasn’t what I’d been assigned to cover.Aside from the incident being a reminder that an alarming amount of crap science gets published and routinely makes it past those of us who should know better, even if I’d already understood that just because two things are true doesn’t mean they are causative – a core tenet of scientific research -- being reprimanded by one of the nation’s top scientists helped ensure the maxim is always top of mind any time I examine data.Yet, I have found that over-emphasizing the need to prove causation also runs the risk of missing the bigger picture. Things we might perceive as true, and so accept as part of the fabric of our lives might never reveal to us their true “cause” despite the most painstaking evaluation. For example, I cannot prove a causative correlation between the rise of our reductionist materialism and our national epidemics of anxiety, depression, and suicide, but my observations that their trajectories correlate is are certainly worth study.We can know how things work, without ever fully understanding why they do.Put another way, we might not ever know why two things might be true, even if we can show that they happen simultaneously. In philosophy and religion, such analyses form the basis for questions of fate and fortune. Economics, history, and sociology also rely on noting how patterns and cycles might co-occur consistently, affording a fair degree of confidence in forecasting future trends, and thus alerting us to our choices in how we might respond.In this interview with mundane astrologer Elisabeth Grace, whose newsletter tracks and correlates planetary movements with world events, I explore this notion of correlation vs. causation. Just as I believe there is a correlation between economic cycles and our mental health even if I cannot prove causation, Elisabeth knows how to correlate how the orbits of Saturn and Pluto to predict say, the rise of authoritarianism globally, and especially here in the US, even if she does not know why this is so. These kinds of correlative observations of world events and astronomical events form the core of the field of mundane astrology, and yes, it is an actual scholarly field, even at the university level in some countries such as the UK.By the time I discovered Elisabeth’s work, I was already familiar with the work of Richard Tarnas, author of Cosmos and Psyche, the seminal work on mundane astrology. The tome tracks the orbits of the planets through history, drawing attention to distinct patterns of planetary transits occurring at the same time as historical events such as the rise and fall of authoritarian regimes, world wars, pestilence and plagues, and good stuff too like the Renaissance of the early 1500s and other re-births of the arts and humanities. It’s part of his larger operating theory that these events are evolutionary, and are part of a larger plan that we do not know, but which involves the evolution of the Cosmos itself through its Psyche. Why this might be so, that is a mystery, but it calls him to wonder and suggest that our current insistence upon the reductionism of cause and effect means we are missing the larger point of our collective experience.Why does Psyche want this experience? We do not know.Tarnas is a student and colleague of Czech psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof, a pioneer of transpersonal psychology, especially the use of psychadelics such as LSD to lower conscious barriers in order to conduct as much as possible, an unfettered exploration of the human psyche. Tarnas and Grof, formerly of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, now are both associated with the Department of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where they have written and lectured extensively about what they call the “enchanted world”, the cornerstone of their ultimate conclusion that the human mind is of the same “stuff” as the mind of the universe; that it is ultimately all one consciousness. Put another way, our human consciousness is a cosmic phenomenon, and does not arise from biological processes, but that biology arises from it.As an aside… Tarnas’s research into the history of Western thought, world events, and planetary movements came after establishing that there were some in those early psychedelic studies who would have really “bad trips”, and others who would have positive ones. Also, sometimes the ones who had good trips would suddenly have bad ones. Why? After noting the correspondences between planetary movements and the study participants’ charts, Tarnas et al concluded it was because, essentially, sometimes the stars truly did not align in support of a person altering their mind/consciousness at that time.To my way of thinking, the enchanted world theory is not the same thing as the Intelligent Design movement which seems to me to have become an Evangelical Christian flavored system of reductionism, claiming to have the universe all sorted out. However true to a scientific method geophysicist Stephen C. Meyer, creator of the Intelligent Design theory, himself might be, proponents of his pro-Intelligent Being Universe Creator theories seem to me to want to use his work to justify their belief in a masculine god and their entitled claim to the hierarchical status quo. The levels of guilt, shame, and fear necessary to keep that “truth” locked in place is not only absurd, they are as nihilistic as reductionism, in that they demand stasis, which is of course antithetical to growth and change. It cuts across all areas of our lives: in religion it manifests as a fear of being alienated as a sinner at best, eternal damnation at worst. In science, it’s the fear of being wrong. Whether sinner or errant scientist, there are very real punitive consequences, whether it be ostracization or zero grant money. Yet, none of these consequences seem to be handed down from heaven or up from the petri dish. The punishments are always distributed by other humans.While Tarnas et al do not assign gender to the greater consciousness they say exists, they do insist it is there, and that human consciousness exists within it, that all is interrelated. If I am going to reject randomness, which I do, then with Tarnas’s findings as the larger context, it is far more possible to believe that each of our individual lives has meaning, and that even if we do not know what that meaning is, the search for it is in itself as important as any proof of causation to life because the journey brings us that much closer to the Source. In that way, we can choose to imbue our lives with the fruits of what we learn, and know that it mattered that we valued the opportunity to direct our teensy speck of consciousness toward something of our own choosing, something of our own design, using both observational data and that of cause and effect to help us course correct. Although the Harvard educated Tarnas is also the author of The Passion of the Western Mind (2000), a classic text in collegiate history programs nationally, upon the publication of Cosmos and Psyche (2006), he, like Meyer routinely has been, was dismissed and excoriated by the intelligentsia. In the Wall Street Journal, the reviewer seethes as though personally offended by Tarnas’s temerity to suggest an enchanted world view:“Mr. Tarnas's examples steadily build into a game of free association that will try the patience of any reader burdened with sanity.” He ends with this zinger: “Among the unexpected lessons to be drawn from Cosmos and Psyche is that the tyranny of science may actually be preferable to the tyranny of superstition. In any case, count your lucky stars it's not assigned reading.”Okay, Mr. Smarty Pants. You can be the smartest guy in the room. Every room. All the rooms.Meanwhile, in the aftermath of four years of our national Avatar of Id rampaging across the land, infecting some, depressing many more, and exposing the actual insanity of much of the rest, here’s me on the eve of our election, in my apparently deluded and idiotic state, reading Tarnas, along with works by the late Joseph Campbell and James Hillman, and others, and finding myself inspired to think of how we as a nation might move beyond our reductionist thinking at all levels of policymaking, especially in healthcare and medicine, without abandoning logic and reason. Their ideas inform my closely held belief that policymaking which supports an explicitly purposeful view of life could offer important public health benefits and help staunch our rising tides of unrest, which the coronavirus has only exacerbated. After all, what is the point to life if there is no point to life? Wit
