Johann Hari's Lost Connections: The Good, the Mixed Bag, and the Truly Pathetic

After viewing Tucker Carlson's recent interview with Johann Hari, I was ready to read his book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions.  Everything in the interview touched on what I firmly believe are commonsense principles that have been neglected and even derided by the leftist intelligentsia, a group in which, I discovered to my dismay, Hari is ensconced.  Certainly nothing warned me that his book, a New York Times bestseller, has cover endorsements by the likes of Elton John, in which case I may not have obtained the book I purchased for two bucks on Kindle.

Part One of this work establishes the primary point made in the Carlson interview: that chemical treatments of depression, including the depression Hari suffered from and still fights, have a small impact overall.  Added to this finding is the distressing observation that Big Pharma essentially controls a largely bogus process by which its products are determined to be effective by the FDA.  Making this portrait even gloomier is the revelation that most psychiatrists, despite longstanding evidence that depression has obvious social and mental causes, have totally ignored these factors and promoted the quick and easy explanation that depression is exclusively the result of a chemical malfunction in the brain, best treated with drugs.

I wasn't surprised by these revelations, especially the information-warping connection among scientific research, government approval, and pharmacological funding – an illicit pay-to-play arrangement often noted by dissenting climatologists whose work will never be funded by government agencies intent on promoting the power-enhancing theory of "climate change."  It was surprising, however, to encounter a study that shows that the benefit of a good night's sleep is three times more effective on average than the relief secured via antidepressants.  Also of interest is the "grief exception" that psychiatrists carved out but later removed from the DSM diagnosis of depression – an exception that pointed, embarrassingly, to the fact that depression can, and often does, have causes rooted in one's life experience.

So far, so good.  Hari is showing what most conservative, traditional folks have believed all along: that the medical profession has reduced a vast number of human problems to diseases or biological imbalances to be treated with chemicals.

The next section of Hari's work discusses the various "lost connections" that cause or contribute to depression and anxiety.  It is a mixed bag.  Thoughtful folks wouldn't argue with any of the primary prescriptions – that humans need to be connected to each other in significant ways, that meaningful work is important, that humans require real (not junk) values that include a picture of a better future, that nature is elevating, and that the current cultural focus on the "ego" is essentially isolating and self-destructive.

The intellectual rub comes as Hari begins to interject into his analysis his own scarcely analyzed biases.  The term "conservative," for example, is consistently placed in a negative context.  Moreover, Hari's selective reliance on evolution to bolster his case for "connection" is off-putting.  A section on baboon behavior is designed to show, needlessly, that stress accompanies being at the bottom of the primate's hierarchy.  Elsewhere, the need for human connection is touted as a function of our evolutionary past.  If, however, "evolution" is prescriptive for our needs, why not include the bestial brawls that work out the baboon hierarchy – or the savage winner-take-all struggles that were necessary for survival before the emergence of civilized society only a few thousand years ago?  Hari apparently wants to link all of the "values" that are "internal" to humans to this theoretical and, for many biologists, non-directive process, whose movement is predicated, Hari fails to note, on a species' failure to survive.  By contrast, Hari's references to actual human philosophers (or, God forbid, theologians) who long ago labeled humans social and rational creatures are so fleeting that they wouldn't constitute a whole paragraph in this lengthy oeuvre.

The irritations of Part Two become unbearable as Hari provides his tentative "solutions" to our problem of "lost connections."  A group of social misfits living in a rundown apartment near the old Berlin Wall band together politically to demand a rent freeze and in the process develop a genuine appreciation for and connection with the diverse groups in the tenement – Muslim Turks, gays, and outcasts of various tattooed and mini-skirted varieties.  A co-op bicycle shop where decisions are "democratized" provides a pattern for fulfilling work, alongside reinvigorated labor unions.  Professionally supervised administration of a psychedelic drug (psilocybin) unlocks the vastness of the universe, shrinks the ego, and can reveal paths to personal healing.  The banning of advertising that promotes junk values (like the promotion of "individualism") will help immensely.  Finally, giving everyone a basic monetary grant (almost $20K in a Canadian project) will provide a degree of security that makes life more fulfilling and decreases depression – a whole 9% over the three-year Canadian experiment in a largely conservative, farm-based community.  Then there are the benefits of gardening, nature walks, and a Junk Values Anonymous program.

