Pounding the news with Maslow’s hammer

According to Maslow’s hammer, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.*

After reading the New York Times magazine’s report on an outbreak of neurological symptoms among high school girls in Le Roy, New York, David Blankenhorn blogged it this way:


Blankenhorn is president of the Institute for American Values,

a private, nonpartisan** organization devoted to contributing intellectually to the renewal of marriage and family life and the sources of competence, character, and citizenship in the United States.

Maybe they should add to that list of virtues, “neurologically healthy childhood.”

The magazine article reports on a neurological outbreak that may be psychogenic, or originating in the mind. In this case, “originating” should be understood narrowly, medically rather than socially, since the girls in question appear to have in common a background of trauma and/or disruption in their lives, which may be relevant along with a host of factors from economic stagnation to media hype and cheerleader-related competition and anxiety. To me it is a possible illustration of the interactions between psychological and social processes as expressed through the fragile psyches of adolescents, and the anxiety echo chamber of modern reflexivity, amplified by the 24-hour news cycle. The story’s chronology makes it seem like the hype is part of what made them sick, in other words. (To a little kid with Giddens, everything looks like reflexivity.)

*Thanks to U. of Maryland sociologist Bill Falk for getting this expression stuck in my head around 1998.

**”nonpartisan” organizations are like natural flavorings, which may be natural at the molecular level (not endorsing candidates), but create all kinds of artificial mischief in your food (politics).

4 thoughts on “Pounding the news with Maslow’s hammer

  1. I think you may have something there, Phil.

    For me, what stood out was that the school those girls attend is in a flood area, and there are a high number of other reports of neurological illness from high levels of TCE (tertachlorethlyene) in the soil. The school also has nearby natural gas wells that use haydraulic fracturing.


    1. Or high levels of TCE could make the brain (especially one that’s still maturing) susceptible to external stresses.


Comments welcome (may be moderated)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s