January 26, 2012
The South Island of New Zealand is quite unlike any other place on earth. The two large islands of New Zealand rose from the sea when the two tectonic plates that form the Pacific Rim clashed together, producing in the South Island a string of volcanoes running from north to south. All these volcanoes are now extinct but remain as high mountains. To the east, between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, are the vast Canterbury plains, created from alpine sediment washed down the rivers. To the west the mountains fall steeply away into the Tasman Sea. Sail west from these shores into the teeth of the Roaring Forties and you will not see land until you reach Patagonia.
At present there is one crisis after another in the world, and one way or another, many of these crises creates a crisis in our own life. We can't help feeling anxious. What can we do?
We don't have any control over these crises. The government cuts a service we use, the food we buy costs more each week, and there is nothing we can do to prevent these things from happening. However, there is one thing we do have control over. This is how we interpret we interpret, that is, give a meaning to each crisis. Always, what we do decide to do is determined not by what has happened but how we have interpreted what has happened.
On September 20 a young man called Dan Moody phoned and said that he had got my name from the BPS. He was from the Voice of Russia and would I do a recorded interview on the topic of dictators. I thought that might be interesting, and agreed to do the interview on September 22. My interviewer would be Catharine Kudashkina.
Regarding my chapter 'The Comforts of Reason' in Living Together edited by David Kennard and Neil Small, Quartet Books, 1997Wednesday, 31 August 2011 13:36
Regarding my chapter 'The Comforts of Unreason' in Living Together edited by David Kennard and Neil Small, Quartet Books, 1997.
The editors of Living Together invited a number of psychologists and therapists to contribute a chapter in response to their question, 'Could the knowledge and understanding gained through nearly a century of psychoanalytically informed work with individuals, families, groups and organisations be used to contribute to a practical agenda for social change that would increase our emotional health and well-being?'
Last year I became a patron of HVN, the Hearing Voices Network. This network is made up of fearless people who have had the strength to stand up to psychiatrists and show them, well, at least some of them, that their way of understanding what they called ‘auditory hallucinations’ was wrong. Some psychiatrists refused to listen because they hated having to change their minds, but some psychiatrists, notably the Dutch psychiatrist Marcus Romme, did listen and saw that what these fearless people were saying was right. When we hear a voice but there is no one, neither in person or through the media, to speak what we are hearing are auditory memories. Sometimes the auditory memory is some musical refrain, sometimes it is our memory of a particular person’s voice, and sometimes it is a complex memory summarised into an unusual voice and a few words.
When the mutual society Friends Provident became a public limited company in 2001, the Board set up a charitable foundation. In 2003 the foundation commissioned 17 people, of whom I was one, to write a chapter each for the book with the theme 'the right use of money'. (Click here to read the full chapter.)
In February 2011 my website was hacked by someone apparently in Algeria. As soon as he discovered this, Grant, my website host, closed the hole through which the attack had come but by then the damage had been done. We decided that, instead of simply repairing the damage, Grant and his developer Nick would create a new website. Louise and I gave them a list of the changes and additions we wanted. All this took some time. Grant lives on the beautiful north coast of NSW and Nick in the wilds of the Northern Tableland while Louise and I live in London. So it
Stephen Hawkings set the cat amongst the defenders of religion when, in his new book The Grand Design he said that God was 'unnecessary'. He explained, 'Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.' http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/7976594/Stephen-Hawking-God-was-not-needed-to-create-the-Universe.html No doubt he expected that the defenders of religion would be offended by this, and they were. Most people working in the media don’t understand what the basic difference between religion and sciences is, but they know a good story when they see it. They immediately contacted those who would supply the kind of quote the media love.
Mark Rice-Oxley's article in the Guardian (ref) was entitled 'Depression – the Illness That’s Still Taboo' (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/02/depression-mental-health-breakdown). This was an account of Mark’s first experience of depression. On the night of his 40th birthday ‘I really knew something was wrong. . . . A tide of panic was rising.’ During the following nights he felt ‘small and frightened’. Two weeks later at his parents’ home, ‘the house I was born in, the place I still love – I disintegrated.’
He wrote, ‘They used to call it a nervous breakdown. Now it’s depression. . . Depressive illness isn’t like that Monday morning feeling, or getting back from holiday to find that the cold water tank has burst. It’s medical fact, like breaking an arm, only the broken bit is in the chemical circuitry of the brain.’
