Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September 3 2014. Thinking clearly is generally considered to be a good thing—and it is fundamental if you are a writer—but can you think at your best when drugged? Yet virtually half the U.S. adult population is on legal drugs—and virtually all seniors are on multiples thereof. (It’s something like an average of seven meds per senior—and yet we die three years sooner than those pesky Europeans). As for our children, we drug a truly alarming number of them too. Could this be why resolving even the most simple issues seems to be so difficult? Is this a societal problem? Have we become a ‘muzzy nation?’

War is very simple, but in War the simplest things become very difficult.

Carl von Clausewitz

If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.

Carl von Clausewitz


Clausewitz was a professional soldier who was involved in numerous military campaigns, but he is famous primarily as a military theorist interested in the examination of war. He paid special attention to the campaigns of Frederick the Great and Napoleon. He wrote a careful, systematic, philosophical examination of war in all its aspects. The result was his principal work, On War, a major work on the philosophy of war.

Back in April I injured myself very badly in a rather unusual backward fall (entirely my own fault—and damn stupid of me)—and after enduring considerable pain for several days, went on Ibuprofen. The relief from pain was considerable—but I found I couldn’t think as clearly as I like to—and need to. I felt permanently muzzy.

It wasn’t an all encompassing muzziness. Arguably, that would have been less dangerous because I would have been forced to accept my situation. Instead, though that mentally dull feeling was ever present, I could fool myself into believing that I was pretty much thinking clearly.

I wasn’t. In fact it took me four months to recover fully.

I could think, of course—and nominally I could function in that I could sit at my desk and write—but really I was just going through the motions and would have been better off resting. Better yet, I should have slept more.

Sleep is my favorite medicine. Unfortunately, doubtless helped by the fact that I wasn’t thinking clearly, my work ethic won out.

I didn’t really understand how much my cognitive abilities were impaired at the time. I thought I was about 80 percent operational—but, in truth, I was deluding myself. The fact is that your cognitive edge (the bit that distinguishes you creatively, contributes insights, and guides your decisions) primarily works at the margin. As a consequence,  to function at 80 percent—even if that had been the case (which it wasn’t)—equates to being dysfunctional.

I was like someone who has been without sleep for several days. You can walk and talk and go through the motions of being awake and sentient—but research shows your judgment goes to hell.

It’s a major reason why everything is so difficult in war. Many of the combatants are tired all the time so the simplest thing becomes difficult. I saw it demonstrated graphically when I spent time with the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) in the Mojave Desert—and that was only an exercise. I saw it etched into soldiers’ faces during hostilities in Northern Ireland—which were decidedly not an exercise. It was self evident when I was in Cyprus when the Greeks were showing they were the power—just before the Turkish invasion.

I so nearly got shot during that confrontation, I sweat to think about it. It’s a strange feeling to walk away when a group of strangers are debating whether to kill you or not. I was too terrified to be afraid.

We now consume so many legal drugs in the U.S. that our water supplies are contaminated by meds, tens of thousands of people are killed, and hundreds of thousands have to visit the Emergency Room. The Center for Disease Control has called the problem an epidemic. It equates to slaughter on a grand scale—and, in terms of threat to our national wellbeing, relegates terrorism to constituting no more than a sideshow.

Legal drugs are killing and injuring Americans on a scale equivalent to full scale war—or one Vietnam War every two years.

Where our water is concerned, currently we have no routine way of removing such medical contamination—though it can be done—so the problem is steadily getting worse. That means that even people who think they are not on meds really are—through the water supply—much as any of us who eat any type of meat in the U.S. are on antibiotics, whether we like it or not. They are fed to industrially raised animals as a matter of routine.

The question I am raising is whether our national ability to think clearly and rationally, to appreciate nuance, to negotiate compromise, to plan and to do, is not affected by so many of us being drugged so much of the time—combined with other factors such as:

  • Our cultural obsession with work.
  • Our limited vacation allowances combined with the unwillingness of many to take them.
  • The poor quality of much of our food.
  • The fact that most of us take virtually no exercise—combined with the fact that exercise is one of the best ways of stimulating the brain.
  • The generally high stress level, and lack of security, of the American Way of Life.
  • The poor quality of the TV that most of us get our news from.

I don’t know of any academic work on this subject—though in the U.S. there tends to be a report on just about everything (a great strength, incidentally, and an inadequately tapped resource) but my conclusion is that it is.

Somehow, we have allowed ourselves to become ‘a muzzy nation.’ We haven’t been diagnosed as such as yet—but it seems only a matter of time.

Do we have to stay this way?

I would like to think not. Not so long ago, the U.S. was genuinely the greatest county in the world. We were the most powerful and held the moral high ground. We have lost some of that high ground over recent years, but this county still has enormous strengths. If they could but be harnessed, matters could change for the better very quickly.

But, first we have to recognize the problem—and it is hard to think clearly enough to do that when you are muzzy.

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