The World Around Us

What does it mean to be in the world? This world, this society, what kind is it? And how does that affect us? Let me begin with the personal and put it in the context of family. Then I’ll broaden out from there.

I’ve often talked about my own set of related issues. In childhood, I was diagnosed with learning disability. I’ve also suspected I might be on the autistic spectrum which could relate to the learning disability, but that kind of thing wasn’t being diagnosed much when I was in school. Another label to throw out is specific language impairment, something I only recently read about — it maybe better fits my way of thinking than autistic spectrum disorder. After high school, specifically after a suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with depression and thought disorder, although my memory of the latter label is hazy and I’m not sure exactly what was the diagnosis. With all of this in mind, I’ve thought that some of it could have been caused by simple brain damage, since I played soccer since early childhood. Research has found that children regularly head-butting soccer balls causes repeated micro-concussions and micro-tears which leads to brain inflammation and permanent brain damage, such as lower IQ (and could be a factor in depression as well). On the other hand, there is a clear possibility of genetic and/or epigenetic factors, or else some other kind of shared environmental conditions. There are simply too many overlapping issues in my family. It’s far from being limited to me.

My mother had difficulty learning when younger. One of her brothers had even more difficulty, probably with a learning disability as I have. My grandfather dropped out of school, not that such an action was too uncommon at the time. My mother’s side of the family has a ton of mood disorders and some alcoholism. In my immediate family, my oldest brother also seems like he could be somewhere on the autistic spectrum and, like our grandfather, has been drawn toward alcoholism. My other brother began stuttering in childhood and was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and interestingly I stuttered for a time as well but in my case it was blamed on my learning disability involving word recall. There is also a lot of depression in the family, both immediate and extended. Much of it has been undiagnosed and untreated, specifically in the older generations. But besides myself, both of my brothers have been on antidepressants along with my father and an uncle. Now, my young niece and nephew are on anti-depressants, that same niece is diagnosed with Asperger’s, the other even younger niece is probably also autistic and has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that is only what I know about.

I bring up these ailments among the next generation following my own as it indicates something serious going on in the family or else in society as a whole. I do wonder what gets epigenetically passed on with each generation worsening and, even though my generation was the first to show the strongest symptoms, it may continue to get far worse before it gets better. And it may not have anything specifically to do with my family or our immediate environment, as many of these conditions are increasing among people all across this country and in many other countries as well. The point relevant here is that, whatever else may be going on in society, there definitely were factors specifically impacting my family that seemed to hit my brothers and I around the same time. I can understand my niece and nephew going on antidepressants after their parents divorced, but there was no obvious triggering condition for my brothers and I, well besides moving into a different house in a different community.

Growing up and going into adulthood, my own issues always seemed worse, though, or maybe just more obvious. Everyone who has known me knows that I’ve struggled for decades with depression, and my learning disability adds to this. Neither of my brothers loved school, but neither of them struggled as I did, neither of them had delayed reading or went to a special education teacher. Certainly, neither of them nearly flunked out of a grade, something that would’ve happened to me in 7th grade if my family hadn’t moved. My brothers’ conditions were less severe or at least the outward signs of it were easier to hide — or maybe they are simply more talented at acting normal and conforming to social norms (unlike me, they both finished college, got married, had kids, bought houses, and got respectable professional jobs; basically the American Dream). My brother with the anxiety and stuttering learned how to manage it fairly early on, and it never seemed have a particularly negative affect on his social life, other than making him slightly less confident and much more conflict-avoidant, sometimes passive-aggressive. I’m the only one in the family who attempted suicide and was put in a psychiatric ward for my effort, the only one to spend years in severe depressive funks of dysfunction.

This caused me to think about my own problems as different, but in recent years I’ve increasingly looked at the commonalities. It occurs to me that there is an extremely odd coincidence that brings together all of these conditions, at least for my immediate family. My father developed depression in combination with anxiety during a stressful period of his life, after we moved because he got a new job. He began having moments of rapid heartbeat and it worried him. My dad isn’t an overly psychologically-oriented person, though not lacking in self-awareness, and so it is unsurprising that it took a physical symptom to get his attention. It was a mid-life crisis. Added to his stress were all the problems developing in his children. It felt like everything was going wrong.

Here is the strange part. Almost all of this started happening specifically when we moved into that new house, my second childhood home. It was a normal house, not that old. The only thing that stood out, as my father told me, was that the electricity usage was much higher than it was at the previous house, and no explanation for this was ever discovered. Both that house and the one we lived in before were in the Lower Midwest and so there were no obvious environmental differences. It only now struck me, in talking to my father again about it, that all of the family’s major neurocognitive and psychological issues began or worsened while living in that house.

