The Last Psychiatrist is reliably fun to read. But is there a consistent method/view to the whirlwind soliloquy? I was thinking about this again during my note-taking on the “psychotherapy of nations” theme in The Democratic Surround.
This is a short back-of-napkin exercise at approximating the line of thought of The Last Psychiatrist. I think I might trail off a bit at the end, but it’s what I had at publishing time.
I started by scribbling up consistent themes I thought of when I recall TLP’s (I’ll call the main writer “Alone”, as (s)he does) writing, based on what I’d consider to be his Greatest Hits:
- You always think it’s about you, don’t you?
- If your view of your partner is as a fulfillment of the checklist of needs for you, you will probably find failure in every human you attempt to find a connection with. Doubly so if they hold the same view of you. But you are consistently told that it is okay to view other people as instruments for your own fulfillment. Presumably because you want to hear it and someone wants your money (though there’s more to it than that, ultimately we can’t blame you. More on that later.)
- Comparably, if your view of work is as a deep personal fulfillment, a product of your passion, you are ignoring the reality that the engine of commerce is driven by addressing (and shaping) other people’s passions. You will probably fail to find work as satisfying as you feel you deserve, ever. But, you will keep working hard, you will keep from “checking out”, which is the important part. Those who collectively sell this “passion” vision to you are succeeding because they are addressing/shaping someone else’s passion- yours- and are extracting resources from you. In Gervais Principle terms, the System benefits when you stay Clueless. Aspirationalism and Narcissicism are elevated virtues in order to accomplish this.
But what is Alone’s view of “The System”? We can’t just make agents up out of thin air.
Society is nothing more than individual psychology multiplied by too many to count. If narcissism is what drives this society, then only narcissism will explain it.
Alone on “The System“:
I realize that “the system” is a nebulous term relying on an even more nebulous “unconscious”, lacking clear definition, so I’m going to try and define it. First, start with a single individual, and eliminate value words like “purpose” and “unintended consequences.” If a guy cheats on his girlfriend in a way that likely could get him caught, one might say, “he wants to get caught.”
Now add a few more individuals. I want an ipad, but I can’t afford the $10000 it would cost to make it in America AND generate to Apple the same nominal profit of $300/ipad, so then the ipad has to be made in China with cheaper labor. So while one can say, “the consumer wants an ipad,” and “Apple wants $300 in profit per ipad” the sum of those wants is “the system”: “The system wants cheap Chinese labor.” The system doesn’t want it because it’s awesome, it wants it because it added up the wants.
To be clear, the fact that ipad consumers don’t “want” cheap Chinese labor is irrelevant. All of their choices want cheap Chinese labor. You can say the same about renewable energies, something that everyone says they “want,” yet all of their choices sum up to the system’s want: the system wants to protect the oil industry. The CEO of ExxonMobil isn’t to blame, you are.
To go back to Sandberg, if the system wants cheap female labor, how would we change the system? Only by wanting different things. Simply, if the majority of women wanted to work less, that would be the game. But the majority of women do want to work less, but they also want to buy X, Y, Z aspirational products, and they want X,Y,Z way more then they want to work less. If you sum up those “wants,” and add in the wants of Nordstrom’s, Nine West, Whole Foods, Visa and Mastercard, etc, and throw in what the media wants, then it is technically correct to say: the system wants women to become batteries.
The final twist to this otherwise simple addition is that what you want is often taught to you by that very system. For example, in running through the above, what you didn’t say was, “maybe I don’t want an ipad.” That thought cannot occur to you…. because the system wants it. Try saying this to your friends and see what happens: “I’m not interested in a career, I just want to get married and have kids.”
- The juiciest target for extraction by the system is not “The 1%”. The people that label is supposed to refer to can meet their wants and needs easily, and are more or less groomed by each other to behave in whatever way they do. Instead, the target is percentile 85-99, the “Aspirational 14%”, those with the resources to cover basic needs, but with the ideologically reinforced optimism to want what the 1% has some day (of course, in virtually all cases they never will, but the dream needs to be kept alive). The Aspirationals can be taught how/what to want.
- Alone summarizing the Aspirational 14%: “Those people have the unique problem of too much freedom, too much money (which is to say they are still living paycheck to paycheck, but only because they are spending it all on keeping up the identity), too many options and, most importantly, nothing to define them.” (Full treatment by Alone here).
This logic leads to Alone’s treatment of Baby Boomers, the tragic generation that were co-created with the System as we know it. Their childhoods are immortalized as the comically idyllic image of the postwar 50’s (as XKCD once pithily wrote, “An American tradition is anything that happens to a Baby Boomer twice”); their personal teenage rebellions, Greer once claimed, were extrapolated to become the very atmosphere of the late 1960’s- a reality that was only immediate for a very small segment of the American population for a short time. The Boomer’s eventual quiet conformity to the System molded the political zeitgeist of the next few decades.
This logic also leads to Alone’s treatment of the System’s feminism. By “Feminism for everybody” we mean “Feminism for the women of the 14%”, and by that we mean “Increased productivity and increased consumption for the women of the 14%”, which is a message propagated by the selectivity of which feminists we elevate and which messages are echoed the farthest. The feminists being elevated may be earnest in their whole message, but again, intention is erased from Alone’s “System”, a dynamic of accumulated desires. What is the effect?
