Capitalism

Creativity, Capitalism and Alienation

Creativity, Capitalism and Alienation

“Alienation” is not a phrase you will hear in the mental health field often. If you do, it is commonly related to some mental health condition, such as “her depression led her to be alienated from her work and friends.” Alienation is a symptom in mental health, a result of some more serious condition, such as Bipolar or Major Depressive Disorder.

But as I’ve seen more patients over the years and read and absorbed different points of view, I have come to believe that alienation is its own mental health category. It is marked by a lack of feeling or connection to the world and people around them. It is very much a modern, existential condition. In a world where our work life has little meaning, we tend to disconnect and become alienated to those around us. And it is far more common than you think.

Food, Meditation, Exercise and... Economic Class?

Food, Meditation, Exercise and... Economic Class?

I’ve just finished a slew of books on the environment and neuroscience in the last month. They include:

All of them are worth a read, except maybe “Healthy Brain, Happy Life,” which turns into a “Sex In The City” memoir-type for many of its pages. There is also a very common theme in all of them: eat well and avoid processed foods that are environmentally damaging; meditate to find peace of find; and exercise for emotional well-being.

Pleasure Vs. Happiness

Pleasure Vs. Happiness

Recently I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the brain, happiness and addiction. It’s been eye-opening. Most people’s defintion, I’ve come to realize, relates to pleasure, but do not have a concept of what long-term happiness is.

What’s the difference? Pleasure is short-term. It’s the dopamine kick we get in anticipation and from using something. Examples of pleasure run the gamut from gambling to sex to food to drugs. In all respects our brains from what one point of view is the brain of an addicts. Think of the card player or slot jockey at a casino. Or maybe the heroin addict. Or the cigarette smoker. Or how about the newest addiction, that of our addiction to our phones. Often times we think we have free will and are choosing to do these things. But neurochemically the picture can be interpreted quite differently. It some respects, without realizing, we are just chasing dopamine hit after dopamine hit, slaves when we think we’re free.

Happiness is different. In fact I don’t even like the word happiness because so many people associate it with pleasure. I prefer the Aristotelian word, eudaemonia, which translates roughly to contentment of the human spirit. This sort of contentment of the spirit is not chased by dopamine hits. (For the record, I don’t have anything inherently agains short-term pleasure. I’ve been known to polish off a pint of ice cream and smoke too many cigarettes in my day!) How one reaches eudaemonia is of course different for anyone. I’m almost 40 and I think I’m just fully coming into my own form. But I’ve had to make some changes in my life.

Screw Positive Thinking

Screw Positive Thinking

A person I know went to a therapist about 10 years ago to work on some issues. During one session, this person discussed their bad luck with dating. This person admittedly was a bit dramatic about the situation, but they lamented how impossible it seemed to find a good partner in New York City. The therapist, looking them dead in the eye, said, "You have to think positively and imagine getting your ideal partner." 

"What a bunch of horseshit," I said to them and laughed. I didn't mean to be so harsh, and it caused this person to be taken aback. After all about 10 years ago, and the book "The Secret" was widely popular. "The Secret," if you've never heard of it, suggests that thinking and visualizing about things you want will make them appear in your life. That's the secret. So many people bought and accepted this philosophy as somehow true, the absurdity somehow lost on them. Just because I think about being rich or dating Beyonce with all my energy, doesn't mean it will make it so. 

Lester Spence's "Knocking The Hustle"

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I've been reading more about Lester Spence, a professor at John Hopkins University. His work is controversial. Although he is African-American, he frames political discourse in economic terms, such as pushing back against neoliberal capitalism, instead of identity, which has been the main political discourse in American politics. 

Because he is so out of the mainstream and pushes back against a lot of identity politics, his work is very contentious and incendiary. But I find a lot to like here. This passage from the link I found particularly enlightening and worth sharing: 

As Spence notes in his recently published book, Knocking the Hustle (Punctum), from the early 1970s to the present, American labor productivity has increased 80 percent while wages have stayed stagnant or declined. That we work more to earn as much as we once did—or even less—is a standard woe of the American economy in 2015. How these hip-hop celebrations of the hustler function in African-American communities, though, is what Spence finds disconcerting. Hustling is embraced as the appropriate adaptation to living in today's economy. The individual's having to learn whatever it takes to get by is a virtue in today's economy. Anybody who isn't constantly looking for ways to improve the return on his personal human capital simply isn't hustling enough. And for those people who are too lazy to maintain a level of at least subsistence hustle? Their failures and their poverty are a cul-de-sac of their own making. The black church will tell them that. Black elected officials and business elites will tell them that. Hell, Jay-Z himself will tell people that. In his song "Can't Knock the Hustle," he sneers at day-job drones who only work 9 to 5, "lunching, punching the clock."

 

Why Does Goldman Sachs's Have a Diversity Program? The Hidden Problems of Diversity

Why Does Goldman Sachs's Have a Diversity Program? The Hidden Problems of Diversity

I found this website yesterday as I scoured the internet. It's a link to Goldman Sachs diversity program. I think most people unquestionably will think this is a good thing. There was a time when I thought it was a good thing as well.