About my oldest brother, he was having immense behavioral issues from childhood onward: refused to do what he was told, wouldn’t complete homework, and became passive-aggressive. He was irritable, angry, and sullen. Also, he was sick all the time, had a constant runny nose, and was tired. It turned out he had allergies that went undiagnosed for a long time, but once treated the worst symptoms went away. The thing about allergies is that it is an immune condition where the body is attacking itself. During childhood, allergies can have a profound impact on human biology, including neurocognitive and psychological development, often leaving the individual with a condition of emotional sensitivity for the rest of their lives, as if the body is stuck in permanent defensive mode. This was a traumatic time for my brother and he has never recovered from it — still seething with unresolved anger and still blaming my parents for what happened almost a half century ago.

One of his allergies was determined to be mold, which makes sense considering the house was on a shady lot. This reminds me of how some molds can produce mycotoxins. When mold is growing in a house, it can create a toxic environment with numerous symptoms for the inhabitants that can be challenging to understand and connect. Unsurprisingly, research does show that air quality is important for health and cognitive functioning. Doctors aren’t trained in diagnosing environmental risk factors and that was even more true of doctors decades ago. It’s possible that something about that house was behind all of what was going on in my family. It could have been mold or it could have been some odd electromagnetic issue or else it could have been a combination of factors. This is what is called sick building syndrome.

Beyond buildings themselves, it can also involve something brought into a building. In one fascinating example, a scientific laboratory was known to have a spooky feeling that put people at unease. After turning off a fan, this strange atmosphere went away. It was determined the fan was vibrating at a level that was affecting the human nervous system or brain. There has been research into how vibrations and electromagnetic energy can cause stressful and disturbing symptoms (the human body is so sensitive that the brain can detect the weak magnetic field of the earth, something that earlier was thought to be impossible). Wind turbines, for example, can cause the eyeball to resonate in a way to cause people to see glimpses of things that aren’t there (i.e., hallucinations). So, it isn’t always limited to something directly in a building itself but can include what is in the nearby environment. I discuss all of this in an earlier post: Stress Is Real, As Are The Symptoms.

This goes along with the moral panic about violent crime in the early part of my life during the last several decades of the 20th century. It wasn’t an unfounded moral panic, not mere mass hysteria. There really was a major spike in the rate of homicides (not to mention suicides, child abuse, bullying, gang activity, etc). All across society, people were acting more aggressive (heck, aggression became idealized, as symbolized by the ruthless Wall Street broker who wins success through social Darwinian battle of egoic will and no-holds-barred daring). Many of the perpetrators and victims of violence were in my generation. We were a bad generation, a new Lost Generation. It was the period when the Cold War was winding down and then finally ended. There was a sense of ennui in the air, as our collective purpose in fighting a shared enemy seemed less relevant and eventually disappeared altogether. But that was in the background and largely unacknowledged. Similar to the present mood, there was a vague sense of something being terribly wrong with society. Those caught up in the moral panic blamed it on all kinds of things: video games, mass media, moral decline, societal breakdown, loss of strict parenting, unsupervised latchkey kids, gangs, drugs, and on and on. With so many causes, many solutions were sought, not only in different cities and states across the United States but also around the world: increased incarceration or increased rehabilitation programs, drug wars or drug decriminalization, stop and frisk or gun control, broken window policies or improved community relations, etc. No matter what was done or not done, violent crime went down over the decades in almost every population around the planet.

It turned out the strongest correlation was also one of the simplest. Lead toxicity drastically went up in the run up to those violent decades and, depending on how quickly environmental regulations for lead control were implemented, lead toxicity dropped back down again. Decline of violent crime followed with a twenty year lag in every society (twenty years is the time for a new generation to reach adulthood). Even to this day, in any violent population from poor communities to prisons, you’ll regularly find higher lead toxicity rates. It was environmental all along and yet it’s so hard for us to grasp environmental conditions like this because they can’t be directly felt or seen. Most people still don’t know about lead toxicity, despite it being one of the most thoroughly researched areas of public health. So, there is not only sick building syndrome for entire societies can become sick. When my own family was going bonkers, it was right in the middle of this lead toxicity epidemic and we were living right outside of industrial Chicago and, prior to that, we were living in a factory town. I have wondered about lead exposure, since my generation saw the highest lead exposure rate in the 20th century and probably one of the highest since the Roman Empire started using lead water pipes, what some consider to have been the cause of its decline and fall.

There are other examples of this environmental impact. Parasite load in a population is correlated to culture of distrust and violence (parasites-stress theory of values, culture, and sociality; involving the behavioral immune system), among other problems — parasite load is connected to diverse things, both individually and collectively: low extraversion, higher conscientiousnessauthoritarianism (conformity, obedience), in-group loyalty (in situations of lower life expectancy and among populations with faster life histories)collectivism, income inequality, female oppressionconservatism, low openness to experience, support for barriers between social groups, adherence to local norms, traditionalism, religiosity, strength of family ties, in-group assortative sociality, perceived ‘ugliness’ of bodily abnormalityhomicide, child abuse, etc. Specific parasites like toxoplasmosis gondii have been proven to alter mood, personality, and behavior — this can be measured across entire populations, maybe altering the culture itself of entire regions where infection is common.

