Technology

Strive For Simplicity, Economise on Energy (3)

“I have long held an opinion, almost amounting to conviction, in common I believe with many other lovers of natural knowledge, that the various forms under which the forces of matter are made manifest have one common origin; or, in other words, are so directly related and mutually dependent, that they are convertible, as it were, one into another, and possess equivalents of power in their action.”

— Michael Faraday, English Physicist and Chemist


Reading time: 20 mins

Energy

What is energy?

Energy is a property of matter, space, objects and fields. It can be transferred and converted, but it can’t be destroyed – or created. Energy can be chemical, thermal electrical and kinetic, all of which exists in and around the mind-body system.

For our focus it is potential energy which can be stored and qualitatively accumulated which is of interest.

Energy can be refined in order to get more vitality for your voltage, so to speak.

Since sufficient energy is the fuel for all manner of action, (and The Work) it stands to reason that the more energy you have within your mind-body system the more enhanced the capacity for change.  With enough stored, (and the “space” ready to store it) we have a greater chance of changing our physical, mental and emotional states.

With a greater store of energy on tap, this might even provide the “nourishment” and power needed to fuel overall meta-physical transformation.

At this point in history the demands on our time and energy are relentless. Many of us have become mentally ill or physically debilitated due to environmental and psycho-social factors. In this technological age there are reasons to fill every waking hour with activities and distractions which feed our restlessness but give little in terms of true nourishment. If we cut out the clutter and re-organise our daily lives so that things become simpler we make better use of our time. Time management goes hand in hand with simplicity. Economising conserving and simplifying are mutually inclusive.

What is crucial to your life and what is just repetitive, useless busy-ness? Is that moving centre sending into you spirals of pointless activity in order to displace energy that could be useful to personal transformation? Ask yourself honestly: Is your attention habitually fixed on getting things to feel better? Has this focus overshadowed what’s truly important in my life?

If that’s true and like so many of us, you have been caught up in finding too much satisfaction in possessions (or possessing people) then it’s a cue to simplify and to realise that attachment to beliefs and their possessions are often the greatest obstacle to living a more harmonious life. Or, as German poet and playwright Johann von Goethe expressed it: “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

To achieve simplicity we have to conserve our energy in thought and action. One thing is for sure, you’ll need every ounce of it if you are to transform your inner life. By gettting rid of that which ultimately drains you, it opens up the space for an ongoing process of spring-cleaning, much like you do with your flat or house. And it’s amazing how much more can be achieved by decreasing one’s complexity.

(more…)

Virtuality

 By M.K. Styllinski

Worldskin-01

World Skin (1997), Maurice Benayoun‘s virtual reality interactive installation | (wikipedia)

“There is a new world order and our children are carrying it around in their pockets.”

Beeban Kidron


“There is in every child at every stage a new miracle of vigorous unfolding.” So, said the psychologist Erik Erickson. This extraordinary neurological development used to be facilitated and encouraged by the art of storytelling which allowed archetypes and mythological motifs to be gently assimilated into the mind of the child, so that this process could begin from an emotionally nourished foundation. Television as a primary tool of the advertiser helped to replace this deeply-rooted tradition.

A study conducted by the cable television industry in February 1996 found that 57 per cent of television programmes contain “psychologically harmful” violence. The findings, the largest profiling of its kind, were taken from over 2,500 hours of television programming, carefully tracked and analysed. These research findings did not necessarily suggest that children could act more violently but that it could contribute to conditions whereby violence is seen as a normal part of life. By the age of 18, the average American child will have seen 200,000 murders on television [1] and since there is at least ten times as much crime on television and increasingly the internet as there is in the real world, this helps to create a rather skewed picture of the expectations of what life has to offer. [2]

By the time 2013 came around peer-reviewed studies were finding further negative effects of overexposure to television. A study undertaken by the University of Montreal, Canada, by Linda S. Pagani, Caroline Fitzpatrick & Tracie A. Barnett was published in Pediatric Research and the scientific journal Nature. The report entitled: ‘Early childhood television viewing and kindergarten entry readiness’ amassed data from a prospective longitudinal cohort of 991 girls and 1,006 boys and was analysed for the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. The parent-reported data was collected from weekly hours of tele-viewing starting at about 2 and half years of age. Children were then scored “… on direct child assessments of vocabulary, mathematical knowledge, and motor skills, as well as kindergarten teacher reports of socio-emotional functioning…”

The research team’s results showed that watching television at 2.5 years: “… were associated with subsequent decreases in vocabulary and math skills, classroom engagement (which is largely determined by attention skills), victimization by classmates, and physical prowess at kindergarten.” The conclusions further suggested: “… the need for better parental awareness and compliance with existing viewing recommendations put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).”

