We Used To Get Together And Really Let Our Hair Down...
April 3, 2007 1:43 AM   Subscribe

Remember When We Used To Have Fun? A look into the causes of modern unhappiness by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Nickel and Dimed."
posted by amyms (73 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
forgive me. i don't usually do this. i won't do it again. but...

I liked the original version better.

On a different note entirely, I wasn't aware that Ehrenreich was into this dense prose/analysis style, it's really fun and chewy. Looking forward to the book.
posted by Firas at 1:53 AM on April 3, 2007


Ugh, that article read to me as flimsy hypotheses grounded on flimsy hypotheses. I haven’t read Nickel and Dimed, and if that Guardian piece is reflective of her work, I intend not to.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 1:58 AM on April 3, 2007


Aidan Kehoe: it's the nature of works in this genre. I'm not saying you shouldn't hold them to falsifiable standards but just that cultural theory is rarely presented in first-order logic.
posted by Firas at 2:01 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ugh, that article read to me as flimsy hypotheses grounded on flimsy hypotheses.

Well, I'm not sure I agree with her idea that it began in the 17th century... But "modern" unhappiness as it relates to poverty-level wages is definitely a reality I can identify with... My husband is a police officer (which is considered a "skilled" job) but we live in a small town where the city government can barely afford to pay a liveable wage, and chooses not to... We could move to a larger town, maybe, but at what expense and what emotional consequence to my children?... I've worked part-time in the past, and all it accomplished was to move us into a higher tax bracket... We have more discretionary income (even though we are at the poverty level, with no government "aid") with me not working than we did with me working...

People say "money can't buy happiness," but money can definitely buy security... And I'd rather be miserable-and-secure than miserable-and-poor any day.
posted by amyms at 2:13 AM on April 3, 2007


"money can definitely buy security"

No, it can't. It can buy the fleeting illusion of security, but that illusion can be ruined by heartbreak, illness, madness, or war. Really, one of the worst things about the pursuit of money is that past a certain, fairly low point, it gets you nowhere.

The first thing I thought of when I read that article is my practise of music and of capoeira. Group rituals of music and movement and, damnit, fun, are invaluable in warding off blackness.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:54 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


It can buy the fleeting illusion of security, but that illusion can be ruined by heartbreak, illness, madness, or war.

I've experienced heartbreak, illness and madness (thankfully not war, yet) all while poverty-stricken... I'd much prefer to have experienced them with a little wealth to cushion the blow.
posted by amyms at 3:00 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


I thought it was widely accepted that the breakdown of certainties that accompanied the incipient modern added to subjective mental stress for many, (with alienation, as Firas reminds us, one of several formulations).
Enjoyed the mention of Cromwell as a possible early recorded manic depressive. I've seen the episode after Dunbar where he appeared "he did laugh so excessively as if he had been drunk; his eyes sparkled with spirits." is offered as evidence of this. From one angle, Bunyan's Grace Abounding is one of the earliest psychological autobiographies in English.
posted by Abiezer at 3:44 AM on April 3, 2007


If you think money cannot buy happiness or security for anyone, under any circumstances, than I think you haven't encountered truly crushing poverty.
posted by The Straightener at 4:05 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Whether this work is right or wrong (it certainly seems to lack evidence to me) I call for its immediate suppression before we're all forced to engage in communal festivities, a truly dark and terrifying prospect.
posted by Phanx at 4:10 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I guess Phanx doesn't like capoeira.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:24 AM on April 3, 2007


I prefer caipirinha...
posted by Phanx at 4:43 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Best line: Instead of offering relief, Calvinism provided a metaphysical framework for depression: if you felt isolated, persecuted and possibly damned, this was because you actually were.
posted by localroger at 5:24 AM on April 3, 2007


The suicide statistics seemed kind of shoddy to me, but otherwise I thought it was a lucid analysis of the psychological weirdness of Western modernity.

I'm a drama teacher and I was most interested in what Ehrenreich noted about how notions of a hidden self in the Renaissance are evinced through the theater of the day. She recites a list of self-disguising Shakespearean heroines (Portia, Juliet, etc.) to prove her point.

Is this really true, that this notion of the self-presented-theatrically only originates (in the West) in Renaissance theater? Certainly Medieval theater doesn't have the same sense of personhood, but what about the Greeks? Oedipus certainly has a core self that ends up being very different from what he thinks it is. The difference here, I guess, is that Oedipus isn't self-consciously presenting a false persona -- he fools even himself?
posted by HeroZero at 5:25 AM on April 3, 2007


Ugh, that article read to me as flimsy hypotheses grounded on flimsy hypotheses.

Dude, it's not an "article," it's "an edited extract from Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich, published by Granta." Did you not bother to read to the end? It's like complaining that a trailer for a movie was a fleeting succession of images with no coherent story or background. But apparently you enjoyed rejecting Ehrenreich, for however flimsy a reason, and whatever gives you enjoyment keeps you from melancholy, so it's all good.

Me, I enjoyed the read, but I'm always suspicious of these grand historico-cultural narratives. I'll bet if you wanted to "prove" that modern melancholy and depression began in, say, the 12th century, you could find enough evidence to make a convincing case for that too. People, even scholars, tend to find what they're looking for.
posted by languagehat at 5:25 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm poor and trust me I have had forays into money and it does help in terms of security. It didn't make me happy but it offered me a cushion in which despair wasn't soul crushing.

I just don't buy into notions that this is something new. Two things are new:

1. Capitalism (positive)
2. Specialized labor. There was a time when everyone in the tribe was just as wealthy as everyone else. This is of course not natural in the course of development; once people are given a somewhat equal starting point, humans will end up in different places and so will their children. Many people out of envy or sheer wish-fulfillment lament this. Just look at our culture's (America) obsession with Hollywood and youth. It's all longing for something most people can't have or will never have again, but others have it and live it. It sure doesn't help that the notion of an "American Dream" is still prevalent. Kids really need to learn that it is B.S. and you better learn a trade and humbleness, unless you want to end up bitter by the time you hit 40.

Once these things are taken away you have what I call "Communist" unhappiness in which, by dint of circumstance, everyone is as unhappy as we are (ex: see the suicide rates of black men post-segregation and the rates of Holocaust survivors vs. Holocaust prisoners.)
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 5:26 AM on April 3, 2007


It's really an interesting issue. I default to being all for individualism/liberalism but that's mostly just an accident of my intellectual upbringing. I guess it depends on what the object of being human is. Is it to be a tribal beast, shallowly content, or is the tortured mind worth the benefits that come with the 'rights of the individual' paradigm?

Is 'mental health' really worth the conformity imposed by more communal structures? Is eradicating depression by denying the basic unit of 'the individual' really an honest way to deal with the problem?

For example, the notion of a huge joint family in a house together so that each kid has a dozen caretakers is appealing, but one only need watch an Indian soap to see how ferociously messy the politics of joint patriarchal families can be, hardly conducive to anyone's mental health. Put my vote on the nuclear family line anytime.
posted by Firas at 5:34 AM on April 3, 2007


There was a time when everyone in the tribe was just as wealthy as everyone else.

I'd eat my hat if that were ever true for any tribe. Well, I guess 'wealth', if you're a hunter gatherer.. but the power differentials still existed.

/Hobbesian
posted by Firas at 5:36 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I imagine our perspectives on the debate are inevitably bound up with our particular cultural heritage. I've been translating a book that attempts to marry Western human rights discourse with traditional (largely Confucian) Chinese values concerning the relationship between the individual and the collective, and it throws an interesting light on some of the assumptions of both traditions.
posted by Abiezer at 5:45 AM on April 3, 2007


I'd eat my hat if that were ever true for any tribe. Well, I guess 'wealth', if you're a hunter gatherer.. but the power differentials still existed.

I was referring to the pre-agricultural cultures. You are right. Since those times, life has been a tortuous path in which the haves and have-nots go at it, and morality, or morality clocked in politics, is formed.

As always, I will apply Nietzsche's wisdom to the topic.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 5:46 AM on April 3, 2007


Sounds like modern man just needs a good rogering.
posted by ND¢ at 5:54 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Left agape at the decline of the love-feast.
posted by Abiezer at 6:07 AM on April 3, 2007


Pretty anglo-centric in reference, for an indictment of "we" and "the west". Here's hoping she goes a bit further into bloody abroad in the book. (Yes, I did catch the Rembrandt, Galileo, Durkheim references. Overall, however....)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:12 AM on April 3, 2007


i_am_joe's_spleen writes "No, it can't. It can buy the fleeting illusion of security"

