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WEST:
AN
AUTOIMMUNE
DESEASE?

PRELIMINARY

CONSIDERATIONS

Immature defense mechanisms (which psychoanalytic psychopathology has been studying for decades) can often be associated with chronic stress. For example, constantly rationalizing one's actions to justify unsustainable work habits or lifestyle choices can lead to chronic stress. Prolonged stress activates the body's stress response system, including the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic activation of the stress response can weaken the immune system over time, making individuals more susceptible to infections, inflammation, and autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, considering them as foreign "invaders." The exact origin of these diseases is complex and involves a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors. 

The field of psychoneuroimmunology explores the bidirectional interactions between the mind, nervous system, and immune system. Psychological factors, including defense mechanisms, can influence immune function through neuroendocrine and neuroimmune pathways. For example, chronic stress and negative emotions associated with immature defense mechanisms can dysregulate the immune system, leading to increased inflammation and reduced immune response to pathogens.

When applied metaphorically to psychology, these defensive mechanisms could be seen as promoting certain behaviors and attitudes that prioritize material success, individual achievement, and economic efficiency. However, these same mechanisms may inadvertently lead to negative psychological consequences, similar to how autoimmune diseases result from the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissues.

Are we inevitably made sick by a system (external and autoimmune) that saturates our psychosomatic capacities? Regarding autoimmune diseases, Maté (2022) notes:

Scleroderma is one of the eighty related diseases classified as autoimmune, each representing a virtual civil war within the body. Indeed, autoimmunity is equivalent to an assault by a person's immune system against the organism it should defend (Maté, 2022, p. 69-70).

Autoimmune diseases are among the leading causes of death in young and middle-aged women in the United States (Cooper, Stroehla, 2003). For decades, clinical observations have suggested that the prevalence of autoimmune diseases is increasing (Vargas-Parada, 2021). However, studies based on systematic data seem limited, so it is not known if this apparent increase is simply due to changes in diagnosis and reporting. Nevertheless, a team of researchers has just shown that antinuclear antibodies – a type of autoantibody that is a common biomarker of autoimmune diseases – have become increasingly prevalent in the American population over the past 25 years. Does this provide evidence of the significant toxic effects of the American way of life? Is it a question of internal warfare caused by aggressive propaganda and culture both internally and globally? Is it necessary to buy war bonds at all costs?

The increasingly subtle and addictive mechanisms deployed by economic and scopic propaganda undoubtedly represent one of the main risk factors responsible for the likelihood of developing a mental and/or physical disease (autoimmune, etc.), as well as for sustaining and generating war (internal and external). By assessing risk factors to facilitate their mitigation, healthcare professionals seem to overlook a plurality of ecosystemic etiological factors (interaction of various components of an ecological, digital, political, cultural, etc., ecosystem). Fromm (2002), let us recall, believes that the dominant view of pathology, which focuses on the individual's failure to adapt to the behavior patterns and lifestyles established in society, is actually fundamentally flawed. We once again see that psychopathology can, as Fromm suggests, be a reaction to an abnormal context, or even to a deeply sick society.

The context that interests us represents a source of exponential stress. It is evident: one does not remain captive to a fight, flight, and freeze logic (simultaneous combat-war, flight, and immobilization on a screen that exploits and distorts our unconscious attraction to negative stimuli) without becoming increasingly stressed. Psychosocial stress produces changes in cognition, affect, behavior (Wolf, 2018), while a growing number of studies demonstrate the effects of stress on inflammatory reactions and the immune system. Pruett (2003), to refer to this author alone, reminds us that there is now irrefutable evidence demonstrating that stress responses can cause clinically relevant immunosuppression as well as other types of immune system dysfunction. The production or action of stress mediators are the main culprits of undesirable immunological effects.

Inflammation is increasingly recognized as a factor responsible for many diseases. Research, as suggested before, cites the role of dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in diseases where inflammation is indicated. Normal glucocorticoid function plays an important role in inflammation: it acts by reducing inflammation and has an immunological and metabolic effect. Prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol and resulting HPA axis dysfunction interfere with anti-inflammatory and immunological processes, note Jones and Gwenin (2020). Elevated levels of circulating cortisol affect immune cells by binding to their receptors, leading to the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines; this causes inflammation and immune deficits, as well as other metabolic consequences.

