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Category: General Ramblings (Page 1 of 10)


Exploring the Forest Haven Asylum: A Hopeless Home for Abandoned People

Hidden only a few acres behind the trees that line the side of Route 197 in Laurel, Maryland, is the Forest Haven Asylum, an abandoned facility as obscure and forgotten as the tenants who once occupied it. Today, crumbling in decay and disrepair after years of neglect, the facility’s compound has an eerie stillness about it, as though something straight out of a horror movie. Though, perhaps that is appropriate, considering the asylum’s troubling legacy.

DSC_0829It was a slow post-Christmas weekend for my girlfriend and I. Looking for a break to conventional routine, we settled upon the decision to explore an abandoned place in Maryland. Forest Haven came as a default; most of the abandoned locations near central Maryland – Henryton Hospital, the ‘Hell House,’ Ellicott City’s silk mill – have been torn down in recent years. Too many teenagers falling through floorboards and too many illegal parties were enough to convince authorities to demolish these run-down parts of our historical heritage.

The Forest Haven Asylum complex, however, remains standing. For sure, the place doesn’t look like it did when it opened in 1925 as the “District Training School for the Mentally Retarded,” but its 20-some buildings are mostly still there. As we quickly came to find, though, the compound sits well-guarded; not only are the ruins located on government property, the same property that houses Fort Meade, they share an access road to a present-day juvenile detention center.

Driving up to the unexpected guard post that kept watch on the road, we brainstormed a justification for our visit. Our true intentions, to spend a day exploring ruins while capturing some interesting pictures with her new DSLR camera, were doubtfully good cause for being there. Yet after briefly speaking to the guard we were waved through. Perhaps our excuse sounded reasonable enough: “we’re journalists, documenting the more forgotten and troubling parts of our region’s past.” In our defense, that last part was definitely true.


A present-day aerial view of the Forest Haven facility. Image source: Bing

When the Forest Haven Asylum first opened nearly 90 years ago, it was widely hailed as a forward-thinking institution, one designed around the progressive change in mental health treatment that was sweeping Europe and North America at the time.

Situated about 20 miles away from Washington D.C. on a 200-acre forested property, the asylum’s setting satisfied the period belief that the mentally ill – who often overwhelmed their families and languished at home – would do well if they  lived and received treatment away from the stresses of urban life. Their daily routines consisted of milking cattle, tending to gardens, and other ‘relaxing’ tasks designed to rehabilitate. Of course, also aligned with period beliefs were the facility’s treatment rooms for operant conditioning, post-dosage observation, and electroshock therapy.

DSC_0816While the first reviews of Forest Haven were positive, their conclusions were drawn more heavily from the facility’s concept and physical amenities than the institution’s actual execution. It was not long after opening that administrators found the place quickly becoming overcrowded and understaffed. Constrained by under-funding for decades, the staff found itself unable to offer proper treatment or find beneficial opportunities for all of their residents. Many regressed while under the asylum’s care. To make matters worse, when the District began suffering from a mid-century financial crisis, the asylum’s education and recreation programs were ended.

Forest Haven’s campus is large, but the buildings are clustered close together. The streets feel narrow from the overgrowth of grass and trees. Dormitories and support facilities, including a Chapel, surround the central office building. We started our tour in the flanks of the campus, working our way through what seemed to be an administrative office into the dormitories.

DSC_0835As you enter these buildings, it’s immediately noticeable just how decrepit the asylum has become. The buildings of Forest Haven are quite literally falling in on themselves: ceiling tiles litter the floors, drywall and insulation cover almost every interior surface, and mounds of dirt pile up in the staircases. Dark hallways give way to pockets of light shining down from holes in the roof above, while second and third floors, their foundations having given way, are broken by steep drops to the level below.

We wondered why the buildings still stood when other local sites had been torn down because of similar conditions. Walking across some creaky floorboards felt like an accident waiting to happen. Is there worth in keeping these buildings up when they pose such a liability risk? Even off-limits, the grounds are well traveled. At any rate, the buildings remain.

DSC_0808Although the institution sits on government property, it has not been taken good care of. Despite the guard posts, the place is a well-known hangout for vandals and the homeless who sneak onto the grounds. Graffiti, while not rampant, marks the walls of most buildings, with the occasional tag recurring in spots all over. The interiors are musky and the air is thick with the smell of dust and smoke; to our surprise, we found a fire still smoldering in a pile of papers sitting in the middle of a hallway of one of the buildings.

The basements, meanwhile, are veritable swamps, with inches of accumulated rainwater sustaining an ecosystem of mold and small plants. Signs for fallout shelters adorn the walls, testaments to the institution’s height of operations during the tenser years of the Cold War. The silence and stillness about the place is real, broken only by the clatter of our shoes against the cement floors, loose doors creaking in their hinges, and the occasional gust of wind blowing through openings.

DSC_0805Under such circumstances, it is hard to imagine these buildings were ever inhabited, much less overcrowded. Yet it need not be imagined; the evidence of people past can be seen almost everywhere: in the medical documents and written reports pouring out of filing cabinets and littering the floors, in the gurneys and wheelchairs sitting in corners, in the various patient possessions that were left behind.