62 minutes | Oct 16, 2020
'Defund the police' is wrong action for right goal: cops share views on how to evolve policing
vol. 2 issue 51Greetings,If you’ve been reading docu-mental for a while, you are aware that I don’t see the mondo bizarro criminal behavior of the current occupant of the White House as the cause of our national woes, but as the ultimate manifestation of our damaged collective psyche, the one we have forced for the past half century to carry the burdens of a patriarchal and thus hierarchical system predicated on an ethos of “to the winner goes the spoils”, and everything else as well. And really, that is why I think cries of “defund the police” are useless. It is “old world”, not “new world”. The old world is angry and us v. them, and protestors and reformers who want to see changes in law enforcement but who do so in the same martial tones they oppose will get nowhere. The new world is much more collaborative, forced as we have been to learn new ways to work together by the covid-19 crisis and by so many global catastrophes, including climate change-induced migration and dwindling resources.But the new and old words do have some important things in common, the first being a shared history that must be healed, the one of systematic extermination and resources stolen from this continent’s indigenous peoples, and the enslavement of other human beings, namely black Africans. The second is a need for some kind of enforceable structure and order. How else to build without a reliable scaffold?In our current paradigm, LAW AND ORDER is yelled at us by red-faced and bullying federal and executive figureheads, which would be laughable except that the man in the White House is inciting violence in our streets, fomenting hatred between whites and others, and putting our law enforcement in the crosshairs of what many, myself included, fear will be a terrifying and violent election day and beyond. That’s not funny in the least. Yet, to me, it seems a last gasp at trying to stay in control when the skywriting just doesn’t seem to vaporize and vanish, the unmistakable message being “Time’s Up!” on hierarchy and iron-fistedness.As a mother, despite the actual verdict, what I will always view as the cold blooded murder of Trayvon Martin still haunts me in particular, as I know that my son or any mother’s son would have had no reason to suspect that a handful of Skittles dribbled into his mouth as he innocently walked home from the convenience store one night, would be his last thanks to the derangement of a self-styled law and order gun nut; yet watching the lynching of George Floyd changed me forever. It proved the tipping point for me to embrace publicly my growing personal ethos that I have been documenting here since I began in 2018 by trademarking and copyrighting my materials under docu-mental. My plan had been to document and explore solutions for the national increase in mental health crises, never suspecting that it would turn out I would be chronicling the end of extreme Capitalism. And yet, as a practical minded, erstwhile Capitol Hill policy reporter who has written primarily about clinical medicine and healthcare economics for much of her career, I believe wholeheartedly it’s time to talk about things that aren’t quantifiable, and to insist that they not be relegated to the side lines as frilly and silly. It’s not that I ever denounced it, but I was always too cowed to stand tall and say so, even though in my private life, I admitted it was true: this world needs more love, more softness, more feminine energy. Not more women per se, more Goddess. And it needs the women in power to say so and demonstrate this, too.There is nothing left but death when something reaches an extreme. Where else is there to go? Our system of Capitalism is at that point. It can take law and order with it as our system decays, leaving us vulnerable in an existential way. Alternatively, we can revive and reshape that masculine ideal buried under the propaganda we’ve heard in this nation for so long that “might makes right” and parlay that into what will work in the coming paradigm of peaceful collaboration: we can let our strong men and women in uniform be the ones who are vulnerable in an empowering way. We can humanize them. And make no mistake, the new paradigm is coming; in fact, it’s here. How on earth will it be possible to crush and dominate in the old ways when this new virtual world’s power hierarchy is based on having access to others’ privacy and data, not their land and other resources? That is the new warfront, and it does not take shooting people or having the right skin tone to triumph; anyone can hide behind a digital screen, and anyone can steal your numerical soul and turn you into a digital slave. Yet, because the Information Age is free flowing, the hierarchy is easier to infiltrate.Yet the need for familiar structures remains as we navigate the new ways of being. To me, that is an obvious call for our communities to focus on how to empower their respective law enforcement organizations to be flexible, breathable, ready to change as necessary. In this video in the on-going series dedicated to healing the american states of mind, I speak with three people who know well how masculinity in the extreme has the ironic effect of eroding one’s masculinity, and perhaps even killing the person who bears the weight of it, maiming the souls and spirits of those left behind.My guests are:Chief John Morrissey of the Kenosha, Wisconsin Police Department (Ret). After 33 years as an officer, 28 of them in Kenosha, Chief Morrissey retired from the force in 2016, but is still intimately involved in what happens on the streets of Kenosha as city administrator, a job he took just before his hometown erupted in violence after three Black Lives Matter protestors were shot by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, killing two. While leading the police force, Chief Morrissey lost two officers to suicide in less than 6 months. Mr. Morrissey has been actively involved in suicide prevention since 2010. In 2017, he became leader of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Public Safety Taskforce. He also serves as a member of the Workplace Suicide Prevention and Postvention Committee, and is a member of the IACP National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide. John Marx, CPP, was a law officer for 23 years, 19 of them as a hostage negotiator with the Westminster, Colorado Police Department. Marx is now the executive director of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and founder of CopsAlive.com. He is the author of several books and training manuals that take a wholistic approach to law enforcement training and wellness. When a fellow police officer and good friend of his committed suicide at 38, Marx decided to dedicate his life to