Western neurotics and the four-hour erection

A while back, I mentioned some historian who was theorizing that as little as 3000 years ago, humans had no consciousness. This is obviously a pretty controversial assertion, made more difficult by the fact that very few people can really agree on what consciousness is. But it did get me thinking about the idea that different groups of humans, separated by time or geography, can experience life very differently.

I was reminded of this today while reading a book by Scott Brady. Brady is something of a disciple of John Sarno, the doctor who advocates that a lot of pain is emotionally based. Brady, who focuses mainly on back pain, comments…

I’m reminded of a six month period I spent in Africa… seeing a total of about 5000 patients…. Very few of them suffered any back pain symptoms at all…. Yet as they walked down uneven potholed roads, they were constantly carrying extremely heavy loads on their heads, babies in one arm, and water jugs or gasoline cans in the other. In other words, these Africans weren’t following any of the usual Western medical advice about taking care of your back — yet they didn’t seem to suffer back problems.

Brady then offers some insight into the emotional life of Africans.

I remember one day when a patient died during an emergency surgery in Zaire. The family began to beat the walls of the building and scream so loudly that I thought my life might be next to go. But they were simply being free about expressing their feelings… there would be no buried or repressed emotions in that group!

I’ve heard similar reports about life in Africa. It really seems that on some fundamental, core level, certain African cultures really live much more expressive lives that most of us in Western culture.

This kind of ties in with another topic I’ve been thinking about: the neuroticism and escalated anxiety of modern, particularly Western, culture. A point Brady makes, and what I’ve seen made many times before, has to do with our fight or flight reflex. This is essentially what anxiety is — heightened awareness about potential dangers. Presumably, if you were a tribesmen in Africa in 10,000 BC, your fight or flight reflex would go off every so often — when you see a snake, or perhaps someone from an enemy tribe. But presumably you could have days, weeks, even years I suppose, where it did not go off. But, in Western culture, we’re constantly being reminded of potential dangers. You watch the news and hear of one disaster or another, then cut to the ads which offer treatments for high cholesterol, while warning you that these very treatments can cause incontinence, urinary tract infection and four-hour erections. Every magazine has an article about how eating pie causes cancer. All this leads to a bunch of neurotic people who sit around talking to each other about the latest disasters or health emergencies unfolding within the world. Brady nicely sums this up…

All around us stress producing messages say, you’d better watch out or something may go terribly wrong! So to defeat the terrorists, we all take off our shoes when we go through airport security.

This point about taking your shoes off struck me. Even this fairly innocuous activity, one we’re all fairly used to, is a reminder of horrible acts of terrorist violence. And it’s just one of an infinite series of reminders of equally horrible things we brush up against every day.

2 Responses to “Western neurotics and the four-hour erection”


  1. John Saleeby

    How’s this for excitement – Yesterday afternoon this guy I work with beat somebody to death with a chair! It’s the talk of the town. I’m going to write a True Crime book about him – “I Worked With The Chair Killer”.

  2. Wil

    Well, the important thing is that he wasn’t repressing his emotions.