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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Private and Public Opinions

How affluent liberal progressives think of themselves as a master race

We all tell white lies from time to time, preferring to tell others what they want to hear rather than what we really think. This may seem fine when commenting on your partner’s new hairdo. You may prefer her old style, but you don’t want to hurt her feelings. White lies may be more sinister when someone cheats on you and stabs you behind your back, while claiming to be your friend. You may not want to hear that your business partner is having a salacious affair with your wife while you work overtime to keep your company afloat, but when your marriage breaks down you may wish you had learned earlier.

The same kind of mendacity occurs in public administration, but on a much bigger scale. Progressive influencers have public and private opinions. Publicly they preach greater equality, diversity and tolerance for all, namely they want to be your friend, but only if you behave. Privately, they see themselves as a master race of enlightened professionals entrusted with the task of managing everyone else’s lives, rewarding compliance and penalising the self-determination of sovereign individuals who may threaten social stability.

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s the incipient moral superiority of some overzealous health and safety managers and social workers may have seemed a little condescending at times, but basically benign. Health visitors would advise new parents on how to deal with tantrums without smacking and food standards inspectors would visit fish ‘n chip shops to replace old salt-shakers with new ones with fewer or smaller holes. Both sets of well-meaning professionals believed they served the public good because they knew better than most unsophisticated commoners who might otherwise beat their naughty children senseless or die of salt-laden heart attacks. Many such professionals have attended NLP or neurolinguistic programming courses, so they do not come across as arrogant or condescending when interacting with the great unwashed. One approach is to appeal to collective wisdom rather than suggesting the other person is in any way negligent, e.g. “Did you know some people fail to brush their teeth properly for at least two minutes”. This technique drops a gentle hint that only fools would forget to brush their teeth methodically because they fail to heed official advice. We are thus motivated not so much by a self-determined survival instinct, but by a yearning for social acceptance and thus appealing to a pseudo-intellectual hive mentality, i.e. doing what appears to be for the greater good rather than in our own interests. That doesn’t mean we should not listen to good advice from people we can trust, but we should ask whom we can trust and, more important, who has our best interests at heart?

Could the Covid Scare really be about Population Control?

For decades we have lived under the illusions of liberal democracy with full respect for human rights and growing prosperity. Many of us failed to realise the fragility of the short-lived neoliberal age that seemed to have space for a wide range of people from different walks of life and cultural backgrounds. The apocalyptic forecasts of the 1970s oil crisis never quite materialised. The world’s population continued to grow with rapidly declining infant mortality and lower levels of famine as hundreds of millions moved from small traditional communities to large conurbations. By 2015 most people in the developing world had access to clean water, electricity and telecommunications. At the turn of the fourth industrial revolution, most people on earth are somehow connected and aware of better economic opportunities in far-off lands, but only a tiny minority have the niche intellectual skills that 21st century high-tech businesses needed. We may have over 6 billion consumers, if we exclude off-grid subsistence farmers, and hundreds of millions of potential sales assistants, office clerks, drivers, production line workers or cleaners, but most will be made redundant by rapid smart automation. Over the last twenty years economic migration has mainly allowed employers to keep wages low and make it much easier to hire and fire expendable human resources that will soon be delegated to artificially intelligent robots. In an interconnected world population control has two related meanings, namely controlling our behaviour and potentially controlling our numbers. Once our livelihoods depend almost entirely on corporate welfare, with limited bargaining power, we are at the mercy of the hand that feeds us. The Australian government already operates a “no jab, no pay” policy that withdraws child support and other welfare to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. As long as most families have at least one breadwinner on a good salary, they can opt out of some state-mandated behaviours. Antivaxxers have become the new unclean outsiders, as powerful lobbies have over recent decades spent billions persuading us of the critical role vaccines play in warding off potentially lethal diseases. Concerns about vaccine safety are often dismissed as scientifically illiterate quackery, despite many widely documented cases of adverse reactions to heavily promoted vaccines such as MMR, HPV and swine flu. However, vaccines may only be a means to an end, another way to bind our survival to the biotechnological industrial complex. If we let natural herd immunity win the day, potentially sacrificing a few vulnerable individuals we cannot protect through common sense precautions, at least we remain in control with stronger immune systems. By contrast once we succumb to the lure of DNA-altering wonder drugs, our survival as species will forever more be intimately bound with biotech giants responsible for micro-managing our immune responses and certifying our health.

