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not a natural balance
June 17, 2018, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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These are myths, which means they’re not true: depression is chemical, and antidepressants restore a natural balance in your brain.

So if depression isn’t chemical … it’s at least partly, if not nearly wholely, social.

“There’s no evidence that there’s a chemical imbalance” in depressed or anxious people’s brains, Professor Joanna Moncrieff – one of the leading experts on this question – explained to me bluntly in her office at the University College of London. The term doesn’t really make any sense, she said: we don’t know what a “chemically balanced” brain would look like. People are told that drugs like antidepressants restore a natural balance to your brain, she said, but it’s not true – they create an artificial state. The whole idea of mental distress being caused simply by a chemical imbalance is “a myth,” she has come to believe, sold to us by the drug companies.

Johann Hari, Lost Connections, p 30

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best as communities
June 10, 2018, 3:10 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,

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Our best practices – preached to us by economists, pseudo academics, market first gurus etc – to make everything more machine-like, rational and efficient, manifest what you’d expect: failed institutions.

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you missed one of the rungs in the ladder
June 9, 2018, 6:39 pm
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , ,

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In his essay Such Were the Joys …, George Orwell describes the claustrophobic social realities of early century England.

The social and class milieu was rooted in low church religion and upper class unattainability and snobbery, which cancelled each other: on the one hand: sex puritanism, hard work, academic distinction, no self indulgence. And on the other: anti-intellectualism, love of games, xenophobia, contempt for working class, fear of poverty,  materialism, power and leisure.

To be socially acceptable one had to live on the interest of a sizable family endowment. It was virtually impossible to attain upper class status from the middle class: best case was a middle manager civil servant, but more likely, after a lifetime of hard work, an office boy.

Today we have indifferent boomers, a majority who can’t retire, lost millennials, the precariat, giggers etc. Was Orwell’s time any different from our own?

The various codes which were presented to you at Crossgates – religious, moral, social and intellectual – contradicted one another if you worked out their implications. The essential conflict was between the tradition of the nineteenth-century ascetism and the actually existing luxury and snobbery of the pre-1914 age. On the one side were low-church Bible Christianity, sex puritanism, insistence on hard work, respect for academic distinction, disapproval of self-indulgence: on the other, contempt for “braininess” and worship of games, contempt for foreigners and the working class, an almost neurotic dread of poverty, and, above all, the assumption not only that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work for them. Broadly, you were bidden to be at once a Christian and a social success, which is impossible. At the time I did not perceive that the various ideals which were set before us cancelled out. I merely saw that they were all, or nearly all, unattainable, so far as I was concerned, since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were.

Very early, at the age of only ten or eleven, I reached the conclusion – no one told me this, but on the other hand I did not simply make it up out of my own head: somehow it was in the air I breathed – that you were no good unless you had £100,000. I had perhaps fixed on this particular sum as a result of reading Thackeray. The interest on £100,000 a year (I was in favor of a safe 4 per cent), would  be £4,000, and this seemed to me the minimum income that you must possess if you were to belong to the real top crust, the people in the country houses. But it was clear that I could never find my way into that paradise, to which you did not really belong unless you were born into it. You could only make money, if at all, by a mysterious operation called “going into the City,” and when you came out of the City, having won your £10,000, you were fat and old. But the truly enviable thing about the top notchers was that they were rich while young. For people like me, the ambitious middle class, the examination passers, only a bleak, laborious kind of success was possible. You clambered upwards on a ladder of scholarships into the Home Civil Service or the Indian Civil Service, or possibly you became a barrister. And if at any point you “slacked” or “went off” and missed one of the rungs in the ladder, you became “a little office boy at forty pounds a year.” But even if you climbed to the highest niche that was open to you, you could still only be an underling, a hanger-on of the people who really counted.

George Orwell, Such Were The Joys …, p 31



a question of where love comes from
March 30, 2018, 3:45 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

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Some people grow up scrounging for the little love they can get, and end up never really finding the consolation of a deep and abiding affection. Often they were orphans, went to boarding school, or somehow were separated from their parents.

Other people grow up fully immersed in love, and learn to not doubt the source of it. For them love is a limitless wellspring to which they eternally return for succour; it nurtures in them confidence and entitlement.

I imagine for the first group the alienation and pain can last a lifetime and even spread over several generations of lives. The entitlement of the second group can be painful to anyone looking in from an outside position of deprivation. If there is empathy then perhaps they are somewhat less aggrieved, but if no empathy then exponential suffering.

