We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

American Economic System Causes Psychological Depression

Society organized around meaningless work to service the rich pressures individuals towards greater drug use and escapist behavior to overcome growing misery

So it appears that the anti-depressant use in United States has risen from 6% of the population in 1996 to over 10% by 2005. It is hardly surprising that a 10 billion dollar "depression" fighting industry (that is bigger than video games) doubled the amount of regular users. After all, we've all seen the sharp uptick in glossy pharmaceutical television ads in the last few years that push advanced drugs to middle-age/elderly demographic. There's also of course the epic road that classification of actual psychiatric "disorders" has taken over the last couple of decades. The constantly evolving psychiatric bible ( DSM-IV-TR ) is not just the product of a very non-transparent and often political tug of war process by the powerful and all too human members of the American Psychiatric Association. It is also a product of the pharmaceutical industry. Here's a quote from one of numerous articles covering modern day psychiatric "science",

"Part of the debate emanates from research by Cosgrove and others2 who investigated the financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry of 170 panel members who contributed to the diagnostic criteria produced for the DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR. Of the 170 panel members, 95 (56%) had 1 or more financial associations with companies in the pharmaceutical industry. In 6 of 18 panels, more than 80% of the panel members had financial ties to pharmaceutical companies"

Pharmaceutical corporations have not yet managed to classify all of the population as requiring treatment but we're fast approaching that point. If one looks at DSM-IV-TR listings of all possible "disorders", their statistical prevalence, and instances of co-morbidity (two or more disorders afflicting at the same time) then it appears that over 70% of the population has something wrong with them. It follows that the market is not yet saturated.

Now this would all be fine if the drugs were marketed as physiological augmentation of neural hardware. As I have written on the growing field of positive psychology, all people can expand their power if they complement their brain architecture with a mind enhancer. People already do that with b vitamins and coffee and future pharmaceutical breakthroughs will give artists ability to be engineers, engineers ability to be musicians, introverts ability to socialize, etc.

What is beyond sinister is a handful of oligarchs using the fig leaf of empirical research to tell most of the population that they are sick and need to ask their doctor to feel better. Similarly to how the wealthy Roman clergy under the reign of Constantine collaborated to create the proper new testament, today's aristocracy has the power to decide how much self esteem individuals should have by control over definition of mental illness and proper functioning.

In 1850s, a certain so called scientist by the name of Samuel Cartwright came up with a mental illness called
Dysaethica Aethiopica and its major symptom was "slave's desire to be free". This prevalent "mental illness" was to be cured by whipping and hard work. Sounds amazing yes? If modern pharmaceutical companies were as advanaced back then, they would undoubtedly conclude the slaves were depressed and needed a drug cocktail of anti-depressants and stimulants that make them focused and energetic during daily labor. By the end of the 21st century, a lot of what is going on with today's corporate manipulation of who is crazy or not will be looked back on with disbelief. Let's not forget how people were treated in the Soviet Union when they were depressed and dissatisfied with their socioeconomic system. Yes, you guessed it, they were deemed mentally ill and locked up in psychiatric hospitals. "Buck up comrade! just work harder and you'll get a nice promotion to head of department".
Today's worker dissatisfaction with the often meaningless and demeaning work that they do to survive is also increasingly labeled as a mental disorder. Unlike the Soviets, American elites found a very profitable way of making most serfs "treat" themselves. No amount of Soviet propaganda could have redirected people's dissatisfaction inward like this. People have internalized the fact that they are ill if they disapprove of their surrounding socioeconomic architecture.

Why is it "meaningless" work you say? Well imagine if all the board games were amalgamated into one. So we have Scrabble, Monopoly, Risk, etc. lumped into one giant board game. Now imagine if this giant board game was created by the rich and the points one won in it was money that buys actual international power over life and death. Finally imagine that the initial winners in the game then just hired very smart people to play for them while keeping most of the profits. These smart creative workers hired then spend decades and endless cognitive powers to create complex systems designed to score more points in the board game for their employers. Yes, one would feel that his or her job is very meaningless if one played the equivalent of Risk or Scrabble for an oligarchy. Since the financial sector in United States grew to over 20% of the economy in last few decades, it is no wonder that more and more people are feeling depressed. Unlike the industrial workers of old who slaved most of their life away making cars, telephones, and pianos, the modern corporate worker is not likely to make any tangible product.

