Begin with Affluenza,
a book (and documentary) which detail the mental and physical ailments caused by consumerism. Hamilton makes the case that consumers attempt to cure their life problems through consumption. But, because consumption rarely addresses the root causes of people’s mental and physical ailments, increases in consumption tend to make matters worse. Without social or cultural endorsement of contentment, consumers unravel themselves as they “chase the dragon”, consumed by consumption. Domination or “preeminence” — the idea of winning, often costs more than it yields.
Next there is Deep Survival. Opposite of Affluenza, Deep Survival provides perspectives on the innate biological mechanisms of human survival. Compiling decades of research and study in the field, Gonzales reveals dozens of invaluable insights regarding the human instincts which simultaneously preserve and endanger individuals and communities. Two of the most relevant points are:
- Without struggle, the mind will create struggle (unless trained). The mind has evolved through millennia of danger and problem solving. If there are not survival matters at hand, the mind will elevate trivial matters into the realm of “survival”.
- Struggle, risk, and danger are necessary components to health, contentment, and peak performance.
“No matter how civilized we are, human beings still have the same genes they had 10,000 years ago. Our bodies are designed to have a certain amount of physical stress and violence in them. We’re hardwired with all this stuff that you really can’t deny if you want to be a balanced human being. To truly be in control of yourself, you have to address the need to strike and be struck.”
This brings us to the concept of eustress, detailed by Kelly McGonigal in her book The Upside of Stress. Like a muscle, the ability to manage and utilize the biological structures of survival will atrophy without practice. “Use it or lose it”.
This is important to consider, in a world where the pursuit of secure personal nests, gated communities, and polished public spaces (amusement park book) is “the norm”, it is counter to social, emotional, and biological health. While the mainstream develops “safer” environments, this sterile isolation from diversity and natural settings has people paying for the construction of their own gilded cages. Gilded cages in which overspecialization and outsourcing of personal responsibility devolves and infantilizes the more privileged and influential members of society. Detrimental, because this exacerbates our world wherein “the people in charge” are the incompetent and the inexperienced regarding the common issues which face the people they manage and make our society possible.
This segmentation and stratification divorces the majority of people from the essential stimuli and experiences necessary to facilitate the cooperation and capacity our species requires to effectively function as a global superorganism. Decoupled from our fellow humans and our natural environment, we have created an unprecedented world full individuals who function independent of reality, existing remotely in their mind, consciously and unconsciously driven by the Pursuit of Personal Empire.
[If you read all of those hyperlinks, you win a shiny gold star. ;)]
On the note of virtual existence, we come to the scenario described in Fahrenheit 451. While we may not exist in screen rooms and interact with our favorite actors, playing roles in our favorite films, our IV drip of social media posts, 24 hour news channels, and infinite Netflix streams have created a world where “virtual” experience exceeds the amount of real world experience. Development and privatization of public spaces extends the virtual life by fabricating environments and experiences as fictional as screen experiences.
This sheen of virtual experiences distorts our entire organism, because our brain and our biology cannot readily discern the difference between real stress and virtual stress. Because of this, people immersed in combative posts, sensational news, and fictional drama experience a state of physiological arousal unprecedented in human history.
While real, physical threats would come and go, our virtual realities are beginning to eclipse our real world experiences, creating an entire planet of people misinformed by manufactured stimuli. This creates deep seated beliefs about concepts fundamental as physics, history, and humanity.
The biological structures which compel us to participate in such an unhealthy virtual reality are described in The Biology of Desire. In this book, Lewis describes the survival imperatives — the evolutionary psychology — behind addictive and compulsive behaviors, demonstrating that the powerful forces driving us to unhealthy behavior, even against our conscious will, are the result of survival mechanisms gone awry in a world where formerly scarce stimuli are now overabundant. Even the addiction to unpleasant stimuli, like negative news and “irritainment”, are explained in the mechanisms of risk aversion.
The most insidious feature of these maladaptive behaviors, is that they are so normalized… few people would be willing to identify these behaviors as “addictions” or “health-threats”. Will power is limited, and in a world of ever-increasing, infinite enticements the will of connected individuals is being steadily subsumed by content producers who possess deep understanding of human attention and The Biology of Desire.
While the isolationist nesting of people saturated by media and divorced from reality is a monolithic byproduct of housing and technological developments, the more pervasive effect becomes manifest in friendships, partnerships, and child-rearing.
Through a cross-cultural and anthropological analysis of child-rearing practices and formative human development, some of the most condemning research can be gleaned from Harry Harlow’s infamous Monkey Experiments. Through a variation of brutal isolating experiments, Harlow documented the effect of isolation on rhesus monkeys. The picture above is from an experiment which provided an infant monkey with two choices:
- A wire mother which yields milk.
- A cloth mother which yields comfort.
The results of this study are devastating and without going into too much detail, the experiment demonstrates the critical component that comfort and physical connection play in physical and emotional development.
Touch is a Fundamental
But, in a society of sexual harassment policy, personal space, stranger-danger, and the looming threat of sex offenders — We have created a culture terrified of touch. Even in parenting, friendships, and romantic pairing, intimate contact within our society is largely taboo. Relative to other cultures, people, especially men, live in self-constructed invisible cages, recreating the isolation and ill health Harlow manufactured for those poor monkeys. The myriad of forces which reduce or eliminate sharing of space are reinforced by the negative feedback loop which results from the damage done by isolation and neglect: People who do not experience healthy intimate contact are more likely to develop maladaptive perceptions about personal space and desperation, causing negative instances of unhealthy intimate touch, which, in turn, reinforce the social/cultural believe that touch is dangerous and exclusive. This denial and repression of our natural need for nourishing contact is largely responsible for the subversion of intimacy and the increasing commonality of sexual deviance and violence.
This connects directly to Stuart Brown and his life of researching play and its role in human development. His beginning is worth sharing:
In 1966, Austin, Texas, Charles Whitman, a seemingly normal, 25 year old engineering student, and former marine sharpshooter, wheeled a trunk onto the elevator of the tower overlooking campus. Over a frightening three hour period he shot down from the tower killing 17 and wounding 41 university students and staff.
“The committee investigating Charles Whitman’s life and motives unanimously identified his lifelong lack of play as a key factor in his homicidal actions.” ~Dr. Stuart Brown
Discovering the disfunction connected to a lifelong lack of play, Brown proceeded to devote his life to the study of play and its power to socialize and rehabilitate traumatized individuals.
Brown’s research is substantiated by the life work of Jane Mcgonigal in Reality is Broken.
More institutions and books which touch on the implementation of these findings include:
- It Takes a Village
- The 6Cs
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Tools of the Mind
- Free Range Child
- Montessori Schools
- Project Based Learning
- Waldorf Schools
- Project XQ
- And much more…
Running Short on Time
The ill-effects of structural and technological development as they cater to neo-liberalism are boundless. Our entire species is being re-engineered by the forces of profit motive and the illusions of personal empire.
This resource list is an attempt to demonstrate that high density developments and gentrification are not only threats to community character and urban distinction — but the very foundations of humans and their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
More later on Anti-Fragile, Joseph Campbell, and Bill Plotkin.