Cultural Anthropology and Sex: What’s your Pleasure?


The Lustful Human Animal: Cultural Differences in Sexual Harm and Consent

October 6, 2013, A research psychologist’s curious look at human behavior

Bronisław Malinowski with Trobriand Islanders, ca. 1918

Most of us are convinced that we excel at being clearheaded, humane thinkers when it comes to sex. We appeal, and admirably so, to notions such as harm and consent. But since most of us aren’t anthropologists, we W.E.I.R.D. people (the anthropologist Joe Henrich’s apt acronym for “Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic”) often assume a false obviousness along these lines of harm and consent that, interestingly enough, simply isn’t there. Scientists have found that since we would be harmed by a certain sex act, we presume others would be harmed as well.

In fact, cultural relativism is the most glaring sign that the lion’s share of our sexual ethics is arbitrary, given that our intuitive feeling of what’s “normal” and “deviant” hinges largely on our cultural indoctrination. In the past, for instance, a proper Crow gentleman wasn’t expected to simply woo the object of his desire over a slice of homemade juneberry pie. Instead, the tradition for a man so smitten involved his crawling up to the woman’s tent in the middle of the night and fishing around with his hand under the flaps for her body. And female Crow informants explained to the anthropologists inquiring about the tradition that this manual search in the dark for her orifices was an especially romantic first move. “If he is successful,” wrote the researchers Clellan Ford and Frank Beach, “a man may by this device persuade the woman to have intercourse with him later on.” If he were successful in our society, he’d be signing his name to the sex offender registry before dawn, if he still had a hand. But in the cultural context of these Native Americans, most women, presumably, favored this custom.

Although such behavior is unspeakable to those of us living in the modern conurbations of 2013, to insist that those Crow women of yore should have felt violated by this sexual ritual, since that’s how most women feel today about this invasive sex act, is to conclude that our feelings are “accurate” and theirs “inaccurate.” As hard as it may be to step outside of our own W.E.I.R.D. heads, isn’t it rather sadistic to demand others be harmed by sex acts only because those same acts would irreparably harm us?

Ethnocentrics aside, there was that tricky problem for Crow men of not knowing with certainty that the body on the other side of the flap belonged to the woman he wanted and not, say, to that of her mother—not to mention the woman’s confusion over just whose hand it was, exactly, reaching in from the outside. A similar courtship ritual in indigenous cultures from the Pacific region improved on the basic design. In those societies, a man invited a woman to have sex with him by thrusting his “love-rod”—it’s not what you’re thinking, just wait—through her window, then delicately prodding her with it. This so-called love-rod was a distinctively carved stick, and since each young man in the village would carry around his own uniquely carved love-rod during the day, he became associated with a signature relief or design. Women could therefore identify their suitor by whichever love-rod rubbed up on them, accepting or rejecting the man’s solicitous offer by pulling it in or pushing it away, respectively. It was a clever ritual. Still, it’s easy to imagine how the system might be abused. And just think how awkward it could be if, in a state of blind lust one starry-eyed night, you mistakenly picked up your friend’s curvy love-rod instead of your own. That would be a sticky situation indeed.

In many cultures, it was the woman who did the erotic bidding. And in some of those cases, the male’s consent wasn’t always so clear-cut. In northern Columbia, no matter how homely a girl may have been, she could still score the handsomest man in the village, because if she were able to literally knock him off his feet by tripping him during a ceremonial dance, he was duty-bound to have sex with her. The Lesu women of East Asia didn’t leave much room for misinterpretation, either. In those parts, a lady simply lifting up her skirt to advertise herself to a man of her choosing worked like a charm. Since she performed this brash genital display in public, a man’s refusing such a transparent offer was perceived as a slight against her.

From the vantage point of those living in other times and places, our own sexual customs can also be hard to fathom. The Tonga people of Africa, for example, could only stare in disgust on observing a married pair of Europeans kissing. “Look at them,” the ethnographers overheard the natives saying, “they eat other’s saliva and dirt.” Many struggled to wrap their heads around the prudishly cloistered appearance of the Western researchers so interested in them. In the mid-20th century, Wogeo islanders off the coast of New Guinea offered condolences to the British anthropologist Ian Hogbin. He got to the bottom of these (nearly naked) people’s concerns in a blunt conversation with a local: “He said that if he were white that he, too, would be ashamed and cover his body with as many clothes as possible.”