Sweeping controversies under the carpet

The biggest taboos of the late 20th century and well into the first two decades of the current century are the earth’s human carrying capacity and eugenics. Talk of the latter unwelcome dilemma fell into disfavour in the aftermath of the Second World War. Democracy relies on the notion that we should respect everyone’s needs, wishes and opinions, not just those of the anointed classes. As long as governments and big business can keep their people happy with bread and circuses, they can afford a high degree of public consultation and tolerate dissent, although the mainstream media has long channelled public debate into a narrow range of acceptable opinions, manufacturing consent over protracted periods for far-reaching social changes. However, that era may well be coming to an end as Western Democracy morphs into epistocracy, as envisaged by Jason Brennan in his 2016 book Against Democracy, namely rule by experts. In such a world anything that runs counter the experts’ narrative is deemed heretical. In today’s language dissidents are invariably dismissed as either as far-right or conspiracy theorists. In the recent past the establishment press would worry more about the far-left, intent on destroying our thriving free market economy, or about anarchists, intent on destabilising our cherished civil society. The old left versus right divide has now given way to a growing rift between the universalist outlooks of the affluent professional classes and more socially conservative perspectives of commoners. Who would have guessed that many of the same people who last year championed the free movement of workers and sexual liberation everywhere have now become some of the most fervent proponents of social distancing, face-masks, travel bans and mandatory vaccines. This cognitive dissonance is strongest within the green movement. While back in the 1980s ecologists advocated a back-to-nature approach to long-term sustainability supporting greater local self-sufficiency and often critical of high-tech solutions such as pesticides or genetically modified organisms, today’s Green leaders are very much in bed with cybertech and biotech giants. Indeed Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Bayer- Monsanto, GSK and AstraZeneca are all keen advocates of the much-flaunted Green New Deal.

The End of Endless Growth

The world’s business elites have now ditched the mantra of endless economic growth. Smart automation has dispensed with the need for a large working class. The mega-rich can consolidate their power and privileges without a large army of loyal workers or the need to milk profits from mass consumption. Since the worldwide roll-out of corona-containment measures the accumulated wealth of the planet’s top billionaires has risen exponentially. In the US alone their wealth had risen by a staggering $434 billion by the end of May this year. Jeff Bezos is now worth over $200 billion, more than the whole GDP of many countries. In public Bill and Melinda Gates may talk about empowering the poor through better education and healthcare, which usually means more vaccines and drugs. In private they consider the great unwashed useless eaters. As the United States teeters on the brink of a civil war, the metropolitan elites have struggled to hide their disdain for American rednecks and blue-collar workers, whose love of SUVs, private houses and guns makes them a huge liability. Our new technocratic masters will only tolerate the masses as long as our behaviour and thus our environmental impact on the planet can be micromanaged. The covid-19 narrative provides the perfect pretext to track not only the movements of all 7.8 billion human beings alive today, but to monitor our actions and ultimately our thoughts. Mental health screening will serve not just to identify depression or psychosis, but problematic critical thinking. To the likes of Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, polar bears, Amazonian rainforests, giraffes and lions are as worthy of protection as the working class tribes of Europe, North America or anywhere else for that matter. They may not yet have immediate plans to cull the global population, as some in the anti-lockdown movement believe, but they certainly want to tame us like wild animals in a zoo.

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All in the Mind

Peddling Misery – Letter to the Independent on Sunday

I refer to your piece (IoS 20/04/08) about Depression Awareness Week. We all know Alastair Campbell sold his soul to the military-industrial complex by playing a key role in preparing public opinion for the Iraqi oil grab and acting as spin-doctor-in-chief for one of this country's most mendacious administrations, now apparently he has sold out to big pharma too. Depression Awareness Week will do nothing to tackle the root causes of the misery and lack of self worth millions of us suffer day in day out. It will, however, serve to instil in the public mind the illusion that emotional distress bears no relation to real life events or societal values, but is supposedly endogenous, somehow divorced from a wider reality. I also note the familiar tactics of the growing emotional disorder industry. First they categorise a set of behavioural symptoms as a disease in its own right and then promote it through media campaigns by hiring the services of celebrities who share some of these traits.

Emotions are part of the human experience and it comes as some relief that even Mr Campbell failed to cope with the strains of his professional distorsions of reality. However, rather than take pills to wish away these moral dilemmas and suppress our true selves, we should look at the real causes of people's woes in a highly competitive and image-obsessed society and not just the bio- component of the classic bio-psycho-social triad.

