Pain and Suffering-2

Pain can cloud your judgment. Can? It will cloud your judgment. It certainly clouded mine.

Anything, I’ll take anything to be rid of this pain in my leg and hip–sciatica. First oxycodone, an opiate prescribed by my doctor. Small dose: 5 mg. No help. So then 10 mg–my doctor said I could. Then a few hours later I was going to call my cousin to tell her how wonderful life is– friends, living in the country, my dogs with me, my work–then I realized that this is from the oxycodone: relaxed, still pain but I didn’t care much, and a contented feeling. So that’s what opiates can do. Not a wild high, just a soft contentment. I would have been seduced if it also took away the pain. But it didn’t. Worse, the oxycodone and a muscle relaxant made me racy, waking up constantly at night with pain and wild, unsettling dreams, and when I got up in the morning racy, no rest, anxious. Got rid of those pills. Then my doctor said to take tramadol and a different muscle relaxant. For more than a week racy and no help with the pain. So I stopped them: no pain pills, no muscle relaxants. And for the next week I was racy, nauseous, really anxious. Withdrawal, the doctor said. Withdrawal? After so little time? No more pain pills for me.

So I continued to see a good massage therapist twice a week. Also my chiropractor seemed to help. I told him that I couldn’t take the pain pills. So he gave me a “Patient Order Form for Biotics Research Products” with his name printed on it, circling two products that would help with pain and inflammation. I should give them his name and they would send these to me. OK. Anything. I’ll take anything to get rid of the pain. I was ready to call, though I thought it funny that for nutritional supplements I had to give my chiropractor’s name to order. So I slowed down a little and looked up the company on the internet. The information on one of the supplements, Intenzyme Forte, said it supports hormone processing. Not what I need when I’m on hormone suppression therapy for my prostate cancer–and I had told my chiropractor that. So I looked up the other, KappArest. It’s good for inflammation. Great. What have I got to lose? After all, it’s just a nutritional supplement–it can’t hurt me. Clouded judgment. Me, the great critical thinker. I remembered the example from my critical thinking textbook:

Zoe: I can’t believe you’re taking St. John’s wort!
Zoe’s mom: They say it’s good for depression. And it helped my friend Sally. Besides, it can’t hurt.
They sell it at the natural foods store.
Analysis Evaluating risk is evaluating reasoning. Who are “they”? Is Zoe’s mom just repeating what she heard somewhere?
To think that Sally got better after taking it because she took St. John’s wort is just post hoc reasoning. And the idea
that if something is sold at a natural foods store then it can’t hurt you is nonsense. With a little searching on the Web,
Zoe can show her mom that researchers at Duke University Clinical Research Institute found that St. John’s wort can interfere
with other medications. And even if it were harmless, taking it instead of seeking professional help for depression can be
harmful. Saying “Oh well, it can’t hurt” is just a way to avoid thinking seriously about bad consequences.

Still, I was desperate. End the pain. So I wrote to a close friend who was a physical therapist before she retired to ask what she thought of KappArest. She passed the letter on to a friend of hers, Heidi, who is also a physical therapist. Heidi wrote to me:

“”Regarding the herbal treatment to reduce inflammation, I first searched for any scientific studies undertaken by an independent body on the herbal concoction called BRC-301 in the study. I had never heard of it, but then I am not particularly knowledgeable of herbal medicines. There is one study undertaken by academics in the Dept of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Montana. It has been peer reviewed and was made available to the Journal of Dietary supplements in 2012, so this herbal concoction has been around since at least 2011. Their results, simply stated are below:

*Collectively, our data suggest that BRC-301 may act as an effective anti-inflammatory product with little-to-no toxicity. Because of its promising anti-inflammatory effects in vitro, BRC-301 should be considered for additional testing using in vivo models of chronic inflammation and infectious disease in addition to determining the specific mechanisms underlying its anti-inflammatory effects.*

“Essentially, this states that, in a petri dish in the lab it seems to work, but more studies outside of the laboratory, (i.e. in humans), should be undertaken. I have not been able to find any double blind studies through Dr Google. So then I went to PubMed, the National Library of Medicine to do a search on any further studies and found none more recent than the one above. So it appears that no studies have been undertaken in humans. Then I searched for contraindications to taking it and found none. As for reviews of those who ordered and took KappArest, 75% gave it 5/5, 12% gave it 4/5 and then it trickled down from there. So, one also needs to take into account the placebo effect.

