Depression – social or chemical?

A recently-retired couple asked their doctor for a prescription for the husband; the wife said that her husband was depressed. After a lengthy consultation, the doctor advised them to sit by the sea, about 5 minutes away, as often as possible. He would not write a prescription. The claimed depression soon evaporated.

A young doctor had prescribed medication for clinical depression. A more experienced doctor, however, found no evidence of clinical depression. The younger doctor’s explanation was that the patient had told her that she felt sad from time to time. After losing 2 sons in succession and a pregnancy mid-term, who wouldn’t? She displayed great sadness on the dates of her losses; but then reverted to her normal happy family life.

Against these experiences, psychiatrists seem to have identified an increasing number of psychiatric maladies. The recommended treatment involves a pharmaceutical product, expected to control or treat a chemical imbalance in the brain.

According to an article “Blue by you” by Johann Hari in the ‘Good Weekend’ magazine of the Sydney Morning Herald of 3 Feb. 2018: In the US, “… if your baby dies at 10 am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01 am and start drugging you straight away.” The article also said “Between 65 and 80 per cent of people taking chemical anti-depressants become depressed again.” “There is a real effect – but, alas, for many users, it is not enough to lift them out of depression.”

The article quotes Dr. Joanne Cacciatore of Arizona State University thus: “… a key problem with how we talk about depression, anxiety and other forms of suffering; we don’t … “consider context.” “When you have a person with extreme human distress, we need to stop treating the symptoms.”

The author of the article ‘Blue by you’ states that “… human beings have natural psychological needs too – but, Australian society, and the wider Western world, is not meeting those needs for many of us, and that is the primary reason why depression and anxiety are soaring.” “There has been an explosion in loneliness.”

To that, social researcher Hugh Mackay adds “The biggest contribution is fragmentation.” “Humans are social animals. We need communities.”

Doctors in Cambodia told African psychiatrist Derek Summerfeld that “finding an anti-depressant didn’t mean finding a way to change your brain chemistry. It meant finding a way to solve the problem that was causing the depression in the first place.

Comparably, a doctor in London (Dr. Sam Everington) ‘prescribed’ participation in a group activity. It is a successful approach.

Johann Hari’s book is ‘Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and Anxiety – and the Real Solutions.’

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Yavanas in India

The following are pertinent extracts from ‘Early India: From the origins to AD 1300’ by Emeritus Prof. R. Thapar. They should put to rest any exaggerated claims about Hellenic Greek influence in ‘India.’ The author distinguishes between Greeks from the Mediterranean (Hellenic) and Hellenistic culture in West Asia. She also makes clear that the word ‘Yavana’ applied (until recently) to all Westerners in the Punjab to terrain further East.

“In 327 BC Alexander, continuing his march across the empire of Darius, entered the Indian provinces. The Greek campaign in north-western India lasted for about two years. It made little lasting impression historically or politically in India, and not even a mention of Alexander is to be found in any Indian source.”

“A significant outcome of Alexander’s campaign, that was neither political nor military, was that he had with him literate Greeks who recorded their impressions of India … They sometimes provide a corrective to the fantasies in other Greek accounts, even though in these the imagination of the authors is not always curbed.”

“One of the enduring images was that of Alexander in conversation with sophists … This image was seminal to the view that Indian ideas entered the Hellenistic and Mediterranean world subsequent to Alexander and contributed to various schools of thought that did not necessarily conform to established views in the European tradition.”

“Indians, on the other hand, did not say much about the Greeks, and what they did say varies. The term used for them was Yavana … Yavana became a generic term for people coming from the West and was used as recently as the last century. Some later brahmanical texts were bitterly uncomplimentary and hateful about the Yavanas, perhaps because of a lingering memory of Alexander’s hostility to the brahmans during his campaign …” (Note: allegedly, he had a large number of them put to death.)

“The mingling of Hellenistic Greeks and Indians in the second century BC came about through the Hellenistic kings, who ruled in the north-west as successors to those who had succeeded Alexander. Some differentiate between the Greco-Bactrians who ruled over Bactria and the Indo-Greeks who included India in their domain; others refer to them as Indo-Bactrian Greeks or use Indo-Greeks in a more general sense. Indian sources refer to them as Yavanas.

This term makes no distinction between what some would call the Hellenic Greeks, living on the mainland of the peninsula of Greece, and the Hellenistic Greeks. The latter were those of Greek descent or of mixed descent, but broadly conforming to Greek Culture and living in the eastern Mediterranean and West Asia. Hellenistic culture drew on Greco-Roman culture of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Iranian sources and some Central Asian influence, and can be regarded initially as Greco-Roman colonial culture.”

