The Reading Cure and the Madness of Big Pharma
Appignanesi, Lisa, New Statesman (1996)
Back from a late break and the inbox is filled to bursting, not only with the demands of work and life, but with hundreds of petitions, blog alerts and calls to march against the war in Gaza. Much as I know it's too hideously true, I cannot quite believe the horror the Israelis have unleashed in the brief span before Obama brings in a new order (we hope). So when I open an email bearing a letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, I am overjoyed. Sanity has broken through: "The Board calls for an immediate ceasefire, immediate negotiations between Israel and Hamas, and for lifting the economic blockade of Gaza, in order to allow the Gazan and Israeli people to live together in peace. There is no military solution, only a political one." Some 20 emails up, I learn the letter is a hoax. Tragic madness is once more enshrined.
I lunch with Andrew Franklin, chief honcho of Profile Books, and the philosopher/anthropologist Steven Lukes, whose Moral Relativism, the latest in the Big Ideas series I edit for them, is launched this month. Lukes' book probes the question of whether we really do have divergent views about good and evil, dignity and humiliation, or whether an underlying commonality exists. About Gaza, we agree there is no moral relativism and no argument. So we tell jokes, all of which seem to have divergent punchlines.
On to a lecture at Birkbeck by the American psychologist Gail Hornstein, who among much else maintains an online bibliography listing first-person narratives of madness from the 14th century on. These constitute an alternative history of psychiatry and its colonising classifications. As the bible of the profession, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, gears up for a new and even bigger edition, it sometimes seems as if all of human behaviour--except perhaps war--will fall on the side of that madness, which Big Pharma and the doctors can treat. It really would be nice to wake up in a brave new world where "social anxiety disorder" had re-emerged as shyness, treatable by friendship rather than antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs; and Big Pharma had turned its attention to creating and treating illnesses such as WMS (war-mongering syndrome) or FBIM (financial bubble inducement mania). Bye-bye attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which all of us who email and surf the internet suffer from and is really a part of a 21st century condition called being human.
Later that evening, I go to a panel discussion on "the reading cure" held by The Reader Organisation in partnership with The Lancet. …