Or consider high inequality that can cause widespread bizarre and aggressive behavior, as it mimics the fear and anxiety of poverty even among those who aren’t poor. Other social conditions have various kinds of effects, in some cases with repercussions that last for centuries. But in any of these examples, the actual cause is rarely understood by many people. The corporate media and politicians are generally uninterested in reporting on what scientists have discovered, assuming scientists can get the funding to do the needed research. Large problems requiring probing thought and careful analysis don’t sell advertising nor do they sell political campaigns, and the corporations behind both would rather distract the public from public problems that would require public solutions, such as corporate regulations and higher taxation.

In our society, almost everything gets reduced to the individual. And so it is the individual who is blamed or treated or isolated, which is highly effective for social control. Put them in prison, give them a drug, scapegoat them in the media, or whatever. Anything so long as we don’t have to think about the larger conditions that shape individuals. The reality is that psychological conditions are never merely psychological. In fact, there is no psychology as separate and distinct from all else. The same is true for many physical diseases as well, such as autoimmune disorders. Most mental and physical health concerns are simply sets of loosely associated symptoms with thousands of possible causal and contributing factors. Our categorizing diseases by which drugs treat them is simply a convenience for the drug companies. But if you look deeply enough, you’ll typically find basic things that are implicated: gut dysbiosis, mitochondrial dysfunction, etc —- inflammation, for example, is found in numerous conditions, from depression and Alzheimer’s to heart disease and arthritis — the kinds of conditions that have been rapidly spreading over the past century (also, look at psychosis). Much of it is often dietary related, since in this society we are all part of the same food system and so we are all hit by the same nutrient-deficient foods, the same macronutrient ratios, the same harmful hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils/margarine, the same food additives, the same farm chemicals, the same plastic-originated hormone mimics, the same environmental toxins, etc. I’ve noticed the significant changes in my own mood, energy, and focus since turning to a low-carb, high-fat diet based mostly on whole foods and traditional foods that are pasture-fed, organic, non-GMO, local, and in season — lessening the physiological stress load. It is yet another factor that I see as related to my childhood difficulties, as diverse research has shown how powerful is diet in every aspect of health, especially neurocognitive health.

This makes it difficult for individuals in a hyper-individualistic society. We each feel isolated in trying to solve our supposedly separate problems, an impossible task, one might call it a Sisyphean task. And we rarely appreciate how much childhood development shapes us for the rest of our lives and how much environmental factors continue to influence us. We inherit so much from the world around us and the larger society we are thrown into, from our parents and the many generations before them. A society is built up slowly with the relationship between causes and consequences often not easily seen and, even when noticed, rarely appreciated. We are born and we grow up in conditions that we simply take for granted as our reality. But those conditions don’t have to be taken as fatalistic for, if we seek to understand them and embrace that understanding, we can change the very conditions that change us. This will require us first to get past our culture of blame and shame.

We shouldn’t personally identify with our health problems and struggles. We aren’t alone nor isolated. The world is continuously affecting us, as we affect others. The world is built on relationships, not just between humans and other species but involving everything around us — what some describe as embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended (we are hypersubjects among hyperobjects). The world that we inhabit, that world inhabits us, our bodies and minds. There is no world “out there” for there is no possible way for us to be outside the world. Everything going on around us shapes who we are, how we think and feel, and what we do — most importantly, shapes us as members of a society and as parts of a living biosphere, a system of systems all the way down. The personal is always the public, the individual always the collective, the human always the more than human.

* * *

When writing pieces like this, I should try to be more balanced. I focused solely on the harm that is caused by external factors. That is a rather lopsided assessment. But there is the other side of the equation implied in everything I wrote.

As higher inequality causes massive dysfunction and misery, greater equality brings immense benefit to society as a whole and each member within it. All you have to do in order to understand this is to look to cultures of trust such as the well functioning social democracies, with the Nordic countries being the most famous examples (The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen). Or consider how, no matter your intelligence, you are better off being in an on average high IQ society than to be the smartest person in an on average low IQ society. Other people’s intelligence has greater impact on your well being and socioeconomic situation than does your own intelligence (see Hive Mind by Garett Jones).

This other side was partly pointed to in what I already wrote in the first section, even if not emphasized. For example, I pointed out how something so simple as regulating lead pollution could cause violent crime rates around the world to drop like a rock. And that was only looking at a small part of the picture. Besides impulsive behavior and aggression that can lead to violent crime, lead by itself is known to cause a wide array of problems: lowered IQ, ADHD, dyslexia, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, etc; and also general health issues, from asthma to cardiovascular disease. Lead is only one among many such serious toxins, with others including cadmium and mercury. The latter is strange. Mercury can actually increase IQ, even as it causes severe dysfunction in other ways. Toxoplasmosis also can do the same for the IQ of women, even as the opposite pattern is seen in men.