“The Greek settlements in Bactria traced their origins to the Achaemenid period (c. fifth century BC) when the Persian kings settled Greek exiles in the region. These were reinforced by Greek artisans settling in the cities of Bactria.”

“The history of the Indo-Greeks has been reconstructed mainly on the evidence of their coins. … The coins are symbolic of an intermingling of Hellenistic with Indian or Iranian cultures.”

Indian thought and the West

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, has said,

“The Europeans are apt to imagine that before the great Greek thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, there was a crude confusion of thought, a sort of chaos without form and void. Such a view becomes almost a provincialism when we realize that systems of thought which influenced countless millions of human beings had been elaborated by people who never heard the names of the Greek thinkers.”

(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 350).

There has been too much inclination among Western writers to idealize the Greeks and their civilization, and they have tended to discover too much of the contemporary world in the Greek past. In fact almost everything was traced to ancient Greece. In all that concerned intellectual activity and even faith, modern civilization was considered to be an overgrown colony of Hellas. The obvious Greek failings, their shortcomings and the unhealthy features of their civilization, was rationalized and romanticized.

In the words of Sir Charles Eliot, who affirms that “it is clearly absurd for Europe as a whole to pose as a qualified instructor in humanity and civilization. He writes: “If Europeans have any superiority over Asiatics it lies in practical science, finance and administration, not in philosophy, thought or art. Their gifts are authority and power to organize; in other respects their superiority is imaginary.”

(source: Hinduism and Buddhism – By Sir Charles Elliot Curzon Press ISBN 0700706798 volume I (1920), pp. xcvi and xcviii )

Modern research, however, has marred this comforting image and is helping to put Greek culture into its proper historical perspective showing that, like any other culture, it inherited something from preceding civilizations, profited from the progress of its neighboring cultures (like India and Persia) and, in turn, bequeathed much to later generations.

We are not completely in the dark on the question of Indian influence on Greece. Speaking of ascetic practices in the West, Professor Sir Flinders Patrie (1853-1942) British archaeologist and Egyptologist, author of Egypt and Israel (1911) observes:
” The presence of a large body of Indian troops in the Persian army in Greece in 480 B.C. shows how far west the Indian connections were carried; and the discovery of modeled heads of Indians at Memphis, of about the fifth century B.C. shows that Indians were living there for trade. Hence there is no difficulty in regarding India as the source of the entirely new ideal of asceticism in the West.”

(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 150).

The Greek Philosopher Saint: Apollonios in In India
Philostratos says Apollonios (6th century BCE) of Tyana thought Indians had influenced Pythagoras. So going to India was an effort to improve his moral education. He followed the road of Alexander the great to India, probably entering the country through the Khyber Pass and going to Punjab, where he met the wise men of India on a forested hill not far from the Ganges River.

He delighted in their company and their lengthy discussions.
He said: “I saw the Indian Brahmins living on the earth and not on it, walled without walls, and owning nothing and owning everything.”

Clearly, Apollonios was impressed by the spiritual power of the Brahmins who had foreseen his coming. He spent four months with them. They lived exemplary lives very close to the gods. They ate what he ate and shared his love for the natural world.
But what impressed Apollnios the most was the Indians contact with Hellenic culture. The Indian wise men spoke Greek, and were well versed in the Greek philosophical tradition and Greek culture. Both the Indian philosophers and Apollonios worshipped the gods and a supreme god, a divine being like Zeus, who was the father of the gods and humans. The wise men, however, described themselves as gods in the sense of being good.

(Source: Surya’s Tapestry; ancient rishis’ pathways to Hinduism)

(Comment: Eurocentrism and colonial superiority demolished?)

An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 1)

“When I fell out of the boat taking me to a career and lost my family, my self-respect, and faith in my abilities, I gave away my god (and everybody else’s). Struggling in rough and strange waters, I had time to think.

The first non-textbook I read when I settled down to academic study, strangely enough, was about Abraham (a nostalgic look at a past-life period?). Reading laterally, I then covered the belief systems of some early societies. I read about the nature of religious belief, and about the major religions. I came across a simple and very useful framework for examining religions, which I used some years later when I was on a school board.

When I came to enjoy the bliss of my own family, I recovered my faith in a Creator – logic (yes, logic) took me to this position. Reflecting (perhaps) the experiences of my formative years (and what I was taught) and drawing upon my reading, I realised that all faiths are beneficial and equal; one would have to be brainwashed or an egomaniac to claim that one faith was somehow superior to the others.

While I continue to hold this view, I prefer the Hindu philosophy because it is more comprehensive in its explanatory scope and yet, at its core, quite simple. It took me many years to reach this position.