Your article mentioned Depression Alliance, co-sponsored by Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim. In 2005 they organised a "Pulling Together" campaign to increase awareness among physicians, patients and the media of a link between physical symptoms and depression. This soon earned a subtitle as "Consumer Media Campaign National Depression Week for Eli Lilly's and Boehringer Ingelheim's Cymbalta". Let us not forget the many victims of the numerous side effects of common antidepressants this campaign seeks to promote, such as insomnia, dry mouths (accelerating tooth decay), weight gain, sudden mood swings and suicidal thoughts.

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All in the Mind

It’s official, Dissent is a Mental Illness

If you obsess with or consider stalking political celebrities, personally I think your fixations and potential actions are both ill-advised and in all likelihood counterproductive. Politicians not only thrive on publicity, the media would be quick to whip up a frenzy of hysteria should anyone attempt to threaten their life. An assassination attempt represents a huge a public relations coup for an unpopular member of the ruling elite. Admittedly some milder comical forms of stalking such as egg-throwing or carefully engineered stunts may, if reported accurately in the media, raise awareness of a dissident cause. After all to the best of my knowledge no politicians have ever died of custard pies or eggs being splattered all over their tailor-made suits. The trouble is these days politicians are just unthinking celebs, whose very rise to power depends on the approval of media moguls. A protest may be perfectly justified on a moral plane, but Sun readers will either be none the wiser or will be led to consider the protest as the antics of mentally deranged extremists.

Having instilled in the public mind that all sorts of inappropriate or nonconformist behaviours are caused by genetically determined mental disorders, often marketed as differences with benefits as well as downsides, diagnosing dissent as a mental disorder is the next logical step. According to an article, "Blair's secret stalker squad" penned by Jason Lewis, in the left's favourite bete noire, the Daily Mail, the government already employs psychiatrists to identify potential troublemakers. This is no longer wild conspiracy-theory territory, it's reality. However, it is true that psychological profiling can identify those most likely to channel their powers of critical thinking into active opposition to the agenda of the ruling elite. However, they merely identify people whose critical faculties have remained both intact and focussed on the misdemeanours of their own bosses, rather than on their bosses' enemies. A conformist in Stalin-era Russia would be a loyal Communist Party member happily spying on traitors and evil revisionists. The same mindset translated and adapted to the UK in the early 21st century would use her or his soft skills to identify extremists, conspiracy theorists and mavericks who might become enemies, as they see it, of our wondefully tolerant, dynamic and fun-loving democratic civilisation. Progress towards a neoliberal panacea of all-night smokefree raves and wheelchair-friendly casinos, conveniently located next to your local hypermarket, seems on par with the sales drive of your employer in the insurance business.

Notice how the British media have long described the last few remaining critical thinking politicians as mavericks, a term never used for politicians who toe the corporate or party line. Some even wonder why all dissidents are coincidentally mavericks. "Sure", some think, "I agree with much of what George Galloway/Tony Benn/Michael Meacher says, but he's just a maverick". Sooner or later the Guardian or Independent will do the nasty on any articulate person in the public eye who oversteps the margins of permissible dissent. Maybe this is one reason why so many otherwise rational commentators such as George Monbiot go out of the way to distance themselves from conspiracy theorists who fail to believe the official 9/11 story. Now I've met some of the assorted types who regularly attend 9/11 Truth group meetings. These events attract a fair number of individuals who would meet a psychiatrist's criteria for a pervasive personality disorder. Put simply your average happy-go-lucky working person, immersed in pervasive entertainment culture and preoccupied with their career and family (or whatever passes for a family these days), simply doesn't have time to consider the musings of fringe groups. They're more likely to settle for the conclusions of respected left-leaning commentators like George Monbiot, than actually think for themselves. What matters more is the calibre and prestige of opinion leaders. Read the moderated postings in the BBC's Have your Say forum or even musings in the Medialens forum and you'll soon notice the omnipresence of name-dropping and references to authoritative sources such as the BBC itself. Indeed some people in the UK refuse to believe anything until it's on Aunty Beeb (an affectionate, but often satirical nickname for the state broadcasting corporation). The Beeb is, of course, a massive organisation employing thousands of journalists and producers, many keen to investigate all sides of a story. Nonetheless some good stuff does seep through. BBC documentaries have revealed the side effects of antidepressants (Panorama on Seroxat) or in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq BBC 2 aired a documentary highlighting the role that oil plays in US administration's Mideast policy. But these tend to be the exception rather than the rule, and serve to reassure us, or the critically thinking minority among us, that Aunty Beeb remains a bastion of objectivity. This is the same BBC that consistently refers to the United States as a democracy and regularly talks of Anglo-American plans to extend democracy to Iraq, all without addressing the key issue of control of the country's oil.

