Proven Wrong About Many of Its Assertions, Is Psychiatry Bullsh*t?

Some psychiatrists view the chemical-imbalance theory as a well-meaning lie.

Photo Credit: Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock

In the current issue of the journal Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Australian dissident psychiatrist Niall McLaren titles his article, “Psychiatry as Bullshit” and makes a case for just that.

The great controversies in psychiatry are no longer about its chemical-imbalance theory of mental illness or its DSM diagnostic system, both of which have now been declared invalid even by the pillars of the psychiatry establishment.

In 2011, Ronald Pies, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times, stated, “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” And in 2013, Thomas Insel, then director of the National Institute of Mental Health, offered a harsh rebuke of the DSM, announcing that because the DSM diagnostic system lacks validity, the “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.”

So, the great controversy today has now become just how psychiatry can be most fairly characterized given its record of being proven wrong about virtually all of its assertions, most notably its classifications of behaviors, theories of “mental illness” and treatment effectiveness/adverse effects.

Among critics, one of the gentlest characterizations of psychiatry is a “false narrative,” the phrase used by investigative reporter Robert Whitaker (who won the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award for Anatomy of an Epidemic) to describe the story told by the psychiatrists’ guild American Psychiatric Association.

In “Psychiatry as Bullshit,” McLaren begins by considering several different categories of “nonscience with scientific pretensions,” such as “pseudoscience” and “scientific fraud.”

“Pseudoscience” is commonly defined as a collection of beliefs and practices promulgated as scientific but in reality mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method. The NIMH director ultimately rejected the DSM because of its lack of validity, which is crucial to the scientific method. In the DSM, psychiatric illnesses are created by an APA committee, 69 percent of whom have financial ties to Big Pharma. The criteria for DSM illness are not objective biological ones but non-scientific subjective ones (which is why homosexuality was a DSM mental illness until the early 1970s). Besides lack of scientific validity, the DSMlacks scientific reliability, as clinicians routinely disagree on diagnoses because patients act differently in different circumstances and because of the subjective nature of the criteria.

“Fraud” is a misrepresentation, a deception intended for personal gain, and implies an intention to deceive others of the truth—or “lying.” Drug companies, including those that manufacture psychiatric drugs, have been convicted of fraud, as have high-profile psychiatrists (as well as other doctors). Human rights activist and attorney Jim Gottstein offers an argument as to why the APA is a “fraudulent enterprise”; however, the APA has not been legally convicted of fraud.

To best characterize psychiatry, McLaren considers the category of “bullshit,” invoking philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s 1986 journal article “On Bullshit” (which became a New York Times bestselling book in 2005).

Defining Bullshit

What is the essence of bullshit? For Frankfurt, “This lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.”

Frankfurt devotes a good deal of On Bullshit to differentiating between a liar and a bullshitter. Both the liar and the bullshitter misrepresent themselves, representing themselves as attempting to be honest and truthful. But there is a difference between the liar and the bullshitter.

The liar knows the truth, and the liar’s goal is to conceal it.

The goal of bullshitters is not necessarily to lie about the truth but to persuade their audience of a specific impression so as to advance their agenda. So, bullshitters are committed to neither truths nor untruths, uncommitted to neither facts nor fiction. It’s actually not in bullshitters’ interest to know what is true and what is false, as that knowledge can hinder their capacity to bullshit.

Frankfurt tells us that liar the hides that he or she is “attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality.” In contrast, the bullshitter hides that “the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him.”

Are Psychiatrists Bullshitters?

Recall establishment psychiatrist Pies’ assertion: “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” What Pies omits is the reality that the vast majority of psychiatrists have been promulgating this theory. Were they liars or simply not well-informed? And if not well-informed, were they purposely not well-informed?

If one wants to bullshit oneself and the general public that psychiatry is a genuinely scientific medical specialty, there’s a great incentive to be unconcerned with the truth or falseness of the chemical imbalance theory of depression. Bullshitters immediately recognize how powerful this chemical imbalance notion is in gaining prestige for their profession and themselves as well as making their job both more lucrative and easier, increasing patient volume by turning virtually all patient visits into quick prescribing ones.