Acknowledging the massive influence of culture in shaping our attitudes towards sex, however, by no means implies that “anything goes” when it comes to the power of social learning. Natural selection sets limits. Even among the most sexually permissive of societies, none is so laissez faire that one’s own grandmother is viewed as fair game for a casual hookup. And although, say, certifiable “dendrophiles” (actual lovers of trees) may roam the streets as ambassadors of that rare paraphilia, you won’t find a single society in which the majority prefer to screw trees over people. In other words, if human sexuality were only a matter of social learning, then the question remains why dendrophilia—or sex with any other nonhuman entity—has never been the norm in any known society. Intercourse with a raw conifer is (I hear) somewhat painful, but pain isn’t enough to dismiss the possibility of such a culture out of hand. A bit of masochism, after all, is a common enough sexual schema in many societies. Apinajé women in Brazil reportedly bit off their male lovers’ eyebrows and spit them out during sex, while Trukese men in the Caroline Islands could expect their highly aroused wives to poke a finger sharply into their ears.

The reason that we have yet to discover a culture in which any substantive percentage of citizens are mounting trees (or horses, chainsaws, cars, shoes, etc.) is that, while there’s indeed a wide range in what is considered normal—or normal enough—across societies, for any given human population to survive, its members must first reproduce. Heterosexual intercourse is predictably, then, the most common mode of sexual expression everywhere, for that one logistical reason.

Don’t let that distract you, however, from the fact that sexual vicissitudes are indeed wildly diverse across human populations. “The amount of variation,” observed the anthropologist Leigh Minturn, “is greater than that surrounding any other biological drive. This is true not only of frequency of sexual behavior, but the kinds [of sex] … permitted or condemned.” The erotic diversity is simply breathtaking.

Some sex acts are proscribed the world over, however. From an evolutionary perspective, it should come as no surprise that all known societies censure incest, sexual abduction, and rape. But even where there are cultural agreements about these transgressions, there are huge cultural differences in how they are handled. In one society, a certain offence leads to a passing family quarrel; in another, that very same behavior results in the offender having to privately apologize to his (or her) victim and paying a fine; and in yet another society, the act in question leads to irreparable stigma, mutilation, exile, imprisonment, or even execution.

Over the years, there have been a few ambitious theoretical attempts to make sense of this bewildering array of societal attitudes toward sexual deviance, with some scholars trying to map out the intricate ways in which specific details of the environment (such as sex ratio, infant mortality, and sustainable resources) may correlate. Yet the truth is, we still know astonishingly little about why, exactly, societies differ so dramatically in these ways, and it’s mostly a game of speculation.

Much of the trouble with untangling cultural attitudes toward sex are the data themselves. The ethnographies date back to the late 19th century, an era when most scholars were corseted by Victorian-era prudery. These early scholars either ignored the subject of sex altogether, or glossed over this all-important category of human behavior with abstract models of “kinship relations” or “marriage ceremonies.” The rare details jotted down about the sex lives of those from what are now extinct cultures offered little context, and so these facts are buried without any rhyme or reason in the labyrinthine archives. Moreover, the researcher’s personal biases were frequently, and embarrassingly, evident. Referring to your subjects as “savages” was one dead giveaway of your slanted outlook.

Speaking of which, the author of The Sexual Lives of Savages, and, arguably, the most open-minded ethnographer of his time, the celebrated Polish-British anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski, held a transparently biased attitude towards same-sex relationships. Famous for studying the Trobriand Islanders of Melanesia in the early 20th century, Malinowski was one of the few scholars writing about sex so openly. “Gradually the caress becomes more passionate,” he wrote of his subjects’ foreplay habits, “and then the mouth is predominantly active; the tongue is sucked, and tongue is rubbed against tongue; they suck each other’s lower lips, and the lips will be bitten until blood comes; the saliva is allowed to flow free from mouth to mouth. The teeth are used freely, to bite the cheek, to snap the nose and chin.” It’s as though he were scribbling notes about mongooses copulating in the weeds. Malinowski’s descriptions of the sex lives of Trobriand Islanders were so unfiltered, in fact, that British authorities accused him of trying to pervert the U.K.’s youth.

Don’t let Malinowkski’s empirical candor about heterosexual sex fool you, however. He was also an outspoken homophobe, standing out in his reviling of same-sex relationships even during a time when homosexuality was labelled a psychiatric illness. He publicly lauded the islanders’ ostracism and humiliation of gays and lesbians, encouraging his Western readers to take notes from the Trobrianders on how to deal with such undesirables in their own societies. “How far it is true,” he reflected admiringly on this foreign culture, “that homosexuality is more efficiently eradicated by derision than by heavy penalties.” Malinowski’s antigay legacy hasn’t sat well at all with the historian Peter Stearns. “Here was an ethnographer,” wrote Stearns decades after Malinowski penned those cruel lines, “who was concerned that homosexuality was growing in respectability in his own society, who wished that it could be entirely exterminated from human society, and who was delighted to imagine that he had found a people who had managed to do so by making fun of it and by providing ‘wide and varied opportunities for normal intercourse.’”