More than anything else, it was in the documents that we found the most insight into the people who called Forest Haven their home. While the buildings still remain as evidence of the place, the stories told in the papers strewn about the floor stand as testament to the people who knew it.

DSC_0793Though the asylum was originally instituted for individuals with severe mental handicaps, by the 1960s even people with treatable or mild learning disabilities were categorized as “retards” and sent to live at Forest Haven. So too were individuals deemed “undesirable” by their families or conventional hospitals, such as the deaf, dyslexic, epileptic, and illiterate. The facility’s resources, already stretched beyond their limits, were directed toward capacity instead of rehabilitation. Programs aimed at returning residents to normal life became untenable.

Coupled with the myriad other problems that befell Forest Haven, this would inevitably lead to cases of chronic abuse that would plague its patients in the decades leading up to its closure. Suits against the District for the mistreatment patients suffered in Forest Glenn were first brought to the D.C. Superior Court in 1972. They brought to light chronic mental, physical, and sexual abuse at the facility.

DSC_0824Throughout the 1970s, the families of abused residents continued to build cases against Forest Haven by tracking patient mistreatment and turning their findings over to the Justice Department. Visiting families spoke of residents being bound to urine-soaked mattresses in locked wards. One particularly egregious story was that of a woman named Bertha Brown, who suffered from a disease which caused her to eat anything in sight. Tied to a toilet and left unattended, she tried to eat her feces and choked to death.

Yet the real impetus toward reform came in 1976, with the death of 17 year old Joy Evans. Joy died from aspiration pneumonia, an infection of the lungs caused by food or saliva. Unattended, Joy choked on her own food, as patients were often fed lying or strapped down to their beds. Joy’s parents filed a Federal class-action lawsuit against Forest Haven, detailing the facility’s abuses:

The lack of comprehensive rehabilitation programs to meet individual needs of residents; the unsafe, unsanitary, and unpleasant condition of the Forest Haven facilities; inadequate staffing, lack of training, and abuse of residents by staff; inadequate medical, dental, and mental health care and nutrition; inadequate record-keeping; lack of after-care and rehabilitation programs and vocational training for former residents; and inadequate funding.

DSC_0832On June 14th, 1978, signing what became known as the Pratt Decree, Judge Pratt of the United States District Court ordered the institution to close. By the late 1970s, as patents were gradually moved out of the facility, the population of Forest Haven had fallen to around 1,300.

Still, crimes against the mentally ill would continue.

DSC_0804In the facility’s administrative building, patient records sit out right near the open entrance. Reading them was a quick introduction to the medical diagnoses and evaluations that characterized every resident of the institution. At the time, we were unaware of the history of the place. From these papers, a voice was given to Forest Haven’s past.

Drug addiction, lack of education, and inability to find work came up often as items listed for the residents’ issues. Some had been listless in life before Forest Haven, unemployed and homeless. Others had faced trouble at home, usually coupled with trouble with the law. Yet in these papers were peoples’ stories, told through their brief medical histories and personal descriptions. These were people who, deemed as going nowhere, were sent to Forest Haven, where they found themselves with nowhere to go.

DSC_0807Not everything we stumbled upon was official paperwork. In both the administrative building and the dormitories, we came upon personal journals, notebooks, reading supplies and literature, and handwritten notes. Many of them appeared written by the residents themselves.

One note, written in neat cursive and covered in soot, stood out to me in particular. It was a list of goals, short-term and long-term: finish my GED, go to school. Stay drug free, give back to the community. The words seemed to speak for all of the voices we couldn’t hear, a humanizing and personal touch in a setting otherwise defined by decaying installations. I couldn’t help but wonder whether they succeeded. Or is their story, all their stories, lost, buried in a pile of loose writings in a crumbling corner of an abandoned hallway?

DSC_0812Themes of liberation and freedom ring out of the murals plastered on the dormitory walls. Images of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr. tatter with the failing paint. There didn’t seem much hope left in it anymore.

Because of the court order to close Forest Haven, no improvements or repairs would be made to the buildings for over a decade. Continuous use stressed the structures beyond their capabilities. The facility was crumbling, even as people continued to live inside it.

DSC_0809With patients being transferred out of the facility and into group homes, staffing and funding at Forest Haven saw even deeper cuts than before. The asylum sat as most of its Medicare and government subsidies evaporated. Qualified volunteers and staff members were few and far between.

Ten deaths occurred at the asylum between 1989 and 1990, a remarkable rate considering the institution had only 252 residents at the time. The rate of bowel obstructions, aspiration pneumonia, rashes, and muscle atrophy accelerated to obscene levels in the final months of Forest Haven. By 1991, only ninety one patients remained in the facility, yet they fared far worse than those who came before them.

DSC_0819It wasn’t only documents that littered the interiors of Forest Haven’s facilities. We were surprised just how many items – books, computers, clipboards, machines, equipment – were left behind. Rooms still sit almost entirely furnished.

