Tuesday, October 7, 2008


As my focus has increasingly tended to narrow itself to the threat posed by ECT or electroconvulsive treatment, I have started a new blogspot, "ECT AND TOTALITARIANISM" which can be accessed at http://ectandtotalitarianism.blogspot.com, and I invite my readers to do so!

Saturday, August 30, 2008


In 1974, although few people realized it, the state of California was witnessing a battle with profound implications for the civil liberties of all Americans. Patients' rights advocacy groups such as NAPA-- the Network Against Psychiatric Abuse-- had persuaded State Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, a representative of my home town, San José, to introduce a bill in the state legislature-- AB 4481-- which would place severe limits upon the infliction of ECT, or electroconvulsive treatment. At first the bill wisely gave patients the absolute right to refuse such treatment, as well as psychiatric drugs and psychosurgery. This would have given anti-ECT people all that they wanted, while preserving the privacy of those who had consented to have the treatment. But perhaps precisely because they knew it left the bill open to challenge in court, lawmakers ultimately transformed this into a bill which would require a panel of three doctors to approve any administration of such treatments. Although the bill had been so altered that NAPA no longer supported it, it did represent, in a flawed sort of way, an attempt to fight back against the most dangerous medical procedure of our time, and was signed into law by then-Governor Reagan on September 24, 1974. Almost immediately, the "shock doctors" fought back-- indeed, the final form in which the bill was passed suggests that they had had a big hand in watering it down as it was being debated in the state legislature. Led by psychiatrist Gary Aden of La Jolla, founder of ACT or the Association for Convulsive Therapy, a group of them brought suit in court against it. On December 31, one day before the law was to go into effect, a superior court in Southern California issued a temporary restraining order preventing the State of California from enforcing the legislation, pending determination of its constitutionality. By April, 1976, the California Court of Appeals struck it down as constitutional, as it indeed was because it had been so altered, in the ruling Aden v. Younger. (Wade Hudson, "NAPA Battles Shock", in Leonard Frank, ed., A History of Shock Treatment, pp. 146-148; John Friedberg, M.D., Shock Treatment is Not Good for Your Brain, p. 19-20).

Aden, who was then clinical director and chief of staff at Chula Vista Hospital in Southern California as well as an outpatient psychiatrist, did not devote his time exclusively to either therapy or politics. While he was fighting the controversial law and later, unknown to his admirers, he was apparently indulging his decidedly kinky sexual predilections with patients who were in no position to give informed consent. In 1972, he established a supposedly therapeutic relationship with a former beauty queen who had consulted him because of her concerns about being a single parent. In about a dozen sessions, he managed to place her in a hypnotic trance so deep that she allowed him to sexually abuse her. Finally, he arranged to make a house call. He instructed her to wear a 1950s-style dress and saddle shoes, buy a special brand of scotch and a riding crop. When Aden arrived, he gave her a hypodermic injection then tied her to a bed with hospital restraints and then sexually abused her and beat her with the riding crop. A Chula Vista woman's abuse at the hands of Aden began in 1976. She was given a book on bondage and domination, and told to memorize and relate it as part of therapy. Like the first woman, she was hypnotized and visited at her house by Aden and other men whom he brought with him to engage in sex with her. He asked her to die for him. Ultimately six female patients brought allegations of misconduct against Aden before the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance during the nineteen-eighties. Two said that they had been branded by Aden with a hot iron bearing his initials. Aden declined to comment. His lawyer called the allegations "sensational nonsense". He responded to a tape the Chula Vista woman had made of a telephone conversation with Aden not by denying that Aden had actually said the things he had, but by saying that it was inadmissable evidence because Aden had naturally not known or given his consent to the incriminating recording. Aden gave up his medical license in 1989 and has not appeared in public since. (San Diego Union, http://tinyurl.com/6zuqx2; http:tinyurl.com/65r49v).

A number of questions arise naturally from these events. First of all, why did the women put up with this abuse, and not complain until years later? Were they lying, or was this simply consensual S/M? This is not a difficult question for me to answer, but I raise it only because it may be problem to some people. As with the patients of Ewen Cameron (see last blog), the people who went to see Aden were in a state of distress. When one is beset by severe anxieties and depression, one does not think very clearly. Also, one feels quite helpless. Such people will cling to anyone who offers them security, and will do so all the more readily if that person seems to enjoy a position of authority. In our society, medical doctors enjoy great authority and prestige. Stanley Milgram, who in the nineteen-sixties conducted famous experiments to test the "obedience to authority" of the average American, found that the tendency to obey orders increased when he wore a white jacket, suggesting that he was a medical doctor (in fact, he was a psychologist). And these were not patients-- not people in a state of distress-- but merely people who had answered his ad offering money to those who would participate in his experiments. How much more influence would a doctor have over someone suffering from emotional problems? Their first reaction would undoubtedly be to blame themselves: i.e., "Did I lead him on? Did I convey the mistaken impression that I wanted a relationship?" Only discussions with friends and family would have emboldened them to complain. Even when they finally realized that the doctor was at fault, they would have hesitated to come forward publicly. The woman who had been beaten said that she "was embarrassed" and did not think that authorities would believe her allegations against an established physician. The Chula Vista woman was too traumatized to deal with the abuse until 1982. The remaining women complained only when they read about the allegations lodged by the first three.

Secondly, why was Aden not prosecuted or sued? A law mandating a prison sentence for psychotherapists who have sex with patients was passed in 1989, but of course it could not be applied ex post facto. Actually, the Chula Vista woman did sue, and the tapes she had made were admitted as evidence. But after several weeks of trial, she gave up her suit after Aden's attorney offered her a substantial settlement. Neither she nor her attorney would discuss it. As for the other women, I have been unable to ascertain what became of their cases, but had it been me, no amount of money could have persuaded me not to press on with my suit and expose this man for what he was. Furthermore, even with the inflated income of a psychiatrist, it would be hard for Aden by himself to buy off six different women. That fact, and the precise combination of techniques he used-- ECT and narco-hypnosis, with which the CIA had done extensive experiments (see Colin Ross, The CIA Doctors, pp. 48-53) suggests that he enjoyed the protection of an governmental source with unlimited funds to pay off everyone who had complained and even issue threats to ensure that they kept their mouths shut.

The final question is, why did Aden take such a risk when he was engaged in a very public battle to overturn the anti-ECT law? His actions betray a complacent arrogance and sense of being above the law which is almost incomprehensible. The best answer to that, I think, lies in the procedure he was championing, ECT. We do not know if any of the patients who complained against him received it, but as he was the states' foremost proponent of the treatment, it is very likely that they did. Indeed, the Chula Vista woman may have been for a time an inpatient at Chula Vista Hospital, over which he presided. Most ECT treatments are of course given in a hospital. But even outpatients can be referred to a hospital for the treatment. Like the CIA, who were interested in ECT precisely because it destroys memory, Aden was most likely counting upon the procedure to erase any memory of his misconduct. The problem is, the effects of ECT are unpredictable. Sometimes the memory of recent events is lost, and that of events long passed is retained; sometimes it is the other way around. Sometimes the amnesia is reversable, sometimes it is not. Thank God at least these six patients remembered. But the question is, how many other patients did he traumatize by his sexual abuse, only to erase their memories of it?

The fact is, both the CIA and Aden, who may have had more than a passing connection with one another, were behaving unethically and unprofessionally. The mandate of the CIA, and its only legitimate task, is to gather intelligence. So when it uses a method which causes amnesia then we know that it is exceeding its mandate. And it has not only experimented with ECT but used it, along with the surgical implantation of electrodes-- ostensibly to force prisoners to work, an explanation which is entirely implausible-- resulting in at least one death (see Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture, pp. 65-66). The legitimate task of a physician is to heal: sexual exploitation and the infliction of treatments designed to cover up such exploitation is contrary to his legitimate task and the Hippocratic Oath. From Aden's case it is easy to see how the use of ECT can and is indeed bound to lead to further abuses. Our system of government is based upon distrust. The Founding Fathers believed that human beings crave power and will abuse those who are dependent upon them if they are given the opportunity to. This is one excellent reason for banning ECT, beyond the fact that the treatment is bad for people. For it is impossible to trust any doctor who administers a treatment which may cause loss of memory, and the very fact that he proposes to do so should lead to the suspicion that he is up to no good.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Don Gillmor's I Swear by Apollo is a devastating indictment of one of the pioneers of the "New Psychiatry", Ewen Cameron. When I was growing up in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the Old Psychiatry still prevailed. It was called psychoanalysis and was characterized by long consultations between psychiatrist and patient to get to the root of his or her problems. Because it took so long, it was necessarily a rich person's therapy. For this reason and because of the sexism and dogmatism of the Freudian preconceptions which all too often underlay it, it was roundly criticized by many people. Yet it had its advantages, and after all, Freud was not the only founder-- there were Jungian and Adlerian approaches to psychoanalysis, to name just a couple. The chief advantage was that it emphasized the need for the psychiatrist to understand the patient, and to encourage the patient to understand himself or herself. Often these psychiatrists would prescribe a harmless medication like Miltown or another of the benzodiazepines to relieve the patient's suffering, but they did not view medication or, needless to say, electric shock as the primary mode of treating mental illness. All that was to go by the wayside, as critics of the Old Psychiatry threw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.

The first attack, which became visible to the public in the early ninteeen-seventies, came from psychology, specifically the behaviorist method of B.F. Skinner. He said, "Forget about trying to understand the causes of the problems, just treat the symptoms." And this he did, by a combination of positive reinforcement (reward) and negative reinforcement (punishment). The worst results are to be seen today in the Judge Rotenberg School, founded by one of his disciples, where painful electric shocks are used to control autistic and other disturbed children. But for most people, behaviorism was not a serious threat. Like patients under the old psychiatry, if they did not like the therapy, they could just walk awayfrom it. All this was to change with the New Psychiatry. Although its roots stretch back to fascist Italy, it did not become visible to the general public until the late nineteen-seventies (to patients in mental hospitals however, ECT and forced drugging were already an oppressive feature of their lives). I still remember the issue of Time Magazine which appeared sometime in 1979, celebrating the new anti-psychotic drugs. Just when Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was being made into a film in 1975, ECT was also coming back into fashion. The premises of the New Psychiatry were the same as those of the New Psychology: don't try to understand the patient, just treat symptoms. But as the leaders of the New Psychiatry were medical doctors, their approach involved methods which could cause permanent damage to the patient's bodies. If they did not like the treatment, they could not just walk away from it. Of course changes like that from the old to the new psychiatry take decades to complete, and for a long time there were still doctors who encouraged patients to talk about their problems, while using anti-psychotic drugs or ECT in extreme cases. Unfortunately, it is becoming difficult if not impossible to find such psychiatrists today, as older ones die or retire and patient-centered therapies are replaced by ones designed to control people and force them into a pre-concieved mold.

The public unfortunately did not notice the change. The time-lag in public perception can be seen in Ron Dellum's famous statement about Senator Thomas Eagleton, who caused quite a stir when George McGovern chose him to be his running-mate in 1972 and then rejected him when it was revealed that he had undergone ECT. Dellums said quite cleverly, comparing the Senator to the incumbant vice president, that "Eagleton on the couch is better than Spiro Agnew standing up." But in fact, Eagleton had not been "on the couch", a reference to the methods of the old psychiatry. No doubt fearing that a lengthy treatment would ruin his career, he opted for the darling of the New Psychiatry, ECT, and his lack of judgement in this matter should have disqualified him to be vice president no matter how much better his politics were than Agnew's. The life of Ewen Cameron must be examined in the light of this gradual shift from a psychotherapy which examined the patient's mind and allowed for a dialogue between therapist and patient to a biological approach, often referred to as "drug and shock", which regarded the patient's feelings as irrelevant. For Cameron was a man ahead of his time-- his approach to human behavior anticipated the increasingly totalitarian methods of the Twenty-first Century, and his willingness to work with the CIA only underscores this fact.