What Malinowski fell prey to in his line of reasoning about homosexuality, and what many otherwise intelligent people still succumb to today, is the naturalistic fallacy—the philosophical error in which “natural” is mistakenly conflated with “good.” There are many things that are natural that are immensely harmful, and vice versa, many unnatural things that have made our lives far more pleasant and positive. Naturalness connotes no intrinsic moral value at all, and normal is only a number.

The many differences in sexuality found across human societies are impressive, as I think you’ll agree. Yet where does this leave us in our ability to discern an “objective morality” out there in the universe—in this case, sexual rights and wrongs that exist independent of our own enculturated biases? If you take God out of the picture (and there’s certainly no obvious reason to include Him, evolutionarily), does an objective morality even exist?

Quite simply, no. Through the rhetoric of righteousness, we’re bullied into subscribing to the delusion that it does—but it doesn’t. We’d also do well to abandon our strange preoccupation with the meaningless question of what is “natural” in human sexuality. Unless we wish to invoke a Creator God who preconceived our loins and prescribed our genitals for reproduction and nothing more, “natural” is a useless construct when it comes to sexual ethics. To gain any moral traction on such slippery issues, while also keeping a clear view of the sheer range of erotic diversity displayed over time and space, we’d do better to devote our efforts and intellects to defining harm in a way that applies not to us as onlookers, but to the subjective minds of those involved.

I discuss this issue in more detail, and much, much more, in my new book Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, which will release on October 8, 2013. Follow me @jessebering (#DailyDeviant). For more on all things deviant, and to find out if I’ll be visiting a city near you for the Perv book tour, visit

Jesse Bering About the Author: Jesse Bering is the author of The Belief Instinct (2011), Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (2012) and Perv (October, 2013). He began his career as a psychology professor at the University of Arkansas and is the former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast. Bering now lives in Ithaca, New York with his partner, Juan, along with a very big cat and two pathologically friendly border terriers. In addition to his books, Bering is also a regular contributor to many popular magazines, including Scientific American, Slate, New York Magazine, The Guardian, The New Republic, Discover, and more. Follow on Twitter @JesseBering.

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Crack Cocaine and Rational Thinking

CrackpipesmokeimagesWhen I first saw this article in the NY Times I was intrigued. Although not stated it draws a line between the opiate class of drug addiction and the non-opiates like cocaine and amphetamines.  In my limited experience, addiction to habit forming drugs and rational thinking is an oxymoron. 

I am not a doctor and have a policy of not debating doctors – it’s just not productive.  I do, having some critical abilities, have no problems asking questions.  I don’t question the bona fides ( of Dr Clark, a Ph.D from U. Wyoming (  Not only that, he has street creds from a youth where few rise to his level of accomplishment.  I have not read his peer-reviewed publications.

However, it has been my informal observation that people can be persuaded to exchange sexual favors for small amounts of some drugs, neglect health issues. develop personality changes that can quickly turn violent, mimicking paranoid or psychotic behavior.  

This is not new behavior.  Throughout history people have consumed mind altering drugs, even your great aunt Sophia with her flask of patent medicines early in the last century.

Certainly not all who use become addicts, some become addicted to alcohol, opioids, amphetamines, cocaine and other mood altering activities.  Certainly some of those who do become addicted do recover for a variety of reasons – certainly many die.

Some have even suggested that this behavior represents a universal search for the divine as seen in many varieties of religious experience.

Dr Clark’s book, “High Price,” should be an interesting read.  Carlos

The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts

Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times
The Science of Drug Addiction: Carl Hart, an associate professor at Columbia University, is the author of the book “High Price,” a mix of memoir and scientific research about drug addiction.

Long before he brought people into his laboratory at Columbia University to smoke crack cocaine, Carl Hart saw its effects firsthand. Growing up in poverty, he watched relatives become crack addicts, living in squalor and stealing from their mothers. Childhood friends ended up in prisons and morgues.

Carl Hart, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia, arranged experiments in which drug addicts were offered a choice between a dose of the drug or cash or vouchers. When the dose was smaller, addicts often chose cash or vouchers instead.

Those addicts seemed enslaved by crack, like the laboratory rats that couldn’t stop pressing the lever for cocaine even as they were starving to death. The cocaine was providing such powerful dopamine stimulation to the brain’s reward center that the addicts couldn’t resist taking another hit.

At least, that was how it looked to Dr. Hart when he started his research career in the 1990s. Like other scientists, he hoped to find a neurological cure to addiction, some mechanism for blocking that dopamine activity in the brain so that people wouldn’t succumb to the otherwise irresistible craving for cocaine, heroin and other powerfully addictive drugs.

But then, when he began studying addicts, he saw that drugs weren’t so irresistible after all.

“Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted,” said Dr. Hart, an associate professor of psychology. “And the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.”

Dr. Hart recruited addicts by advertising in The Village Voice, offering them a chance to make $950 while smoking crack made from pharmaceutical-grade cocaine. Most of the respondents, like the addicts he knew growing up in Miami, were black men from low-income neighborhoods. To participate, they had to live in a hospital ward for several weeks during the experiment.

