Catch 22: Psychosis, Culture and the Mind Wars

While the original catch 22 was about a person not getting interned for military service on a premise that one is insane and thus incapable; and on the flip side the fact that only a sane person , who wants to avoid military service , would use such an insanity defense; this post is more about the fact that if psychosis/delusion is defined in cultural terms, then a society of affected individuals who form a community/culture in which their beliefs/ behavior is not considered bizarre would have cured themselves of their malady by just forming a community.

Thus the paradox of defining psychotic symptoms in relative terms

  • socially inappropriate behavior- As an example – if a person gets nude, it is a socially inappropriate behavior; but if he joins and starts living on a private nude beach- that becomes an acceptable behavior.
  • delusions as beliefs not shared by the community/culture – as Vaughan from Mind Hacks points out in his original research – here people with mind control delusions form an online community and thus logically within their community/ sub-culture- their beliefs are no more illogical or delusional.
  • Hallucinations as visions/ voices not heard/seen by others– This has an inherent problem as the qualia one experiences cannot be shared by others. Suppose one sees a magical performance in which something impossibles happens in front of one’s eyes – like a man cutting himself in two-is that a real phenomenon as all the audiences have witnessed it. Conversely if someone sees or hears things that seem more real than real to him/her but are not perceived by others should he doubt his subjective experience? If many psychotic patients come together and by synchronising in some sense of the word , get an auditory/ visual hallucination simultaneously – would that make their case strong that they are not listening to imaginary voices? As the diagnosis is made based on the presence of hallucinations and the psychiatrists are usually least bothered about the content, should it matter that the voice they hear says the same thing?

I concur with Vaughan that diagnosis not be made on relative terms – it should be in absolute terms. A behavior of being nude in public is no more appropriate- it once was when we were evolving- but now that we have clothes we better cover ourselves and if we have to reveal , reveal in a socially acceptable context (for eg Jain Munis or other saints at times go about naked, because the culture/ community of these holy men is very different from ours).

Similarly, delusions may just be an attempt to weave a coherent narrative around their unusual experiences- if the prevailing culture’s main values are things like warfare/ exploitation/ mind control experiments , then when faced with immense stressful situations that may lead to physcila and chemical changes in the brain and behavior and sensorimotor gating, one may cope by rationalizing one’s state as due to mind-control . Alternately one may consider oneself a victim of alien abduction and as being controlled by Aliens if the culture of that person values more of science and futuristic scenarios. Alternately the person from religious and spiritual cultures may believe themselves to be controlled by God or Satan and being juts the vehicle for their wishes. I have my own preferences and prejudices as to which interpretation is more desirable, but I’ll leave that for now and caution that it is best to consider a delusional belief as efforts to make sense of their unusual experincecs an tackled as such. One knows that the psychosis gets triggered by stress and emotional turmoil and one should address that to prevent the emergence of symtoms and then address the delusional beliefs.

I would now like to draw attention to an article I read in Washington post today. The author meets up with some Targeted Individual (TIs) of mind-control community and comes up with some very interesting observations.

The callers frequently refer to themselves as TIs, which is short for Targeted Individuals, and talk about V2K — the official military abbreviation stands for “voice to skull” and denotes weapons that beam voices or sounds into the head. In their esoteric lexicon, “gang stalking” refers to the belief that they are being followed and harassed: by neighbors, strangers or colleagues who are agents for the government.

I am currently reading a book Mind Wars by Moreno and one reason I am a bit reluctant to do a quick review is because it brings to light many such mind-control and man-machine intelligence experiments that may fuel mind-control delusions in those at risk and those trying to make sense of their stressful and emotional experiences . The book has similarly been written on a very cautious note, and I would love to review it also in a cautious mode. For now on to the Washington post article.

For all the scorn, the ranks of victims — or people who believe they are victims — are speaking up. In the course of the evening, there are as many as 40 clicks from people joining the call, and much larger numbers participate in the online forum, which has 143 members. A note there mentioning interest from a journalist prompted more than 200 e-mail responses.

It is interesting to note that the number of forum members is close to 150 – the number most frequently associated with any active community- as is also the number of nodes that cluster together in a real small-world network. Vaughan also points that the social network they discovered , by analyzing online mind-control sites, was a small-world network.

Girard sought advice from this then-girlfriend, a practicing psychologist, whom he declines to identify. He says she told him, “Nobody can become psychotic in their late 40s.” She said he didn’t seem to manifest other symptoms of psychotic behavior — he dressed well, paid his bills — and, besides his claims of surveillance, which sounded paranoid, he behaved normally. “People who are psychotic are socially isolated,” he recalls her saying.