Cameron is important because of his impressive stature within the pyschiatric profession. He was respectively president of the Quebec, Canadian and American Psychiatric Associations, and in 1961, he co-founded and became the first president of the World Psychiatric Association. He did most of his experimental work as head of the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, Canada. One thing which stands out dramatically about him was his impatience and pragmatism: "He possessed an evangelical zeal to eradicate mental illness within his own lifetime." He wanted a treatment which "would get patients well, and get them well fast." (pp. 1-2, 40-41) It is significant that Cameron scorned psychoanalysis. "Analysis was too slow for Cameron," a collegue remarked. "He was always in a hurry." (p. 15) It is significant that although he did most of his work in the French-speaking province of Quebec, he never even attempted to learn French. This seem to reflect his attitude that what the patient had to tell him had little significance (p. 10). Yearning for prestige, Cameron lamented that the Old Psychiatry used methods which of necessity were not subject to scientific experiment and proof, and thus enjoyed little prestige among the medical profession as a whole. Cameron was determined to give psychiatry (and himself) prestige and scientific grounding. It is not irrelevant that he loved all new electronic gadgets (p. 18). His first sustained area of research was into the question of whether psychoanalysis, which rested upon the interaction between two human beings, could be automated (p. 46). The result was the concept of "psychic driving" and the ruination of patients' lives. His repeated playing of unpleasant statements became a form of mental torture to his patients, many of whom he immobilized by means of curare.

Cameron was inspired by Donald Hebb, who also became a researcher for the CIA, to design isolation cubicles. These did not represent mere "solitary confinement" as it was used as a punishment in prison, but total sensory deprivation. Hebb had found that isolation cubicles drove people to a state of severe anxiety, disorganized thinking, hallucinations, and ultimately psychosis. This combined with its cruelty, should have led Cameron to reject the method. Instead, he embraced it. Why? In his impatience, he had no notion of "healing", no capacity to recognize that his patients might possess a hidden ability to heal themselves, which it is the therapist's job to elicit. He did not see that the destruction of the old personality might just eliminate the healing agent along with the problem to be healed. In his quest for immediate results, he showed a shocking lack of concern for human life. Once when a man diagnosed as schizophrenic had tried to kill himself by means of carbon monoxide and had been revived, Cameron noticed that his psychotic symptoms had disappeared. He immediately told an assistant to bring him some carbon monoxide to see if its further use on the man would produce more improvement, and it was only by lying about the price that the assistant prevented an experiment which might well have taken the patient's life. (pp. 42-43)

Long before he began to accept funding from the CIA, Cameron was searching, as was that agency, for an American form of "brainwashing", in his case to be used as therapy (although Cameron did most of his work in Canada, he was and remained an American citizen since his emigration from Scotland). The result, beginning in 1951, was his notorious use of ECT, or electroconvulsive treatment. Reading of Cameron's research of this procedure, one wonders how anyone can keep up the pretense that ECT does not cause loss of memory, for to Cameron and his colleagues, destroying the person's memory and thus his identity was precisely the point. And it worked: sixty per cent of his experimental subjects had persistent retrograde amnesia ranging from six months to ten years (pp. 55-6) Dr. Lloyd Hinsey, a former Allan psychiatrist, said that if Cameron were alive, he would be able to answer most of the charges against him, but "the most difficult thing for him to defend would be the use of electroshock. He would have difficulty illustrating any good effects from it." (p. 127) Cameron experimented with voltages and frequencies of electricity far beyond that which any previous doctor had used, so strong that occaionally the patient's vertebrae collapsed in the enusing convulsion. Through it he reduced people to an infantile state so that they forgot everything they had learned in a lifetime. Cameron's colleagues were critical: "One of the problems was, when he's got the slate clean, what did he replace it with? His own ideas? Well some of us felt his ideas weren't too hot." (p. 57) One psychologist who criticized CAmeron's approach hit the nail precisely on the head. "I'd rather have a guy with crazy ideas and alive, than a vegetable who goes to the corner to get his milk and then comes home without tripping or saying anything nasty to anyone. It's a question of what you consider quality of life." (p. 58)

The CIA approached Cameron as part of its Operations BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, which were as fundamentally opposed to the legitimate goals of an intelligence agency as Cameron's work was to the legitimate goals of psychotherapy. For instance, it had done research with North Korean prisoners in an effort to induce amnesia in them, which would seem to be the worst possible enemy of the interrogator. Clearly it was not aiming at the acquisition of intelligence nor a method to combat Communist methods of brainwashing, but the creation of "Manchurian candidates" itself. What Gillmor does not say and may not have known was that the CIA had already decided that the best way to do this was through a combination of ECT and hypnosis (Alfred McCoy, A Question of Torture, pp. 22-23, 43-48; Colin Ross, The CIA Doctors, pp. 48-53) For hypnosis they would have to go elsewhere, but in CAmeron they had a doctor who could be counted upon to exceed all ethical limits in his use of electroshock. In 1957 they approached him through a cover organization, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology (pp. 86-87). Cameron chose as his experimental subjects the most helpless of individuals, exemplified by a Montreal woman who broke into tears when a colleague of Cameron's was testing her. She had come to the Institute seeking help after having a nervous breakdown because she could not cope on the outside world, and didn't want to participate in the experiments, but had been more or less forced to when Cameron gave her the choice of doing so or being thrown out on the street. As Gillmor says, quite accurately, "Informed consent was often a luxury for the mentally ill patient. They were in no position, practically or emotionally, to refuse." (p. 92) Even Donald Hebb, a CIA researcher himself, was shocked at Cameron's methods, stating baldly, "Cameron's experiments were conducted without the patient's consent." (p. 94) Colin Ross would later publish a devastating interview with one of his victims, Linda MacDonald, in his 2006 book The CIA Doctors.