“My conclusion, there does not appear to be anything harmful in this treatment, so go ahead and give it a go if you want. It is not going to hurt you and you may get some relief, or may just drain your billfold. Only in trying it out will you know. I do note that it is mostly prescribed by nutritionists and chiropractors.”

What a great example of critical thinking! I thanked her, and she replied:

“Probably, the most important part of what I said is the process of research. Anyone can do that. Mostly, scientific articles will be too difficult for lay people to read. However, reading the conclusions and checking for double blind studies or articles in scientific journals are usually enough. As for sciatica: it is very painful and disheartening. And in most cases, it will resolve itself, so coping strategies in the meanwhile are important. It takes awhile before that bulging disk shrinks back into place.”

So ended my period of severe clouded judgment. I prefer to get my placebo effects from eating dark chocolate. Now I know why people used to go to Tijuana, Mexico, to get apricot-pit extract to cure their cancer. We’re desperate, ready to listen to any authority figure related to health care, no matter how little qualified he or she is in the area of our trouble.

Fortunately, the massage and chiropractic manipulation (I do trust him for that) have helped, and the pain is much less, though I can’t walk more than about 100 m yet. Or perhaps it’s just getting better with time. Me, an expert on cause-and-effect reasoning, I can’t begin to untangle what is causing my improvement. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

With this experience goes an old fantasy of mine. If I could just know a couple weeks in advance when I’m going to die (cancer, liver disease, . . . who knows?) then I’d have time to get my affairs in order, find homes for my dogs, sort out my writings, say goodbye to folks, give away my money and belongings, . . . . Wrong. Either the pain would cloud my judgment so bad I couldn’t do anything, or else I’d be in a stupor from morphine.

Pain, it clouds our judgment. Learning to live with pain and think clearly, that’s a big job. We have to try.

Pain and Suffering-1

After a long absence I have returned. Pain and suffering have clouded my judgment, so I didn’t write.

Early this year I found out that I have prostate cancer. No symptoms at all. Just a blood test for prostate specific antigen (PSA) that was so high it was almost certain I had cancer. Then a scan, then another scan and a biopsy. Yup, serious all right. Hooray for prostate cancer awareness month! All those blue ribbons. Anxiety, writing up a will. Hormone suppression treatment (women? what was I thinking?). No serious side effects except weary and a bit confused at first. Then radiation therapy: high doses, but just 5 treatments. My radiation therapy doctor confused me by saying that I might feel tired. I didn’t feel tired. Quite alert. So after the second radiation dose, I went for my usual 1.5 mile walk with my dogs and collapsed half-way. Not tired (sleepy) but weak. Still, this was tolerable, short-term. And all the indications are that the treatments have worked and that my prostate cancer will be in remission (don’t hope for it to be eliminated).

Then the bigger problem. No hiking with my dogs. No chiropractor or massage therapy for my back because of the coronavirus lockdown (we’ve been pretty safe here in New Mexico because of a great governor who shut everything down right away). I developed sciatica (I didn’t even know how to pronounce it: “sigh-atica”). Really bad pain. Pain pills didn’t help. Awful. And so I write my reflections on that.

English (and some other languages) conflate two different experiences with the words “pain” and “suffering”: emotional pain/suffering and physical pain/suffering. But they are different in a very important way.

I can empathize, indeed feel strongly another person’s emotional pain. I can remember similar, even distantly similar experiences, and imagine what the other person is feeling. I reach out. If I can, I put my arm around him or her. I encourage. I can help.

But physical pain? I can’t imagine the pain you have in your shoulder. You can’t imagine the pain I have in my leg. Unless, that is, you have had pain in almost exactly the same place for the same reason. Even then, it’s hard to remember pain. Thank DOG that we cannot remember pain as we can remember joy.

So sympathy, yes. But empathy, no. Thanks for your kind wishes that I recover from the sciatica. I will, but that’s another story for the next posting. Soon, I hope.

Stay safe. When there’s no empathy, let there be sympathy.

