Can You Own and Manage Your Mind or Body?
I have pondered many times the effects of a societal change that became blatantly obvious to me about 20 years ago. As a child of the 1940s and 1950ís, I remember when our society in the USA was significantly less of the "weíll tell you what to do/not do" paradigm of today. Sure, we have always had both good and bad opinions and directions aimed at us from governments, businesses and religions. The issues today are those of degree, including intensity, frequency, methods employed and topical breadth. The concerns are those of the title above.
My thesis is that we have evolved in our societal practices to become downright dangerous to ourselves. That is, people in the know and in power are and have long been sequentially destroying components of our individuality, sense of ownership of self and sense of wellbeing, through laws, internal business practices and advertising. We have been diverted when dealing with unreasonable and unjustifiable stress to simpleminded activities like TV sitcoms, exercise and meditation, which are palliatives that temporarily affect our sense of wellbeing without doing a damn thing about the origins of our problems. At best, we become physically healthy dupes. At worst, we self-destruct emotionally and/or physically.
I see two basic forces at work: 1) The psychology of the human mind has become so well known through experiments in advertising that we are manipulated thoroughly by all powerful organizations, and 2) We are subliminally aware of what is happening as a result of that manipulation (we are losing ourselves as individuals), and the destructive effects on our minds and bodies are awesome. We are weakened to the point of becoming completely ineffective due to marginal education and lame media information. Our lives do not seem to be within our control and we have gradually but surely adopted the mindset of a conquered people. We escape to and find our pleasures in the trivial. Personal will is vanquished to the point of extinction outside of trivial choices, as the organizations that tell us what to do have no interest whatsoever in growing our individuality. Control and exploitation of the masses is and has always been the primary goal of the powerful. Today, their toolset is frighteningly effective.
This has always been true for organized religions, but at least most of them gave us a promise (albeit absurd) of a great afterlife if we were obedient to their wishes in the current timeframe. Governments do it through laws that increasingly destroy personal freedoms by making ever more activities felonies. The red tape is so bad you can break a law without even realizing that you have done it, but the courts assume, indeed state, that all citizens are responsible to know all implications of the various laws. Yes, I am speaking about both tax laws and criminal statutes for such things as "terroristic threatening," which amounts to your having no right to even have a heated argument with a jackass.
Are you planning a Canadian hunting trip? Better fly your rifles and especially handguns to Canada (air cargo, please, with permissions on the receiving end), for simply driving through states like New Jersey with an empty handgun locked in your trunk is committing a felony. Do you know all the pertinent laws of all the states you may travel through or visit? Of course you donít, and state governments rely on your ignorance to promote their power through fear. You are left emasculated, for no matter how innocent your purpose you must be hyperconservative to avoid trouble. My, does that sound a lot like Orwellís book, 1984! Land of the free and home of the brave? Get real!
Consider also our "civil" courts. Lawsuits that would have been laughable fifty years ago routinely produce judgments that will financially destroy you. Both the topics for lawsuits and the allowed judgments are totally out of line, and you have primarily your legislators and judges to thank for that, not to mention your dumb "peers" who are so easily manipulated in the courtroom. Read between the lines and you will see that this aspect of life today is just one more control mechanism to keep all of us "in line" for fear of personal financial destruction.
Businesses nail us in two ways, first as employees and secondly as customers, willing or not. The tools used against employees are typically quietly spoken, thinly veiled threats regarding job security and career advancement, and, for customers, advertising that is by any objective view intentional deception. The killer is what they do not tell us about the purchase and use of their products and services. Instead, we are dazzled by promotional advertising that has become exceptionally effective psychologically in the past fifty years.
We used to laugh at portrayals of "medicine men" in the Old West conning ignorant locals into buying elixirs that contained nothing but bitter herbs in an alcohol base, sometimes with narcotics like cocaine. Are we laughing at our advertisers now? Or are they laughing at us?
We can delve into "holy" areas like the practice of medicine and pharmacology and find very scary truths. For example, the plethora of new and expensive drugs proven to have efficacy in the control of some conditions carry with them the joint risks of harmful drug interactions and unintentional singular side effects. Some cholesterol lowering drugs can cause severe liver disease, especially if the patient drinks alcohol. Isnít that just dandy? How many people do you know who have high cholesterol (by whose definition?) who also donít drink alcohol?
Physicians and employers attempt to control our behaviors such that we maintain good health at the expense of having fun in eating and drinking. Health management organizations (HMOís and the like) are nothing more than cost minimization organizations. We are directed to the most inferior, sold-out MDís and told that "out of network" choices on our part will result in diminished or no insurance coverage. Wow, is that a fine example of the "weíll tell you what to do" generation! One might more reasonably ask what allowed/caused medical costs to rise so astronomically opposite our incomes between 1950 and 2000, and what can be done to get the charges by the hospitals, physicians and drug companies back in line with the reality of our incomes to enable us to eliminate the need for group insurance?
