The Psychological Cold War, Part 4
Author: Ian Dunbar
Article Published: 2012/10/05
7 ~ Biochemistry of indoctrination
This section explores the naturally occurring substances in the body that affect the balance of the mind and are manipulated by propaganda to facilitate the uncritical acceptance of plausible notions.
Political subversion is akin to brain surgery without a knife. Although it is nerves that transmit messages round the body it is the hormones, neurotransmitters and drugs acting on nerve endings that affect personality causing it to be ‘defensive’ or ‘non-defensive’.
Even simple hunter/gatherer cultures can observe that some ingested substances occurring in nature such as alcohol and cannabis, can affect the balance of the mind by altering thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Whereas individual psychotoxic substances are different from each other, clinical and anthropological observation of the drug subculture revealed that all such substances, natural or manmade, fall into one of three broad categories. This is a differentiation that only becomes apparent if the mind is visualised as a physical entity like the heart or lungs rather than a figment of the imagination and one that modern medicine has still to make.
The first group are stimulants. They cause nervous exhilaration, apprehension, anxiety or merely increased alertness. The dominant member of this group is adrenaline (epinephrine). Other examples are cocaine, amphetamine, methylphenidate, (Ritalin), ephedrine and other asthma medications such as salbutamol, (Ventolin), and caffeine. Adrenaline can cause panic fear; caffeine merely banishes fatigue. This group can be seen as modulating what has been described as the ‘defensive personality’.
The second group is sedative and creates a feeling of wellbeing. The dominant member is opium and its derivatives. Others include alcohol, painkillers such as aspirin, tranquillisers, sedatives and tobacco. Although all cause a feeling of comfort and security, some relieving pain, opiates have been described as ‘orgasmic’ in their power to sedate. Aspirin on the other hand has been a relatively harmless house- hold remedy for decades. It will come as a surprise to many that oestrogen, a female sex hormone, is also an important member of this group. Evidence for this is provided by the fact that a few days prior to menstruation the oestrogen level falls. Whilst most women are too busy to notice, some feel depressed, anxious and irritable with pre-menstrual tension. These are typical symptoms of mild opiate withdrawal.
It must therefore be the natural ‘high’ of their hormones that generates maternal warmth and makeswomen so ‘addictively’ lovable. This observation is corroborated by the motherly assurance evident in post-menopausal women on hormone replacement therapy. This group of substances can be seen as modulating the ‘non-defensive’ personality.
A third more subtle group dissociates the mind from the body enabling it to stand back and take stock in the mind’s eye. This group is different from the other two in that it can produce either panic fear, commonly known as ‘the horrors’, in fraught circumstances, or a feeling of wellbeing in congenial circumstances. The mildest but most dominant member of this group in contemporary society is cannabis. Others include psilocybin, mescaline and LSD. Uncertainty about the outcome of intoxication by any of this group, including cannabis, has long been known. For example medical students at Aberdeen in the late 1950s were advised that LSD, briefly viewed as the ‘wonder drug’ of its day, should only be taken in a familiar secure environment with friends rather than in the street with strangers.
Rejection of this advice by the postwar generations has resulted in many of the psychological problems associated with cannabis and other members of this group such as LSD psychosis.
The physical and psychological effects of adrenaline have been known for over a century. Fifty years ago doctors began realising that drugs such as opiates and cannabis could not affect the mind unless receptors existed for them in the central nervous system. If receptors existed for them in the central nervous system then similar compounds must exist naturally within the body as part of its everyday function. It would be many years before an increasingly vast complex of opioid and cannabinoid hormones and neurotransmitters together with their receptors would be scientifically identified within the body. We are therefore all under the influence of adrenaline, opiate and cannabis-like substances to varying degrees all of the time. The likely reason why this fact had previously passed unnoticed is because ingested substances, most commonly alcohol, flood nerve receptors indiscriminately to produce the sensation of intoxication. Similar substances produced in the body act precisely and subconsciously at the nerve endings that nature decreed for them only revealing themselves in the subjective changes of mood that even poets struggle to verbalise.
This makes it possible to postulate that just as the subtle spectrum of colours we can see is composed of light of only three colours, red, green and blue, so the subtle spectrum of emotions we can feel could be produced by only three groups of psychoactive compounds, stimulants, sedatives and dissociatives.
All living things face three problems of existence, surviving, finding food and reproducing. Since security is fundamental to survival, it is adrenaline, the hormone associated with defence against perceived threats, which is dominant. Adrenaline, together with its precursors and metabolites, has a wide range of effects not only physically on the body but also on the intellect and emotions. This reality can be verifiedby subcutaneously injecting a few drops as was once done in clinical practice to treat asthma or allergic reactions. It is a hormone or 'chemical messenger' that is released at strategic nerve endings to prepare the body to confront situations perceived as dangerous and threatening. This response is present in all animals and, together with such functions as nervous reflexes, tissue repair and the immune system, forms part of the overall defences of the body.