When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely,
he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often,
of course, the situation is too tough for him.
In the same way the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him.
Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles are all that
the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is
happening to a hooked one.
Karl A. Menninger

Peace and Demonstrations

Every Friday for 19 years I’ve been with other folks at a peace vigil in front of the post office in Socorro, New Mexico (except during the lockdown). We’re dedicated to ending all war. Encouraged in the lead-up to the second war with Iraq, despised after the war started (“But we have to support the troops!”), now we are not only accepted but encouraged by almost all who drive by and wave. Week after week, we are now a regular part of the community. We don’t usually take a stand on elections: we don’t think there is a Republican or Democrat who wants to send their child off to die in a war or to come back destroyed from killing. Democrats as well as Republicans have led us to war. It’s enough to try to convince people that war is bad, that war should be eliminated, and that we support the troops by calling for them to be brought home.

Lately we’ve added a placard “Black Lives Matter”. Peace, the elimination of war, begins with peace at home, justice at home. We’ve always connected racism, military spending in the economy, militarized police, the rich getting richer and the poor dying, with ending war. So it was natural for us to support the Black Lives Matter movement, though we have only a very few blacks in our community (mostly Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo here).

We see the violence in some of the protests across the country. We see calls for justice that are meant to lead to action via anger. That is not the way. Anger can lead as an initial motivation, but must be left behind if we are not to do what we abhor: demonize others, destroy, hurt. There must be changes in policing, but we have to remember that there are good people who are in the police (that’s easier here in our small town where we know the police and sheriff’s deputies). Many are dedicated to helping. And for those police who are “out of control”, it is for us to ensure that there is control, and to talk with them, engage them time and time again, hoping to change minds. They are afraid, afraid that if blacks, people of color, women get power, they will do to them what they’ve done to blacks and people of color and women. They can see the world only in terms of violence, power, not imagining that we can live together helping each other. In part that’s the world we live in: America, where we compete, and if you are left behind it’s your fault, summarized with “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

Engaging others, calming their fears. That cannot be done with anger. Anger is destructive. The “fight” for justice should not be a fight but a constant movement toward justice, talking, engaging, not being moved from our great desire for justice and peace, organizing, speaking truth to power. We at our peace vigil always remember “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” And we remember, too, what Mother Teresa said, “Peace begins with a smile.” Peace and justice do not begin with hatred, with violence.

We’re at the Plaza every Friday at 4:45 p.m. across from the Post Office here in Socorro. Hope to see you there–or write to us about your vigils and movements.

The Devil’s Dictionary–an update

civilized = us
uncivilized = them

torture = what they do to our prisoners; called “enhanced interrogation techniques” when we do it to their people

barbarians = people who speak and act and whose ways of killing we consider inferior to ours

savages = people who haven’t learned to kill as well as we

bad guys = people who kill, torture, and destroy in order to further their political aims against us

good guys = people who kill, torture, and destroy in order to further their political aims for us

conservative Christian = someone who will kill for Christ

patriotism = the first refuge of scoundrels

social drinker = someone who drinks alcohol and hasn’t yet been caught for DWI

pacifist = an evil person who contaminates our children’s minds by tellng them it’s wrong to kill; a follower of Christ’s message

Muslim = someone who follows the message of Mohammed

Muslim terrorist = common term now used in place of “Muslim”

liberal = someone who wants to use your taxes to pay for what he thinks will do others the most good

conservative = in politics, one who believes that we should conserve the political structure and laws as they are as much as possible, avoiding change (archaic)

dog = a canine creature that brings love and warmth to a human family

cat = a feline carrier of toxiplasmosis; sacred to little old ladies

pervert = someone who does what we don’t dare to do (or think), like putting mayonnaise on pastrami; see also “barbarian”

born-again Christian = someone who by revelation has accepted the message of Christ to love one’s neighbor as oneself and tries to compel his neighbor to feel the same