It is interesting to note that the immune system naturally conducts its battles against parasites: bacteria, viruses, fungi, pathogens, etc. This system launches devastating attacks against pathogens and malignant tumors, while limiting collateral damage to healthy tissues (self-tolerance). However, it happens that the immune system triggers a harmful reaction against triggers (antigens) expressed by healthy and normal tissues, such as the skin, pancreas, or joints. All of this can be called "internal immunological warfare" (against oneself), already mentioned in relation to the culture of war. Is this an intolerance towards one's self and the unbearable somato-political subjectivity produced by capitalism? Are these attacks against "non-self" objects forcibly injected-projected inside ourselves by the bellicose and insatiable economic ecosystem, extractivist and inoculationist? Is this the only way available to the individual to fight against the deprivation of their own subjectivity and autonomy by the dictatorial ecosystem that surrounds us?

It is evident from the preceding discussion that stress, alongside its corollary anxiety, may play a central role in the onset of autoimmune diseases. These findings prompt another inquiry: Could the paradoxical creation of heightened psychological protection, potentially influenced by the ideology of risk, be responsible for undermining both psychological and biological defense mechanisms, ultimately leading to a state of war against self? Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud develop, in psychoanalysis, the idea that anxiety can weaken the defense mechanisms of the Ego. This concept centers on the idea that individuals formulate defense mechanisms as adaptive responses to manage internal conflicts, stressors, and anxieties. Yet, excessive reliance or inflexible adherence to these defenses can ultimately worsen anxiety and other psychological challenges.

Although defense mechanisms initially serve a protective purpose, they can pose challenges when excessively depended upon or when they hinder healthy emotional processing. For example, repression, entailing the suppression of distressing thoughts or memories into the unconscious, may offer transient respite from anxiety but could result in the buildup of unresolved emotional conflicts over time. Likewise, denial, while shielding individuals from distressing truths, may impede the acknowledgment and resolution of underlying issues, perpetuating a cycle of anxiety and avoidance.

 

By erecting barriers between the conscious mind and the unconscious, individuals may become disconnected from their true selves, leading to feelings of emptiness, alienation, or existential angst. The creation of psychological protections can paradoxically contribute to the weakening of defense mechanisms by fostering dependency on maladaptive coping strategies. The inflexible and methodical maintenance of defense mechanisms can hinder the cultivation of more adaptive coping mechanisms and disrupt interpersonal relationships, as well as adapted interactions within the ecosystem. By defensively shielding themselves from perceived threats or vulnerabilities, individuals may find it challenging to establish authentic connections with others and their environment, thereby fostering feelings of isolation or mistrust. Consequently, this may elevate levels of stress and anxiety.

In autoimmune diseases, the confusion between one's own body, its defense mechanisms, and pathogens lies at the core of the disruption we are endeavoring to investigate. Normally, the immune system is tasked with distinguishing between "self" and "non-self" entities, meaning it recognizes and tolerates the body's own tissues while attacking foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. One proposed mechanism for the breakdown of self-tolerance involves molecular mimicry, where foreign antigens from pathogens resemble self-antigens found in the body. An antigen is a molecule or substance that is capable of triggering an immune response in the body. Antigens can be either foreign substances, such as bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens, or they can be self-antigens, which are molecules produced by the body's own cells. When the immune system mounts a response against an invading pathogen, it may inadvertently target similar self-antigens, leading to an autoimmune reaction. What about mimicry and memes in capitalism? Can mimicry and memes lead to the destruction of the Self?

In the realm of capitalism, mimicry plays a significant role in shaping consumer behavior, market trends, and societal norms. Capitalist economies rely on advertising, branding, and consumer culture to promote products and lifestyles, often leading to the emulation of certain behaviors or consumption patterns perceived as desirable or aspirational. Individuals may automatically mimic the consumption habits of others, driven by a desire for social status, validation, or belonging within consumerist societies. Memes within capitalist systems encompass not only cultural symbols or trends but also ideological constructs and narratives that perpetuate and legitimize capitalist principles. Ideas such as the pursuit of individual success, the glorification of entrepreneurship, or the valorization of consumerism can be seen as memes that propagate within capitalist societies, shaping collective attitudes, values, and behaviors.