Childhood obesity, apathy, passivity, compliance, earlier sexual activity, attention deficit, impaired cognitive ability, hyperactivity, depression and aggression are all increasing in children. Television is could well be contributing to this global malaise. [3] It is not difficult to see why the child’s ability to actually learn is impaired. It is not the quantity of programmes that is at fault, but the quality. Given that the quality of television is tied to the market place, then it stands to reason that television will project these ways of being straight into the waiting brains of the young. Children aged 6 to 8 now respond to the image of a television as alcoholics do to images of drink. [4]

Though a contributory factor, it is not the content of the programming that is doing the damage. The child’s brain is under attack from a deluge of images at the precise time that the mind/brain matrix is attempting to build neural fields that are healthy and stable, with images sourced from within rather than implanted by negative anxiety and adrenalin-drenched images from without. Quick camera switches, rapid image movement, computer generated objects, computer generated morphing and other technological stimuli are called “jolts” or “technical events” which induce the hormonal “fight or flight” response  together with the accompanying adrenal rush. [5] It is an addictive habit that forces the mind to latch onto firm ground that is forever being snatched away. This mind/body addiction means a near catatonic state; the glassy-eyed child fixed to the induction of alpha waves, ensures a hypnotizing effect that is most damaging to the neural circuits still being formed in small children. With these artificial images comes a habitually false sense of reality which becomes hardwired as author and scientist Joseph Chiltern Pearce explains:

Television feeds both the stimulus and response into the infant-child’s brain as a single-paired effect and herein lays the danger. Television floods the brain with a counterfeit of the response of the brain is supposed to learn to make to the stimuli of words or music. As a result much structural coupling between mind and environment is eliminated; few metaphoric images develop; few higher cortical areas of the brain are called into play; few, if any symbolic structures develop. [6]

Divorced from a measured and contextual response, the media plays its part in shovelling on fear and insecurity, pumping international horrors into our living rooms and already tired minds. There is always a variety of ways that consumer culture can allow you to buy back that security, however fleeting. Instinctual sex and violence ensures a “dumbed down” populace while ensuring ratings increases more of the same. In other words:

Since there is no way to stop the images, one merely gives over to them. More than this, one has to clear all channels of reception to allow them in more cleanly. Thinking only gets in the way.” […]  Every advertiser, for example, knows that before you can convince anyone of anything, you shatter their existing mental set and then restructure awareness along lines which are useful to you. You do this with a few very simple techniques like fast-moving images, jumping among attention focuses, and switching moods… [7] [Emphasis mine]

Our potential brain becomes imprisoned by the lower limbic brain and is sedated by the habitual and familiar: it is safe, comfortable, passive and devoid of the subtle nuances of creativity. Drop in doses of random violence and meaningless sex into the pliable mind of the child and a progressive normalisation of a pathological world view begins to take place. The child’s highly emotional mind ensures an easy state for conditioning. It is literally contoured towards states of acceptance. Babies and toddlers are unconsciously shocked into submission and programmed into mediocrity even before they can rationalize and conceptualise. Whether they will be able to think critically and discern truth from fiction later in life in combination with other environmental factors, is the key question.

The mass programming of movies, magazines, gaming and the integration of the internet and T.V. cannot by themselves, be considered threatening to the psychology of children and young adults. It is unlikely for example, that playing extremely violent, hyper-realistic, computer games such as Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Kombat is going to cause irreversible damage if they played occasionally. However, taken together and with the emphasis on the type of content being absorbed, one can make such a statement with assurance. At the age children begin to play video games they have not sufficiently developed the ability to distinguish between what is reality and what is not. These forms of mind stimulation make sure that, as adults, our focus lies in the realm of subjectivity rather than objectivity while all the time we believe the reverse.

The average American absorbs 34 GB of information a day, though half of it is obtained from playing video games. [8] It is little wonder that such games are coming under repeated suspicion when we read the following reviews from online gaming sites: “Hit man: Blood Money delivers the most brutal and realistic simulation of life as the world’s deadliest assassin.” In this game you must eliminate your opponents using a variety of weapons and killing techniques. One scene depicts a basement shootout where several busty, bronzed, bikini-clad maidens must be summarily blown away to progress to the next level. In the opening start-page one can see the hit man holding one of these aforementioned women by the throat with the implication that he intends to use her as a shield. You can imagine what follows.

Another game describes a futuristic battle where: “…three nations with opposing political views have erupted in an all-out war. From the cockpit of a giant metal ‘HOUND’, you must power your tower of heavy artillery through giant war zones while backing five others on your squad and dodging the firepower of six other live players via Xbox Live.” And further: “In Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter you can play as a Ghost, the best trained and equipped soldier the US Army has to offer. The year is 2013 and an insurgency has broken out in Mexico City, and it is your job to infiltrate the city and attempt to restore order.” That of course, means wiping out as many folks as you can. Or if a more gory enterprise is more to your taste: “Ninety-Nine Nights is a pure hack-and-slasher, brought to you by both Mizuguchi’s Q!” There is no limit to the number of weapons you can conjure and use nor the amount and variety of people you can kill. No irritating shades of grey here.