helping law enforcement officers serve and protect by learning to first protect their emotional needs and those of their colleagues.Sally Spencer-Thomas, PsyD, lead editor of the mental health for men series of books, Guts, Grit, & the Grind: A Mental Mechanics Manual, and the creator along with the Colorado Department of Health and others, of Mantherapy, a very funny series of videos challenging what it means to be manly and to hide emotions behind a moustache. Sally began her career studying the effect of trauma on first responders, and has been actively engaged in suicide prevention since her brother took his own life in 2004. She is now the president of United Suicide Survivors International.The take-away from our conversation is that calls to defund the police or even to abolish it, as Colin Kaepernick is now doing through what I believe is his impressive and well-reasoned co-venture with the publishing platform Medium, LEVEL: Abolition for the People, are actually aimed at the same goal as many visionary law officers want to achieve: and end to lethal law enforcement encounters for black men, a reduction in violence overall, and a healthier citizenry through the direct involvement of the community in their local police force. As stated in earlier docu-mental posts, law enforcement has had to take on far more societal ills than they are equipped to handle, and guess what? They burn out. They snap. They underperform. They stop being manly men, even if they’re women.My guests address this problem and explain why defunding the police will make this worse, not better.But I don’t let it stay there. Providing better training, less tasks, and more opportunities to be emotionally vulnerable might make better cops, but if it doesn’t change the fact that young black men are two and a half more times likely to be shot than a white man the same age, then it is a white vanity project. I also pointed out the FBI’s findings that there has been an infiltration of white supremacists in law enforcement over the years, something my guests claim they were not aware of, but did not downplay.Credit goes to all three of my guests for their candor about the different ways blacks and whites view the police, and I give them credit for hanging in there when I suggested the Jungian concept of there needing to be more feminine character, not women, in the force. I think all my readers, many of whom are involved in policymaking and politics, as well as all of us thinking deeply and carefully about this moment in our nation’s history will be intrigued by this dialogue.Thank you for continuing to support docu-mental, whether materially, or by being a faithful reader and sharing it with others whom you think will be stimulated to think differently by my thinking out loud. Below is the annotated list of places in the audio where you can hear highlights of the conversation, and also a list of links to the resources and data citations made in the discussion.Peace,Whitney Annotation:3:00 John Marx and John Morrissey on the mental health challenges of policework 12:00 Mental health burn out on the job 14:30 Statistics on lethality of police encounters with blacks 18:20 The need to balance hardness with softness in law enforcement 27:30 The causes of mental health crises on the rise 29:30 How this reinforces built-in bias, and impacts crime, police response to minorities, and black communities' fears of law enforcement 34:00 Is law enforcement a cover fo
41 minutes | Aug 28, 2020
The Road to Reparations: Learn your history. Consider your part in it. Live accordingly.
vol. 2 issue 41Greetings,This past Tuesday marked the 401st anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the ship called The White Lion at Point Comfort, now Ft. Monroe, off the Virginia coast. Today is the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech, part of the peaceful March on Washington. It’s also the 65th anniversary of the disappearance in Mississippi of black teenager Emmett Till, found dead three days later, having been not just murdered, but gruesomely tortured and disfigured by two vigilante white men who believed the lies of a white woman who’d said the 14-year-old had made advances on her. She eventually admitted she’d lied. The woman paid no price but perhaps with her own conscience. The murderers went free. Also 156 years ago today, the Union was debating what to do with the swelling ranks of black men and women who were fleeing to the protection of Union forces to become contraband of war, in hopes it would lead to their freedom. Ultimately, on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which did not free slaves so much as encourage them to flee the clutches of their “owners” and seek protection from the Union Army that desperately needed ranks to continue fighting the rebellious South. It wasn’t until December 1865, after the Civil War had ended, and the 13th Amendment was ratified, that slaves were actually, legally freed in the US.The adoption of that amendment began with the actions of three enslaved Africans who did not want to be sent away from their families by their “masters” to build fortifications against Union troops. Instead, they escaped to Ft. Monroe near Hampton, Virginia, and asked protection from Union Major General Benjamin Butler, who cannily sensed an opportunity to punish the South, but which ultimately rewarded all enslaved Africans. The names of the three men who sparked that fire: James Townsend, Shepard Mallory, and Frank Baker.Why are blacks ‘invisible’ in America?When my son was younger, he worked a series of manual labor and service jobs. Many of his coworkers were young black men from less affluent communities. My son observed how he was treated by managers and customers compared to the treatment they received. “Mom, I don’t think whites actually see black people,” he said to me one day. “If they did, they would notice how hard they work, and how much nicer and more attentive they have to be to others so they don’t get their ass kicked. But then they get treated like they’re not even there.”My son went further. “Considering the b******t they put up with every day, you’d think there would be more black violence against whites.”There is a profound truth packed into my then 17-year-old’s impression of how America works. Namely that white America has gone about its business without much consequence for our inability to “see” our fellow citizens with darker skin. It was in 1952 that black author and social observer Ralph Ellison published his novel, Invisible Man, a fictional account of the very real phenomenon of how a black man making his way through white America post-WWII and before the Civil Rights movement, was largely ignored and disrespected. It won the National Book Award the following year. Yet it was in the last decade that my son, who had not read the book by the way, shared his observation with me, signaling not much has changed for the better.Black Americans today, with protests in the streets and professional athletes taking a knee or refusing to play altogether, certainly have our attention, even amidst a sizeable portion of the nation being on fire, another being under water, still another huge portion clearing the rubble from powerful windstorms, and all of us under siege thanks to the political war raging, the economy collapsing (Wall Street gains are not the economy), and a plague inundating our hospitals and upending our lives. But attention is not what black Americans are looking for, according to my guests in this interview. Aside from an end to unjustified murders and harassment of black men by some white authorities, what is actually at issue is empathy. Black Americans want to trust white Americans are with them, that we