the luxury trap

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it. Let’s take another familiar example from our own time. Over the last few decades, we have invented countless time-saving devices that are supposed to make life more relaxed – washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, telephones, mobile phones, computers, email. Previously it took a lot of work to write a letter, address and stamp an envelope, and take it to the mailbox. It took days or weeks, maybe even months, to get a reply. Nowadays I can dash off an email, send it halfway around the globe, and (if my addressee is online) receive a reply a minute later. I’ve saved all that trouble and time, but do I live a more relaxed life?

Sadly not. Back in the snail-mail era, people usually only wrote letters when they had something important to relate. Rather than writing the first thing that came into their heads, they considered carefully what they wanted to say and how to phrase it. They expected to receive a similarly considered answer. Most people wrote and received no more than a handful of letters a month and seldom felt compelled to reply immediately. Today I receive dozens of emails each day, all from people who expect a prompt reply. We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.

Here and there a Luddite holdout refuses to open an email account, just as thousands of years ago some human bands refused to take up farming and so escaped the luxury trap. But the Agricultural Revolution didn’t need every band in a given region to join up. It only took one. Once one band settled down and started tilling, whether in the Middle East or Central America, agriculture was irresistible. Since farming created the conditions for swift demographic growth, farmers could usually overcome foragers by sheer weight of numbers. The foragers could either run away, abandoning their hunting grounds to field and pasture, or take up the ploughshare themselves. Either way, the old life was doomed.

The story of the luxury trap carries with it an important lesson. Humanity’s search for an easier life released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody envisioned or wanted. Nobody plotted the Agricultural Revolution or sought human dependence on cereal cultivation. A series of trivial decisions aimed mostly at filling a few stomachs and gaining a little security had the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun.

- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens

On Depression

The dominate biomedical narrative of depression is based on biased and selective use of research outcomes that cause more harm than good, undermine the right to health and must be abandoned. There is a growing evidence base that there are deeper causes of depression, so while there is some role for medications, we need to stop using them to address issues which are closely related to social problems. We need to move from focusing on chemical imbalances to focusing on power imbalances.

-United Nations, World Health Day, 2017

Loneliness

To end loneliness, you need other people plus something else. You also need to feel you are sharing something with the other person or the group that is meaningful to both of you. You have to be in it together and it can be anything that you both think has meaning and value . . . A one way relationship can’t cure loneliness. Only two way or more relationships can do that. Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people. It’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else.

- John Cacioppo, scientist of loneliness

Hayes on values

From achievement and adventure to wisdom and wonder, not to mention kindness, innovation and professionalism, values are those things you deem important in life. Expressions of what you care about, they profoundly inform what you pursue day to day, year to year. In so doing, they fundamentally shape the trajectory of your whole life. Values are an inexhaustible source of motivation - inexhaustible because they are qualities intrinsic to being and doing. They are visible only through their enactments. They’re adverbs, or adjectives, or verbs: “I did something lovingly.” Because they are chosen qualities of actions, they can never fully be achieved, only embraced and shown. Nevertheless, they give life direction, help us persist through difficulties. They nudge us, invite us, and draw us forward. They provide constant soft encouragement.

-Steven C. Hayes, PH.D

Carl Rogers on Experience

"Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person's ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets — neither Freud nor research — neither the revelations of God nor man — can take precedence over my own direct experience."

- Carl Rogers

The horse and the rider

"The first stream, or the "primary process mind," is the perceptual or experiencing mind. It consists of perceptions, drives, and goals and can be thought of as our "primate mind." It is the part that looks out and sees the world, has motives and urges (ranging from food to sex), and is energized by our emotions to respond to events. The primary process mind works by taking perceptions about the current state of the world and referencing them against drives for what we do or do not want, and our emotions are activated to respond accordingly. For example, when we are waiting for someone we have not seen for a long time, we longingly look out the window and feel a jolt of joy when we see that person's car pulling into the driveway. 

The second  stream of consciousness , the secondary, deliberate mind – the "person mind" - is the part of us that talks, deliberates reflects, and rationalizes to others about why we do what we do. It comments , reacts, or responds not just to what is, but also to what one thinks ought to be. Shaped by culture and experience, the person mind has ideas about what is justifiable and what is not. 

Sigmund Freud likened these two streams of consciousness to a horse and a rider. The secondary person mind, represented by the rider, is trying to guide the primate mind, represented by the horse, toward long-term goals. However, as suggested by this metaphor, the two minds are very different. The primate mind feels things based on what it perceives relative to its goals in the immediate situation. If it perceives the situation as being one in which the individual is isolated, it will feel lonely. If it perceives the situation as one in which its goals are being intruded upon by others, it will feel angry. If it sees that it has failed or is inferior to others, it will feel shame. In short, the primate mind is reactive to the situation in which it finds itself. 

The secondary person mind is more complicated, and it can project much longer into the future. It thinks not only about what is but also about what ought to be. Just as a rider can have opinions about the horse she is riding, the secondary person mind will also have opinions about the primary primate mind if it is or is not feeling what it should. If the person mind makes critical and controlling judgements, the stage is set for a vicious intrapsychic cycle of negative thoughts. "

 

-Gregg Henriques, PH.D. for Psychology Today

 

Shame and the illusion of free will

"Shame does serve a psychological function. I mean, you wouldn't want to be a primate without a capacity for shame. That doesn't work well. We call those people psychopaths. But, the question is how much shame is it useful and pragmatic to feel in your life. If shame is an issue for you, realizing that you didn't make yourself and that you're not deeply responsible, on some level, for who you were yesterday, all you can do is go forward into the mystery of who you may yet become. You can't see the limits of who you might yet become. You really don't know how much you can change in the future. That frees you from continually punishing yourself for who you were yesterday."

-Sam Harris