Apparently some self-righteous left-leaning opinion leaders suffer a similar delusion, basically truth emerges from a consensus of high-profile experts given access to the BBC, CNN and a handful of other media outlets in the Anglosphere.

So who is more deluded? Those who challenge orthodoxy or those who swallow mainstream propaganda hook, line and sinker? In my humble opinion it is plainly naive to base your assessment of reality on the official or counter-current cult status of those advocating a position. Something is not true because MS-NBC has just aired a documentary debunking the controlled demolition theory for the vertical collapse of the World Trade Center, any more than it's true because Loose Change has some convincing video clips and David Ray Griffin seems an honest guy. What matters is evidence. If the evidence in favour of the official theory were so overwhelming, why would they seek to deny public access to so much incriminating evidence? Apart from applying one's understanding of science and politics, how can millions of mortal souls distinguish fact from fiction? While the motives of mainstream propagandists are clear, those of the 9/11 Truth movement are much less so? Some have suggested the whole conspiracy theory cult is a gigantic diversion from the real issues bedevilling humanity, such as resource depletion, nuclear war and climate change. Others view government complicity in acts of sabotage and psychological terrorism as crucial signs of a civilisation on the brink.

This morning (03/06/2007), the Aunty Beeb's news site leads on PM in Waiting Gordon Brown's support for even tougher anti-terrorism legislation, presented at a stage-managed conference in Glasgow with wonderful reassurances about checks and balances to safeguard civil liberties. Let's get this whole terrorism scare-mongering into perspective. The UK's capital attracts billions from global money laundering with sky-rocketing property prices requiring couples to earn jointly 75,000 just to buy a very humble modest 3-bedroom rabbit hutch, overcrowded transport infrastructure grinding to a halt with tube passengers packed like sardines and literally suffocating in each other's sweat and a huge influx of cheap labour and a steady outflow of native Londoners. To me, this would seem a recipe for disaster, easily exploited by gangsters, criminals and even would-be terrorists with an axe to grind against the financial or military elites. Yet unsurprisingly most residents of the sprawling metropolis are too busy competing in the rat race or coping with the sheer humiliation of not living up to the material and aesthetic expectations set by media role models, to even consider fighting the system. If Brown really cared about the safety of ordinary citizens, he might start by bringing in more socio-economic stability and thus defuse a state of of constant tension that his dynamic consumer-led economic model has instilled in us and simultaneously withdraw British forces from foreign ventures. Instead we get more of the same and worse and anyone who disagrees is labelled paranoid. The message is loud and clear. If you suspect the ruling elite may have it in for you, seek therapy, forget about your misgivings and return to your assigned role as a lowly parrot.

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All in the Mind

Shameless Celebrity Promotion of Personality Disorders

Letter to the Independent (on Sunday)

Judging from the Independent on Sunday's feature on Stephen Fry's high-profile outing as a bipolar-defined person, we can look forward to a new season of personality disorder awareness raising. If we believe the hype, until the mid 1990s human beings labelled with the new generation of behavioural disorders lived in the dark ages condemned to a life deprived of media-filtered awareness of their plight, a burgeoning support and counselling sector and a new range of wonder-drugs, without which, we are led to believe, affected subjects would commit either suicide or heinous antisocial crimes.

Over the last 15 years we have witnessed a gradual extension and proliferation of the traditional set of psychiatric disorders, often blurring distinctions with learning disabilities as in the case of autism, to encompass a growing proportion of the population. These range from ADHD kids weaned on Ritalin, Tourettes, Asperger's, obsessive compulsives, manic depressives, bipolar-disordered to schizophrenics, a surprisingly high percentage of whose psychotic episodes were triggered by recreational drugs.

