Merkwuerdige Liebe, Herr Doktor

by Yule Heibel on September 7, 2003

This via the ever-excellent Wood’s Lot, who got it from Harper’s Index:

Amount the Defense Department has lost track of, according to a 2000 report by its inspector general : $1,100,000,000,000
Ratio of this amount to the rest of the world’s military budgets combined : 2:1
Approximate number of accounting systems in use at the Defense Department : 2,300
Percentage change since 2001 in the median annual compensation of CEOs of major U.S. defense contractors : +79
Change since March 2001 in the number of working-age Americans who are neither working nor looking for work : +3,600,000
Average salary of a state legislator last year : $30,300
Average amount spent lobbying one : $130,000

There’re lots of other interesting facts on this site: take a look.
And an aside and PS: I love Wood’s Lot, but I wish the site would load more quickly and with fewer burbles. (Sorry, I’m re-watching Dr. Strangelove as I type, you know, Burbleson Air Force Base, etc. etc. George C. Scott, you chew gum like an open book!) A couple of times I have had to use an ueber-trick to kill the browser application after Mark’s Lot hung it up: go to “terminal,” find application # and type kill -9 [#of application]: poof!, and start over. Hungh. I guess he just has too many good links and thinks — poor Exploder overloads.
Something else I saw that friends in California will appreciate: Califoracle. Factoid or fiction-as-real?
A few days ago I pointed to a couple of articles that I expected to dissect more fully, but never did because I underestimated the drag of everyday tasks, and my own sloth (…which is considerable). One of them was this article in Adbuster, which really caught my attention because it’s about girls, a topic close to home: my daughter is 9, one of my UK nieces is a dissatisfied 30-something who was on Big Brother before going back to real life, the list goes on: over 50% of the people I care about are (or were) girls. This article is by Oliver James, a clinical psychologist and author of They F**k You Up (this points to a lukewarm review). He begins by citing “a really weird fact: affluent British 15-year-old girls are now twice as prone to anxiety and depression as their poorer neighbors.” It comes from comparing yourself endlessly to others, and “never being satisfied with yourself or what you’ve got.” As James notes,

Comparing to other people is a part of the human condition. If we want to be better at something, we naturally look toward people who have already achieved what we aspire to. Equally, if we want to cheer ourselves up, we gain succor from observing less accomplished performers than ourselves.

Key to this strategem of comparing is “discounting.” When you compare yourself to someone indisputably better, you avoid falling into despair by “discounting,” that is, putting the other person’s excellence into context. You say to yourself, “well, he’s better because….[fill in the blank].” When you compare yourself to someone worse off, you probably don’t “discount” and just enjoy being better off. The economic structures of our advanced media-saturated capitalism, however, exploit the comparison instinct to the point of no return:

As a result, affluent 15-year-old girls are liable to say in all seriousness that they hope to be as successful as Madonna or Posh Spice, directly comparing themselves and apparently oblivious to the extreme improbability of it ever happening. Feeling they almost know these women and encouraged by song lyrics and autobiographies that promise “you too can be anyone you want to be,” the girls make no discount for what has made the stars stand out.

In Madonna’s case, for instance, she is a Machiavellian workaholic who has used money and status to compensate for a terribly disturbed early childhood. As for Posh, she obsessively craves attention and was willing to do anything to be famous. Without these pathologies, a normal girl is unlikely to be prepared to go through the awful distortions necessary to achieve stardom.

Equally destructive is the fact that, when these increasingly perfectionist girls read their usually excellent exam results, or look at their pretty faces and nubile bodies in the mirror, they fail utterly to enjoy what they see. Instead, they look at others who are better than them in some minute regard (“better at math,” “bigger boobs,” “more friends”), and feel like failures. Worst of all, when they hear of others who have done worse or see girls less pretty, they shrug it off, discounting the evidence that all their work has not been in vain: their best is never good enough.

I have a daughter, so this kind of stuff makes me pay attention. James’s conclusion is very apropos, too:

Money can even be made from restoring the chemical imbalance in our brains that results from these overheated ambitions and false identities, selling pills and therapeutic services to the damaged and subordinated. Capitalism does very nicely at both ends. It creates misery, and it cures it. Our inner lives foot the bill.