It was enough to make us start wondering what happened at Forest Haven, and why it was left as it was. While today these virtual artifacts are deteriorating from age and the elements, they must’ve amounted to a considerable sum of worth at the time the facility closed. Walking among the scenes they set in these forgotten buildings was lonely, apocalyptic. One of us observed that the place felt like something out of Fallout 4. It was an apt assessment.

DSC_0837In the dormitories, we came across what may have been the library. Piles of books are poured across the floor. Their bindings are slowly unwinding, sitting in inches of water and muck. I found myself moved by the tragic scene, one which a line of graffiti scribbled along the wall satirized properly. “Drop out of school. Read books.”

We continued our tour through the facility. The idyllic buildings had grown imposing on me; the longer we stayed, the stronger I felt that the place belonged in a horror movie. As the day progressed, the sun’s light sent shadows flying across different surfaces; light areas grew dim, doorways ended in rooms of darkness. The movement of trees’ limbs shaking in the corner of our eyes sent us casting jumpy glances, believing someone was there. As we entered the administrative building, we thought we heard a sneeze. Perhaps we weren’t alone.

DSC_0833A dentist’s office sits ready in the administrative building, complete with chairs and equipment. It was cramped, liked many of the hallway’s other offices, perhaps as a dentist’s office should be. We found further medical facilities down the hall; a medical ward of sorts.

I tried to imagine the sounds of bustle in the place, of doctors going through their files, sick patients coughing down the halls, medical supplies banging around in their containers. I tried, but the gentle whistle of the light wind squeezing through the collapsing ceiling drowned out the phantom bustle I sought to conjure. And then: another sneeze. Was it my mind playing tricks, twisting a dropping tile or a collapsing desk into what they were not, or did we have company? Footsteps. I glanced over at my girlfriend, who seemed far less perturbed, grabbed her arm, and quickly made down the building’s winding staircase and out the open frame that was once a loading dock. Leaving, we heard, from back in the building, slight murmurs. Who it was, we never found out.

Forest Haven’s final weeks were, to say the least, hectic. As residents were readied to move, the staff packed their belongings into small footlockers and tucked away their suitcases in empty corners of the facility. The last fifteen residents were moved out in late September 1991, 13 years after the order was given to close the institution. Finally, on October 14th, the Forest Haven asylum officially closed. It had served the District for 66 years.

DSC_0813Yet an official declaration of closure is merely a bureaucratic tool, some mid-level government worker placing a signature upon a promptly filed-away piece of paper. Though Forest Haven had closed in its capacity as an asylum, new uses were found for its premises. One of the buildings toward the far end of the grounds became a holding block of sorts for troubled female youths. As it turned out, a lack of communication between the agencies responsible for the site had left some officials unaware that the building was crumbling and packed with asbestos.

The remainder of the buildings sat. And sat. A March 2004 audit of the facility, nearly 12 years after its official closure, found gross mismanagement on the part of the District. None of the unused buildings had ever been secured. Many still had power and running water; documents were shuffled into different buildings instead of being destroyed. Even the medical equipment and computers, while stored, remained functional. Finally, in December 2011, 20 years after Forest Haven was shut down – 30 years after the order to close its doors was given – the District allocated the funds to properly handle and secure what remained at the property.

DSC_0792Much, but not all, of the equipment in Forest Haven – enough to fill a museum – was removed following the 2011 destruction order. Yet, as we experienced firsthand during our visit 5 years later, enough remains to tell the story of the place; documents litter the floor, chairs and gurneys sit unused, filing cabinets are spilled across rooms. The photographs in this post are testament enough to what remains. One need not search long or hard to get a sense of the Forest Haven’s purpose or its legacy’s meaning.

We left Forest Haven through its main access road as the sun began to set, walking past buildings casting dark shadows upon our path. We coming across a service vehicle – or, more aptly put, the service vehicle came upon us, its driver quickly booking it down the road to cut us off. He met us with a stern look and a series of interrogatives. We repeated our story to him and, though he seemed perturbed, he let us walk by and back to our car. Did he know about the troubling history of the facility he guarded? Was he paid enough to care?

DSC_0810Driving home from Forest Haven, I was enthused about the opportunity to write this blog post. How often does one explore a still-furnished yet long-abandoned facility? I had hoped this post would be a fun little travel log, a story of our wanderings if nothing else. I had already begun writing this post when I decided, on a whim, to search a little into the asylum’s backstory. Maybe – I reasoned – it would provide some good context for the reader. I’d devote a paragraph, maybe two, to that history and then be done with it. No need to bore my audience with insignificant tokens of the past.

In the end, our exploration of the facility turned out to be what was insignificant, a simple justification to devote discussion to the place’s history. And that history, far from being a token of the past, was, is, and will remain a troubling scar upon and a damning indictment of  our mental health system and of our dealing with our historical heritage.

According to various sources, some 3,200 patients spent time at the institution while its doors were open. Considering the 387 deaths that occurred at Forest Haven, it had a residential death rate of twelve percent. Statistically, one in ten people who showed up at Forest Haven – often the disabled, the troubled, the rejects of society – wouldn’t expect to leave alive.

The Forest Haven Asylum: a hopeless home for abandoned people.

Further Reading:

http://sometimes-interesting.com/2014/04/12/abandoned-home-for-the-abandoned-forest-haven-asylum/ – (all credit goes to this truly fantastic write-up, from which I drew most of my information)





The Essence of Love and Identity in Romantic Relationships

What is love? What are its essential characteristics? What roles do romantic relationships play in the formation and transformation of our own identities? Such are critical questions for understanding the human experience, for love is quite possibly the most essential and fundamental experience we may have. It is no wonder, then, that philosophers and thinkers have grappled with these questions for ages, coming up with a wide range of answers which seek to explain and legitimize the love experience. Yet, to answer these questions, it is equally important to ask how our context defines our relationships, and how our relationships are structured in such a way to give meaning to the emotions we feel and describe as “love.” Through an exploration of the writings of Piazzesi, Solomon, and Kollontai, I seek in this paper to describe love and its essential characteristics while exploring the role romantic relationships play in the formation of our identities. By exploring relationships of different forms and definitions of love coming from different contexts, an approach suggested by Piazzesi, I attempt to find the characteristics of love, if there are any, which are transcendental of context. Ultimately, I arrive at the conclusion that love, outside of context of relationship and explanation given to legitimize it in a given context, involves the “fulfillment” of the individual through identity-construction and role-identification and the “transformation” of the individual through personal betterment. Love itself, we may conclude, is hard to define as an all-encompassing concept, for it exists in many forms and different contexts; nonetheless, love is the emotional experience which includes these crucial characteristics which we use to legitimize and justify the form of relationship in which those emotions are manifest.

Prior to further inquiry into the concept of love, however, an important caveat must be recognized – the form of a romantic relationship, in which love is manifest, is very much the product of our cultural and social context. As perhaps the most “important psychological and social factor” in the human experience, love has “always instinctively [been] organized in [society’s] interest,” whether for reasons of economy, spirituality, or social cohesion (Kollontai 285). According to the different needs of different societies, then, what constitutes a “loving” experience may alter as the result of disparate discourses on the matter. As Kollontai and Piazzesi would point out, these discourses are the products of historical, cultural, and economic variation, and are therefore subject to change over time and space. Indeed, as demonstrated through Kollontai’s historical perspectives on love, the epitomical form of a loving relationship, as culturally perceived and desired, has evolved considerably over the course of Western civilization – beginning with a love for one’s blood relatives in kinship communities, evolving into a love for friendship in the ancient world, a chivalrous love in the feudal era, and, finally, into the private, intimate relationships of contemporary times. Piazzesi rightfully argues that the discourses, social norms, and understandings which shape and sustain these relationships provide “individuals, couples, and groups with frameworks for the definition (‘for making sense’) of their experience;” that is, they give meaning and legitimacy to the contextual “how and with whom” by which people love (Piazzesi 5). Accordingly, by “defining” love, attributing to it certain characteristics and elements, we are legitimizing an experience shaped around our context. This variable nature of the experience of love, influenced by culture and history, poses difficulties for the development of a singular “concept of love.” Like Piazzesi argues, a general definition of love, which is removed from an immersion in contextual experience, misses the “historical diversity, the social character, and the semantic richness of ordinary experience,” and therefore fails to acknowledge that cultural nuances influence the manner by which love is manifest in and connected to a relationship (Piazzesi 3). Nor does providing a “minimal definition” to love, which seeks to find a universal” essence” to love by reducing it to its simplest and most basic elements, do justice in meaningfully describing what love is, for it detaches the concept of love from the variety of experiences and social expectations which we associate with and define it by. Rather, to establish a more personal, more pertinent, and therefore more “meaningful” concept of love, we should take Piazzesi’s suggested approach, which is to explore how we arrange our relationships so as to feel like we are experiencing love; to, as Piazzesi’s analogy puts it, see how we “get the feeling of being in a romantic living room” (Piazzesi 7). Such is the approach I will take, exploring how Solomon’s and Kollenti’s writings on relationships, defined by their contextual circumstances, show the connection between love and a relationship, along with its implications on identity. Comparing the similar motivations of love laid out by these authors will hopefully provide closer a closer understanding of the transcendental romantic love experience, unaffected by the form of a relationship.

