Taking down the Giant: A Call for Increased Community Outreach

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I think it’s helpful to see the psychiatric/pharmaceutical complex as being somewhat analogous to one of those large inflatable giants that you sometimes see hovering over car lot sales. Sure, it looks big and powerful, and it really is so long as “we the people” buy its propaganda and its drugs and continue feeding it billions of dollars and continue “bowing down” to its “almighty wisdom.” But its entire foundation consists of a model that simply doesn’t fit the research evidence at all, and quite frankly is propped up by many outright lies (see my other articles on MIA and my book, Rethinking Madness, for some of my deeper discussions on this).

So what this means, then, is that this inflatable giant has one particularly sensitive vulnerability—what we could call the “needle of truth.” If the mainstream population really knew and understood and were able to integrate the many truths and research studies that so many of us who are active here on the MIA forum are familiar with, I can’t imagine it would take very long at all before the “giant” succumbs to this sharp needle of truth.  Pop!

So how do we pick up this needle of truth, and how do we jab the giant with it? Well, to begin with, this forum itself (Mad in America) has naturally evolved as a hub of truly inspirational people who have been working hard at sharpening and polishing this needle. I’m enormously grateful to Robert Whitaker, Kermit Cole, and others involved in establishing this forum. It’s been meeting many of my needs in a big way, including shared reality, open-minded exploration, mutual support, and hope. It’s also strengthened my own sense of hope and inspiration, especially during those difficult times when strong waves of hopelessness and futility move through me.

To give an example of such a wave (just one example of many), just last week, a new client who came to see me in my practice as a clinical psychologist informed me that he had recently gone to a doctor to discuss his difficulty with sleeping. What kind of support did he receive? Prescriptions for Lorazepam (a benzodiazapene), a nonbenzodiazapene hypnotic (sleeping pills), and Seroquel (an antipsychotic). Upon hearing this, I was struck by yet another wave of hopelessness. Wow, has it really gotten this bad? But then I recalled the many people who are active here (on MIA) and in other similar groups I’m connected with — people who really get the absurdity and tremendous harm of all of this —and some sense of hope returned.

One particular avenue of inspiration that has developed in me is a desire to devote some of my time and energy to community outreach, and it strikes me that we — the members of this forum — are in a unique position to create some real waves in the field by supporting each other in developing new community outreach projects and strengthening already existing ones. Of course, I recognize that much of this type of work is already being done here, and yet I also recognize that there is so much more that we need to do if we really want to take down this giant. So I’d like to share some of what I’m doing and invite others so inclined to chip in and/or share their own ideas and projects that they’d like some support with (please feel free to use the COMMENT section below for this).

So far, my own personal outreach has consisted of attempts to reach out to the mainstream population at large and to other professionals and academics in the mental health care field (which was the motivation behind the publication of my book, Rethinking Madness, and my continued writing and speaking in other forums and venues). For some time now, my time and energy have been stretched a little thin, as I’m sure are many of the other members here, so my own activities in this regard have taken something of a back burner. But lately, I’ve begun exploring ways of trying to get more involved again, and in particular, ways to hone in on the groups who I believe are the most instrumental in keeping the biopsychiatric paradigm so entrenched within the mainstream culture —groups such as mental health care workers, members of the pharmaceutical industry, and family support groups such as NAMI.

In my explorations of possible outreach projects, it’s occurred to me that internet discussion forums have grown exponentially in the past few years and many of them offer really good opportunities to target some of these groups more directly. For example, I’ve discovered that NAMI has quite an active group on LinkedIn (with over 10,000 active members), and last week I decided to use my recent blog posted here on MIA as an opportunity to present an alternative paradigm to this group and invite discussion. As many members of MIA must know, NAMI members tend to be among the most impassioned “bible thumping” advocates of biopsychiatry out there, and yet there are signs that some serious doubts may be creeping into their “faith,” especially when we consider the fact that Robert Whitaker has been invited to speak at their annual conference next month.