What about some good old fashioned propaganda? You need not look far for a double helping of “fun” in the guise of FA-18 Operation Desert Storm where, as an intrepid US pilot in the Allied Coalition, you must fly your FA-18 Hornet across enemy lines to bring down Iraqi forces for the ultimate glory that was Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Gulf war. Then there is Conflict: Desert Storm II Back to Baghdad where one on-line reviewer seemed to epitomize the dissociation involved with the reality of war versus the de-sensitization of real life:

“… there’s one thing that makes Conflict Desert Storm so engaging, and that’s the feeling you get when you’re all alone, your companions’ dead bodies scattered all around you, hiding behind a couple of clay pots to avoid the tank that’s just feet away. Finding yourself in this position just illustrates the sense of loneliness on the battle-field as you have no one to watch your back and success from this point becomes even more rewarding. The fine line is, that Conflict Desert Storm is simply better than any other war game that I’ve ever played and well worth the 10 quid that I paid for it…”

One wonders what the dead US soldiers and the millions of dead and mutilated Iraqi civilians would say to such “entertainment.” Such is the price of suffering that is reduced to teenage computer games and a “ten quid” tension ride.

Is there really such a difference between the programming of “Shock and Awe” pop video coverage courtesy of Fox T.V. and the gaming consoles in most American and European homes? If you were thinking that “Shock and Awe” sounded like a perfect computer game title then it will come as no surprise that the company’s US computer game office asked the Patent Office to let them register the words as a trademark. Sony backed down from plans to use the phrase as a title for its game about the war with Iraq due to customer and gamers distaste at such a move, especially as the patent was applied for only one day after the war started.

The studies that found violent video games had long-term, detrimental effects were given a further boost of credibility when in 2001, Japanese Professor Ryuta Kawashima, a brain imaging specialist, decided to investigate the levels of brain activity in children playing video games. He was hoping that his research would benefit the gaming world, thus possibilities for his own funding. His findings however, did not please the games manufacturers. The professor was convinced that children who play computer and video games excessively will not develop their frontal lobes and may therefore be more prone to act more violently as they grow up. [9]

As well as a clear correlation between watching violent video games and increased aggression, poor academic performance has also been repeatedly found to be a consistent result of prolonged gaming. [10]  In a world of apps and i-phones these effects are beginning to reach deeper into the young and are causing concern from a number of scientists and academics.

Maryanne Wolf, an author and cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University in Massachusetts quoted in a September 2010 Guardian piece states: “It takes time to think deeply about information and we are becoming accustomed to moving on to the next distraction. I worry that the circuits that give us deep reading abilities will atrophy in adults and not be properly formed in the young.” The New York Time’s Nick Bilton reported on The UK Millennium Cohort Study in his March 31st article of 2013: ‘The Child, the Tablet and the Developing Mind.’ The study, which had been following 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 published a report in in the same year and found that children who watched more than three hours of television or DVDs a day “… had a higher chance of behavioural problems, emotional symptoms and relationship problems by the time they were 7 than children who did not. The study, of a sample of 11,000 children, found that children who played video games — often age-appropriate games — for the same amount of time did not show any signs of negative behavioral changes by the same age.”

So, it seems it is the quality and content and exposure time to these types of technology that is the issue.

Digitale-DemenzIn Europe, German neuropsychiatrist Dr. Manfred Spitzer has shown in his book Digitale Demenz (Digital Dementia – 2012) that when young children are exposed to too much computer-based activities their brain development suffers resulting in irreversible deformations. [11] Though not the first to investigate the effects of computers and software on young brains, his findings have drawn considerable criticism, not for the science it seems, but for the heresy of pointing out substantial drawbacks in the perceived perfection of a new technology that is currently re-shaping lives.

Researchers in 2005 also found a new perceptual effect they labelled “attentional rubber-necking” which appears to mimic the “jolts” and “shocks” we have from the dynamics of visual pollution. The Vanderbilt and Yale University study found that when people are exposed to erotic or violent images they often fail to fully process what they see immediately after. [12] It seems the mind’s capacity to absorb information – and perhaps crucial data – can switch off like a light bulb in a darkened room, or in the researchers words, an “emotion-induced blindness.” New research also suggests that young adult brains continue to be malleable to new thoughts and ideas (especially when fused with a highly emotional content) up until age 18 and beyond, though the areas of the brain affected tend to change.

The organizing and re-integrating of new sensory information via this technology shows such a “synthesis helps shape the kinds of emotional and behavioural responses [children] have to new experiences.” [13] It is these experiences that dictate exactly how a personality and its brain responds and perceives the outer world and whether it attains a creative or entropic response. How can an individual learn to understand himself and his psychological “wounds” if he is distracted and buffered by chemical inducing technology; where feelings, thoughts and dreams are fused with artifice?

The merging of official culture with new forms of technological addiction seems assured. Evelyn Pringle, writing for online journal Counterpunch in April 2010 revealed more information regarding the experiments in the effects of technology on children in her widely quoted report: ‘The Psychiatric Drugging of Infants and Toddlers.’ In 2010, the University of Maryland conducted an experiment named “Unplugged.” Researchers asked 200 undergraduates to stop using all internet and cell phone technology for one day and to keep a diary of how they were feeling. Many of the students reported symptoms of dependency and addiction. The University of Maryland concluded that: “Most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable, to be without their media links to the world.” This means that similar studies are unlikely to attract the participants needed for further evaluations.