If there is a special place in heaven for magazines that encouraged freedom of speech Openmind is on its way there. The next issue of Openmind will be its last. It will be replaced in May 2010 by, according to the Chief Executive of MIND, Paul Farmer, by a ‘lively, engaging and thought-provoking magazine that will work alongside an interactive members’ area of our website.’ This will provide ‘the dialogue between service users, professionals and providers so valued in the current publication.’ Thus the one beacon of light in the murky world of the lies and misinformation in the psychiatric system will disappear. However, when historians come to research how thinking about severe mental distress has changed over the twentieth and early twenty-first century, the archives of Openmind will be a vital resource.
Who is David Cameron? We know the facts of his life but not who he is as a person. ‘More spin than substance,’ say many voters. Close friends and colleagues say that they have no idea why he wants power. Is he merely a vacuous politician, or is he a front man for those Tories who are planning a return to the Friedman market-driven, small state economy once they are in power? Cameron’s ideas of ‘the broken society’, and ‘the Big Society’ and the parent-run private school could come from the Milton Friedman Handbook. A sudden, savage cut in public spending would create the shock that is central to the Friedman programme. A hung-parliament that was incompetent and divisive would give these Tories the chance they need.
. . . . . . and What Psychologists and Psychiatrists Don’t Know. This is a lecture that I gave at the British Library on June 1, 2010.
I started thinking about writing a book about lying in those months when we were being told about the certain existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction. But, of course, in the years I was working as a clinical psychologist in the NHS I was dealing with lies all the time. There were the lies we tell when we want to defend a much-loved theory, such as, ‘Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance.’ And there were the lies my clients had been telling themselves since they were small children. The most common lie was, ‘I am, in essence, bad and have to work hard to be good.’ If you want to get depressed, this is the lie you need to tell yourself.
For the last two months I have been out on the road publicising my new book Why We Lie. It was not so much on the road as on trains or waiting at stations to see if the train I need to get is actually going to run. If you are thinking of writing what will be your first book here is something you need to know. Writing the book is the easy part. Then come finding a publisher and, having done so, preparing and checking the text. Then comes the really hard part. Unless you are an A class celebrity, your publisher will have no money to advertise your book. You have to do that by accepting every invitation, however insignificant, to do something that will let people know that your book exists. According to Wikipedia, in the UK in 2005 some 206,000 books were published. It doesn’t matter how good your book is, if people don’t know about it, they won’t buy it. So when your publisher’s publicist says to you, ‘You’ve got an invitation to Much-Binding-in-the–Marsh’s Literary Festival,’ you go. If your publicist says to you that the radio station 7ZH (audience figures 12) want to interview you about your book, you turn up on time and give your wittiest and most entrancing performance.
My two cataract operations are over and the soreness in my eyes have just about disappeared. In that time I’ve learnt a lot, little of which I had expected to learn.
I had planned to spend the week before the first operation resting and practising my relaxation technique for the operation. On the Sunday evening at the beginning of that week I went into the kitchen, switched on the light, and found a rat on the worktop. I have lived in this ground floor flat for 14 years and have never seen as much as a mouse in it. The next twelve days I spent leaping out of bed early so I could be ready for for when Tony from Rentokil arrived, and on other days for when Manuel the builder arrived to repair what Tony had needed to demolish and to block of every place where a rat might squeeze through. The first four days of these twelve days I spent sharing my home with the rat and trying to outwit this cunning, devious and ingenious creature. When there were no more signs of the rat, Tony waited a week before deciding that the rat had finally died from the massive amount of bait it had eaten. By the time I got to hospital I was so glad to have a chance to lie down.
When I started this blog my aim was to write a post each week. So far I’ve met this aim, but the next ten days might prevent me from finishing the posts I’m working on now, one on the continuing drama of Lehman Brothers and one on the work of the psychologist Stanley Milgram. Tomorrow, Monday March 22, I’ll be having the first of two cataract operations. The operation itself, so everyone tells me, is nothing to be concerned about, but after the first operation I’ll have one eye that sees the world clearly but requires reading glasses and the other eye that continues to see the world as sort of smudged and out of focus. The second operation on March 30 should give me two eyes that see clearly, but then I’ll need to find the reading glasses that will suit my two new plastic lenses.
I suppose there’s some sort of irony in all this when you consider that I’m always pointing out that our physical make-up does not allow us to see reality directly.
