January 17, 2010

"[W]e Americans have been... homogenizing the way the world goes mad."

Ethan Watters informs us:
There is now a remarkable body of research that suggests that mental illnesses are not... spread evenly around the globe. They have appeared in different cultures in endlessly complex and unique forms. Indonesian men have been known to experience amok, in which a minor social insult launches an extended period of brooding punctuated by an episode of murderous rage. Southeastern Asian males sometimes suffer from koro, the debilitating certainty that their genitals are retracting into their body. Across the fertile crescent of the Middle East there is zar, a mental illness related to spirit possession that brings forth dissociative episodes of crying, laughing, shouting, and singing....

The remarkable diversity... is rapidly disappearing. A few mental illnesses identified and popularized in the United States — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultural boundaries and around the world with the speed of contagious diseases. Indigenous forms of mental illness and healing are being bulldozed by disease categories and treatments made in the USA.
If only there were a systematic way of studying and analyzing how the human mind works, something... oh, we could call it "science" for lack of a better word. Ah, but, no, no, what's the use? We can only cry, laugh, shout, and sing a song to diversity.


rhhardin said...

There's no point to having a mental illness that you can't get something out of.

People economize.

Christy said...

I'm increasingly wondering if much of the American form of mental illness isn't a function of our increased leisure/wealth allowing us to wallow in our miseries. We haven't exported leisure. Leisure is a home grown commodity.

jimbino said...

It's hard to distinguish between mental illness and religion in their manifestation and spreading.

Peter V. Bella said...

We are spreading a mental disease pandemic around the globe? Here is a crisis too good to waste. Obama should do something about tis before our diseases create international havoc.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ritmo Brasileiro said...


Henceforth, the conclusions of all your studies must be pre-approved by a blogger-pundit who goes by the name of Ann Althouse. What her credentials are for decreeing this, that's anyone's guess. But obey her you must, as it is absolutely imperative to her mission as an "important person" that all scientific phenomena be explained in a manner that strips them of any and all social causation. Human activity has no effect whatsoever on the natural world or medical observation and that is the last word that will be discussed on the matter. You have hereby been informed.

(And if your kid is pushed off his bicycle by his older brother, all medical treatments that ensue cannot be attributed to the act of bullying, because that was a social action and therefore not "scientific" in any way, shape or form. Bruises and broken bones will be considered as if they appear by a spontaneous, intelligent design - just not a design that was human in origin).

This blog is hilarious.

lucid said...

Ethan Watters is writing overwrought pop nonsense. While there is obviously a cultural component to the psyche, all of the disorders he cites are simply versions of well-recognized syndromes like dissociation, paranoid ideation, and somatitization disorder. It has been widely observed for decades that the specific expression and prevalence of many disorders varies by region and culture. For example, anorexia is mostly found among middle-class white females, probably because of family patterns, but it is now appearing a bit more among African-Americans and males. Otherwise, this is silly nonsense by a pop writer.

TMink said...

I think I have treated two conversion disorders in the last 20 years.


50 to 70 years ago, it was a common disorder, but now that everyone knows something about psychology, nobody gets conversion disorders anymore.

I was tickled pink that I got to see two cases and help.


Maguro said...

Sitting around worrying about American cultural imperialism is just another form of American cultural imperialism.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Ah, but if only you didn't contradict yourself with your own words, lucid. You state given, original demographics for anorexia, and then refer to a spread, of sorts, among other demographics. What caused the origin of this evident "contagion"? Certainly not overwrought pop nonsense?

Anyone who indulges this nonsensical blog post should find a way to account for diseases of affluence and then explain away the fact that the mind and body are connected.

I swear, we're reinvigorating centuries old philosophies here that couldn't comprehend of the mind being physical or organic in nature as that would detract from their understanding of spirituality.

Absolutely ridiculous perspective - if you can even call it that. Or lack thereof.

TMink said...