won’t abandon them in their pain, and especially that we will not make their pain worse than it has to be. What is their pain? It is the pain of being ignored en masse, of not being remembered in the calculations for who gets access to resources in this country, and of being made to suffer unnecessarily as a result. In particular, it is the pain of being promised something in return for loyalty and sacrifice, only to have the terms change, the promises broken. That is what is explored in this interview with three officers from the Contraband Historical Society, a Hampton, Virginia-based nonprofit educational group focused on the contributions to American freedom made by the contraband slaves in the US Civil War. My guests are Pamela Holley, a contraband slave descendant and research advisor to the Society; Phillip Adderley, president of the Contraband Historical Society and a board member of the Citizens for Fort Monroe National Park (CFMNP). His efforts helped lead to the proclamation by President Barak Obama that May 24th is now “Contraband Day’. And also, Dr. William Wiggins, a former history professor and assistant dean at Columbia University, who is the Society’s historian. The Society was founded more than 20 years ago by another contraband descendant, the late Gerri Hollins.Who were the Contrabands?As detailed in this video, the original contrabands were three slaves who fled for their lives to Ft. Monroe near Hampton, Virginia at the start of the Civil War. When their “owner” demanded their return, the Union general in charge countered that if the men were someone’s “property”, then they could be confiscated, making them contrabands of war.This became known as the Contraband Decision, and it paved the way for what ultimately became 200,000 enslaved Africans leaving their bondage and joining the Union’s fight against the South, attending to the needs of the white soldiers, as well as fighting alongside of them in hopes of being made truly free.Why should we care?The contraband slaves’ story is important because it contains the key to how the Civil War went from being a fight over economics and keeping the nation intact to being centrally about emancipation and freedom. These Africans’ bravery and loyalty forced the Union to consider the unvarnished question, “What do we do with all the black people?”The path to civil rights for blacks in this country eventually might have happened some other way, since, as Dr. King said four days before he was murdered: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” an optimistic view of humanity if ever there was one.However, it is this view that black Americans largely have held from the beginning of their time on this continent, beginning more than four centuries ago. Who best exemplifies the American ideal of ‘freedom’?It was because black men who, despite having been enslaved by some white men, chose to put their trust in still other white men, and believed that through their service they and others like them would be recognized as humans. That they would be free. That other men would treat them justly, would allow them to live in a just universe.As a result, I can only conclude that the freedom I have considered my birthright as an American woman began resonating not with the Constitution, which was directed at white men even if its spirit was expansive enough to eventually include me, but with the trust and actions of these black human beings who understood the nation’s spirit, perhaps better than any other white man living or dead who’d ever tread foot upon this land.That is why we need to care about this story. It is not just black people’s history, it’s all of ours as Americans. To bang on about freedom without acknowledging and respecting that it was black men who made sure we focused on its promise, is to fundamentally misapprehend what Land of the Free, Home of the Brave actually means. ‘What would Jesus do’?When we speak of reparations for the ancestors of the enslaved in this country, many in the white community become angry and defensive. Some of us claim there are not enough resources to retroactively “cover” the price admittedly paid by blacks. Others of us are upset to be placed on the hook for past actions none of us in the present day had any say about. Others claim that since they aren’t racist, they should not be made responsible for racist actions.These sentiments are collected loosely within the argument that if America were a racist country, we would not have elected a black president, and perhaps might soon elect a black vice president. The argument also contends that there are plenty of prominent black Americans such as Gen. Colin Powell, Sen. Corey Booker, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, or former National Security Advisor Susan Rice (no relation), so it’s impossible to claim racism is a barrier to equality in America.Although a plausible defense, it’s a naïve one, one that ultimately deflects taking responsibility for the nation’s original sins of genocide of the indigenous Americans and enslavement of Africans, two sins of our fathers that are so irrefutable, no one dare seriously say otherwise, not even MAGAs.To that end, and especially for the self-proclaimed evangelical Christians who make up just under a third of our total population, I offer an insight that undercuts this position of “not my problem”: If Jesus died for all our sins, and then commanded that to gain entry into heaven, we be like him, then it’s time for us all to clear the spiritual miasma of our nation’s sins by taking responsibility for them, even if we think we had nothing to do with them. That’s my answer to WWJD (“What would Jesus do?”).Many Evangelicals do think this way, thankfully. Well, some of them. There are those who are going off like rockets because of the also indisputable fact that the Black Lives Matter movement is overt in its opposition to all pillars of our white-built hierarchical structures, a
86 minutes | Jul 13, 2020
The use of ritual to help clear the "spiritual pollution" of our democracy and start again
vol. 2 issue 36Ritual is the way to connect to the sacred in all relationships; they help us live out our meaning on a daily basis. -Gwendolyn Reece, PhD, High Priestess of the Assembly of the Sacred WheelGreetings, Baptism of fire. Dark night of the soul. Wrestling with the angels. There was a time when the advent of a spiritual crisis, one that challenged our sense of what matters in life, was viewed as an honorable experience that marked the intersection between our human struggle and the divine. Crises once were widely seen as opportunities to move forward in our understanding of ourselves in relationship to our soul and spirit, to others in our lives, and to the world at large and all things seen and unseen, within it. Not a religious person, nor one to speak in terms of God, I do believe that as I have aged, I have witnessed a national calamity where the more materialistic and reductionist we have become, the more our spiritual crises have become a cause for shame. Frequently, they are even cause for diagnosis.Yet, there will never be enough pills or mental health personnel to meet the demand for help through the acute existential crises so many of us are experiencing right now while the coronavirus, our pathetic response to it, and the teetering economy, have all laid bare just how shallow our sense of national purpose is, and has been for some time. We are all living in communities fractured by the angry identity-driven rhetoric from across the political spectrum, by the fall-out of misappropriated resources, graft, corruption, and too few solutions for problems that therefore seem insurmountable.Too many of us do not feel empowered, and so we feel