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BROOKS: Sidney Awards II: Worthy reads of 2012

(Second in a series)

Sixty years ago, scientists believed that schizophrenia was caused by emotional conflict with the patient's parents. A cold mother would deliver conflicting messages of hope and rejection and drive her child into madness.

Then scientists rejected that cruel model and concluded that schizophrenia was a brain disease. But the drugs that treated schizophrenia as a biological disorder did not work well. Now, as Tanya Marie Luhrmann notes in an essay, "Beyond the Brain" in The Wilson Quarterly, that model has failed, too.

Schizophrenia is seen as the result of a complex interaction of unrelated causes: myriad genes, a mother's illness during pregnancy, childhood stress, cultural factors and many other things. Researchers have been driven to this conclusion in part because this mental illness shows up differently, at different rates, in different cultures.

Patients in India, for example, do much better than patients in the West. Indian society regards mental illness differently. Indian doctors, for example, tell patients they are perfectly well, but should take certain pills to rebuild their strength. This deception seems to work.

Luhrmann's article wins a Sidney Award as one of the best essays of the year. The award was designed to encourage people to step back at this time of the year and look at the big picture.

Walter Russell Mead's "The Once and Future Liberalism" in the American Interest certainly encourages that.

Mead argues that our current political argument is a conflict between two versions of liberalism, the small state Manchester liberalism of the 1890s (the current doctrine of the Republican Party) and the big organization managerial state liberalism of the 1950s (the current doctrine of the Democratic Party).

Both are obsolete. He spends much of his essay describing how the latest version of liberalism, which was great in its day, is breaking down. It rested on economic and demographic foundations that no longer exist. Mead says it's time to gratefully say farewell to both. He doesn't offer a replacement, but persuasively asks you to think anew.

The exclamation point was not a standard feature on typewriters until the 1970s. Nobody wore blue or pink or yellow ribbons to show their emotional attachments to various causes until 1979. No state specifically allowed victim statements at sentencing hearings as late as 1978.


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