Genevieve Fox on love:

 

From the moment of my diagnosis, and then my prognosis, a positive one affording me a 70–80 percent chance of my curative treatment being successful, I pondered the nature of love: Had I left my sons enough of it? Does love endure? Is love bankable? What, in short, is the measure of love?

I stumble upon the answer courtesy of an illness that forced me to look back on a childhood marked by loss and the absence of love. An orphan’s life such as my own, lived with a hotchpotch of strangers and then, from the age of fifteen, alone, kept me on my mettle. Looking back on that time with my mother-eyes, I only now see that if you’re parentless and live on your wits, if you don’t belong and wish to do so, you look out for love, take it if you find it, look out for more. But you don’t bank the love; you live off reserves, and do not accrue funds. My sons, by contrast, are emotionally entitled; they default to a state of happiness whose roots reach deep, deep into the constancy of love. There is, for them, no question of where the love comes from or if and when the supplies will dry up. This is not because I am in remission, following a successful treatment, and they no longer fear for my health. It is because they have never known a dry riverbed. The experience of love is alchemical; it creates in a child a place of abundance, of safety.

Words to Live By, Genevieve Fox



The difference between man and animal is one of degree and not of kind

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Image: Henri Rousseau

I walked into the bathroom to see what my dad was doing. He was drowning Pixie’s pups because no one in Visag would take them. They looked  up desperately through the clear water and bubbles. He set their limp bodies aside and later buried them in the yard. This was wrong, but I had almost no emotion. My dad was so assured of the issue of animals and I believed him. We ate meat at meals and we were taught that animals are dumb, and the people who worship them, Hindus, were wrong to do so. Pixie herself, who I still love after all these years, was euthanized and buried in the yard when we left the country.

I put out traps in my apartment during the winter when the mice come in and start to bother me. This was before I found out there are more humanitarian ways of getting rid of them – moth balls work, they hate the smell. Once, I found a mouse caught in a trap behind the TV and he was still alive and terrified. The wire had pinched his lower body but not the vital organs. I worried how long he had been there. I picked him up and filled a bucket as my dad had done and drowned him. The same thing happened: he looked up at me as he expelled his last breath. I was more emotional; I believed the assurances of my father less and felt the pain of the mouse more.

Darwin said humans are different from animals ‘in degree not kind;’ significant difference but fully related. And since he said it, we have basically believed the opposite, that animals are completely different and fully inferior. We believed the opposite so we could conquer and use animals and not feel bad about it. We did the same with slaves, they were mere chattel.

What inconvenience would result, and what new world emerge, if we began to think as Darwin did? A recognition in the eyes of a mouse his short life is ending with regret, longing and pain. The extension of the human condition to include the animal kingdom. As Barnes says below, a revolution in how we live and organize the planet – or allow it to organize us.

Carl Safina, a professor of nature and humanity at Stony Brook University, New York, wrote:

“Suggesting that other animals can feel anything wasn’t just a conversation stopper; it was a career killer. In 1992, readers of the exclusive journal Science were warned by one academic writer that studying animal perceptions ‘isn’t a project I’d recommend to anyone without tenure’.”

It is odd that scientists, who claim to work only from data, and philosophers, who, like Wittgenstein, might speculate without anything as sordid as data but still love a good bit of logic, operate on the certainty that, while all placental mammals are put together in the same way physiologically, one of them is somehow completely different from all the other 4,000-odd – so different that we don’t even need evidence to prove it. Are we talking about the soul here? I ask only for information.

Throughout the years, people have sought to isolate and identify humanity’s USP, and every time they have done so, they discover that some animal – some non-human animal – has it, too. All the barriers we have erected between ourselves and other animals turn out to be frail and porous: emotion, thought, problem-solving, tool use, culture, an understanding of death, an awareness of the self, consciousness, language, syntax, sport, mercy, magnanimity, individuality, names, personality, reason, planning, insight, foresight, imagination, moral choice… even art, religion and jokes.

It’s all in Darwin, but we have spent getting on for two centuries ignoring or distorting the stuff he taught us. In The Descent of Man, he wrote: “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” If you accept evolution by means of natural selection, that must be true.

Why, then, are humans so resistant to the idea? We can find the answer in human history. For many years it was important to uphold the notion of the moral and mental inferiority of non-white people, because without such a certainty colonialism and slavery would be immoral. And that would never do: they were so convenient.