At least Hari admits that giving everyone $20K would require a huge government expense, though he doesn't consider the effects of inflation or the anxiety-induced by the increase in taxes this Obama-endorsed policy for the future might incur.  Furthermore, Hari ignores the fact that many folks in deeply depressed circumstances already receive as much as or more than $20K in benefits – dismissing such analysis with the words "piecemeal" and "safety net."  Most distressingly, Hari, the unmarried atheist, ignores the fact that the leftist policies he obviously endorses have functioned to destroy and disparage the most fulfilling connection most individuals enjoy, the much-derided "nuclear" family – a topic he assiduously avoids, since his own childhood was so traumatic that he began receiving anti-depressants at the age of eighteen.  The second most connective institutions in the U.S. are its religious communities.  (Revealingly, Hari often prefers the political term "collective" to "community," apparently disregarding the linguistic distinction between a non-connected collection of individuals and a commonwealth whose members share in each other's joys and pains.)  Beyond bringing people together into a community, religious institutions have been the primary conveyers of "values" (i.e., virtues) that involve caring for others and not focusing obsessively on oneself or material possessions.

I certainly agree that modern advertising is a destructive force, but not simply as a means for inculcating the junk value that "getting stuff" will make one happy.  In tandem with the powerful entertainment industry, advertising overwhelmingly promotes the "junk values" of "doing your own thing" and "being a rebel" and "ignoring what others think about you" – in other words, a menu of slogans and images designed to separate children from their fuddy-duddy parents, to revile traditional wisdom, and to ridicule religious institutions as havens for hypocritical pedophiles.  Since Hari obviously thinks all wisdom is derived from recent social and psychological studies, he would be well advised to peruse Arthur Brooks's book Who Really Cares, which shows that conservatives are more likely to give blood and to donate time and money to charitable causes than their "liberal" counterparts.  He might consider why that should be the case.

You won't see Hari criticizing any of the elite political allies of upper-crust New Yorkers – Hollywood hedonists, rap musicians, or the countless depraved television and film productions that revolve around the stupidity of parents, the hypocrisy of clergy, the idiocy of tradition, indulging one's sexual impulses, reveling in blood and guts (à la the Roman Coliseum), or the political wisdom du jour that springs naturally from enlightened six-year-olds.  What you will see is an author who, after initially bristling at the notion that his depression wasn't simply a brain aneurism of sorts, but also a function of the way his life had unfolded, swiftly moved from a theory that placed all the blame on a biological or genetic fluke to a theory that transfers responsibility for his depression to a hellish (and for him, conservative) society.

I agree with Hari that our society is messed up.  I am confident, however, that his "collective" solutions will make things much worse and that he has missed the primary causes of and solutions for our current Lost Connections "hell."

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is also available on Kindle.

After viewing Tucker Carlson's recent interview with Johann Hari, I was ready to read his book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions.  Everything in the interview touched on what I firmly believe are commonsense principles that have been neglected and even derided by the leftist intelligentsia, a group in which, I discovered to my dismay, Hari is ensconced.  Certainly nothing warned me that his book, a New York Times bestseller, has cover endorsements by the likes of Elton John, in which case I may not have obtained the book I purchased for two bucks on Kindle.

Part One of this work establishes the primary point made in the Carlson interview: that chemical treatments of depression, including the depression Hari suffered from and still fights, have a small impact overall.  Added to this finding is the distressing observation that Big Pharma essentially controls a largely bogus process by which its products are determined to be effective by the FDA.  Making this portrait even gloomier is the revelation that most psychiatrists, despite longstanding evidence that depression has obvious social and mental causes, have totally ignored these factors and promoted the quick and easy explanation that depression is exclusively the result of a chemical malfunction in the brain, best treated with drugs.

I wasn't surprised by these revelations, especially the information-warping connection among scientific research, government approval, and pharmacological funding – an illicit pay-to-play arrangement often noted by dissenting climatologists whose work will never be funded by government agencies intent on promoting the power-enhancing theory of "climate change."  It was surprising, however, to encounter a study that shows that the benefit of a good night's sleep is three times more effective on average than the relief secured via antidepressants.  Also of interest is the "grief exception" that psychiatrists carved out but later removed from the DSM diagnosis of depression – an exception that pointed, embarrassingly, to the fact that depression can, and often does, have causes rooted in one's life experience.

So far, so good.  Hari is showing what most conservative, traditional folks have believed all along: that the medical profession has reduced a vast number of human problems to diseases or biological imbalances to be treated with chemicals.

The next section of Hari's work discusses the various "lost connections" that cause or contribute to depression and anxiety.  It is a mixed bag.  Thoughtful folks wouldn't argue with any of the primary prescriptions – that humans need to be connected to each other in significant ways, that meaningful work is important, that humans require real (not junk) values that include a picture of a better future, that nature is elevating, and that the current cultural focus on the "ego" is essentially isolating and self-destructive.