For those of you who don’t know, the way that these discussions on LinkedIn work is that for each comment a particular discussion receives, a mention of the article is made in the “Latest Updates” column at the top of the page, and a given commenter will also be listed in the “top influencer” column (also  at the top of the main page) upon making a relatively high number of comments (I became listed here for the NAMI group after making only about 4 comments over the week). Also, each new discussion is posted at the top of the page and also emailed out to each member. In other words, it’s really not that difficult to create some significant waves and draw some attention, even within a group as large as the NAMI group. So I’d like to encourage anyone who is so inspired and who has a little time on their hands to take advantage of these ever increasing opportunities and consider jumping in on my existing discussion with the NAMI group, start new discussions in this and other similar groups, and/or share similar groups, discussions or other similar projects with the rest of us (again, feel free to use the COMMENTS section below for this).

The recent series of highly respected groups repudiating the DSM, the acknowledgment of a continued lack of evidence for the biopsychiatric model by the king drug pushers themselves (the APA), and now clumsy attempts at backpedaling all suggest that we may have some of the largest advocates and pushers of the biopsychiatric model “on the ropes.” Call me overly optimistic, but I’m pretty sure we’re seeing evidence that the “giant” is losing its balance. Right now may be one of those rare opportunities to go for the “knockout” blow. Sure, I know that it’s a David vs. Goliath battle, and I’d have a difficult time arguing with anyone who would accuse me of being naïve and even irrational in my belief that it’s possible to convert the biopsychiatric “believers.” But what have we got to lose? After all, David did take down the giant in the end.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. “that he had recently gone to a doctor to discuss his difficulty with sleeping. What kind of support did he receive? Prescriptions for Lorazepam (a benzodiazapene), a nonbenzodiazapene hypnotic (sleeping pills), and Seroquel (an antipsychotic). Upon hearing this, I was struck by yet another wave of hopelessness. Wow, has it really gotten this bad?”

    Even worse. They prescribe drugs like that to kids all the time. It’s not even a new phenomena either. In the early 90’s when I was on ritalin, they prescribed me mellaril (an old neuroleptic) to help me sleep. Kids are getting drugs like seroquel all the time just to help put them to sleep, which is ironic considering how it’s considered wrong, and sometimes even criminal, for a parent to give a child OTC benadryl for the same reason.

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    • I forgot to mention that he was actually given a fourth prescription as well-Prozac–one more soul pushed straight away into a full cocktail. Fortunately, he chose to stop taking everything except for a benzo or a sleeping pill occasionally.

      I appreciate your sharing some of your own experiences, Jeffrey. I’m sorry to hear about the way you were treated in your youth. I was also considered quite the “deviant” in my youth. I’m grateful they didn’t give me Ritalin (though I recall that that was a serious consideration), and in the end it was decided that I be sent to a “disciplinarian” foster home for a few years. Thankfully, they didn’t manage to “break” me, but not for lack of trying.

      Yes, my heart breaks too when I think of the rampant drugging of kids. What a total bummer–your brain doesn’t even get the chance to develop properly nor your spirit the opportunity to really blossom before being stomped down. Really, really tragic. What will it take before the collective “we” opens our eyes and recognizes this absurd and utterly devastating atrocity.

      Paris

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      • Wow Paris! Disciplinary foster home? You are a master of self control and courageous risk taking. I can imagine two of your greatest gifts might have been at great risk of being extinguished had your family chosen to medicate your intensity.

        Thank you for this invitation to join the NAMI discussion. I should like to invite them to explore Mother Bear for alternative approaches to understanding mental health challenges, how family members, friends and allies can support them and move toward real transformation and healing.

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  2. This is such a good idea but not for the faint of heart. I’ve tried jumping into discussions outside of MIA and quickly attract aggressive bio-med model responses and become disheartened. If we could organize into groups of 3-10 people with our different informed and critical viewpoints (ie, mine is “family member”) and jump into another media discussion together (within 1-24 hours), we might have a more convincing voice.

    Always enlightening to read what you are thinking, Paris.

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    • Dianna, I think the “team” approach is a good one, Paris already used this idea, he recruited some people to comment on his post and join the discussion, that meant he was less isolated. It’s still hard work, but it can also help us refine our approach, see what makes the most sense out in the “trenches.”