At the start of each day, as researchers watched behind a one-way mirror, a nurse would place a certain amount of crack in a pipe — the dose varied daily — and light it. While smoking, the participant was blindfolded so he couldn’t see the size of that day’s dose.

Then, after that sample of crack to start the day, each participant would be offered more opportunities during the day to smoke the same dose of crack. But each time the offer was made, the participants could also opt for a different reward that they could collect when they eventually left the hospital. Sometimes the reward was $5 in cash, and sometimes it was a $5 voucher for merchandise at a store.

When the dose of crack was fairly high, the subject would typically choose to keep smoking crack during the day. But when the dose was smaller, he was more likely to pass it up for the $5 in cash or voucher.

“They didn’t fit the caricature of the drug addict who can’t stop once he gets a taste,” Dr. Hart said. “When they were given an alternative to crack, they made rational economic decisions.”

When methamphetamine replaced crack as the great drug scourge in the United States, Dr. Hart brought meth addicts into his laboratory for similar experiments — and the results showed similarly rational decisions. He also found that when he raised the alternative reward to $20, every single addict, of meth and crack alike, chose the cash. They knew they wouldn’t receive it until the experiment ended weeks later, but they were still willing to pass up an immediate high.

These findings made Dr. Hart rethink what he’d seen growing up, as he relates in his new book, “High Price.” It’s a fascinating combination of memoir and social science: wrenching scenes of deprivation and violence accompanied by calm analysis of historical data and laboratory results. He tells horrifying stories — his mother attacked with a hammer, his father doused with a potful of boiling syrup — but then he looks for the statistically significant trend.

Yes, he notes, some children were abandoned by crack-addicted parents, but many families in his neighborhood were torn apart before crack — including his own. (He was raised largely by his grandmother.) Yes, his cousins became destitute crack addicts living in a shed, but they’d dropped out of school and had been unemployed long before crack came along.

“There seemed to be at least as many — if not more — cases in which illicit drugs played little or no role than were there situations in which their pharmacological effects seemed to matter,” writes Dr. Hart, now 46. Crack and meth may be especially troublesome in some poor neighborhoods and rural areas, but not because the drugs themselves are so potent.

“If you’re living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure,” Dr. Hart said in an interview, arguing that the caricature of enslaved crack addicts comes from a misinterpretation of the famous rat experiments.

“The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats,” Dr. Hart said. “The rats that keep pressing the lever for cocaine are the ones who are stressed out because they’ve been raised in solitary conditions and have no other options. But when you enrich their environment, and give them access to sweets and let them play with other rats, they stop pressing the lever.”

Drug warriors may be skeptical of his work, but some other scientists are impressed. “Carl’s overall argument is persuasive and driven by the data,” said Craig R. Rush, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky who studies stimulant abuse. “He’s not saying that drug abuse isn’t harmful, but he’s showing that drugs don’t turn people into lunatics. They can stop using drugs when provided with alternative reinforcers.”

A similar assessment comes from Dr. David Nutt, a British expert on drug abuse. “I have a great deal of sympathy with Carl’s views,” said Dr. Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. “Addiction always has a social element, and this is magnified in societies with little in the way of work or other ways to find fulfillment.”

So why do we keep focusing so much on specific drugs? One reason is convenience: It’s much simpler for politicians and journalists to focus on the evils of a drug than to grapple with the underlying social problems. But Dr. Hart also puts some of the blame on scientists.

“Eighty to 90 percent of people are not negatively affected by drugs, but in the scientific literature nearly 100 percent of the reports are negative,” Dr. Hart said. “There’s a skewed focus on pathology. We scientists know that we get more money if we keep telling Congress that we’re solving this terrible problem. We’ve played a less than honorable role in the war on drugs.”
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The Abandonment of the Mentally Ill

Homeless SeattleWe see them all over, sleeping on benches, hiding in the reeds of river flood plains, mumbling quietly and sometimes not so quietly.  They load their life’s possessions into shopping carts and, despite their number, they are invisible. The worst shudder in a hostile universe populated by demons we cannot see: they are the serious and chronically mentally ill.

Schizophrenia_William-Zhang_JZThere have always been hobos, tramps, and vagabonds.  The depression of the 1930′s created legions of displaced families and individuals who may have had families before throwing in the towel.  The desperation of the 1930′s this has been mirrored in the dispossessed of the 2008 recession.  Hard times.

MindinMindToday we have a crisis of our own making.  The seriously mentally ill are made criminals and housed in jails and prisons despite their mental incapacity.  Certainly there are those so removed from reality that they are a predictable and dangerous population who have been adjudicated so for extreme behavior.

Nevertheless, we have criminalized and imprisoned a large portion of those mentally ill whose illness is expressed in uncontrollable violent and self-destructive behavior. 

