>Theses on the cultural premises of pseudoscience

>Religion is to believe in the unbelievable, to accept as true what is not proven, to render human dignity to powers of fantasy amid despair. In this wining war of the rich against the poor, of the opressor’s religion against the religion of the ruled, in this war of the smart against the ignorant – the cast in power needs priets, psychologists, therapists, and segments of the medical establishment that can make us believe that what is wrong around us it is something else than the unfair status resulting of devastating deterioration of social justice.

In other words, several politically correct stress researchers or therapists risk with their public interventions to be taken as the ultimate pro-alienation ideologists, meaning mental professional assisting in the goal of making public opinion to shift from the huge, real macro problems in society, to ego-inwards micro situations. They seem wanting to convince the individuals that his/her sufferings are reduced to a supposed weakened mind and body eroded by a stressful emotional burden, to a wrong stress coping, or a “too much” altruistic engagement towards others.


The question is, what on earth does exist in terms of scientifically verified evidence to sustain the fashionable nonsense that the “stress” a person “suffers of” is only job-related? What are the political and ideological premises for the cultural presence of this pseudoscientific trend?

Essay by Marcello Ferrada-Noli. 17 Sept 2006
I

Pseudoscience in the macro-political context
Regensburg, Bavaria, September 2006. Pope Benedict XVI publicly opposes to Islam the means of western Catholicism, right at the time of the geopolitical conjunction of USA-European troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. But can this apparently war for the souls-and-minds against the fundamentalist followers of Islam hide with any elegance the one and only conquering agenda? Can anybody with a brief two centuries retro-glimpse doubt an aim in the easy capturing of natural resources in territories belonging to developing-countries with low military response?

Already since Cristoforo Colombo was discovered by the Indians in America, they realized that nearly close behind the formations of Spaniard swords, a line of Christian crucifixes was there to conquer the gold of their “heart and souls”. No South American booting would have ever been possible at that scale without the alienating help of the peoples’ opium. The pope of the time, Bonifacio, had even through bula pontificia declared that the overseas enterprise was aimed at a religious redemption. But the aim was gold, no matter how vast the genocide inflicted to the redeemed.

The thesis here is not that Bush or some staunch European allies – and the hyper industrial/finance complex they represent – are personally “eviler” than Reagan or Thatcher or Pius XII. It is not there where the qualitative change in the all-out strategic offensive is to be found. But rather in the fact that West governments have not any longer in front of their NATO tanks – unlike their predecessors – a strong enemy block equipped itself with a huge deterring potential. In the main, only the parity-vacuum resulted from above, known as Détente, could corollary serve to the threatened developing countries during the cold war times, as a geopolitical buffer against invasions such as the today in Iraq.

A world focused in the high vicissitudes of nuclear war ad portas among the industrial nations, and of intense anti-colonialist liberation movements among the emergent nations, it is a world in which life is at the stake and tasks of physical survival a priority. Amid this primal perspective of the society we lived in, duties of solidarity from the part of every decent citizen were the self evident ethical leitmotiv.

For every such individual his/her main focus was naturally ego-outside. For the individuals instead living in the opulent society deprived it self of the perils of war and the need of ontogenetic solidarity for the accomplishing of filogenetic survival, the centre may turn to him self, the main focus becomes eventually ego-inwards.

From there, to accept we are “stressed” by the mere other’s existence, or stressed by a work that is not any longer regarded as vital, human, and necessary. In other words, from there to regard as “unnatural” and “stressed” or even “pathological” (being the normal in this construction a “non-stressed” life) nearly everything societal around us, there are only few steps. But, as the modern consumers we are, we need the road asphalted, otherwise we forgot how to walk, and we need the “professional” guide as in every other thing, and we need the stress-license and the stress-diagnosis, and the stress-cure. Read: massive stress cure, rehabilitation for “hundreds of thousand” that would be financed by public means. Here is when pseudoscience comes in, and some stress enterpreneurs make their academic profit.

