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On Jacobin's antidepressants article - a quick English lesson - 4/28/18
Meagan Day, in a quick read on Jacobin, discusses the perils of private pharmaceutical production. That production, under capitalism, "is left up to the private corporations" on the theory that "the private sector’s interests align with the public’s" - but in fact, Day argues, because "corporations exist to maximize profit," drug companies encounter "constant conflicts of interest" which encourage them to profit "at the expense of the public good." To illustrate this problem, Day discusses traumatic "experiences of withdrawal from long-term antidepressant use," and explains that "no research had been conducted" on this problem because drug companies have a financial incentive to suppress any "information that would put a stop to those refills."

The conflict-of-interest critique that Day is working with here is explicit, it has long been a point of uncontroversial conventional wisdom on the liberal-left, and her focus on the issue of antidepressant withdrawal symptoms makes her discussion relevant and accessible to anyone who's been paying attention to the news in recent weeks. This is precisely what one should expect a publication like Jacobin to do: popularize criticism of capitalism by talking about problems that people can relate to.


Predictably, even this utterly benign article has run into a backlash online. Here, I just want to draw attention to how utterly indefensible and objectively stupid this latest round of controversy actually is. It centers on a single passage:
Antidepressant users often emphasize that having drugs available during depressive episodes literally saved their lives. The problem is what happens when patients continue taking them year after year, and become unable to stop. Many indicate that health professionals never communicated the hazards of discontinuation.
Somehow, critics have managed to conclude that there is "stigma embedded in that sentence" which suggests that it is not "fine to take antidepressants indefinitely." Day, in other words, is telling people that they shouldn't take antidepressants.

In response, some folks have insisted that this reading has nothing to do with the rest of the article, that the author explicitly disclaims it, that her "point" is as explained above, and that she is at worst guilty of a passing gaffe or inelegant phrasing. But this, I think, is far too generous to Day's critics. As a matter of basic reading comprehension, the sentence in question does not criticize the use of antidepressants. There is no grammatical ambiguity here whatsoever. The language of the sentence simply cannot be parsed to mean what its critics say that it means - and this is true not because of conjecture about what Day "intended" or because of nebulously holistic assessments of "context", but because of basic facts about how statements are constructed in English.

It is tedious and embarrassing to have to spell this out, but here we go:

"And" signals the presence of two necessary clauses, and the position of "unable" as the head adjective of the second predicate tells us that "The problem" necessarily has to do with inability. This is the simplest reading here: Day is just pro-choice when it comes to antidepressant use. Anything beyond this reading has to burden the actual text of the article with intentions and judgments that are neither expressed nor logically implicit. Any attempt to do so will either involve omitting the circled text, or interpolating into that circle text which is not actually present.

Again: this is remedial. But it is remedial only because the failure of reading here is so catastrophic, the error so elementary, and the correction so basic. I'll leave it to the reader to decide why so many seemingly competent English speakers managed to make the same utterly ridiculous mistake.