Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dysregulation Nation

Judith Warner does an nice piece in the NYTimes Magazine, in which she notes that problems of self-regulation — of appetite, emotion, impulse and cupidity — may well be the defining social pathology of our time. The ideas of Peter C. Whybrow at UCLA are referenced:
...Under normal circumstances, the emotional, reward-seeking, selfish, “myopic” part of our brain is checked and balanced in its desirous cravings by our powers of cognition — our awareness of the consequences, say, of eating too much or spending too much. But after decades of never-before-seen levels of affluence and endless messages promoting instant gratification...this self-regulatory system has been knocked out of whack. The “orgy of self-indulgence” that spread in our land of no-money-down mortgages, Whybrow wrote in his 2005 book, “American Mania: When More Is Not Enough, ”has disturbed the “ancient mechanisms that sustain our physical and mental balance.”...If you put a person in an environment that worships wealth and favors conspicuous consumption, add gross income inequalities that breed envy and competition, mix in stagnant wages, a high cost of living and too-easy credit, you get overspending, high personal debt and a “treadmill-like existence,” as Whybrow calls it: compulsive getting and spending.

The “yawning void, an insatiable hunger, an emptiness waiting to be filled,” that Lasch identified as animating the typical narcissist of the 1970s has grown only deeper with the passage of time. The Great Recession was supposed to portend a scaling back, a recalibration of our lifestyle, and usher in a new era of making more of less. But the pressures that drive the dysregulated American haven’t abated any since the fall of 2008. Wall Street is resurgent, and unemployment is still high. For too many people, the cycle of craving and debt that drives our treadmill existence simply can’t be broken.

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