Research quoted by Newsweek’s Tony Dokoupil in his in-depth July 2012 report: ‘Is the Web Driving Us Mad?’ is also instructive.  He introduces Professor Gary Small, the head of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center, who, in 2008, proved conclusively that changes in the brain occurred even with moderate Internet use. 24 people were used in the study half of which were experienced internet users and the others very green. While the green users were normal, the veteran users’ brains were scanned and found to have “fundamental” alterations in the prefrontal cortexes. Then, each of the newbie participants were instructed to spend five hours online and then scanned again. A definite “re-wiring” of their brains had taken place.  More from Dokoupil’s research presently.

The latest technological appendages that we and especially children cannot do without are the i-phones, i-pads and tablets. The new diagnosis of i-phone addiction disorder is starting to do the rounds. Journalist Evelyn Pringle further highlights cases from Taiwan involving one:

 “… high-school boy who ended up in an asylum after his iPhone usage reached 24 hours a day. The other [case] featured a 31-year-old saleswoman who used her phone while driving. Both cases might have been laughed off if not for a 200-person Stanford study of iPhone habits released at the same time. It found that one in 10 users feels ‘fully addicted’ to his or her phone. All but 6 percent of the sample admitted some level of compulsion, while 3 percent won’t let anyone else touch their phones.”

Meanwhile, the UK Telegraph ran a report from 2013 By Victoria Ward, entitled: ‘Toddlers becoming so addicted to iPads they require therapy.’ As the title suggested toddlers are fast becoming addicted to i-pads and tablets as a result of lazy parenting and a symptom of a laissez-faire attitude to technology in general. Many medical experts are concerned that: “… parents who allow babies and toddlers to access tablet computers for several hours a day are in danger of causing ‘dangerous’ long term effects,” The report stated. It went on to describe the case of a four-year-old girl from the South East of England who is the youngest known patient being treated in the UK. Dr Richard Graham, who launched the UK’s first technology addiction programme in 2010 is seeing an increasing number of children displaying symptoms of severe addiction in relation to i-pads and internet-based technology. A 28-day “digital detox” programme is offered to desperate parents at the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London. He told the Telegraph that:  “… young technology addicts experienced the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts, when the devices were taken away. He warned that the condition prevented young people from forming normal social relationships, leaving them drained by the constant interaction.”

But as baby-proof iPad covers and iPotties flood the market of convenience it seems this particular addiction will provide another market for healing and drug prescription.

Over in the United States Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is distributing tablets along with suitable curricula to college students. Part of the Department of Education and Common Core education initiative, it promises to lock children into a monolithic, centralised screen-based education with very little participation from parents and educators. Since children spend most of their days locked into their laptops, i-phones and computer games now they’ll be spending the rest of their waking hours staring into a computer screen studying a curriculum they already had little interest in.

Founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology EdX, a nonprofit enterprise offers online courses using automated software and artificial intelligence to grade student essays and other written answers. As the New York Time’s John Markoff, describes it in his piece: ‘Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break’: “Imagine taking a college exam, and, instead of handing in a blue book and getting a grade from a professor a few weeks later, clicking the “send” button when you are done and receiving a grade back instantly, your essay scored by a software program. And then, instead of being done with that exam, imagine that the system would immediately let you rewrite the test to try to improve your grade.” The idea is to free up more time for college and University professors. That efficiency meme again…

Though many educators and academics loathe the idea and are resisting its implementation it seems inevitable that such automation in education will become the norm in a system that prides itself on technocratic principles rather than the needs of the child. ‘The Epidemic of Media Multi-tasking while learning’, by Annie Murphy Paul posted in May of 2013 to education/tech site http://www.navigator.compasslearning.com explored this very subject. It reached some disturbing conclusions, namely the erosion of student’s focus and attention through excessive multi-tasking.

Researchers from the lab of Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills followed students as they went about their onerous studying and where he and his colleagues “… counted the number of windows open on the students’ screens and noted whether the students were wearing ear-buds.”

While ticking boxes on a check-list which included: “reading a book, writing on paper, typing on the computer—and also using email, looking at Facebook, engaging in instant messaging, texting, talking on the phone, watching television, listening to music, surfing the web.” It seems that students’ “on-task behavior” began to decline at after only two minutes choosing to respond to text messages or checking Facebook. Only 65 percent of the observation period was spent doing homework. Rosen stated: “We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching. It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”

Unlike radio, the T.V., – and by extension, the internet – by replacing storytelling and other shared activities, may have paradoxically contributed to the loss of societal communication and cohesion. Eventually, this has devalued play in all its forms, eroded parenting skills, even inducing ignorance towards the idea of parenting itself. The internet is certainly an extraordinary tool for knowledge, information and social exchange, but naturally, it has a dark side which can be forgotten in the rush to embrace it.