Ritmo, you are a nut.

And loud nuts are annoying, especially if they are humourless. As you are loud, I suggest you cultivate a sense of humour.


paul a'barge said...

[blockquote]Indonesian men have been known to experience amok, in which a minor social insult launches an extended period of brooding punctuated by an episode of murderous rage. [/blockquote]

They have a name for this. It's called Islam

Ritmo Brasileiro (sotto voce) said...

Yes, it is true that I am a man without a penis. That is why my nuttiness is so obvious.

paul a'barge said...

[blockquote]Across the fertile crescent of the Middle East there is zar, a mental illness related to spirit possession that brings forth dissociative episodes of crying, laughing, shouting, and singing.[/blockquote]

They've been watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the Middle East?

Who knew?

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

I may be a nut (to you) and I may be annoying. But I have the sanity that comes from being able to make a logical argument based on easily observable phenomena and well-documented fact. And I can laugh at those who don't. (As well as many other things).

So, why not answer the problem posed by lucid? How did one psychological disorder spread from one demographic to another? I mean, seeing as how you and Althouse are pre-supposing that they don't or never could? And why should we believe your baloney proposition that diseases of affluence or poverty can be physical in nature, but not psychological?

What nonsense you speak!

Yes, I find that hilarious.

lucid said...


You're arguing against things that no one has said. But it would be pointless to try to explain anything to you, as I am sure many others in your real life have said to you.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

You seem to be sure of things that you lack evidence for knowing, lucid, but I appreciate the response. It makes it easier for me to explain that Althouse's blog post may, also, be arguing against things "that no one has said."

But since the soft gloves (and softer voice?) approach to legitimate dissent is obviously favored here, why don't I just rephrase my argument in a gentler way? The point is that if culture informs the way people perceive the world (which, I'm sure, no one here can deny), then why would it not inform the way their minds work, pathologically or otherwise?

It's a really simple question and one that completely undermines the idea in the post - any competing interest in denigrating diversity notwithstanding.

HKatz said...

What's also important to consider is that it can be very difficult to study psychiatric disorders in other countries. For example, people need to trust the researcher enough to disclose personal information to and feel pretty certain that this information will not be used against them or spread (having worked with people from countries whose government has blatantly used this kind of information against them - I can tell you that they don't trust scientists and doctors who promise them confidentiality).

Also cultural norms may greatly inhibit a person's willingness to admit or discuss to certain things. And the list goes on.

What I find interesting is that often similar kinds of disorders will crop up around the globe under different names (and the thoughts about the origins of those disorders and their treatment also differ).

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

I should also apologize for my excessive nuttiness (or is it just rambunctiousness?) this morning. After the taco sampler late last night, I was completely and sublimely stated, yet still convinced by the server to go in for a plate of exquisite churros dipped in chocolate. I fell into a deep sleep mere hours later, but was jarred awake early this morning as my blood sugar from all that fat must have spiked to a level that could simply not be ignored.

It's like I drank four bottles of Gatorade and some Jolt cola or something.

PatCA said...

"God Damn America!"

I'm not "unnerved" at all about the way American psychiatric culture is spreading, if it is. I think depression rather than jihad, for instance, would be an improvement.

Paco Wové said...

blo·vi·ate (blō'vē-āt')
intr.v. blo·vi·at·ed, blo·vi·at·ing, blo·vi·ates Slang.
To discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner: "the rural Babbitt who bloviates about 'progress' and 'growth'" (George Rebeck).

[Mock-Latinate formation, from blow.]
blo'vi·a'tion n.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Anyway, hope the nuttiness (or the argument) wasn't too jarring. But please allow me to leave you with this: The hating of social diversity will eventually go beyond counter-productive. There are inadequate explanations (and even goofy ones) for everything. But in the age of the genome, we'd best come to terms with the fact that diversity is an increasingly important fact of life in medicine. People differ at the molecular level in ways that pharma and medical researchers are dying to exploit (and they are already doing so successfully), and that variation exists no less outside the mind than in the 20(+?)% of the genes that expressed within it.