hopeless. Feeling hopeless is a well-established signal of suicidality at the extreme, or more likely, depression. This publication was founded as a way to discover why anxiety and depression, particularly the existential kind, are so rampant in this nation. Through two volumes and nearly 100 essays, I have docu-mented policies and political stances, showing how the crises are due to how we have focused too hard for too long on the material, but not on what matters. We’re not even sure any more what that means: we know something is wrong, something is “the matter”, but what? And why does not knowing seem to hurt so much?How do we restore hope? How do we prevent losing it? I believe these questions are inextricably tied to our sense of mattering as a nation, our communal raison d’etre.By nature, spiritual crises are disorienting. But I believe they are especially chaotic in our society now. That is because such crises mark times of weakness, and after years of having to grind it out, especially after the financial leveling we took in 2008, in order to survive, weakness of any kind has become a liability. Our national fear of being vulnerable started becoming pathological, I would suggest, after 9-11 when we were attacked on our own soil, scaring us to bits and riling us up in search of those we could punish. These are not the only events that have brought us to this point, but as we have docu-mented over the past two years, they factor largely in why we have a presidential obsession with winning. A pathological fear of weakness is our national sickness, not just his. But ironically, all this winning, and especially this fear of being “soft”, has left us that much more at risk: we don’t know what to do when we are broken, and so when something like the coronavirus hits us in the face, we are easily smashed to bits.Rituals, just like rites of passage, used to be what our ancestors used to contain the chaos of having one’s world view shattered. Rituals offered us tools to move through, to reconnoiter, and to heal.I believe it’s time we consider how ritual might help us as a nation weather what has befallen us and what is yet to befall us. These crises may come through no fault of our own, and at other times, very much by our own choices, however ignorant or calculated they may have been. The point is not to blame, but to heal and become wise.A national soul retrieval is certainly not where I intended this online journal/journey to take us when I initially began it in early 2019, fresh off my career as a health policy and economics reporter, but here we are. If you’d like to read the more policy wonkish stuff, and also listen to the very policy-oriented podcasts, please do go through the approximately 100 essays and podcasts in the archives, because they give a good foundational understanding of how we here have mapped and docu-mented the connections between bad policymaking and lack of soul and spirit. Now, let’s focus on what was lost to our fixation on the material and on winning. What healing tools, soulful questions, character traits, and positive vulnerabilities have we left behind, forgotten, or stashed away where no one would dare suspect we keep them? Let’s retrieve those things. What is still useful? What, after careful examination, can we discard? What do we need to develop that we don’t already have? Added together, how might these tools help us frame what truly matters, ground it, and move forward to develop it?My first guest in this series intended to heal the american (little “a”) state of mind before we return to mapping it, is Gwendolyn Reece, PhD. She is a high priestess with the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, a pagan organization in the mid-Atlantic region. Dr. Reece, who is also an associate librarian at American University, is based in Washington, DC.Among the many important tactics for this soul retrieval mission that Dr. Reece and I discuss, these are the highlights:The concept of a national miasma, or “spiritual pollution” and how art as ritual helps clear it through collective catharsis.How ritual was used to clear the miasma in the first Western democracy, Athens.That ritual and policymaking must be applied in concert if there is to be effective cultural change.How democracy, once cleansed, must maintain justice for all by putting all before the law.The importance of separating church and state, and how the ethereal works together with science to improve society.Why staying local to solve problems is more effective than too-large enttities, and how what happens locally filters up.The critical nature of asking the right questions that will direct us toward our national purpose, the relationships that will support that, how to build community around these relationships, and how to solve the paradox of many visions with only one nation.Practical examples of what starting with ritual and then leading to policy changes might look like, such as with food and water supplies, or labor force structures, might look like.The dangers of “lofty talk” about being spiritual, but in actuality not demonstrating care and kindness for one’s neighbor.The importance of starting “where you are” to affect change.The notion of politics as applied ethics and how discussions about value are the an antidote to identity politics.How can Pagans, Scientists, and Evangelicals work together?What examples of systematically living in an ensouled society do we already have, including Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf Schools?And more.If you’d like to learn more about the classical Greek tradition of ritual healing through theater, this concise video by Dr. Reece discusses how this is achieved by Aeschylus in The Oresteia.Here is a New York Times feature on the use of the Oresteia in particular, and Greek tragedy in general, to help heal war-torn cities such as Mosul, Iraq.For more about the Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy, his comprehensive system for building and sustain an “ensouled” society, visit here.To learn more about the sacred rite of initiation across many cultures, and how it might be applicable to a new America, visit Dr. Reece’s video here.For more about the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, visit here.For more on Dr. Reece’s own work dedicated to Athena and Apollo, visit here.And, to learn more about how the Wiccan tradition builds community, there is a conference scheduled in 2021. Learn more here.A dystopian short story I wrote years ago and published in 2018 in the fiction anthology Grace and Gravity, speaks to the idea of a collective catharsis. Here’s an interview I gave about the piece I wrote, and information on how you can obtain a copy of the anthology where it appears.The transcript of this conversation will be available soon for patron subscribers. These videos are not “quick hits”. They are neither rushed, yet neither do they meander. They take the time necessary for subscribers to learn new ways of thinking, new questions to ask, and new processes to consider adopting. My intention is to create an entire library of such videos that soon will live behind a paywall. Not a formal curriculum per se, but a collection of topics that together add up to a comprehensive line of inquiry on how to rebuild a better democracy. For now, this is freely available to the public. As you probably noted, I have also included the audio only, in case you prefer to continue just listening to podcasts.Thank you so much for your time and interest.Peace.Whitney This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit documental.substack.com/subscribe
60 minutes | Feb 28, 2020
Does psychiatry reduce or increase our suffering, and are we powerless to change how it is practiced?
