the wave is what society says is important
the undertow is what really is important
when you’re on top
you’re moved by the wave
when you’re on the bottom
you’re sucked by the undertow
There are a lot of things that whether they are true or not depends on your place in society. Some things:
Being virtuous generally gets you good things if you are on top but just keeps you treading water if you are on the bottom (or worse). This is because virtue is optional for those on top so when they exhibit it they are rewarded. Further down virtue is expected so the lack is punished. Still further down virtue is seen as weakness and punished. On the bottom you generally are in derelict subcultures that revolve around vices and substance abuse. The groups that don’t involve these things are generally higher up and not accepting of those on the bottom.
If you are on top you are treated as if you have innate worth but the further down you go the more your treatment is tied to how and whether you function in society. This is because in both cases you are being treated based on how you are valued, it’s just on top people don’t like to believe they are being treated well just on the account of what they have to offer so they made up the “innate worth” trope. When you are on the bottom all artifice disappears and people really shine their true colors in your face. You only really feel the weight of importance of looks, money, and status when you do not possess them. Because when you don’t people go into “reduced functionality mode” around you, polite but curt (at best), or all the gloves come off and they insult and demean you because you have no power to fight back.
Positivity is generally a luxury for those on top. The self-esteem movement is for those on and near the top because they are the ones who invented it so naturally it would only apply to them. People on and near the top are controlled more by a “soft touch” because they already have most of their lives together. People further down often need to be controlled more tightly and for this to happen negativity enters in. There is even a survey somewhere that said how poor kids heard at least twice as much negativity as rich ones.
How corporates co-opted the art of mindfulness to make us bear the unbearable:
While there can be little doubt that the practice of mindfulness can lead to significant health benefits, its current prominence in corporate culture is nested within a social, cultural and political context where stress is now seen as a failure of the individual to adapt to the productivity demands of the corporation. In other words, if you’re stressed out, you’re not working hard enough on your personal focus strategy. You’re letting the team down.
This article fleshes out this (miscongregation of psychology and Buddhist thought) idea that you are culpable for your stress. The way you react to pain is what causes suffering. The idea that you are culpable for your feelings is pretty abhorrent but I’ve learned to expect anything from psychology.
Help is of less help to those further down in society. Some reasons why:
Psychological help often presupposes one has the resources to make a change. Resources like:
- A ride to therapy, the doctor, and the pharmacy
- Money or insurance to pay for care and medication
- Stable housing and relationships where one has the option to get out of without losing their housing
- A friendship group that doesn’t revolve around vices and addictions
Therapists often have a poor understanding of those whose problems are beyond their control. This is especially true because often these people have had middle class upbringings and have never been poor. Those on the bottom know hyper individualism well because they are on the exhaust end of it! Hyper individualistic solutions aren’t much help for those on the bottom because in order for their needs to be met (like a ride to the food pantry) another party is going to have to perform a sacrificial act.
Therapy (particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) presupposes one’s negative thoughts about them self are distorted. The further down one is the more one’s poor self image is validated by those around them. Belief one has innate worth ends up becoming an impossible psychological burden when everywhere one goes there’re bombarded with the opposite. Then they’re guilted for having negative thoughts about them self and goaded with the idea that somehow their life will be better if they just had a positive self image. But positive self image is a key that unlocks the value one already has, it doesn’t create value in and of itself. For example a pretty person has a lot to gain from going from poor to good self image but the improvement in self image isn’t giving the person anything extra, it’s just causing their good looks to shine more brightly. This is because the expression of positive self image is charisma and charisma disproportionately helps those who are young and attractive. If you are male, 45, and making minimum wage, more charisma isn’t going to get you dates or guy friends.
Therapy doesn’t work as well on those brought up in a disciplinarian environment (like many of those further down are). It takes a good (translation: expensive) therapist to reparent a person who had a harsh upbringing. Therapy has a different way of seeing things than someone brought up in a disciplinarian environment so a lot of times things that could help end up going over one’s head. When one is brought up with the idea that everyone is basically evil and needs correction and punishment to set them straight and then they go to a therapist who says people do good because they know it’s the right and healthy thing, not out of fear of punishment it is bewildering. It would be a good thing to have therapists that had extensive training on shepherding people who hold a disciplinarian world view (while not trying to change it) for those brought up in disciplinarian environments because many of these people are never going to change their ingrained views.
One must realize that in therapy for those further down often the bond with the therapist is more important than whether they are disseminated the precepts of psychology. That’s the only thing that ever worked for me.
Great post on loving yourself:
Telling someone who hates themselves that their life will be better if they learn self-love is about as helpful as telling a penguin it can fly if it just flaps its wings. Sure it sounds good, but no matter how hard a penguin flaps, its feet will never leave the ground. Just as there are birds that can’t fly, there are people who can’t love themselves. But, if you told that penguin to jump in the water and flap its wings, that little guy would be swimming circles around you. I’m not saying that self-love isn’t important, only that it is not the only way to feel whole as a person.
If football advice were given out like therapeutic advice blog posts (like this one on emotional intelligence):
It’s more healthy to gain yardage than to lose it
Running the football forward and passing it forward gains you yards. You want to do this. When the quarterback or running back gets sacked that is bad because you lose yardage. Sometimes players run in the opposite direction by mistake into their own end zone. That will cost you two points and the ball. Don’t do that.