It can't buy absolute security, but it can buy relative security. Health insurance, for example. A person with money and a person with no money can both be decimated by war, ebola, spontaneous combustion, and hit men. So neither are fully secure. However, the person without money can also be decimated by diseases or injuries which could be healed if they had enough to pay the medical bills, which the person with money has. So the person with money is more secure than the person without money.
posted by Bugbread at 6:18 AM on April 3, 2007


Fascinating find, amyms.
I like much of Ehrenrich's essay, and note that she seems to be building off of some of Jaynes' seminal (but controversial) "Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind", a work of exceptional majesty despite being saddled with history's driest title.
posted by Dizzy at 6:22 AM on April 3, 2007


Looks like someone hasn't read Huizinga's The Autumn of the Middle Ages.

ps: x fans are having much more fun
posted by nasreddin at 6:27 AM on April 3, 2007


she seems to be building off of some of Jaynes' seminal (but controversial) "Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind"

Huh? Where do you get that? Leaving aside the fact that Jaynes is a complete crackpot, he was talking about the sixth century BC and Ehrenreich is talking about the Renaissance.
posted by languagehat at 6:30 AM on April 3, 2007


Money itself has never made me happy, but it has removed a lot of the issues that were making me unhappy, and allowed me to experience (with less stress) the things which do make me happy. When I am not laying awake every night terrified about how the bills are going to get paid, I happen to have a better sex life, for example.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:50 AM on April 3, 2007


Yikes.

Dennett and Stephenson certainly don't dismiss Jaynes as a "crackpot"; thought I'd alluded to the dust-up by using "controversial" in my comment above.

Jaynes focussed on eighth, not sixth century modes of thought(Martin West be damned, I say!) and my assertion is that, like the great shift outlined in "Bicameral" wherein self-awareness suddenly exploded and changed the culture forever, so too does Ehrenrich explore the "deeper, underlying psychological change" of how an entire society can just as suddenly grapple with the effects of melancholy.

In both cases there is a shattering psychological event that seems to knock all strata silly; there is fallout from both events; both are explored by authors I cherish; thus my comment.

I'm honored you called me on this and that's no lie-- been a fan of yours for years!
posted by Dizzy at 7:02 AM on April 3, 2007


Dude, it's not an "article," it's "an edited extract from Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich, published by Granta."
Okay, so then I should blame the Guardian editor? Because it’s certainly bad editing, and something avoidable, to rework something to give an impression of unfoundedness, if that wasn’t there in the first place. Cut the end notes, fine, but at least mention the Little Ice Age and SAD as an alternative explanation for this outbreak of melancholy, even if her we-don’t-dance-enough theory wouldn’t be supported by that.

If you’ve read Ehrenreich at more length, is this representative of her?
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 7:05 AM on April 3, 2007


as Oscar Wilde said, one can only blame Hamlet -- "The world has become sad because a puppet was once melancholy".

I like Ehrenreich, but she should stick to pretending she's poor in order to get a boom contract. this stuff kind of flies over her head.
posted by matteo at 7:06 AM on April 3, 2007


a book contract, even.
posted by matteo at 7:07 AM on April 3, 2007


thought I'd alluded to the dust-up by using "controversial" in my comment above.

You did, and I'm not faulting you, but the controversy involves lots of people thinking he's a crackpot, and I happen to be one of them. Because I think he's a crackpot, I don't own a copy of the book, so I got the century wrong—my apologies—but my point was that he's talking about an alleged event that occurred at least two millennia earlier than the completely different phenomenon Ehrenreich's talking about. And although you now seem to be presenting it as a mere analogy, that's not what you originally said, which was that she was "building off" Jaynes, which is simply not true. I totally understand the urge to shoehorn a favorite author into a vaguely relevant discussion, though!

Okay, so then I should blame the Guardian editor?

That's who I'd blame if I felt the need to blame someone for a short excerpt not presenting the full panoply of argument contained in the original book. As to the merits of the argument, I basically agree with you, but for me arguments can be interesting even if they don't convince me: it's fun to think about this stuff.

matteo: I know you're set permanently on snark, but have you actually read the book? Or do you just know that she can't possibly know what she's talking about because she didn't study with your favorite professor?
posted by languagehat at 7:44 AM on April 3, 2007


Three things that emmerged in the past 10,000 years that have been deleterious to the experience of human happiness.

