Monday, July 15, 2013

800 Words: Depressive Paternalism - Part 1

“No sane man can afford to dispense with debilitating pleasures; no ascetic can be considered reliably sane. Hitler was the archetype of the abstemious man. When the other krauts saw him drink water in the Beer Hall, they should have known he was not to be trusted.”

A.J. Liebling

“Those, no doubt, are in some way fortunate who have brought themselves, or have been brought by others, to obey some ultimate principle before the bar of which all problems can be brought. Single-minded monists, ruthless fanatics, men possessed by an all-embracing coherent vision do not know the doubts and agonies of those who cannot wholly blind themselves to reality.”

Isaiah Berlin

“This is going to be the most arrogant yet self-loathing post you’ll have ever read on this blog.”

Evan Tucker

To be sure, much of the evil done in this world is done by psychopaths and sociopaths who feel either pleasure or unconcern at the suffering of others. But they can only effect acts of evil by manipulating the rest of us, the 99% of us who feel normal emotions. Among those of us who do feel emotions as they’re supposed to be felt, is the evil carried out on behalf of a psychopath ever perpetrated by those of us lacking in busybodyness? Would we ever know how to effect it?

Psycho/sociopaths are certainly to be feared. But I think my antenna for sadism is relatively well-developed (as I’m sure anybody’s is with experience of childhood bullying). But at this point in my life, I don’t fear psychopaths half so much as do-gooders, who believe with all their hearts that the forces of virtue and light are their property. Within sociopathy, there are degrees, and for do-gooders to believe that they are on the side of virtue, while all those who disagree with them are on the side of evil and darkness, they inevitably have to hold some truly sociopathic elements within their makeup. It is never the Type B/executive dysfunction Hamlets among us who want to do nothing but good in this world, because we’re too beset by indecision to know what is good and what is bad. We can never act first and think later, because our actions outside our expertise are usually rather incompetent. But there are those others, the Type A’s, who believe they can use their surfeit of executive function to hammer the world into a more glorious place, and in order to make that more glorious world, they declare holy war on our indecision - because if depression is the disease of the Type-B, then anxiety is the disease of the Type-A. They seem to be competent in everything they touch, and therefore see no reason not to act first and think later. And because they never have to think about their actions, they’re too busy acting to ever stop to worry what their actions cause - they’re only worried about what happens when they don’t act. Such people will always be with the world, and the Type-B’s of our world know no more dangerous type of person, because there is nothing they will not do in the pursuit of meddling and molding other people into something more ‘good,’ which inevitably means something more like them. A state of which we type-B’ers are constitutionally incapable.

I can't deny that I meddle in other people’s deeply held beliefs all the time. On all manner of matter abstract, I can meddle with the best of them. I’ve known since I was a kid that I have an unwieldy talent for provocation and polemic, and I can’t deny that I somewhat enjoy the combativeness of my small attempts to use it to good effect, even if the heat of combativeness is inevitably a poor substitute for human warmth. But, unfortunately, it’s an ability I developed in a calderon. I’ve often thought to myself that my life is thus far defined by little more than a series of authority figures who thought they knew better than I what was best for me, and I had to defy them all with a full throat if I wanted any peace of mind. But unlike them, I never sought to mold other people in my image, and I never supposed I had that ability. So long as they don’t hurt me or the people I love, these Type-A’ers can petty-tyrant the world to their pure hearts’ contents. But nevertheless, being the type of person I am, I can’t help looking at them and seeing precisely what I think is wrong with the world. And it makes me a little sad to note that at this point in my life, few things give me more satisfaction than to ensure in no uncertain terms that they know what I think of them. I don’t apologize for having a prickly personality, and being the prick I am, I probably never will. To the best of our abilities, the world has to be made safe for people like me (and there are many). History is inevitably made by type-A’s, but the type-B’s are the only ones who can write it.

