Neuro-scientists at Sultan Vahdettin University in Turkey have identified a chemical that produces the ‘shock/horror’ response in humans. The occipital lobe at the rear of the brain responsible for vision and perception receives inputs from the retina that pass through a “way station” in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus. In this intermediate step between seeing and understanding, chemicals produced in other parts of the brain modify the information received before projecting it on to the cortex. To a certain extent this validates the old Chinese proverb ‘Two-thirds of what we see is behind our eyes’.
The newly identified chemical, or neurotransmitter, has been tentatively named appalomine. Studies so far suggest that over-stimulation of the lateral geniculate nucleus by excessive exposure to horrifying imagery can have the effect of inhibiting the production of appalomine required to transmit sensory messages to the cortex, resulting in a reduced ability to be appalled. Furthermore constant stimulation over a prolonged period of time can exhaust the brain’s natural stores of appalomine to such an extent that sufferers may actually reach a state where they can no longer be appalled by anything at all. An analogy can be made with the bored shepherd boy in Aesop’s fable who cried ‘Wolf!’ several times as a practical joke to bring the men of the village running. When a wolf eventually did attack the boy’s flock, his cries for help went unanswered.
So it’s not my fault, you see. I know some readers felt that my failure to respond in what they consider an appropriate manner to the widely viewed ‘execution’ of American photojournalist James Foley indicated a lack of sensitivity, even heartlessness on my part. The fact is, like the wolf-hunting men folk of Aesop’s fabulous village, my supplies of appalomine have been run down by excessive demands on their neurotransmissive powers. To cut a long story short, I’ve been appalled too many times. To give you a few examples:
- I was appalled at the images of jailers in the United States’ detention facility at Guantanamo ill-treating prisoners; and that hundreds of people have been detained there over a 12-year period without ever being brought to trial. I was appalled when I learnt that Guantanamo Prison is located in Cuba, in the grounds of the US naval base – the United States has a NAVAL BASE? In CUBA? And they located the prison there because George W Bush was told it was outside US legal jurisdiction, so one assumes they thought they could interrogate and torture prisoners without the normal humanitarian restrictions. I am appalled that President Obama promised prior to his election that he would close the facility – but seven years later he has not done so, and there are still 149 prisoners there.
- I was appalled at the astronomical government payouts by the US government to banks considered too big to fail. Economists have been telling us for some time that the US recession is over and profits are returning to normal. The wealth, however, is stubbornly refusing to trickle down. In fact the gap between the rich and poor in the United States is continuing to grow. A report from the US Census Bureau stated that the median net worth of the richest households rose 11% between 2000 and 2011, to $630,754, but the median household net worth for the country overall declined about 7% to $68,828. The bottom 20% actually had a negative net worth of $6,029, up from $905 a decade before. The median net worth for whites, overall, rose between 2000 and 2011, but fell for black and Hispanic Americans – suggesting that those people in Ferguson, Missouri may have more than one valid grievance. So I was further appalled at the militarized police response to civilian protests after an unarmed black boy was shot by a policeman. Especially when I remember how much bad press Turkey got last June over the so-called Gezi park protests.
- I was appalled when a British scientist David Kelly who had been working as a United Nations inspector in Iraq was hounded to death by Tony Blair’s government. Kelly was suspected of leaking information to the BBC suggesting that Blair knew Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction when he committed the British military to supporting GW Bush’s invasion.
- I was appalled some years ago when I learnt that the British Government had used an area in Central Australia called Maralinga for the testing of nuclear weapons. I am appalled that many UK and Australian citizens still don’t know this.
- I was also appalled to learn, more recently, that the United States had up to five military bases in Turkey during the Cold War, with nuclear-armed missiles aimed at targets within the Soviet Union. I also learned that President JF Kennedy, at the time of the Cuba Missile Crisis in 1962, had a secret meeting with his USSR counterpart, Nikita Krushchev, at which he agreed to remove some of them in exchange for the Russian’s removing theirs in Cuba. I am appalled that many US citizens still don’t know this, and continue to believe that it was JFK’s macho threats that forced Krushchev to back down.
- I continue to be appalled at the treatment meted out to Bradley/Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange over the Wikileaks revelations.Manning was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment; Snowden had his US passport revoked while out of the country, and the Russian Government has recently granted him a residence permit for three years; Assange was given asylum by the Ecuadorean Government and has been virtually imprisoned in their London Embassy, under threat of extradition if he comes out. In July this year the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights made a public statement saying that the USA should abandon its efforts to prosecute Snowden since his leaks were in the public interest. At no stage, as far as I am aware, have US authorities actually denied anything that Wikileaks disclosed.
- I am appalled at the Israeli Government’s continued defiance of UN requests to withdraw from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and to cease building Jewish settlements there. I am appalled that Israel is playing the injured party and indiscriminately bombing residents of Gaza while hiding behind a virtually impregnable shield largely financed by the United States Government.
- I am appalled that there are now 1.3 million refugees in Turkey who have fled the violence in neighbouring Syria, and the rich nations of the world show no interest in helping to alleviate their wretched plight. I am beyond appalled that the United States Government seems to be now seriously considering extending its bombing program from Iraq into Syria.
And these are only some of the international incidents. I can’t even begin to list the small-scale horrifying events taking place in the world around me on a daily basis that appal me. So please forgive me, people – my appalomine stocks are pretty low these days.