Yet all the symptoms associated with these personality syndromes exist to varying degrees in the general undiagnosed population. If you have never felt depressed, heard inner voices, harboured paranoid thoughts, felt alienated, been obsessed with a special interest or had an annoying habit, you have probably led a very pampered and sheltered existence. The awareness raising industry may define these symptoms as pathological, but they are often a natural reaction to myriad personal injustices in a climate of heightened interpersonal competition and insatiable material expectations and hedonism. Obsessive societies tend to create obsessed citizens. When will we start treating each other as individual members of a community, each with our relative strengths and weaknesses, and stop categorising those of us who for a complex set of environmental and biological reasons are deemed misfits? When will we refocus our attention on identifying the real causes of personal woes, nearly always psycho-social, and stem this dangerous drift towards genetic fundamentalism. Neuroscience is very much in its infancy, but has already revealed the immense plasticity and thus adaptability of the orbito-frontal cortex of the human brain in reaction to real life events. 5 to 10 percent of the population is not subhuman and cross-cultural comparisons show huge variations in the definition and treatment of those of us who experience emotional disturbances. If Mr Fry wants a label, let it be Stephen Fry Syndrome.

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All in the Mind

Who Needs Psychiatry?

Most human beings have undergone moments of emotional disturbance and have at times engaged in unwise and irrational behaviour due to inexperience, extreme stress or intoxication. Our unconscious may have created sensory illusions, echoes of past ordeals. Many of us have felt the need to withdraw, if only temporarily, in a world of our own. A sense of insecurity, guilt or just personal fascination can lead us to obsess with actions, issues or objects. We may even sink into a mire of introspective self-worthlessness, known to others as depression. In some of us these tendencies may prevent us from leading our lives in a way that others may consider normal or functional.

If somebody behaves in a dysfunctionally irrational way, there may be two kinds of explanations. The first, and intuitively most obvious, is that something out there, whether a recent occurrence or a distant childhood memory, has altered his or her state of mind. Alternatively the brain itself could be defective. It's not quite that simple because drugs, medicines and food can change our metabolism and alter our mood. More to the point our brains rewire in response to environmental changes, especially during our formative years, but by and large we may seek either psycho-social (also known as environmental) or neurological causes of our troubles. Neither psychology nor neurology can exist in isolation. The former deals with the software and the latter with the hardware, which unlike computer hardware, may be subject to a process of continuous adaptation known as neuroplasticity.

Some behaviours are not only subjectively dysfunctional or culturally inappropriate, but immoral and dangerous to the rest of the community, e.g. If a person became convinced that all red-haired men were evil and proceeded to murder all such individuals in his neighbourhood, it would be perfectly correct to detain the perpetrator and thus protect the wider community. Psychologists may wonder what traumatic events caused the murderer to commit these heinous acts and neurologists may wonder if his brain had an inherent defect or had been afflicted by a physiological disease.

A short definition of psychiatry would be the study of pathological behavioural patterns or according to the Free Online Dictionary, the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental and emotional disorders. A psychiatrist treats an aberrant behaviour as a disease. A complex of associated behaviours is then classified as a disorder. A psychiatric diagnosis is thus nothing more than a synopsis, albeit in erudite language, of observed symptoms, indeed the word clinical often preceding labels such as depression means just involving or based on direct observation of the patient. Surprisingly few people labelled with behavioural disorders have had their clinical diagnosis confirmed by PET or fMRI brain scans, but if any abnormalities were detected only an experienced neurologist would be able to make sense of the data. Nobody receives a psychiatric diagnosis based on the results of a brain scan and yet confusingly many victims of traumatic brain injuries and epilepsy manifesting conspicuous deficiencies in parts of the cerebral cortex allegedly responsible for reasoning and socialisation lead very successful lives free of psychotic episodes.

Psychoactive drugs rightly attract a great deal of controversy, but surely if they did help alleviate the worst symptoms of emotional distress and prevent extreme antisocial behaviours, the professional category responsible for their administration would be psycho-pharmacology.

Some see psychiatrists as the last line of defence when other law enforcement and social care professionals cannot deal with extremely abusive, dangerous or self-destructive behaviour. Psychiatry differs from psychology in defining aberrant behavioural patterns as endogenous diseases, which may have environmental triggers but are nonetheless inherent to the affected individual. Many parents and other close relatives go along with the psychiatric model because it absolves them of all responsibility. Schools, social services, police, state and corporate entities all tend towards psychiatric explanations for the same basic reason.

Don't Blame the Parents

This has long been the rallying cry of the burgeoning mental health industry, myriad charities, public and private sector institutions very much in the public limelight. Whenever anti-psychiatry raises its dissenting head, its advocates are vilified and often likened with Robert D Laing, and accused often in highly emotive language, of blaming parents. This misses three essential points:

  • Parents are only part of a child's environment and thus cannot be blamed for numerous other factors such as heightened social competition, mass consumerism, peer pressure, pervasive media etc.
  • Parents may themselves be victims of childhood neglect and adult stress, with a serious sense of inferiority, social alienation or addiction to hedonistic pursuits such as gambling.
  • If we stress the psycho-social causes of personal problems rather than endogenous biological causes, parents, and other close relatives and friends, have a greater role to play in rehabilitation. Many become depressed or experience psychotic episodes precisely because they lack full integration with their family and community. Even where neglectful or abusive parents are a large part of the problem, they may, except in the most extreme cases of abuse, be part of the solution.