II

Scientific rationalism retreats. Religious thinking and pseudoscience filling the gap
The world decimation of the nearly entire former socialist block conveyed as well a tremendous debilitation of the political positions of leftist parties and trade unions in every country of the west. Many among these organizations had to trade ideology for political survival. Principally, discussions are not longer about Athena or Ideology – in whose hands the destiny of science ultimately rests – but confined to matters of percentages, ounces or millimetres in the distributing of a delusional wealth.

The historical forum in which Liberal organizations played their role as defenders of empiricism and anti-dogmatism went also decimated. The political alliance of liberalism with the more conservative right was already a well advanced societal phenomenon of the last decades, and the ideological line that separated their positions (i.e., religion versus free thinking) slimed from tiny to invisible.
B. Russell
Already by the mid nineties, it seemed that practical nobody from either classical Left philosophy or Liberal ideology militants (in the line of the great Bertrand Russell) was there to warn the increasing intellectual advancing, the new historical offensive, of obscurantism. The last abandoned trench of rationalism become filled with semi-occult, tabloid friendly – and per definition deprived of empirical base and self criticism – “new age” pseudoscientific propositions.

It may be so that many theoretical positions of the progressive left and of the progressive social-liberalism were militantly associated (as in my particular case) with political organizations that also collapsed with the victorious emergent neo capitalism/militarism in for instance Latin America, or by the cautious centre politics characterizing the Post Pinochet democratic era. Following this line, it may be that the political and military defeat of our revolutionary organizations were also viewed as the defeat of those theoretical barricades our generation built up in confronting religion, bad science and the pro-alienation discourse (See my articles on the Chilean Church in Punto Final 1970-1972, officially on the Web since 2006).

As in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, philosophers seem to have devoted their intellectual output in the debating of whatsoever Anglo-Saxon like (often silly) “ethic” problem instead of fullfilling their job as state-appointed critical analysts of societal central and most relevant intellectual problems. In this line, debate articles from the philosophic arena criticizing pseudoscience are hyper scarce, while phiolosophical writings giving operational-conceptual support to the formulations of the new fashionable diagnoses have been various.

Summing up, the qualitative changes in the macro arena of international politics (and that had a significant impact in the management of a domestic ideological /epistemological debate) and the insufficient intellectual fighting from the part of rationalism amid the above, have – in quite broad terms – constituted the following dialectics:

The political context (partly described above) producing the ideological vacuum, that enabled the cultural clime which have allowed in today modern society the renewal of religious and pseudo scientific intellectual trends.

We have got back several pre French revolution esoteric clichés. At times, we have even got straight revivals of scholastic mommies from the middle Ages. The old Catholic Church / Augustinian or Thomasine hermeneutics somehow re-enacted under propositions of ethnographic “qualitative” investigations, have seemly acquired academic patent without any resistance. Subjective opinions of a few interviewed individuals become general conclusion for the characterization of all mankind behaviour, or at the best of vast population cohorts. Fables told at the time of the Inquisition become inspiration for modern research content in a segment of the new gender movement, doctoral dissertations of the like, etc. Fashion and trends supplant research, and pseudo diagnoses – a central theme of this essay – start to replace scientific medicine.

III

Scientific proof
One common denominator for the examples above is the drastic lowering in the demand for empirical and scientific validated evidence about the “conclusions” offered.

In Sweden for instance, the National Board of Health (Socialstyrelsen) – up to best of my knowledge – neither seemed to have asked nor got any hard, extensive epidemiological and/or clinical published analysed material (in the sense of a sufficient number of peer-reviewed international publications) when decided to put the official seal to one of those diagnoses more or less equivalent to work-related burnout. This is a reflection based solely in the reference list included in the corresponding Socialstyrelsen’s publication.

Another is that the burden of the proof o the phenomenon is shifted from its objective measurable characteristics to subjective and often “emotional” confirmations of the individuals.

“Emotional exhaustion” is for instance based in the individual anamnesis rapport without verifiable standardized parameters.

A third aspect is that the ascribed diathesis of some diagnostic propositions departures from everyday episodes (pseudo scientists call those “symptoms”) that are experienced by nearly every single individual in society, become easily popular and integrated as well in the vulgar conversation as in the corresponding evening tabloid jargon.