But I see a problem here. It's not even that subtle a problem, but I think we as a society have been trained to look past it. Let me put it this way. Let's say Goldman Sachs achieves a perfect amount of diversity that aligns correctly with the U.S. Population. This means that 14% of their employees are black, just as 14% of the U.S. Population is black. And 50% of their employees are women, just a 50% of the U.S. Population are women. And so on and so on. 

I imagine that many of you would rejoice at this news. It would show you that America had started to achieve true equality through diversity. It would be proof that we had started to take the right steps forward in this country, that we were fulfilling the words of our constitution. 

The Neoliberal Meditator

The Neoliberal Meditator

A quick blog post before I start my next session...

One of the hallmarks of neoliberal spirituality is that each person is responsible for their own lives and should not look to governments or public institutions for answers. To put it into more libertarian terms, we are responsible for ourselves. Freedom is the ideal. We don't need want governments in our health care or schools because they run them inefficiently. Privatization has the answers. 

So what happens if you're having spiritual or mental health problems in this society? Well, like all things capitalism, the answers are in the free market. Take a look at your local bookstore and go to the self-help section. Business is booming. The free market can give you a wide range of gurus from misogynist Tony Robbins to the fraud that is Deepak Chopra.  Or if you're in the mood for a more wholesome figure, Oprah's Supersoul conversations are a great place to start. Here you can learn to be your best self and can live up to the demands of the competitive marketplace. All you have to do is meditate for peace of mind to be your best, productive self.

The End Of The Two-Party System

The End Of The Two-Party System

There appears to be a genuine labor movement happening. It began in West Virginia.  It has spread to Oklahoma and Arizona. I've had the sense that something was about to explode. Brexit and the election of Trump were early warning signs. Could we be seeing a radical reimaging of society starting to begin? 

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Thomas Piketty, the famed economist whose book "Capital," shot up the best sellers list in 2014, wrote a paper recently called Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right. (Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone wrote an excellent summary of the article in Rolling Stone). The basic assertation of the paper is that both left and right parties in American and in Europe have become parties of the elite and educated, and the concerns of the rest of the citizens are being largely ignored. 

If anyone has been paying attention, this assertation rings true. It's the reason Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders caused such a hullabaloo in the 2016 election and why Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney were seen as so uninspiring and did not feel like they spoke for the voices of many. It's why Steve Bannon, despite his horrific racist, anti-immigrant sentiments, resonated with many with his nativism and globalist distinction. The old labels of left and right or democrat and republican increasingly mean less and less today. 

All of this has been bubbling around in my thoughts and makes sense to me. It speaks to my increasing disillusionment with liberalism as a worthwhile political philosophy. Liberalism is bankrupt, maybe just a bankrupt as conservatism. You cannot reform a broken system whose ultimate goal is profit at the expense of anyone who isn't the cultural or economic elite. 

The World Is Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable?

The World Is Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable?

Andrew Sullivan recently published an interesting piece in New York Magazine called, "The World Is Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable?" It is a topic I've written extensively about on this blog. 

Sullivan wonders out loud if everything seems to be getting better, as Steven Pinker argues, why does everyone seem so unhappy? Why are drug use, anxiety, depression, loneliness so ubiquitous?  It's a great question. 

Sullivan's answer is

"As we have slowly and surely attained more progress, we have lost something that undergirds all of it: meaning, cohesion, and a different, deeper kind of happiness than the satiation of all our earthly needs. We’ve forgotten the human flourishing that comes from a common idea of virtue, and a concept of virtue that is based on our nature. This is the core of Deneen’s argument, and it rests on a different, classical, pre-liberal understanding of freedom. For most of the Ancients, freedom was freedom from our natural desires and material needs. It rested on a mastery of these deep, natural urges in favor of self-control, restraint, and education into virtue. It placed the community — the polis — ahead of the individual, and indeed could not conceive of the individual apart from the community into which he or she was born. They’d look at our freedom and see licentiousness, chaos, and slavery to desire. They’d predict misery not happiness to be the result."

Advertising Is Making You Unhappy

Advertising Is Making You Unhappy

"Advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product, you're a loser. Kids are very sensitive to that. If you tell them to buy something, they are resistant. But if you tell them that they'll be a dork if they don't, you've got their attention. You open up emotional vulnerabilities, and it's very easy to do with kids because they're the most emotionally vulnerable." - Nancy Shalek, advertising head of the Shalek Agency

I'm happier today than I've ever been in my adult life. I say this not to brag; more so it surprised me when I reflected on it. There are a number of reasons for this change. For one, I've become eternally grateful for the life I have because I know how fragile it is and how it changes. Suffering awaits all of us. So I try to be present with the joy I feel right now. This is my version of a spiritual life. Also, I work for myself, doing work I absolutely love. That has been a game changer from the grind of the 9-5. 

But there has been another underrated aspect to my newfound happiness: the lack of advertising in my life. Sometime in the last year, I started to watch a lot less television, and it's the point now where I maybe watch 2 hours a week. This doesn't make me better than anyone of course, but I knew I wanted to read and write a lot more, and that watching television would just distract me.