Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Uber Mench of the Future will be Bipolar???

Dear Peter,

This is a post based on our email exchange, which I wanted to share with our friends here. You had written:

I was watching X-Men the Last Stand yesterday and it got me thinking. Not of anarchy and rebellion, but about the idea that people say there's something wrong with us. That we need to be cured, etc etc. But maybe the lower serotonin levels are a sign of something else. Not being depressed, but our brains are trying to function in a different way for a different reason. Hell, maybe it's even evolution at work.

And I wrote you back the following very long discussion about the issues of depression and disease and dis-ease, & c. Apropos of our recent letters about social issues and the differences between group A vs. group B, I thought your feeling that you were being labeled (in this case as a diseased individual) because of your depression was particularly germane. Anyway, here it is again.

> of anarchy and rebellion, but about the idea that people
> say there's something wrong with us. That we need to be cured, etc etc.

Yeah, there's a danger inherent in the language. If you talk about it
like it's a disease, or that it's off-normal or off baseline kind of
state, then you're making the judgement that you *should* or *ought*
to be happy. It's entirely possible with rhetoric like this to make
people skip the part where they ask themselves questions like, "Okay,
I'm not happy. Not happy about what?" and, having answered that
question, ask, "Why does that make me unhappy? What would make me
happier?" These are definitely not easy questions to answer; they
time time, understanding, patience, and a whole slew of other things
that are hard to allocate when we're all so busy with life and shit
all the time. Similar to our complete lack of attention span and the
requirement that we be bombarded with stimuli all the time, it's
easier to treat these things chemically, blocking the symptoms (the
miracle fix or "cure") rather than trying to solve the problem (actual
*healing*). People have come to expect that it should be possible
with a simple dose of an SSRI and have given up trying to understand

> maybe the lower serotonin levels are a sign of something else. Not being
> depressed, but our brains are trying to function in a different way for a
> different reason.

My personal feeling about the statistics on depression, which indicate
that a huge portion of society is depressed, is that this means that
there's something systemic going on here of which this is a direct
result. In other words, more sinister than one being depressed and
wanting a quick fix, is that one isn't alone in the depression; rather
the majority of people are depressed and that's a scary thought. The
questions we should be asking then become, "why is everyone becoming
depressed?", "is there something in the water?", "has life become too
fucked up for us to handle as humans?", "are we too numerous? are we
choking ourselves to death?", "have we set up our lives in an inhuman
way?", and the real downer: "what would be better?" The point: then
we have to start taking the time, patience, work, & c. to diagnose (a
better word would be "understand") the mounting depression of humanity
in general. And then to find a solution... a *real* one, not just a

> Hell, maybe it's even evolution at work.

Although the X-Men parable is a bit on the fantastic side (fantastic
4?), I would like to think that the trend indicates that something is
not right with the world and that our bodies are warning us
(collectively, perhaps -- maybe via some collective psycho-physical
consciousness that is beyond the current scope of empirical science;
I'll even go so far) that our current state is not conducive to human
life (or life in general) and that we are missing the very point of
existence in the first place--or, at the very least, that it is an
indication that we can do so much better for ourselves and this

And I wouldn't count the above as separate from the rubric of
Evolution, either. Certainly, the long-standing scientific and
emprical pleas for fixing society and the planet have fallen on
willingly deaf ears; the inhumane policies of destruction and death
are perpetuated. I wouldn't know where to place depression on the
tree of evolutionary traits that could be selected for or against if
they wouldn't increase our chances of survival, right? Who knows,
perhaps it will be demonstrated that people need trees around them to
be happy, or that theres a direct relationship between the serotonin
levels in coastal humans and the relative population of dolphins. All
these things are theoretically possible. ;-)

Then again, there's another thought, namely that the Earth is more
than just the sum of it's inhabitants and there's an intelligent
policy of weeding-out that's occuring. We get diseases, viruses,
depression, we do stupid shit and kill each other... perhaps all this
is better for the Planet Earth? Fewer destructive humans = more
productive plants and animals? That way Life lives on (<-- notice the
capital 'L' in Life).

The one I generally tend to settle on is this (and please excuse my
cultural masochism here): There's plenty out there to be depressed
about, granted. But it's easier to focus on the depression when
you're not fighting for food, shelter, and clothing. We're so
pampered here that we worry about shit like how sad we are working our
crappy nine-to-fives and watching TV all the time, when we should be
using our leisure time for these lofty thoughts instead of turning
ourselves into that proverbial "pig, in a cage, on antibiotics" that
Thom Yorke sings about (not to mention that's where pork-chops come
from these days).

We don't even feel it very closely, but we in the West are fighting
(read: getting killed) too. But fighting for (manufactured)
conceptual reasons clearly leaves us wondering what the flying-hell
it's all about. You don't want to dig too far into that question
because you will only find more to be depressed about: it's about
capitalism vs. democracy and capitalism is winning, meaning that
money-interests trump human-interests. So... Even the ideals we in
the West held above all else at the inception of our nations are being
compromised (serotonin dropping to dangerously low levels) and we're
ignoring every lesson we should have learned (or were supposed to have
learned) over the last 60 years or so (danger, Will Robinson!) We're
not even fighting for anything worth fighting for, we're just fighting
because it's a great source of revenue (ALERT! ALERT!)

My general point is that this depression is something very important
that ought to be a giant red flag that we need to change--not just
ourselves as individuals (although that's the place to start, of
course) but as a society. That is, I believe, the main thrust of the world of X-Men anyway; this idea of Difference and how to deal with it as a society. In that world, you
have your mutants and humans, which are then cross-divided into the
mutants-for-peace, humans-for-peace, mutants-for-themselves,
human-for-themselves, and the-generally-confused-and-scared (mostly
humans there, although I think that's a factor of exposure to certain
idea-centers, like Xavier's School for Gifted, but I digress). What's
really germane here is the idea that social change needs to
occur in both groups, not just one or the other. It's the
learning-to-live-together thing that's the subtext for all the awesome
mutant action. And this can be applied to a bunch of different issue
categories, race, gender, cultural differences, wars, & c.

The reason that this is important is the fact that the parallel
you drew (mutant -> depressed, human -> undepressed) is lacking
consideration of the following question: "What effect does my
depression have on the set of all humans (e.g. depressed and
non-depressed)." Or rather, "what is the relationship between these
two groups and what are the effects of this relationship on each other or on the union of both groups?" The X-Men
example provides a parallel question, "What are is the effect of the
existence of mutants on the set of all sentient, Earthly beings?"
They are viewed as heros, as monsters, as a disease, as gods, & c.
Similarly, the depressed are viewed as sick, as abnormal, they are
misunderstood, they are seen as non-functional instead of just
functioning differently. And, you're right, it's not often asked
whether the un-depressed are only thus because they are missing some
vital piece of information, some clarity of perception that is
exhibited in certain people who can see that, in fact, there's so many
more compelling reasons to be depressed than there are to be content.
In both examples, and Xavier's character is the spearhead of this idea
in the X-Men, the real struggle is how to understand and change to some state of
acceptance, rather than divide and elliminate what is different, which is done as often by quick-fixes, and pharmaceutical "cures," as by war, and outright


Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home