There was a flurry of media attention paid to mental illness last week, which drove me crazy in a particular way — the Canadian press had several articles in the Toronto Star and the Globe & Mail, and CBC Radio had a couple of interviews with mental health experts. It seems we’re in the midst of an epidemic: 1 in 10 respondents show signs of depression or drug, alcohol dependence. (This article is about on par with something from the National Enquirer; just my opinion of course.) Ok, I visited the Mood Disorders Society of Canada to take their Self-Administered Screening Tool for Bipolar Disorder and learned that I’m probably afflicted with that mental illness. (I already knew from earlier tests, taken in Boston on the subway — the kind that recruit for the big teaching hospitals, Mass. General Hospital, etc., that I suffer from depression…. heh-heh.) The 15-minute assessment en passant will never be a replacement for the real talking cure. There’s a problem with the questions on the tests, and especially with the assumptions: viz., if you have a mental illness, you not only can take a pill, you should take one. On the other hand — oh, illuminated moment — the CBC Radio interviewee pointed out, passionately, that there is this thing she calls “environmental depression,” i.e., mental illness caused by the impossible conditions imposed upon the individual.
You know, the kind of thing lab researchers do to white mice to make them go ape-shit.
Now why in heck would we want to take our meds to adapt to a newer, flashier hamster wheel?


Joel September 8, 2003 at 6:00 am

This fact spooked me the most: Ratio of the estimated number of people killed worldwide by war last year to the number killed by traffic : 1:4

Joel September 8, 2003 at 6:07 am

My experience was that with years and years of talking cure, my depression not only didn’t go away, but it got worse. When I got on meds, I felt much better.

If meds are supposed to quell the rebellion in my bones, they have failed utterly.

I’ve never seen them as the cure. They balance the chemicals so that I can think without angst. (And you know what an asskicker I can be!)

Changing my lifestyle helped, too.

I think the hard part for most of us is that we live in a society where you are cast on the street if you fail or betray the Company. This drives many people to truly bizarre behaviors — e.g. the sniping that goes on in offices that my friend Raven described on her blog recently ( Overwhelming social change is needed: I don’t think I’ve seen a more uptight society than what has developed in the United States these past twenty years. I’m glad for the advances in meds but I still worry for the folks stuck in situations that they cannot escape. Prozac won’t cure that kind of depression. The doses will work for a time, but get larger and larger. What will happen when everyone gets to the end of their drug tolerance?

Joel September 8, 2003 at 6:09 am

Oh and you got a mention at Acts of Conscience,

Yule Heibel September 8, 2003 at 6:06 pm

I think we agree that medicines can work wonders, and that it’s not desirable if they’re misused to shut people up, make them adapt to bad stuff.

This blogging thing is very odd, that and parenting. Stuff gets coughed up, like ancient furballs. When I was still very little — I don’t think I was in school yet, or else I was at most in first grade — I needed to think hard about fear: what’s scary, what’s the scariest thing that could happen? And for some reason, at age 6 or 7, I thought that losing one’s mind would be the scariest thing that could happen to a person. When I was growing up, I remembered having this “insight” even though I mightily repressed what triggered it in the first place. I think I arranged my life to feel reasonably comfortable at the margins, but to map out my space in whatever way I needed to negotiate the terrain without falling over the edge myself. It’s funny what having children will do to you, though. Since I’ve had kids, there are things that I remember simply because I can access them from an added perspective. I’m quite sure now that the reason I thought seriously as a kid about something as awful as psychosis is because I was seeing it happening at close range. Never mind the details, but I guess what it boils down to is that it’s really important to me to understand something about the geography, about where the lines are and how and why they’re crossed, and how you can live with a kind of eccentricity without falling over some edge and going berserk — especially going berserk and deeply hurting innocent people. It’s terrible to lose your bearings, because, as you put it, Joel, you then can’t think without Angst, and if medication helps you negotiate the terrain, it’s doing its job well. What you said about living in a society where you’re cast out if you “fail or betray the Company” is also right on, and that might be why more people “need” to be medicated. Maybe it’s less “shameful” to say you’re psychotic now, but a frightened society and family can be more intolerant of any kind of “weirdos,” and it’s easier to give depressed people pills so they can tolerate fucked-up lifestyles. And knowing first-hand the experience of rabid intolerance (hatred), there’s nothing like it for making what starts as a little crack into a giant crack-up. Love makes the world go round — isn’t that what the poets and saints have been saying all along?

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