As previously mentioned, the romantic relationship of two people in a union is considered the quintessential loving relationship in our current context, and shapes our discourses surrounding love. Kollontai argues that this form of relationship is the product of a bourgeois society, which places emphasis on the “married couple, working together to improve their welfare and to increase the wealth of their particular family” (Kollontai 284). Furthermore, the “moral ideal of a love the embraced both the flesh and the soul,” has been propagated by the bourgeoisie as crucial elements in loving relationships (Kollontai 283). The discourses surrounding love in this context, then, naturally point to the union of two people with a physical and emotional connection as the key to experiencing love. But what are the characteristics of love which we experience in this form of relationship, or, better put, how does this structure of romantic relationship shape our definition of a loving experience? To answer this, we can turn to Solomon, who writes that love is the “attempt to create for ourselves a sense of wholeness or completion through a union… with another person” (Solomon 194). A crucial element of this “wholeness” is in the process of forging a mutual identity with another in a relationship. The “identity theory” of love, which Solomon bases his arguments on love around, states that the self is, individually, indeterminate, and is rather “defined with and through others” (Solomon 197). Though we individually attempt to define our “true” selves, giving priority through our actions to some of our features over others, there is no “true” self or set of roles which dominates over others. Rather, who we are and the value of our person, or the worth of our accomplishments, depends a great deal upon the opinions of others, who help establish the “way we ‘fit’ in the world” (Solomon 201). As Solomon puts it, “we are the persons we think ourselves to be and become through the eyes and opinions of the people around us” (Solomon 202); that is, our identity may be self-constructed, but is mutually defined and established. Such is equally the case in our self-esteem and self-worth, for the self is “never assured” (Solomon 200). Rather, it “consists of proving oneself to be what one is,” depending on the value held by others of our person in order to be reinforced. This is why we choose the friends and – more importantly – the lovers that we do, for they are the ones who make us feel “virtuous and worthwhile (Solomon 201). In addition to the role that love and relationships play in the definition of our identity, they, according to Solomon, also play a role in the transformation of the self. Romantic love is “a redefinition of oneself in terms of goodness,” for it embodies a desire for self-improvement. The lover wishes to not only be loved for what they are, but for what they can become, their “ideal self” (Solomon 206). The desire to improve oneself comes from the creation of roles inherent in the establishment of a relationship; we dress and act the roles we would like to play in order to attract a partner, and, once that relationship has been established, we develop and perfect those parts “to the point where they seem as if they were completely natural” (Solomon 207).

Thus, as can be seen through Solomon’s writings, the essential characteristics of love include an establishment of identity through mutual definition and a self-transformation of identity toward “goodness.” We may not “become ourselves” in our romantic relationships, for the self is never assured nor ever “perfectly” defined, but we do narrow and define the set of roles we wish to take on and the characteristics of ourselves which foster and support our relationships. Being in love in a romantic relationship, in effect, helps us find our “place in the world.” While all the networks of people and opinions in our lives help form a sense of ourselves, Solomon rightfully acknowledges that “it is love that often proves to be definitive” (Solomon 207.) Yet he ascribes these essential characteristics of love to only relationships which encompass a union of two people. As our identity and self is, in part, intimate and private, it takes “one and only one other person” to really know and be in contact with it, according to Solomon (207). Accordingly, many of our essential attributes are determined by that single other person, who is “closest” to us. Looking back to Piazzesi, though, a question must be asked – are the characteristics of love put forth by Solomon absolute, or are they simply manifestations of the monogamous form of relationship which he understands in his context? That is, are these characteristics simply legitimizing the love we experience in a relationship, giving us a sense of “being in that romantic living room?” Or, are these characteristics transcendental of context, equally capable of being manifested in a different form of relationship? To answer this question, we may turn to Kollontai, who presents arguments about the characteristics and nature of love which extend beyond the sphere of a monogamous union between two lovers.

To begin, Kollontai takes an opposition to Solomon’s last point, stating that “love is not in the least a ‘private’ matter concerning only the two loving persons; love posses a uniting element which is valuable to the collective” (Kollontai 279). As had been previously mentioned, Kollontai then lays out the historical development of loving relationships, demonstrating how they have evolved and changed their fundamental character in order to satisfy the needs of society. The modern concept of monogamy, sustained by bourgeois discourses, has developed to support the need to accumulate and concentrate capital within the family unit. The characteristics Solomon ascribes to a monogamous union, then, indeed are simply legitimizing an experience developed for extraneous needs. Yet, as Kollontai argues, love can “not be contained within the limits set down by bourgeois ideologists,” and, with a change in context, can be “set free” to take shape in different forms. For Kollontai, the key among these different forms is polyamory, which allows for a “fulfillment” not possible in a monogamous union. She writes that a “man may feel sympathy and protective tenderness [for one woman], and for another he might find support and understanding for the strivings of his intellect” (Kollontai 288). Why must he choose one of the two, thereby tearing “himself apart and crippling his inner self, if only the possession of both types of inner bond affords the fullness of living” (Kollontai 288)? By having multiple intimate, romantic relationships, then, the individual can find themselves more “satisfied,” more “complete,” in ways which are impossible in Solomon’s context. The multi-sidedness of this emotional experience and fulfillment, Kollontai argues, would assist in the growth of the bonds between people which would benefit the growth of the communist collective, a reflection  of the context in which Kollontai exists. Kollontai further lays out the qualities of love, which would help benefit the “collective” for which she writes. Among them, mirroring the statements of Solomon, is the nature of “transformation” in love, in which the individual betters themselves intellectually, creatively, and emotionally as a response to their lover. Yet, whereas Solomon argued that such betterment is only possible through an intimacy with one other person, whose opinions reign supreme, Kollontai argues that it can exist in both the “private” and “public” sphere (Kollontai 290). In a collectivized society, built “upon the principles of comradeship and solidarity linking all members of the collective,” then, the characteristics of love are such that they help build ties with all of individuals of the society, not just a single other person, and thus manifest themselves in polygamous relationships. Again, as seen through the lens of Piazzesi and in the case of Solomon, contextual circumstances influence the nature of love as seen by Kollontai, and the form of our relationships, in this particular case polygamous ones, legitimize the experience of that love.