A 1956 article in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Illnesses, which, as Dr. Peter Breggin points out, could not be published today given the positive climate of opinion regarding ECT, examines the attitudes of doctors who use the procedure and finds a pattern of "hatred and violence toward their patients." (Breggin, Toxic Psychiatry, pp. 212-213). This suggests that "shock doctors" themselves may have a psychological problem, and Ewen Cameron is a case in point. An observer for the Rockfeller Foundation who visited Allan Memorial reported that Cameron appeared "to suffer from deep insecurity and has a need for power which he nourishes by maintaining an extraordinary aloofness from his associates." (p. 86). One of his colleagues said that Cameron "was a megalomaniac who was completely out of control. I really feel that in all my contacts with the man, that his main guiding influence was this ego drive-- to push CAmeron. I always felt that science, psychiatry, his patients, everything-- came second to Cameron's own needs." (p. 104) His lust for power showed itself most negatively in his attitude toward his patients. As one of his colleagues said, "He wanted to make his patients his own." (p. 44) One cannot help but think of Calfornia's one-time champion of ECT, Gary Aden, who gave up his medical license after allegations by six female patients that he had sexually abused them in a sadistic manner. Two of the patients in fact alleged that he had branded them with a hot iron bearing his initials, thus making them quite literally "his own". (Breggin, p. 213, Rex Dalton, "Psychiatrist's former patient tells of abuse," and "Pychotherapists could face prison if law enacted," respectively January 1, 1989 and May 14, 1989 in the San Diego Union).

Cameron's own advice on how the mentally ill should be treated sounds like symbolic rape. In a 1947 speech to the Canadian Dietetic Association, he said, "Let's talk about a type which has not been found out by society, to which however society still gives spproval and prestige. This type is the 'nice girl'... She is the sort of girl who is so nice that she can never do anything that her mother would not want her to do... She is the sort of person that mothers describe as 'such a sweet girl' and whom these mother's sons back away from with disrespectful unanimity. If her mother does succeed in getting her married, she is just as sexually frigid as you would expect." Cameron suggested that "We go boldly up to the 'nice girl', and despite her outraged cries, push her around a bit, pull off some of those wrappings of nicety and propriety, and quite dispassionately look her over and see what she is like." (pp. 33-34) It is not surprising to learn that an embarrassed intern at Allan was ordered by Cameron to calm an agitated woman by placing an icicle in her vagina. (p. 59) However, on occasion Cameron could have a dangerous charm. A former social worker recalls one occasion when a female patient was screaming and no one could get her to stop, nor calm her down enough to give her an injection. Cameron "walked up to her and sat on her bed, talking quietly to her the whole time. She quit screaming and he slipped an injection to her so subtly that most of us didn't see it." The episode is the more frightening when one considers what might have been in that injection. The biggest problem with Gillmor's book is that he believes that drug therapy has rendered CAmeron's methods obsolete-- indeed, he has an entire, laudatory chapter on the introduction of the drug Chlorpromazine, which he calls Largactil but which is better known as Thorazine. Thorazine is a neuroleptic, and neuroleptics are almost as dangerous as ECT. Psychiatrists today use the two methods interchangeably. To the New Psychiatry, drugs simply present another means of controlling patients without understanding them.

In conclusion, one must note the frightening potential which Cameron's methods and those of the New Psychiatry generally have for use by totalitarian governments. As there are now tens of thousands of "New Psychiatrists" in North America, even if a citizen is not so unfortunate to be labeled an "Unlawful Enemy Combatant" under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he may still be liable to being labeled "mentally ill" by a psychiatrist and committed to a mental hospital which is as cruel as a CIA prison. There he can be legally "killed" by having his identity and personality erased through drugs and ECT, so that we will never know of his sufferings, any more than we know what goes on in the secret prisons. Indeed, it is likely that the totalitarian power which is coming into being in the U.S. will use psychiatrists as their henchmen as much as intelligence officers and the military. Thus every effort must be made to combat and expose them for the charlatans they are.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Just the other day, I was reading a review of Pushbutton Psychiatry, which I was considering ordering, and decided against it when I found that the authors associate the widespread use of ECT with "patriarchal society". It reminded me of the argument I had in January of this year with Noam Chomsky, and which led me to re-examine my own intellectual roots. For I had found that my basic philosophy was radically different from that of my colleagues on the Left, in that it was not based upon Marxism, Feminism, Pacificism, "New Age" Pop Psychology, or any of the other Pollyannish doctrines which have been so influential among my generation. The essential difference between myself and them is that they believe that our problems stem from an inability to overcome the evils of the past-- that is to say, from an insufficiency of progress. By contrast, I believe that they stem from modernity itself-- that is to say, from an excess of "progress". I don't believe that our civilization is marching toward a new era of freedom and equality but rather toward either or hideous totalitarianism or Armageddon. As early as the nineteen-seventies, when I was in my early twenties, I was greatly influenced by Orwell, James Burnham, whose book The Managerial Revolution had a profound influence upon 1984; Karl Wittfogel (Oriental Despotism), Amaury de Riencourt (The Coming Caesars), Montesquieu and Tocqueville. I viewed America as the new Rome, and the Watergate scandal convinced me that it was in the process of making the transition from Republic to Empire. But even then, I could never have imagined that America would "progress" toward totalitarianism as far as it has in the past thirty years, particularly since 9/11.