To change our views on the uniqueness of human beings would require recalibrating 5,000 years or so of human thought, which would in turn require revolutionary changes in the way we live our lives and manage the planet we all live on.

And that would be highly inconvenient.

Simon Barnes, Why humans need to rethink their place in the animal kingdom: Books by Elena Passarello, Peter Wohlleben and Lucy Cooke explore our relationship with wildlife, The New Statesman



ressentiment

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Ressentiment is the emotion of the outsider looking in – to what? – with envy and powerlessness. It’s ascendant among the ranks of the precariat and gigger.

It’s an emotion that results from secularism, meritocracy, egalitarianism and market fundamentalism, ideologies which strip away social bonds and leave us each to struggle – nobly – on our own.

Ressentiment manifests in the outsider as envy, fascination and revulsion; and in the insider as vanity and narcissism.

The outsider is envious of the insider who is an empty shell. The insider, steeped in schadenfreude, hates. The outsider struggles to differentiate himself from peers and friends, and learns to love his abasement.

Rinse and repeat.

Here is Pankaj Mishra on the Age of Anger:

Ressentiment – caused by an intense mix of envy, humiliation and powerlessness – is not simply the French word for resentment. Its meaning was shaped in a particular cultural and social context: the rise of a secular and meritocratic society in the 18th century. Even though he never used the word, the first thinker to identify how ressentiment would emerge from modern ideals of an egalitarian and commercial society was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. An outsider to the Parisian elite of his time, who struggled with envy, fascination, revulsion and rejection, Rousseau saw how people in a society driven by individual self-interest come to live for the satisfaction of their vanity – the desire and need to secure recognition from others, to be esteemed by them as much as one esteems oneself.

But this vanity, luridly exemplified today by Donald Trump’s Twitter account, often ends up nourishing in the soul a dislike of one’s own self while stoking impotent hatred of others; and it can quickly degenerate into an aggressive drive, whereby individuals feel acknowledged only by being preferred over others, and by rejoicing in their abjection. (As Gore Vidal pithily put it: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”)

 

Welcome to the Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra



memory is a form of reparation
July 30, 2017, 7:42 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, departure lounge | Tags: ,

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Are we inauthentic when we adjust our body language, tone, etc. when with different people? Or is it a survival tactic?

I moved from S India to Canada in 1979 and my new N American school chums didn’t have the emotional maturity to talk about my other life in Asia. Their words came out racist, xenophobic, jeering and smug. So, I became inauthentic and buried my past for survival.

But the memory, though smothered under the inauthentic survival strategy, persisted. Eventually as we all grew up, I found new ways of talking about my secret life in India with new friends who were older and more mature. There has been a reconciliation between the buried memory and my real time relationships.

Memory is a form of reparation. In my case a way of skirting the nativism and parochialism of American life and inhabiting – virtually and unrequitedly – the places of my childhood.

Here Colm Tóibín describes how memory makes amends:

 

Those of us who move from the provinces pay a toll at the city’s gate, a toll that is doubled in the years that follow as we try to find a balance between what was so briskly discarded and what was so carefully, hesitantly, slyly put in its place. More than thirty years ago, when I was in Egypt, I met a cultivated English couple who invited me to stay in their house in London on my way back to Ireland. They could not have been more charming.

The only problem was that they had an Irish maid who, as soon as I arrived as their guest, began to talk to me in the unvarnished accent of home, as though she had known me all of her life. Since she was from a town near mine, we spoke of people we knew in common or knew by name or reputation. It was all very relaxed and friendly.

Later, after supper, my two English friends asked me if I minded them raising a subject that troubled them. Did I know, they asked, that my accent and tone, indeed my entire body language, had changed when I met their maid? I was almost a different person. Was I aware that I had, in turn, changed back to the person they had met in Egypt once I was alone with them again?

I asked them, did they not also speak in different ways to different people? No, they insisted, they did not. Never! They seemed horrified at the thought. They looked at me as if I was the soul of inauthenticity. And then I realized that those of us who move from the periphery to the center turn our dial to different wavelengths depending on where we are and who else is in the room. In this world, memory becomes a form of reparation, a way of reconnecting the self to a more simple time, a way of hearing an old tune before it became textured with orchestration.

The Class Renegade, Colm Tóibín