Volume 3, Issue 6 - December 2008Print | Email

You ARE Your Brain: Communicating Psychiatric Culture

photo - neuronsIt is no secret that psychiatric drug sales in the U.S. have been accelerating at an astounding pace over the past decade or so. Pretty much everyone is familiar with the idea that we live in a prozac nation where we can get prescription drugs for anything that ails—sleeplessness, hyperactivity, and even bad moods. Pharmaceutical corporations are commonly blamed for our escalating consumption of psychiatric medications because they communicate highly persuasive—albeit sometimes misleading—messages in advertisements that are directly targeted to public audiences.
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Cross Current

The End of Biological Racism

The biological sciences have a problem with race. As a discipline, biology seeks to be able to explain everything important about human beings. It is therefore primed to create messages claiming that biological factors cause differences in perceived abilities among races. Indeed, every few decades this issue gains public and media attention that follows a recurring script. A scientist claims to have discovered that perceived racial differences in intelligence are caused by biological factors. When the study is discovered to be false—sometimes even deliberately distorted—that fact doesn't get any attention. The most recent version of this cycle involved high profile publications in Science led by Dr. Bruce Lahn. A careful analysis of the message components in the recent episode gives us a clue as to how the long-running story might be changed.
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Response to George F. Will: Ravaged by Rhetoric

It is all proper and fitting, I suppose, that in his occasional editorial gambit for Newsweek magazine, the vicar of conservative wisdom, George F. Will, should address the catastrophic meltdown of the Republican Party in the 2008 presidential election. Given a person of his high moral character and impeccable literary credentials, I even expected a painful, but reflective recount of the failures of the policies of his party of choice—two spirit-numbing, life-draining wars, unparalleled corporate greed and human insensitivity, and an economic crisis that moves closer everyday to transforming recession into depression. But no, none of that accounts for this ideological apocalypse. The problem, Will assures us, what really duped and decoyed the great unwashed out there was none other than--gasp!--rhetoric, oratory, that ancient art of persuasion, not so affectionately known within the academy as the harlot of the humanities.

Unequivocally trusting James W. Ceaser's preternatural instinct for the intentions of the Founding Fathers (that itself should give the careful reader pause), Will suggests, “The Founders, Ceaser says, ‘were deeply fearful of leaders deploying popular oratory as a means of winning distinction.' That deployment would invite demagoguery, which subverts moderation.” And there's more. “The Progressives of 100 years ago,” Will laments, “wanted to popularize presidential selection by rewarding candidates gifted in the popular art of inflaming excitement through oratory. They opened a door through which, eventually, strode George Wallace, Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Howard Dean and others.” I guess Will prefers more moderate, well-networked striders like—oh—say that paragon of moral virtue, Richard Nixon, whose most memorable rhetorical utterance, “I am not a crook,” turned out to be a bald-faced lie.
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Response to George F. Will: Don't Fear Oratory

George F. Will writes in the November 17, 2008 issue of Newsweek that President-elect Obama's campaign was powered solely by “the ‘popular art' of oratory,” which in Mr. Will's judgment represents the “antithesis of the Founders' system” and “the final repudiation of the Founders' intentions regarding the selection, and hence the role, of presidents.” While we often turn to the Founders to make sense of current political questions, we do not always listen very carefully to what they had to say. By oversimplifying the Founders' complex debates and by hastily denigrating rhetoric, Mr. Will has not only gotten the Founders wrong on the question of presidential selection, but he has also unwittingly exposed his own mistrust of the rule of the people.

Mr. Will draws heavily from the analysis of University of Virginia professor James W. Ceaser to assert that Barack Obama's two-year “campaign—for his party's nomination, then for the presidency—was itself virtually the entire validation of his candidacy.” Mr. Will also cites John Jay's Federalist 64—“brilliant appearances . . . sometimes mislead as well as dazzle”—to support his claim that Obama's well-run campaign was the “antithesis of the Founders' system.”  Drawing from Professor Ceaser and Jay allows Mr. Will to argue that the Founders designed a nomination process that they hoped would be immune to “the popular art of oratory” and that Barack Obama's campaign not only repudiates the Founders' intent, but also potentially threatens our republic. Let's examine these claims a little more closely.
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Response to George F. Will: To Trust or Distrust the Electorate?

Did the 2008 presidential election represent the triumph of inferior forms of political communication over an unthinking electorate? Political columnist George F. Will seems to think so. In a recent post-election editorial published in Newsweek, Will argued that Obama secured the White House by relying upon the “‘popular art' of oratory” so feared by the founding fathers. I believe Will's case is constructed on a fundamental misreading of the 2008 election.

In his editorial, Will, relying heavily upon the work of political scientist James Ceasar, points out that the nation's founders had originally planned to turn the task of presidential selection over to a thoughtful, deliberative body known as the Electoral College. The founders wanted enlightened arguments advanced within the Electoral College to drive the presidential selection process because they distrusted popular forms of political oratory that could easily misguide the masses. In Will's view, Obama's victory represents “the final repudiation of the Founder's intentions regarding the selection” of presidents. Further, Will affirms that Obama's victory stands for just what the founders did not want to see—a candidate relying upon his pretty words and “personal qualities” to make up for a remarkably thin resume.
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Women Talking About Cancer

photo - breast cancer ribbonCancer” may be the most dreaded word a patient ever hears a doctor speak. When plunged into the world of uncertainty and fear that a diagnosis of breast cancer conjures, many women turn to others for support. Communication with health care providers, friends, and even loved ones may be less satisfying, however, than engaging in interaction with women who have “been there” and “done that.”
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Cities as Digital Playgrounds

photo - Day of the Figurines Board 
Cell phones, when equipped with Internet access and location awareness through GPS, have the potential to create multiplayer game spaces that occur simultaneously in physical, digital, and represented spaces. These types of games are called hybrid reality games (HRGs).
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Roleplaying with MySpace

On MySpace, fans of cult television shows can put aspects of their own personality into a profile for a TV character. By then communicating with other character profiles, the fan roleplays the character and rewrites the television story. There is a long history of fans writing fan fiction, works of art that steal characters, stories, and themes from existing television shows (the classic example is Star Trek). Fans now use social network sites like MySpace.com to interact with and communicate as characters from television shows.
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Street Newspapers Help the Homeless

Photo - Homeless Person Sleeping on the Street
Some of the harshest parts of extreme poverty are the physical aspects: weather, shelter, violence, and traffic. Most homeless persons will attest that the physical conditions are among the most difficult challenges of not having a home. And, while the physical is an undeniably central element of homelessness, symbolic forces are also powerful.
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Affectionate Communication is Good For You

Photo - Woman Showing AffectionIf you're like most people, you'd probably say that hearing the words “I love you” from your spouse or significant other makes you feel good. Perhaps you can even describe the sensations of warmth, comfort, and protection you experience when you receive such expressions.
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Home Page | You ARE Your Brain: Communicating Psychiatric Culture | The End of Biological Racism | Response to George F. Will: Ravaged by Rhetoric  | Response to George F. Will: Don't Fear Oratory | Response to George F. Will: To Trust or Distrust the Electorate? | Women Talking About Cancer | Cities as Digital Playgrounds | Roleplaying with MySpace | Street Newspapers Help the Homeless  | Affectionate Communication is Good For You 
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