 

These predominantly unconscious mechanisms, among numerous others to which the bio-psycho-social individual is exposed, could contribute to the confusion between self and environment, as well as between one's own antigens and the antigens of pathogens. Consequently, they may lead to a conflict against oneself and one's biology. We can propose the interpretation and hypothesis that capitalism, with its profound understanding of human psychology and physiology, manipulates our desires and needs to distort them, thereby engendering confusion between the self and the non-self. One way capitalism achieves this is through the commodification of goods and services. By turning essential aspects of life, such as food, shelter, and healthcare, into commodities that can be bought and sold, capitalism creates a dependency on consumption to fulfill basic needs. This dependency can lead to a blurring of boundaries between the self and the non-self, as individuals may come to define themselves by their possessions or consumption habits. Capitalism's relentless pursuit of profit often results in the exploitation of human labor and natural resources. Workers may be alienated from their labor, feeling disconnected from the products they produce and the value they create. This alienation can contribute to a sense of disconnection from the self and the surrounding world, as individuals become mere cogs in the capitalist machine, devoid of agency and purpose beyond serving the interests of capital. Moreover, capitalism's pervasive influence extends beyond the economic sphere and infiltrates various aspects of society, including culture, media, and politics. Through advertising, propaganda, and consumer culture, capitalism forms our desires, aspirations, identities, and bodies.

 

This bio-psycho-social manipulation can further blur the lines between the self and the non-self, as individuals internalize capitalist values and norms without questioning their validity or consequences. Viewed from this perspective, the confusion we are addressing could potentially affect biological antigens within the complex interplay examined by psychoneuroimmunology. This scientific area, as mentioned above, illustrates how psychological factors can influence our biology, including stress response, immune function, gene expression, brain structure and function, health behaviors, social relationships, placebo and nocebo effects, and more.

 

The field of clinical psychology and psychopathology, akin to psychiatry, systematically fails to interrogate the paradoxical effects of the dominant culture of comfort and well-being. In modern society, the pursuit of comfort and convenience is often prioritized, with technological advancements and material abundance intended to enhance convenience and minimize discomfort. However, comfort can breed anxiety when it becomes intertwined with a deeply ingrained fear of loss or change. Individuals may find themselves excessively attached or even addicted to certain comforts, routines, or material possessions.

It's noteworthy that in capitalist societies, the creation of comfort is often coupled with an injection of fear regarding the potential loss of that comfort, driven by reasons of consumption, productivity, and profit. This context engenders both artificial and genuine anxiety linked to the comfort zone and its possible loss. Such a paradoxical zone can induce physiological responses, representing the body's natural reaction to stress and perceived threats. Individuals grappling with comfort zone anxiety may resort to negative self-talk, catastrophizing, or irrational thought patterns. They might fixate on potential worst-case scenarios or harbor doubts about their ability to navigate new challenges dictated by societal norms of consumption. Situations outside the comfort zone that provoke anxiety can trigger feelings of fear, apprehension, insecurity, or inadequacy.

To exacerbate the artificial anxiety stemming from the disparity between environmental demands and personal capabilities, individuals are bombarded with messages equating happiness with consumption and the accumulation of wealth. The dissemination of systematic narratives of economic insecurity can further compound comfort zone anxiety, compelling individuals to prioritize financial stability and security over personal growth or exploration. Fear of unemployment or underemployment can deter individuals from taking risks or pursuing new opportunities outside their current employment situation. This ensnares individuals in a vicious cycle of fear and alienation, ultimately leading to anxiety about survival and self-identity erosion in the long term. Constant exposure to social media, news, and online content contributes to a sense of information overload and exacerbates anxiety, leading to decision paralysis. In a bid to cope with this inundation of information, individuals may retreat into familiar routines and comfort zones, shying away from the uncertainty of new experiences and alternatives. However, one might argue that this plays into the hands of capitalism's main agenda: by maintaining a delicate balance between comfort and anxiety, it discourages choices that aren't profitable for the economy.

Artificial and authentic concerns regarding potential well-being entail constant worries about one's future contentment, happiness, or fulfillment. The convergence of comfort zone anxiety and potential well-being anxiety creates a complex dynamic wherein individuals grapple with the tension between the desire for safety and the pursuit of personal growth, often aligned with spiritual or philosophical values.

It is clear that the pursuit of well-being yields positive outcomes such as happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. However, it also introduces stressors, pressures, and anxieties, particularly when individuals feel overwhelmed by expectations of accumulation or perceive barriers hindering their desired state of well-being, dictated by the alienation industry. Consequently, individuals worry about falling short of societal norms or expectations, fostering feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, perpetuating an ongoing battle against a self continually confronted with obsolescence in the face of capitalism's relentless pace of development. Social comparison, particularly through social media platforms, exacerbates anxiety related to well-being. Persistent exposure to curated depictions of seemingly perfect lives can breed feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, or fear of missing out (FOMO), further fueling anxiety about one's own well-being.


 

(WORK IN PROGRESS)

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