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      • I also like the idea of critical mass and tipping points. It is easy to bully or marginalize someone in isolation from their support networks (there does seem to be a parallel here to our system of care), but, en mass, it is harder to ignore humanity’s call.

        I’m thinking of that bridge in Selma, Alabama. Perhaps MIA and our alternative networks are similar to the churches in the South. A place to go, be reminded of human rights and our dignity, to become strong in our resolve. But, at some point, we have to walk out of those churches and engage in civil discourse, nonviolent protests, and the courageous heart-to-heart dialogues with those who hold different views.

        But we don’t have to do it alone. Thank you, Paris, for taking the first few steps on this particular bridge. See you there!

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    • Thanks, Diana and Ron,

      Yes, I completely agree about both the difficulties in challenging belief systems that are so entrenched and also the need to support each other with this (teaming up). Another advantage of working together, I think, is that mutual support can help us not get bogged down by a sense of hopelessness and futility. My own general thoughts here are encouraging people to explore new ways to reach out to the the community at large with information that’s not coming through the distorted lens of the PPC (psychiatric/pharmaceutical complex), trying these strategies with the support of others, and simply being willing to experiment and learn what kinds of strategies seem to be helpful and which don’t.

      Thanks for your willingness to engage with these ideas,
      Paris

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  3. I think these are all excellent points, Samuel.

    I think there’s no doubt about it—if the drug companies were held accountable for all the harm their drugs have caused, they’d pretty much all be out of business. Which, in my opinion, would be a wonderful thing—bring all aspects of the health industry back into the public and nonprofit sector. I believe that one of the root problems here is the tremendous conflict of interest that arises when health care becomes a profit making venture.

    I particularly want to respond to the idea of liability, especially among mental health care workers. Those of us who are formally licensed (myself included, as a clinical psychologist) are held to what’s called “standard of care.” If harm arises as a result of “treatment,” then a major factor in determining liability is whether or not the practitioner was acting according to the “standard of care.” If they were deemed as having done so, then they will likely not be held liable for any harm caused, and vice versa. If they were deemed as having not acted in accordance with this standard, then they may very well be held liable.

    While I believe that this principle (“standard of care”) was originally introduced with benevolent intentions, it has unfortunately become very twisted in a way that has caused enormous harm. The standard of care is not anything set in stone, but simply refers to how most other similar professionals would act in similar circumstances. The prevailing treatment has become giving drugs whenever someone is diagnosed with a “mental disorder,” and does not consist of supporting people in coming off drugs or in the option of not putting someone on drugs in the first place. Therefore, if harm results from the use of drugs, then the professional is almost never considered liable, no matter how extreme such drug use may have been or the level of harm caused (except perhaps in the very rare and the most extreme cases). However, if a professional chooses not to use drugs or chooses to support someone in tapering, and it’s deemed that harm was caused as a result of this, then the professional is likely to be held liable (because they weren’t acting according to the “standard of care”). So what does this mean? Well, understandably, even if professionals don’t believe that drug prescriptions are the best way to go, or that tapering may be in the best interest of their client, because of their fear of liability, they will still be pressured to stick to the treatment as usual—drugging, and often heavy drugging, and refusal to support people in tapering. As long as this “standard of care” clause remains as it is, this situation is unlikely to change.

    Obviously, exploring an alternative way to hold the “standard of care” would be in everyone’s best interest (except for the drug companies and those who make a living dealing out prescriptions, of course). Right now, it’s extremely imbalanced in favor of the drug companies and psychiatrists. One way to balance the situation is to hold professionals accountable for all harm caused, including harm caused by the drugs. Another way (and one that is my own personal preference) is to hold professionals liable for only two things– giving their clients the most accurate information available based on the actual research (not on drug company propaganda and not on research conducted by drug companies or any of their bedfellows), and ensuring that clients have completely unpressured choice in the kind of support they receive. So in this case, professionals are liable for harm caused as a result of either giving the clients inaccurate information and/or coercing them into a particular method of treatment/support.

    I believe these two things would make a radical improvement in the field—holding the drug companies directly accountable for harm caused by their products, and changing the “standard of care” so that doctors are required to give their clients the most accurate information available and to never coerce their clients into any particular kind of support/treatment. However, I don’t have much hope that we could really initiate these kinds of policy changes given the current state of anti-democracy, plutocracy and corporate rule existing in the U.S. and much of the world. This is why I believe that these changes will most likely have to come from grass roots efforts.

