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SyFy network has been running their Twilight Zone marathon again. I watched TZ (and The Outer Limits) religiously, yet today I caught two episodes I hadn't seen before, and several I hadn't seen since the original broadcasts. TZ writers often challenged the assumptions behind our comfy American lives, and they were often on target. For example I hadn't seen the episode, Number 12 Looks Just Like You, in which a young girl is forced to transform to a beautiful, but stock, body type. Almost fifty years later breast implants are common, seemingly sane people inject themselves with botox, and Isabelle Caro (above), the "no anorexia" model just died at age 28. Starvation inflicts permanent damage.
CMaukonen has noted over and over that we don't seem inclined to make things anymore, Miguelitoh2o has covered the depressing state of the union and Barth just reminded us that nothing is cost-free. Everyone sees that our middle class is being rolled by the rich, and that half of them like it. We used to be the envy of the world, but The Grim Truth on Club Orlov tells us we are dupes.
Americans, I have some bad news for you:
You have the worst quality of life in the developed world — by a wide margin.
If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.
I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.
A friend who has lived overseas tells me he's exaggerating, but not wrong.
The fact is, they work you like dogs in the United States. This should come as no surprise: the United States never got away from the plantation/sweat shop labor model and any real labor movement was brutally suppressed. ...
Sometimes I wonder if we are so unfocused that we take too long to get the work done.
ArtAppraiser just scooped me on this review of Claude S. Fischer's Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character. David M Kennedy of Boston Review tries to pin down what Americans once were:
... David Potter ... claimed in People of Plenty (1954) that an unusual degree of material abundance had shaped distinctively American institutions, behaviors, values, and habits, including advertising, mobility, consumerism, and even notably indulgent child-rearing practices. ...
The central trait of the American character, Fischer says, is voluntarism. Here he creatively fuses Tocqueville’s familiar observation about Americans as inveterate joiners and his equally famous notion of individualism. Voluntarism, for Fischer, embraces both the recognition of each person as a “sovereign individual” at liberty to pursue his or her own destiny, and the belief that “individuals succeed through fellowship — not in egoistic isolation but in sustaining, voluntary communities.” And the central trend over the course of American history is the broadening ambit of voluntarism, the expanding interaction of questing selves and the several communities they seek to join and from which they expect affirmation and sustenance, both emotional and material.
The Tea Party may be an example of voluntarism, but longer term "community organizing" (like Acorn) of the working and middle classes is attacked. Acceptable voluntarism involves promoting religion, self-expression or personal advancement - not political awareness. With our polarization into red and blue camps, and with the splintering of those camps, voluntarism isn't uniting us.
Sharon Astyk, who has been comparatively optimistic in her Peak Oil writings, thinks we're struggling in difficult times and wonders if the virtues we value are sustainable:
In many ways, the story of the twentieth and early twenty-first century has been the overturning of one way of life (very broadly construed) and the emergence of another throughout the world. The consequences of this way of life and its variants is evident - we consume more of everything, so much so that we are using more than the planet can sustain, and rapidly, making the future resources of the planet less available.
Astyk feels we have to try to change that even though we will often fail.
It isn't an easy project in a world that assumes a great deal of energy and emissions, that says freedom is consumer choice and that participation is mandatory and that wealth is our goal. So when you are in the garden, when you ride your bicycle or walk, when you explain to your neighbor yet again why you don't want their lawn chemicals on your yard, when hang your laundry, when you deliver a meal to a neighbor who is ill, when you say "no, we don't do that," when you teach your children who you are and why you do the difficult thing, when you try and convince yourself that you aren't too tired, when you get up in the morning and it looks like all you've done is pointless remember this - you are doing something hard and vast and new. Without your work and courage there is no hope at all for all of those with the courage to chain themselves at the gates. Without those who chain themselves at the gates, enough people will not know what you have done. With both together, change begins.
But that requires voluntarism and unity, which seem in short supply. Are we in the grip of overwhelming history or are we doing something wrong? Or both?
