If you thought HAL-9000 was bad, what about Mao Zedong, Stalin, Napoleon, and
others. Shouldn't extropians be concerned about human intelligence as well as
Fighting Mad Leader Disease
A potentially devastating condition that has affected hundreds of thousands of
people, and even altered the course of world history, remains unchecked,
President James F. Toole warned in his opening remarks to the World Congress
of Neurology in London last June. He urged members of the international
community of neurologists to take action.
The threat? A condition he called "mad leader disease." Mental competence in
world leaders is often taken for granted, said Toole, a stroke expert and
director of the Cerebrovascular Research Center at Wake Forest University. But
he doesn't think it should be. The world community must work to develop
methods for the identification and treatment of mental illness in world
leaders, he said.
"Never forget that war begins in the minds of men," he told the audience.
Leaders are granted unparalleled powers over resources, including weapons of
mass destruction, and their influence on public citizens cannot be
overestimated, he said.
Throughout history, leaders have been afflicted with a variety of mental and
behavioral disorders. In the 18th century, King George III of England suffered
bouts of insanity, impairing his decision-making abilities and losing him
valuable colonies, including those that would become the United States.
More recently, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sustained a stroke in October of
1919, which left him incapacitated during several crucial months as the Treaty
of Versailles awaited ratification in the Senate. Chairman Mao Zedong of the
People's Republic of China was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in
1972; few were aware of the extent of his physical deterioration, and he
remained in a position of power until his death in 1976. The degree to which
leaders' deficits have been concealed from the public is a topic of great
concern, Toole said in an interview.
People are entitled to the privacy of their medical records, but leaders "hold
too much power to be given the right to hide disabilities from their publics,"
agrees Robert Dallek, a presidential historian and professor of history at
In the United States, the 25th amendment to the Constitution, ratified in
February of 1967, provides for a transfer of power to the vice president
should the president become incapacitated. However, as Toole pointed out in an
article published in 1994 in the Journal of the American Medical Association,
the disability amendment has been invoked only once: One morning in July of
1985 Ronald Reagan underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor and signed a
letter turning power over to the vice president. Later that day, following the
surgery and while he was still medicated, Reagan's advisers allowed him to
sign a second letter reclaiming presidential power.
Mental incapacitation or deterioration is difficult to define because "there
is little agreement even among experts about the line separating normality
from insanity," says Kendrick Clements, a biographer of Wilson and history
professor at the University of South Carolina.
To better inform decisions regarding mental competence, Toole proposes adding
mental examinations to the annual physical exam required of American
presidents. Although mental illness can occur at any age, incidence of
cognitive impairment increases with age. Therefore, at 60 years and older,
world leaders should submit to an annual magnetic-resonance imaging scan and
mini-mental status exam, said Toole, who is 76 and recently co-edited a book,
Presidential Disability, issued by the Working Group on Presidential
The international community's response to an unsatisfactory exam will require
careful consideration of both political and medical consequences. And although
he admits it will be difficult to gain compliance from certain countries,
Toole hopes that encouraging discussion at an international and nonpolitical
level, among meetings such as the World Congress of Neurology, will
precipitate change and allow the threat of mad leader disease to be subdued
with a minimum of casualties.-Rebecca Sloan Slotnick
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
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