Why ‘Song of Our Scars’ is out of tune — Pain News Network
In a previous editorial written in 2019 for The New York TimesWarraich portrays pain as an emotional sensation, a theme that would become his mainstay in subsequent publications, including Song of our scars:
“The ancient Greeks saw pain as a passion – an emotion rather than a sensation like touch or smell. During the Dark Ages in Europe, pain was seen as a punishment for sins, a spiritual experience and emotional eased by prayers rather than prescriptions.”
The ancient Greeks had a rich vocabulary for the physical sensations of pain, as well as an understanding of emotional pain. A quick search in the ancient greek lexicon reveals four words to describe pain in both mind and body: penomai, algorithms, odyniand pathetic. Algos is the root of the word algia, as in physical pain caused by neuralgia. Pathetic describes emotional pain.
The Greeks didn’t just define types of pain, they had myriad treatments for it, including an early version of TENS units, in which they soaked the feet in a bath of electric eels!
Many gods of classical antiquity are associated with the opium poppy plant. According Warraich, the Greek god of death Thanatos is “depicted holding a wreath of poppies or wearing poppies on his head”. But in my reading of classical Greek sculpture and vase painting, there are no images of Thanatos wearing or wearing poppies. He is usually depicted holding a butterfly, sword, or torch while guiding the dead into the afterlife.
Warriach also claims that poppies are seen in the story of Demeter, “who overdoses on poppy milk to induce anesthesia and forget the torment of having had her daughter (Persephone) raped and abducted by Hades”. In Greek mythology, Persephone is abducted and taken to the underworld, but I can’t find any reference to Demeter self-medicating, let alone overdosing on anything.
Warriach’s understanding of Greek mythology seems to have been derived from a cartoon by a contemporary artist and Wiki-Fandom, an online community for fantasy lovers.
It was instructive to reconnect with Greek myths. I had a similar experience researching some claims made in Song of our scars on the Opium War between Britain and China. Warriach wrote that “the sale of opium remained prohibited on British shores – unless the sale was to a person of Chinese or Indian descent”.
“The Opium War – One Empire’s Addiction and Another’s Corruption”, by W. Travis Hanes and Frank Sanello, says the opposite:
“For all India’s opium did not end up in China: three hundred chests a year were diverted to England with the same disastrous effects as in the Middle Kingdom… opium was l opiate of the underclass in the grim and dingy industrial towns of England, where payday workers queued outside the pharmacy for the cheap palliative to their industrial hell at the reasonable price of one and two cents a pack.
Another interesting example of fact-fitting occurs with regard to Dr. Hamilton Wright, an anti-opioid crusader who served as U.S. special envoy to China in the early 1900s. Warriach wrote this about Wright:
“His travels exposed him to the dangers of opium abuse throughout the world, giving him a particular zeal against the poppy… He recounted The New York Times that year that thousands of people were “slaves to the opium habit, about five-sixths of whom are white”.
But the initial context in the 1908 Times article missing, because Wright specifically mentions that six thousand opium addicts were in New York.
This gem of the original article is also omitted:
“While Dr. Wright thinks almost all Chinese in big cities are more or less addicted to the habit of opium smoking, no more than a third of them take it to any harmful degree.”
Cherry chose facts like this in Song of our scars often coincide with amorphously defined data like this:
“Several studies show that women are more likely to be prescribed opioids, at higher doses and for longer periods of time than men.”
Research cited in Maya Dusenberry’s book, To hurtshow that women are actually less likely to be prescribed opioids than men. One explanation for the disparity may be that the studies cited by Warraich seem to rely on raw numbers rather than ratios and percentages.
Warraich admits this, which begs the question of what his purpose is in bringing up gender differences. Was this an attempt to attribute opioid addiction largely to women? It would be wiser to consult the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which reports that drug addiction hits men harder.
Misleading information like this leads to misunderstandings, which can in turn cause inappropriate actions, especially if a narrative is shaped by an agenda. Hopefully this review can serve as a cautionary tale for reading popular literature such as Song of our scars with a healthy dose of skepticism.