Back on the Twilight Zone, I hadn't seen Earl Hamner's The Bewitchin' Pool since the 1960s. Two children have everything but the attention of their affluent, bickering parents, and escape through their backyard pool to a comforting fantasy world. Now when we were kids, my brother and sister and I assumed the kids had drowned and gone to a sort of play heaven. But seeing the episode after reading Democracy Now!'s summary of several interviews of Dr. Gabor Maté has me reevaluating Hamner's message:
When people are mistreated, stressed or abused, their brains don’t develop the way they ought to. It’s that simple. And unfortunately, my profession, the medical profession, puts all the emphasis on genetics rather than on the environment, which, of course, is a simple explanation. It also takes everybody off the hook. ... if people’s behaviors and dysfunctions are regulated, controlled and determined by genes, we don’t have to look at child welfare policies, we don’t have to look at the kind of support that we give to pregnant women, we don’t have to look at the kind of non-support that we give to families, so that, you know, most children in North America now have to be away from their parents from an early age on because of economic considerations. And especially in the States, because of the welfare laws, women are forced to go find low-paying jobs far away from home, often single women, and not see their kids for most of the day. Under those conditions, kids’ brains don’t develop the way they need to.
And so, if it’s all caused by genetics, we don’t have to look at those social policies; we don’t have to look at our politics that disadvantage certain minority groups, so cause them more stress, cause them more pain, in other words, more predisposition for addictions; we don’t have to look at economic inequalities. If it’s all genes, it’s all — we’re all innocent, and society doesn’t have to take a hard look at its own attitudes and policies.
... I have attention deficit disorder myself. And again, most people see it as a genetic problem. I don’t. It actually has to do with those factors of brain development, which in my case occurred as a Jewish infant under Nazi occupation in the ghetto of Budapest. And the day after the ... Nazis marched into Budapest in March of 1944, my mother called the pediatrician and says, “Would you please come and see my son, because he’s crying all the time?” And the pediatrician says, “Of course I’ll come. But I should tell you, all my Jewish babies are crying.”
Now infants don’t know anything about Nazis and genocide or war or Hitler. They’re picking up on the stresses of their parents. And, of course, my mother was an intensely stressed person, her husband being away in forced labor, her parents shortly thereafter being deported and killed in Auschwitz. Under those conditions, I don’t have the kind of conditions that I need for the proper development of my brain circuits. And particularly, how does an infant deal with that much stress? By tuning it out. That’s the only way the brain can deal with it. And when you do that, that becomes programmed into the brain.
And so, if you look at the preponderance of ADD in North America now and the three millions of kids in the States that are on stimulant medication and the half-a-million who are on anti-psychotics, what they’re really exhibiting is the effects of extreme stress, increasing stress in our society, on the parenting environment. Not bad parenting. Extremely stressed parenting, because of social and economic conditions. And that’s why we’re seeing such a preponderance.
So, in my case, that also set up this sense of never being soothed, of never having enough, because I was a starving infant. And that means, all my life, I have this propensity to soothe myself. How do I do that? Well, one way is to work a lot and to gets lots of admiration and lots of respect and people wanting me. If you get the impression early in life that the world doesn’t want you, then you’re going to make yourself wanted and indispensable. And people do that through work. I did it through being a medical doctor. I also have this propensity to soothe myself through shopping, especially when I’m stressed, and I happen to shop for classical compact music. But it goes back to this insatiable need of the infant who is not soothed, and they have to develop, or their brain develop, these self-soothing strategies.
... the conditions in which children develop have been so corrupted and troubled over the last several decades that the template for normal brain development is no longer present for many, many kids. And Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, who’s a professor of psychiatry at Boston — University of Boston, he actually says that the neglect or abuse of children is the number one public health concern in the United States. A recent study coming out of Notre Dame by a psychologist there has shown that the conditions for child development that hunter-gatherer societies provided for their children, which are the optimal conditions for development, are no longer present for our kids. And she says, actually, that the way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well-being in a moral sense.
The child’s brain development depends on the presence of non-stressed, emotionally available parents. In this country, that’s less and less available. Hence, you’ve got burgeoning rates of autism in this country. It’s going up like 20- or 30-fold in the last 30 or 40 years.
... it never used to be that children grew up in a stressed nuclear family. That wasn’t the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives. And they’re spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development.
Maté makes a very different argument than Temple Grandin, who identifies Asperger-like forebears in her gene pool. I have always thought first about genetics, so this is a startling argument to consider.
Are we raising an emotionally-starved ADD/ADHD/Autistic underclass - easily fragmented and all too prone to being out-maneuvered by socially adept overlords? Starvation inflicts real damage, and I wonder what future these people can carve out for themselves.