There is a difference between criminality and those pursued by demons. They need protection and professional treatment not thrown into the snake pit of prisons that only exacerbate psychotic behavior and whose only therapy is that of prison culture and abuse. Carlos

Fifty Years of Failing America’s Mentally Ill

JFK’s dream of replacing state mental hospitals with community mental-health centers is now a hugely expensive nightmare.

On Feb. 5, 1963, 50 years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy addressed Congress on “Mental Illness and Mental Retardation.” He proposed a new program under which the federal government would fund community mental-health centers, or CMHCs, to take the place of state mental hospitals. As Kennedy envisioned it, “reliance on the cold mercy of custodial isolation will be supplanted by the open warmth of community concern and capability.”

President Kennedy’s proposal was historic because the public care of mentally ill individuals had been exclusively a state responsibility for more than a century. The federal initiative encouraged the closing of state hospitals and aborted the development of state-funded outpatient clinics in process at that time.

Over the following 17 years, the feds funded 789 CMHCs with a total of $2.7 billion ($20.3 billion in today’s dollars). During those same years, the number of patients in state mental hospitals fell by three quarters—to 132,164 from 504,604—and those beds were closed down.

From the beginning, it was clear that CMHCs were not interested in taking care of the patients being discharged from the state hospitals. Instead, they focused on individuals with less severe problems sometimes called “the worried well.” Federal studies reported individuals discharged from state hospitals initially made up between 4% and 7% of the CMHCs patient load, and the longer the CMHC was in existence the lower this percentage became.

It has now become politically correct to claim that this federal program failed because not enough centers were funded and not enough money was spent. In fact, it failed because it did not provide care for the sickest patients released from the state hospitals. When President Ronald Reagan finally block-granted federal CMHC funds to the states in 1981, he was not killing the program. He was disposing of the corpse.

Meantime, during the years CMHCs were funded, Medicaid and Medicare were created and modifications were made to the Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance programs. None of these programs was originally intended to become a major federal support for the mentally ill, but all now fill that role. The federal takeover of the mental-illness treatment system was complete.

SchizoED-AQ388_torrey_D_20130204161757Fifty years later, we can see the results of “the open warmth of community concern and capability.” Approximately half of the mentally ill individuals discharged from state mental hospitals, many of whom had family support, sought outpatient treatment and have done well. The other half, many of whom lack family support and suffer from the most severe illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, have done poorly.

According to multiple studies summarized by the Treatment Advocacy Center, these untreated mentally ill are responsible for 10% of all homicides (and a higher percentage of the mass killings), constitute 20% of jail and prison inmates and at least 30% of the homeless. Severely mentally ill individuals now inundate hospital emergency rooms and have colonized libraries, parks, train stations and other public spaces. The quality of the lives of these individuals mocks the lofty intentions of the founders of the CMHC program.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this 50-year federal experiment is its inordinate cost. In 2009, 4.7 million Americans received SSI or SSDI because of mental illnesses, not including mental retardation, a tenfold increase since 1977. The total cost was $46 billion. The total Medicaid and Medicare costs for mentally ill individuals in 2005 was more than $60 billion.

Altogether, the annual total public funds for the support and treatment of mentally ill individuals is now more than $140 billion. The equivalent expenditure in 1963 when Kennedy proposed the CMHC program was $1 billion, or about $10 billion in today’s dollars. Even allowing for the increase in U.S. population, what we are getting for this 14-fold increase in spending is a disgrace.

Including President Kennedy, five Democratic and five Republican presidents have presided over the 50-year federal experiment. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush appointed presidential commissions to examine the failed programs, but nothing useful came from either.

Nor is President Obama likely to do anything, since his lead agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has essentially denied that a problem exists. Its contribution to the president’s response to the Dec. 14 Newtown tragedy focused only on school children and insurance coverage. And its current plan of action for 2011-14, a 41,000-word document, includes no mention of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or outpatient commitment, all essential elements in an effective plan for corrective action.

The evidence is overwhelming that this federal experiment has failed, as seen most recently in the mass shootings by mentally ill individuals in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz. It is time for the federal government to get out of this business and return the responsibility, and funds, to the states.

The federal government, perhaps through the Institute of Medicine, would be responsible only for evaluating and rating state programs, much as it now does for education. The ultimate responsibility would rest with state legislatures and governors. Then, for the first time in 50 years, somebody could be held accountable for what has become an ongoing disaster.

Dr. Torrey is founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and author of “American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System,” forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

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Creating New Memories Artificially

MindinMindThis article raises some interesting possibilities.  Can false memories be inserted into a normal brain?  If new memories can be created, can real memories be deleted?  Can a prefrontal lobotomy be achieved with greater precision? 

