Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Bush wants your brain

I just discovered Mack White's interesting take on the Bush administration's mental health initiative. (Go here; you may have to scroll down a bit.) An excerpt:

But then, one day, you will wake up and discover that you cannot get health insurance, a driver's license, government benefits, or a job, unless you submit to mental health screening. And they will test your "normality" with all manner of diabolical high-tech gadgetry. For instance, they will analyze your brain wave activity to discern whether or not you are lying when they ask you about your finances, your sex life, your favorite television shows, your political views, your religious beliefs, and so on.
Over the top? You may think so at first. But check out his links.

One in particular commands our attention: An electrical implant designed to combat depression. Depression is a serious illness, of course -- one that has afflicted a high proportion of our finest literary talents. My ladyfriend recently wrote a research paper on this very topic. The roll call is impressive: Hemingway, Poe, Woolf, Twain, Churchill, Tolstoy, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walt Whitman, and many more. (I could also mention Abraham Lincoln in this context, although some readers may be wearying of my Lincoln phase!)

Would the world have been better served if surgeons implanted electronic happiness in the craniums of these great talents? Some psychoanalysts theorize that the depressed see the world more realistically than do so-called "normal" people; our capacity for contentment reflects our ability to fool ourselves. This may be one reason why our best writers -- that is to say, our most courageous truth-tellers -- tend toward this disease. What will happen if psychosurgery banishes this disease altogether? Will we be doomed to bookstores filled with shallow bestseller rubbish?

(Or maybe that's already happened...!)

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