So let's abolish psychiatry altogether. In some cases we may find answers in neuroscience, but in most we'd better take a good look at each other and wonder what we as individuals or as a society have done wrong to make an increasing number of us go insane.

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All in the Mind

Is AS really on the Autistic Spectrum or are we just redefining Autism?

The overall message we get from the growing AS/Autism support industry is that we are part of the autistic spectrum and we have a psychiatric disorder, even if the language used by professionals when addressing us is much more diplomatic. I agree we have problems with socialisation and manifest behavioural traits that come under the broad umbrella now labelled as Asperger's.

I take issue with this arbitrary extension of the so-called autistic spectrum to include people with a high verbal intelligence quotient and who have very human emotions. It is kind of like saying "You were bullied at school because you're autistic but didn't know it at the time and now you've been diagnosed help is at hand". The truth is most of us were bullied at school because in a highly competitive society obsessed with coolness anyone who fails to conform to such standards is weeded out. As the saying goes "special needs are just weeds". As we are all so different, how could a label help anyone deal with us better. We are just human beings trying to navigate in today's social rat race and often choosing to opt out. I think the problems we experience are shared by a much larger percentage of the population, but to claim that such a reality represents an extension of autism is to misunderstand autism itself or rather to debase its value as a meaningful diagnosis. This term should only be used for individuals with a classic Kanner's autism developmental pattern and with associated cerebral abnormalities. Those who claim that aspies have radically different brains have misinterpreted scant data as most AS-diagnosed people have never had a PET or fMRI scan and recent studies are showing marked difference between the HFA/LFA (traditional autistic) group and the AS group and disproving earlier assumptions about the size of our amygdala (originally attributed to schizophrenics and psychopaths). The latter group manifest varying degrees of synaptic overconnectedness in the orbito-frontal cortex, but this is the most neuroplastic and evolutionarily advanced section of our brain and it is now known that it constantly rewires itself throughout adolescence and way into our twenties and even thirties. So it quite possible that millions could be manifesting AS-like traits not because we were born that way, but because our interaction with the modern environment led us to develop in a certain, with genetic factors only determining relative susceptibility. There seems to be a move to extend the autistic spectrum even further to include ADHD, Tourettes,OCD etc.. In some parts of the UK ADHD diagnosis has reached 1 in 5 children. So if we believe the psychiatric establishment, 1 in 5 kids has a neurological abnormality and will require drugs (they say medication) like ritalin (a commercialised variant of speed) or risperdal (think crack cocaine) for the rest of their lives alongside a support network, with teachers specially trained to deal with challenging behaviour..

This approach, labelling more and more people with one disorder or another, cannot be right. If something is wrong, let's look at the real causes. If we're told our problems are due to a neurological deviation, then we might believe that we need a label and all the stigma that that implies. By contrast if we conclude that society is at fault then we need to change society. Even small changes seem beyond the powers that be. Examples include reducing class sizes (i.e. replacing special needs learning support workers with real teachers and reclassifying all children as having special needs), putting limits on absurd sensory overloads in shopping centres and leisure complexes (loud music) and de-emphasising coolness. Why not? Because such changes would rock too many boats. Teamwork is the order of the day because in reality it means groupthink conformism. Many myths about AS-diagnosed people are spread by ASD evangelisers. We are supposed to lack interest in imaginative play or socialisation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The imaginative play claim comes straight from textbooks that apply to Kanner's syndrome (0.2% of the population according to NAS stats). As for socialisation, just consider why so many AS-diagnosed people get depressed, because we fail to socialise. If we didn't want to socialise, we would not care if others shunned us..

