May 27, 2008


Improvements in human longevity and physical well-being over the last hundred or so years have come more from improvements in public health than in the treatment of individual patients and diseases.

I'm just talking about the basics, like clean water and a sewage system. This is still an issue in many parts of the world. In the developing world today, diarrhea is the leading cause of child deaths--two million per year. Around six million people of all ages die from it annually.

Dr. James Gilligan, author of the 1996 Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, suggests that we take a public health approach to violence prevention and reduction at both the interpersonal and structural level.

Rather than conventional moralistic condemnations,

the only way to explain the causes of violence so that we can learn how to prevent it, is to approach violence as a problem in public health and preventive medicine, and to think of violence as a symptom of life-threatening (and often lethal) pathology which, like all forms of illness, has an etiology or cause, a pathogen. To think of violence as evil--if we confuse hat value judgment about violence with an explanation of it--can only confuse us into thinking we have an explanation when we do not.

Based on experience over 25 years in working with violent offenders, Gilligan believes that he has identified the pathogen or "virus" that causes violence. And that pathogen is shame.

More on that tomorrow.


TWO FROM THE NEW YORKER. Here's George Packer on the future of movement conservatism. And here's an item on the elusive search for a cure for the common hangover.

NIRVANA. Not the band, the state of being. Here's an interesting article about a brain scientist who experienced it by way of having a stroke.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, more and more therapists and researchers are giving Buddhist-inspired mindfulness meditation a second look.

CLOSING A GAP. Some colleges are trying to break down the barriers between the sciences and the humanities.

DEATH'S DOOR. The Rev. Carroll Pickett, for years a prison chaplain at Huntsville, Texas who witnessed 95 executions, has come to oppose the death penalty and is the subject of a new film.


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