The point is that solving or even lessening major public health concerns can potentially benefit the entire society, maybe even transform society. We act fatalistic about these collective conditions, as if there is nothing to be done about inequality, whether the inequality of wealth, resources, and opportunities or the inequality of healthy food, clean water, and clean air. We created these problems and we can reverse them. It often doesn’t require much effort and the costs in taking action are far less than the costs of allowing these societal wounds to fester. It’s not as if Americans lack the ability to tackle difficult challenges. Our history is filled with examples of public projects and programs with vast improvements being made. Consider the sewer socialists who were the first to offer clean water to all citizens in their cities, something that once demonstrated as successful was adopted by every other city in the United States (more or less adopted, if we ignore the continuing lead toxicity crisis).

There is no reason to give up in hopelessness, not quite yet. Let’s try to do some basic improvements first and see what happens. We can wait for environmental collapse, if and when it comes, before we resign ourselves to fatalism. It’s not a matter if we can absolutely save all of civilization from all suffering. Even if all we could accomplish is reducing some of the worst harm (e.g., aiming for less than half of the world’s population falling victim to environmental sickness and mortality), I’d call it a wild success. Those whose lives were made better would consider it worthwhile. And who knows, maybe you or your children and grandchildren will be among those who benefit.

12 thoughts on “The World Around Us

  1. There’s a tremendous amount here but after clicking on the link to Hive Mind I was struck by this:

    “In imagining what we fear, it opens up to the potential of imagining the alternatives, specifically that of catastrophe prevented or dystopia avoided. The dire prediction can goad people into action and maybe inspire them toward another direction, hope rather than dismissal.”
    Baudrillard (one of those dreaded “neo-Marxist-Postmodernist-Frenchies) said: The invention of the railroad was also the invention of the railroad accident.

    He left out that Parmenides, writing about 2,000 years prior had said: The path up the mountain is also the path down the mountain.

    As to the rest: I’ll reserve comment for now accept to say it’s interesting and hits on an important point about gestalt vs specialization.

    And: I’ve been working for some time on a lengthy piece about the nature of “evidence” and how “art” is or is not treated as evidence of a fact or set of facts.

    More to follow.

    • Appreciate the added thoughts. I realize that most people would take a post like this as purely negative. That is why I threw in a second part to clarify the matter, for anyone who happens to read that far down.

      I revised the post in other ways, some minor edits and some more significant. This post was inspired by a conversation I had with my dad. I wanted to put my thoughts down, but as always it took longer than expected and ate up my whole morning.

      I’d like to hear more about “evidence” and “art”. The meeting of these two makes me think of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, specifically in relation to Timothy Morton’s “hyperobjects”, the latter briefly mentioned in the revision of the post.

      • You always have to figure x percent wont understand what you’re saying and say it anyhow.

        As to “evidence” and “art” I’ve been mulling it for some time in response to two points.

        First, most people are functional illiterates. They can read and write but they read very little and certainly not anything complicated either in style or substance.

        The second follows on from the first in that the echo chamber of politics, media, and “public debate” are utterly devoid of references to the wider culture though they all claim to be both immersed in it and reflective of it.

        A few years ago Biden was on Colbert and dropped a reference to Kant.

        It was a bit hollow though I’m sure he was being sincere but I mean hollow in that if you’re going to do it then dive in and make the case that “leadership” should be conversant in and with complex ideas.

        But of course except for a few perfunctory mentions by B. Clinton (who is actually well read) and Obama (who is well read in the mile wide inch deep style of a proficient Ivey League tool) literature/art is essentially dead as a fact of history, a cultural touchstone and thus is not considered “evidence” of anything.

        One might then ask if it is “evidence” and if so what does it “prove?”

        Years ago as an undergrad, I took a history class because foolishly I thought it would be interesting.

        The class was on the inter-war period from roughly 1919 to 1939/41.

        At one point while discussing the “1920s” I mentioned that The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby were indicative of wide scale social issues and in effect part of the Historical record.

        You would have thought that I had pissed in the punch bowl considering the incredulous looks I received.

        After all, those are works of “fiction” and thus tell us nothing about the “facts.”

        A contemporary example also had/has me thinking about it.

        Last week John Oliver, in full hypocrisy mode, did a bit on “public shaming” that offered a sop to the fact that he’s guilty of it and then went on to interview Monica Lewinsky who lamented that she was caught up in a maelstrom – never once mentioning that she wasn’t having an affair with the manager of a grocery or even the CEO of a grocery chain but a man who lives inside a 24/7 bubble surrounded by cameras, guards, aids, and slithering hatchets disguised as cabinet secretaries and political rivals.