From Tony Dokoupil’s Newsweek article, he usefully summarises the rate of change and some of its effects:

In less than the span of a single childhood, Americans have merged with their machines, staring at a screen for at least eight hours a day, more time than we spend on any other activity including sleeping. Teens fit some seven hours of screen time into the average school day; 11, if you count time spent multitasking on several devices. When President Obama last ran for office, the iPhone had yet to be launched. Now smartphones outnumber the old models in America, and more than a third of users get online before getting out of bed.

Meanwhile, texting has become like blinking: the average person, regardless of age, sends or receives about 400 texts a month, four times the 2007 number. The average teen processes an astounding 3,700 texts a month, double the 2007 figure. And more than two thirds of these normal, everyday cyborgs, myself included, report feeling their phone vibrate when in fact nothing is happening. Researchers call it “phantom-vibration syndrome.”

Dukoupil reported on the latest peer-reviewed research and other common findings which could only be seen as a slap in the face of internet utopians. He further stated: “The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.”

Newsweek conducted its own research reviewing findings from over a dozen countries all of which are following the same trajectory of addiction with their attendant negative effects. These include depression, reactive psychosis, anxiety, and the common rise in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The latter is linked to internet and i-phone addiction after studies reported by journalists Alan Schwartz and Sarah Cohen in a New York Times article of March 2013: ‘A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise’ confirmed nearly one in five high school age boys and 11 percent of school-age children in general have received a medical diagnosis of ADHD. This is what the data revealed after a 53 percent rise in the condition in just a decade. Is there a link? Many believe so. Which makes a very lucrative case for Big Pharma, since all these children need to be medicalised, it seems.

It is no coincidence that also in the last decade the number of children less than a year old receiving medication has sky-rocketed in the United States. Diagnoses of bipolar disorder has also doubled over the last decade according to a Reuters report. Journalist by Evelyn Pringle writing for the previously mentioned 2010 Counterpunch article observed: “Of antipsychotic-treated children in the 2007 study sample, [from Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry] the most common diagnoses were pervasive developmental disorder or mental retardation (28.2%), ADHD (23.7%), and disruptive behavior disorder (12.9%).

In one sense, all of us who use computers are made addicts since the average person spends more than 38 hours online due to the rapidly changing nature of technology tied to the workplace. The child however, is in the front line of this neurological change.

With a diet of gratuitous violence – whether comic book or ultra-realism – the child is habituated to a glut of sensation and the neurological stunting that eventuates. Anything less than this is “boring”. A spiritual vacuum condemns our future adults to a “filthy tide” of cheap thrills and superficiality wrapped in soft quilts of technical addiction. The damaged care for the damaged and perpetuate the legacy. Notwithstanding the background link of 18 Certificate computer gaming in most of the US shooting massacres of recent times, the ubiquitous and increasing levels of extreme violence and destruction classed as entertainment on our TVs and in our cinemas is deeply concerning.

When combined with the rise of SMART society and social media it can only exacerbate an already violence-saturated culture. However, the key to reducing this incursion seems to lie in the quality and content of the internet and video games and the type of technology to which we expose our children.

In writer Eli Khamarov’s words: “Most people are awaiting Virtual Reality; I’m awaiting virtuous reality.”

 


Notes

[1] Robert E. Hales, The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry (2008) p. 1472.
[2] ‘Development of a Cognitive Process Model to Explain the Effects of Heavy Television Viewing on Social Judgment’ L. J. Shrum, Rutgers University | http://www.acrwebsite.org/search/view-conference-proceedings.aspx?Id=8172
[3] Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (Vol 159, p 607, p 614, p 619, p 687) quoted from NewScientist.com news service ‘Watching TV harms kids’ academic success’ by Anna Gosline July 4, 2005.
[4] “Lure of Television is stronger than a smile” by David Lister, The Times, November 7, 2006: “Previous research into the behaviour of young children and babies has shown that they prefer to look at faces and do so instinctively in order to learn and to communicate. This was borne out by an initial experiment on 34 five-year-olds, 25 eight-year-olds and 34 adults, in which they were each shown a photograph of a face alongside either a doll’s house, a toy boat, a toy train, a tap, a teapot or a wall clock. The overwhelming majority looked at the image of a face before the competing object.In a second experiment, however, 143 children aged 5 to 8 were seated in front of a computer screen on which the image of a blank television screen was shown next to a face for less than a second. The children were told to press the spacebar as soon as they saw a bar of chocolate appear on the screen. Most of the children aged 6 to 8 pressed the spacebar fastest when the chocolate bar appeared behind the picture of the television and not the face, suggesting that they were already looking at it. Only the five-year-olds responded fastest when the chocolate was behind the face. Martin Doherty, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Stirling, who carried out the research with Dr Bindemann, said: ‘One of the interesting things is that five-year-olds still have a face bias but six-year-olds don’t.’”
[5] Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, published by William Morrow, 1978 | ISBN: 0688082742.
[6] p.166; Evolutions End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence By Joseph Chiltern Pearce Published by HarperCollins 1992, ISBN 0-06-250693-5.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Part of the Daily American Diet, 34 Gigabytes of Data’ By Nick Bilton, The New York Times, December 9, 2009.
[9] ‘Heavy Video Game Use by Kids May slow Brain Development – Game industry disputes findings of Japanese study’ – The Observer August 19, 2001.
[10] Video games ‘increase aggression’, 23 April, 2000, BBC News.
[11] Digitale Demenz: Wie wir uns und unsere Kinder um den Verstand bringen By Manfred Spitzer. (only in German at the time of writing.)
[12] ‘Researchers explore a perceptual effect called ‘attentional rubbernecking’ by Melanie Moran, August 2005 Vanderbilt University, Nashville USA.
[13] ‘Brains of Young Adults Not Fully Mature’ By Ker Than http://www.livescience.com February, 2006.

The Rise of Narcissism and the Loss of Meaning II

“As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. The beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves.”

– Daniel J. Boorstin


Individualism does not have to be selfish and uncooperative. On the contrary, individual integrity while communing with the whole is what being human is all about. Whereas conforming to a bland, homogenous consensus of selfish dictates that defines so much of economic and cultural discourse is one sure way to lose one’s conception of self. What society seems to be growing is an unhealthy and destructive self-obsession that is rapidly normalised as a symptom of a “dog-eat-dog” world. To “be someone” means that we have to play the game and it is a one that gradually brainwashes you into thinking that this is what you do – for the rest of your life: be one of the herd or be an outsider that attains “success.”  Yet, perhaps those two avenues are really just the same? What does it mean to groove oneself into a routine of 9-5, TV, weekend peace and family life with barely the time to think? What of that desire to have wealth, status and to be adored? The latter is directly mirroring the Establishment perception made up of corporate leaders, politicians, members of the monarchy and endless TV shows like X-factor and American Idol that tell us if you are not wealthy and do not have power and influence, you do not exist – you have no significance.

You must conform to the idea of success and love as defined by our culture. In effect, your we do not have the time, space or energy to truly shape our own identity outside the bubble of cultural dynamics within which we are immersed. Urban life and present technology is only reinforcing that largely unconscious existential crisis.

It is a tired cliché that success does not define individual integrity any more than integrity can define the type and quality of that success. To have personal integrity automatically places value on the type of success you wish to attract and pursue.  Which is perhaps why, despite the obvious material advances for many, we are not getting happier. This is especially true for young women. As we get more unhappy, yet more affluent the unhappiness becomes a form of aggressive entitlement for material acquisition, status and the ease and comfort this provides. No one wants to be a pauper either but there appears to be a serious displacement of core needs lying deep within societies; a spiritual yearning that is not only being ignored but actively subverted.

In 1999 a comprehensive study was carried out in the UK on the incidence of: “…common mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks and anhedonia (loss of capacity to experience pleasure). The results showed an increase in these disorders with a significant increase for girls from 19 percent to 32 percent. But the latest sets of results are even more dramatic. There has been an increase for both sexes: boys are now on 21 percent, and girls are at a staggering rate of 44 percent.” [1] Reasons for such a change left most social scientists and psychologists floundering ranging from: “… declines in family life, rises in inequality or reductions in social cohesion.” However, all of those factors seemed to be the effects rather than the cause.

Enter American Psychologist Jean Twenge: “…whose most recent work has been to analyse what she describes as a ‘narcissism epidemic’ in the US that is disproportionately affecting women. Her meta-analysis covered 37,000 college students. It found that in 1982, 15 percent got high scores on a narcissism personality index; by 2006 it was 25 percent – and the largest share of this increase was women.” And further: “…in the 1950s only 12 percent of college students agreed that ‘I am an important person’, but by the late 80s it was 80 percent. In 1967, only 45 percent agreed that ‘being well-off is an important life goal’, but by 2004 the figure was 74 percent.” [2]

Twenge and W. Keith Campbell’s findings are included in their 2009 book: Living in the Age of Entitlement: The Narcissism Epidemic that describes  that: we are living through the results of something very rotten indeed being expressed with increasingly alacrity through the minds of the young. They reveal that: “Nearly 1 out of 10 of Americans in their twenties, and 1 out of 16 of those of all ages, has experienced the symptoms of NPD. Even these shocking numbers are just the tip of the iceberg; lurking underneath is the narcissistic culture that has drawn in many more. The narcissism epidemic has spread to the culture as a whole, affecting both narcissistic and less self-centred people.” [3]

Authors Twenge and Campbell paint a picture of Western culture in dire need of a sense of meaning and purpose away from the thrall of artifice:

On a reality TV show, a girl planning her sixteenth birthday party wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet. A book called “My Beautiful Mommy” explains plastic surgery to young children whose mothers are going under the knife for the trendy “Mommy Makeover.” It is now possible to hire fake paparazzi to follow you around snapping your photograph when you go out at night — you can even take home a faux celebrity magazine cover featuring the pictures.

A popular song declares, with no apparent sarcasm, “I believe that the world should revolve around me!” People buy expensive homes with loans far beyond their ability to pay — or at least they did until the mortgage market collapsed as a result. Babies wear bibs embroidered with “Supermodel” or “Chick Magnet” and suck on “Bling” pacifiers while their parents read modernized nursery rhymes from This Little Piggy Went to Prada. People strive to create a “personal brand” (also called “self-branding”), packaging themselves like a product to be sold. Ads for financial services proclaim that retirement helps you return to childhood and pursue your dreams. High school students pummel classmates and then seek attention for their violence by posting YouTube videos of the beatings.

Although these seem like a random collection of current trends, all are rooted in a single underlying shift in the American psychology: the relentless rise of narcissism in our culture. Not only are there more narcissists than ever, but non-narcissistic people are seduced by the increasing emphasis on material wealth, physical appearance, celebrity worship, and attention seeking. Standards have shifted, sucking otherwise humble people into the vortex of granite countertops, tricked-out MySpace pages, and plastic surgery. A popular dance track repeats the words: ‘success, fame, glamour” over and over, declaring that all other values has “either been discredited or destroyed.[4]

An important point is made in the introduction that “Narcissism is a psycho-cultural affliction rather than a physical disease, but the model fits remarkably well.” Indeed it does. This understanding is vital for comprehending the depth to which psychopathy has filtered down from the top after similarly infecting the centres of power within all institutions, something we will explore in depth. For now, what do the authors consider to be the causes?

Twenge and other psychologists believe one of the primary drivers is parenting supported by the competitive world of the consumer market. Aside from the mass-market entertainment industry that thrives on narcissistic themes, the constant drip-drip of pathologies in both public and private institutions and governing bodies which are preventing alternative and more integrative frameworks from appearing. Meantime, parents and teachers will inevitably pass on learned behaviour and unconscious narcissistic traits.

Benczur-narcissus

Narcissus by Gyula Benczúr

The very nature of parenting in British and American societies will be fraught with difficulties. The happy, well-adjusted and emotionally nourished child seems to be disappearing. Due to the emotional osmosis that occurs from the womb to the formative years and beyond, parental influence deeply imprints the child’s emerging personality. If the parents have any number of unconscious fears or unresolved character deformations they will certainly appear in their offspring to a greater or lesser degree. The modifying properties will be dependent on the child’s inherent will, strength and spiritual capacities to overcome such influences and forge his own unique destiny. As s/he proceeds through schooling these parental influences will rage for dominance in the mind until such time as developmental thresholds are surmounted and integrated. If not, then the personality health is held back by a number of traumas, large or small, that nevertheless have a direct connection to early childhood parental influence. These internal and external influences meet and cause all kinds of fears, insecurities, anxieties and confusion to manifest along with the atrophying of natural emotional development. By fourteen or fifteen it will be evident that a fully-rounded out individual who is able to make his or her way in the world is not present, or if it is, it is the narcissistic false personality that is empty within and sporadically capable without. His parental pathologies, minor or major, now mix with his own to create the false image and the commensurate pain and suffering that ensues to keep that façade alive.

Clinical psychology 101 will tell us that the absence of self-awareness and blind-spots in the parents regarding their own fears and neuroses, emotional traumas of the past and present will seed themselves in the new-born as unconsciously learned behaviours. It is vital that would-be parents seeking the best for their unborn child understand that the only way to reduce the danger of one’s child developing a narcissistic personality disorder in our present times, is for them to embark on a process of self-knowledge and self-awareness prior to the birth so that unresolved psychological “blockages” or underlying disorders are recognised and a method of healing initiated.  If the parents can reduce the level of problems within and mitigate their transference to the arriving child, perhaps this is the greatest parental gift one can give to an emerging soul.

Why is it that we are seeing serious personality disorders in teenagers and young adults that seem to come from families with no presence of overt abuse? The above describes a new form of dysfunction that is quite different to the overt emotional, physical/sexual abuse that can occur within the family environment. What we have here is a type of parental position within the family that confers a covert-narcissism, where the needs of the parents take precedent of the needs of the child or children which is sacrificed for the good of “family appearances.” This is a largely unconscious dynamic on the part of the parents (or single parent) and usually occurs sometime during the developmental stage of differentiation between child and adult i.e. when the child begins to assert his identity and seeks to become individual.

What is interesting is that the needs of the child within these types of families are certainly met when they are babies or toddlers. As s/he grows up a more skilful parenting based on self-knowledge is required and when the true nature of the relationship becomes known. Psychologists Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman describe the process:

As the child’s psychological needs become more of a factor in the life of the family, the narcissistic family truly develops. The parent system is unable to adapt to meet the child’s needs, and the child, in order to survive, must be the one to adapt. The inversion process starts: the responsibility for meeting needs gradually shifts from the parent to the child. Whereas in infancy the parents may have met the needs of the child, now the child is more and more attempting to meet the needs of the parent, for only in this way can the child gain attention, acceptance, and approval….the needs of children, especially the emotional needs, increase geometrically as their tractability decreases. [5]

A host of reasons from the parents’ point of view can interfere with this process where their own needs – due to stress, mental illness, work demands etc. – are placed before the needs of their child. This largely refers to emotional nourishment rather than material demands. As the child feels misunderstood and neglected he begins to draw attention to the fact and a battle is set in motion between the parents’ needs and the child with the result that in sometimes subtle ways affection and attention are withheld so that the child is forced to confront his own emotional confusion. This means the child’s emotional needs go unattended and his independence and opportunity to learn about himself and the process at work is denied. He waits and reacts to parental expectations which relates to passivity and reaction rather than an emerging healthy independence. This breeds dependency and insecurity based on the reflection of the parents’ needs and expectations rather than his own.

This frustrated need for validation becomes a driving force in all external relations along with an undercurrent of anger and unhappiness leading to depression, chronic dissatisfaction, poor self-esteem and lack of confidence. As he sought to find his true personality the absence of an emotional foundation comes back to haunt him as indecisiveness and indecision due to an over-reliance on external cues and with no role-models to show him the way forward. If others’ needs and expectations have taken over his own then it is those to which he will identify, further eroding his sense of self. The net result of all this is the loss of the child’s true identity and the appropriation of a number of pathologies, the most common of which is overt narcissism.

The only way forward for such an individual is via acceptance and responsibility. Acceptance arrives when he understands that what happened was beyond his control and the chance to take responsibility for your his own psychological health. Most of all: forgiveness. Parents are immersed in the same world as their children and they are victims of the same to varying degrees. But victim-hood, as we will discover, must not become an escape from reality or an excuse to repeat the same patterns. The only way to break the hold of narcissistic tendencies and pathologies in the world at large is to heal our emotions and accrue knowledge of their presence in ourselves and our environment. Without this will to heal, we all become “preformatted” to fit into the emerging narcissistic culture. The factors leading to parental ignorance of these matters derive from the pathologies we have looked at previously and will go into greater depth as we continue.

What is perhaps even more disturbing is the twist on reality dispensed by the American Psychological Association who believes that because narcissism has become so ubiquitous it should be re-evaluated as a personality disorder.

Andrew E. Skodol, MD, chair of the DSM-5’s personality disorder work group and a psychiatry professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine believes: “There is a fair amount of literature suggesting that narcissism is a dimension varying amongst people and across disorders,” and: “not necessarily a disorder in and of itself.” Yet according to Thomas Arthur Widiger, PhD, a University of Kentucky psychology professor who served on the DSM-5’s research planning committee the new decision was not “… based on a systematic or objective review of the data and, if implemented, would have a chilling effect on personality disorder research.” Widiger is unequivocal as to the result of such a ruling: “By turning narcissistic personality disorder into a list of traits that will lack official coding within a medical record, you are essentially relegating it to a sidebar that will unlikely draw much research or diagnostic interest.” [6]

Many psychiatrists and psychologists concur as it will play right into the hands of further pathologies arising like building blocks on the firm foundations of normalised narcissism.

What if extreme entitlement and exploitation of others makes these individuals more likely to extreme forms of rage, aggression and violence against innocent people even in the absence of provocation? In fact, recent scholarship has identified this probability in narcissists along with some researchers suggesting that pathological narcissism may actually be psychopathy: “…when egocentricity, lack of empathy, and sense of superiority of the narcissist blends with the impulsivity, deceitfulness, and criminal tendencies of the antisocial, the result is a psychopathic individual who seeks gratification of selfish impulses through any means without remorse or empathy.”  [7]

 


Notes

[1] ‘The narcissism of consumer society has left women unhappier than ever’ by Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, July 26, 2009.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Living in the Age of Entitlement: The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge PhD and W. Keith Campbell PhD. Published by Free Press, 2009.
[4] op. cit. Twenge, Campbell, (p.1)
[5] The Narcissitic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman, Published by Jossey Bass; 1st Pbk. Ed edition, 1997. ISBN-10: 078790870.pp.28-29.
[6] ‘Narcissism and the DSM’ February 2011, Vol 42, No. 2, page 67 American Psychological Association.
[7] Personality disorders in modern life. By T. Millon and R. Davis 2000. Published by John Wiley & Sons. 1st edition.
[8] Cocaine:An Unauthorized Biography byDominic Streatfeild. Published by St. Martin’s Press, 26 Jun 2002 |  “On May 16th, 1499 Amerigo Vespucci set sail for the New World. Three months later, having navigated his way along the coastline of Brazil, he washed up on an idyllic desert island fifteen leagues from the mainland. There he was appalled to discover a tribe of hideous Indians, their mouths stuffed full of leaves “like beasts.” The leaves were coca, source of the drug cocaine.Five hundred years later, the effects of the discovery are still felt. In 1999 South America produced 613,4000 tons of coca, with a potential yield of 765 tons of cocaine. Last year a United Nations report estimated that the global cocaine trade generated $92 billion per year – $20 billion more than the combined revenues of Microsoft, Kellogg’s and McDonald’s.”