One typical example of the above is the inclusion of “0r0” (a Swedish noun for preoccupation), in the sense of asking people in questionnaires “have you ever felt preoccupied about something during the last six month”? Who could ever answer, No, I have not!

A fourth common aspect is that, under such diffuse subjective parameters, the individuals can be – as they often are – subtle to bias manipulation (the reverse placebo effect). To this added the fact we can choose the “belief” or the “state of emotions” that better matches our interests and states of mind and/or objective existence at the moment.

Lastly, as corollary of its nearly domestic simplicity and low conceptual description, the ”syndrome” is extremely easy to mimic or fake.

IV

Historically, whenever science had retreated alienation made its advance
The economic class in search of our planet’s surplus value and securing their profit design do not need more – apart of nuclear threat – than some technicians at media spots, some priests by the corner, and rather a psychologist in every factory. Why?

a. Media technology bombardment has come to replace true journalism.

As seen in Sweden, the vast majority of research reports in line with the status quo here described is not subject of critical analyses – with some few exceptions – by the media that reproduces them. In Sweden, the clearer example of this servile accommodation of the media to the ideological perspectives of the new status quo is the National Television new program design aimed to replace information & education for entertainment in order to get to more sectors of the masses, instead of contribute to their education and intellectual development.

b. The re-enacting of religion
The re-enacting of Christian religion to “oppose” Islam and thus making us believe that their conquer-war for oil it is our spiritual crusade. This is an aspect in the new ideological war that already has horrible consequences for the advance of science. In the first place because religious way of reasoning brings about any reasoning which “true” may rest solely in believes, “upplevelser”, and from there to opinions. The peril is not in the religion-thinking it self as practises by a believer, as he is certainly free to do so. The problem start when religious thinking becomes a cultural phenomena, a way or fashion in relating with our experiences both in regard to outer phenomena or to own everyday existence. This is the vivid re-enacting of doxa versus episteme, a clash on perspectives of what real knowledge really is a sine qua non for the development of science. But this happened already at the times of old Greece for two thousands and half years ago!

c. Gurus serving alienation

In this wining war of the rich against the poor, of the opressor’s religion against the religion of the ruled, in this war of the smart against the ignorant – the cast in power needs priets, psychologists, therapists, and segments of the medical establishment that can make us believe that what is wrong around us it is something else than the unfair status resulting of devastating deterioration of social justice.
In other words, several politically correct stress researchers risk with their academic and public interventions to be taken as the ultimate pro-alienation ideologists, meaning mental professional assisting in the goal of making public opinion to shift from the huge, real macro problems in society, to ego-inwards micro situations. They seem wanting to convince the individuals that his/her sufferings are reduced to a supposed weakened mind and body eroded by a stressful emotional burden, to a wrong stress coping, or a “too much” altruistic engagement towards others. And that all it is the own individual’s problem, if not even the fault.
“javisst, jag kunde har sagt ifrån denna överbelastning, men nu är det för sent”. ”Doktorn sade att Jag kanske var för snällt”. ”Nu är det så att Jag gick i väggen”. ”Nu är jag sjuk”. ”Jag orkar inte”.

The question is however, what on earth does exist in terms of scientifically verified evidence to sustain the fashionable nonsense that the “stress” a person “suffers of” is only job-related? What are the political and ideological premises for the cultural presence of this pseudoscientific trend?
V
For a successful burn out strategy
The first step in a successful “utbrändhet” (burn out, Swedish type) strategy aims to convince the individual that he/she has a work related disease, no matter how intangible or medically unverifiable that status can be.
The second one is to convince him/her that recovery starts with the immediately separation from his/her peers at the work: the “patient” has to accept the reality of being sick listed at home.

When objective signs of alienation increase in society, the dream of its prophets of having confirmed their theses in a macro-mass form come true. In fact, only apparently true. It is then when they start to talk about burn out epidemics, or “utbrändhet” as a main “folkhälsoproblem” (burn out as a main public health problem) on the basis of counting the number of stress-related diagnoses or an eventually increasing trend.

But the number of diagnoses, or the number of sick leaves, is NOT the same than the number of individuals actually being ill. The first reflects only the number of individuals that have accepted that their problem can be called that way by the examiner, irrespectively if the diathesis of their symptoms does have another source. This is the bluntest of all the epidemiological confusions most media-folks or politicians incur about this issue.