Yet we see two distinct characteristics of love which transcend context emerging from these two authors. The first is a broad sense of “fulfillment,” of finding completion and meaning for ourselves. Solomon describes this fulfillment in terms of identity-construction, detailing how our identity is mutually defined through our lovers; the unsure nature of identity, which needs to be defined by another, should be expected in the individualistic society in which he wrote. Developing identity, then, helps “fulfill” and “complete” the individual in that form of society, for it helps establish their place, role, and value in the world. For Kollontai, this “fulfillment” comes in building ties to the broader collective, again a natural reflection of the society in which she wrote. Through the establishment of multiple romantic relationships, which may help develop and grow the individual in different ways, the individual is bound closer to the collective and the collective accordingly grows closer. In a society of solidarity, then, love helps “fulfill” the individual in that it allows them solidify their role and place within the collective as another member working toward the broader, collective good. The second characteristic of love we see emergent is its “transformative” nature, which moves the individual toward bettering themselves. Again, the reason for this “transformation” is different according to context; for Solomon, it is in response to having a lover, for the beloved wishes to be loved for, and therefore wishes to develop, their ideal self. For Kollontai, this transformation need not be “private” but rather should be “public,” as would benefit a collectivized society, and comes about as a desire to help strengthen and develop the collective. Nonetheless, the transformation of identity through personal betterment is a crucial element of love for both these writers, regardless of their context.

Through this exploration of love and romantic relationships as they exist in different contexts, two crucial characteristics emerge: “fulfillment” of the individual and “transformation” of the individual. Love, we can conclude, is thus the experiencing of these two characteristics, plus others dependent upon context, and the legitimization of our relationships by the presence of these characteristics. Ultimately, regardless of the form of romantic relationship in which we experience love, we become ourselves in our relationships, and find and satisfy our place in society in our relationships. Though love took on other characteristics  throughout history, these two characteristics, as laid out by the authors explored herein, are transcendental of context. Piazzesi warns against making a “minimal definition” to love, but, using these characteristics as fundamentals, perhaps with them we are closer to a true and encompassing concept of love.

Parasitic Host Manipulation – A Possible Source of Zombification in Humans?

Below is a faux research article I wrote on ‘zombification’ in humans for a course analyzing the biological, political, sociological, and psychological aspects and implications of a zombie apocalypse.


Zombified humans display an array of behavioral traits which differ greatly from non-zombified humans; these traits are manifest in the relentless aggression and insatiable hunger for human flesh which are characteristic of zombie behavior. The danger which these zombies present to humanity is enormous, so understanding the sources and processes of zombification is vital to combating the zombies and preventing further cases of zombification. There are a number of possible pathogenic sources of this zombification, but one of them, parasitic zombification, is arguably the most likely. Some parasite species have demonstrated an ability to alter the behavior of their hosts, and the processes through which they do this are beginning to become better understood. As this parasitic behavioral manipulation comes closest to the sort of behavioral changes we observe in the zombies, detailing the processes of parasitism and host manipulation and applying them to a zombie model is very important. Doing so will greatly aid scientists and government officials in understanding, combating, and preventing this zombie apocalypse.

Background on Parasitism

Parasitism entails a non-mutual relationship between two organisms in which one, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host (Chandler, 1955). These parasites can be protozoa, which are microscopic, one celled organisms that live and multiple within their host;  helminths, which are large, multicellular organisms which also live within their host but cannot multiply while in an adult stage whilst inside their host; and ectoparasites, which include ticks, fleas, lice, and other organisms which attach or borrow into the skin of their host and remain there for long periods of time. Parasites often show a high degree of specialization, reproduce at rates which are much faster than their host, and rely upon their host in order to propagate their species (About Parasites, 2010).

Parasites can come in an array of shapes and sizes, infect and attack a diverse range of species and bodily systems, and cause ailments whose symptoms can be inconvenient to lethal, yet one specific group of parasites are particularly dangerous and, in the case of human zombification, important for study. These parasites hijack their host’s nervous system and manipulate their behaviors, often producing zombie-like behaviors in their host (Knight 2013). The behaviors which parasitic host manipulation can cause have often been divided into three well documented categories (Poulin et al., 1994). In the first, parasites manipulate their hosts in such a way as to favor transmission to their next host, often by rendering the former more susceptible to predation. In the second, they can  force a host into a habitat other than the one in which it usually lives, because the parasite must either exit or propagate in that habitat. The third type of manipulation causes the host to attempt to transmit the parasite via the spread of blood. This sort of transmission is most often seen in blood-sucking insects, who transmit the parasites while gorging on the blood of their prey.