vol. 2 issue 7Greetings,It was 2017. I was in a posh conference room at a five star hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. An elder statesman of the psychiatric community who’d recently stepped down from his post as leader of one of the nation’s oldest and most venerated mental health hospitals and research facilities, was giving an honorary address. The room was filled with esteemed psychiatrists. I was there to report. Among the man’s many startling claims was that psychiatry was broken, and was likely to get worse before it got better, especially if the field continued to view patients as pathways to profits instead of persons in need of succor. I had never heard anyone in the profession take such a public stand before. One psychiatrist in attendance, not unsympathetic to what the speaker was saying, nonetheless referred to it in conversation with me later as a “fever dream”.Most intriguing of all was the speaker’s assertion that by 2067:“Most physicians will be employees of one out of four major health care nonprofit corporations that are vertically or horizontally integrated systems of care…managed care will be perceived as a regrettable experiment of the late 20th century ending in the first part of the 21st century. With the enactment of a universal single payer system of care, the high-cost intrusive middle management of carve-out behavioral health care companies will become moot… [Further,] significant advances [in science]…will make the prior 200 years of psychiatric care seem crude, quaint, and absurd.”More than a decade before this, the psychiatrist and noted humanitarian, as president of the American Psychiatric Association, had chastised his colleagues for allowing a dissolution of their professional values, and thus a loss of credibility in the eyes of the public. In particular, he’d called out the need to reverse the influence of the pharmaceutical industry the field, and declared war on his fellow psychiatrists’ reluctance to fight for the rights of their patients across many fronts. He also called out the lax standards of scientific inquiry in the field. As the speaker re-iterated in an interview with me later, he was deeply disappointed in his colleagues for not sharing his alarm over the drop in psychiatry’s professionalism. What struck me then and stays with me now is the sense that the speaker was genuinely broken hearted over what he had seen his beloved profession become. I thought about his sorrow as I was editing this podcast episode of docu-mental. It occurred to me that whether or not he realized it, what he was describing was the erosion of freedom in psychiatry.Freedom’s erosion looks like this:It is the insurance industry with their need to deliver shareholder profits, not psychiatrists with their clinical judgement, that has ultimate say over the treatment algorithms, the time spent with patients, and the length of time for treatment. With help from the pharmaceutical industry, insurance got and keeps that power to determine treatment through policies held in place by legislators. Why do they put such restrictions in place? Because too often, as I have also seen firsthand, the legislators don’t really understand what they are agreeing to, and take at face value what the lobbyists tell them makes sense. The lobbyists justify their position with scientific data derived from studies designed in favor of their interests. When there is protest against their findings, they claim that science is science, and their results are scientific. Yes, science is indeed science, but there are many ways to occlude the whole of the scientific findings. One is that when outcomes aren’t favorable, too often they are kept quiet, never to be seen by the public, despite calls to publish them in a public database.The result is drugs that are marketable, in part because their efficacy can be proven in some cases (if not all), which results in treatment that is quicker and often cheaper than less metric-laden methods, which helps insurance tighten the noose even more on the necks of psychiatrists who know that other methods also work, even if they take far more time but are ultimately more enduring if the end point is a reduction in anxiety and depression, a will to live and connect. Why aren’t those other methods studied? Some will say they are too difficult to measure. But that is a half truth. Measurement, while important, is too often tied to money, and the power of so-called “interventions” and “treatments” like listening, connecting, and empathy are immeasurable, and so offer no profit margin. In healthcare now, money matters more, no matter how often we hear the protests that is not true. I’ve heard those protests from (mostly) men with their academic and industry affiliated credientials, standing at those podiums in those posh five star hotels in glamorous locations, paid for in part by sponsorships from drug companies. The story coming from the men and women standing at the podiums in the less luxurious conference rooms where meetings of community psychiatrists — the ones you and I might ask to help us if we can gain access to them — is that there is a lack of resources being made available for people in crisis, and they, the mental health professionals trying to help them, are starting to feel pain themselves because they feel helpless to do so. That is a loss of freedom.All that money, they argue, such as the National Institutes of Mental Health’s 4.5 billion spent to study things like whether schizophrenia has a specific genetic code — something we will not know for years, if we ever know — could be put to better use now, in this moment, to help ease the pain and suffering of so many patients with schizophrenia made worse by the lack of basic safety net provisions for them once in place in this country, such as housing, food, basic healthcare. This causes moral injury to the psychiatrists who are forced to act not in the best interests of their patients, but of The System.What actually is The System? I don’t have a fancy definition for it. I just see it and have experienced it as the collected mass of agency and power we give over as individuals when we don’t ask good enough questions about how our assent to something that enriches some now will rob us later. That mass becomes too solid for us to push against as individuals. To break it down will take the force of enough of us waking up to our lost power and pushing against that mass all at once until it disintegrates, at least enough to break through, reclaim the good, and rebuild.There was a time before psychiatry was so subsumed by the blob that is The System. It was the time before the discovery and industrial manufacture of psychotropic drugs, a time when there was less at stake financially for clinical psychiatric researchers. That was the time the speaker