Dyspraxia and hypersensitivity to sounds are very real, but there is simply no magic dividing line between the AS-diagnosed and everyone else, they both represent continua. It may, however, be the case that dyspraxic or hypersensitive children are more likely to be ostracised and develop AS-like behavioural traits. How can one seriously imagine that the enormous lifestyle changes we have witnessed over the last two generations have not led to major psychological changes in a sizable group of adults? Some such as Richard Restak (author of the New Brain) Peter Breggin (author of numerous books on the dangers of ECT, psychiatric drugs and the ADHD fraud) have suggested that ADHD should really be called TV-syndrome. Why? Because it has been proven that excessive exposure to TV (immersion of a virtual reality not just the other side effects of cathod ray tubes) causes the brain to rewire. Remove someone from a high-tech media-obsessed multitasking information-overladen environment and place them in a more traditional slow-paced focused environment and their brains rewires. Of course we are all different, that much should be obvious to anyone who has met more than half a dozen aspies, but we are also first and foremost human beings.

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All in the Mind

AS vs Autism Neuroimaging

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2004 Mar;61(3):291-8. Investigation of neuroanatomical differences between autism and Asperger syndrome.

Lotspeich LJ, Kwon H, Schumann CM, Fryer SL, Goodlin-Jones BL, Buonocore MH, Lammers CR, Amaral DG, Reiss AL.

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

Linda.Lotspeich@stanford.edu

CONCLUSIONS: Lack of replication between previous autism MRI studies could be due to intersite differences in MRI systems and subjects' age and IQ. Cerebral gray tissue findings suggest that ASP is on the mild end of the autism spectrum. However, exploratory assessments of brain-IQ relationships reveal differences between HFA and ASP, indicating that these conditions may be neurodevelopmentally different when patterns of multiple measures are examined. Further investigations of brain-behavior relationships are indicated to confirm these findings.

Functional connectivity in an fMRI working memory task in high-functioning autism.

Neuroimage. 2005 Feb 1;24(3):810-21. Epub 2004 Nov 24.

Koshino H, Carpenter PA, Minshew NJ, Cherkassky VL, Keller TA, Just MA.

Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA; Department of Psychology, California State University, San Bernardino, CA 92407, USA.

An fMRI study was used to measure the brain activation of a group of adults with high-functioning autism compared to a Full Scale and Verbal IQ and age-matched control group during an n-back working memory task with letters. The behavioral results showed comparable performance, but the fMRI results suggested that the normal controls might use verbal codes to perform the task, while the adults with autism might use visual codes. The control group demonstrated more activation in the left than the right parietal regions, whereas the autism group showed more right lateralized activation in the prefrontal and parietal regions. The autism group also had more activation than the control group in the posterior regions including inferior temporal and occipital regions. The analysis of functional connectivity yielded similar patterns for the two groups with different hemispheric correlations. The temporal profile of the activity in the prefrontal regions was more correlated with the left parietal regions for the control group, whereas it was more correlated with the right parietal regions for the autism group.

Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2004 Sep;11(3):205-13.

Imaging data in autism: from structure to malfunction.

Acosta MT, Pearl PL.

Department of Neurology, Children's National Medical Center, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC 20010-2970, USA. macosta@cnmc.org

During the last two decades, neuroimaging studies have improved our knowledge of brain development and contributed to our understanding of disorders involving the developing brain. Differences in cerebral anatomy have been determined in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Morphological studies by magnetic resonance imaging have provided evidence of structural differences in ASD compared with the normal population. This has enhanced our view of autism as a neurobiological disorder corresponding with different stages and events in brain development. Alterations in volume of the total brain and specifically the cerebellum, frontal lobe, and limbic system have been identified. There appears to be a pattern of increased and then decreased rate of brain growth over time. We integrate these observations with neurobehavioral findings to provide a developmental hypothesis of the pathophysiology of autism.

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2004 Nov;46(11):760-4.

Voxel-based morphometry elucidates structural neuroanatomy of high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome.

Kwon H, Ow AW, Pedatella KE, Lotspeich LJ, Reiss AL.

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA. howerk@alum.mit.edu

Efforts to examine the structural neuroanatomy of autism by using traditional methods of imaging analysis have led to variable findings, often based on methodological differences in image acquisition and analysis. A voxel-based computational method of whole-brain anatomy allows examination of small patterns of tissue differences between groups. High-resolution structural magnetic resonance images were acquired for nine males with high-functioning autism (HFA; mean age 14y [SD3y 4mo]), 11 with Asperger syndrome (ASP; mean age 13y 6mo [SD2y 5mo]), and 13 comparison (COM) participants (mean age 13y 7mo [SD 3y 1mo]). Using statistical parametric mapping, we examined contrasts of gray matter differences between the groups. Males with HFA and ASP had a pattern of decreased gray matter density in the ventromedial regions of the temporal cortex in comparison with males from an age-matched comparison group. Examining contrasts revealed that the COM group had increased gray matter density compared with the ASP or combined HFA and ASP group in the right inferior temporal gyrus, entorhinal cortex, and rostral fusiform gyrus. The ASP group had less gray matter density in the body of the cingulate gyrus in comparison with either the COM or HFA group. The findings of decreased gray matter density in ventromedial aspects of the temporal cortex in individuals with HFA and ASP lends support to theories suggesting an involvement of these areas in the pathophysiology of autism, particularly in the integration of visual stimuli and affective information.