Prior to the chemical imbalance bullshit campaign, most Americans were reluctant to take antidepressants—or to give them to their children. But the idea that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance that can be corrected with Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants sounded like taking insulin for diabetes. Correcting a chemical imbalance seemed like a reasonable thing to do, and so the use of SSRI antidepressants skyrocketed.

In 2012, National Public Radio correspondent Alix Spiegel began her piece about the disproven chemical imbalance theory with the following personal story about being prescribed Prozac when she was a depressed teenager:

My parents took me to a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She did an evaluation and then told me this story: “The problem with you,” she explained, “is that you have a chemical imbalance. It’s biological, just like diabetes, but it’s in your brain. This chemical in your brain called serotonin is too, too low. There’s not enough of it, and that’s what’s causing the chemical imbalance. We need to give you medication to correct that.” Then she handed my mother a prescription for Prozac.

When Spiegel discovered that the chemical imbalance theory was untrue, she sought to discover why this truth had been covered up, and so she interviewed researchers who knew the truth. Alan Frazer, professor of pharmacology and psychiatry and chairman of the pharmacology department at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, told Spiegel that by framing depression as a deficiency—something that needed to be returned to normal—patients felt more comfortable taking antidepressants. Frazer stated, “If there was this biological reason for them being depressed, some deficiency that the drug was correcting, then taking a drug was OK.” For Frazer, the story that depressed people have a chemical imbalance enabled many people to come out of the closet about being depressed.

Frazer’s rationale reminds us of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent, the title deriving from presidential adviser and journalist Walter Lippmann’s phrase “the manufacture of consent”—a necessity for Lippmann, who believed that the general public is incompetent in discerning what’s truly best for them, and so their opinion must be molded by a benevolent elite who does know what’s best for them.

There are some psychiatrists who view the chemical imbalance theory as a well-meaning lie by a benevolent elite to ensure resistant patients do what is best for them, but my experience is that there are actually extremely few such “well-meaning liars.” Most simply don’t know the truth because they have put little effort in discerning it.

I believe McLaren is correct in concluding that the vast majority of psychiatrists are bullshitters, uncommitted to either facts or fiction. Most psychiatrists would certainly have been happy if the chemical-imbalance theory was true but obviously have not needed it to be true in order to promulgate it. For truth seekers, the falseness of the chemical imbalance theory has been easily available, but most psychiatrists have not been truth seekers. It is not in the bullshitters’ interest to know what is true and what is false, as that knowledge of what is a fact and what is fiction hinders the capacity to use any and all powerful persuasion. Simply put, a commitment to the truth hinders the capacity to bullshit.

Donald Trump isn’t backing down from his terrifying climate policy

His approach would revoke crucial climate protections and open up huge amounts of land to fossil fuel drilling.

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI

On Thursday, Donald Trump spoke before an audience full of natural gas and energy industry leaders — and the message was exactly the same as his economic policy proposal from last week: fewer environmental regulations and more land available to fossil fuel companies.

“We need an America-First energy plan,” Trump said. “This means opening federal lands for oil and gas production; opening offshore areas; and revoking policies that are imposing unnecessary restrictions on innovative new exploration technologies.”

If elected president, Trump has pledged to revoke both the Clean Power Plan and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the cornerstones of Obama’s domestic climate agenda, and important signals to the international community of the United States’ commitment to climate action.

Trump has also promised to roll back the Waters of the United States Rule, which would extend drinking water protections for millions of Americans. Instead, he said that he would redirect the EPA to “refocus…on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.”

Trump does not seem to understand that regulations he so deeply wants to cut are crucial to preserving clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.

A recent Harvard study found that the public health benefits of the Clean Power Plan are so robust that they outweigh the costs of the carbon standard in 13 out of 14 power sectors within five years of implementation. The same study estimated that the plan could save some 3,500 lives every year. Similarly, the Waters of the United States rule would protect the drinking water for a third of Americans that currently get their water from unprotected sources.

Beyond rolling back crucial protections, Trump’s speech on Thursday showed that he does not intend to back down on his policy proposal that would open up vast regions of the United States to fossil fuel production. His desire to open both federal lands and offshore areas to drilling is the antithesis of the Keep It In the Ground movement, which has called for an end to new leases for fossil fuels on public lands — under a Trump presidency, not only would these leases continue, but leases would likely increase.

During his speech, Trump noted that less than 10 percent of federally-managed surface and mineral estates are currently leased for oil and gas development, while almost 90 percent of our offshore acreage is off-limits to oil production. Instead of viewing these protections as a benefit to both climate and the environment, however, Trump pledged to dismantle these restrictions, calling them “a major impediment to both shale production specifically, and energy production in general.”

“Trump’s dirty-fuels-first plan is pretty simple: drill enough off our coasts to threaten beaches from Maine to Florida, frack enough to spoil groundwater across the nation, and burn enough coal to cook the planet and make our kids sick.”

Trump’s speech comes on the same day that Oil Change International released a study illustrating that the potential emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in currently operating coal mines and oil fields is enough, if those mines and fields are operated through to the end of their projected lifetimes, to take the world well above 2 degrees Celsius of global warming. Several studies have already argued that for the world to remain below 2 degrees Celsius — the threshold agreed upon by more than 170 countries during the U.N. Conference on Climate Change last December — the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves need to remain untapped.

After Trump’s speech, Sierra Club Political Director Khalid Pitts criticized the Republican presidential candidate’s policies, calling them polluter “talking points.”

“Trump’s dirty-fuels-first plan is pretty simple: drill enough off our coasts to threaten beaches from Maine to Florida, frack enough to spoil groundwater across the nation, and burn enough coal to cook the planet and make our kids sick,” Pitts said in a statement. “In stark contrast, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate in this race who is committed to grow the booming clean energy economy to create jobs and help tackle the climate crisis.”

Trump’s speech on Thursday was a keynote address for Shale Insights, an annual conference by sponsored by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based pro-drilling group, and is co-sponsored by both the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. The conference’s agenda notes that it extended speaking invitations to both major candidates, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton declined to speak at the event, citing a scheduling conflict, according to the Associated Press.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, a pro-fracking union, withdrew from the conference over Trump’s appearance, with the business manager for the group calling Trump a “snake oil salesman.” Labor groups including United Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO also held an anti-Trump rally on Thursday morning, in an attempt to “dispute the notion that Mr. Trump has wide union backing,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s energy blog PowerSource.

What’s 11,000 Times Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat?

Hint: when you stop at a gas station, the grossest thing may not be the bathroom.

Photo Credit: Phovoir / Shutterstock

America is a gas-guzzling, car-obsessed, open-road nation. Few things appeal to Americans more than a (traffic-free, ideally) leisurely drive to a fun, kick-back-your-heels destination, all the while enjoying the passing scenery. Of course, in order to achieve this bucolic vision of paradise, we need to fuel up the car, and in order to do that, we have to stop at the gas station. A study by Kimberly-Clark in 2015 investigating bacterial hot spots in the workplace fingered gas pumps as one of the unhealthiest things you can handle, and a new survey recently corroborates those findings.

Admittedly, it’s probably no great surprise that gas pumps are not exactly pristine. Never mind the chemical contamination that comes from gasoline itself, think about the sheer number of people endlessly grabbing the pump, often after returning from a pit stop at the not-so-hygienic gas station bathroom. You get the idea. Still, the new study gives one pause and suggests a bottle of sanitizer might not be a bad glove compartment staple.

It’s not just the number of germs present on gas pump handles, but the quality of those germs. The earlier Kimberly-Clark study, led by a University of Arizona microbiologist named Charles Gerba (whom colleagues know as “Dr. Germ”), found that 71 percent of the pumps were highly contaminated with germs associated with disease. The new survey, conducted by Busbud, studied samples from three different gas stations, as well as three different charging stations, to see what we may be exposing ourselves to. The sample size is small, but the results mirror the larger earlier study and are eye-opening.

Based on laboratory results from swabs from the sample gas pumps, handles on gas pumps had an average of 2,011,970 colony-forming units (CFUs), or viable bacteria cells, per square inch. Worse, the buttons on the pumps (where you select the grade of gas you want), had 2,617,067 CFUs per square inch. To put that in perspective, money, which is considered quite dirty since it changes hands often, has only 5.2 CFUs per square inch. A toilet seat has 172 CFUs per square inch. That makes a gas pump handle about 11,000 times more contaminated than a toilet seat, and a gas pump button 15,000 times more contaminated.

OK. So there are over two million CFUs dancing around on the gas pump. What kind of germs are they? Luckily, about half of them are usually harmless. These are the CFUs known as gram-positive rods. (I say usually because gram-positive rods can sometimes cause some types of infections, but are not considered unusually worrisome.) But those other million or so CFUs are mostly of the gram-positive cocci variety, and these are nasty critters that can cause skin infections, pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome.

Does the type of gas you select safeguard you in any way? It would seem so, to some small degree. The sampling showed that the buttons for regular gas contained 3,255,100 CFUs per square inch, about a third of which were the gram-positive cocci (bad germs), and another third of which were bacilli, another type of bad-guy bacteria linked to food poisoning and infections in newborn babies. The other third were mostly the safer gram-positive rods, with a smattering, about 5 percent, of gram-negative rods. These latter germs are especially worrisome as they are linked to antibiotic resistance as well as meningitis and pneumonia. The premium gas button had about 2,022,034 CFUs per square inch, divided about half gram-positive rods and half yeast (and we all know about yeast infections).

Since a typical visit to the gas station involves pressing the gas grade button as well as lifting the pump handle, that means, for regular gas, exposure to about 5,267,070 CFUs per square inch, and for premium gas about 4,034,004 CFUs per square inch.

Tesla and Volt owners, rejoice! If you own an electric car, and use a charging station, you can breathe a lot easier. The typical car charger has only 7.890 CFUs per square inch.

If you want to minimize your exposure to these germs, use a paper towel to hold the handle and push the button, or keep that hand sanitizer around and wash your hands after filling up.

Read the full survey.

Larry Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with a focus on health, science and American history. 

U.S. Military Warns of Climate-Driven ‘Instability on an International Scale’

Posted on Sep 22, 2016

By Alex Kirby / Climate News Network

Naval Air Station Key West in Florida feels the forces of Hurricane Dennis in 2005. (Jim Brooks / US Navy via Wikimedia Commons)

LONDON—A group of senior defence experts in the US has warned that climate change is a threat to the country’s security, with the stark message that “the impacts of climate change present significant and direct risks to US military readiness, operations and strategy”.

They are members of the Climate Security Consensus Project, a bipartisan group of 25 senior military and national security experts—many of whom have served in previous Republican or Democratic administrations.

Meeting at a forum in Washington DC organised by the Centre for Climate and Security (CCS), the group said the effects of climate change “present a strategically-significant risk to US national security and international security”.

A statement from the members, who include retired senior officers from the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, expresses concern about risks to regions of the world of strategic significance to Washington—“risks that can contribute to political and financial instability on an international scale, as well as maritime insecurity”.

Likelihood of conflict

They say stresses resulting from climate change can increase the likelihood of conflict within and between countries, state failure, mass migration, and the creation of additional ungoverned spaces.

These could develop “across a range of strategically-significant regions, including but not limited to the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, the Indo-Asia-Pacific and the Arctic regions”.

They also fear that the impacts of climate change “will place significant strains on international financial stability through contributing to supply line disruptions for major global industries … disrupting the viability of the insurance industry, and generally increasing the political and financial risks of doing business in an increasingly unstable global environment”.

There’s absolutely nothing political about climate change. It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it”

Supporting their statement are two documents released at the forum, which the organisers said together urged “a robust new course on climate change”.

Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, co-presidents of the CCS, said: “These reports make it crystal clear. To national security and defence leaders, there’s absolutely nothing political about climate change. It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it.”

One of the reports—on sea level rise and the US military—says a growing number of studies exploring the actual and potential physical impacts of sea level rise on US military installations “show that the risks are increasing at a faster rate than expected”.

The stability of the 1,774 US military sites spread worldwide along 95,471 miles of coastline “is set to change dramatically due to sea level rise and storm surge. …

“We cannot wait for perfect information before assessing the risks and impacts. … Essentially, the very geostrategic landscape in which the US military operates is going to be different from what it is today.”