that day in that fancy conference room came of age in the field. He was describing not a distant utopia, but his non-fevered dream of the potential the field once had to help people not just heal their pain but grow and become more humane. Like any field of study or industry, at a certain point, when the system becomes The System where “everybody does it”, whatever “it” is, then resistance becomes, if not futile, then nearly so. In medicine, this places psychiatrists and other clinicians in a situation where it is hard to uphold their oath to do no harm. This erodes freedom.This intersection of the American notion of freedom and how mental healthcare is delivered is of keen interest to me. I see a national cognitive dissonance when we are told by our leaders that America is a free country, when held at the mercy of monopolistic entities such as insurance, pharmaceutical companies, and also policymakers, we clearly are not. I believe there is a way to reverse this conundrum. It begins with waking up to what has happened, to how we’ve outsourced ourselves to The System. That’s when we can ask better questions, find better pathways.In this episode of docu-mental, I speak with Paula J. Caplan, PhD, a clinical and research psychologist at Harvard University’s Hutchin’s Center, and the author of several books including They Say You're Crazy: How the World's Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who's Normal. Dr. Caplan is also the recipient of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry’s 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award, among numerous other accolades. As a research psychologist, Dr. Caplan also was a committee member involved in creating the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), before she resigned in protest (the DSM is now in its 5th edition).Dr. Caplan takes a bold stance against psychiatry. She believes that the field causes more harm than good, and that the harm begins with diagnosis. I find some of Dr. Caplan’s claims problematic, and I do not believe psychiatry as a field is inherently harmful, as you will hear me explain in this episode. And despite my misgivings about the pharmaceutical industry overall, I also have seen where drug interventions are positive, life saving even, which is why, unlike Dr. Caplan, while I do not believe drugs should be in the ascendant, I do think they are important treatment options. Still, Dr. Caplan is utterly correct to say that the problems which do exist in psychiatry will not be adequately addressed from the inside, as the speaker that day hoped, but by lay people such as you and me. Change will begin when we educate ourselves and ask better questions about just how much power we give up once we enter the mental health system at any point, not just through the door of psychiatry. During this podcast, we do not name any specific individuals, as I am not interested in blaming or fighting. I am interested in finding avenues for change. I also chose not to name the speaker, although his remarks, name, and affiliations are listed below, if you want to read what he said for yourself. Just as he urged psychiatrists from the inside to stop playing the game, I suggest you can, too. See your part in the madness. Ask questions. Reclaim your freedom.Dr. Caplan shared many resources where you can begi
1 minutes | Apr 22, 2019
Rep. Cummings talks to docu-mental, and Saudis drink our watery milkshake
vol. 1 issue 4April 22, 2019Hello, First, while attending a concert at the Library of Congress, I ran into House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). You might recall the docu-mental post musing about Chairman Cummings’s friendship with fellow committee member Mark Meadows (R-NC). I told him about what I had written and asked him about their friendship and how it might help the work he and Meadows are currently undertaking on the committee, including several investigations into potential illegalities engaged in either by POTUS 45 and/or his administration. Click on the link above to hear Chairman Cummings’s response.Thanks for reading and helping this newsletter grow. The docu-mental newsletter is your only source for reliable commentary about the underlying mental framework driving american policy and culture. Your enthusiasm for it is so gratifying and catalyzes me to keep thinking of new ways to get you thinking. If you like docu-mental, please forward it, and suggest that your friends and family subscribe. Later this year, we will be offering both free and paid content. Get in on the ground floor by subscribing here now.Now, let’s docu-mental some news.WhitneyAre the Saudis drinking our milkshake?Photo of the Palo Verde Valley, Calif., Dick Lyon, creativecommons.orgThere’s been an uptick in national and even international coverage of a Saudi Arabian company, the publicly traded Almarai, owning water rights in the extraordinarily drought-stricken Palo Verde Valley in California. A recent article in the UK’s Guardian asks:What business does a foreign company have drawing precious resources from a US desert to offset a lack of resources halfway around the globe? If this question is ever to be addressed as a matter of policy, any lasting solution will need to be framed less as a question of proximity to a natural resource and more as one of whether access to it is a basic human right. The answer is not so straight forward.We all need access to potable water to live. By worrying over who should “own” the rights to that water, we imply that “rights” are commodities. In this equation, we are forced to buy what we need to live. It’s not going to be there for us unless we can produce something of value in exchange for access to it. But “rights” have a superior meaning in this country, because we are Constitutionally guaranteed the right to pursue happiness. We’re less likely to be happy if we’re dead or sick, which is what happens when we don’t have access to potable water. The Saudis need to buy the water to grow alfalfa to feed Saudi cows. Cows, in the desert. Almarai is one of the world’s largest dairy farming operations, and according to its Wiki page, the largest vertically integrated one. Let that sink in. Cows. Desert. Biggest dairy operation on planet. Almarai alone (it’s one of several such dairies in the desert) has upwards of 150,000 head of cattle alone. Air conditioned cows? Of course. Desert. 