Archive for the 'unintended consequences' Category

Social ills

February 10, 2012

In reading all the attention being paid to income inequality, unemployment, and moral decay, I start to wonder why no one talks about the role of anxiety and depression in the interplay of forces.  However depression and anxiety get started, they exacerbate a downward spiral, whether through self-medication or producing a child in the hopes the child will provide love that is missing in the parent’s life or through other maladaptive coping skills.  I suspect at this point that depression and anxiety are larger factors in struggling populations than we are giving these factors credit for, and while I strongly agree that medication can make a huge difference in some people once depression and anxiety become large and otherwise intractable, I don’t think medication is the solution, I think instead we need to treat why there is a net outflow of “energy” in the social group, because I think it is some seemingly innocuous small imbalance that begins it, that then gets amplified and begins a complicated chain of events or process, and whose symptoms we then observe in increased poverty, crime, and fractured families.  I remember reading a case study, while I was in college, about how rehousing poor people into housing projects in or near London unintentionally shredded family and other social networks,* and that this then had far-reaching negative subsequent consequences — the population did much work after the rehousing, much to the surprise of the people who thought they were just proving improved places to live.  That’s the kind of innocuous event I would look for in trying to redress the economic and social ills in the U.S. discussed in Charles Murray’s recent book and all the reactions to it.

*I thought I should add that, as I recall it, the (new) housing projects were high-rise apartment houses, rather than the lower-slung sorts of housing that the people were currently living in, and that the rehousing broke up the physical distribution of the family members, disrupting arrangements, for example, of having an aunt or grandmother around the corner who could pitch in to help with childcare or cooking or emergency help — the rehousing paid no attention to reassembling the physical proximity of the extended family members that was the scaffolding to the social safety net, it scrambled the population by rehousing them according to other criteria, I think.

And I certainly don’t think that the housing should not have been improved, only that the housing planners clearly, in retrospect, needed to take into account additional factors in order to realize the improvements without imposing new costs, however unintentionally.

What to tweak

November 28, 2011

I read the recent article in The New York Times about how some people with diagnosed mental illness deal with both it and living in the world.  It left me wondering whether there are other points of intervention at which to tweak our understanding of what people experience in that region that is not consensual reality.

Like those spoiler alerts or graphic images alerts, here’s my “I may be about to say something others will find offensive” alert.  So saying I know doesn’t make what I will say less offensive, but it’s a flag for me to be as careful as I can and a flag for others to learn some context for my remarks.  Because what I’m trying to do is to figure out places in our societal understandings where we might think about revision in order to achieve more helpful outcomes down the road of consequences — I have no need to evaluate other people’s belief systems in order to pass judgment on them, I just wonder whether some of our current beliefs lead to trouble further down the road, for example, to people stuck in distress.  And I don’t think what I’m about to write explains everything, all delusion or mental illness or spiritual regression — I mean it as a possible piece of the puzzle.

So, apparently a common delusion is that one is Jesus or God, or has met Jesus or God.  Suppose we redefine Jesus and God.  Suppose both can be thought of as stages the self goes through, that they are more general, in a sense, than one being or a defined divinity.  If we possess them within us as aspects of our selves, then encountering them is less of a thing that must be explained away (with psychology, for example).  Even thinking that someone else we meet is “Jesus” or “God” can merely indicate that we are ready to recognize in ourselves and in others a level of spiritual maturity and identification with a more expansive state of being than we usually spend time with.  It’s not, then, that we have met a particular other being who is unlikely to be met in this way, but rather that some boundary within us has become permeable enough that we have access to aspects of our own souls that are usually walled off from us in this world.  But in western culture, I think we may have lost our vocabulary for this phenomenon — both the nomenclature and the concept, too.  We renamed and re-characterized these issues as discrete entities who cannot be part of us easily within our accepted system, so when we try to pass through this spiritual stage, we get stuck.  We say something like, “This can’t be right.  I can’t be Jesus.  That person I met can’t be Jesus.”  And so the whole experience gets pathologized as mental illness for want of a known better alternative.  Once we let go of thinking of “Jesus” as a particular being and God as a character, however extensive, and once we let go of the uniqueness part of our experience (suppose we assume that everyone may go through such a stage), then we can ride out the belief and move on to a new understanding, into a new phase.  I suspect that people end up in this somewhat tricky stage when they lose their boundaries without being able to quiet their ego and its fears and desires, or even being aware that their ego is their ego and their soul is their soul, before their boundaries become so permeable.

I should probably add that it is my impression that these stages of integrating the “Jesus” or “God” in oneself into one’s sense of self are recognized parts of spiritual development in other religions.

Double-stuff cookies

September 15, 2011

I realize some people prefer sandwich cookies (like Oreos) with twice as much creme filling as usual, but they seem to me to get the dynamic wrong — a little yearning for more creme might be okay, and too much unmitigated sweetness makes me thirsty.

I worry we try to maximize our rewards in a similar way in other contexts, and to our detriment, as we change the balance of things without realizing the consequences of so doing.  We talk about a balanced diet, a balanced life, everything in moderation, but then we think we can outsmart all that, or something, and turn up the volume in one place without distorting the entire musical effect.

I wish we would strive for balance rather than trying to maximize particular elements that please us.