In my post entitled The Death of a Great Little Magazine I said that Stephen Fry, ‘became notorious for abandoning his role in a West End play and running away to France. However, he returned, confronted his demons, and since then he not only produced such magnificent work but he has become a National Treasure.’ I was basing what I said on what the media had said about what Stephen was doing. Also, I had been watching his television programmes, and heard him speak at the Mind Award lunch where he had been given the Champion title. In my clinical work I have know a large number of people who had been plunged into the hideous whirlpool of anxiety, mania and depression but had managed to find something that had enabled them, not only to emerge from this experience, but to learn from it and become a much wiser person. It seemed to me that this is what Stephen had done.
We’re used to science fiction telling us stories about people travelling in space in a space ship, just as we’re used to walking into a silver cylinder where we’re fed, supplied with drinks, and where we watch television and go to sleep. Time passes, and then we’re told to leave the cylinder whereupon, lo and behold, we find they’ve shifted the scenery and we’re in another country. Why not do something similar when with climate change Earth becomes too uncomfortable a place to live? Instead of arriving at another country we could arrive at another planet or a whole series of planets until we find one as nice as the planet whose climate we have ruined?
For the last forty-odd years Barbara Ehrenreich has been inspecting aspects of American life with a mercilessly critical eye. Her latest book is published under different titles in different countries, but my copy, published in New York by Henry Holt and Company in 2009 is called Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Positive thinking and Positive Psychology are big business in the USA, and like all big businesses in America, Positive Psychology seeks to conquer the world.
Lawrence Summers, ‘Larry’ to his friends, is currently the Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama and thus playing a significant part in the development of American economic policy. He had also been Chief Economist for the World Bank, Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration and President of Harvard University.
Each year I avoid the worst of the English winter by spending those three months in Australia. The place has changed enormously since I lived there, but some things go on forever. When I arrive I am sure to find that the newspapers are covering a story or two about the goings-on of a dishonest business man or politician, and there is an account of someone being beaten up for reasons that might be linked to racism. Sometimes these attacks become major news stories. In 2005 there were the Cronulla riots, and in 2010 the attacks on Indian students in Melbourne.
The Irish currency used to be called the punt. Whenever Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryan Air, was asked why, he would explain, ‘Because it rhymes with banker.
On January 13, 2010 Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of the Goldman Sachs Group, Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase and Co, John J. Mack, Chairman of Morgan Stanley, and Brian T. Moynihan, CEO and President of the Bank of America, testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC). As I read their testimonies I was reminded of one of the ploys that school children use to get out of trouble. Indeed, I remember using it myself when at school. When the teacher is taking the class to task for some misdemeanour, several of the children adopt the pose of ‘not me, miss’ by agreeing with the teacher that what the miscreants have done is most reprehensible and that the teacher is right to take measures against them. These four bankers, so they would have the inquiry believe, have done nothing wrong, but the inquiry was correct to look into the activities of the other bankers and in ordering them to desist.
Tanya Gold is a Guardian columnist whose style is trenchant criticism of the stupid, the self-deluded, and those who manipulate the truth for their own benefit. She also makes her readers laugh – well, most of them. Last September she turned her attention to the Pope’s forthcoming visit to Britain in 2010.
No doubt Gold has views about the Catholic Church and what elevates one man to a position of great power, including the power of infallibility, but here she kept her views to herself. What interested her was one particular Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger. When he arrives in Britain he will be afforded the greatest respect by all our leaders, none of whom will reprimand him or his church for acts that many people would regard as most reprehensible.
The English watch the weather all the time. It’s a popular topic of conversation, something to say when you can’t think of anything to say. English weather has always been changeable. Unless you’re a gardener, you mightn’t have noticed any change in the climate. If you live in Bangladesh, you couldn’t help but notice the rise in sea levels that has already inundated large areas of inhabited land, or, if you lived in Kenya where the Korondille reservoir is empty and people and cattle are dying of thirst, you would know that something had changed.
Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans on August 23, 2005. Three weeks later Naomi Klein, her husband Avi and her colleague Andrew drove around New Orleans to photograph the partially flooded city. As night fell they could not find their way out because none of the traffic lights worked, road signs were destroyed, and debris blocked the streets. They were involved in an accident, and Naomi found herself in an ambulance on her way to hospital. She hoped they were not heading to the partially flooded Charity Hospital where the staff struggled to look after their many patients without electricity or drugs.