Given that, and given the fact that the mind interacts with its social surroundings no less than the body interacts with its physical surroundings, is a denigration of diversity through an attack on social medicine really a realistic or sensible idea? Is it really a realistic or sensible approach to understanding psychology?

Just wondering.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Well, can you blame me, "Paco Wove"? After all, I'm just rebutting arguments that are taken seriously by a crowd that also takes seriously the thoughts advanced by such professional bloviators as Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. And soon, Sarah Palin will be added to that list.

I think you just resent the competition.

Mark said...

It seems like the Indonesian form of madness called amok has been gaining popularity in the western world in recent years. Maybe this mental illness globalization thing is a two way street.

bagoh20 said...

This proves what I have long believed: that mental illness is a from of entertainment, like music, or movies or poetry. Self expressive, overindulgent, fun or terrible, and eventually dominated by the American form.

Oligonicella said...

Just because another country has a name for something doesn't mean it's a different something. 'Amok' is no different than going postal. 'Zar' sounds so Emo to me. Gotta admit 'koro' is new to me (and they can keep it there). None of these sounds as if they're unique to the area.

Would the Middle East have more of certain disturbances? Of course. Conditions there would seem certain to spew depression and such.

There currently seems to be a drive to define diversity down. In other words, making it so that a single individual is 'diverse'.

Peter V. Bella said...

Celebrities for Sanity have issued a statement through Danny Glover. They claim that the earthquake in Haiti is a direct result of Americans exporting their mental illnesses to the island nation.

Mr. Glover will join Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh for a joint.

Oh, oh. Oooops. Hee hee.
Joint press conference.

Methadras said...

Leftism is a mental illness unto itself. Considering the amount of people practicing it, it's no wonder some people suffer from it. Exporting this disease seems to have no end. At least it's importation seems to have had a profound effect on those within this current administration.

Synova said...

What a sadness.

Am I no longer allowed to be a berserker as an element of my glorious cultural heritage? Such a think... it used to be accommodated in the culture, excused. The worst you'd get was sent off to pillage some Christian abbeys or something, so you'd be less likely to kill people near home.

And now?

vbspurs said...

I'm increasingly wondering if much of the American form of mental illness isn't a function of our increased leisure/wealth allowing us to wallow in our miseries. We haven't exported leisure. Leisure is a home grown commodity.

But that's exactly what it is, Christy, outside of genetic reasons.

Not just outright madness, but depression too, for example. The amount of bipolar people has increased, and not just due to increased awareness and diagnoses.

Our societal problems tied to depression, madness, or disaffection like "going postal" have to do with an increase in leisure time tied to a retreat from nature, as lived in the cities.

Two centuries ago, most of the people reading this blog would have been farmers (or servants), including its hostess (if she hadn't died in childbirth).

Farmers rise at 5 AM and work until dusk. You're in bed soon after. Servants cruelly worked far longer hours, but at least they were spared the backbreaking sweaty farm work, which seemingly has no end.

There is no time to think about anything, to ponder about the meaning of life, to feel yourself alienated from the world in quite the same neurasthenic way that we do now.

Would you go back to that way though, just for a little more peace of mind? My answer is a definite no.


Dark Eden said...

This reminds me of the story (I think I saw it here) that linked mental illness with viruses planting DNA in our bodies.

Does anyone remember that story?

elHombre said...

Leftism is a mental illness unto itself. Considering the amount of people practicing it, it's no wonder some people suffer from it. (12:28)

Unfortunately, the people who suffer from it are not the same people who practice it.

I read recently that secular progressivism can be simulated by a centrist or a conservative who drops to all four and smashes his/her head against a wall until 50 or 60 IQ points disappear.

WV "pounds" = Can be subsituted for "smashes" in the paragraph above.