    Thanks again for your willingness to engage with these issues,
    Paris

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  4. I think a good chance is trying to get the feminist movement on side. If you can relate to them and the danger females patients face,especially the sexual abuse and exploitation, why they do as a result of the brain disabling medications (take the place of counseling and education) that leave patients vulnerable in the outside world and the atrocities inside psychiatric wards that it seems no one polices.

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    • some exist already! For instance, this (zine, i.e. self-published booklet) exists:

      In fact there was a strong history of resistance to psychiatry in second wave feminism, so there is a rich history and tradition there if people are willing to tap into it. I think many radical feminists are open to this, it makes intuitive sense to them and is part of the tradition; liberal feminists are still a bit caught up in the biopsych model.

      Another thing is, we need to get more people in our movements that focus on resisting psychiatry to re-attune themselves to and align themselves with feminism! It goes both ways!

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      • Thanks for sharing this here. Yes, there are many different movements who are ultimately all fighting for similar values–such as personal choice, freedom and responsibility; tolerance for different behaviors, perspectives and beliefs; and choosing to act from compassion and courage rather than personal greed and fear.

        One group who attempts to bring together these different groups under the banner of these and closely related core common values is Nonviolence United:

        http://www.nonviolenceunited.org/

        You may enjoy perusing their website. I’ve done some work for them in the past, and would like to contribute more in the future–I think this kind of coming together is really key to pushing back against corporate giants,

        Paris

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        • Not to be a downer, but it is all worryingly vague… I believe that any movement I would wholeheartedly work with (any movement that is going in what is to my lights “the right direction”) must be politically radical. Promoting a specific tactic (nonviolence), or liberal values like “personal choice,” “compassion,” “courage,” strikes me as not just vague, but very much in retreat from taking a positive, radical stance. Those things aren’t bad values to have, necessarily, but there is a certain flimsiness to them. They do not point to economic issues, globalization, neoliberalism, capitalism, patriarchy, etc. Still, I believe such people have their hearts in the right places; but that isn’t enough, unfortunately.

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          • I hear your desire for real and radical change and I appreciate you grappling with how to do this. My response is to ask what you mean by “the right direction” and “radical action.”

            My personal view on action is that all action is essentially an attempt to meet needs. And there are different ways to go about meeting needs, depending on whether or not we want to simply act from a place of wanting instant gratification of them, or whether we want to move towards a more encompassing strategy/vision that will meet our needs in a more sustainable way. If the former is our goal (instant gratification, especially with regard to meeting individual needs at the expense of the needs of the collective), then, well, welcome to modern industrialized society. However, if we want to work towards a more sustainable strategy of meeting needs, then I believe we must first connect with a broader vision and the values we feel are an important part of this vision. If we resort to action, even “radical action” without first taking the time to connect with a set of guiding values and an overarching vision, then I believe we’re still really only acting from a stance of wanting instant gratification, and if you want to see where that’s gotten us, just look around.

            I suspect that you and I are on the same page of seeing enormous harm and unsustainability in the current social worldview, values, and the actions that have arisen from them. When I look around, what I see is a world shaped by a belief in fundamental separateness–human separated from “nature,” certain groups of humans (categorized by gender, race, nation, sexual orientation, degree of conformity to consensus reality, etc., etc.) separated from each other, the human species separated from other species—and by a belief in a hierarchy of value with regard to each of these separations (which results in exploitation and inequality as seen in sexism, racism, nationalism diagnoses of “mental illness,” heterosexism, speciesism, patriarchy, unbridled capitalism, plutocracy, expansion economics, etc., etc.). And closely related this worldview are values such as individualism, survival of the fittest, worth determined by personal achievement and material wealth, etc. I can’t speak for you, but personally, I don’t believe that this worldview and the values associated with them are likely to lead to a society that is sustainable nor one that I personally want to be a part of. And as a result, I, like you, feel compelled towards radical action, but I want to make sure my action is guided by a vision and a set of values that is in accord with this vision, or I fear that my action will only result in working towards an equally unsustainable and unwholesome vision.