The second report, described as a briefing book for a new administration, recommends ways to address the security risks of a changing climate. The first of these urges the new president to appoint a cabinet-level official to lead on domestic climate change and security issues.

Concerns about security

This is not the first time that the CCS has voiced its concerns about the security risks posed to the US by climate change.

What is notable this time is the group’s emphasis, during a bitterly divisive presidential election campaign, on the bipartisan nature of its work. Its language is uncompromising, and its insistence that there is “absolutely nothing political about climate change” will antagonise many Americans and reassure many more.

The presidential election in less than two months from now will see two viscerally-opposed contenders for the White House pushing diametrically different views on climate change, as well as many other issues.

Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has said the science is “crystal clear”, and that climate change is an “urgent threat”.

But Republican candidate Donald Trump wrote this month: “There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change’.” He has described it as a hoax invented by the Chinese, and earlier this year called it “bullshit”.

Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.

Trump’s Behavior Similar To Male Chimpanzee, Says Jane Goodall

Well, she’s the expert.

09/17/2016 08:10 pm ET

IAN WALDIE VIA GETTY IMAGES
A Chimpanzee jumps at a glass screen as primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall
holds a press conference at Taronga Zoo July 14, 2006 in Sydney, Australia.

Donald Trump’s antics remind famed anthropologist Jane Goodall of the primates she spent decades studying in the wild.

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Goodall told The Atlantic. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks.”

Goodall added, “the more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”

To date, we’ve not seen Trump drag branches or throw rocks, although anything is possible. Instead of physical displays, the Republican presidential nominee has stuck to verbal ones ― bragging about his penis, launching personal attacks and resorting to racist and sexist insults.

BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

Trump is set to debate his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, on Sept. 26. When it happens, Goodall told The Atlantic she’ll be thinking of “Mike,” a chimpanzee she studied that displayed dominance by kicking kerosene cans, creating a racket that sent would-be challengers fleeing.

Unsurprisingly, Trump has already boasted that he will come out on top, telling The New York Times “I know how to handle Hillary.”

Whether his strategy includes childish tidbits has yet to be seen. Tony Schwartz, co-author of Trump’s book The Art of the Deal, however, bets it will.

“Trump has severe attention problems and simply cannot take in complex information — he will be unable to practice for these debates,” Schwartz told the Times. “Trump will bring nothing but his bluster to the debates. He’ll use sixth-grade language, he will repeat himself many times, he won’t complete sentences, and he won’t say anything of substance.”

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Socialism in one galaxy? Star Trek.

Fifty years after it debuted on network television, Nicole Colson considers the legacy of Star Trek–and the idea of a society that meets the needs of the many, not just the few.

Uhura and Kirk during the classic Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren"

Uhura and Kirk during the classic Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”

ON SEPTEMBER 8, 1966, a new show debuted on American television.

Billed by creator Gene Roddenberry as “Wagon Train in space,” for its loyal viewers–and legions more to come over the following five decades–the voyage of the starship Enterprise and its 23rd century crew, as it carried out its mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no [one] has gone before,” would permanently alter the landscape of popular culture.

Star Trek‘s cultural staying power came despite its failure to last on television. The “five-year mission” of the Enterprise lasted just three years–until 1969, when the show was canceled by NBC because of low ratings after 79 episodes.

In fact, the show barely made it to the air at all: In 1964, NBC passed on the first attempt at a pilot, declaring it “too cerebral.” A second attempt was filmed in 1965 when comedy legend Lucille Ball, who owned the studio that employed creator Rodenberry as a producer, personally intervened to persuade NBC to give the series another shot.

Despite its cancelation, the series–which was worked on by some of the premiere science fiction writers of the day–became a hit in broadcast syndication, firing the imagination of a wide audience.

Today, the original series continues to inspire legions of Trekkers, one of the most rabidly loyal fandoms in all of popular culture. It has spawned four syndicated spin-offs (with a fifth planned for next year)–and endless debates about the relative merits of each show’s captain in comparison to William Shatner’s James Tiberius Kirk.

Along with 13 movies (and counting), a complete language, and a rather unique brand of fan fiction, Star Trek stands as a testament to the desire of people for a vision of the future which is both recognizable to them, and better than the present.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

STAR TREK’S vision of the future was, in a word, cool. Geek toys and tech like tricorders, replicators and transporters suggest a future where technology has been harnessed to make life vastly better for the majority of people.