You’ll want to score more points than the other team
You should try to get touch downs and field goals. When you get more points than the other team and the game time clock runs out, you win the game. The more games you win the better because then you can get in the playoffs and if you keep winning you could get in the Superbowl.
Being good at catching a football is important
When a quarterback throws a ball to his receivers, it’s important that they catch it. Being good at catching takes a lot of practice and you should really learn to do it well. If you are on the opposing team but not a receiver it’s nice to be good at catching as well as you can intercept the ball so your team gets to have it. Dropping the football is really bad, you shouldn’t do that. The other team could recover it.
A football is different
A football is not a basketball, it is oblong and has pointy ends. Throwing, catching, and running with it is different than other sports. Footballs have been inflated to their optimal level. It would be wise not to walk in on them being inflated or tamper with them yourself. You could even lose playing time for doing so.
I had an appointment down at the indigent clinic and one of the things on the TV is most stress is caused by our reaction to stressors, not the stressors themselves. While this is true some of the times (like taking things out of proportion in relationships) I wouldn’t say it is the majority. All this tells me is I’m culpable for my stress if I am unable to play cognitive tricks and take pills that make handling all the shit thrown my way survivable.
A lot of critiques one levies against Christianity can be levied just as strongly against the therapeutic industrial complex (TIC).
Both are disingenuous about authority. In Christianity this takes the form of denying the faith is in fact a religion and making people think their opinions actually come from God and not religious authorities (that’s why they’re fine with people being attuned to the voice of God so long as it doesn’t go against their teachings). With the TIC therapists claim to be facilitating one’s own decision making process when they suggest things (the therapist I have to see told me to quit my job, which would have been bad had I done it). The problem is in order for therapy to work one must trust in the authority of the therapist (for example sleep therapy where the therapists told the patients not to have such anxious thoughts about going to sleep). One of the austerity measures in Britain was to force people on the disability roles to see therapists that would presumably tell them to get a job. This brings up another thread where the dynamic of the doctor patient relationship changes depending on who is footing the bill (so an upper middle class professional seeing a therapist on private insurance might use a therapist as a sounding board only where someone lower down will be more controlled by them).
Both include thought crimes. In Christianity this is obvious borne from Jesus’s teachings on lust and anger. The negativity bitterness is met with also seems to indicate Christians are culpable for their emotions as well. Things aren’t any better in the TIC. Sexuality is left alone much more in the TIC but other thoughts get banned. You enter the tyranny of self-esteem. Feeling bad about yourself (even if it’s warranted though reasons grounded in anthropology and common sense) is off limits. And to continue to do so just brings more guilt. Negative thoughts are almost always seen as bad even though they are often accurate and ground a person in reality. Treatments try to get deep inside your head and are really invasive with your thought processes with the promise of making you “healthy”. But often, like a half done house, these mechanics applied poorly are worse than them not being applied at all. People who can’t play the cognitive tricks needed to succeed in therapy are guilted the same way Christians who don’t experience God are (both require a brain way beyond mine).
Both have an unrealistic expectation for purity. In Christianity this is obvious, there is an emphasis on sinful things and not being good enough. In the TIC “unhealthy” replaces sinful as the term to stay away from though they are much less direct about this. The TIC tends to assume one has the material, social, and emotional resources to live a successful hyper individualistic life and if one happens to fall short of this they aren’t healthy. They demonize neediness because that implies dependence which is something to stay away from (plus a lot of people would see therapists less if they had good friends). People of lower means often don’t have access to “healthy relationships”, simply because people who the TIC deems healthy generally don’t associate with people the TIC does not. Like God’s perfection, being what the TIC calls healthy is an impossible goal only available to a small portion of the population.
Both pretend to care about you when all they want to do is control you. I understand there are caring therapists and caring people in the faith but these are a minority. Most people want to exploit and control you, it’s just that in some professions they have to do so while playing lip service to having concern for you. Remember that the religious people who tell you to take your experience of God seriously won’t be there to pay the mental hospital bills when you do. And therapists are not bound to what their work produces the way engineers are. If a bridge fails an engineer will often suffer the consequences. If a therapist ruins a life no one bats an eye. In fact because patient confidentiality and the itinerant nature of that kind of care they more often than not will never know.
Every therapist should listen to this podcast. All disallowing negativity does is silence those who speak truth to power. In fact if you take the idea there is truth away entirely than in the vacuum all that exists is what those in power command, in this case circuitously by banning negativity.
Therapists demonize neediness and dependence. Somehow we are all supposed to live in a world where we can live a self contained hyperindividualistic existence. Unfortunately economic reality dictates that many of us can’t and certainly most of us with disabilities can’t. What we can’t help being is what we’re not supposed to be. If that isn’t ableism I don’t know what is. It’s even worse than religion. At least with religion if you submit to their tenants and perform their rituals they usually treat you as someone you’re supposed to be.
And why is dependence a bad thing? Calling someone dependent on others is almost a slur. If the capability to be autonomous wasn’t out of reach for a large portion of our generation then maybe you could make the case for it. But it’s not. It’s just another way to kick us while we’re already down. That’s what our culture is good at, kicking us when we’re down. Those on top are loved and lifted up. Everyone else can go die in a fire.