Sunday, April 10, 2005

 

A Scary Idea


Mr. Saletan's New York Times review of my book The Hypomanic Edge and Peter Whybrow's American Mania was so uninformative, distorted, and viciously ad hominem, as a psychotherapist I had to wonder: What did Whybrow and I do to provoke this primitive reaction? Saletan is a well respected left wing intellectual. This is not how he normally behaves. But we have scared and offended him, with a radical idea--genes may have contributed to America's character.
I wrote a book review for the New York Times once. OK, it got cut before it was published, but they paid me a $100, and gave me an education. When I emailed the first draft, I received a reply with 67 corrections, many punctuated with terse derisive remarks. My editor, Michael Anderson, proceeded to explain the job he was hiring me for: Take the book seriously. Adopt a neutral tone, i.e. don’t be a wise-ass. First, I was to explain what the book was about, and then offer fair, balanced arguments. Where was Michael Anderson when I really needed him?
Within a month of each other, two professors of psychiatry at prestigious medical schools published books reporting a whopping dose of hypomania in the American gene pool. Both point to evidence of mild American mania, yet disagree about its implications. That should be the starting point for a serious discussion. But these ideas are too radioactive to even touch. We can't be taken seriously. We are so toxic that we must be discredited and mocked from the very first sentence. Saletan's reaction to the simultaneous publication of these books is that they provide an intoxicating opportunity: a "delightful twist in the marketplace of ideas" that "yields a felicitous result: a case study in the psychology of psychologists."
Uh oh.
Rubbing his hands in glee at this delightful opportunity, Saletan begins his review, not with descriptions of our books, but with ad hominem attacks on both of us. The first thing you learn about me is that "Gartner concedes he can be high strung," After all, I confessed that I "hooted like an elated primate" the day my stock portfolio hit a million dollars. Yes, I hooted. It's true. But I don't dance on my desk as you might imagine from that introduction. I wrote that sentence in the context of a section illustrating how basic primate behaviors are shared by both humans and chimpanzees, which led me to argue that hypomanic genes predate humanity. But Saletan is more interested in lampooning me than actually discussing what I have to say. For him, my propensity for hooting is just proof that the entire book was whipped up in a state of mania. I have "thrown together a few entertaining mini-biographies" (at least he admitted they were entertaining) and on that basis, I "leap to radical genetic conclusions on minimal evidence and disregard negative feedback." According to Saletan, I am not just crazy, but dangerous, a "social Darwinist" hiding in scientist's clothing, misusing my position to justify free enterprise because I "love the market." Whybrow, on the other hand, is sober enough, but he is a misguided liberal, anti-capitalist, tarring all Americans with a manic brush because he yearns for the peaceful contentment he found in "rural village where he farmed a bit as his daughter grew up." His call for a less manic America only reflect his misguided "grandiose" fantasies of "healing society."
Because our premise is so offensive, we must both be either deluded or intellectually dishonest. "This is the danger of diagnosing a whole society: you start out selecting theories that fit the evidence, but you end up selecting evidence to fit the theory." Ironically, Saletan sounds like he is describing himself here, given his habit of lifting quotes out of context and deceptively splicing them together. This would be an example of what psychoanalysts call projection. Saletan systematically employs his skills to distort what we have said. For example, I criticize the methodology of a large study which reported that hypomania is rare. "The survey indicates that one in 1,000 people is hypomanic, so Gartner broadens the criteria, arguing that anyone who admits to having gone through 'a period of greatly increased energy' is hypomanic." What I actually said was that this survey underestimated the frequency of hypomania because they asked subjects "Have you ever had a period when you were a little high, so high you were out of control?" If they said no, no further questions querying the presence of hypomanic symptoms were asked. This screening device is called a stem question. The problem is that hypomanics don't think they are out of control when they are hypomanic. Just the opposite, they feel they are happy, productive, and at their best. So of course, the vast majority of hypomanics answered no, and the researchers never assessed whether they met diagnostic criteria for hypomania. Another study, by respected Swiss psychiatrist Jules Angst, asked subjects if they had ever had a period of increased energy as a stem question. If they said yes, they were not, as Saletan says, branded hypomanic. They were then assessed according to traditional criteria. Studies using this approach found between 5-10% of subjects to be hypomanic. Just using common sense, the one in a thousand figure is wrong. That would mean there are only 300,000 hypomanics in the United States. Everyone I have spoken to immediately volunteers that they know multiple people who live on the hypomanic edge, including perhaps themselves. But you'd be more likely to cross paths with an immigrant from Tobago at the rates Saletan insists must be accurate. What he could not have known is that among the many emails I have received from senior scientists praising the book, one is from the author of the very study he defends. What he had to know was that both my book and Whybrow's were the focus of a New York Times article in the Science section (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/22/health/psychology/22hypo.html), which failed to reveal us to be the frauds Saletan--who is not a scientist--claims we are.
Close to the end of the review, Saletan concedes that "Capitalism's manic energy has made us wealthier but at a price." Ironically both Whybrow and I clearly agree on that thesis statement. Isn't that an idea worth discussing? Mr. Anderson would tell me: Put that in paragraph one--and stop being a wiseass.
Behind Saletan's gleefully snide tone is fear, fear of an idea so politically incorrect that Whybrow and I have become enemy combatants, no longer protected by the New York Times literary conventions of accuracy and fairness

