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America, Land of the Irrational

Superstition -- and superstitious science -- are rife in Ameica

Americans pride themselves on being scientifically sophisticated, and on living in the age of science.

Nothing could be further from the truth. To start, there are the massive sales of books about angels and by psychics. Seers and clairvoyants are televised daily across America on their own shows or on popular talk shows. I was stunned to observe a TV psychiatrist introduce psychic twins who proceeded to talk to audience members' dead relatives, diagnose illnesses, and generally express psychotic delusions. (And I thought Houdini had debunked this fraud for all time.)

Then there is the constant flow of television shows about people guided by angels and movies where characters talk to dead people. When the great actress Holly Hunter starred in the series "Saving Grace" as a boozing, screwing virago, I was depressed to discover that she costarred with her personal angel, who was busy saving her soul. (I do have to shout out to one show, proudly titled "Psych," where a detective using keen observational techniques pretends he's a psychic in order to gain credibility with the police.)

When people say they don't espouse traditional religion, but that they're spiritual, this usually means they believe in the crappier aspects of standard religion that have been repackaged as angel lore.

And where would awards shows be unless many of the winners didn't hold their statues and plaques up and vow that some dead relative is watching, "wherever they are." (They always look skyward, as though modern astrophysics has delineated some region of space as the definitive location of heaven. I broke up with a woman when she found Jamie Foxx's waving his Oscar at his dead grandmother "touching.")

And here's the kicker - young people are actually MORE likely to believe this bull! (You know, the youngsters that many Republicans and Fox broadcasters want to make sure are taught creationism.)

Let's get into America's nutty fixation on supposedly scientific discoveries. Robert Kennedy, Jr. is one leader of the large movement to blame autism on mercury-based vaccines - an idea that has been thoroughly disproven scientifically. (This reminds me of nothing so much as the idea that Jews caused the Black Plague by poisoning wells.)

This nuttiness was recently supported when a court created to mollify the desperate parents of autistic children found that vaccination contributed to the autism of one child. It makes no difference that the court identified that this was specifically due to the girl's mitochondrial disorder - there's no evidence that vaccines exacerbate this illness either.

Then thank God we've at least finally got a scientific handle on mental illness - unlike the dark ages when we identified emotional disorders as the mark of the devil. But is anyone besides me bothered by the fact that we have made no inroads in reducing any category of major mental illness, many of which (like bipolar disorder) have increased exponentially? This all reminds me of a woman I knew who was in psychoanalysis for decades, and got progressively worse, which proved to her that her therapy was working, since her increasing misery showed she was getting closer to its source.

You've got to believe!

The other thing that has grown like mushrooms is the prescription of psychiatric medications, particularly for the young. With all deference to my esteemed colleague, Dr. Peter Kramer, all large controlled studies have found the beneficial impact of antidepressants is depressingly small - if any appears at all. These and other medications are a large feather held by Americans - not in order to fly like Dumbo - but so that they feel they can get through their apparently painful existences.

But, at least, we will shortly eliminate addiction. What with the modern medical and scientific miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps (actually warmed over Protestant revivalism), and the soon to be fully realized identification of the brain mechanisms that cause addiction (which I will review in my next post) - pretty soon addiction will disappear! I know - I read it in Time. Everyone is flocking around that mountain waiting for the space ship to take us to heaven (where we will meet Jamie Foxx's grandmother and get great seats for the Academy Awards).


Stanton Peele has been empowering people around addiction since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has developed the on-line Life Process Program. His new book (written with Ilse Thompson) is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict with The PERFECT Program. His writings are available at and he can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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