What is even more outrageous is the stifling of scientific and technological progress that occurs because of this. The smartest people go into developing and exploiting arbitrarily and always evolving game rule books. The corporate lawyers and anybody on Wall Street making less than 300 grand a year (one needs above that to start benefiting from the system through comfortably living off capital investments) are taking away as much from social/technological progress as medieval monks who prayed daily and performed stupid superstitious rituals to get ahead in life financially. Today, (if one wants to get better food and shelter) rigorous memorization of biblical dogma is replaced by rigorous memorization of financial terminology.

It follows that technological development has been refocused into those areas. Recently there's been a great article by Matt Taibbi on how Goldman Sachs has distorted ideological notions of supply and demand by creating speculative economic bubbles in Internet companies, oil, and real estate. They have accomplished that not just through "cheating" and breaking the already malleable rules (collaboratively created by international oligarchs and their personal lawyers who are the legislative branches of world's countries).
One can't even accuse the people who make the rules as they go along of cheating since the "cheating" often becomes the new rule. The best "innovators" in monetary exploitation then lobby to make their "innovation" into law since they are the best at it.

In any case, just the willingness to break the rules is not enough since all top institutions do so regularly. Major financial structures like Goldman Sachs have gotten ahead by hiring top talent to develop increasingly more sophisticated methods of "cheating". The recent Goldman Sachs victories in latency software is but a taste of the technological/personnel arms race always afoot. It is the equivalent of thousands of people figuring out how to make better loaded dice.

Now imagine being the guy who is bending over backwards to get that job interview so he overwork himself to innovate better cheating methods at a virtual monopoly board game. Then after many years of this (and probably a divorce or two after considering the divorce rates of over 50% in America) he starts to feel horrible dread and a feeling that something is wrong with the world (the mind crushing boredom was there from the start mind you). He tries to drink more at dingy bars, to take some days off to visit another country, to get a feeling of managerial power by raising a kid, to watch crazier escapist movies, or to climb mountains. But the feeling that what he is doing is stupid meaningless wasted labor that just enriches parasites doesn't go away. Often the person knows this subconsciously but thinks it's just him at conscious level. So he sees a nice TV ad for anti-depressants and goes to a doctor who tells him he is mentally unwell and should pay hundreds of dollars for "medicine" with side effects.

Aldous Huxley would have a field day today with these developments. At this rate we should see a drug cocktail named Soma in a few years (with added multi-vitamins and 1% of Soma profits going to support some nice sounding cause). But it doesn't stop there. If most people go on meds (as they are in the process of doing out of socioeconomic necessity and above mentioned subtle corporate pressure) then the amount of pain, stress, and misery they can take can be increased. Even if we had some amazing Soma that made workers:

1) love playing by the rules that a handful of rich families created and be content with the daily meaninglessness

2) have more energy and focus to play longer and be more efficient

then their workload can be increased and thus will be increased for profits. Those who don't like it will be labeled mentally ill and the process can start all over again. We have already seen this happen with the consumption of coffee. Millions take non-prescription caffeine to even get through the day and then take alcohol to relax and forget. If caffeine and alcohol magically disappeared tomorrow, the current amount of stress on people could not be maintained. It is thus economically logical when it comes to international white collar corporate competition that people will be increasingly offered better drugs to 1) get through the years of education it takes to get employed to do meaningless tasks 2) to do the tasks themselves and finally to 3) still function as a social animal.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau made a brilliant point when describing how civilizational development has made us more miserable. Depression is your subconscious mind telling you that the environment you're in is bad for you and to move away. A cow becomes distressed upon entering a slaughterhouse. There is no frontier anymore however to move away to and live in a small community that our brains are designed for. Globalization has made the entire world into a rigidly hierarchical structure where if you don't want to be depressed doing something meaningless in a crowded environment then you can flip burgers or clean floors.

The recent spike in traveling, exploring wilderness, and studying art is the manifestation of the need to escape a structurally unhealthy environment. The deep economic depression engulfing the world right now (2-3% annual rise in productivity and only 1% rise in total workforce numbers. do the math) can't even compare to the mass psychological depression eating Westerners alive. The number of 10% of Americans taking anti-depressants should be in the news 24/7 and not the 10% official unemployment that's an inevitable result of mechanization. American socioeconomic system has never offered freedom for most people and for the past few decades even stopped offering ability to pursue happiness. Only some mockery of life is left that is hidden under the stench of escapist perfume (media entertainment) and superficial consumer make up.

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