But as Wired.com noted, the reason Star Trek continues to inspire such devotion 50 years after its premiere is because of what it says about people, not technology:

The original show’s most visionary aspects were social, not scientific, and that had everything to do with the times. The country was in turmoil, embroiled in Vietnam and the growing civil rights movement. Roddenberry said later that these events influenced many of the themes, as well as the multicultural makeup of the crew.

For a 1960s audience, the 23rd century world envisioned aboard the Enterprise was immediately notable for the fact that it was multiracial and included women in positions of importance among the crew.

In the original series, despite the roles for women being somewhat limited–with the exception of Lt. Uhura, they are primarily nurses, junior officers and scantily clad alien and human love interests for Kirk–a vision of the future in which women are defined primarily through their work as opposed to their husbands, children or home-making abilities was rare on television.

(It has to be admitted, however, that the female crewmembers’ uniforms were utterly sexist, as even Roddenberry’s partner Majel Barrett would later concede.)

At the height of the civil rights movement and the Cold War, the fact that a show could assert that a superior, advanced human society was one in which white Americans lived and worked side by side on a mission of peaceful exploration with not only aliens, but Russians (Chekov) and people of Japanese descent (Sulu), as well as African Americans (Uhura), mattered in the larger cultural context.

According to Whoopi Goldberg, who would later play Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the impact of being able to see Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura was life-changing. “[W]hen I was 9 years old, Star Trek came on,” Goldberg said. “I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a Black lady on television, and she ain’t no maid!”

Martin Luther King himself considered Nichols’ Uhura to be “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.” When Nichols was thinking of leaving the show for Broadway, it was King who convinced her to stay with Star Trek. As Nichols recounted:

Dr. Martin Luther King, quite some time after I’d first met him, approached me and said something along the lines of “Nichelle, whether you like it or not, you have become a symbol. If you leave, they can replace you with a blonde-haired white girl, and it will be like you were never there. What you’ve accomplished, for all of us, will only be real if you stay.”…I saw that this was bigger than just me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ONLY THE willfully ignorant could pretend not to see the message Roddenberry was intent on sending, as he frequently and gleefully pushed buttons. In “Plato’s Stepchildren,” an episode broadcast in 1968, Nichols and Shatner shared what is widely cited (though the matter is hotly debated) as the first interracial kiss on U.S. television.

Skittish network executives worried about the audience reaction and tried to squash the kiss, but Shatner hilariously ruined all of the alternative takes with his famous! punctuated! delivery! and even, in one take, crossed his eyes to ruin the shot. Nichols recounted in her autobiography:

Knowing that Gene was determined to air the real kiss, Bill shook me and hissed menacingly in his best ham-fisted Kirkian staccato delivery, “I! WON’T! KISS! YOU! I! WON’T! KISS! YOU!”

It was absolutely awful, and we were hysterical and ecstatic. The director was beside himself, and still determined to get the kissless shot…

The last shot, which looked okay on the set, actually had Bill wildly crossing his eyes. It was so corny and just plain bad it was unusable…I guess they figured we were going to be canceled in a few months anyway. And so the kiss stayed.

Critics today sometimes declare the scene a “cop out”–since the kiss isn’t a result of genuine desire, but of aliens telepathically forcing Kirk and Uhura to kiss against their will. But that misses the larger context of what it took to even get it on the air at a time when the Supreme Court decision striking down bans on interracial marriage had only just been handed down the year before.

Other episodes, like “Space Seed,” which introduced the character of Khan Noonien Singh–a genetically engineered “ubermensch” who, the show tells us, was part of “Eugenics wars” that broke out on Earth in the late 20th century–raise the specter of racism as a threat to the continued existence of humanity.

(While Kirk fails the “of course you should kill Hitler if you have the chance, you dummy” test, since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan gifted us with one of the best moments of scenery-chewing ever committed to film, however, he can perhaps be forgiven.)