This exposes some of the frequent myths associated with Psychosis. As one relates psychosis most with Schizophrenia, one believes that it cannot occur later- if one thinks of schizophrenia as a extreme manic episode of a bipolar disorder, one would not have a bias. Interestingly, of the blind psychiatrist that analyzed the online sites in the Vaughan study , most made an outright diagnosis of schizophrenia and not a delusional or psychotic assessment. Again, those having bipolar disorder may not be socially isolated. Even bipolar patients can suffer from mind-control or other delusions.

He got the same response from friends, he says. “They regarded me as crazy, which is a humiliating experience.”

When asked why he didn’t consult a doctor about the voices and the pain, he says, “I don’t dare start talking to people because of the potential stigma of it all. I don’t want to be treated differently. Here I was in Philadelphia. Something was going on, I don’t know any doctors . . . I know somebody’s doing something to me.”

Again notice the downward spiral – to avoid stigma and humiliation (at both being diagnosed as mad and putting one’s family to risk and shame(genetic defect) and as being not able to cope with external stresses( a perceived character defect) one takes the other more acceptable alternative of explaining one’s predicament as a result of prevalent cultural values. This leads to loss of touch with reality and pardoxically leads to social unaccepatnce. Here it is imperative to note that in some other psychological conditions like Mass hysteria too- the content of the abnormal behavior comprises of and is affected by prevalent cultural values. One may thus have a control-by-god ‘delusion’ or a control-by-govt/machines delusion or a control-by-aliens delusions. nbe may even see visions accordingly- some of a deity, others of Significan Others and still others of Govt agents (remember A Beautiful Mind).

Girard, for his part, believes these weapons were not only developed but were also tested on him more than 20 years ago.

What would the government gain by torturing him? Again, Girard found what he believed to be an explanation, or at least a precedent: During the Cold War, the government conducted radiation experiments on scores of unwitting victims, essentially using them as human guinea pigs. Girard came to believe that he, too, was a walking experiment.

As long as things like these have happened historically, one should not be surprised if one becomes suspicious after meeting top govt personnels at a stressful and vulnerable time. Also remember the LCD experiments!

GIRARD’S STORY, HOWEVER STRANGE, reflects what TIs around the world report: a chance encounter with a government agency or official, followed by surveillance and gang stalking, and then, in many cases, voices, and pain similar to electric shocks. Some in the community have taken it upon themselves to document as many cases as possible. One TI from California conducted about 50 interviews, narrowing the symptoms down to several major areas: “ringing in the ears,” “manipulation of body parts,” “hearing voices,” “piercing sensation on skin,” “sinus problems” and “sexual attacks.” In fact, the TI continued, “many report the sensation of having their genitalia manipulated.”

Again psychiatrists typically ignore the content of delusions/ hallucinations, but it is apparent that their is a pattern. I hope I was qualified enough to comment on what may be behind this pattern, but hopefully others more qualified would take a lead here and start examining why the etiology should be like this. One explanation, that is apparent is , treating one’s body reactions as being caused by others.

What made her think it was an electronic attack and not just in her head? “There was no sexual attraction to a man when it would happen. That’s what was wrong. It did not feel like a muscle spasm or whatever,” she says. “It’s so . . . electronic.”

Again, it is plausible that the attraction is unconscious and one is trying to make sense of a consciously undesired sensation.

Like Girard, Naylor describes what she calls “street theater” — incidents that might be dismissed by others as coincidental, but which Naylor believes were set up. She noticed suspicious cars driving by her isolated vacation home. On an airplane, fellow passengers mimicked her every movement — like mimes on a street.

Again if we have cultural artifacts like Bertolt Brescht type street theatres, MTV bakras or the concept of psychodramas, then it is quite possible that these delusions of conspiracy may get woven in the narrative.

For almost four years, Naylor says, the voices prevented her from writing. In 2000, she says, around the time she discovered the mind-control forums, the voices stopped and the surveillance tapered off. It was then that she began writing 1996 as a “catharsis.”

Colleagues urged Naylor not to publish the book, saying she would destroy her reputation. But she did publish, albeit with a small publishing house. The book was generally ignored by critics but embraced by TIs.

Naylor is not the first writer to describe such a personal descent. Evelyn Waugh, one of the great novelists of the 20th century, details similar experiences in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Waugh’s book, published in 1957, has eerie similarities to Naylor’s.