Comments:
John--

I left you a phone message earlier today (4/22/2005). There is much I would like to discuss with and learn from you.

The reason for Mr. Saletan's attack on the theories presented by your book and Whybrow's writings are very basic and primitive.

I have been working on a theory dealing with human evolution and a social paradigm shift that has been taking place for a while now.

(As you probably know, it is very difficult for me to put these thoughts into writing)

Mr. Saletan is literally fighting for survival. There are now two species of humans on the planet: those who "get it" (a phrase I have been using for years, but just saw on your website today), and those who don't.

In it's most basic, evolution is about the survival of the fitest and the fight for that survival.

Yours is the first theory I have seen that actually confirms mine with anecdotal evidence based in genetics.

OK, I'm starting to stray. If you can, please call me and I can explain much more.

Thank you,

Henry
 
Hi Mr. Gartner:

I have your book on my "must-buy" list. As a bipolar II, I have often pondered the "blessing and/or curse" conundrum of hypomania.

By the way, I wrote a lot of reviews for Mr. Anderson at the Times back in the day--he can be quite the curmudgeon! In Susan Shapiro's recent memoir "Lighting Up," she sums it up perfectly when she describes submitting a review she thought was pretty darn good, only to receive a one-word response from Mr. Anderson: "Asinine!"

I found out about your book from one of the mood disorder boards I subscribe to. Being the hypomanic that I am, I decided to start a blog a few days ago. (It occurred to me that a blog may be the ideal forum for a hypomanic--in any case it keeps me off the streets). It's called Shithouse rat --a collection of essays where I aspire to present a (usually) humorous spin on (primarily) serious topics. My most recent post is called "This Bipolar LIfe," and I have added your website URL at the bottom of the post. (I haven't figured out how to hyperlink yet, so it's the best I can do for now.)

I hope you'll take a peek at the piece if you get the chance, and I'd be honored if you would post a comment.

Best,
Elvira Black

http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/
 
Hello,

Recent thoughts on Mr. Saltan's review and The Hypomanic Edge; I'll go in reverse chronological order:

1. Dr. Gartner's book is getting rave reviews from critics, mental health professionals, and patients alike. (NYT, Boston Globe, Editorial Reviews, Hubbard, Elvira)

This book is one of the better books I have read in recent years. Better yet, this is a laugh out loud (LOL) book.

This is a must read for anyone who wants a thorough listing of all the signs and symptoms of hypomania; on almost every page, I laughed or cried at the examples given and realized how all (except excessive spending) of them are part of my life.

I learned more from this book about American history than an entire year of 11th grade American History and Society. The literature has been thoroughly researched by Dr. Gartner, as evidenced by the gobs of footnotes.

His synthesis of the information is astounding.

2. This book got published.

The stats are out there (I'm too busy to look them up right now) to show that only a small fraction of books/manuscripts ever get published, much less get the kind of reviews demonstrated above.

In the publishing business, it's not necessarily about what's really good; more like, what's going to sell (read: What will the people buy?). Publishers are in the business of making money and their product is books. Someone in the industry had enough faith in the profit potential of Dr. Gartner's book to make the decision, and undertake the expense, to publish The Hypomanic Edge. It looks like their gamble is paying off.

Thank you Dr. Gartner for an awesome book!

Oh yeah: Nyah nyah nyah NYAH nyah, Mr. Saletan.
 