If memories can be created, can personalities be changed or even created?  If your personality were determined to be ‘deviant,’ could your personality be reformed to comport with contemporary standards?  Are we a machine created by God or god created by a machine?

Scientists Create New Memories by Directly Changing the Brain

ChangeMem130910142334Sep. 10, 2013 — By studying how memories are made, UC Irvine neurobiologists created new, specific memories by direct manipulation of the brain, which could prove key to understanding and potentially resolving learning and memory disorders.

Research led by senior author Norman M. Weinberger, a research professor of neurobiology & behavior at UC Irvine, and colleagues has shown that specific memories can be made by directly altering brain cells in the cerebral cortex, which produces the predicted specific memory. The researchers say this is the first evidence that memories can be created by direct cortical manipulation.

During the research, Weinberger and colleagues played a specific tone to test rodents then stimulated the nucleus basalis deep within their brains, releasing acetylcholine (ACh), a chemical involved in memory formation. This procedure increased the number of brain cells responding to the specific tone. The following day, the scientists played many sounds to the animals and found that their respiration spiked when they recognized the particular tone, showing that specific memory content was created by brain changes directly induced during the experiment. Created memories have the same features as natural memories including long-term retention.

“Disorders of learning and memory are a major issue facing many people and since we’ve found not only a way that the brain makes memories, but how to create new memories with specific content, our hope is that our research will pave the way to prevent or resolve this global issue,” said Weinberger, who is also a fellow with the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory and the Center for Hearing Research at UC Irvine.

The creation of new memories by directly changing the cortex is the culmination of several years of research in Weinberger’s lab implicating the nucleus basalis and ACh in brain plasticity and specific memory formation. Previously, the authors had also shown that the strength of memory is controlled by the number of cells in the auditory cortex that process a sound.

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Irvine, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
D. Kim, D. Pare, S. S. Nair. Assignment of Model Amygdala Neurons to the Fear Memory Trace Depends on Competitive Synaptic Interactions. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013; 33 (36): 14354 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2430-13.2013
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Gato Vadio: Films About Mental Illness

A cycle of films about mental illness to be shown at: Todas as quintas de setembro, Noé Alves apresenta… Ciclo de Filmes sobre Distúrbios Mentais:



Porque Gato Vadio como um foro com um grau de fama tem um público cada vez maior e nem todos falam Português, imploro seu perdão por ter escrito em Inglês).

Today’s series is an excellent topical selection about those who suffer from mental illness.


I have several members of my family who have suffered with mental illness.  Too often it is hidden in the shadows because of the fear of its heritability and the misplaced fear of violence.  It is an illness that drains the hopes and resources of a family. It limits marriageability and at times one’s social circle.  Some who suffer are found chained for years to a stake in a hidden room.


There used to be asylums (in both senses of the word) where the mad were protected (or not) from the abuse of those who would.  By definition these people are less able to deal with the demands of society.


In America, in the 1970’s, there was a movement (financially motivated) supported by prescient social and medical scientists to “mainstream” the disabled into a hostile society in the hopes that local outpatient clinics would provide the needed support for those released into society.  It was hoped that integrating with “normal” people would somehow infect the disturbed with sanity.  .What was known was that the expense of caring for the mentally ill would go away and budgets could be balanced on the backs of the defenseless.


Schizophrenia_William-Zhang_JZDespite opposition from those who had a longer view better training could see the bigger picture.  The mentally ill became embarrassingly obvious with grocery carts piled high with all their worldly goods and sleeping on cardboard, in bus shelters, under freeway, and in sewers.  Where ever they could find shelter in their diminished or hallucinatory alternate world.  Sometimes the horror causes secondary illnesses such as alcoholism and addiction to drugs.


Something must be done for these people and America has solved the problem:  America has criminalized mental illness.

In fact, America has the largest incarcerated population in the world.  I cannot argue that Americans are more criminal than any other population in the world.  Poverty, race, mental illness, and the rise of for-profit prisons all contribute to the imprisoned in America.  The rise of longer and longer penalties for crimes are mandated by law and lobbied for by the corporate prison industry, which must show a profit for their shareholders.


There is something amiss when the people (government) criminalize the mentally ill outsources the mentally disturbed it deprives of liberty to a commercial operation with a stake in their continued incarceration.  Why would such a facility even have to be in America?  Deprivation of liberty is a serious matter and should always be a state function.

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Reflections on the Wretched of the Earth

world-religions-11I am reminded of a book I read long, long ago:  Lanternari’s “The Religions of the Oppressed.”  (  Throughout the world runs a theme of transcendence from oppression both spiritually and politically.  Society has always been led by the Big man, the Chief, Warlord, Greek democracy, and all subsequent forms of government until the present.  We see examples in the Cargo Cult of Melanesia, the Sunni Mahdi, Jesus, the Ghost Dance, and many others. 

