Friday, January 12, 2007


Hysteria, a term not much used clinically anymore, is a form of psychological dissociation, wherein specific internal mental contents--such as memories, ideas, or feelings-- are unavailable to, or dissociated from, conscious awareness. When an individual comes into contact with certain unpalatable ideas; or experiences feelings or perceptions that are in severe conflict with his or her view of the world or sense of self, it can be quite psychologically traumatic for the individual.

When that happens, the individual's psyche will deploy a variety of psychological defense mechanisms which are designed to protect the person's deeply held beliefs about the world and the self, and to give them time to metabolize and digest the more unpleasant aspects of reality.

These psychological defenses isolate and dissociate the unacceptable memory or perception or idea or feeling from conscious awareness and may have a significant impact on the individual's awareness and behavior.

In the case of classical hysteria--or conversion disorder as it is now known--the impact takes the form of functional neurological deficits, i.e., physical symptoms that make no medical sense, and seem to have no discernable physiological or anatomical correlation, e.g., hysterical blindness or paralysis. (I have written about a classic case of hysteria here)

Often, one of the hallmark symptoms of such cases is a rather unusual--or even inappropriate-- lack of concern expressed by the patient about the very symptoms that have brought them to see medical professionals in the first place. This phenomenon is referred to as "la belle indifference", literally, "beautiful indifference."

Let me give you an example from one of my own cases. A middle-aged woman was referred to the psychiatric emergency room when a rather thorough medical examination could not explain the sudden onset of a complete paralysis below the waist. Additionally, the Resident was concerned because her "affect" was rather strange. It seems that, despite what one might normally consider a rather devastatingly traumatic event--the loss of one's ability to walk or to experience any sensation below the waist--the patient was laughing and joking with the medical Resident.

Mrs O'Hara (we will call her that for reasons that need not concern you) was indeed cheerful for someone who was suddenly paralyed and in a wheelchair. She was also not particularly concerned that she had been referred to a psychiatrist. "Oh!" She told me cheerfully when I asked her how she felt about it, "I suppose you will all sort it out after a while!"

As it turned out, Mrs. O'Hara was eventually admitted to our inpatient unit (yes, they actually used to admit patients like this back in those days). I did not follow her closely, but it turned out that her husband of many years had recently left her for a much younger woman. They were in the middle of a nasty divorce, fighting over how much money she was to get. The whole situation would have been quite upsetting to anyone, but Mrs. O'Hara insisted it didn't bother her at all--and, as long as she insisted such was the case, she was unable to use her legs. She literally "couldn't stand on her own two feet" and didn't seem to much care ("la belle indifference") until one day in a family meeting where her soon-to-be-ex-husband was also present. During this session, Mrs. O'Hara became enraged at something he said and suddenly stood up to confront him angrily. This seemingly obvious evidence of the health of her legs completely unfazed her, however, and she regained her good humor--and her paralysis--at about the same time.

I tell this story merely to demonstrate "la belle indifference" and to segue into a discussion of the curious, but beautiful indifference of our own MSM.

Curiously, because they are journalists, and I would think that journalistic instincts are easily aroused by curiosity, many of today's journalists seem to suffering from a type of mass hysteria. Their journalistic instincts; their curiosity; their "nose" for a story is severely impaired--almost paralyzed or blind you could say--and yet they don't much seem to care.

I could document numerous cases of this indifference--from Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" "magic hat" stories and the amazingly uncurious attitude of the press toward his military discharge, to the almost daily rantings and detailing of Republican corruption while practically ignoring equally egregious instances of Democratic misdeeds; from obsessions about incidents like Abu Ghraib and Haditha; and places like Gitmo, to complete indifference about the institutional abu ghraibs,hadithas and gitmos of the totalitarian regimes of the middle east--but the instance that concerns me today relates to the sad and incredibly curious case of Sandy Berger's theft and destruction of national security documents related to Clinton administration activities prior to 9/11..

The report released this week by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee shows, as ranking Republican member Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia put it, how former Clinton National Security Adviser Berger "compromised national security much more than originally disclosed."

The conventional wisdom is that Berger took and tried to destroy four documents. Fact is, we don't know all Berger took and all he destroyed.

As Davis points out, "Working papers of National Security Council staff members are not inventoried by the Archives. Consequently, there is no way to ever know if the 9/11 Commission received all required materials."
The 9/11 Commission was naturally curious about how the Clinton administration handled prior terror threats and what it knew, and when, about potential threats. So, it asked Berger to testify. Clinton, we know now, signed a letter authorizing Berger's access to classified documents in the Archives as preparation for his testimony.

A report by the National Archives and Records Administration says Clinton signed an April 12, 2002, letter designating Berger, and another individual whose name was redacted, as "agents on his behalf to review relevant NSC documents regarding Osama bin Laden/al-Qaida, Sudan and presidential correspondence from or to (Sudanese President) Omar Bashir, contained in the Clinton presidential records."

According to the NARA report, a subsequent letter from a National Security Council official dated May 14, 2002, said Berger was repeatedly briefed that "he was not allowed to remove any documentation from NARA." But he did. Now we know that we don't know how many documents he may actually have taken and what was in or on them.

The "Archives staff's failure to contact law enforcement immediately and their contacts with Mr. Berger about the missing documents compromised the law enforcement effort," said Rep. Davis. Because Berger "had access to original documents that he could have taken without detection," he added, "we do not know if anything was lost to the public or the process."

No one in the mainstream media seems to care.

What information exactly was in those documents that were destroyed by Berger? Why is there not more pressure being placed on this former National Security Advisor to reveal what was behind his bizarre actions--and who might have told him to do it? and why? How is it that Berger did not go to jail, when his offence was more than justification to throw the book at him? Why is it that four years after the event we are now only finding out about his incredible duplicity and quite deliberate actions? Why was the public given bemused testimony about his "absentmindedness"? Why is no one in the MSM actively pursuing the answers to these questions and hounding Berger day-in and day-out to get the answers? Why is the MSM completely blind to the implications of such a story and in a state of self-induced paralysis about following up on it?

Why? La belle indifference.

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