150 liters of water per cow to drink, per day. Desert. You get the idea. Alfalfa is water-intensive. Saudi Arabia is a desert (you knew that). In 2016, the SA Kingdom outlawed alfalfa farming because it was depleting their water supplies. They bought up rights to our water instead. Water that flows through a drought-stricken desert valley. Water we allow to be used without limit because unlike the Saudis, we haven’t imposed restrictions on it, and given the political pull of the big agricultural insterests — including Almarai’s, which includes 16% of all water rights in the Palo Verde Irrigation District — restrictions are not coming any time soon, if ever. The PVID is the modern day benficiary of a first-come, first-served prize of a claim to the river in California, purchased from the U.S. federal government by an 1800s San Francisco-based prospector named Thomas Blythe. Blythe paid for exclusive rights to the river for mining and farming, and now, because it was historically the first claim in the state on the river’s waters, whoever owns it still gets unlimited, first dibs on the water. That means members of the PVID pay about $75 more or less per acre for access to the water. As the Guardian points out, this arrangement does nothing to discourage profligate use of the water, since the rate is the same no matter how much is used.The only thing farmers in the valley are required to pay is overhead for making the water available. Oh, and by the way…the Colorado River is at a record low.Let’s back up a moment to see why cows are living in the desert to begin with, and why the Saudis want our nation’s water supply to sustain them. In the late 1970s, Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer sought to implement food self-sufficiency in his country. Begging the question as to whether Saudi desert dairy farming could ever truly be a self-sustainable form of agriculture, because importation of fresh dairy across long distances is tricky, the only way to achieve local dairy food autarky was to source and import water and feed from elsewhere. Even more ironic, the technology used originated in the California and Arizona deserts. Almarai has its fans in the Palo Verde Valley. It’s a major employer in the area, offering benefits like healthcare plans and vacation, and it buys alfalfa from other farms, too. Here’s a quote from the Guardian article“The Saudis, they’re here buying up at a good price,” [the assistant manager of the Palo Verde Irrigation District] explained. “They’re just the same as everyone else. They buy local. It’s a shot in the arm for the economy.” But it’s doing all this “good” by profiting off a system that if unchecked, will destroy the valley by draining it dry. Who wins then? For a startling look at the intensive use of resources Saudis and other Middle Eastern countries rely upon for their mega dairy farms, here is an article CNN.com ran in 2013. Just this month, National Geographic reports that the Kingdom has slurped up so much of its own water supply to slake its dairy habit, that four-fifths of the underground freshwater supply there is G-O-N-E. Did I mention it’s a desert? And because it rarely rains in the desert, National Geographic reports:One of the planet's greatest and oldest freshwater resources, in one of its hottest and most parched places, has been all but emptied in little more than a generation. Almarai owns still more water rights in Arizona, and even more in Argentina, which also has its own water challenges. And although the Saudis deny it, they’ve been accused of some serious human rights violations in pursuit of water in places like Ethiopia. And while no one has declared human rights violations are at play in California, not publicly anyway, the American Journal of Public Health reports that mental health concerns directly related to drought fears are real and on the rise.Meanwhile, the Saudi Kingdom pushes news reports like this one celebrating the desalination technology it sells to drought-stricken California! Permit me please to point out the obvious. This is insane. We sell access to our fresh water sources to foreigners who may or may not have our best interests at heart, from whom we then purchase technology to desalinate the oceans when what we might do is better manage the fresh water we just sold to the very people selling us technology that will make the oceans drinkable. This is precisely the kind of cognitive dissonance inherent in our policy making that makes people anxious and depressed. It also leads to scarcity mentality, suspicion of others, and fears over whether there is enough to go around. There isn’t enough to go around, by the way. If there were, then the Saudis wouldn’t need to know how to desalinate the oceans.There are some other considerations at play in the valley. One is that Almarai and PepsiCo together are the parent companies of the largest Egyptian-based dairy producer, Beyti, which is what allowed Almarai to become the integrated international behemoth it is. Another is that law suits are flying between PVID and the entity representing various cities that rely on the district for their municipal water supplies. At issue is whether the cities are collectively purchasing farms to lie fallow while diverting the water to the cities instead. And then there is the recent show down between the nearby Imperial Irrigation District and the Trump administration over whether a drought plan the president signed into law violates California environmental laws.These factors are germane because they are manifestations of the deeper faultline in the argument: do we value the right to profit over the right to live? The focus should be on how we define the word “right”. Once the billionaire Saudi prince established food “sustainability”, however dubious, in his homeland, he went on to build his company into the world’s largest and most profitable dairies — with water Californians are now fighting over because Californians sold it to his company. Why did he have the “right” to ask to buy that water, and why did Californians have a “right” to sell it? Does anyone have the right to profit exponentially while others are fighting to surivive now that access to the source of those profits is cut off or drasitcally limited? Would it be a violation of anyone’s rights if officals at the PVID only sold water rights to organizations that demonstrated committment to sustainable water management practices?These are the real questions we need to address not just in California, but as a nation. How we answer them will determine whether we achieve effective policy making around access to resources, or whether we continue to make ourselves crazy. From There Will Be Blood:Stay tuned for our first podcast of Washington Remembers, coming in May. We will speak with Reagan biographer and former Time Magazine White House Bureau Chief, Laurence I. Barrett. He’ll talk about the behind-the-scene feuds between Barbara and Nancy, why a certain photo exists of Larry seated on a couch with Nancy’s stocking feet up by his knees (we will run that photo…), and what Reagan was really like when he was off camera, among other unexpected tidbits. This is a public episode. If you’d like to disc
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