        It would, to borrow a phrase, require a nearly criminal lack of imagination for someone to be that naïve.

        But more on my point is that Oliver of course never mentioned his hit job on Dustin Hoffman.

        Here’s what I said about it at the time:

        https://theviolentink.blog/2017/12/05/john-oliver-doesnt-believe-dustin-hoffman-was-born-in-america/

        But to the matter at hand: Oliver’s point was to say, why would she (Hoffman’s accuser) lie.

        Aside from a thousand generic reasons I also thought we lived in a culture (sic) that in theory has a collective memory. “We” “know” “Shakespeare” and everything from Hamlet to Othello and Lear and the “comedies” all run on lies as do a million “historical” episodes from Vietnam to the Grassy Knoll and “I did not have sex with that woman.”

        But all of these “authorities” (pols, media, etc) act and speak as if none of it is true and even if it’s true they pay lip serviced to it as a political card trick like Kamala Harris speaking to Trevor Noah and quoting Tupak (by name) to “prove” she’s hip.

        The result is on the one hand the triumph of Plato’s ideal city state with the poets in exile but also what we’re experiencing is a self perpetuating amnesia machine in which, as they say about goldfish, everything is new every few seconds.

        Consider as an example, the appropriation by pols and media of the word/concept “Existential crisis.”

        Every time I hear some oily pol say x or y is an “Existential crisis” I imagine angry French intellectual throwing stale baguettes and dropping their half smoked Galois into a glass of wine.

        But more seriously there’s a kind of invasion of the body snatchers quality to it as the authentic meaning/cultural point of reference is replaced by a hollowed out cynical shorthand that elides collective memory/culture/evidence and replaces it with an ersatz fabrication what Baudrillard and co would call the simulacrum – though I say that with a wink as they tend to be a bit stuffy and while on point the tendency towards deliberate obfuscation irritates.

        But more importantly then some smart if annoying French intellectuals what I think were witnessing is a kind of inverted mass culture built on a symbiosis between deliberate dumbing down and generating hysteria in part precisely because culture/memory (or wisdom) is erased so everything is a potential crisis even as authentic crisis develop.

        So obviously if one were to say yes x is a complicated situation but it reminds me of Tolstoy or Conan Doyle none of the “authorities” would have any idea what you’re saying but they also wouldn’t accept it as “evidence” of anything.

        There’s more but that’s the rough outline.

        • Yeah, there are always those who simply won’t understand, maybe can’t understand, whatever I’m trying to communicate. I realize have a rather select potential audience. Still, I want to communicate well.

          As someone with long-term depression, my depressive realism can heavily slant the way I communicate. I can simply come across as critical and complaining. But my idealism is always below the surface. If I didn’t see so much potential in humanity, I wouldn’t bother. There is a sense of things that I struggle to communicate and so it typically remains implied, rather than stated. I’m just not sure many people pick up the implicit part. I take your point, though. There isn’t any particular reason to worry about it, as some people will get it and others won’t.

          In response to the rest, it is odd the quality of politicians we get these days. They are supposedly among the best and the brightest. They went to Ivy League schools and typically were high-performing students. Some of them even have advanced degrees. And many are broadly conversant in arts, culture, and history — if only mile wide, inch deep. That wasn’t always the case. It’s easy to look back at different periods. Just this past century, there were plenty of politicians who not only were great speakers but in some cases wrote their own speeches. They could easily reference great works and smoothly mix it with powerful rhetoric to convey a message and persuade. Those with genuine intellectual skill could get into politics and succeed.

          That was even more true in prior centuries. There was, of course, the aristocrats that during the Enlightenment prided themselves in being an intellectual elite — both revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson and counterrevolutionaries like Edmund Burke. But there were also political actors from the working class such as Thomas Paine who did hold multiple political positions, from secretary of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs to being elected to represent Calais, Oise, Somme, and Puy de Dome in the French National Assembly. Here is a speech Paine wrote and gave in being conferred French citizenship as an honor:
          http://thomaspaine.org/essays/french-revolution/address-to-the-people-of-france.html

          Or think of Abraham Lincoln. He grew up dirt poor, but like Paine was well-read and largely self-taught. Both were effective writers and Lincoln definitely knew how to pen a speech. These were people who not only were intellectual in the highest sense but surrounded themselves by diverse thinkers. Lincoln, though not a radical, surrounded himself with radicals and was familiar with their ideas, including Marxist theory of labor value. But he also put conservatives in his administration. The Civil War was won as much through Lincoln’s rhetorical skills as through battles.

          On John Oliver acting credulous about someone would make a false allegation, that is typical.