1. Knowing more than 100 people makes it near impossible for an individual to experience any specific supremacy. While my wit may compare very favorably to a 100 people it does not compare well with a million people.

2. Advertisements often work seeking to create contigencies between products and positive experiences that are ultimately grounded in fiction. This must create feelings of inadequacy.

3. A lack of outlets for the effective expression of violence. Utilizing violence towards acomplishing a goal is so satisfying because it was so necessary for so long. It is not a coincidence that virtually all videogames are far more violent than our lives.
posted by I Foody at 7:51 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's hard to come to firm conclusions without reading the whole book, but it's an interesting take on the historical and social influences on affect. There certainly is plenty of empirical evidence that how people feel and how they interpret the world is in part learned. That basic hypothesis, on which she builds her argument, has been developed cross-culturally in anthropology and clinically in psychology. Quite frankly, anyone who knows a parent can observe it.

I don't think that SAD is particularly important to what her argument might bring to the table. She is not arguing that the lack of festivals caused all depression. She clearly states that depression has existed, in some form, in the past and around the world. Her argument elaborates two conditions of possibility that allowed depression to become widespread (if we agree that it did): first, a particular view of the self that made social anxiety and feelings of isolation more likely; and second the elimination of certain forms of social bonding, particularly festivals. As such, SAD does not counter her hypothesis, it simply adds another contributing factor.
posted by carmen at 7:54 AM on April 3, 2007


Seems like the prefect companion to this post.

Western depression = too much emphasis on the individual
Eastern depression = too much emphasis on the group
posted by Afroblanco at 8:03 AM on April 3, 2007


Her thesis is actually standard and well established, that is, the emergence of the "created self" (starting with Petrarch), the idea that the public self is of our own creation, and not the medieval model of predestination to live out a subservient role on earth to gain access to heaven.

It is from this that arose Humanism. This idea of self-created public persona, reached norther Europe across society as a whole by the end of the 16th century. It was also a common element of the Ancient world, and it is no coincidence that Petrarch revived the ideas and values of the Ancient world.

Her thesis is unique in regards to the role of Festivals, but since that is what the book is about, and I have not read it, I can't say how strong that is, but it is an interesting idea.
posted by stbalbach at 8:10 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Looks like someone hasn't read Huizinga's The Autumn of the Middle Ages.

Awful book IMO. (did you know it was a pot-boiler). Much has since been refuted. It still sells well and has lots of fans but what it really did was show historians that they can write medieval history based on flimsy evidence and massive generalizations and get away with it because popular audiences like it.
posted by stbalbach at 8:16 AM on April 3, 2007


I like the article, but what about the massively proven fact that depression has a strong genetic component? I'm not a scientist or geneticist by any means, but couldn't a certain mass of people carrying the depressive gene and passing it on eventually hit a sort of tipping point in terms of population density which would lead to a more depressed culture? There was something I heard on NPR years ago that's always stuck with me, about how the depression gene is linked to a kind of novelty seeking gene, adventure seeking behavior that in turn leads to exploration and also, a higher sex drive and more kids. Perhaps the depression itself, getting prevalent in the populace, led to the rise of the individual, false self, public/private persona shift she's talking about and not vice versa.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:34 AM on April 3, 2007


1. Knowing more than 100 people makes it near impossible for an individual to experience any specific supremacy. While my wit may compare very favorably to a 100 people it does not compare well with a million people.

Doesn't this work both ways though? If you are at the bottom of 100 then you are depressed due to low ranking. That can be remedied by looking at a group beyond 100. There often seems to be a consensus in America that "most people are stupid" and such so I would think that we should be some of the least depressed people in the world.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 8:57 AM on April 3, 2007


As a Reed College alumnus, I bask in Barbara Ehrenreich's reflected glory.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:17 AM on April 3, 2007


We could move to a larger town, maybe, but at what expense and what emotional consequence to my children?

That's a copout. If you have an option that will give you a higher paycheck ands you choose not to accept it (for whatever reason), then your "poorness" is on your shoulders. Why should the rest of your town pay higher taxes to increase your husbands salary? It's apparently enough for the rest of the cops there. If it weren't they'd all be leaving and then the town would increase the wages out of necessity.

