There has been a lot of chatter among liberal culture about identity politics. (Full disclosure, I do consider myself a liberal but far left of that ideology). On one level, I completely understand to work toward an antiracist, anti-patriarchal society as race and gender are two of the most forms of oppression that have been going on for hundreds of years. What I don’t understand is how class is almost never seen as a form of oppression among a certain-type liberal culture. That on one level if we had more diverse educated and rich people, that would be this amazing achievement for society.
Human beings are narrative creatures. As Yuval Noah Harai and others have noted, most of our basic institutions are based on some of collective fiction that would fall apart if examined too closely. This goes for things like nationalism or the idea of a nation state or even the concept of money and value. (For example, money is almost entirely imaginary at this point. 90% of is just computers sending back amounts from account to account that doesn’t really exist in any tangible way).
But humans are also narrative creatures in the sense that we view our own lives as stories with a beginning, middle and end. It’s the reason our novels and movies follow this basic format. It’s a trick of memory. Narratives are how we make sense of immeasurably complicated world. Without narratives, I think most of us would lose a sense of identity.
I took a bit of a hiatus from writing and this blog. I won’t bore you with too many details, but there has just been a lot going on in my personal life, almost all of it good, including some traveling. But I’m back in New York for awhile…
Although at the moment, I cannot say I am thrilled to be in New York. I just spent a week in Hawaii, and it was a thoroughly magical place. Pristine beaches. Warm weather. Lush mountains and forests. Relaxed people. Star-filled skies. And more importantly, lots of silence. It was another data point on how I’ve changed. I’ve sent more time in nature this year, and I’ve felt more connected to it.
Part of me feels more and more done with New York. What was once attractive about it— the constant hustle and bustle, the unlimited culture, restaurants and bars available— has lost much of its appeal. Now I see its flaws more clearly. Besides the fact that it is unsustainably expensive, especially for anyone trying to raise a family and who doesn’t make 200k a year, it also lacks what I need more and more of daily: silence.
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.
America is a racist country. (I know, shocking.) Depending on your point of view, it's very easy to draw a line between enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, the birth of slavery and America to the racism we see today. Again, no surprise there.
Racism bleeds into all parts of American life. Online dating is a particular I've been thinking about lately. There are plenty of articles on the interwebs talking about how online dating is racist. (Here's a hint, it's really good for white men and women and not for a lot of other races). I don't want to rehash that. What I want to discuss is how I see online dating anecdotally affect people of different races in my sessions. So here are three observations I've noticed over the years about online dating.
White Men Have it Good
I'm almost always surprised by how easily white men are able to get dates and able to have multiple sexual partners in short periods of time. These are generalizations, and obviously, it differs from individual to individual, but I see it a lot in my therapy sessions. White men are also far more confident about reaching out to many different people.
I just finished this fascinating piece about psychedelics and mental health that I wanted to share. It's worth a read yourself but I wanted to highlight this key passage:
"Creating meaning in life is dependent upon hope, and it begins with the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Consciousness, in part, is a continual narrative we both invent and listen to inside of our heads. And there are brain regions involved in that process, which is why Pollan sees psychedelics as a potentially potent therapy for when those interior voices go awry:
Getting overly attached to these narratives, taking them as fixed truths about ourselves rather than as stories subject to revision, contributes mightily to addiction, depression, and anxiety. Psychedelic therapy seems to weaken the grip of these narratives, perhaps by temporarily disintegrating the parts of the default mode network where they operate."
Thre is lots of truth here. Human beings are narrative creatures. We see our lives as a story. And if the story starts to go awry, depression and self-doubt are common byproducts. In my own life, psychedelics have proven life-changing with regard to my own mental health. It's hard to explain fully in words, but I could see how unimportant all our cultural standards were so much more clearly. I could see what was beautiful and what was worth living for and what was not. I personally recommend everyone try them at least once in their life. It's a bit corny, but they can change your life.
One of his more famous thoughts is the "backwards law," which is nicely summed up in the quote above. Essentially the more you try and grab a hold of something, the more it slips through your fingers.
His "backwards law" is not an original thought by any means. It's origins come directly from the Tao Te Ching or Zen Buddhism. But like a lot of famous white male philosophers of recent times, he has made it more understandable to a Western audience.
So how does this apply to mental health? I can think of a number of ways:
1) Happiness- Many people's parents tell them "I just want you to be happy." I know parents mean well, but it can create an unrealistic impression for a lot of us and a source of shame. It means that if we don't feel happy, then we feel shame because that's all anyone has ever wanted for us, and yet we can't achieve it still. We become failures.
Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.
The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.
I've written about this topic before. But I think it's important to reiterate. The truth is that we're desperately losing the battle against climate change. Even if we miraculously went down to zero emissions as a planet, the temperature is still going to rise. But it isn't hopeless yet as people like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein have written. And the one thing that all of us can do to help prevent disastrous climate change is to stop eating meat and dairy as much as possible.
That seems like an impossible, unreasonable thing to ask most people. But almost ever big social change has felt impossible. Does that mean we shouldn't try?
About a month or two ago, I was walking down 7th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, It was a lovely day. The sun shone down, but there was a crisp breeze to ease the heat. Spring had just arrived, and tulips and daisies and all sorts of other flowers were starting to bloom.
But as I walked I had a strange moment. I'm not sure why it rarely occurred to me, but I noticed that everyone on the block was white. The only people of color were working at the Chipotle, Starbucks or Just Salad. "What gives?" I thought. In a city that is 43% white, Park Slope was nearly 90% white and overwhelming upper middle class. I saw injustice there, but I couldn't explain why it was injustice or how this segregation was created. But no one else around me seemed to notice. Everyone else was going on about their day.
I thought about that moment as I read "Color Of Law" by Richard Rothstein. It's required reading for anyone who is interested in why do our neighborhoods look so segregated today, as it unearths recent history that has largely been forgotten. The common view, it seems, is that neighborhoods were not segregated because of anything the state did but by private citizens that wanted to not mix races. This is unequivocally false.
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."