Burn out “symptoms” – in the main a series of subjective statements or state of feelings (“upplevelser”) reported by the individual are those absolutely easiest to induce either by cultural or “clinical” means, not to mention fake. Further, the expression of the so called symptoms is at hand in the most common of terms.

With all, one of the worst flaws from the part of burnout propagandists is that they ascribe to work situations some real stress-related symptoms which may very well have its origin in another sphere of the person’s existence. This is vital in the bluff for the reason that “utbrändhet” is per definition work-related. For if the stress is for instance caused by unemployment and the socio-economic sequelae by that implied in the individual and his/her family, the solution is not “rehabilitation” in therapeutic clinical terms, but to find to that person a decent job. But again. would this task (arbetsförmedligen, as it is called in Sweden) be considered a clinical intervention?

The third step is to secure the adscription of the patient to organizations of interest ruled or influenced by the clinic business. Please notice the impact of the new social context, the “burnout” individual meets only “burnout”. His/her subjective claim will be “objectively” confirmed echo-wise by “all”.

These organizations have eventually become a robot-weapon in the lobbying and securing the flow of public funds towards their “rehabilitation” programmes. These funds thou actually go – that was the all idea – to the clinics.

This simply conceived bluff has – much due to its simplicity – bought the mind of thousand of people both within the ranks of proto-alienated, non-critical “masses”, in the need of “a hook to hang their problems at”, as well as in the cohorts of politicians on the side of the “victims” of modern stress. The “stress” of a society in darkness guided by those same politicians blinded in the chaos of mass alienation. The society of entertainment and not of information, the philosophy of bread and circus instead of education, the fate of critical awareness defeated by religion.

VI

At right, Statue of heroic philosopher Giordano Bruno, at Campo de Fiori, Roma
Religion and pseudo science
Religion is to believe in the unbelievable, to accept as true what is not proven, to render human dignity to powers of fantasy created by those without dignity.

This pseudoscience reducionism – leading to convince public and politicians to consider as diseases those often induced emotional-related states of mind, beliefs, or “insights” which in fact represent just one more “cry of the opressed creature”- was nearly unthinkable in the sixties-seventies. But their success in penetrating the academic Swedish market (in its turn heavily financialy depending of public funds and politically made decisions) has other main explanations than the slimming or re-organization of enterprises and services, or a tuffer occupational climate. I shall develp on this in a next chapter.

Nevertheless, those thesis have been lately regarded in Sweden – thanks to an unfortunate public confusion- even as the “official truth” of otherwise reputed scientific institutions with long empirical traditions such as the Karolinska Institute. I refer here concretely to the discourse propagated from a stress-clinic (stressmottagningen) run by researches which – even if academic associated with the KI – wrongly may have highligthed or may given the impression of an organizational tie between such a private enterprise (stressmottagningen) and the Karolinska Institutet.
This is a situation that Karolinska Institutet – which in fact has nothing to do, I have been told, with that enterprise – should make pristine clear to the Swedish people. Otherwise the prestige of this unique medical university risks of being missused in a massive campaign aimed to accept as medical real in the mind of many, what was from the begining only in the empresarial fantasy of a few.
In fact, those deplorable confusions take much help in the apparently personal opinion certain KI coworkers have on the matter. For instance, one top officer at the Information Department at Karolinska Institutet told me in April 2005 that utbrändhet (the burnout thesis) “it is the official, and not else, at Karolinska Institutet”.
In this panorama, as a Swedish citizen, as a scientist, as a human been carrying blood that belong to centuries in the struggle against obscurantism, as a true social liberal, in the name of true equality, true social justice and true freedom, I will here quote the words of my Italian hero Giordano Bruno, a prominent Copernican philosopher and central gestalt of the European Renaissance – burn to death by the Christian Inquisition in 1600:


“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”

Giordano Bruno Burning. Painting by André Durand

Important notice. The text of the essay above is subject to adds and changes, and can not be used or reproduced even in parts without the approval of the author. For this purpose, or your comment, you are welcome to email to fdenoli@msn.com

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