God = the supreme ruler of all, omnipotent, omniscient, not perceptible to us through any of our senses, and unknown to many of us; corruption of “DOG”, the deity of a suppressed religion

conscientious objector = someone who believes that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” does not have an asterisk next to it

good war = any war we participate in the day after one of our soldiers is killed

strict constructionist = someone who believes the Constitution should be construed literally as the words meant at the time it was written, except for the 2nd Amendment where “arms” is meant to include 50-caliber
machine guns, not just muskets and sabers

stock broker = a gambler, with your money

realist = someone who has lost his or her ideals

naive = someone who is not a realist

Buddhist = a follower of the way of Buddha, except in those countries where Buddhists are in power

capitalist = someone who believes the best organizing principle for a society is greed

socialist = someone who believes the best organizing principle for a society is caring for your neighbor; now a perjorative

gay marriage = an institution designed to allow homosexuals to suffer in the same manner as heterosexuals

inflammatory speech = what you say that I disagree with

teacher = someone who suffers abuse from children, administrators, and parents in order to educate our young; a minor deity

romantic = someone who prefers good stories over experience

Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Fake News, and Hope

It is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Bergen- Belsen. There is much talk of cruelty, asking how people could have done such horrible things. But it was not cruelty, at least not in general. It was simply elimination of that which had no humanity, part of the totalitarian plan that, as Hannah Arendt describes in *Totalitarianism*, must always have an enemy to be eliminated. Not just in Hitler’s Germany, but also in Stalin’s Russia,. And later, after she had written this, her analysis applied to Mao’s China (see the superb non- fiction *Wild Swans* by Jung Chang). There was no pragmatic plan, no cruelty at the heart of those deeds, though there was plenty of cruelty from some of those involved. It was the totalitarian ideal that led to the horrors.

Arendt analyses not only the bases of totalitarianism, as opposed to dictatorships and other forms of government, but how totalitarianism begins and sustains itself. Some of what she says seems to apply to the talk of some of our leaders now. Here are some quotations from that book (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1951-1968).

***********
Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care or dare to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption. p. 49

The effectiveness of this kind of propaganda demonstrates one of the chief characteristics of modern masses. They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent in itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only consistency of the system of which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated in importance because of the common belief in the masses’ inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important only because it convinces them of consistency in time.
What the masses refuse to recognize is the fortuitousness that pervades reality. They are predisposed to all ideologies because they explain facts as mere examples of laws and eliminate coincidences by inventing an all embracing omnipotence which is supposed to be at the root of every accident. Totalitarian propaganda thrives on this escape from reality into fiction, from coincidence into consistency. pp. 49-50

In other words, while it is true that the masses are obsessed by a desire to escape reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear the accidental, incomprehensible aspects, it is also true that their longing for fiction has some connection with those capacities of the human mind whose structural consistency is superior to mere coincidence. The masses escape from reality is a verdict against the world in which they are forced to live and in which they cannot exist, since coincidence has become its supreme master and human beings need the constant transformation of chaotic and accidental conditions into a man-made pattern of relative consistency. The revolt of the masses against “realism,” common sense, and all “the plausibilities of the world” (Burke) was the result of their atomization, of their loss of social status along with which they lost the whole sector of communal relationships in whose framework common sense makes sense. In the situation of spiritual and social homelessness, a measured insight into the interdependence of the arbitrary and the planned, the accidental and the necessary, could no longer operate. Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only when common sense has lost its validity. Before the alternative of facing the anarchic growth and total arbitrariness of decay or bowing down before the most rigid, fantastically fictitious consistency of an ideology, the masses probably will always choose the latter and be ready to pay for it with individual sacrifices–and this not because they are stupid or wicked, but because in the general disaster this escape grants them a minimum of self-respect. p. 50

A mixture of gullibility and cynicism has been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an every-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible, and that nothing was true. The mixture in itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynicism the vice of superior and refined minds. Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire their leaders for their superior tactical cleverness. p. 80

*******
It seems, then, that I and others have been wrong to think that if we could just educate enough people to think critically (my *How to Reason*), the world would be better as more people can reason to good decisions. No, more is needed, much more: good goals in the service of which good reasoning can aid. If we do not help those who are so distressed and harmed by the constant and overwhelming changes in our world–not just poverty, but dislocation, lack of community which many attempt to recreate through virtual experiences, “homelessness” as Hannah Arendt terms it–we cannot expect that they will respond “rationally”. Fear is the great factor motivating them, and that can be overcome only by hope, which we all must offer to one another.

What Is Essential in this Time of Pandemic-2

From CNN, April 1:

“Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, identified “firearm and ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges” as critical infrastructure in the updated “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” advisory, which was issued over the weekend.”

It’s the old story: we’ll save lives by killing people.

Arf

In this time of crisis . . .