Supply and demand. It's a beautiful thing.
posted by tadellin at 9:42 AM on April 3, 2007


Guilty as charged of shoe-horning, sir.
But give me points for not inserting any references to cake into the discussion, as is my bent.
posted by Dizzy at 9:48 AM on April 3, 2007


There are so many things wrong with that article I don't even know where to start. Argh.
posted by jokeefe at 9:54 AM on April 3, 2007


Hm....I grew up in south Louisiana, in Cajun culture, and there were festivals all the time, once spring hit--parties with dancing and drinking and carousing, all on public property. Maybe that's why I find Cajuns among the most content people I've ever encountered--they know how to have a good time together, and do so on a regular basis.

I'm not sure about her full thesis (I'd have to read her book to really have an opinion), but the importance of communal activities and experiences to human beings is--to me--self-evident upon observation.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:04 AM on April 3, 2007


but the importance of communal activities and experiences to human beings is--to me--self-evident upon observation.

Not really. Loners/Introverts are always left out of these equations, it is almost like cherry picking. Communal activity is hellish for a lot of people and these people are not really an insignificant number, although they are a minority.

There are some people who hate movie theaters, concerts, church services, stadiums, anything where there is a crowd.

My above statements are applicable to communal activity and not reductive interpersonal relations (such as seeking out a bf/gf or going fishing with a friend)
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 10:11 AM on April 3, 2007


There often seems to be a consensus in America that "most people are stupid" and such so I would think that we should be some of the least depressed people in the world.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 10:57 AM on April 3


This fact is the SOURCE of much of my depression, not a remedy for it.

These phalanxes of stupid people vote, run many organizations, and dominate public opinion and civic statutes. They set laws, either directly or indirectly through their voting blocs.

Your "average American" is an ignorant bigot. And that really depresses me to no end.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:19 AM on April 3, 2007


Here we go....
posted by Dizzy at 10:36 AM on April 3, 2007


These phalanxes of stupid people vote, run many organizations, and dominate public opinion and civic statutes. They set laws, either directly or indirectly through their voting blocs.

Your "average American" is an ignorant bigot. And that really depresses me to no end.


I think we should separate the idiots into two piles, those objectively stupid and those who we feel are stupid. I think many people who are socially/politically conscious are more prone to depression because we feel we see the problems, offer solutions, yet the majority are indifferent. It doesn't matter if one is a Classical Conservative in Goldwater Conservative clothing (moi), Libertarian, Socialist, Communist, Fascist, Theocrat, Neo-Postmodern (I just made this one up, but it wouldn't surprise me if it exists).

I point that out because sometimes people see us as idiots for similar reasons that cause us to see others as idiots.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 10:49 AM on April 3, 2007


Out of curiosity, what's a "classical conservative"?!
posted by Firas at 11:02 AM on April 3, 2007


Oh. Burke. Got it.
posted by Firas at 11:03 AM on April 3, 2007


Oh. Burke. Got it.

Perfect :)
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 11:08 AM on April 3, 2007


"Introverted" does not equal "hates people and anything resembling social activity." And everyone experiences degrees of introversion and extroversion at different times of their lives, years, weeks, days, what have you. What you're talking about sounds less like introversion (in which you do need time for yourself) and more like social anxiety or misanthropy.
posted by raysmj at 11:13 AM on April 3, 2007


That's a copout... (etc.)

You have a valid point, tadellin, inasmuch as your assertion that there are usually other options to explore when one is dissatisfied with one's spot on the socio-economic ladder... It would be nice if the options were all wrapped up in nice little packages where one could pick and choose a "better life"... But, for most people, myself included, there are other factors/circumstances/complications that enter into the equation... Yes, we've made our choices, and we live with them, but that doesn't make things any less frustrating... I was mostly venting when I typed my earlier paragraph, relating my own circumstances to one aspect of Ehrenreich's premise... I don't want to derail into my own personal life any further (and I shouldn't have given my previous paragraph such a "woe is me" tone, because I'm usually not of that mindset), but I wanted to respond to your reply.
posted by amyms at 11:16 AM on April 3, 2007


Your average American is, in fact, average. If you're an American, even one posting on MeFi, you're probably quite a bit like the average, although you fancy yourself more literate, intellectual, and more culturally/politically aware. I think that some of these values, which are fairly subjective, are more important than the things that we share in common. That is why I am just as much of an ignorant bigot as anyone else.

I still have fun, though.
posted by mikeh at 11:20 AM on April 3, 2007


"Introverted" does not equal "hates people and anything resembling social activity." ... social anxiety or misanthropy.