So where is all this whining on my part going? Well, I have a deep suspicion that most of our chronic physical and mental health problems are a direct result of the destruction of our self-determination. I think of myself as an animal in captivity that is not thriving. I must tread so gingerly to avoid potential disaster that "joie de vivre" is only a memory. I suspect that many of you are slowly evolving to my negative assessment as you pass from your teen years into your thirties, i.e. when you are somewhat less wet behind the ears. Perhaps you will be among the manipulators and possibly free from feelings of oppression. Perhaps not. Either way, I will use the "career path" as a case in point.
I want to spend a few moments discussing chronic stress, resultant anxiety and depression, either of which can in turn become chronic long after the stress producing events that initially caused them. Lets think about the term "burnout" and note that it occurs most often in strongly motivated career people in their forties or fifties who somehow break (quietly) after one too many stressful events. Success doesnít seem to be the issue, though recognition of the massive work done over many years for what becomes an increasingly apparent career limit can force realistic and tragic thinking. Most often, continuous change and continuous challenges finally wear us down, far too early, and instead of being a resilient team player yet one more time, we dig in our heels on the latest round of ineffective high management decisions. Thus ends career advancement and thus begins major burnout, for we worked all our adult life towards that distant goal of high career success, only to find that past accomplishments were "paid for" and today is a different ballgame.
The key problem is that we assumed that we were "self-determined" when we were taking our turn at bat. The reality was that we were directed to specific activities and focused by the external pressures and perks provided by our management. Our talents and hard work paid off in terms of what they wanted and what they were willing to pay. That is all. Yet along the way, we played the game cooperatively their way in the belief that we would get our way, i.e., be self-determined via higher position and increasing financial success. Alas, it seems that society at large was not the only source of deception. We fooled ourselves.
The stress events in a professional career carry with them high amplitude cycles of anxiety and relief, particularly in a project environment. That cycle becomes typical, indeed normal, as a way of life. We work hard and we play hard. Now and then we rest and recharge our internal batteries. After burnout, the cycles become anxiety (about personal security) and depression. There is no relief cycle. There is no desire to play hard or work hard. Rest is found only by escape, and that can mean drugs or alcohol abuse or even that addictive horrible palliative nicotine. As you already know, there is no answer to that problem until the individual can break the entire notion of high amplitude cycles, and that is a severe problem because of years of living that way in expectation of ever-higher success.
Imagine how silly the "weíll tell you what to do" society appears to a burned-out former success! Life after the fact is the societal control and manipulation combined with the loss of personal freedoms. Not a pretty picture, is it?
There are many counterarguments regarding the career example just discussed, but I believe it accurately describes cause and effect, such that a sense of loss of control, i.e., self-determination, is always bad, whether it occurs at work or in the larger society.
Now lets examine the disposition of people who are burning out. First, they approach their doctors with complaints that lead to a diagnosis of depression, for doctors see anxiety and depression as opposite sides of the same coin. They may also exhibit other problems like elevated blood pressure. Once the doctor has ascertained that the emotional/physical problems are work related and not due to strife within a marriage or other external causes, an antidepressant drug will be prescribed, and perhaps a drug to reduce blood pressure.
The doctor means well, but he/she is treating symptoms, not the basic causes of the patient problems. The drugs have a palliative effect but they do nothing to halt the progression of burnout. It is like having someone prescribe an antibiotic for a serious foot infection without removing the splinter that has caused the infection. Obviously, the infection will return along with the pain. The patient will be functionally crippled and eventually dependent on lifelong doses of antibiotics to survive. He will be diagnosed as someone with a chronic infection that does not respond properly to administered drugs. My point is obvious. Antidepressants and high blood pressure medication will also be seen as lifelong necessities, as attempts to stop taking them will result in the return of the original symptoms.
The medical profession and the drug companies theorize that clinical depression results frequently from brain chemical imbalances. Thus, patients who have three episodes of depression will be told they must stay on medication for life. There is something very wrong about that theory, for many patients can go for months without medications or depression or high blood pressure. But once the process of burnout has advanced, the triggering events that precipitate another round of depression/anxiety and/or high blood pressure need not be all that bad. The burnout patient has become hypersensitive to job dissonance and to any other frustrating but normal life event, like a minor car accident.
One might say that the burnout patient has become brittle instead of resilient in dealing with normal life situations. Moreover, there is a high probability that the chronic stresses that led to burnout have altered the individualís brain chemistry permanently. If so, then the job environment and management expectations are the original and singular cause of the later burnout for a willing and motivated employee. Also, since large corporations began downsizing in the mid 1980ís, the job stresses have become massive on ever more individuals, for workloads have increased hugely and anxiety over job security remains constant and high.
We are about to see very large numbers of people enter the ranks of the burned out patients, and we donít know how long each person will endure job stresses before succumbing to them. All we can say is that the sales of antidepressants and high blood pressure medications are soaring.
One wonders how our ancestors avoided such medical problems, for they did not appear to be wired with anxiety that was job related except for a very few occupations. Incidence of clinical depression is clearly increasing across the population. This doesnít happen without reason, and the brain chemistry argument is typically stupid as it examines the damaged individual after the damage has occurred and not the cause of the damage.
