Saturday, August 09, 2014


On Sunday I sorta try to post something “religious” -- whatever that is.  It’s just a conceit, esp. when you think that EVERYTHING is actually religious.  But we’ve got a three-way problem in almost everything that we’re struggling with these days.  In the past the best thinking about how one ought to live life has been based on observation, both watching society to see what works for the greater good and watching one’s own internal being to understand behavior.  We split out into two ends of the spectrum: one punishing and the other redeeming. 

The problem is not figuring out what people ought to do -- that’s pretty obvious.  The problem is that we don’t do it and we don’t know why or we just can’t help it.  We WANT to do what we shouldn’t. Some think it’s hereditary, some think it’s the result of psychological weakness, some think it’s a moral failing -- that takes it onto religious moral grounds.

Often the larger culture is crowding people into doing bad stuff, but building consensus about how that ought to be addressed is nearly impossible because of this three-way problem.  Left-right-scientific.   Pointing out that a few people are profiting from many people’s suffering is countered by the idea that their suffering is their own shortfalls, weakness, deficiency, and origins.  They are “different” lesser beings.  The liberal/conservative religious spectrum is now challenged by physical research, embodiment.

Most prescriptions and laws are simply a matter of advice and punishment.  Thinking and compassionate people are understanding and willing to do what works, if they can figure out what it is.  They are pressed by “morality” that demands response and obedience.  At last what we have figured out in the past and even used for centuries, is now challenged by new technology that clearly shows all theories so far were at best incomplete.  Everything is changed by our technical ability to perceive what wasn’t even known to exist until now.  But it’s hard to wrap one’s head around it.

Norm Holland

For instance, I subscribe to Discussion about the Arts PSYART@LISTS.UFL.EDU; a website owned by Norman Holland, who is the reason I signed up, since I admire his writing.  The list is centered on psychoanalysis and literature and therefore on older urban people, highly educated, sophisticated, strongly anchored, and mostly male.  They are also very busy and have had little reason or opportunity to keep up with things like brain research.  For the most part, they do not psychoanalyze young boys though they have a lot of theories about them.

Yesterday in other places I was reading about the effect of porn on the brain and also the investigation of trauma damage by looking directly at the brain.  Even drug use can be actually seen as structural damage. The problem for the Psyart folks is reconciling Freudian principles with the new understanding that comes out of direct (if via instruments) observation and physical interventions like removing tumors or implanting electrical stimulators.  It’s not just a question of accepting this new information, but it also means giving up a kind of theory poetry, as beautiful and beloved as lyric poetry or French Impressionist painting.  Even as they are pressed by their own desire to know and to help others, they are limited by their formal lives. 

A mask made by a veteran with PTSD to show what it feels like.

Today a high-level Manhattan prof asked the list if everyone traumatized will inevitably develop PTSD.  This is a question plentifully addressed with deprived kids, some of whom are considered “resilient.”  Not all soldiers in heavy combat will develop long term PTSD, though physical damage, esp. to certain structures, will change them.  In addition, people who “candle heads” -- as one shrink inelegantly put it to me -- do studies suggesting the possibility of redeeming even damaged brains.  I have time to look for this stuff and read it.  A big time Manhattan analyst does not.  Maybe they ought to engage readers the way lawyers have legal aides.

The porn study was molecular rather than from scanning, and the theory is that the molecule in question is a protein keystone of all addictions.  It’s called “Delta FosB.”   Gary Wilson and his team were studying porn, specifically men who watch a lot of it, and the effect on them over a long period of time.  They claim that boys as young as ten are looking for porn and will easily get hooked because the Internet keeps up a steady stream of hot images, always new, maybe a little edgier all the time, or surprising, maybe spiced with a bit of violence or transgression.  

Gone are the days of studying the Sears catalog underwear pages.  Nor do many people bother to hide Playboy these days.  Instead, an adult who knows a kid is reading the mag might slip some condom packets among the pages.  But the appetite developed by escalating intense porn is not going to be sated by any mag at all.

James Bond -- shaken.

Viewing porn that is highly stimulating over a long period of time leads finally to erectile disfunction.  Common sense would say,  “Well, heck, a person can have too much of anything!”  Indeed, there’s a close parallel to eating sweet, salty, spiced foods.  Overusing it leads to craving and then indiscriminate response.  So. . . lectures, attempts to impose control, blah blah blah.  That handsome guy in "Fifty Shades of Gray" will soon be impotent.  Just like a real life James Bond who drank as much as the movie version would by now be dead from alcoholism.

When the blood assayers got into studies of porn users, they found a molecule:  DeltaFosB.  High stimulus, repeated, increased in intensity and so on -- to the level of addiction -- will make the level of this stuff go up to the point where it is blocking normal function.  It takes a couple of months of abstinence for it to fall back down.  Those of us who work on our eating or exercise levels will recognize that span -- 6 to 8 weeks before the “habit” has formed or unformed.  The habit is molecular.

We come to the study of brain trauma through violent sports like football.  The molecular addiction is in the fans, the traumatic damage is in the players.  What was often thought to be merely macho brutish behavior natural to the kinds of people who would play such a game, has turned out since to be due to chasms in the brain tissue.  The good news is that the Jello-like tissue with its responsiveness is capable of regenerating in large part.  Without emotional analysis -- just starving out DeltaFosB.  Going cold turkey.

This study was about men, esp. boys, because their brains are just forming and could possibly build DeltaFosB into the underlying scaffolding of their brains, where it can’t be removed.  I’m thinking about what the results might be with women, who have their own porn addictions, esp. to the drama of it all, the rejection and reclaiming, the abuse.  In “Fifty Shades of Gray”  the female effect of the porn (and most readers of this book are female) is NOT pretending to be the dominating, all-knowing, wealthy man, but identifying with the innocent, submissive woman.  That’s also addictive, kicking up the endogenous drugs like adrenaline or serotonin. Soon, hooked people cannot leave men who beat them up.  In fact, that may be MORE powerful than the male idea of dominating women, even when transgressive violence is added.

So is addiction just a scientific medical problem?  Can we give up all the moral commandments about not taking drugs, not abusing people, not rejecting anyone who is struggling on the wrong side of society?  Just take a pill?  Even if we accept the science-based principles that everything is connected and everything is always changing, including one’s endogenous chemicals, the new information does not change conservative ministers who send women back into addiction to abusive husbands because of the “morality” of ownership notions of "divinely ordained" marriage.  That's gotta go.

A sense of justice would also help.

This is where we need the help of the heavyweight bigshot male urban authorities in their Manhattan offices.   They must help us embrace the addicted, not punish them.  Demonizing abusers and angelizing those abused is only Manicheism: outdated.  BOTH are addictive.  Addiction is NOT a moral issue.  Behavior towards people who are addicted IS a moral issue.  To get change, add science.

PS:  I'm told that Daniel Amen is not what he purports to be.  Part of science is checking out the experts carefully, which I didn't do.  Therefore, this is not a scientific blog.  More speculative.

No comments: