Selfish Endevours

Selfish Endeavours

The collective success of sapiens is undeniable. To say we have conquered the world is, in no way, overstating our achievements. So why do we struggle so much as individuals? Our rapidly increasing intelligence generates as much ability to create problems as it does to solve them. The ability to think about why we do things and the ends that we hope to achieve can lead to questions with no solid answers and feelings of nihilism. Could it be that we weigh too much importance on the quality of individual experience? Perhaps we are only supposed to prosper as a collective like a colony of ants. Does it matter if I eat the same food every day? Does it matter if I travel widely and immerse myself in different cultures? You could argue that if people didn’t travel then the aircraft industry could die out along with any tourism dependent occupations, if people didn’t seek out different foods, farming, catering or food production industries wouldn’t be as prolific but what are people taking from these experiences?

Bearing in mind that many of our endeavours are now known to be detrimental – intensive farming, burning thousands of litres of jet fuel into the atmosphere – and members of our unnecessarily large population partaking in them are only doing so to find some metaphysical fulfilment and enrichment in their otherwise unenriched and unfulfilling lives, why do we plough on regardless? There is a school of thought that we are now so entrenched in the way we live that we have no other alternative. Generations of development have left us with a self-perpetuating machine that will break down if the hamsters stop running on the wheel so us hamsters better keep running if we want the machine to keep going even though emissions from the machine are toxic and getting worse all the time as the machine and the number of hamsters gets bigger.

Most of our experiences as individuals are completely unnecessary for us to survive and, in many cases, harmful to ourselves and those around us. We are, for the most part, aware of this but we do it anyway and therein lies the problem. Pursuing individual pleasures doesn’t actually create the feelings of satisfaction that the pursuer would like, or was lead to believe would be achieved by the, oh so clever, marketing of said pleasures and because it was undertaken for individual gain it carries a side serving of guilt and egocentric feelings.

Initially man wanted to fly because we couldn’t and it was a challenge. Now there are planes filling the skies. Intially man wanted to prepare a delicious multifarious range of foods because leaves, berries and raw meat were dull. Now almost any type of food can be easily bought and prepared by walking five minutes to a shop and Googling a recipe. The point is that doing things that are easy and require no effort generally offer small – if any – amounts of satisfaction and fulfillment. A good analogy is when a film does really well in the cinema and becomes an international hit so the film makers assume this is something people really like and go on to make a sequel, and then another, and then another and each time they generally get worse. Humans need things that are challenging and fresh to keep their minds focused and engaged and also to feel a deep level of fulfillment in what they do. Doing things that are easy and repetitive delivers a constantly deteriorating level of satisfaction.

We have reached a stage of stagnation now in our evolution where we sit and watch our TV as it encourages us to make ourselves feel good by buying some brightly coloured shiny shit or lying on our lazy backs in the sun while some poor sod on a meagre wage brings us drinks and food as he or she watches their country become a playground for people with more money than them to live like kings and offer very little in return. We need to start living in far more communal manner and realising that performing challenging tasks for the good of the many will ultimately make us feel much better in ourselves than being able to access our apps wirelessly on our car’s touch screen.
Dopamine is the motivator our brain provides to make us take action towards our goals and it rewards us with surges of pleasure when we achieve them but like any high you can also get a dopamine hangover when goals are achieved and effort levels drop back down. This can be counteracted with good old moderation. This means breaking your goals down into smaller pieces and receiving constant small surges of pleasure and minimal hangovers. So by remaining proactive and doing things that require thought and endeavour you allow yourself to be constantly rewarded by little chemical surges of pleasure in your brain that you do not get from lethargy and consumption. Those feelings of pleasure are also delivered via positive interactions and reactions from other people when your endeavours deliver rewards for them as well as for yourself and can have the knock on effect of supplying the motivation in them to seek out their own chemical rewards and feelings of happiness by helping you achieve your goals and subsequently adopting corresponding goals for themselves. This is how groups of people bond together with common objectives and overcome adversities, form relationships and build communities. None of this is possible through selfish consumption and games of one-upmanship. Making yourself richer, having more trinkets and feeling that you are superior than others in your locality leads to feelings of jealousy, paranoia and resentment and drive us apart instead of together.

Rewards through self obsessive consumption seem appealing to those who have the means as they require very little effort and they enable the participants to achieve a subjective pretense of being someone who is enjoying the chemical rewards and fulfillment that a happy life brings. They can post pictures of them driving their new car or enjoying their Caribbean holiday on social media and tell their friends about it making them appear to be happier than the person who desires what they have. In reality though they are actually becoming bound by the things that they own and the debts they are accumulating. They are restricting their own personal freedoms and constructing a personality that depends on them constantly renewing and maintaining this lifestyle in order to continue appearing to be happier and more fulfilled than their peers. They are also driving others further away from themselves and nurturing feelings of superiority and entitlement that they don’t deserve. Ever noticed how very wealthy people often look angry and stressed? I wonder why….

As I spoke about in a previous blog, the human brain is lazy in nature and seeks out easy ways around things – the path of least resistance. I believe it is this that makes us look for quick and easy ways to achieve good feelings. It is up to the individual to suppress this desire to take the easy road and be aware that, often, the more challenging options deliver the greatest rewards and the deepest levels of satisfaction and emotional fulfillment and acting in an altruistic way enhances those feelings and extends the desire to seek them out to others too and builds more connected and engaged communities for us all to live in.

Are We Ill or Not?

ill

The process of diagnosing mental illness is generally finding the way in which the sufferer has deviated from what is considered to be normal behaviour.  The cure is then manipulating the sufferer’s symptoms in such a way that they return to compliance of, perceived, normal behaviour, or at least appear to.  Normal behaviour is, in our current quasi-Utopia known as neoliberalism, often psychopathic in its tendancies.  Success and greed are celebrated, to struggle or fail is frowned upon.  I say it is fair to say that “normal” behaviour could be the most severe form of mental illness that there is.

If we look upon ourselves as the animals that we are, how much of what we do in our lives could be considered normal?  It’s surely fair to assume that most forms of mental illness are a healthy and predictable reaction to the environment we live in.  Why would we not feel anxious when we’re down to our last few quid in the bank and the car could break down or we could be made redundant from the failing business we work for or our landlord might sell the house we live in?  Why would we not feel depressed when we see homeless people begging for change in the street or animals tolerating miserable lives so they can become food for us or families drowning while they run for their lives from war zones?

The normality we are supposed to live in is generally a facade created by various forms of media, by companies who want to sell things to us and, of course, by the financially elite CEOs, board members and politicians who need us to comply if they wish to keep being financially elite.  The joy filled families you see shopping for a sofa at DFS on a bank holiday weekend or the girl who always has beautiful flawless skin because she uses the right moisturiser never have to concern themselves with the with the darker sides of modern existence, like we do, because they are fabricated for a purpose and aren’t real.  And, yet, we try to emulate them!  Our whole lives are spent trying to fit into an almost standardised set of criteria that we believe constitutes normality and it’s easy to feel a little alienated if you fall outside those borders.  I’m a single man with no children at 42 years old and although I’m quite happy with that arrangement I definitely feel an appreciable sense of detachment so I can only try to imagine how life must feel if you are disabled or alcoholic or unemployed or homeless or worse.  The mental pressures must be unthinkable and then on top of that many of the people in these kind of situations who are already suffering are mocked, persecuted and made to feel subordinate.

The unsustainability and destructive nature of our modern existences has to play a role in feeding our negative feelings.  While we can enjoy our trappings of luxury and wealth I think every one of us is now uncomfortably aware of the fact that this – while enjoyable – is causing our own inevitable downfall.  The depletion of the Earth’s natural resources, the extinction of many different species of animal, huge amounts of pollution and the increasingly obvious symptoms of climate change that are all directly attributed to us.  How can we not suffer mentally when we know that our very way of life is killing us and negatively affecting everything around us.

I would like to put it to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that nearly all forms of recognised mental illness are just our brain’s natural responses to what is happening around us and that treatments, including medication and therapy, are just patches to gently ease us back on the path of earning and consuming and behaving in a conventional manner.   If you stop for a moment and really think about how we live, what we are happy to tolerate and what we seem able to ignore it is very easy to see how all of us could quite easily slip, mentally, into a world of dread, anxiety, paranoia and depression without too much difficulty at all.