Hill of Beans

The Huffington Post reports that scientists at Stanford have figured out a way to turn anxiety off and on in mice. About one-fifth of Americans are anxious in any given year, says the Huff Post, allegedly quoting the NIH, but the link didn't lead me to the source.

The scientists found ways of stimulating cell projections in the amygdala section of the brain, causing mice to be less anxious, and seem emboldened, spending more time exploring open spaces than control mice.

They sound like the mice I had in my old place. They would run around the kitchen with impunity, and stand there in the middle of the floor with the lights on, looking around. I don't know what emboldened them. Maybe their drinking water was contaminated with Prozac.

So here are many questions: What does it mean that one-fifth of us are anxious at any given time? Have humans always been anxious and are we only now finding a way to keep track of the numbers? Are we more anxious now because of our fast-paced life? Or eating food additives, or living with the minute hand so close to midnight, or with constant reminders of war and terror and uneven distribution of wealth?

Maybe we should be anxious. Since the invention of the telegraph, we humans have been able to transmit news of death and destruction immediately all over the world. Our species has grown cognizant that the earth is fragile. At the same time, we've been assaulting the earth with toxins, pollution, strip mines, cement and so on and so forth. Nature (tsunami, earthquake) combines with culture (nuclear reactors) to extend disaster.

Does anxiety to lead to working for social change? That's the real question. If we weren't all medicated, would we be up in arms more? Are we sedated and inert? Probably not. When I was at my deepest level of anxiety, I wouldn't answer the phone because I would start weeping. I was not in the mood to go to a rally or knock on doors. On the other hand, does political action lead to feelings of connectedness and mastery and increased self-worth? Yes, it can. So as the song says, Don't mourn, organize (while it's still legal).

... it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now... Here's looking at you kid.