“What about the other 85% of humanity?” Some of the top chunk of the 85% can probably be rolled up into the Aspirational group- they don’t know any better- but clearly, no matter how sloppy my math gets there is a sizeable chunk of the population who do still need to fight to ensure lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy get addressed. In another “greatest hits” episode, Alone suggests the System’s answer: utilize quiet arms of the submerged state to pay them off, allow them to subsist and quietly consume or produce whatever they may, but keep them placated because otherwise everything will go to hell.
The system isn’t flawed, it isn’t easily gamed: it is set up this way on purpose. The government wants [the poor to get Supplementary Security Income], because it wants [them] off the state welfare budget and onto the federal budget, which, as you know, has unlimited funds because it can run deficits, print money, and invade nations and invent words.
In 2009 SSI paid 8M people about $45B. 60% of those under 65 had a “mental disorder.” Did many have a legitimate disorder? Sure. Whatever. But when the system ties benefits to a mental disorder, the point is the benefits, not the mental disorder.
What you should be asking is why, if society has decided to give the poor a stipend of $600/month, does it do this through the medical establishment and not as a traditional social policy? And the answer is very simple:
- you, America, would go bananas if poor people got money for nothing, you can barely stand it when they get it for a disability;
- if you offload a social problem to medicine, if you medicalize a social problem, then you’ve bought yourself a generation or two to come up with a new plan or invade someone.
Do you want riots in the streets? How much does it cost to prevent LA (or the city of your choice) from catching fire? Answer: $600/month/person, plus Medicaid. Medicalizing social problems has the additional benefit of rendering society not responsible for those social ills. If it’s a disease, it’s nobody’s fault. Yay empiricism.
The rise of psychiatry parallels the rise of poverty in industrialized societies. The reason you see psychiatry in the U.S. but not in the Sudan isn’t because there’s no money for it in the Sudan, but because there is not enough money in the US to make some people feel comparatively like they’re not in the Sudan. Hence Zoloft. It is the government’s last resort to a social problem it may or may not have created, whatever, but has absolutely no other way of dealing with. Predictably, world psychiatry will also be the temporary solution to world poverty until the aliens return to see what became of their 6000 year experiment. So invest in Pfizer, it will only go up. It has to.
Because of the nature of the submerged state, it would seem reasonable to me to define a group between these Poor and the Aspirationals- a thick layer of the make-work employed, people who see themselves as “middle class” but are precariously dangling above poverty, quietly supported by government and pseudo-government programs they may not recognize. Alone doesn’t appear to define this class, but some kind of “Working Poor” class certainly comes closer to completing this societal picture to me.
Below are quotes from the same series of three posts, “Hipsters on Foodstamps”, meant to shore up my interpretation (to my knowledge this is the most sustained series Alone has written):
To clarify, this is not some kind of socialist ploy, it is a function of the way America (read: narcissism) works, it doesn’t need to be centralized, it is the sum of individual vectors pointing in different directions. Here’s the other side’s example: when they talk about raising taxes on the rich, why do they pick a “low” point and push it higher? Should the highest rates be at $250k/yr? $300k? Another way of doing it, which is precisely why they cannot do it, is start at the top and move down. “We need $1T. Ok, top five guys pay 90%. Not enough? How about top ten guys pay 90%. Not enough? Top….” I’m not advocating this or any other policy, not my place, I am pointing out that doing it the way it’s done protects the 1% by letting the Aspirational 14%– who crave recognition and are easily identifiable and hatable because they are poseurs, just of a different kind– act as human shields. They take the bullets, the unknown mega-rich take tinted window rides to the Hamptons. During those tumultuous 80 seconds of OWS– and BTW, those people gave up hanging out after only a trimester, do you really think they’re ready for 40 hour work weeks?– the majority of the personal attacks were against people who made <$300k, not >$50M. It’s easy to hate, and so the media nudges you in the wrong direction.
Fact: college is a waste, but we haven’t yet hit that point in society where we can bypass it. So we have to pass through another generation of massive college debt. How to pull in the suckers in? Answer: these articles. By getting you to say, “these hipsters should be able to get jobs because they are college graduates!” you are saying, “college is worth something.” It isn’t. But by directing your hate towards hipsters, you are protecting the system against change.
It’s a simple thesis and no one wants to hear it: hipsters may lack drive, but the world they live in wasn’t set up by them, it was set up by their parents, i.e. the Dumbest Generation Of Narcissists In The History Of The World, the ones who magnified the importance and cost of college without having any idea of what should be its purpose, let alone its content.
If you want to tell me a 30 year old hipster should be lashed for not trying to better himself, I’ll bring the whip, but the 30 year old chose his pointless major when he was 17 and you think the outcome is all his fault? A 17 year old can kill two people and still be considered too young to be criminally responsible, and anyway in that case you think the problem was video games and bullying. Of course Gerry The Hipster is made of soy and ennui, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. When he was 17 the system incentivized him to destroy his life, tempted him with beer, babes, and BS– and the promise of an upper middle class lifestyle provided he went to “a good school” (read: gave the system $100k of his post tax, pre-interest money), never mind for what. Like a good American, he did what he was told.
The society that taught people to want a defective college degree is, unfortunately, going to be expected to support those that bought it, it’s still under warranty. At the very minimum, it owes them their money back, and if they don’t pay you should sue for breach of contract. “At the conclusion of this course, students will show a proficiency in….” The plaintiff rests.
This post is a good key to TLP thinking in how individuals think and act within this system (that is, mostly futilely).
There is no apparent answer to the problems that Alone perceives, which maybe explains the constant references to drinking and dour misanthropism. Still fun to read, though.