I'm not sure which part seems like that (this is why I mentioned loners too), I didn't even touch on misanthropy. You are right about different levels of introversion. However, this notion of "we all want community, we all need to belong." Is often taken to extremes. One can be an arch-individualist and like the idea of communal celebration, but not just because of "community," but because of people who remind us of ourselves. For example, subcultures. We can't overlook the fact that introverts will shine best in communities they select (you can't put a authentic, atheistic goth in a room with radical evangelicals and expect them to fit in). How many people want to be around people that they dislike or disagree with? Hence the whole idea is really muddled.

All in all, "community" often involves rejection of the/a larger community.

Loners, of course, don't want to be around crowds.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 11:20 AM on April 3, 2007


Well the Greeks had it. Socrates was put to death for inflicting it on others. As soon as you start asking people to think for themselves and justify their beliefs rather than accept established dogma you've inflicted a terrible burden on them that does tend to lead to paranoia, anxiety, and depression. And yes, this probably does lead to a break down of communal structures and rituals. But that's the point. When people self-identify into groups they cannot be controlled. They become unpredictable, inflexible and downright dangerous.

Individualism is the only way to control a mass of people. Ask any missionary, you can't control something as large and solid as a tribe. Such groups are impermeable and totally self-contained. You have to break it down into individuals whose personal fears and circumstances can be more easily manipulated. Advertising (and the whole modern project) just wouldn't work if this didn't happen. How do you sell stuff to people who want only what the group says they need? And then delivers? It's either anarchy or Big Macs. Choose!
posted by nixerman at 11:25 AM on April 3, 2007


I like, by the way, that someone comes onto a communal website to talk about how some people hate communal activities. I'm all for promoting the idea that loners can be good citizens and all (No one ever says of Ted Bundy, "Well, I could see it coming. He was so gregarious and charismatic.") and perfectly normal, but some of this talk appears more a case of looking at yourself in that mirror too much again and separating yourself from the rest of the world.
posted by raysmj at 11:28 AM on April 3, 2007


nixerman, are you off your meds again?
posted by Firas at 11:37 AM on April 3, 2007


I like, by the way, that someone comes onto a communal website to talk about how some people hate communal activities.

I wouldn't consider an internet community in the same vein as a physical one. It's like comparing cybersex to physical sex. I like hanging out with my soon to be wife and her friends, but there is an extreme difference between going to a movie and posting on the internet. Metafilter is discussion and nothing else, at no other point in history, outside of the last 20 years, could one simply roll out of bed and choose what they wanted to talk about and who they wanted to talk to.



(No one ever says of Ted Bundy, "Well, I could see it coming. He was so gregarious and charismatic.")

I'm not sure what this means. Ted Bundy was one of the most social serial killers in history.

but some of this talk appears more a case of looking at yourself in that mirror too much again and separating yourself from the rest of the world.

What is the world? When was the last time you discussed something with people from every country in the world? The world is naturally separated: morally, physically, spiritually, economically, psychologically, sexually, etc
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 11:37 AM on April 3, 2007


Loners are often in crowds--they're just not interacting as much as others. Maybe they're observing. Are you a loner? If you don't like being in any sense near people who don't share your opinions, then why hang out on metafilter? Why not just get a blog? And a community can mean a number of different things--in an urban area, it can mean being around people who share your views, a smaller community. It doesn't have to equal "stifling small town." Still, in such cases you'd still be connected to the larger urban area, whether you like it or not, and if you're concerned with your environment (broadly defined--I'm not talking about the earth/air/sky area of public policy here alone), you have to interact with or be concerned with that larger system, in however small or large a way as one can. The same is true of loners in small towns, come to think of it. We're all connected, dude. No one's that special.

For various reasons, by the way, this discussion is bringing to mind Hannah Arendt's distinction between aloneness (which is healthy to a certain degree) and loneliness or isolation, the latter of which she thought marked the modern world.
posted by raysmj at 11:43 AM on April 3, 2007


Differing morals are a matter of being separated "naturally" and a not a product of human thought? Whatever. Otherwise, you're nitpicking over semantics, and two can play at that game.
posted by raysmj at 11:45 AM on April 3, 2007


The Ted Bundy line was a joke! God.
posted by raysmj at 11:46 AM on April 3, 2007


Noble Savage Bullshit.
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 11:49 AM on April 3, 2007


Loners are often in crowds--they're just not interacting as much as others. Maybe they're observing. Are you a loner?

