Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Empty Soul

According to medicine, there is no cure for any mental illness. Sometimes, unpredictably, people get better. But that is true of any physical illness, too, without any kind of medical intervention. In general, though, all that medicine can do is offer a pill or a treatment that will alleviate the symptoms for a time. But once you have had one depressive episode, they say, the odds of getting another go through the roof. And the episodes are supposed to get worse as you get older.

This is just what you would expect from many untreated chronic illness.

And the prognosis is worse for any of the more severe “mental illnesses”: schizophrenia, bipolar.

In sum and in simple, psychiatry does not work.

The key is the fundamental error of treating a psychic or mental phenomenon as if it were a physical one.

Mental illness should not be dealt with by doctors--physicians. They lack either the training or the inclination. It is like asking the nerds to play football, or the jocks to do the programming. You might as well send someone with TB to a voodoo doctor. It might alleviate the symptoms for a while, might make the patient feel better, giving an illusion that something meaningful has been done. But is not going to do anything to cure the disease, because its underlying causes are physical, not spiritual. Similarly, treating mental illness as a physical illness is not going to help much, because its underlying causes are mental.

TB or not TB: that is the question

Yeah, granted, there is some crossover. A better attitude can lead to better outcomes in illness, and no doubt physical pain can cause emotional effects. But how efficient is it to just pray on the riverbank for a boat, instead of ever building one?

The area of human knowledge that deals with the soul of man, with the mental realm, is firstly, religion, and more generally, the humanities: the cultural complex, philosophy, religion, and the various arts.

I will go further than that: the cause for the current growing epidemic in mental illness is at least in part a general and growing lack of grounding in the humanities.

The whole point of a culture is to give its audience or human constituency the tools they need for a good and happy life. Starting, of dire necessity, with the basic questions: why are we here, and what is the goal. But beyond that, the culture gives us the tools we need to live properly, most definitely including the tools to avoid psychic dangers and to handle the psychic shocks that may come.

Beginning with the nursery rhymes, animal fables, and fairy tales we traditionally tell our children, which are full of necessary wisdom. And which, of course, in recent generations, have been largely abandoned.

If you have read the recent post on my blog “By Their Fruits You Shall Know them,” you will recognize, if not agree with, my point that the reports of Jesus and the apostles casting out demons in the New Testament were really about curing depression and other mental illnesses.

Jesus actually gives this bit of theory at one point:

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12: 43-5).

That would logically be the result of taking only palliative treatments, over time.

Demons, depression and mental illness can occupy our psyches because they are empty. Most vitally, of course, they need to be filled with religious direction. We, most of us, more and more, are walking around like little robots, thinking of ourselves as no more than robots, machines to eat and breed. Our lives are empty, meaningless. The medical model assumes and positively encourages this. And so the demons come to party in our empty minds.

We need the humanities to furnish our souls.

One reason—the usual reason—people give for not studying the humanities any more is that there is no money in it. There are no jobs. Especially on the right, these days, there is much mockery of the humanities as a self-indulgent easte of time and resources. But it is at least as bad on the left, which has replaced the humanities, while retaining only the name, with Marxist “social science.” Which is entirely mechanistic, and meant to be on the model of physical science, only viewing humans as, again, little empty robots.

The argument that the humanities are of no value for finding or doing a job is circular. There are no jobs because we have decided to do without the humanities, without culture. If people decided they did not need houses, and could sleep as well outdoors in the rain and snow, there would be no jobs in house construction. But that would not mean house construction is a useless skill. It means people are misguided and are causing themselves unnecessary suffering.

All schoolteachers through to the end of high school should be trained in the humanities. That is what education is—the transmission of the culture. That should be their area of expertise, and that is what they should be teaching.

The specialized skills needed for this or that job? College or university is time for these. Otherwise, you are wasting kids’ time with things of no use to them. How many times have you heard someone complain that they never used any of the chemistry or algebra they had to so painstakingly study in high school? When did you last have to figure out the length of the hypotenuse of a triangle?

And if you did, didn’t you just have to learn it again on the spot anyway?

And wasn’t that easy enough to do?

Perhaps most destructive of all is the teaching of science in the schools. It conveys the impression that science is a body of known facts about the world that we should know: fish breath with gills, water is made of hydrogen and oxygen, and so forth. But that is not what science is at all: science is a method for questioning and finding out about the world, and the assumption that some things are simply known and determined is its opposite. People leave high school with the belief that they “know” all kinds of things that, over their lifetime, science will discover to be untrue. Putting their education in science at cross purposes to science, and filling them with falsehoods.

The schools that everyone goes through should stick to subjects and skills that everyone will need. That means mostly the humanities: the meaning and purpose of life, the skills for life, the skills to learn, the skills to acquire and to evaluate new information or arguments. And, sure, reading and writing and basic arithmetic—what is sometimes called numeracy. The rest is useless or harmful.

And then, the second essential sphere of the humanities is to fix what has gone wrong in a soul. They are the necessary training for anyone working in the field of “mental illness.” This is when you need a doctor—a doctor of philosophy. The knowledge acquired in a medical school is useless here.

Art therapy, cognitive therapy, music therapy—lots of studies show they work. But we are only doodling around the edges here. “Cognitive therapy,” for example, is an absurdly primitive and inadequate version of the full arsenal of philosophy.

And all of it is hollow and unlikely to work until we have the core and foundation in place: the meaning and purpose of it all. And that is religion.

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