A friend of mine said recently, "We are living in a Hamiltonian world," and that is all too apt. Anglo-American civilization is composed of two competing elements, which are symbolized by the struggle which occurred early in the history of our republic between Jefferson and Hamilton. One goes back to Magna Carta, and is characterized by a degree of political and individual liberty greater than the world has ever known. It rests upon the tradition of diffidatio, or the right of a medieval vassal to rebel against his lord if the latter broke his end of the contract upon which their relationship was based (and which thus anticipated Locke's Social Contract). It was also associated with the unique status of the independent yeoman farmer in English society. The alliance between these two classes-- the proud aristocrat and the proud freeholder-- gave birth to parliamentary democracy and thus all the rights which we enjoyed while we were growing up as the citizens of a republic guided by a government under law. The other strain in the Anglo-American tradition, which first reared its ugly head in the Enclosure Movement, is characterized by greed, materialism and a blind worship of technology. England was, after all, throughout its history, the most "progressive" of all European nations, and from that fact stems many of our problems. It adopted the bourgeois profit motive long before other European nations did, and its science, unlike that of the rest of Europe, rested firmly upon empiricism from Newton onward. This would have been fine had science been merely an intellectual pursuit, but it was fatal when combined with the English penchant for technological innovation. Thus England quickly made "progress" over all other nations and was in fact the nation in which the Industrial Revolution first took place. This second strain in our heritage was transferred to England's most important colony, America, and both technological know-how and business acumen became part of the American identity. Unfortunately, both are inimical to freedom and this Hamiltonian side of America would ultimately strangle its Jeffersonian sibling. The crucial turning point came after World War II, when Big Business became an ally, rather than an antagonist, of Big Government, ushering in the Managerial (or Bureaucratic) Revolution and ultimately the Military-Industrial Complex.

Of course this was a gradual development, not fully apparent to those of us "baby-boomers" who were privileged to grow up in the nineteen-sixties, when it still seemed possible to change the world, but in fact our world was already doomed. The ultimate outcome of the development I have described above is American fascism, or as I have chosen to call it, simply Americanism. Americanism differs from its totalitarian predecessors in the following ways. Unlike Communism, it acknowledges the human instincts for material gain and nationalism and uses them to buttress its own power. And unlike most forms of European and Asian fascism, it does not restrict its membership to one race or to males only. Condoleeza Rice is a perfect example of the triumph of Americanism, in that she is one hundred per cent fascist although both a woman and Black, something that no one would have thought possible during World War II. Orwell's description of Oceania, the super-state in which he places his protagonist, Winston Smith, is essentially a description of where America is heading, except that American totalitarianism will not be subject to the material deprivations which we associate with leftist totalitarianisms, and which Orwell, writing in England during the impoverished postwar years, mistakenly thought would characterize the future. No, it will be more like a combination of Disneyland and Auschwitz. That is to say, it will be prosperous and filled with high-tech consumer goods which will keep the majority of its citizens content and complacent regarding the oppression of the unfortunate minority in its concentration camps, but it will not be democratic. As it represents the victory of, shall we say, Cain over Abel, it must perforce deny while not openly repudiating its history. Schoolchildren in the America of the future will be taught to genuflect before the Declaration of Independence without ever being taught what it means. How indeed can the new totalitarianism permit anyone to remember that that document, like our tradition of freedom itself, rests upon the Right to Revolution? It cannot, any more than it can permit people to know that our Constitution established a government under law. Even today, many Americans display the flag in perfect ignorance of the fact that that flag has come to symbolize everything that the Founding Fathers detested-- crude materialism, military aggrandizement, oppressive and capricious government, and the suppression of individual rights.

Americanism has the potential to be the most enduring and powerful form of totalitarianism which has ever existed, and hence the worst enemy of both Mankind and the natural environment. With its penchant for developing ever more deadly high-tech weapons, it threatens the whole world with annihilation from weapons of mass destruction (yes, it is our WMDs, not Iran's or anyone else's, which are the problem). With its overconsumption and reckless and wasteful lifestyle, it threatens the natural environment. With its endless wars and its growing and routine use of torture to frame innocents for the crimes it has itself committed, it has the potential to surpass even Nazi Germany in terms of the death and suffering for which it is responsible. And it has produced one category of people who are capable of spreading its terror throughout society even more effectively than the Nazi doctors: psychiatrists. The psychiatric profession is an offspring of the Hamiltonian strain in American society. It is greedy and crassly materialistic. It has embraced technology not only as a cure for all ills, but also as a means of perpetuating its own power. It is no accident that the use of ECT (electroconvulsive treatment) is becoming more widespread now, in the post-9/11 world. For having killed all that is good in the past, what our leaders need most to do now is destroy all memory of that past. Thus they have begun a systematic assault upon history, and psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are among the most important henchmen of that assault. Anyone who remembers is an enemy of the present establishment. It is not only the mind of individuals which is threatened, but our entire "Jeffersonian" heritage going back to Magna Carta. As Orwell said, "he who controls the past controls the future."

This is truly a Manichaean struggle between absolute good and absolute evil. And what is the alternative? What am I fighting for? All the good things that my colleagues on the Left have always fought for, above all the restoration of political liberty and of harmony with Nature. But unlike them, I do not believe that this is possible without violence. If the American people were still possessed of what eighteenth century thinkers called "republican virtue", they would rise up in revolution against this usurping, unconstitutional government (and I do not mean elected politicians, who are but figureheads). But they are not. A people which allows its government to legislate for it concerning such a minor matter as whether they should watch analog or digital TV has already reduced itself to the level of infants. Thus no positive change can be brought about until some force external to the American citizenry as a whole destroys the American military-industrial complex and indeed, the entire infrastructure of modern industrial society. Perhaps an eruption of Yellowstone Supervolcano will accomplish this for us. Until then, those of us who do remember must fight-- to the death if necessary-- to forestall and obstruct the designs of this Monster. If we do not, the future can bring only two alternatives: universal annihilation or, perhaps worse, universal slavery: in Orwell's words, "a boot stepping on a human face-- forever."

