Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gabor Maté: Toxic Culture

Gabor Maté knows how to attract a crowd. Today the "world-renowned physician and writer" gave a Keynote Presentation at the University of Alberta that the police had to shut down. Not for anything he said or did, but because too many people swarmed into the Telus Centre to hear him. Someone complained and forty-five minutes into his presentation the organizers had to arrange another room for the overflow. Maté looked stunned at first but quickly adapted. He's used to adjusting to sudden shifts in his environment. Much of his research depends on identifying the influence of surroundings on our physical and mental health.

The crux of his argument was a refutation of conventional scientific wisdom. For too long the medical community in the west has treated mental health issues as separate from physical ones, which are then further isolated from wider environmental or social concerns. All the evidence points to the combined influence of these factors on the well-being of an individual's total health. To isolate one area from another is essentially an ideological position that ends up exacerbating illnesses of all kinds, leading to what Maté calls our "toxic culture."

According to Maté, humans need attachment and authenticity. We're wired to be attached to others and to express ourselves authentically without fear. That gut feeling you ignored? That's what Maté calls "a denial of authenticity." He goes on to identify sociologist Erich Fromm's "myth of normalcy" as a source of society's problems. Rather than attachment and authenticity, society values appearance, behaviour, and life circumstance as measures of success.    

One of the ways to remedy this malpractice is to accept the science and not the ideology, which wrongly attributes only biological or genetic sources for illnesses. The main cause, according to Maté, is our environment. When we cease dividing mind from body, or the individual from society, the toxins in our collective system will wither and die. Only then will Karl Marx's so-called "four alienations" - from nature, others, work, and from ourselves - be finally resolved.

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