PMID: 15540637 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Hippocampus and amygdala volumes in parents of children with autistic disorder.

Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Nov;161(11):2038-44.

Rojas DC, Smith JA, Benkers TL, Camou SL, Reite ML, Rogers SJ.

Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado
Health Sciences Center, Box C268-68 CPH, 4200 E. 9th Ave., Denver, CO
80262, USA.

Don.Rojas@uchsc.edu

OBJECTIVE: Structural and
functional abnormalities in the medial temporal lobe, particularly
the hippocampus and amygdala, have been described in people with
autism. The authors hypothesized that parents of children with a
diagnosis of autistic disorder would show similar changes in these
structures. METHOD: Magnetic resonance imaging scans

were performed in 17 biological parents of children with a diagnosis of DSM-IV autistic disorder. The scans were compared with scans from 15 adults with autistic disorder and 17 age-matched comparison subjects with no personal or familial history of autism.

The volumes of the hippocampus, amygdala, and total
brain were measured in all participants. RESULTS: The volume of the
left hippocampus was larger in both the parents of children with
autistic disorder and the adults with autistic disorder, relative to
the comparison subjects. The hippocampus was significantly larger in
the adults with autistic disorder than in the parents of children
with autistic disorder. The left amygdala was smaller in the adults
with autistic disorder, relative to the other two groups. No
differences in total brain volume were observed between the three
groups. CONCLUSIONS:

The finding of larger hippocampal volume in autism is suggestive of abnormal early neurodevelopmental processes but is partly consistent with only one prior study and contradicts the findings of several others. The finding of larger hippocampal volume for the parental group suggests a potential genetic basis

for hippocampal abnormalities in
autism.

PMID: 15514404 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Cerebellar function in autism: functional magnetic resonance image activation during a simple motor task.
Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Aug 15;56(4):269-78.
Allen G, Muller RA, Courchesne E.

Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, USA.

BACKGROUND: The cerebellum is one of the most consistent sites of neuroanatomic abnormality in autism, yet it is still unclear how such pathology impacts cerebellar function. In normal subjects, we previously demonstrated with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) a dissociation between cerebellar regions involved in attention and those involved in a simple motor task, with motor activation localized to the anterior cerebellum ipsilateral to the moving hand. The purpose of the present investigation was to examine activation in the cerebella of autistic patients and normal control subjects performing this motor task. METHODS: We studied eight autistic patients and eight matched normal subjects, using fMRI. An anatomic region-of-interest approach was used, allowing a detailed examination of cerebellar function. RESULTS: Autistic individuals showed significantly increased motor activation in the ipsilateral anterior cerebellar hemisphere relative to normal subjects, in addition to atypical activation in contralateral and posterior cerebellar regions. Moreover, increased activation was correlated with the degree of cerebellar structural abnormality. CONCLUSIONS: These findings strongly suggest dysfunction of the autistic cerebellum that is a reflection of cerebellar anatomic abnormality. This neurofunctional deficit might be a key contributor to the development of certain diagnostic features of autism (e.g., impaired communication and social interaction, restricted interests, and stereotyped behaviors).

Less white matter concentration in autism: 2D voxel-based morphometry.

Neuroimage. 2004 Sep;23(1):242-51.
Chung MK, Dalton KM, Alexander AL, Davidson RJ.
Department of Statistics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA.
mchung@stat.wisc.ed

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting behavioral and social cognition, but there is little understanding about the link between the functional deficit and its underlying neuroanatomy. We applied a 2D version of voxel-based morphometry (VBM) in differentiating the white matter concentration of the corpus callosum for the group of 16 high functioning autistic and 12 normal subjects. Using the white matter density as an index for neural connectivity, autism is shown to exhibit less white matter concentration in the region of the genu, rostrum, and splenium removing the effect of age based on the general linear model (GLM) framework. Further, it is shown that the less white matter concentration in the corpus callosum in autism is due to hypoplasia rather than atrophy.