It’s strange that so many highly intelligent proponents of left wing ideology cannot see the significant evolutionary genetic benefits from capitalism principles, or somehow think that intergenerational equity doesn’t apply. This is coming from someone who used argued the case for left-wing ideologies until I actually decided to completely destruct everything I knew about ideologies and looked at everything I could think of in terms of what was more likely to improve the human race in the long run. I should also mention up front, that no governments are really anywhere near getting capitalism right, in my opinion of course (lets just assume that all these thoughts in the rest of the post are just my opinion, because they are merely observations and I haven’t really done too much research them beyond taking some low level undergrad political science subjects).

What is more important; living in a happy 'Utopia' now that allows everyone the same chance to breed and survive and pass on their genes, OR, one that rewards giftedness, ingenuity and encourages those people to breed and improve the human race. Evolutionary science as a concept is not that complicated (understanding its intricacies are more so) – but there is no plausible evidence to suggest that molecular evolutionary science has suddenly stopped applying to human beings (objects made up of molecules).

Now, I am not arguing for one political ideology on either side of the political spectrum - I am saying, in theory, the most productive ideology would be the one that encourages ingenuity and gives such people opportunities to succeed, while at the same time has a mechanism in place to allow people who are, to put in plainly, 'not born into money' to have potential for success (larger gene pool etc). Same can be said for becoming a global economy. Immigration/Emigration, is another way that in theory, should improve the evolutionary process. In essence you want people with proven intelligence to be given opportunity to breed, whilst also tapping into the larger gene pool that, no doubt will have its share of diamonds. One has a higher concentration but is smaller, one is larger, but has a smaller concentration.

There are obviously many current politicians that 'get it', third way ideology springs to mind that is something that resembles this, but it has been a while since I looked at it, so I do no feel qualified to make any judgments on it without a refresher course on it. But it’s not like politicians can come out and tell the world 'sorry, we only want to encourage the smart people to breed' – to put a comic spin on said situation; “Hilarity Would Ensue”.

Henry: I read some of your blog and although I find it funny and see that you definitely ‘get it’ so to speak, you don’t seem very practical or compassionate in your approach to people that are clearly not on your level. I am not of the opinion that you can force someone to change their opinion simply by throwing large concepts and words at them at a high rate of speed. All this is going to achieve is that they are going to feel offended… you are making them feel inferior, or at least trying to. This will get various responses from various people, but will inevitably not lead to a positive outcome for you in the majority of cases (as your blog would suggest).

To get the most out of people you need to know what they are going to respond to. Try and think of situations from their perspective and tell them something as close to what they want to hear as can be made possible by also achieving what response you want out of them (it may not work every time, but at least you are giving yourself, statistically, a higher percentage of success). Carnegie explains how to do this remarkably well. It would appear that most of the ‘extremely successful’ are people that can effectively communicate with people of all levels of cognitive ability. I am not saying this is easy, we all big large egos and when combined with the frustration, our tendency is perhaps to lash out at people who don’t understand us – but if you are can look at this objectively (again, not as easy feat) you will see that is not is any way going to be beneficial to you, other than to make you feel good, as a release of sorts. If you want some more evidence, you need to further than to look at the personality of our most successful leaders, they are all most likely to be well above the norm intellectually, but they are charismatic to people on all levels, they know how to engage people with various views, beliefs, intellects etc. Some examples that I can think of current leaders: Richard Branson, Tony Blair, Donald Trump, most sporting leaders, religious leaders, I mean this list could be massive, I think they point is made? Having a massive ability to process and understand information and to then create new ideas is somewhat meaningless if you cannot engage with the 90% of the population of whom you are selling it to.

I reiterate – This is all in my humble opinion and is to be taken with the standard dosage of salt.
 
John -
I've enjoyed your writings as many others have - I have a greater understanding of both myself and those that have a fear of the hypomanic.

Observation - America's "big" education appears to be deathly afraid of the hypomanic edge when manifest in our young. The ever-expanding medication of children that exhibit any of the characteristics of the hypomanic in the name of attention-deficit syndromes is nearly out of control. I am not certain where this will eventually lead (except to the continued expansion of drug-company profits), yet I am concerned that our future as an innovation society is well on its way to being "medicated" into oblivion. Classical education, as practiced in most of America's schools, has neither the patience nor the ability to absorb the energy, vitality, and behavior of these children.
Your thoughts?

Ken Mc
 
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