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Narcocapitalism. Life in the Age of Anesthesia
Forfatter: Laurent de Sutter
Forlag: Polity Press (USA)
Narcocapitalism is a brief history of modern psychopharmaceuticals, but also a theory of how to gain control over the social body.


Laurent de Sutter is a philosopher and professor of legal theory at the Free University of Brussels. "How have you generally tried to get manic-depressive people under control?" Is the main question in his little book Narcocapitalism. Life in the Age of Anesthesia. The answer the author gives is brief: "By taking away the exaggerated joy." "The only good manic-depressive is the depressive," the author writes. But of course it is not The Author who mean this – he merely reproduces what he perceives is the norm in psychiatry. His own solution to the problem is unclear.

Pleasant numb. The book provides useful information about the relationship between medicine use and modern capitalist society. Is it at all possible to feel happiness without using medication? Or is the relationship the opposite – that the best we can hope for is to not feel any thing; that happiness is, as in the song of Pink Floyd, being comfortably numb; that medicine can make us happy by suppressing those strong feelings?

Narcocapitalism is a brief overview of the relationship between psychology and pharmacology. It is also a study of modern medicine's "hacking" of the female body and of the ontological dimension of depression. We meet Sigmund Freud and his positive og active cocaine use (Freud took cocaine in controlled quantities), and gets an insight into what oral contraceptive use does with the woman's physiology.

Away with the emotions. A longer sequence in the book highlights serious side effects of birth control pills. For although most modern women see the pill as themselves release pill, the side effects are many and undeniable. Unlike antidepressants, used by patients with depression, the pill helps to reshape the hormonal composition of women who are healthy. 

The book is a study of modern medicine's "hacking" of the female body.

The author probably does not mean to moralize. He points to the close link between the use of narcotic drugs on a legal basis (the book deals very little with illegal drugs), and demonstrates the close connection between capitalism and legal drug use, from cocaine to hormone inhibitors, and the widespread use of sleep derivatives in it. modern society. Should natural sleep also be stolen from us? After all, sleep, from a capitalist perspective, is a very unproductive state. We are presented with a study on how our night and our sleep are invaded by chemical agents, and an interesting review of the relationship between Coca-Cola and cocaine.

The author throws out some pretty violent claims, including that modern people have forgotten what natural joy is, because our spontaneous expressions of joy are subdued. We are not cured of our depression and our apathetic behavior, despite the frequent and massive use of medication, and we do not understand why we are getting worse by the medicine.

The author makes it a little easy for himself. He does not sufficiently discuss his main claim, namely that the massive use of medicine in the happiness community is due to the capitalist social system. The book becomes a kind of anti-capitalist crocodile that yawns too much and eventually gets the jaws out of joint.

Destroying joy. The book's story section is the most interesting. It is based on the year 1846, when Charles Thompson Jackson and William Green Morton, both from Boston, filed a patent application with the United States Patent Office, which dealt with "improvement of internal body operations". This involved a new technique, based on inhalation of diethyl ether while the patient was undergoing surgery. Thus, a new era in medicine has begun: the age of anesthesia.

"The only good manic-depressive is the depressive." 

Later, the author deals with the treatment of manic-depressive psychosis. It is told about Emil Kraepelin, professor of psychiatry at the age of 30 and with the above disorder as one of his special fields. In 1899 he published the sixth edition of Textbook in psychiatry, and like his teacher Wilhelm Wundt, he wanted to create a complete overview of all psychiatric disorders, based on prior knowledge. Kraepelin would name them and, if possible, find out which chemical agents could be used against the various conditions. He studied for several generations of the mentally ill and was convinced that such a disease is inherited, which was not the theory of his time. The manic-depressive, he thought, was much more inclined than others to climb the "ontological mountain-and-valley path," for which it is impossible to predict the movements. For him, the manic-depressive exaggerated on-going and extreme joy represented a fundamental disruption of the world order's balance system.

Apathetic and "fresh". "The only good manic-depressive is the depressive," Kraepelin said. Here, the author draws a parallel to the medicine use of our time: Does this view still apply – that a "good patient" does not feel joy, that being down and calm is the closest thing to getting healthy? De Sutter fundamentally criticizes capitalist society: "We have no natural relationship with pleasure anymore," he asserts, "to be hyper happy is to ask to end up in court, sentenced to chemical castration in a very different form."

As a whole Narcocapitalism interesting and well-written, but also somewhat incoherent and a little too one-sided in their discussions. For medicine (history) interested it can still be recommended. Welcome to the perfect community where no one is truly happy – welcome to Prozacland!

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

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