I remember what is said in The BARK of DOG:

It will come to pass, but how it will come to pass, with only suffering or with love, that is for us to live. We can meet our future with love or hide from it with fear. And FEAR is the most terrible of the cats of CAT.

WHAT IS ESSENTIAL IN THIS TIME OF PANDEMIC?

Here in New Mexico, According to the governor’s orders:
“Businesses deemed essential that may remain open are: . . .
• nuclear material research and enrichment
• Laboratories and defense and national security-related operations supporting the United States
government or a contractor to the United States government”
So nuclear research and enrichment can go on at Los Alamos Lab, a major center for the development of nuclear weapons. That’s essential–for developing better ways to kill people while the rest of us are told to stay home to save lives.

The problems

The programs proposed by the U.S. presidential candidates are excellent: health care for all, a living wage, not letting the wealthy take so much and leave the rest of us struggling.

But those programs will not avail, they will not lead us to a good society, unless we face and try to remedy the great problems we face: racism and drug addiction.

Until those are ameliorated–for “solved” is too much to hope for yet–no program, no bettering of our society for some, will leave so many outside, without hope and with fear and hatred, ruining whatever chance we have.

Shall we then crush addiction, push all addicts from “us”? As if that were the problem, for they are us. No, for hatred, fear makes it worse. See my essay “Teaching Addicts” at the Advanced Reasoning Forum website.

Shall we then say that racism is not a problem? See how far the blacks and hispanics and muslims have come? While driving while black, walking while hispanic, sitting at a bus stop while muslim is dangerous–and often taken to be a crime.

The problem is not structural. It is not economic. It is a problem of the heart.

Aristotle and ethics

From The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, Volume 14, by Anselm
H. Amadio, p.66

*********
Aristotle’s approach to ethics is teleological; that is, he discusses
ethics not in terms of moral absolutes but in terms of what is conducive
to man’s good. This approach leads him to examine various kinds of good
and to arrive at the identification of the highest good with the
attainment of happiness. Aristotle arrives at a definition of happiness
as activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.

Aristotle distinguishes moral virtues and intellectual virtues, which
are determined, respectively, by the irrational and the rational powers
of the soul. Man, however, does not possess these virtues at birth but
comes endowed with the capacity, or disposition, for developing them in
the course of time. For example, a child begins by following his
parents’ injunction to tell the truth without initially realizing the
moral excellence of his action; yet eventually the habit of veracity
becomes an ingrained part of his moral character. Aristotle then
differentiates virtue from vice, arriving at the definition of virtue as
a “mean,” or middle ground between excess and deficiency; courage, a
virtue, for example, is the mean between cowardice and rashness.

Aristotle concludes his discussion by defining the highest happiness
open to man. Because happiness is an activity in accordance with
virtue, it follows that the highest happiness should be in accordance
with man’s highest virtue. And that, according to Aristotle, is the
activity which distinguishes man from other animals, namely the activity
of reason or activity in accordance with reason. Thus in its ideal form
happiness turns out to consist in a life of intellectual contemplation.
Aristotle, on the other hand, also concedes that the political life
(activity in accordance with moral virtue) can bring happiness, albeit
“in a secondary degree.”
*********

Some comments meant to stimulate discussion.

• The teleological vs. moral absolutes distinction is significant for
how we reason about ethical matters. There are different standards for
what counts as good reasoning, and there seems to be no way to translate
from the one to the other. See my book “Prescriptive Reasoning”,
which is the first attempt to clarify that.

• Aristotle’s definition of “happiness” seems to rule out animals other
than humans being happy. Indeed, none of his ethics seems to be applicable
to animals other than humans.

• Virtue is a mean. What is the extreme and what the deficiency that
makes telling the truth a virtue as being in the middle? What is the
extreme and what the deficiency that makes reasoning a virtue as being
in the middle? Note that he does not say “reasoning well”.

• “In its ideal form happiness turns out to consist in a life of
intellectual contemplation.”
This is one more philosopher saying that the highest happiness is
to be like
him.

• Compare Aristotle’s conception of virtue to the way of loving kindness
in the book “The BARK of DOG”. “Be kind, be generous, count not the giving
and taking but give unconditionally. Harm no human, harm no dog. Put from
thee all thought of power save the power of a loving heart.”