1. If they are in a crowd then they aren't a loner.

2. I wouldn't call myself a loner. I have a degree in Philosophy, so I like to spend a lot of time by myself whilst doing nothing but thinking. Otherwise, I am addicted to partying and getting high to the point that I am beyond recognition of the world. I like to get high alone on occasion, but nothing, and I mean nothing, beats tripping with close friends while camping (with music also). Fuck! It is amazing.


ou don't like being in any sense near people who don't share your opinions, then why hang out on metafilter? Why not just get a blog? And a community can mean a number of different things--in an urban area, it can mean being around people who share your views, a smaller community. It doesn't have to equal "stifling small town."

This is like saying, "If you are a loner why are you on the internet?" The internet is not real life. In many cases, it just mimics it. No one says, "If you don't like people, then why are you reading books written by, and about, people?"




The same is true of loners in small towns, come to think of it. We're all connected, dude. No one's that special.

Of course we are all connected, save for a few examples. It does not follow that policy or humanity should be defined from that. For example, none of us had a choice in our birth, it does not follow that this means slavery is just, because we are dependent upon others to bring us into the world.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2007


How in the world did this thread manage to incorporate both Jaynes and Huizinga? I love these sorts of renegade, overarching books that are well-informed but verge on being pieces of glazed crackpottery. Maybe I'll like Ehrenreich's new book too.

I once found Nickel and Dimed lying around a coffee shop I was procrastinating at and I read most of it in an afternoon. I was sort of torn by it. On one hand, it felt like the worst kind of upper-middle class book possible -- the pandering kind of book that would cause Carmilla Soprano and other members of her suburban book club to "think" a lot about class and flutter their hands against their chests before getting into their SUVs to pick up some tenderloin for dinner. (It turns out, according to Ehlenreich's undercover research, that the poor can be funny and human! They're worth our pity!) On the other hand, I did learn some things about a segment of society that I don't know very much about, and some of it was kind of moving. I had to flutter my hand against my chest and get another cappuccino.
posted by painquale at 11:55 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Gnostic Novelist writes "I'm not sure what this means. Ted Bundy was one of the most social serial killers in history. "

I think it means that serial killers come in both social and loner forms, yet when a serial killer is a loner, people say "I could see it coming. He was so withdrawn and distant", but when a serial killer is social, people don't say "I could see it coming. He was so gregarious and social."
posted by Bugbread at 12:44 PM on April 3, 2007


Gnostic Novelist, you're using a much broader range of social activity than Ehrenreich is. What she's talking about is nothing like going to a movie; more like going to a wedding. Also, she doesn't claim that festivals make people happy or relaxed. From this excerpt, it seems that she claims that festivals prevented excesses of depressive feelings by creating a sense of belonging. It is possible (given the title of the book) that she is making some claims about "joy" or that she is slipping between ritually scripted emotional expressions (you weep for "joy" at a wedding, not from sadness or fear, or shear freakin' exhaustion tinged with stage fright--no matter whether those elements are present or not) and what we would recognize as everyday sorts of joy. But I think that the issue of introverts is a little tangential to what she's talking about.
posted by carmen at 12:53 PM on April 3, 2007


Why Having More No Longer Makes Us Happy by Bill McKibben.

I'm not a huge fan of that piece, but I think the part about the marginal utility of higher income is an interesting concept.

Up to $X, where shelter, food, and basic human needs are met, income is very important. After that, each dollar becomes less and less valuable.

Once you take "class" out of the mix (which has been gradually happening for the past 300-400 years) and open the competition of wealth to everyone (kinda), those people who spend X extra hours working every week to make X extra dollars that only bumps them up X spots on the imaginary Global 10,000 list or whatever, will find that they are completely undervaluing those extra X hours. That's depressing.

Plus, as I Foody succinctly notes, modern advertising makes us think we should either look like a model or be fucking one. If your sexual self-worth is constantly denigrated (in order to sell cheeseburgers, nonetheless), how does that feel?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:09 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hey, nice find. While I like Ehrenreich and think that she's both smart and funny, I'm not sure that I like this Big Theory That Explains Everything style of writing; it always feels to me like someone is blowing carefully crafted smoke rings up my ass (and in the worst case -- e.g. Julian Jaynes -- it can degenerate into outright lunacy).