I’m a deeply, deeply flawed person. I biked twenty miles yesterday, but before I left I ate 7/8ths of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, after I returned I had a Coke Slurpee, an enormous Chinese dish, and piece of particularly greasy pizza. I drink almost not at all these days, but it was only a month ago that five whiskeys was a normal Sunday night for me. For twelve years, I’ve been an on-and-off social smoker and am sorry to say that I’ve lately found the quasi-habit all too difficult to relinquish. At 31, I’ve already given myself acid reflux so heinous that it began to give me heart pain in my late teens, and has now given me shortness of breath and low blood pressure which in the last six months I’ve temporarily confused with a collapsed lung and a stroke (and yes, I’m reasonably certain it’s the gallons of salty food, not the few dozen cigarettes). Because I couldn’t work in other jobs or go for more schooling without terrible anxiety, I work nominally in a family business at which I have no talent and from which I’m increasingly disengaging with no regular line of work to occupy the lost time. I continue to live alone so I might spare others the inevitable bouts of self-loathing and panic attacks which make up any day filled with frustrations which other people can discard without a second thought. My failures with women are legion and legendary, and they increase by the month. I come from a background of mild privilege, and I’ve watched any number of peers significantly less intelligent than I rise to ultra-privileged success while my best achievements languish in a state of unreadness upon this miniscule slice of internet. It is a truth universally acknowledged that life is a perpetual state of change, and the situation of my life could change for the better by tomorrow morning. But for the moment, I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that I’m a person of very little practical use to the world.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a depressive - and a rather world-class one. I’ve learned through very hard self-training to conceal it in social situations, and I think I do a reasonably good job of it. But the mind of a person beset by depression is hydraulic. The longer an irrevocable depressive represses his inner darkness to will himself into positive thinking, the exponentially worse it grows. Depression is a mental cancer, a second organism locked in the same brain with a perfectly well-balanced, rational mind. The more well-balanced and rational a brain is, the more able it is to sift through the irrational directions which the brain orders. Bad thinking is very different from a lack of thinking - and the more irrational thoughts the rational self discards, the more those irrational directions will fester the unconscious, waiting to feast upon a mind too well-scrubbed by rationality to possess the necessary antibodies to bad thinking. Much noise has been made in recent years about the term ‘depressive realism,’ a term which supposedly describes how depression enables people to see the world more clearly. It is neither a true nor a false statement, it just a backward statement, and dangerously so. I very much believe that on the whole it’s true that depressed people are more able to see the world clearly than others, but never when depressed people exist within their states of depression. A mind that is too well disposed to rationality is a mind too susceptible to bad rationality. The illness depression most resembles is diabetes. Diabetes is a lifelong illness in which the pancreas fails to produce insulin - the transmitter which directs fats and carbohydrates to their proper place. Depression is a lifelong illness in which the brain fails to accept endorphins - a neurotransmitter which directs feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Some pancreases are born lacking the ability to produce insulin, but some encounter too many carbohydrates and fats over a lifetime to continue to process them adequately. Similarly, some brains are simply born containing too much activity to process endorphins, but some brains achieve so much activity over the years that they lose their ability to process endorphins.

After twenty-three years of virulent semi-daily encounters with this disease, the primitiveness of the world’s thinking about depression still amazes and infuriates me - not only in attitude, but in research as well. The drugs which are available are of a primitiveness not to be believed - as poison in their own way as chemotherapy. There’s one drug family which I’ve had no choice but to take for more than ten years. Doctors warned me that I might experience weight-gain from an increase in appetite, but they never warned me that my appetite would increase to the point that my weight very nearly doubled between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. And weight gain is hardly the worst of side effects, I was fourteen, I took a drug from another family which apparently caused me to exhibit extremely violent behavior - the memories of which will haunt me to my dying breath.  

Depression is a condition of life, not a mindset which positive thinking can supersede. I m generally of the opinion that depression is far closer to psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder than is generally realized - and I worry that if the general public did realize that, the stigma of depression would grow ever greater. Depression is a shadow self which conquers a personality. It requires an innate mixture of inborn mental disorder and the trauma of a stressful life which hammers a brain out of equilibrium. In this manner, it’s no different than all manner of more serious illnesses. For example, it’s a common misconception that lower social classes are too busy to suffer from depression. Well, who knows? Maybe that’s true, because if it is, it’s the lower classes have it bad enough that their depression often metastasizes into far more serious mental illnesses.

And yet, because of the endless detritus which depression leaves in its wake, there are no end of so-called ‘well-meaning’ type-A meddlers who cause untold misery in the lives of depressives. It is a particularly tragic truth of life that Type-B’s cannot exist without type-A’s to clean up their messes. And yet this ‘cleaning’ comes at the most horrible price, because type-A’s will never, ever, forgive the type-B’s for an obtuseness about life which necessitates their intervention, and they inevitably perceive this obtuseness to be deliberate. Perhaps, they inevitably reason, if they instill enough terror into the hearts of type-B’s, particularly the depressives among them, they will be able to reverse their lives’ coarse and become a better busybody. And yet, no one in the world knows his faults better than a depressive, and reminding him of them, or exaggerating those faults, will only serve to bury depressives further within a tomb of their own misery.

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