Again notice the stigma and the similarities.

Embarking on a recuperative cruise, Pinfold begins to hear voices on the ship that he believes are part of a wireless system capable of broadcasting into his head; he believes the instigator recruited fellow passengers to act as operatives; and he describes “performances” put on by passengers directed at him yet meant to look innocuous to others.

“One tries to convince friends and family that you are being electronically harassed with voices that only you can hear,” he writes in an e-mail. “You learn to stop doing that. They don’t believe you, and they become sad and concerned, and it amplifies your own depression when you have voices screaming at you and your friends and family looking at you as a helpless, sick, mentally unbalanced wreck.”

Moore, like other TIs, is cautious about sharing details of his life. He worries about looking foolish to friends and colleagues — but he says that risk is ultimately worthwhile if he can bring attention to the issue.

More stigma. And More courage, but perhaps in the wrong direction.

Alexander acknowledged that “there were some abuses that took place,” but added that, on the whole, “I would argue we threw the baby out with the bath water.”

But September 11, 2001, changed the mood in Washington, and some in the national security community are again expressing interest in mind control, particularly a younger generation of officials who weren’t around for MK-ULTRA. “It’s interesting, that it’s coming back,” Alexander observed.

“Maybe I can fix you, or electronically neuter you, so it’s safe to release you into society, so you won’t come back and kill me,” Alexander says. It’s only a matter of time before technology allows that scenario to come true, he continues. “We’re now getting to where we can do that.” He pauses for a moment to take a bite of his sandwich. “Where does that fall in the ethics spectrum? That’s a really tough question.”

When Alexander encounters a query he doesn’t want to answer, such as one about the ethics of mind control, he smiles and raises his hands level to his chest, as if balancing two imaginary weights. In one hand is mind control and the sanctity of free thought — and in the other hand, a tad higher — is the war on terrorism.

Does 9/11 justify a preparedness for Mind Wars? Or is the root of all evil in the culture that puts inappropriate stress on vulnerable individuls. It is interesting to note that some people got rid of their symptoms after joining online support groups.

Clancy argues that the main reason people believe they’ve been abducted by aliens is that it provides them with a compelling narrative to explain their perception that strange things have happened to them, such as marks on their bodies (marks others would simply dismiss as bruises), stimulation to their sexual organs (as the TIs describe) or feelings of paranoia. “It’s not just an explanation for your problems; it’s a source of meaning for your life,” Clancy says.

In the case of TIs, mind-control weapons are an explanation for the voices they hear in their head. Socrates heard a voice and thought it was a demon; Joan of Arc heard voices from God. As one TI noted in an e-mail: “Each person undergoing this harassment is looking for the solution to the problem. Each person analyzes it through his or her own particular spectrum of beliefs. If you are a scientific-minded person, then you will probably analyze the situation from that perspective and conclude it must be done with some kind of electronic devices. If you are a religious person, you will see it as a struggle between the elements of whatever religion you believe in. If you are maybe, perhaps more eccentric, you may think that it is alien in nature.”

A step towrads the right solutions.

Being a victim of government surveillance is also, arguably, better than being insane. In Waugh’s novella based on his own painful experience, when Pinfold concludes that hidden technology is being used to infiltrate his brain, he “felt nothing but gratitude in his discovery.” Why? “He might be unpopular; he might be ridiculous; but he was not mad.”

So is it better to be deluded or better to be Mad (psychotic).

In general, the outlook for TIs is not good; many lose their jobs, houses and family. Depression is common. But for many at the rally, experiencing the community of mind-control victims seems to help. One TI, a man who had been a rescue swimmer in the Coast Guard before voices in his head sent him on a downward spiral, expressed the solace he found among fellow TIs in a long e-mail to another TI: “I think that the only people that can help are people going through the same thing. Everyone else will not believe you, or they are possibly involved.”

In the end, though, nothing could help him enough. In August 2006, he would commit suicide.

Grave lessons. Psychitric help is needed and required. An online community may prevent you from insanity; it doesnt prevent death and suicide.

Is there any reason for optimism?

Girard hesitates, then asks a rhetorical question.

“Why, despite all this, why am I the same person? Why am I Harlan Girard?”

For all his anguish, be it the result of mental illness or, as Girard contends, government mind control, the voices haven’t managed to conquer the thing that makes him who he is: Call it his consciousness, his intellect or, perhaps, his soul.

“That’s what they don’t yet have,” he says. After 22 years, “I’m still me.”

The last words of hope. At least we are not lobotomizing people now and making them a different person.

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