Every so often a coincidence occurs that points to a larger reality. Such was the case this past Saturday, when a mentally unstable man in Arizona went on a shooting spree, killing six people and injuring fourteen others.
I started the day listening to one of my favorite radio shows, People's Pharmacy, on Wisconsin Public Radio. The show features interviews with groundbreaking researchers on health-related concerns, and also informs listeners about natural remedies (non-pharmaceutical) for common illnesses. Last Saturday's segment was a bit of a surprise, discussing the behavioral effects of various medicines, with violence to others often being the result. The drugs mentioned range from psychoactive treatments like Prozac and Adderall, to drugs for stopping smoking (Chantix), treating malaria, hepatitis, insomnia and even asthma. The guest interviewed for the show was Thomas J. Moore, senior scientist for the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, authored a study titled Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence Towards Others.
I was a bit stunned by this revelation. You are almost not an "American" if you aren't taking some kind of medicine. Drugs are our religion, along with entertainment, food, and disrespect. I had written a comment titled Voluntary stupidity about how our culture is dumbing down, in response to an article in Salon. I have been noticing in recent years that there has been a regression in ordinary interactions with people, with basic communication becoming increasingly difficult. I was hoping to explore causation, but had yet to delve into the subject.
Later in the day I heard about the shooting in Arizona, and like most people was shocked and saddened. Also like most people, I assumed the killer was the garden variety "right wing" nut case. It turns out I was half-right.
It took a couple of days to make the connection with the People's Pharmacy revelation. Salon was the first of the media to take the discussion away from "left" to "right" political rhetoric, withthis offering on Sunday. It was becoming increasingly clear that the assassin, Jared Loughner, is a person with some form of serious mental impairment.
I don't contend that medicines are the cause of Mr. Loughner's mental state. No one knows the cause. I just don't believe that people spontaneously go crazy, any more than they just "get" cancer, as if there is some sort of disease lottery in which we all have tickets.
In the coming days we will be hearing about Jared Loughner's life history ad absurdum, with speculations about what may have caused his decline. Psychiatrists and psychologists will emphasize that we don't know what causes schizophrenia, but that it seems to appear spontaneously, usually when a person is in his or her teens to early twenties. Could it be that schizophrenia coincides with the introduction of a pharmaceutical in a person's life?
I know from personal experience that medicines can be very dangerous to one's health. Two years ago my (then) primary care physician pressured me into taking the drug Simvastatin (also known as Zocor), a cholesterol medication. Within five days of taking this drug I was in severe pain from head to toe, joint and muscle. It was unbelievable. I missed seven days of work, and finally forced myself to return, barely able to walk.
I read up on the symptoms in various sources, and the consensus indicated that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. Doctors at the Rheumatology department at the Madison veterans hospital diagnosed the problem as Polymyalgia Rheumatica, a variation of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Since the onset of this disease I have lost forty pounds (I gained ten back), and have had to eliminate several foods, chiefly tomatoes and other nightshades, yeast, sugar, gluten and soy products. I still have some soreness, and if I eat any of these foods I soon am in an elevated level of pain. I should add that the only solution standard medicine has for this condition is drugs - pain medications and Prednisone, a very dangerous steroid. The only real help I got was from a couple of naturopaths in Madison, who told me to give up the foods that were aggravating the problem, and showed me how to do various internal cleansings.
I should consider myself lucky that I didn't have the kind of drug reaction Thomas Moore wrote about.
Whatever the cause of Jared Loughner's illness, we might want to ask ourselves why it is that in the supposedly most advanced civilization in human history that we are so vulnerable to such people. It will be argued that we have inadequate treatment for the mentally ill, that we have a culture of violence, that guns are too readily available, that our hateful and violence-inciting political rhetoric gets people riled-up, that we need more stringent law enforcement, more guns, less "liberal" permissiveness, and on, and on, and on.
Some of these arguments may be true, but they all miss a greater point. We live in a society that has traded community for anonymity. In pre-industrial societies, people were integrally connected to their immediate surroundings, with social organizations that wedded them to to family, tribe, church, temple, mosque, village, and manor. A person with a mental disorder would be noticed, and dealt with in any of a number of ways, from folk remedies to confinement and/or execution. The Catholic Church's proclivity for burning at the stake comes to mind as an approach we might want to avoid.
Most interesting to me are what we tend to refer to as shamanic practices by traditional societies. These methods vary around the planet, but are still used by healers far and wide, often with astounding results.
In my understanding the source of mental illness is either spirit possession or the person being stuck in a Middle World journey. This fits perfectly with the research about drug reactions. The drugs themselves may not be the cause of what we call schizophrenia, but catalysts for the persons who take them to enter altered states of consciousness, entering shamanic states that are beyond their capacity to control and unable to exit.
It is almost comical to me when I go to medical appointments. No matter who I meet with, and no matter how well-meaning the various practitioners, specialists, and clinicians, the one thing they have in common is an underlying arrogance about the authority of their approach to healing. Some of it is well-founded, I have to admit. Surgeons of various kinds - neuro, cardio, general, etc. - have good reason to trust in their methods. Others, in the symptom-pharmaceutical school of thought, have no conception of their short-sightedness.
We can change. Global warming, er, climate change, will make us change. Depletion of natural resources will make us change. Social breakdown will make us change. The impossibility of our infinite growth economic system will make us change. And, in concert with all these factors, seemingly random violence will make us change.
It's pretty amazing, really, that a single event like this shooting can serve as such a hologram for where we are as a people, and how its synergy with everything else about our culture points so unmistakably toward a solution. The kind of society we have now is doomed. We're being told this on a daily basis. The only question at this point is when we finally give up on the mass industrial system and all its evils, and start creating a civilization that will last.
Here's a song for a little inspiration. Here's another.
For an example of the power of shamanic healing, click here. Clickhere for a quick video of the program.
Wisconsin Public Radio's Here on Earth aired this segment on shamanic practice in December 2009. You can access it by clicking on any of these links:
For links to other segments of the program, click here.
Here's something to read about the connection between shamanic states and mental illness.