Misery Loves Company

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Here’s some evidence that sustainability needs more than environmental remedies. I have written in my book that the first line of attack on unsustainability should be to restore our sense or consciousness of self or being. Only then will be able to muster the caring for our fellow human beings, other species, and all the inanimate, but critically important, parts of the world we inhabit that sustainability demands. In a polemic, but attention-getting article, Joe Bageant, writing for Alternet, argues that our American way has spawned a culture of alienation and loss of being. And further, that misery has become “commodified” as the delivery of medicine has become corporatized. First, his claim about the miserable state of affairs.

I used to think it was just some melancholic germ of my own that made me see a slowly increasing American alienation, anxiety and inner sadness over the span of my 62 years. Now however, I’m pretty convinced there is a national pathology at work, one that author Arthur Barsky called the “pathology of American normalcy.” Sounds accurate to me.

In fact, this psychic poverty has been around so long that it has become something of a norm. Despite that we have not resorted to cannibalism, single-payer health care, or god forbid, socialism, we long ago passed into the realm of what we like to call an “unhealthy society.”

Might not America’s psychological malaise be the result of knowing deep inside that life can hold more meaning — be more joyful? More emotionally rewarding and fulfilling? In a word, healthier?

He follows with a screed aimed at capitalism which you can buy or not, but it is hard to argue against the consequences of relying disproportionally on pure free markets and privatization which produce the commodification of most everything. From local choice to Wal-Marts, from Joe’s Diner to Starbucks and MacDonalds, and from individual maladies and cures to mass misery and treatments.

Whatever else can be said of capitalism, it is miraculous stuff, pure alchemy. It can privatize and corporatize any damned thing under the sun, turn a profit on it, and then make it a bulwark of corporate state control to boot. Even human misery and oppression of soul and mind.

Psychological practice and its institutions benefit greatly from this. After all, they are in the alienation business. It is entirely in the profession’s best interests that it treats us as if our lives are lived in a vacuum, our loneliness and despair are entirely our own, as if there were no such thing as context, much less American society’s corrosive and toxic environment in which so many of us live out our lives.

Put another way, it acknowledges our misery, then privatizes it, then administers lonely, alienated “treatment” for our emptiness in a private void, one among tens of millions of like emptinesses in similar voids that are in no way supposed to be societal. No matter that there are enough sufferers to constitute an entire society in themselves

My last post mourned the loss of authenticity of friendship and the emerging pathology of commodified relationships made via the Internet by using Twitter, Second Life, and other social networking technology. Bageant’s article adds another facet. The symptoms are not only showing up in the patients. Primary physicians, the ones that are the first line of defense, are leaving the normal practice to form boutiques where only the affluent can enter. New mental maladies pop up along with new pills to treat them. Now we are talking about smart pills that can raise test scores and similar feats of intellect. Pretty soon we won’t have any idea what a plain old vanilla human being is. The kind that used to inhabit the Earth. Too bad.

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