Another episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” famously featured Frank Gorshin (the Riddler on TV’s Batman) in a story about a species divided into two races–and mortal enemies–by skin color. Resembling alien black-and-white cookies, one race has a left side that is white and a right side that is black. The colors are reversed for the other race.

As Roddenberry explained, “Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT IF Star Trek’s vision of an inclusive society, in which various races live and work side by side without the specter of racism, is one of its main strengths, its conception of race overall is, paradoxically, sometimes also a weakness. Often, Star Trek–not only the original series, but spinoff series as well–slips dangerously close to essentialist notions of race.

In the 23rd century, racism no longer exists in the advanced civilization of the United Federation of Planets–yet time and again, species like the Klingons are portrayed as “naturally” warlike and violent; the Ferengi are “naturally” greedy; Romulans are “naturally” calculating and contemptuous of difference.

These species-wide characteristics are then used to set the species up as villains–and, more troubling, the audience is told in several instances that such “differences,” whether culturally ingrained or biological, should be respected.

This is where the contradictions at the heart of the Star Trek universe become most pronounced. (Though in the case of Deep Space Nine series, later seasons did at least examine this when it came to the characterization of the Ferengi and the Klingons.)

If Star Wars movies are essentially about the threat of space fascism and the resistance to it, then Star Trek is, at heart, about the hope for a sort of “space socialism”–a liberal, military-style socialism, but nevertheless one in which society is so technologically advanced that the material needs of the Federation’s inhabitants are met, allowing for the free and full development of individuals.

In the world of Star Trek, the availability of replicator technology generally means that anything you need can be beamed into existence. Yet because of the “Prime Directive”–the guiding principle of the Federation, which prohibits its members from interfering in the development of technologically backward alien societies–the Federation ostensibly ignores oppression, slavery and other horrors in less-developed societies, on the theory that working through these processes is part of a society’s internal development.

Since our heroes would never actually condone such oppressions, episodes often hinge on finding a way to skirt the letter of the Prime Directive–or in some cases, to justify inaction when individuals and even entire races, societies or planets face extinction.

The various Star Trek series broadly offer a critique of war and militarism even as they extol the Federation’s brand of liberal military intervention–a kind of United Nations in space. (In fact, the Charter of the United Federation of Planets actually drew text and inspiration from the UN Charter, as well as other sources.)

Though its internal logic is often convoluted or inconsistent–while replication technology has eliminated the need for money, there still are outposts, like that depicted in Deep Space Nine, which are run on a partially capitalist basis and where small businesses thrive, for example–Star Trek presents a vision of the future that is hopeful in its inclusivity and its suggestion of the possibility of a society free of deprivation and want.

As Captain Picard of The Next Generation series explains to several cryogenically frozen survivors of the 20th century when they are awoken onboard the Enterprise in the 24th century: “A lot has changed in the past 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy…We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

In the Star Trek universe, without capitalist class relations to put the same kinds of strictures on people, individuals are free to develop themselves as they see fit. It’s one reason why the Borg–the most compelling villain from the Picard-era series–are so frightening. The Borg also provides for the material needs of its collective component worker members–but extinguishes all individuality among them. Individuals are assimilated, reduced to their work function as part of the hive–and nothing more.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AS RODDENBERRY once explained, the show’s creators resisted the idea that TV audiences were too stupid or backward to appreciate the show’s message:

We believed that the often ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism and all its old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond most petty beliefs that have for so long kept mankind divided. So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient that many people keep seeking and many of them keep missing is really not in Star Trek. It is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television, too…

What Star Trek proves, as faulty as individual episodes could be, is that the much-maligned common man and common woman has an enormous hunger for brotherhood. They are ready for the 23rd century now, and they are light years ahead of their petty governments and their visionless leaders.

But that creates a problem: How to create compelling characters and stories when the foundation of so much drama is precisely the kind of petty conflict that supposedly doesn’t have a place in the Star Trek universe?

As Manu Saadia, author of the recent book Trekonomics, explained to Wired’s “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” podcast:

[The characters] are consistent with the economic circumstances in which they live. Imagine yourself growing up in a society where there is never any want or need or financial insecurity of any sort. You will be a very different person. You will be absolutely uninterested in conspicuous consumption…You will probably be interested in things of a higher nature–the cultivation of the mind, education, love, art and discovery. And so these people are very stoic in that sense, because they have no worldly interests that we today could relate to…

I usually say that they’re all aliens, in a way. My friend Chris [Black], who wrote on [The Next Generation], said it was really hard for the writers, because it’s a workplace drama, but there’s no drama.