Chris Hedges is one of my favorite commentators on the human condition and has encapsulated my own view of the unrest in the world whether it be European austerity, American conservatism, or other form of governmental control.

Murdering the Wretched of the Earth

Chris Hedges, Truthdig / Truthdig Op-Ed,Published: Friday 16 August 2013

Radical Islam is the last refuge of the Muslim poor. The mandated five prayers a day give the only real structure to the lives of impoverished believers. The careful rituals of washing before prayers in the mosque, the strict moral code, along with the understanding that life has an ultimate purpose and meaning, keep hundreds of millions of destitute Muslims from despair. The fundamentalist ideology that rises from oppression is rigid and unforgiving. It radically splits the world into black and white, good and evil, apostates and believers. It is bigoted and cruel to women, Jews, Christians and secularists, along with gays and lesbians. But at the same time it offers to those on the very bottom of society a final refuge and hope. The massacres of hundreds of believers in the streets of Cairo signal not only an assault against a religious ideology, not only a return to the brutal police state of Hosni Mubarak, but the start of a holy war that will turn Egypt and other poor regions of the globe into a caldron of blood and suffering.

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The only way to break the hold of radical Islam is to give its followers a stake in the wider economy, the possibility of a life where the future is not dominated by grinding poverty, repression and hopelessness. If you live in the sprawling slums of Cairo or the refugee camps in Gaza or the concrete hovels in New Delhi, every avenue of escape is closed. You cannot get an education. You cannot get a job. You do not have the resources to marry. You cannot challenge the domination of the economy by the oligarchs and the generals. The only way left for you to affirm yourself is to become a martyr, or shahid. Then you will get what you cannot get in life—a brief moment of fame and glory. And while what will take place in Egypt will be defined as a religious war, and the acts of violence by the insurgents who will rise from the bloodied squares of Cairo will be defined as terrorism, the engine for this chaos is not religion but the collapsing economy of a world where the wretched of the earth are to be subjugated and starved or shot. The lines of battle are being drawn in Egypt and across the globe. Adli Mansour, the titular president appointed by the military dictator of Egypt, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, has imposed a military-led government, a curfew and a state of emergency. They will not be lifted soon. The lifeblood of radical movements is martyrdom. The Egyptian military has provided an ample supply. The faces and the names of the sanctified dead will be used by enraged clerics to call for holy vengeance. And as violence grows and the lists of martyrs expand, a war will be ignited that will tear Egypt apart. Police, Coptic Christians, secularists, Westerners, businesses, banks, the tourism industry and the military will become targets. Those radical Islamists who were persuaded by the Muslim Brotherhood that electoral politics could work and brought into the system will go back underground, and many of the rank and file of the Muslim Brotherhood will join them. Crude bombs will be set off. Random attacks and assassinations by gunmen will puncture daily life in Egypt as they did in the 1990s when I was in Cairo for The New York Times, although this time the attacks will be wider and more fierce, far harder to control or ultimately crush.

What is happening in Egypt is a precursor to a wider global war between the world’s elites and the world’s poor, a war caused by diminishing resources, chronic unemployment and underemployment, overpopulation, declining crop yields caused by climate change, and rising food prices. Thirty-three percent of Egypt’s 80 million people are 14 or younger, and millions live under or just above the poverty line, which the World Bank sets at a daily income of $2 in that nation. The poor in Egypt spend more than half their income on food—often food that has little nutritional value. An estimated 13.7 million Egyptians, or 17 percent of the population, suffered from food insecurity in 2011, compared with 14 percent in 2009, according to a report by the U.N. World Food Program and the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Malnutrition is endemic among poor children, with 31 percent under 5 years old stunted in growth. Illiteracy runs at more than 70 percent.

In “Les Misérables” Victor Hugo described war with the poor as one between the “egoists” and the “outcasts.” The egoists, Hugo wrote, had “the bemusement of prosperity, which blunts the sense, the fear of suffering which is some cases goes so far as to hate all sufferers, and unshakable complacency, the ego so inflated that is stifles the soul.” The outcasts, who were ignored until their persecution and deprivation morphed into violence, had “greed and envy, resentment at the happiness of others, the turmoil of the human element in search of personal fulfillment, hearts filled with fog, misery, needs, and fatalism, and simple, impure ignorance.”

The belief systems the oppressed embrace can be intolerant, but these belief systems are a response to the injustice, state violence and cruelty inflicted on them by the global elites. Our enemy is not radical Islam. It is global capitalism. It is a world where the wretched of the earth are forced to bow before the dictates of the marketplace, where children go hungry as global corporate elites siphon away the world’s wealth and natural resources and where our troops and U.S.-backed militaries carry out massacres on city streets. Egypt offers a window into the coming dystopia. The wars of survival will mark the final stage of human habitation of the planet. And if you want to know what they will look like, visit any city morgue in Cairo.