          You might’ve heard that a documentary is out on Michael Jackson, Leaving Neverland. It’s about claims of sexual abuse by two guys who would visit Jackson when they were boys. I don’t have any opinion about the veracity or falsity of the accusations. But Oprah’s presentation for the documentary made me mistrusting. Her defense of these two guys was that their accounts sounding mechanically repetitive and similar was proof that they were true because most child sexual abuse happens the same way. No, it doesn’t. There are as many forms of sexual abuse, not all of them being the same at all. It was bizarre that she used that exact word, “mechanical”. That isn’t a word choice one would normally use in defending a claim as sounding genuine and convincing.

          So, I don’t know. It bothered me, though, that we were yet again being presented with claims that according to political correctness we were not allowed to question. Every claim of victimization must be taken at face value, no matter what. Guilt must be presumed, until innocence is proven. If you want to hear the counter-argument, here is a post I came across:
          https://mimeticmargins.com/2019/03/19/facts-to-consider-when-watching-leaving-neverland/

          Every scandal and moral panic is brand new, as if we had never been here before. Didn’t we learn from the past how smearing people with deviant sexuality has destroyed countless lives? That happened regularly in the early Cold War. But in my lifetime, there was the bizarre incidents where people were imprisoned on false charges that they had molested children, based on weak evidence of the witness accounts of children manipulated with leading questions and intense pressure of expectation to get them to say what the adults in their lives wanted them to say.

          But as you say, the arts teaches us the same lesson. This is a truth that has been well known and widely written about for as long as there have been accounts taken down and stories told. It’s a universal human truth (at least universal since the rise of Jaynesian consciousness) that humans lie and deceive for all kinds of reasons. It doesn’t mean we can never trust anyone. But only a complete ignoramus would pretend that we should take the word of every self-proclaimed victim without a single question or doubt. I know people who act that way really aren’t that stupid. So, why the pretense? It’s as if people are under a spell, caught up as they are in yet another moral panic.

          Anyway, I get the general point you’re making. I can sense the many directions you could go with that.

          • Re: Depression. Someone once said to me, I wont talk you out of being depressed because for all I know it may lead you to write something great.

            That’s an example of a lot of things including how a change in perspective changes the truth.

            Reading your comments also struck a memory. There was a Twilight Zone esque show some years ago in which a woman was raped. Her husband picks her up from the police station and in the parking lot she says she sees the man who did it. The husband attacks the man and kills him.

            The next day while driving somewhere she sees another man and repeats that’s the man who attacked her. And so on, as the husband realizes he’s killed someone who had nothing to do with what happened.

            I did a post a few months ago about a play by Lillian Hellman about false accusations. The play was based on a genuine case from the UK in the early 19th century.

            Of course the irony is that Hellman was a left/feminist but critical of hysteria (she and Hammett were victims of the “Red Scare”) so the current crop of hysterics and authentic would-be reformers don’t mention her which of course connects to the rest of the points you raised – you can get a general cultural awareness from some pols and one or two are not functional illiterates but the rest are blocks of cement and the system as a whole is ruthlessly Platonic in an “ideal city state/exile the poets” form of bespoke fascism – “I hear the word culture and I reach for my gun.”

            Oprah is of course a huckster selling soft form capitalism and the mantra of the aspirational system while constantly repeating as a corollary that only you are responsible for your situation.

            As further evidence (sic!) of the system’s corruption the liberals have never and will never call her out for sounding exactly like the conservatives in their anti-union/anti-reform reactionary rhetoric.

            Thus, no surprise she said “mechanical” and that she offers a shallow one size fits all approach.

            The historical examples are all on point. In a sense it was easier to be a “renaissance man” in the past as there was less to know but that’s a shaky formulation as even though there was les sit was till complicated relative to what was considered knowable.

            But there has been an extraordinary decline and now we are surrounded by a kind of Eloi as Wells describes them in The Time Machine.

            It’s not just the absence of the knowledge but the idea that it constitutes knowledge is also lost.

            RFK has a famous speech about ending Apartheid and he references Ancient Athens and Escalus & Co and if delivered today it would be destroyed by Oliver & co and social media.

            Ironically of course there’s the example of Marc Anthony’s funeral oration for Caesar in which he uses the vulgate and doesn’t “observe proper” gestures and of course the crowd responds with approval.

            Populism at its worst and best.

            but of course it begs the question: no one bothers with references to antiquity.

            Of course there’s a market aspect to this. Clickbait and capitalism cannot use the past and must create the impression that everything is new. If it didn’t it couldn’t manipulate people into a state of hysteria and convince them to buy x y or z.

            More to follow.