The physical effects on the body are wide-ranging. The rate and depth of breathing is increased to keep the blood well supplied with oxygen. Sugar is mobilised so that energy is readily available. The heart is stimulated so that the blood pressure is raised and the pulse rate increased to keep both mind and body supplied with oxygen and sugar. The flow of blood to the muscles is increased making them ready for action and more responsive to nervous stimuli. To ensure efficient use of resources, blood is diverted away from the skin and intestines resulting in pallor, dryness of the mouth, suppression of appetite and perhaps in acute circumstances, vomiting, diarrhoea or incontinence.
To short, in addition to its physical effects on the body, adrenaline affects the mind, both intellectually and emotionally. In acute situations, the intellect is overridden and people act reflexly as when jumping aside to avoid an accident. But there are only twenty-four hours in a day. When chronic insecurity prevails, the intellect has no option but to focus on the immediate situation rather than the wider world and the interests and wellbeing of others beyond the self or the family. Moreover the distraction makes it difficult to concentrate, learn and remember lessons that may have previously been learned. The individual becomes confined to a restricted, homely and familiar repertoire of ideas and routines. In effect the intellect becomes narrowed, confined and restricted thereby limiting individual liberty and predisposing to boredom.
Adrenaline also affects the emotions increasing alertness and causing apprehension, anxiety and fear sometimes amounting to panic. In fact, adrenaline is produced in response to any threat, real or imagined, physical, intellectual or emotional and those threats can vary in severity from acute to chronic.
Thus for example, one can be acutely frightened of burglars physically regardless of whether there is actually one in the house or whether one merely imagines it. One can be intellectually challenged when confronted by a situation one does not know how to handle or a situation that one merely imagines one cannot handle. One can be emotionally upset following bereavement or merely upset from imagining what would happen if a loved one dies. Moreover, one can be chronically insecure physically if one cannot pay the mortgage, chronically insecure intellectually if one is not on top of one's job and chronically insecure emotionally if a marriage is on the rocks. In order to acquire knowledge about the environment and the people in it, it is essential to defy imaginary fears. Many regard this as 'excitement' and seek out fear to relieve boredom by participating in such activities as extreme sports and sometimes refer to themselves as ‘adrenaline junkies’. However, being tinged with apprehension, it is a totally different excitement from that produced by passing an exam or enjoying an orgasm for example.
This contrasts with personalities that feel secure who can adopt a more philosophical approach to life. They observe that the world is bigger than people and places constraints on individual liberty as when one shelters from a storm. They realise that since the world is so big and they are so small there is more to be known than can be grasped in a lifetime of learning from those who went before. Theyappreciate that although the mind can conceive of and dream to infinity there are only twenty-four hoursa day in which to do so and that the mind is trapped in a body with finite physical functional limits thereby constraining the extent to which they can make their dreams come true. They therefore stoically accept realities they cannot change rather than whining and complaining. But they also recognise that their minds are free to wander beyond the immediate situation within the privacy of their own bodies, reflect on experience, and both explore and experiment with ideas. By allowing themselves to be guided by wisdom, common sense and common decency, their minds are free to relax, sharpen, broaden and rise above circumstances. They are free to learn, reflect, dream, empathise, appreciate alternative points of view and generally see situations from a broader perspective. They enjoy a more visionary repertoire of ideas and routines the extent of which depends on the maturity and vigour of their minds and bodies.
One of the characteristics of psychoactive substances is the phenomenon of tolerance. It is well known that heroin addicts for example require larger and larger doses to produce the same sedative effect. It is possible that this phenomenon applies also to the hormones and neurotransmitters produced naturally in the body. Emotionally, people can tolerate increasing levels of chronic anxiety but seek relief by engaging ever more vigorously in sedative activities. They can therefore become more grossly habituated to food, drink, drugs and erotic experience. The greater the frenzy of their insecurity the greater is the frenzy of their indulgence. To cheer themselves up they also tend to buy themselves presents of things they do not really need with money they cannot really afford. This wastefully consumes energy and resources and degrades the environment. The consequences have become increasingly evident in modern society.
But tolerance also builds up to the physical and intellectual effects of adrenaline. Depending on individual constitutions and genetic inheritance, people are more likely to suffer chronically raised blood pressure with its wear and tear on the cardiovascular system, or raised blood sugar and diabetes with its metabolic consequences, or increased tension in the muscles causing cramps and clumsiness, with additional wear and tear on joint surfaces leading to arthritis. Intellectually, distraction by anxiety causes impairment of concentration and memory and an inability to see alternative points of view. This leads ultimately to fanaticism, a single-minded zeal for an extreme ideological cause. The result can be visualised as poisoning the body and the mind just as chronic alcoholism poisons both body and mind. Itis possible that a host of pathological changes may be caused just as chronic alcoholism causes more than just cirrhosis of the liver. Of fundamental importance therefore, is the possible effect of chronic poisoning by the chemistry underlying insecurity on the metabolism of cholesterol for example, or on immunity, the function of individual organs such as the heart, or on pregnancy and labour, or genetic mutation and cancer. In fact poisoning by the substances associated with anxiety is a possible common denominator of the diverse epidemic disorders of our times in which 'stress' has been implicated such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer.
The insecurity covertly promoted by the psychological Cold War must ultimately be responsible.