Psychologists are not particularly useful in this area either. Let me give you an example of Gestalt thinking that will make a serious point. Suppose a psychologist is walking down a street and encounters a person lying on the sidewalk bleeding from a knife wound. Nearby is the assailant, cleaning the knife. In true Gestalt manner, the psychologist will conclude that the wounded individual is the one with the problem. Meanwhile, the victim cries out in pain and anger that the circumstances were totally unreasonable. The psychologist will indicate that surgery is practical and that the victim should do a better job in the area of human relationships, and perhaps be more careful when out walking. Of course, the assailant is ignored entirely, for from a Gestalt viewpoint the victim creates his own problems by not dealing with life realities objectively and by failing to take responsibility for what happens.
You can plainly see that the arguments of the psychologist are true but moot. The victim has been severely damaged and the assailant is ignored. Taking personal responsibility for outcomes is valid only when the victim has ignored clear warnings. In situations like burnout, the victim is seen as a willing participant in the process and thus responsible for his own problems. The simple truth is that stress effects are cumulative and eventually strike without clear warnings.
Rigorous and regular exercise programs may delay or even eliminate the onset of depressive burnout, but the need for them in the first place is where we should focus our attention. Our ancestors did not run at the "Y" nor did they need to do so to avoid the effects of job stress. If your employer is pressuring you to put in long hours on a continuous basis, then he/she is the cause of your later problems, which are not yet in evidence. That you might save your life by exercising is really not the point. You should not have to do so, nor should your employer be allowed to pressure anyone to work to excess, even if the work is "rewarded" with perks like bonuses.
About the most any of us can do at this point in history is band together once again in some type of union (God, I hate the need for that because it leads to other abuses!) and set job standards to rational and reasonable levels with complaint procedures that limit the power of the employer and assure the security of the employee. Today, you are looked upon by your employer as a potential high payoff racehorse. He/she will run you hard until you drop, and feel no remorse whatever when you no longer have a good life.
Each of us tries to maintain balance in our lives, so that we do not over react to ordinary life situations. To enjoy the good things that do happen, we must be able to function without the burden of long term depression. Medicine is not the answer. We get a deep sense of personal value when we achieve financial security and do things in life that are meaningful to us and to our value system. Depression from cumulative stress effects and unreasonable job pressures steal from us our ability to be the person we would otherwise be. If you want to awaken each morning feeling rationally positive about the coming day, you must be physically and emotionally healthy to begin with and feel, with solid basis, that you are the master of your destiny. That will not happen if your employer controls your time and your work output via veiled threats. Ditto your government creating a subliminal atmosphere of fear through punitive laws and elimination of personal freedoms.
I recall conversations with a doctor regarding use of alcohol, tobacco and rich foods. I recall many exhortations from "health groups" at work to exercise to reduce stress. Quality of life through good physical health and longevity are the promoted goals of both. To both I must say that longevity is pointless unless I am using my time in a manner that I enjoy, and that will include some measure of rich foods and alcohol. I really can forego the tobacco. If I exercise it will be because I like the activity that is the exercise, not because I must do it to survive.
I think of the longevity argument as silly. Adding ten years to my life is of little value if I must spend all but the last ten denying myself what I want just to have the last ten. And of course we are all going to die at approximately the same time anyway. We arenít going to live forever regardless of how we eat or exercise. Besides, most of longevity is of genetic origin, if the individual is even somewhat prudent in consumptive behaviors. I want the best that life has for as long as I can have it Ö then I want to die. I remember some Jewish humor that makes my point about longevity. Two Jewish women were eating lunch in a restaurant and complaining about the food. The first woman said, "Oh, the food here is so bad!" and the second woman replied "And the portions are so small!"
Clearly, no one should want larger portions of bad food! Is that not very much like the argument for longevity, in which you do what you donít like and avoid what you do like just so you can have more time to do what you donít like!
I must conclude this topic with a reminder of the guilt trips used to convince individuals to "get healthy." We are told that by being irresponsible in our living habits (however a particular zealot decides to define that) that we pose a burden on society for our later, excessive medical needs. Say what! I didnít ask for health insurance, I didnít cause medical costs to go up because of insurance, government and otherwise, and I damn well am not responsible to anybody for that disaster or its consequences. You bright boys in government created this mess with Medicare and Medicaid, so go fix it! And while you are at it, try getting out of our lives as much as possible, in such areas as Social Security, taxes for programs that increase citizen dependency on government goodwill, and criminal statutes that serve only to intimidate a well-intended population. If you must tax us excessively, then try spending a whole lot more on formal education. And you might consider passing some "Anti-Manipulation" laws.
What happens when the very young are raised (not reared, dammit!) in a highly controlled manipulative society? Perhaps they will never miss self-determination, but I believe what actually results is a society of automatons incapable of objective analysis of anything non-trivial. What a waste of potential contribution! What a theft of a potentially rewarding and truly conscious life! Do you realize that we do not need good educational systems if most of our young people arenít going to be needed for "think" work anyway? The few well-educated brilliant people needed will represent only a miniscule part of society if we continue to "advance" according to our present day manipulative, deceptive and intellectually barren societal model.