Monday, August 11, 2008


Rael Jean Isaac and Virginia C. Armat's 1990 book, Madness in the Streets: How Psychiatry and the Law Abandoned the Mentally Ill, is not what its title suggests. It is not about the reduction of government funding for mental health services, a legitimate matter of concern. It is about the struggle of psychiatric patients and ex-patients to free themselves from the forced treatments which the authors favor, and the efforts of psychiatrists to continue to administer them. Under the guise of concern for the mentally ill, the authors advocate a policy of involuntary commitment and forced administration of anti-psychotic drugs and ECT, or electroconvulsive treatment (I take the "T" as referring to "treatment", not "therapy", as the former is more objective-- a "treatment" can be anything, including torture, whereas "therapy" is intended to help).

We know three things for certain about ECT. First, it was invented in fascist Italy (Mussolini became dictator in 1925; the first ECT was administered by Ugo Cerletti to a subject who had been arrested by the police-- not a mental patient-- over his own objections in 1938). Secondly, it causes brain damage, above all amnesia. We know that because the CIA funded experiments with it for precisely the purpose of destroying memory (Colin Ross, M.D., The CIA Doctors, pp. 48, 52, 121-130, 168-74). And some advocates of the procedure have maintained that it works for this very reason: for instance, ECT advocate Max Fink has said that brain dysfunction is not a side effect but the sine qua non of the mode of action (Peter Breggin, M.D., Toxic Psychiatry, p. 198). Thirdly, it has been opposed not only by mental patients who have undergone it but by a number of reputable psychiatrists and neurologists, above all Peter Breggin, John Friedberg, and Thomas Szasz. If it has not been opposed by more physicians, that may be because medical students who oppose and resist giving the treatment are systematically persecuted (Breggin, p. 211). To be sure, some patients who have undergone the treatment, such as Kitty Dukakis, swear by it. That is why I do not advocate banning it entirely. What is at issue is its involuntary administration, and administration to people who have not given informed consent.

What do Isaac and Armat have to say about ECT? First of all, the campaign against it "affects hundreds of thousands of lives". As, indeed did the Civil Rights Movement-- for the better. They admit that bilateral ECT, in which the current passes through both sides of the brain-- can lead to memory loss, but maintain that this can be reduced by passing the current only through one side (unilateral ECT-- p. 199). The problem with this is that the side that the current is passed through in unilateral ECT is the nondominant and nonverbal side, so that the patient may be unable to verbalize his or her suffering, conveying a false reassurance and confidence to the psychiatrist. Furthermore, damage to the nondominant side of the brain is similar to that of damage to the frontal lobes, so that unilateral ECT is more lobotomy-like (Breggin, pp. 209-210). I can't think of anything worse than having an affliction which one cannot verbalize! As the opinion of those who have actually experienced ECT matters most, it is important to note that those who oppose it oppose all forms of it. Likewise with the so-called "new ECT" which is administered to heavily sedated patients so that they do not appear to have a grand mal convulsion, again conveying a false reassurance to the administrators-- as Breggin says, this requires a higher voltage current and can thus do more damage. The authors seize upon the undeniable defects of the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which emphasizes the immediate effect of the old way of administering ECT, but the visceral reaction against the sight of MacMurphy in seizure has long since ceased to be an important element of the campaign against ECT. And as we shall see, Ken Kesey is not the only famous novelist who has shown how ECT can be used for coercive purposes. Citing the replacement of an anti-ECT law passed in California in 1974 in favor of one which was less restrictive, the authors maintain that it still had the disadvantage that it "discriminated" against those "too sick" to give informed consent (p. 202). Thus they introduce the very dangerous idea that there may be people "too sick" to exercise the rights of the citizen of a free society.

The implications of this are fully set forth in another chapter, "The Specter of Violence". While noting that most mentally ill patients are not violent, the authors maintain that "there is a segment of the mentally ill-- particularly when untreated-- at risk of committing violent acts against themselves or others, often both." And "The more the right to refuse treatment is recognized, even in hospital settings, the more such Bedlamite violence can be expected to occur." (p. 271) Thus the patients must be forced to endure procedures which the authors themselves admit can cause brain damage not only for their own good but for the good of society. They deny that mental illness is a civil liberties issue: "All the principles taken from criminal law are simply inapplicable when you're talking about a person who is ill and in need of medication." (p. p.282) How similar to our government's reasoning with respect to the treatment of terrorist suspects, who are similarly "committed" to prisons without hope of release! In fact, the forced administration of procedures such as ECT is a flaming violation of civil liberties, because when the rights of one citizen or one group of citizens are infringed, the rights of all are threatened. President Bush is calling for nation-wide screening for mental illness, and one can well imagine why. What will be taken as an indication of mental health-- support for the War in the Middle East? Support for the Administration? How we not learned enough from the way that psychiatry was misused to persecute political dissidents in the Soviet Union? ECT and anti-psychotic drugs-- especially the neuroleptics-- are among the most potentially dangerous weapons of political oppression, and as I have suggested, may already be being used against detainees in the so-called "War on Terror" to elicit false confessions.

Where ECT is concerned, you do not have to take my word for it. A much more convincing argument against it than One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest achieved Nest achieved immortality before Kesey's work was ever written. In George Orwell's 1984, when O'Brien is torturing the protagonist, Winston, he tells him, "You know perfectly well what is wrong with you. You have known it for years, though you fought against the knowledge. You are mentally deranged... fortunately [your illness] is curable. You have never cured yourself because you did not choose to... Shall I tell you why we have brought you here? To cure you! To make you sane! Will you understand, Winston, that no one whom we bring to this place ever leaves our hands uncured?" And then he proceeds to direct "the man in a white coat" to inflict upon Winston the ultimate weapon of totalitarians everywhere-- ECT. (p. 212, Signet edition, 265 in the Harcourt Brace Centennial edition).

Sunday, July 27, 2008


In the course of researching ECT (electroconvulsive treatment), I naturally come across many articles concerning electrical torture and the abuse of electro-shock-producing devices on humans, including children. ECT is not in the same category as these latter abuses: as a procedure aimed at the destruction of the most important part of the body, the brain, it deserves rather to be placed alongside electrocution and those who use it against the will of their victims, whether these be mental patients or prisoners, classed with murderers. But simple electrical torture, even if it does no permanent physical damage, is not something to be taken lightly. Its routine infliction basis can leave lasting psychological scars, and I believe it should be subject to criminal prosecution, if lesser penalties than the use of ECT. As I have found a pattern of official, professional and corporate deception in this area which is similar to what one finds in connection with ECT, I thought it was worth taking the time to write a piece about it.