            So, what is this worldview and set of values that I aspire to work towards. While I aspire to avoid sinking into dogma and so strive to maintain a dynamic vision, there are certain qualities that feel particularly enduring. First, a worldview that is ecological rather than mechanical and hierarchical—in other words, an emphasis on seeing our entire society and biosphere as an interdependent web of life with each strand of this web (including humans) being of equal value and importance as every other strand—not more nor less. And naturally arising from such a worldview are values such as appreciation for diversity, compassion for all beings, a deep sense of responsibility for the consequences of my action, and a desire to work towards solutions that transcend individualistic needs to include the needs of the many. And having arrived at this basic worldview and associated set of values, I’m reaching out to connect with others who share a similar vision and set of values, and who are ready to explore creative strategies towards manifesting these in the world. And finally and most importantly, I’m aspiring to work with others to cultivate the courage, wisdom, and willingness to take “radical action” in this regard. And I’m taking much of my inspiration from others who’ve already begun to carve out this path, especially those who’ve identified as members of the nonviolent and ecological movements, such as those who’ve gathered in San Francisco over the weekend to speak truth to the harmful ignorance being spread by groups such as the APA (just one of many inspiring examples). Who else is in?

            I agree with you that arriving at values without the willingness to take action is unlikely to result in much change. And yet action without clearly articulated and deeply contemplated values, while certainly likely to result in some change, can be extraordinarily harmful. If we want to work towards real sustainable change in the world, I don’t see any way other than bringing the two together.

            Paris

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          • [I can’t reply to you below your last comment, Paris (I’m not sure why,) so I’m doing it here, below my initial comment.]

            Well, not to be nit-picky, but I never used the phrase “radical action.” I did use the phrase “the right direction,” which is admittedly and purposely vague (it was a bit too much at that moment, I think, to specify what “sub-genre” of radical vision I may have since the main distinction I was trying to focus on was radical vs. liberal not between sub-genres of radical or sub-genres of liberal).

            You said, “if we want to work towards a more sustainable strategy of meeting needs, then I believe we must first connect with a broader vision and the values we feel are an important part of this vision.” I totally agree, but I guess my point is that we cannot assume that everyone who opposes psychiatry or reads MIA is automatically also politically radical, just as not all feminists are radical, revolutionary, or anarcha feminists. It is my opinion that “the right direction” is a radical one, that is, one that seeks to fundamentally alter the very bases of the political, economic, and social organization of our current society. This is in contrast to a liberal or reformist direction, which many within the recovery/anti-psychiatry/survivor/mad pride (etc!) movement clearly are focused on. I’m not attempting to be divisive just for the sake of it, but rather because I believe in the necessity for a radical vision which will guide our approaches to problems in the short-term, to tactical decisions, and even to how we think about and discuss and (hopefully) agree upon shared values.

            You said: “If we resort to action, even “radical action” without first taking the time to connect with a set of guiding values and an overarching vision, then I believe we’re still really only acting from a stance of wanting instant gratification, and if you want to see where that’s gotten us, just look around.” I totally agree, although I also recognize that not every action can be fully planned, coordinated, or subsumed under some grand goal or controlled by a coordinating body; I do understand (and in select cases affirm) the rebellious and insurrectionary actions of those who are oppressed, as well as their anger, their fury, and their refusal, at times, to explain their actions in the terms of the dominant culture or in liberal terms, rather than in their own terms.

            You seem to believe that my main point was to criticize theorizing without action, but I didn’t even touch on that in my comment. I didn’t say anything like “arriving at values without the willingness to take action is unlikely to result in much change” in my comment, so I’m not sure where you got the impression that I did.

            My main concern in my comment was that the values espoused by groups like the one you linked to tend to be fundamentally liberal and reformist rather than radical. As I said above, “personal choice,” “compassion,” and “courage” strike me as not just vague, but very much in retreat from taking a positive, politically radical stance. I am all for inviting people into the fold and making connections across groups and movements, but being blindly ecumenical for its own sake or because it is warm and fuzzy is dangerous in my book.