          • There was something different in the past, particularly during the American Revolution. It wasn’t only that it was easier to be learned because there was less knowledge available. People took Enlightenment ideals seriously, which included the ideal of the citizen-scientist. The founders weren’t only intellectuals who sat around reading books and writing. They also did scientific experiments and made inventions (Jefferson invented the swivel chair, Paine invented a smokeless candle and an iron bridge, etc). There was an earnestness behind the curiosity that motivated that era. Some of that rubbed off onto Abraham Lincoln who was inspired by his readings of the founders. The last of the founders died in his youth. He seemed to have a natural curiosity and was a very hands-on person.

            I don’t mean to romanticize the past. But the notion of a professional politician was less established in prior eras. Someone more likely had to prove themselves in some area of life to have a successful career in politics. Even the tradition of politicians with military backgrounds has declined. These days, all that is required to get into politics is to have lots of money, either inherited or gained through business, or to be associated with those who are rich. Even the ability to write and speak well are no longer necessary. Being reasonably good-looking and photogenic is important, though. It also helps to be extremely thick-skinned or even sociopathic. On the other hand, independent thought is a definite stumbling block. One has to be able to repeat party platform talking points with total conviction, repeating them ad nauseum in every speech and interview. It doesn’t matter if one sounds intelligent, just as long as one can say it with a straight face.

            Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries:
            The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment
            by Tom Shachtman

            Science and the Founding Fathers:
            Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison
            by I. Bernard Cohen

            The Invention of Air:
            A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America
            by Steven Johnson

  2. The main thing that got this post going was a simple observation. That mid-life crisis was, as one would expect, a pivotal experience for my dad. He often returns to it as a touchstone, as it changed the direction of his career. If he had remained in his prior career, he probably would have died long ago of stress.

    So, he was repeating his account of this time of his life for a reason I can’t quite remember, assuming he had a reason. In this telling of what I’ve heard so many times before, what stood out to me was that my brothers and I all were simultaneously having difficulties that started around the same time. That is some major fucking coincidence. The fact that my oldest brother’s allergies were at least partly environmental got me thinking. We lived there for several years, a period that included the first half of my elementary education. It was a pivotal time for me as well. My two brothers were already in elementary school when we moved there. But in all three cases, we were still quite young and so still early in the development of our brains, nervous systems, etc.

    For my dad, it was simply a difficult stretch that was (relatively) easily resolved by going back to school and getting new work, at a time when the economy was booming and opportunities were for the taking, especially for someone with his skill set. For my brothers and I, though, it shaped who we became for the rest of our lives. It hit us in different ways, that is obvious. But my recent studies of health have helped me understand that differences in outward symptoms don’t necessarily indicate differences in causes. Individuals (and their bodies and minds) will respond in unique ways to the exact same or similar factors, not that environmental conditions are ever exactly the same even for identical twins.

    It’s a strange thing to contemplate. Maybe that single move altered my life more than anything else. Or maybe it had nothing to do with the house at all and it was something entirely else. But I’ll never really know what happened at that time, either for myself or for my father and brothers. That is usually how things are in life. We don’t know most things most of the time because we are blind to the world around us.

  3. Many things that are actually radical and revolutionary end up incorporated into society but in a beneficial way , though they can be taken for granted or ignored as a result of wealth inequality like in Flint, MI. I’m the idea of providing everyone with access to clean water and plumbing was considered dangerously radical before it became widespread in the developed nations.

    On another note, while I’m glad to have years away from substance use I often felt that taking drugs in the city was almost the right thing in the right place, like it would have been fool-hardy [em] not [/em] to be on something in that environment. I think its been reported in mainstream media that most homeless use drugs to cope with their life conditions, but the people working in offices with homes and jobs use nearly the exact same drugs, only the dealers are different. This fits the research you cited about inequality stressing the people who would seem to benefit the most from an unequal system.

    • I added some info to the post about parasites, specifically parasite load and parasite-stress theory. It relates to the first part of your comment. The sewer socialists were mostly just Nordic-style social democrats, and indeed the cities where it was found were majority northern European ancestry with plenty of Scandinavian-Americans. And guess where there is some of the lowest parasite load in the world. Yep, Scandinavia. The northern US states are also comparatively lower.

      The reason that is relevant is because of this. Greater parasite load is correlated to collectivism. That might seem counter-intuitive, since many think of Nordic countries as ‘collectivist’, but they really aren’t in a more fundamental sense. Anu Partanen, in The Nordic Theory of Everything, argues that the United States is far more collectivist. The confusion is about means and ends. The US uses individualistic rhetoric, but in defense of collectivist hierarchies and power structures. Even the legal system is set up to encourage financial dependence between family members.

      The opposite is true in the Nordic countries. The strong welfare states may seem more collectivist, according to American corporatist rhetoric. That is an idiotic standard, though, considering the US maintains collectivism for the plutocracy, both in means and ends — that is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. The Nordic countries, instead, create independence for individuals. Married couples legally maintain separate finances and the government benefits that one family member gets is separate from all other family members. This means a woman doesn’t have to stay in an abusive relationship out of fear of poverty or homelessness. And a young adult is guaranteed a college education, no matter the parents’ economic status.