All religions offer a devotional component. We all pray, in different ways, but for the same reasons. Some of us are a little bit more selfish at times than others. The forms of prayer vary, but their intent is the same. Is one form better, more effective, or better liked than God? If you do not like the way I pray, you probably do not like the way I look.”

(The above is an extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ Chapter 16)

The British came – and went (Part 3)

As the last British governor of Hong Kong vacated his post, he reportedly uttered regret that the British had not had enough time to introduce democracy to the island. Through 99 years?

Where democracy involves direct governance by the people – as perhaps in ancient India (refer Nehru), pre-Viking Britain (refer the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences), early Athens (refer Plato), or even early capitalistic Britain (refer any number of historians) – not every male resident would have been so entitled. I hold to my hope that the good of the people had been the ethos underlying judgements in those places; in reality, the perceived benefit to decision-makers may have been the primary motivation.

Representative government of the modern kind, which purports to give every franchised individual a vote in deciding which political party should rule during a definable period, appears fair. Yet, where voting is not compulsory, those who eventually realise the futility of believing that they contribute to governance will not bother to vote.

In Australia, with compulsory voting, the ‘donkey’ vote can prevail. In more recent decades, many who reach voting age (18) are apparently not registering themselves as voters – reportedly without penalty, in the main. Penalties do apply to those who are on the electoral roll but did not vote.

Western democracy in Australia involves choosing a political party, through voting for the candidate nominated by the ‘poobahs’ of the party. There are no known selection criteria for candidates; and no set qualifications in terms of education plus work experience.  Elected representatives must support their party in federal and state parliaments. Voters are not asked about their needs.

Recently, the Pope appears to be the second object of fealty for both major coalitions. Accountability is only through elections, giving voters a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (refer ‘Alice through the looking glass’).

No accountability procedures seem to apply to local government. There are no perceivable political loyalties; only personal interest. Rate payers, the voters, are not consulted.

Western democracy did appear to be a benefit for former British colonial territories. However, the vote available to every adult, especially in multi-tribal nations, regrettably subjugates minority tribes – even those who had lived within their own lands. I cite Ceylon, where ancient Hindu Tamil lands became subject to control by Buddhist Sinhalese, after Britain left a political heritage of Western democracy. The British colonial authorities, well-known for their divide-and-rule practices, left a legacy there (and everywhere) which makes a mockery of effective democracy.

This situation applies in, say, Africa, where European ‘spheres of interest’ led to boundaries of colonial-created nations cutting across tribal boundaries. In almost every nation so created, minority tribes became subject to domination by the majority tribe. A passing thought: Were former superior colonial Christians of the ‘white race’ then able to argue that the ‘coloured races’ are really unable to rule themselves? (Singapore’s Mabhubani, when Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote a clever sardonic book titled “Can Asians really think?”)

Western democracy needs improvement. The pretence of ‘representative’ government is absurd. The control of a nation by political parties, which govern from election to election, is deplorable. Surely democracy can be modified to be more equitable. Today, control by Vaticanites of Australian politics and human rights (a role reversal – control by a minority tribe) continues.

The British came – and went (Part 2)

An English friend told me that he had been taught at school that Britain was in all the places coloured pink on the map in order to teach the natives how to govern themselves. The superior white men strutting around the globe were, however, busy piggy-backing local governance practices; and replacing leaders where considered necessary.

Malaysia’s legal system is based on codified law, based on precedence; and adversarial in the courts. English is the language of the law. Thus, a thousand years hence, when an archaeologist discovers Malaysian court records, he will be confused about the ethnicity of those who had created these records.

Observing the British system of law in Australia, I wonder why the English-speaking world prefers an adversarial process for getting at the truth in a court. In France, a magistrate leads the investigation, with sound prospects of unearthing the truth without being diverted by barristers seeking to win. As well, instead of asking pertinent questions, a defence barrister may promote alternative scenarios – in the interests of justice, of course. “I put it to you … … etc., etc.” does not seem to me to be a search for the truth.

I had an interesting experience of a highly-paid barrister insisting, during a court case when I was a witness, that “surely” I must know something – which I had repeatedly said I did not know. In the meanwhile, the judge just watched the proceedings. Had he been a barrister before he became a judge? I have read that contesting lawyers tell the judge, before a hearing is commenced, how many weeks they need for a hearing. What then is the judge’s role? What of efficiency and costs?

I do wonder if justice is adequately served under the British approach. Isn’t the law meant to be the pathway to justice? In positing precedents, could one cherry-pick? How much scope is there for personal preferences? Is there scope for the exercise of wisdom by a judge, especially in terms of the good of the people, of society?