Mechanisms Used by Manipulative Parasites

Manipulative parasites use a number of different mechanisms to control the behaviors of their hosts. Different parasites make use different mechanisms, producing different behaviors and effects, yet the array of possible mechanisms and results make it clear that parasites have a large set of tools for controlling and manipulating their hosts. These mechanisms include energetic drain, site of infection influences, manipulation of the immune system, and neuromodulation.

image00Rates of behavioral modification mechanisms used by manipulative parasites

One way Parasites manipulate host behaviors is through the extraction of energy, in the form of nutrition, from their hosts. When the host becomes starved for nutrients, their behavior might change, and if the energy drain impairs their physiology they might become sluggish or display lower physical performance. On the other hand, if a host is drained of energy, it might become more active and increaser foraging rates. Either way, the change in behavior could benefit the parasite responsible for the energy drain. Yet while this method of behavioral alteration demonstrates that such manipulation need not be complex, it does also lead to general behavior changes that might not benefit the transmission of the parasite, leading to inefficient transmission rates and putting the host at danger of malnutrition and death, thereby also killing the parasite (Lafferty & Shaw, 2013).

Another manner in which parasites manipulate their hosts is through the use of their host’s immune system. Because parasitic infection elicits host immune responses that are designed to overcome the invading parasite, parasites have to negotiate the host’s immune defenses in order to establish an infection. The continuing nature of the infection means that the parasite must continually evade the host’s immune system. However, many parasites demonstrate the ability to exploit host immune defense mechanisms for their own benefit. Research has shown that  parasite-exerted effects on the immune system may influence neuromodulator pathways, thereby altering the behavior of the host. For example, neuroinflammation is a common immune response of the brain to injury or invading pathogens. Several studies have demonstrated that that parasites may incorporate these host neuroinflammatory responses into their behavior modification strategy, using things such as nitric oxide (NO), rodlet cells, and alteration of neuromodulators to alter host behavior. For example, nitric Oxide, in addition to an immune response, functions as a neurotransmitter that can influence brain monoaminergic activity (Helluy & Thomas, 2010). Another example is the trematode Schistoso mamansoni, which secretes opioid peptides into its host, thus influencing both host immunity and neural function (Kavaliers et al., 1999). Inhibiting the host immune system while also utilizing it to neurally control the behavior of the host  is an evolutionary capability which has given manipulative parasites great advantages over their hosts. As parasites are constantly being target by the hosts immune system, they will consistently have resources to alter the behavior of the host.

Manipulative parasites can occupy a range of sites within their host. They are often found in the body cavity, muscles, central nervous system, and other parts, such as the brain. By occupying and damaging key these organ systems, these parasites can change host behavior. For example, the parasite Diplostomum spatheceum infects and damages the eye of a fish, causing it to become more susceptible to predation and thus the parasite more easily spread. Other parasites infect other parts of their host’s body, such as their muscles, in order to change the strength and function of these parts of the body and thus help the parasite spread more easily through transmission.

image01Infection location rates of manipulative paraistes in their hosts.

A key organ system for the manipulation of host behavior is the central nervous system; these parasites are able to manipulate behavior either through damage of the system or more subtle, neural manipulation (McConkey et al., 2013). The location in the brain and central nervous system of where this manipulation occurs is significant: various receptions of a certain hormone or neurotransmitter may produce different behavioral results depending on where they are located in the brain (McConkey et al., 2013). Parasites which want to manipulate their hosts behaviors in specific ways via neuromodulation must thus be located in and targeting specific locations within their hosts brains.

Numerous studies have shown that parasites achieve manipulation by directly or indirectly altering concentrations of hormones or neurotransmitters in their hosts. Concentrations of these substances that can be synthesized by the host and that have effects on behavior are altered following infection, thereby changing the behavior of the host. These substances could be produced by the parasite and released into the host, or actively taken from the host by the parasite and then rereleased (Knight 2013).

Monoamine neurotransmitters, which include the catecholamines DA, adrenaline (epinephrine, EP) and NE, the indoleamine 5-HT, and octopamine (OA), are potent neuromodulators. Monoamines influence many types of behaviors in vertebrates and invertebrates, including those related to activity, movement, stress, social activity and reproduction. The manipulation of these neurotransmitters is common in parasites which control their host’s behavior. One of the most striking and consistently documented behavioral modifications can be seen through parasite-induced changes in indoleamine 5-HT. Changes in 5-HT-altered behaviors in both vertebrates and invertebrates demonstrate the ubiquity of 5-HT as well as its widespread use in animals of varying complexity. Indeed, 5-HT is a major neuromuscular neurotransmitter used in the most primitive animals and its role expands into neuromodulator and neurohormone in more complex animals, where it controls additional physiological functions and behaviors, including stress responses and immune challenges. By altering indoleamine 5-HT, parasites take advantage of their hosts through the manipulation of their behaviors (Knight 2013).

The other neurotransmitters also have significant impacts on host behavior. DA has been found to stimulate locomotion, aggression, dominance and reproductive behavior in fish and mammals, and when altered can produced altered behavior in these categories. OA is a neurotransmitter and hormone that regulates other neuromodulators and that also influences many behaviors, including fight-or-flight reactions, stress, aggression, locomotion and feeding (Knight 2013).

