There's an overused quote from Fitzgerald having to do with keeping two competing ideas in mind --and still retaining the ability to function -- as the sign of a first rate intelligence.
I've always found that a bit obscure and annoyingly self-referential -- i mean who is Fitzgerald talking about here but his own swell self! I could imagine Hemingway asking Fitzgerald how the heck he would know, yuk yuk.
But by that standard, mainstream medicine and the media are absolute geniuses in the way they manage to bombard us with the competing ideas that something is very wrong with kids today and that it's all caused by society except when it is autism, in which case, well, never mind.
Such contrariness was on display this week with Time magazine's cover story titled "Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent."The inside headline: "The kids are not all right." You could write the story yourself ... a girl who started cutting herself ... "adolescents today have a reputation as more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up." ... "anxiety and depression in high school kids have been on the rise since 2012" ... "They are the post-911 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity." ... "It's hard for many adults to understand how much of teenagers' emotional life is lived within the small screens of their phones."
Most of the attention, and all of the photos, focused on girls. And it is true that anxiety is a defining issue for them, and a terrible one. But boys overall are far worse off, as I've written many times; in terms of our faltering worldwide competitiveness, about 99 percent of the problem is with boys whose wiring is severely scrambled, and not just by lack of recess or Absent Dads (two more tedious feature story tropes.) For either gender, 9/11 and economic insecurity has about zero to do with it, as do phones and gender fluidity or whatever other pop spaghetti is hurled against the explanatory wall on any given day.
None of it sticks for long because these kids are sick, folks. Many have gut and immune issues that accompany these mental maladies and show their roots in whole body, neurotoxin and autoimmune dysfunction.
Speaking of which, Time had the first ad I've seen in what looks like the new Autism Speaks credo of not looking for a cause -- "I am very sensitive to lights and sounds," the ad says in the voice of a cartoonish autistic boy. "Sensory sensitivity is a sign of autism. Learn the others at autismspeaks.org/signs." (I'm sensitive to visually ugly ads, and this one is anaphylaxis inducing.)
The message here seems subtly different - not how to spot and fix autism early but how to make life easier for all the kids who are just-that-way-so-quit-whining-about-it. That's nice, but lights and sounds are not going to go away.
Poor Time was propped up in this issue by a couple of house ads and the usual pharma shilling. We may not have it to kick around much longer.
Oh, and when Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared together this week, Hillary praised Michele for her campaign to get kids active and eating better. It's working, Hillary said, kids are really healthier! On what planet? Hillary said she would keep the White House vegetable garden. Eat your asparagus, all you self-injurious depressed anxious and/or autistic kids! You'll feel better.
The thing is, nobody is blaming the 1 in 68 autism rate on Facebook and 9/11. But the millions of kids affected with other often disabling mental and physical disorders are presumed to be casualties of modern living. Right now there's money to be made off of autism --Autism speaks rakes in the donations and shells out to media like Time for pointless placeholder ads that accomplish what, exactly?
So here we are with two competing ideas -- society is causing our kids to be mentally damaged except when the damage (yes, damage) is called autism. That's caused by something else in which we are no longer either a, interested in because it implies disability or, b, reckless enough to talk about because it implies blame and liability. And it might tell us more than Time's pharma funders would care to have you know about anxiety, depression, autism and the American adolesecent.
How long this jumbled paradigm of contradictions (Kuhn called them anomalies that ultimately blow up the whole bogus structure) can continue to function is anyone's guess. But Fitzgerald notwithstanding, it is anything but the sign of a first rate intelligence -- or a first-rate country where a kid can grow up happy and healthy.
Dan Olmsted is editor of Age of Autism.