FREE WILL IN THE AGE OF NEUROSCIENCE
IT WAS LARGELY A BOOK ABOUT GUILT, the power of words and evil, but in 1982, literary critic and essayist George Steiner took his obsession with Hitler and created "The Portage to San Cristóbal of A.H." In the process, of course, Steiner meted out justice to the old man, who was captured looking like a wild-eyed Saddam coming out of his subterranean existence — only to meet his ultimate doom.
The most memorable passage of the book appeared when Steiner addressed the irony of the societal duality that existed in Germany as Nazism began to eviscerate human rights and human lives. Here was a nation, Steiner wrote, that for centuries had been one of the most culturally rich societies on earth. Germany offered the world the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the late Middle Age art of Albrecht Dürer, and technological achievements such as automobiles with gas-powered combustible engines decades before others. They even developed one of the finest university systems in the world, so how, Steiner asks, did these people, rich with wealth, culture, education and technology, allow this horror to occur?
The same people who would “shed tears while witnessing a scene in a tragic play,” Steiner wrote, displayed an odd ambivalence to the tragedies of real people as the Nazi atrocities unfolded.
I am reminded of Steiner’s work once again because as I’ve interacted with the media in the weeks following the release of GENERATION RX, it is absolutely stunning how little Americans understand about the drugs they are forcing down the throats of so many of our young Galileos. There is a real disconnect between what medicine has told us about ADHD and the “plague of mental illness” — and the reality of the harm these drugs often inflict.
JUST THIS MORNING, I received a phone call from one of my dearest friends, Claudia, a health food storeowner and nutritionist from Ohio. Every day, Claudia is approached by parents who are desperate to find help for their beloved children, as the side effects of ADHD drugs, antipsychotics and antidepressants take their toll.
She told me the tragic tale of yet another American male whose health has been stolen from him by the deadly thief called methylphenidate, or Ritalin. One year ago, the young man apparently possessed the good lucks of a Hollywood movie star and teenage girls swooned as he walked the halls of his high school. He was a superior athlete and student prior to being told that he was suffering from ADHD.
Twelve months later, his weight has dropped to around 100 pounds.
Since Methylphenidate was classified under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances as a Schedule II drug, we can’t say we didn’t know what was going on. It was known to be highly addictive and dangerous. In that same year, however, psychiatrists began using methylphenidate for the pre-ADHD condition called “Minimal Brain Dysfunction,” ignoring the potential for abuse, addiction, and atrophy.
IN THE OHIO HEALTHFOOD STORE, the young man was extremely sick by the time his parents finally decided they needed another opinion. Worried to death about their son — and saying they were not sure if he would live to see his next birthday — they pleaded to speak with her. They had followed their doctor and their psychiatrist’s advice, they told her, but their son has continued to decline.
My friend explained that the methylphenidate had taught the boy’s body not to eat. “This child is starving,” she told the mom, as she noted that Ritalin, with its cocaine and speed-like properties, was the obvious culprit. “The psychiatrist diagnosed his lack of appetite as depression,” the mother said. “So they put him on an antidepressant.”
A few weeks after taking antidepressants the young man uttered: “I just don’t want to live like this anymore.”
As of this date, he is still taking an SSRI.
When I produced GENERATION RX, I did so to arm parents with the facts they need in order to make an informed choice. I also produced the film to amplify the ‘cries from the street’ — to give a voice to those who are being ignored by society at large, and the tools to fight back if necessary.
But I wonder — in this age of neuroscience — if we haven’t brought George Steiner’s commiserations to life? Whether we’d shed tears watching "It’s a Wonderful Life" but not for the traumas of a tortured child?
Will future writers ask, “How did these people, rich with culture, education and technology allow this horror to occur?”