      Yet it is this individualism-promoting welfare state that ensures such high levels of public health. And that surely contributes to the low Nordic parasite load. Russia, although, also far north doesn’t have as low of a parasite load, demonstrating it isn’t merely about climate. So, there is a feedback loop, either as a virtuous cycle or a vicious cycle. Other research also shows that more individualistic societies are more equal, another factor seen in the Nordic countries. It’s unsurprising that rising inequality in the US goes hand in hand with the collectivism of plutocratic corporatism along with individual independence suffering in the larger society.

      Now on to your second point. I’m not sure about environment and drug-taking. Maybe there is something to substance use amidst heavy urbanization, but it could be about poverty and inequality, more the latter. Any place there is great inequality there tends to be more issues like addiction. And inequality has become concentrated in cities, especially true in US cities, maybe not so much Nordic cities (?). But urbanization doesn’t always mean inequality, as inequality varies by incredible amounts according to region and country. Your substance use might have been strongly influenced by the particular city you were living in — it would be interesting to see the inequality rate there and compare it to elsewhere.

      My own drug experiences are more limited. Besides some cigarettes and alcohol, I mainly partook of psychedelics. The place I was living in did influence this, as it is a liberal college town and I was surrounded by Deadheads. Considering that was during one of the worst depressive times of my life, I suspect that psychedelics were a good choice. I really needed my mind blown at the time. Knocked me straight out of depressive realism and out into the stratosphere. On the other hand, if I was homeless and seeking to self-medicate, I’d surely go for another variety of drug. Each drug serves its purpose and the purpose often depends on life conditions. I’d like to see a comparison of which drugs are used according to various demographic profiles, including but not limited to economics.

      I was riding the bus out to my parents’ place, just the other day. Public transport is a great place to observe a particular segment of society. One guy got on who was overweight and slovenly, not to judge as at times I’ve been both, although never quite as overweight as this guy. He sure looked lower working class, but in a town like this that doesn’t necessarily mean he is under-educated (the most highly educated population per capita in the US, at least according to data I saw some years ago). Obviously, he had seen better days. What stood out to me, however, was what he had picked up at the store on his way home. He had Mountain Dew in one hand and Coors Light in the other, that is to say uppers and downers — the way many people get through life, day to day.

      One of my coworkers is also a ramp cashier like me. He is an alcoholic, but has held down his job for decades. So, he is functional, even as there have been some incidents at work that forced him to go to rehabilitation (the forgiving treatment given because he is a unionized employee). The thing is he is far from being a ‘loser’. He actually has a PhD, I believe in history, and he still enjoys reading books on history. I don’t know if it was his alcoholism that caused him never to pursue a career in his field or if he turned to alcoholism for other reasons. But alcoholism is a much more socially acceptable addiction and so he is able to maintain an otherwise normal life, probably with decent savings and the standard city government retirement plan.

      I had another coworker who was probably on meth, a common drug in the rural Midwest. Indeed, I’m surrounded by rural areas as it is a small college town surrounded by farmland. This guy probably grew up in a small town, a more typical working class Iowan and so his drug of choice was fitting. He ended up going to prison because he was part of a drug ring. He was one of the nicest guys I ever met, but he definitely fit the stereotypical profile of a ‘loser’. I’ve also known preppy frat boys and nice middle class couples who regularly smoke pot, some more functional than others.

      My point is that I’ve seen all types and maybe that goes to the issue of inequality. It doesn’t matter one’s economic status or education level. Inequality stresses everyone out. And stressed out people are more likely to self-medicate. Portugal managed to decrease its drug use with drug decriminalization and I wonder, in developing a welfare state to replace the prior police state, if they had also reduced inequality.

  4. How are things in your corner of the country Marm? You’ve been quick to respond so the heavy weather conditions must not be hitting you too hard then? Anyways hope yr doing well.

    • No serious weather conditions here in Iowa. It’s been rather mild. Spring has been delayed but it slowly coming around. Nothing has started blooming yet, though.

      The only worry around these parts was that the river was high, as the snow melted, not that I’ve heard of any flooding. We had a big flood about a decade ago. It was called the 500 year flood. The next time it happens they’ll probably call it the thousand year flood. Time is speeding up.

      I forget which part of the country you’re in these days. I’ve heard about some of the stuff going on elsewhere, but to be honest I haven’t been following it. I’ve heard stories about poor cows sinking into the mud. My coworker said there was going to be a large shipment of hay from local farmers sent down to feed the animals that are in need.

      That is about all I know. Recent years of politics and crappy news reporting has caused me to not pay much attention. Most of the time, I’m not sure I want to know what is going on in the greater world. I used to feel some kind of bizarre moral obligation to stay informed about the state of the world. Not so much these days.

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