The Manipulation of Memory for Fun and Profit

November 16th, 2002

[OpEd submission to the Washington Post:]

In her OP-Ed column of 11/16/02, [Ellen] Goodman raises an extraordinarily crucial point when she asked, “Isn’t human suffering more than a matter of chemistry?” The answer is very complex and intimately tied to the concept of a mind-body division which is financially beneficial to the status quo in most industry circles as well as the pharmaceutical houses.

Human suffering has long been trivialized through the labelling of certain ailments as “psychological” as well as the serious after-effects of trauma which haunt victims of society’s inability to curb violence. We love to attribute the extenuation of suffering as a fault of weak individuals who are unable to shake off hypochondriacal tendencies when this is more often a function of the diagnostic prowess of consulting physicians. Defense attorneys can have a field day describing the exaggeration of the normal sequelae of dealing with rapists, terrorists and deviant parental influences. And most often, the medical community, insurance companies and the manufacturers/users of toxic or dangerous materials are spared responsibility/liability for costs to the ill parties through the invocation of that famous acronym, PTSD.

There is the further insistence by our resident worshippers of instant gratification that all we need do to become well adjusted individuals is “take a pill”. The fact that medication has replace counselling is a frank admission of the American tendency to forget that life is hard work. This attitude diminishes the pleasures of life as well. By blunting the hard edges, we also detract from the pleasures of attaining mastery over our lives, careers and personal growth.

Does anyone recall the use of drugs during childbirth which did not diminish its pain but did not permit the mother’s to recall the birth pangs? The use of medications to interfere with the retention of information in memory is not a new concept. We also know that prolonged stress of a physiological nature or acute stress from traumatic events can evoke changes immune and central nervous system functions. But altering the memory of sufferers can only serve to detract from society’s willingness to change the conditions which lead to such conditions. After all, no need to pay if the victims cannot testify to the depths our chaotic approach to the morass of environmental and societal conditions have sunk us.

This is not to say we cannot apply ourselves to the crucial task of finding ways to regenerate damaged brain tissue or balance supplies of neurotransmitter substances and enzymes needed by stressed bodies. However, this is not the solution to brain deterioration which is the apparent price of living in an age which requires every “body” to act as a waste treatment disposal plant for industry, disposing of a chronic body burden of benzene, formaldehyde, pesticides, heavy metals etc. It is an enterprise that must be undertaken as a means combating the natural effects of conventional aging and illness.

Let us begin to think of medical advances in place of solutions to the steady deterioration of our health and psychological well being. Hard work and the realities of life are not destroying us as efficiently as the efforts of industry and war-mongering.

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