The intellectual rub comes as Hari begins to interject into his analysis his own scarcely analyzed biases.  The term "conservative," for example, is consistently placed in a negative context.  Moreover, Hari's selective reliance on evolution to bolster his case for "connection" is off-putting.  A section on baboon behavior is designed to show, needlessly, that stress accompanies being at the bottom of the primate's hierarchy.  Elsewhere, the need for human connection is touted as a function of our evolutionary past.  If, however, "evolution" is prescriptive for our needs, why not include the bestial brawls that work out the baboon hierarchy – or the savage winner-take-all struggles that were necessary for survival before the emergence of civilized society only a few thousand years ago?  Hari apparently wants to link all of the "values" that are "internal" to humans to this theoretical and, for many biologists, non-directive process, whose movement is predicated, Hari fails to note, on a species' failure to survive.  By contrast, Hari's references to actual human philosophers (or, God forbid, theologians) who long ago labeled humans social and rational creatures are so fleeting that they wouldn't constitute a whole paragraph in this lengthy oeuvre.

The irritations of Part Two become unbearable as Hari provides his tentative "solutions" to our problem of "lost connections."  A group of social misfits living in a rundown apartment near the old Berlin Wall band together politically to demand a rent freeze and in the process develop a genuine appreciation for and connection with the diverse groups in the tenement – Muslim Turks, gays, and outcasts of various tattooed and mini-skirted varieties.  A co-op bicycle shop where decisions are "democratized" provides a pattern for fulfilling work, alongside reinvigorated labor unions.  Professionally supervised administration of a psychedelic drug (psilocybin) unlocks the vastness of the universe, shrinks the ego, and can reveal paths to personal healing.  The banning of advertising that promotes junk values (like the promotion of "individualism") will help immensely.  Finally, giving everyone a basic monetary grant (almost $20K in a Canadian project) will provide a degree of security that makes life more fulfilling and decreases depression – a whole 9% over the three-year Canadian experiment in a largely conservative, farm-based community.  Then there are the benefits of gardening, nature walks, and a Junk Values Anonymous program.

At least Hari admits that giving everyone $20K would require a huge government expense, though he doesn't consider the effects of inflation or the anxiety-induced by the increase in taxes this Obama-endorsed policy for the future might incur.  Furthermore, Hari ignores the fact that many folks in deeply depressed circumstances already receive as much as or more than $20K in benefits – dismissing such analysis with the words "piecemeal" and "safety net."  Most distressingly, Hari, the unmarried atheist, ignores the fact that the leftist policies he obviously endorses have functioned to destroy and disparage the most fulfilling connection most individuals enjoy, the much-derided "nuclear" family – a topic he assiduously avoids, since his own childhood was so traumatic that he began receiving anti-depressants at the age of eighteen.  The second most connective institutions in the U.S. are its religious communities.  (Revealingly, Hari often prefers the political term "collective" to "community," apparently disregarding the linguistic distinction between a non-connected collection of individuals and a commonwealth whose members share in each other's joys and pains.)  Beyond bringing people together into a community, religious institutions have been the primary conveyers of "values" (i.e., virtues) that involve caring for others and not focusing obsessively on oneself or material possessions.

I certainly agree that modern advertising is a destructive force, but not simply as a means for inculcating the junk value that "getting stuff" will make one happy.  In tandem with the powerful entertainment industry, advertising overwhelmingly promotes the "junk values" of "doing your own thing" and "being a rebel" and "ignoring what others think about you" – in other words, a menu of slogans and images designed to separate children from their fuddy-duddy parents, to revile traditional wisdom, and to ridicule religious institutions as havens for hypocritical pedophiles.  Since Hari obviously thinks all wisdom is derived from recent social and psychological studies, he would be well advised to peruse Arthur Brooks's book Who Really Cares, which shows that conservatives are more likely to give blood and to donate time and money to charitable causes than their "liberal" counterparts.  He might consider why that should be the case.

You won't see Hari criticizing any of the elite political allies of upper-crust New Yorkers – Hollywood hedonists, rap musicians, or the countless depraved television and film productions that revolve around the stupidity of parents, the hypocrisy of clergy, the idiocy of tradition, indulging one's sexual impulses, reveling in blood and guts (à la the Roman Coliseum), or the political wisdom du jour that springs naturally from enlightened six-year-olds.  What you will see is an author who, after initially bristling at the notion that his depression wasn't simply a brain aneurism of sorts, but also a function of the way his life had unfolded, swiftly moved from a theory that placed all the blame on a biological or genetic fluke to a theory that transfers responsibility for his depression to a hellish (and for him, conservative) society.

I agree with Hari that our society is messed up.  I am confident, however, that his "collective" solutions will make things much worse and that he has missed the primary causes of and solutions for our current Lost Connections "hell."

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is also available on Kindle.