Nehru (in his ‘Glimpses of World History’) referred to the village councils operating in India a long time ago. Did the elders there apply wisdom instead of being bound by past precedents? Curiously, Britain apparently had village councils of the round-headed people living there before the long-headed ones arrived by long-boats – just like the European colonial intruding into self-governing Asian communities. Could there have been more justice in these pre-invasion communities? Is it not the welfare and future of the community that is to be protected by law?

n the current post-colonial realm, European legal systems and practices will remain in now independent nations. French practice is obviously superior to that of the British, in terms of justice. In the reality of mixed ethno-cultural populations in most of the former colonial territories, village or tribal systems of law and justice may now be inoperable.

Codified law, a legacy of British colonialism, will meet the bill in current circumstances for mixed-population nations. But, why should precedents be imperative, considering that mixed populations with varying cultural values may require, in certain circumstances, new approaches? These need to be more appropriate for prevailing circumstances.

That is, is there not scope for more wisdom, and more freedom from past decisions? One can be hog-tied by law, when law should aid justice for the individual and society contemporaneously.

Why the West rules – for now

‘Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future’ is a history book by a British historian Ian Morris, published in 2010.

The following is an extract from Wikipedia:
“The book compares East and West across the last 15,000 years, arguing that physical geography rather than culture, religion, politics, genetics, or great men explains Western domination of the globe. Morris’ Social Development Index considers the amount of energy a civilization can usefully capture, its ability to organize (measured by the size of its largest cities), war-making capability (weapons, troop strength, logistics), and information technology (speed and reach of writing, printing, telecommunication, etc.).

The evidence and statistical methods used in this book are explained in more detail in Social Development,[1] a free eBook, and by the published volume, The Measure of Civilization.

Morris argues that:
When agriculture was first invented, areas with reliable rainfall benefited most.
Irrigation benefited drier areas such as Egypt and the Fertile Crescent.

Plants and animals more easily domesticated gave certain areas an early advantage, especially the Fertile Crescent and China. (See cradle of civilization.) Development of Africa and the Americas started on the same path, but it was delayed by thousands of years.

With the development of ships in Eurasia, rivers became trade routes. Europe and empires in Greece and Rome benefited from the Mediterranean, compared to Chinese empires (who later built the Grand Canal for similar purposes).

Raids from the Eurasian Steppe brought diseases that caused epidemics in settled populations.

The Social Development Index shows the West leading until the 6th century, China leading until the 18th century, and the West leading again in the modern era.

After the development of ocean-going ships, the significantly greater size of the Pacific Ocean made trans-Atlantic exploration and trade more feasible and profitable for Europe than trans-Pacific exploration and trade for East Asia. Though the mariner’s compass was invented in China in the 11th century, Chinese exploration was less successful than the European Age of Discovery and subsequent colonization.

Eurasian diseases to which people in the Americas had no immunity were a by-product of Eurasian development that devastated Native Americans after contact, in addition to superior European weapons.

Globalization and advances in information technology are leveling differences between civilizational areas.

This is an incomplete outline. Below are extracts from a review in ‘The Telegraph’ of 25 Feb. 2018.

His theorem runs as follows. There is no biological reason why the West came to dominate. People in large groups are much the same everywhere – lazy, greedy and scared, and always looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things, “in the process building stronger states, trading further afield, settling in greater cities”.

He portrays the rise and fall of empires as amoeba-like movements, in which individuals have little long-term influence. Collapses follow the same cruel pattern: conquest, riches, babies, competition, starvation. The struggle to control the core brings in people from the margin, who then take over – viz the Phoenicians, the Mongols, the Goths, the Huns.

Geography, Morris argues, is the main reason why the West rules.

Not that China didn’t catch up. In fact, for 1,200 years (between 550 to 1776), China pulled ahead of the West. Marco Polo described China’s commerce as being “on such a stupendous scale that no one who hears tell of it without seeing it for himself can possibly credit it”. Sound familiar? Long before we did, the Chinese had compasses, paper, guns – and maritime superiority.

The future that Morris anticipates is not conventional or reassuring.

He leaves us with two scenarios. In the first, China Easternises everyone by 2045. “All over the world, people will forget the glories of the Euro-American past. They will learn Mandarin, not English, celebrate Zheng He, not Columbus, read Confucius instead of Plato…”
In Morris’s second scenario, thanks to technology we stand to become machine-enhanced, post-biological creatures. We will become like Däniken’s aliens – so destroying the premise of this enjoyable and thought-provoking book. “The ancient distinctions between East and West will be irrelevant to robots.”

(Comment: In his video, Prof. Morris gives the West less than 3 generations before China catches up and overtakes the West, viz. the USA. Refer my 2 posts –to come – titled ‘Will the West be overtaken?’)