As far as her specific argument goes, I'm not convinced that depression really underwent this dramatic increase when she said it did. Isn't it possible that pre-modern Europeans experienced the symptoms of depression, but conceptualized or labeled it differently? I remember reading about how Pacific Islanders (Samoans?), who are much more interdependent and less individualistic than we are, view the symptoms of depression as the result of spiritual essences being out of balance, which stem from social/"magical" problems more than from a defect in the individual's mental or emotional functioning (I wish I had a cite for this, but it's been awhile).

She may address this criticism, though...I'll reserve judgment till I read the book.
posted by myeviltwin at 1:23 PM on April 3, 2007


I read the other day that the happiest people live in Bangladesh.
(One of those polls, y'know.) I think that says something.
posted by kozad at 1:56 PM on April 3, 2007


Wealth is better than poverty. This idea that money doesn't buy happiness? Well a bunch of STUFF won't buy happiness. BUT wealth translates directly into personal power and that power gains you control over the only REAL commodity that matters: TIME.

How you achieve wealth in this system? you cannot do it easily by "conventional" means nor by falling into the idea that wealth is stuff. That will fuck you up.

You will never be wealthy selling your time. NEVER. You will also never be happy selling your time. These too things are closely related.

This sham known as American Capitalism is essentially you end up selling your time to other people in exchange for what? Paper.

Let tell you something there is not enough paper in the world worth your few precious seconds and minutes on this planet. But if you are only slightly clever you can use this paper to leverage real assets. And you should do it without shame or regret.

Wealth can also be about less not more. IOW: When you say more—more of what? What wealth SHOULD be is gaining control over your own time.

My wife and I had the bourgeois luxury of "downsizing" recently. After years of busting our asses working 14 hour days we had enough. We sold our house for a tidy profit. We sold our business for a tidy profit. We liquidated of 50% of our crap (for a loss mostly) and we moved back downtown to a small condo. We carefully engineered our lives to be able to d EXPERIENCE more with less. We walk where we need to go. We work when we want to work. We place value on our time and we sell it at a rate WE determine. And, to generate more wealth we do occasionally exploit other peoples time to our advantage. Though we are forthright about this and we try and compensate people above market rates where possible.

We are now relatively wealthy. As in we take in significantly more than we spend and we have savings and real assets that are not merely paper. Our chief asset is owning our own time.

We are happy.
posted by tkchrist at 5:18 PM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


I've never seen a longer ruminating peregrination to get to "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

But I grok fully the part: "they had completed the demonisation of Dionysus begun by Christians centuries ago" ... which I translate as: You Have To Fight For The Right To Party.

The cure recommended by Colin Wilson in "The Mind Parasites" (much underrated) is to get into a little spaceship and keep climbing away from Earth until you can't hear those maddening little voices any more.

As we used to say (and paint on the walls): if you're not a head, you're behind.
posted by Twang at 8:28 AM on April 4, 2007


I always liked this little bit from James Stephens' The Crock of Gold, because it's kind of a constructive approach to melancholy:

"I like eating," said Seumas.

"So do I," said Pan. "All good people like eating.
Every person who is hungry is a good person, and every
person who is not hungry is a bad person. It is better
to be hungry than rich."

Caitilin having supplied the children with food, seated
herself in front of them. "I don't think that is right,"
said she. "I have always been hungry, and it was never
good."

"If you had always been full you would like it even
less," he replied, "because when you are hungry you are
alive, and when you are not hungry you are only half
alive."

"One has to be poor to be hungry," replied Caitilin.
"My father is poor and gets no good of it but to work
from morning to night and never to stop doing that."

"It is bad for a wise person to be poor," said Pan,
"and it is bad for a fool to be rich. A rich fool will think
of nothing else at first but to find a dark house wherein
to hide away, and there he will satisfy his hunger, and he
will continue to do that until his hunger is dead and he is
no better than dead but a wise person who is rich will
carefully preserve his appetite. All people who have
been rich for a long time, or who are rich from birth,
live a great deal outside of their houses, and so they are
always hungry and healthy."

"Poor people have no time to be wise," said Caitilin.

"They have time to be hungry," said Pan. "I ask no
more of them."


Sorry about the lengthy quote. Plus I thought what nixerman said above was real interesting.
posted by sneebler at 5:57 PM on April 4, 2007


« Older A Day of Discovery....  |  Guess who's building nuclear p... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments