Oh Destro, wherefore art thou?

I just read this paragraph on CNN regarding the despicable beheading of James Foley:

As details of the cold-blooded execution of Foley emerged, British Prime Minister David Cameron interrupted his summer vacation to head a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, known as COBRA, in London.

Cobra? Are you kidding me? Is David Cameron the COBRA Commander?

Your search, your future

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) has been around for seventy years. It is one of the best studied psychometric tests and is still frequently used in forensic settings. The intriguing thing about the MMPI is that it is atheoretical, it is simply an extended battery of questions, the answers to which provide windows into one’s personality.

What does this mean? We live in an age of self-report questionnaires and checklists. They generally have questions that are obvious in what they’re looking for:  Are you sad? Do you cry? Do you feel blue? Aha, you must be depressed.

The MMPI might find out the same information differently:  Do you play with dolls? Do you ever break things? The question asked and the answer have no logical relationship to the thing being measured, they have simply shown correlation over vast numbers of people taking the test.

In today’s New York Times, there is a fascinating article that brings to mind a similar exercise only with Google searches. This would seem to me to be the next step in Big Data/government oversight/technoparanoia. In Captain America 2 or Freakonomics, there are logic-based algorithms described to find “bad” people. Realistically, it won’t be too long before arrest records and google searches start to predict things about ourselves we won’t logically be able to guess.

It won’t be “flying lessons” “bomb-making” “Allah” that will trigger some terrorism alert, it will be something as banal as “Adidas shoes” “pineapples” and “Sea Monkeys.” Self-censorship will be useless, which the MMPI solves for as well. Search terms will be transparent to so-called “fake-bad” and “fake-good” subscales–the falsely-rebellious and the guiltily-hidden.

The problem with all of this is that it will be utterly without narrative. There will be no explanation, just a prediction that will be inexplicable other than “the computer said so.” Welcome to Minority Report.

On the topic of suicide…

So Robin Williams killed himself. That is so deeply upsetting, I can barely address it.

I’ve been amazed and shocked by the overall response. As someone who lives daily in the world of people so distraught, dissatisfied, alone, sad, miserable, and/or hate-filled that suicide is the rational solution, I am shocked by the apparent shock/disgust with which the world has responded.

Suicide is outcome of many different types of mental distress combined with many different types of problem solving. I won’t address that kind of simplistic math any further. Needless to say, there are interventions for a wide variety of conditions–pharmacological, psychotherapeutic, and just plain, human.

The idea, either that this was a) a purely selfish act, or alternatively b) a failure to reach out for help, is very simplistic. Between a) and b) are many people who reach out for help and don’t find enough relief and many who (mistakenly) believe they are reducing the net suffering of the world by removing their variable from the equation.

There is something definitive that is yet to be written about the nihilism of the intelligent, empathic male. It is a category subsumed in the narratives of Hemingways and Giraldos, or Belushis and Hoffmans, and now Williamses. The man who is insightful and empathic and who struggles with the conflict this engenders.

As a psychiatrist, I think we can talk about the entity of “depression” all we want, but in truth, there are dozens of sub-types; this is one worth exploring further.

For me, Robin Williams will forever be the permissive father. The teacher/therapist who inspired creativity and rebellion, who showed a different path than the rigidity of male aggression or money or dominance.

It breaks my heart that it was only a performance.