That’s similar to what Karl Marx wrote in The German Ideology about the ways in which capitalism constrains human activity by alienating workers from their labor:

For as soon as the distribution of labor comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society…society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

In the Star Trek universe, I can be a ship’s captain in the morning, a detective in the afternoon, a winemaker in the evening, and a flute player after dinner (assuming my ship doesn’t get attacked by hostile Romulans that day, that is).

As the eminently logical Mr. Spock might have put it, the Star Trek universe is one in which humanity has determined that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one” (percent, that is).

“The human race is a remarkable creature, one with great potential,” Gene Roddenberry said, “and I hope that Star Trek has helped to show us what we can be if we believe in ourselves and our abilities.”

It’s up to the audience to go boldly–and make it so.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/09/15/socialism-in-one-galaxy

Bayer Just Bought Monsanto, Here’s Why You Should Care

corn

Written by

KALEIGH ROGERS

STAFF WRITER

September 14, 2016 // 03:15 PM EST

A giant company just bought another giant company, but if you’re not an investor or a farmer, you may not have noticed. Bayer—the aspirin company that also makes farm products like pesticides—announced on Wednesday it was merging with Monsanto, the massive genetically-modified seed producer that owns about a third of the seed market in the US.

The $66 billion merger is the largest this year, and means Bayer now controls more than a quarter of all seeds and pesticides on the planet, according to the BBC. But what’s even crazier is that this is just the latest in a long list of big mergers of agricultural companies this year, meaning the options for where farmers buy their seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers are shrinking at lightning speed.

If this all sounds vaguely threatening but you’re not sure why, it’s because there’s a chance these mergers could put additional pressure on farms, leading to higher food prices, or even threaten food security.

Read More: Farmers Use Slack and Share Memes at Work, Too

“The world’s biggest suppliers of pesticides and seeds have gone from six players—ChemChina, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer, and Monsanto—to three,” said John Colley, a professor at Warwick Business School in the UK, who researches large takeovers. “There’s an awful lot fewer companies to compete with. They stand a much better chance of being able to increase pricing.”

Colley explained that these mergers are largely the result of falling crop prices. We’ve had more than enough major crops like corn and soybean to meet demands, which drove the prices down, which in turn led farmers to start tightening belts and spend less on products such as pesticides and fertilizers. This ripple effect made it more difficult for these major agricultural companies to pay off debts, and increased the incentive to merge. Merging allows corporations to occupy a bigger share of the market, and potentially drive up prices to make up for slowed sales, even for consumers.

“There’s some major transformational changes happening.”

When so much of the market is consolidated into a handful of companies, it can potentially be less stable. In some areas, the options could be even fewer—maybe only one or two companies. If one company has a strike, for example, and there is a shortage of supplies, it could threaten farmers’ ability to access what they need.

“Sometimes, oligopolies one way or another actually do contrive that situation to try to improve pricing,” Colley told me. “I think it’s a very valid fear.”

These mergers also concentrate a lot of economic power into a few entities that have pretty specific political desires, giving them even great lobbying heft. But Brooke Dobni, a professor of business strategy at the University of Saskatchewan, said it’s not all doom and gloom. For one, government antitrust regulators exist to make sure deals like this don’t pose major threats to the market, and regulators in Europe and North America will be scrutinizing these mergers—and will need to sign off on them before they’re official.

There’s also a chance it could signal more stability in the industry, allowing these corporations to reduce operating costs as a way to save money rather than relying on increased prices. It’s yet to be seen which direction these companies will take, and Dobni said consumers should be paying attention.

“We’re in a transitional phase [in agriculture],” Dobni told me over the phone. “We go through these downturns, but I don’t think the upturn is going to be as soon as people think. The people sitting around boardroom tables making these decisions see that and they’ve been in this industry for a long time. There’s some major transformational changes happening.”

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/bayer-just-bought-monsanto-heres-why-you-should-care