Chris Hedges, Truthdig / Truthdig Op-Ed,Published: Friday 16 August 2013
The belief systems the oppressed embrace can be intolerant, but these belief systems are a response to the injustice, state violence and cruelty inflicted on them by the global elites.
Posted in Anthropology, Economics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Origins of the Second Amendent: Runaway Slave Patrols



It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see that an enslaved population of blacks weren’t all singing spirituals while they worked like Hispanic stoop laborers who are a common sight seen everywhere there is agriculture.  Field work is hard on the back, following the crops is hard on the soul, and family separation is hard on the culture.  The Latino workers we see are the closest we will be to seeing slavery, but stoop workers get paid …sometimes.

Working Slave Patrol

Working Slave Patrol

In the 17th century, give or take a hundred years slaves were property like horses.  They had to be tamed, penned, disciplined, and those who couldn’t and tried to flee were the prey of Paddy Rollers, the Bounty Hunters of the time.  They hunted fugitive slaves and brought them back for bounty.  From these roots came the militias, not to protect the country from tyranny, but to act as independent criminals washed white by the 2nd amendment to the constitution.

Founding Fathers’ Words Reveal 2nd Amendment Was… To Preserve Slavery?

Author: January 16, 2013 5:45 am

We’ve all heard the arguments from the gun manufacturers lobby: “The 2nd Amendment was about freedom!” “The 2nd Amendment was to ensure that men could stand against their government” or other similarly absurd thoughts. But, what did the Founding Fathers think of the 2nd Amendment? It turns out, thanks to research done by Thom Hartmann, the 2nd Amendment was about slavery.

What is ignored in the NRA’s arguments is that, at the time the U.S. Constitution was written, the militia in the south was known by another name: the slave patrol, and virtually all men of age served in its ranks at one point or another. As far back as 1680 in Virginia, the militias were organized to prevent:

“…the frequent meetings of considerable numbers of negroe slaves, under pretence of feasts and burialls is judged [to be] of dangerous consequence.” (sic)

In other words, the Virginia Militia was tasked with breaking up slave rebellions by busting any slave who might be organizing one. It even gave ‘incentive’ to men to serve on the militia: any freed colored person (black, Native American, or any other), if caught fleeing by the Militiaman, would be turned over to them as property, enslaved. A very effective incentive in colonial Virginia.

By 1755, the Militia was established not only as a foundation to enforce slavery in the south, but it was a structure which it could be expanded if need be. Countless records of captured free people of color, even people such as the Irish, were pressed as slaves under the system.

With the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, there was concern among slave holders that their militias, their slave patrols, would be usurped by the new federal government using the provisions outlined in Article 1, Section 8. Patrick Henry in particular was quite vocal on the subject, saying:

Let me here call your attention to that part [Article 1, Section 8 of the proposed Constitution] which gives the Congress power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States. . .

By this, sir, you see that their control over our last and best defence is unlimited. If they neglect or refuse to discipline or arm our militia, they will be useless: the states can do neither . . . this power being exclusively given to Congress. The power of appointing officers over men not disciplined or armed is ridiculous; so that this pretended little remains of power left to the states may, at the pleasure of Congress, be rendered nugatory. [Source]

He also is quoted as saying:

If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress . . . . Congress, and Congress only, can call forth the militia. [Source]

He was not alone either, with George Mason joining him in concern:

The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practised in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless, by disarming them. Under various pretences, Congress may neglect to provide for arming and disciplining the militia; and the state governments cannot do it, for Congress has an exclusive right to arm them. [Source]

In other words, the U.S. Congress could disarm the patrols needed to keep slaves in line, eliminating slavery with one bold and quick move overnight. The 2nd Amendment itself was purposefully designed to empower the states to manage and handle their slave patrols, their militias. Which is why when Thomas Jefferson had James Madison draft up the 2nd Amendment, he had the language changed, from this:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.

To the language we know today:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. [Source]

A serious redesign, would you not say? The focus shift from a civil, non-conscripted force to a state-regulated entity which can be conscripted into service fit the needs of the slave holders. In a stroke of irony, when Abraham Lincoln did free the slaves, he used the very power which Patrick Henry and George Mason feared the government would, only at that time, by the Confederate states acting in revolt, they had abandoned their voting positions within the United States and therefore were unable to block the legislation. Their petty revolt resulted in their institution of slavery being wiped away. It still was a bloody civil war, but their “right to bear arms” destroyed what they had hoped to preserve.

When people call themselves patriots, or say they’re standing for what the founding fathers stood for when it comes to the 2nd Amendment, they are, in fact, doing nothing of the sort. Unless, of course, they’re arguing for the right to press people into involuntary, lifetime-indentured servitude, passed from parent to child in perpetuity. Or perhaps, that was, in fact, the plan all along.

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Posted in Economics, Law, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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