            The list of values that you listed strike me as much less liberal and vague, and I do believe that we (you and I) have much in common. My main point was that I believe that it is necessary to actively strive to think outside of the taken-for-granted-as-good values of our current neoliberal, capitalist, racist, sexist (etc.!) milieu. Many people are opposed to psychiatry full-stop & want to reform it; I am opposed to psychiatry for myriad, complex reasons that all have directly or indirectly to do with capitalism, sexism, racism, and values like individualism, “freedom,” masculinity, etc., which are values of the dominant culture. I’m not suggesting we harangue or “kick out” those in the consumer/survivor/ex-patient(etc) movement who don’t meet some holier-than-thou standard of “radicalness.” I am suggesting that those of us who have a radical vision attempt to inject it whenever possible into the larger culture/movement and do so unashamedly and with rigorous argumentation that will hopefully spark interest in others and blow some minds.

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          • @meremortal

            Thanks for your clarifications. I apologize for not having taking more time with your original post and therefore misinterpreted some of your original comments. Although I have to admit I like the term “radical action,” although I mistakenly ascribed it to you.

            Yes, it does sound like you and I do have quite a bit in common. I really like this quote from your comment: “I am suggesting that those of us who have a radical vision attempt to inject it whenever possible into the larger culture/movement and do so unashamedly and with rigorous argumentation that will hopefully spark interest in others and blow some minds.”

            Here’s to interest sparking and mind blowing 🙂

            Paris

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  5. I just want to take this opportunity to thanks those within the movement who have been doing outreach in the movement (but not excluded to only within the movement) — the teleconferences which educate people about getting off of drugs, teleconferences to repeal mental health law, and whatever ways people are coming up with to get together and not limit gatherings and education to only those who can afford travel and lodging expenses.

    Recent attempt had been made here to get some space at a local community project for a drop in center. Attitudes still very much this is and should be domain of the hospitals and mh professionals. Guess it depends on where you are and who you are dealing with and the personalities involved but never lose sight of when and where the movement’s bubble ends and the mainstream begins. With NAMI, always ask — what kind of recovery are they talking about? — Too much of the time, it’s been recovery contingent on a lifetime of medication management. Not something a lot of us are interested in confusing with recovery.

    Paris, I’ve never thought of it as busting a corporate propaganda and marketing balloon. Maybe what I think is too simplistic to apply to huge coporations and more myth out of an older America, but I still think there is some element of truth to it. I just figure the guy who can make it better, sell it cheaper, whose goods get a better reputation and are more in demand stands a chance of winning in the marketplace.

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    • Good points. And I share your gratitude to those who are in the trenches doing the hard work.

      Yes, the “popping the balloon” analogy probably is a little optimistic. I really do believe that if the actual findings of the recovery and drug research were widely known to the mainstream population (especially of those not directly funded by big pharma, which are unfortunately getting rarer), the pharmaceutical/psychiatric complex would simply have to collapse. But of course it all gets a little more complicated when you consider that the mainstream media caters (and is generally owned by) the big corporations themselves, meaning that greed generally trumps honesty and compassion. This is where I believe the internet can make a significant difference. True, even on the internet, those with the most wealth are able to spread their misinformation much more widely and intensely, but at least other voices aren’t just outright censored (yet). And really, what other options do we have? It seems to me we have to fight back and do our best to disseminate the truth, or give up and watch George Orwell’s fantasy become reality.

      Paris

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  6. I think we are very much a part of creating a new culture, and it’s going to happen irregardless of who is listening or paying attention. I’m no historian, but as far as I know we are in unchartered territory in that we don’t have a shared culture to retrieve, no common threads rooted in a long tradition to knit us all up together when we’ve been dispersed, and using the common language is in question when we need to communicate to each other. Nonetheless, I think something new, something better is going to happen anyway.

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  7. Paris – Wow, the quintessential American steps forth in these lines. This is all very complex social criticism, and the spotlight you are shining creates targets well, and while the context you supply allows thoughts to wander, the partisan spirit–subdued, forthright–resumes in its appeal for cohesion in the development of goals, once you have walked us through the dimly lit spaces of the reality you describe. No kidding, pretty good.

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