Despite an understanding of these mechanisms for altering host behavior, researchers still do not know whether parasites alter host neuromodulators by secreting their own neurochemicals to produce a change in host neurochemical activity, or whether they secret chemicals which trigger a host response, thereby leading to altered neurochemical activity (Adamo 2013). Unfortunately, the complexity and interconnectedness of neuromodulator systems make it difficult for researchers to discern the specific mechanisms responsible for changes in behavior. Yet the complex nature of these systems might also help parasites induce widespread behavioral changes in their hosts with minimal effort; because these monoamines regulate one another in feedback loops, a parasite need only alter the activity of one in order to effect regulatory changes in the others (Knight 2013).

Applying parasitic host manipulation to the zombie model

Zombified humans display an array of behavioral traits which are starkly different from non-zombified humans. They are relentlessly aggressive, and have an insatiable desire for human flesh; indeed, it seems that the main motivating force for zombies is the search for and consumption of human flesh. They also display significantly lessened cognitive skills and capabilities, demonstrating a change in the physiology of their brain. As of yet, the source of zombification has not been identified, yet it is known to be highly infectious and spread through the bite of a zombie or the transference of zombie blood (Mogk 2011).

Could zombification be caused by a parasite manipulating human behavior? The characteristics of zombies, zombification, and parasitic behavioral manipulation seem to point in that direction. Zombification occurs from the transfer of blood and from a bite of a zombie. It is entirely possible that a parasite causing the zombie infection is transferred through blood and that, by attacking humans and spreading their blood, zombies are acting as a sort of vector for these parasites. If this is the case, the parasite would fall into the category of host manipulator which the host to attempt to transmit the parasite via the spread of blood. While this sort of host manipulation is most often seen in host insects, it could be that this parasite is making use of humans instead.

The insatiable hunger which zombified humans display could be a result of the energy drain caused by the parasite as it feeds off of and controls the human host. By reducing the amount of nutrients in the host body, the parasite could be causing the host’s hypothalamus to increase the host’s desire for food in order to replenish the nutrient loss. By doing so, the zombie will continue to display and act upon its hunger for human flesh, thereby causing it to continue to attack humans and spread the parasite.

The lessened cognitive capabilities of the zombified humans could be a result of damage caused to the frontal lobe by the parasite. Such damage would decrease thinking function, memory tasks, planning, and attention; all of these traits seem to be deficient in zombified humans (Mogk 2011). This damage could perhaps be intentional, for the aggressive behaviors which zombies display against other humans require a lessened sense of empathy, reasoning skills, and other traits which inhibit these behaviors in nonzombified human beings.

The behaviors which zombies exhibit could be the result of behavioral modification caused by parasitic manipulation. As has been discussed, the monoamine neurotransmitters DA and OA influence locomotive, aggressive, and dominant behaviors in mammals. It is entirely possible that the parasite infecting zombies manipulates these neurotransmitters to increase aggression and dominance in zombified humans, thereby causing them the rage which fuels their attacks on humans and the transmission of the parasite. Furthermore, it is likely that this parasite manipulates other neurotransmitters and hormones to inhibit the sense of pain which zombies may feel, thereby causing their seeming immunity to pain, and increase their desire for food in the form of human flesh. Further neuromodulation, albeit in ways not yet discussed or researched, can cause the zombies to specifically seek out non-zombified human beings for attack and prioritize humans as a source of food, ensuring that the parasite thus has the greatest rate of propagation possible.

Further research

The recent spate of zombie attacks have elicited much notice and concern, yet little study. Although the characteristics of the zombies are understood and the way in which the infection is spread is recognized, the specific source of zombification and the method in which humans are zombified has still not yet been discovered. In order to effectively combat the zombies and prevent a disaster on an apocalyptic scale, scientists and government officials must discover this source and study it in order to develop an effective medicine and countermeasures.

This article has outlined the possibility for the source of zombification to be a behaviorally manipulative parasite. The characteristics of the zombies all fit within the scope of symptoms caused by such parasites, and the behaviors of the zombies seem to resemble the behaviors which such parasites could cause. By proposing a possible source of zombification, this article hopes to help scientists more easily and readily pinpoint, or discount, a possible cause to the looming zombie apocalypse. In doing so, they will be more prepared to quickly develop countermeasures which will help halt the spread of the zombies and the zombie infection.

Scientists must now make it a priority to capture a zombie and study its physiology, in particular its brain. They should focus on determining whether there are any parasites located within the brain of the zombified human, and, if so, begin the process of developing an effective medicine or vaccine to combat and prevent the spread of these parasites and their behavioral manipulation. The specific mechanisms and neuromodulators and neurotransmitters which parasite uses, if it is indeed found, will also be an area of study which is necessary. By studying these, scientists will better understand how parasites might control their hosts, how future parasites might attempt to control a human host, and how the human brain works with regards to these functions anyway. Such research will be invaluable for preventing future zombie outbreaks and for better understanding the anatomy and function of the human mind.


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