In contrast to ECT, which can only be administered under the direction of psychiatrists, electrical torture is most closely associated with psychologists. In the early seventies, I was greatly alarmed by the popularity of psychologist B.F. Skinner's radical behaviorism. Although Skinner himself advocated using positive reinforcement whenever possible, I was afraid that his methods of behavior modification would lead to a resurgence of emphasis upon negative reinforcement, or to put it in layman's terms, punishment. Well do I recall that article in Psychology Today entitled, "Let's Take Another Look at Punishment". Muttering to myself, "Yeah, let's take another look at Hitler while we're at it," I cancelled my subscription to that magazine. And now I find that my fears have proven all too well-founded. The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Massachusetts routinely uses what its director, a Skinnerian psychologist named Mathew Israel, calls "aversive therapy" on students. The original rationale for its use was the tendency of some autistic children to engage in irrational, extremely violent and destructive behaviors against themselves or others. An electric shock was said to stop these children from activities such as chewing off a piece of their tongue or banging their head repeatedly on a wall to the point that they developed bruises. Why such children should react to an electric shock when they have no hesitation about inflicting such pain on themselves, I don't know, but if the shock works for that purpose, it seems reasonable to use it. The problem is, since its founding in 1971, the Rotenberg Center has taken in an increasing number of children who do not have such severe behavior problems and there are numerous reports of electric shock being used on them excessively or for such trivial misconduct as yelling or cursing. Recently, responding to a prankster who was posing as an administrator, school officials at the center awakened two students in the middle of the night, one of them 16 and the other 19, and gave them respectively 77 and 22 shocks. Although the school later admitted its error, one has to wonder about people who would obey a command even from a bonafide superior to do such a thing.

Mike Adams of Natural News has, I think correctly, associated this with the abuse of political prisoners in the so-called "War on Terror". In his article "Gitmo for Children," he says, "I suppose it's not surprising to learn that a nation now engaged in the routine torture of war prisoners-- in direct violation of the very U.N. treaties which our veterans fought so hard to defend-- would also invoke electric shocks on mentally retarded children. There is no longer any respect for the value of a human being by our nation's leaders, and it appears that some institutions disappointingly agree with that assessment." (http://www.naturalnews.com/z023494.html) And it is not only institutions. There is evidence that many parents are following Rotenberg's example on their own initiative. In August of 2007, a Chicago judge ruled that it is illegal for a group home to use electric shocks from a cattle prod on a 48-year-old autistic man (it had been using them for years previously with official approval). The ruling angered his parents, who maintain that the shocks are the only thing which can keep him from doing serious damage to himself. But it's not only serious damage that's at issue. In Montcalm County, Michigan, Oliver Braman and his wife were found dead in an apparent suicide after being charged with the routine use of a cattle prod on their two teenage sons, who ran away from home and reported the abuse to the police. The prod was used when they did not finish their chores. Braman at first used a belt, but stopped when the sons threatened to go to the authorities. Like those who use it on political prisoners, Braman found in electricity the perfect way to inflict pain without leaving tell-tale marks. (http://blog/mlive.com/grprss/2007/10/report_braman_said_cattle_prod.html)

As most of us have never experienced a really painful electric shock (the ones I've received from, say, the wet switch to an indoor fountain have been more frightening than painful), the question is, what do these shocks feel like? After all, if they are no worse than a pinch, they may not be such a big issue (but then, why would a pinch not suffice?) The Rotenberg School claims that they are no worse than a bee sting, as do the parents of the 48-year-old autistic man. Jennifer Gonnerman, who wrote an article for Times Online about the school, tried its shock-producing device, the GED or Graduated Electronic Decelerator on herself and found that the resultant jolt was more "like a horde of wasps attacking all at once. Two seconds never felt so long." (http://www.caica.org/Shock_tactics_10-28-7.htm) SHARK, an animal-rights organization which monitors, among other things, the abusive use of electric stock prods on animals forced to perform at rodeos, quotes a radio talk show host in Las Vegas who tried a prod on himself and found it to be like "a thousand white hot needles going in and out of me." (http://www.sharkonline.org/P=0000000511) It is interesting that one manufacturer of stock prods, which in this case produce a varying strength of shock to take into account the varying sensitivities of the animals upon which it is to be used, has taken the wasp as its trademark symbol-- indeed the company calls its prod "the WASP". (http://andytek.com/Prodders.htm)

What is impossible to obtain from any source is the voltage level of these shocks, which would be the best indication of the severity of the pain. To be sure, I am not an electrician, but it is my understanding that using normal household current, the maximum safe voltage is 50. Of course an electric shock may become acutely painful long before it becomes dangerous. And one must take into account amperage as well. Voltage is the strength of the current, amperage its volume. As high amperage can kill, it goes without saying that all instruments designed to inflict pain alone without doing visible damage-- including those used in electrical torture-- use low amperage. If they did not, the torturer would risk what the notorious torture expert Dan Mitrione (the "Santore" of the film State of Siege) called "a premature death". But the amperage of a battery-operated device such as a prod can be so low that the voltage can be increased to over a thousand without doing visible damage, and household current can likewise be reduced by a current limiter to achieve a similar effect. If we had data on both the voltage and the amperage of the devices now in use we would better be able to ascertain how much pain they cause. The only article I know of which discusses the strength of the shocks administered by the Judge Rotenberg Center measures it in terms of amperage alone. Tom Benner of The Patriot Ledger not only gives the strength of the GED in milliamps but also, for comparison, that of an electric dog collar, ECT, nerve stimulation therapy, a taser pistol and a heart defibrillator. But these statistics, omitting as they do the esssential issue of voltage, tell us absolutely nothing. (http://ledger.southofboston.com/articles/2006/07/29/news/news02.txt)

To be sure, evaluating electric torture devices on the basis of voltage alone can also be a mistake. An example is Darius Rejali's "Electricity: The Global History of a Torture Technology". Rejali says falsely that torturers have chosen not to use ECT because "the machines don't deliver the necessary voltage." This is facile. For one thing, ECT machines deliver a jolt of between 109 and 135 volts. When used with the amperage available in standard household current (or more to the point, that available in hospitals and prisons) that is a very high voltage indeed. If used on any part of the body other than the brain, it would be extremely painful and under certain conditions (like say if the victim had heart problems) fatal. When used on the brain, it causes irreparable damage. Rejali's favorite torture device (meaning the one he likes to talk about the most) is the Argentine picana electica. It had a strength of between 12,000 and 16,000 volts, which would be capable of killing someone if used with the amperage available in the average household, 15-20 amps. But this is not so impressive as it seems, because the device limited the current to only one milliamp. Comparing the voltage of an ECT machine to that of a picana electrica is therefore like comparing apples and oranges.

With this in mind, I began to investigate the electric stock or cattle prod business. This is the one potential torture device which is available to the public, some for as little as sixty dollars. Although stock prods were designed for cattle and other large animals, and can be used humanely and with restraint, there is no doubt that some people have taken to using them on their children, household pets, and other helpless victims (of course, they may have been doing this all along, and we are only now finding out). The most widely used brand is Hot Shot, produced by Miller Manufacturing. I wrote a retail company which carries it, asking for the voltage, and they said that the manufacturer did not give out the voltage. So I wrote directly to Miller Manufacturing. It refused to give me the voltage ouptput of any of its stock prods but said it would be only too happy to give me the amperage if I told it what model I had-- which of course is useless information without the voltage. Then it confirmed what I had read on the webpage of another retail company which carries its products, and was taken from the warning that Miller places on them. That warning asserts that the prod should not be used on people. And then it tells the prospective customer what it would feel like if it were used on people: like a bee sting.

Like a bee sting. I thought, "Where have I heard this before?" And then, why do they tell you not to use it on people, and then tell you how it feels if you do? Is Miller Manufacturing, despite its disclaimers, selling Hot Shot cattle prods in full knowledge that they will be used on children and perhaps other helpless individuals as instruments of torture? Has the assertion that it "feels like a bee sting" been inserted in their warning in order to salve the consciences of people who are planning to use their prods in an inappropriate or inhumane manner? In any case, it has become clear that in our world, where electrical torture of both humans and animals is so common, "voltage" has become an unmentionable subject, like sex was to the Victorians. And I would go so far as to say that concealing the voltage of a low-amperage device, as both the Rotenberg Center and Miller Manufacturing do, is an announcement of one's intention to torture or to sell to torturers.

Is the answer to ban all electroshock devices? Not necessarily. I would suggest three rules for their use. First of all, try the device on yourself. If you cannot stand to do so, even for one second, then you have no business using it on other human beings or animals of comparable size and sensitivity. Secondly, ask yourself if the purpose is justifiable. Moving cattle may be (if all other methods fail); preventing autistic children from engaging in irrational, destructive behavior may be, but listen to the testimony of this mother, one of all too many parents who support the torture that goes on at Rotenberg: "All I have to do is show [the control] to my son and... he'll automatically comply with whatever my signal command may be, whether it is "Put on your seatbelt," or "Hand me that apple," or "Sit appropriately and eat your food." It's made him a human being, a cvilized human being." (Wikipedia article on Rotenberg) And rendered false any claim the mother might make to be a "civilized human being." If she herself has used the device on him, she should be charged with assault on a minor, as should the authorities at Rotenberg. Finally, ask yourself if there are other methods which would work just as well. To use the simplest and most basic example, as many stock breeders are now realizing, it is not justifiable to shock an animal if a tap or prod with the switched-off device would suffice. (http://www.cal.net/~pamgreen/cattle_schuman.html

Of course, none of the outrages I have dealt with in this article can compare to the horrors being perpetrated against political prisoners in the so-called "War on Terror". Fortunately, it looks as if the state of Massachusetts is taking steps to subject Judge Rotenberg Educational Center to stringent controls. Because the abuse of minors, like the abuse of mental patients and animals, takes place under public scrutiny, it can be stopped if people will only make an effort to do so. It is quite otherwise with those prisoners who are being held under conditions which remain classified. The CIA has been using electrical torture on political prisoners for decades, as in Vietnam, where it was called "The Bell Telephone Hour" (Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program, p. 85). U.S. AID official Dan Mitrione personally shocked four beggars to death in a torture demonstration for repressive Latin American police (A. J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors, 311-313). One of the critics of Rotenberg claims quite falsely that if such abuses went on at Guantánamo, there would be a public outcry. In fact, it is going on at Guantanamo. The organization Physicians for Human Rights conducted medical examinations on eleven people who had been held at Guantanamo. All reported torture, and one, identified only as Yasser, reported being subjected specifically to electric shocks (http://broken lives.info/?tag=guantanamo). A 48-year-old citizen of Australia, Mamdouh Habib, also reported torture at Guantanamo, including electric shocks. (http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4262095...) The most damning report of all is from a German-born Turk and former Guantanamo detainee, Murat Kumaz, who not only reported electrical torture but made it clear that the torture was used to elicit not information but a false confession: "They tell you 'you are from Al Qaed' and when you say 'no' they give the electric current to your feet... as you keep saying 'no' this goes on for two or three hours." During the course of this torture, he several times lost consciousness. ("Former Prisoner Tells of Torture at Guantanamo," (http://www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/headlines061116-02.htm) And in contrast to the well-justified outrage over Rotenberg, in this case the majority of Americans just don't give a damn, although these inmates were never tried and indeed, were ultimately released for lack of evidence.