The Depression Preference

When I describe mental illness as “an extreme, socially disapproved preference,” the most convincing counter-example people offer is depression.  Do I really think people “want to be depressed” or choose depression as a bizarre alternative lifestyle?

My quick answer: These objections confuse preferences with meta-preferences.

No one chooses to have the gene for cilantro aversion.  Yet people with the cilantro aversion gene are perfectly able to eat this vegetable.  They just strongly prefer not to.

Similarly, when I say that alcoholics are people who value heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages more than family harmony, this doesn’t mean that they like having these priorities.  If they could press a button which would eliminate their craving for alcohol, I bet many alcoholics would press it.  But given their actual cravings, they prefer to keep drinking heavily despite the suffering of their families.

The same holds even more strongly for the typical person diagnosed with clinical depression.  Most people with loving families and successful careers are happy.  Clinically depressed people, however, often have both loving families and successful careers, yet still want to kill themselves.  Their preference is so extreme that it confuses the rest of us.  They’d almost surely rather have a different preference.  But it is their preference nonetheless.

Not convinced?  Think back to the early 1970s, when psychiatrists still classified homosexuality as a mental disorder.  I object, “Mental disorder?  No, it’s just an extreme, socially disapproved preference.”  When critics incredulously respond, “Do you really think people choose to be gay?,” I say they’re confusing preferences with meta-preferences.  To be gay is to sexually prefer people of your own gender.  This doesn’t mean that gays want to feel this way.  If a gay-to-straight conversion button existed in the intolerant world of 1960, I bet that most gays would have gladly pushed it for themselves.  Even today, I think many gay teens would press the conversion button to fit in and avoid conflict.  But so what?  Hypothetical buttons can’t transform a preference into a disorder.

Is this all just a word game?  No.  The economic distinction between preferences and constraints that I’m drawing upon has three big substantive implications here.

First, people with extreme preferences could make different choices.  People with cilantro aversion are able to eat cilantro.  Alcoholics are able to stop drinking.  The depressed can refrain from suicide.  And so on.  This is fundamentally different from my inability to bench press 300 pounds – or live to be 150 years old.

Second, as a corollary, people with extreme preferences can – and routinely do – respond to incentives.  People with cilantro aversion are more likely to eat cilantro if other foods are expensive or inconvenient.  Alcoholics respond to alcohol taxes – and family pressure.  Depressed parents may delay suicide until their kids are grown.  Even in a tragic situation, incentives matter.*

Third, as a further corollary, people with extreme preferences can – and routinely do – find better ways to cope.  People reshape their own preferences all the time; perhaps you can do the same.  Failing that, perhaps you can discover more constructive ways to satisfy the preferences that you’re stuck with.  For example, if you’re extremely depressed despite great career success, you really should try some experiments in living.  Perhaps you’ll be miserable whatever you do.  But if you’ve only experienced one narrow lifestyle, how do you know?  Maybe you’d feel better if you tried putting friendship or hobbies above “achievement.”

It’s tempting to insist that there’s something pathological about having conflicting preferences and meta-preferences.  On reflection, however, these conflicts are a ubiquitous feature of human existence.  Almost everyone would like to feel differently in some important dimension.  Almost everyone reading this probably wishes they were less lazy, more patient, more outgoing, more loving, more ambitious, or more persistent.  But you still are the preferences you really have.  There’s plenty of room for improvement, but that doesn’t mean you’re sick.

* I’m well-aware that many physical symptoms also respond to incentives.  You can pressure a diabetic to lose weight, which in turn reverses his diabetes.  But all of these incentive effects require time to work.  The symptoms of mental illness, in contrast, can and often do respond to incentives instantly, because they are choices that are always within your grasp.  “I’m divorcing you unless you stop drinking right now” is a viable threat.  “I’m divorcing you unless you stop being diabetic right now” is silly one.

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One Institution at a Time

The institutions of America are crumbling, it says here, but none so time-honored and none so precipitously as the Fourth Estate.

I’m not sure when I stopped reading newspapers, but they fell out of my favor when I was a freshman in college.  My professor for Advanced Composition used the local papers in every class to present to us examples of horrendously poor writing.  Sometimes he would even use the eminences such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Louisville Courier-Journal.  He implied that eventually we would become dolts, as a national population, because of the habitual trashing of the language.  And, no, he wasn’t a grammar zealot.  Rather, he was one who suggested that the media were pursuing false ideals.

For the next decade, I got my news from Rolling Stone and National Lampoon.  We did not own a television.   News was like tuning in to a soap opera every year or so — the plot lines were still the same, as were the lack of quality.

But my purpose here is not to write a history, but to examine where we are today.  To do this, I have decided to review a typical day’s throughput on popular WWW newsfeeds.

Here are the headlines, except for sports-related ones which could be written by reassembling confetti:

  • [A celebrity] pleads not guilty to multiple charges of criminal sexual abuse — Undeveloped Sex Drama (to be continued)
  • [An alleged disruptor] was carrying toy gun, police reveal after shooting him dead — Jackboot Drama (to be continued)
  • [National] police detain hundreds in [provincial] sweeps — Jackboot Drama (to be continued)
  • Pro-life movie ‘Unplanned’ gets unexpected R rating — Divisiveness Drama (to be continued)
  • A stern memo about [a convict to be sentenced] says he ‘brazenly violated’ law — Veiled Courtroom Drama (to be continued)
  • Every Angle of the 2019 [new product] — Untried Consumer Product Drama (to be continued)
  • [A country’s] [royal personage] becomes country’s first [female] ambassador with [another country] role — Veiled Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • The [nationality] do not have a moral compass in the way they do business — Abstractly Referenced International Commerce Drama (to be continued)
  • AOC: ‘Is It Still Okay to Have Children’ in the Age of Climate Change — AOC/Fear/Climate Drama (to be continued, incessantly)
  • ‘Unhinged madman’: Former U.S. budget director says [POTUS] is ‘conducting 4 wars on the economy’ — Opinion on Opinion (to be continued, incessantly)
  • Airlines admit having cameras installed on back of passengers’ seats — Anti-Corporate Drama (to be continued, incessantly)
  • [A national capital city] Postcard: Children hope to give [a leader] comradely welcome — Opinion on Sideshow / Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • Oscars 2019: The worst-dressed stars including [celebrities A, B, and C] — Opinion on Sideshow / Celebrity Drama (likely to be continued, incessantly)
  • Tunnels, civilians slow capture of [militant group]’s last [a nation] pocket — Pseudo-concrete Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • [A celebrity]’s alleged plan to manufacture outrage diminishes impact of real hate crime — Opinion 0n Hate Crime Drama (to be continued)
  • Tornado tears through [a locale] leads to first tornado death of 2019 — Weather / Fatality Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Flood threat persists in [a region] while severe storms diminish in the [larger region] — Weather Futurism Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Snow emergencies in [northern latitude] — Weather Persistence Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • [A military] officer, self-described white nationalist, planned terror attack to ‘kill almost every last person,’ feds say — Terror / White Nationalism / Fed Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Harry and Meghan meet Moroccan girls during official tour — Royal Drama (never ending)
  • [A politician] attracts crowds in [a primary state], but leaves questions about what she believes — Unsupported Assertion / Unverified Supposition Political Drama (never ending)
  • [A country] breaks diplomatic relations with [another country] over aid, [a politician] says  — Pseudo-concrete Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • Iceberg twice the size of New York City about to break off Antarctica, says NASA — Help me!  I’m melting!  (Every earthly ice mass has an edge from which pieces break)

As Cliff Arquette might have said, “it goes on … ”

I once lived in Manhattan, NYC, for 3 months in 1985.  It was the apparent practice of every “news” outlet to have at least one story every day for both Donald Trump and Rudolph Giuliani.  I learned subsequently that each of those egomaniacs probably planted those stories.  Today’s news mavens, it seems, have taken pages from those books by making sure that certain genre of accounts appear in every release.

— Verbal Vol

 

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Don’t Follow a Sick Society

The more insane the majority of individuals in a society get, the more anti-social the sane people will appear to be.

At least that’s my story.

When everyone’s “solution” involves more archation, I’m going to reject their “solution” and seek my own path.

When I’m required to pretend people with mental issues are empowered to dictate the words I use, I’m going to seem unkind. Because I won’t comply.

If you believe the “climate change” debate centers around what government should (or shouldn’t) do about it, I’m going to reject your proposals. They are without validity, even if they would “work”. Nothing can trump natural human rights. Not even “necessity”.

I’m not going to pretend a political “solution” to anything is legitimate. Not “laws”, not bans, not anything.

I’m fed up with the clamor to find ways to count yourself a victim. Micro-racism, “misgendering“, microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and all the rest. I’m fed up with being told that violating me is the only way to solve some problem, whether real or imaginary.

I reject your control tactics. I reject your collectivism and your “intersectionality”. I reject your politics. It’s all BS.

If everyone wants to be a victim, they’ll find some way I’m victimizing them no matter how I try to bend over backward to accommodate them. So I’m not going to bend. They can take their victimization and choke on it.

I will not archate. I will not support those who do. I will try to defend those who are targets of archation. But I’m not going to pretend fantasy is reality to make crazy people feel better about themselves.

If that makes me “anti-social”, so be it.

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Including the Renegade

In the last six months, I’ve found myself stuck in two separate Sermons on Inclusion.  These were public events.  Neither was branded as left-wing.  Both, however, gave the floor to speakers who explained the supreme value of making everyone feel included in the community.

In each case, my mid-sermon reaction was the same: “I don’t think I’ve ever before felt so excluded in all my life.”

Why would I react so negatively?  It’s not because I disagree with the one-sentence summary of the sermons.  Sure, be friendly to people.  Make them feel welcome.  It’s common decency.  So what’s the problem?

I’m tempted to blame the glaring hypocrisy.  It was obvious that the speakers had zero interest in making Republicans, conservatives, macho males, traditional Christians, veterans, or economists feel included.  In fact, the Sermons on Inclusion were full of thinly-veiled accusations against members of these groups.

Yet on reflection, glaring hypocrisy is too ubiquitous in life to explain why I personally felt so excluded by the Sermons on Inclusion.

The real reason I felt so excluded was that the preachers of both Sermons on Inclusion spoke as if human beings naturally value their cultural heritage.  Frankly, I usually don’t.  I don’t value my religious heritage.  My mother was Catholic, and I was raised Catholic.  But I deem the religion false and don’t care about it.  My don’t value my ethnic heritage.  My mother was Irish, my father was Jewish, but neither identity matters to me.  I don’t support Ireland or Israel… or any other country for that matter.  My parents raised me to be an American nationalist; my schools taught me about the wonders of democracy.  But in all honesty, the only institution I really believe in is business.

So what am I?  A renegade.  And I’m not alone.  Lots of people turn their backs on the religion of their birth.  Lots of people never feel – or lose interest in – their ethnic heritage.  Lots of people dissent from “their” political culture.  Cultural loyalists may call them traitors, sell-outs, self-haters, or gusanos.  Yet despite our cosmic diversity, we renegades have one thing in common: We refuse to be ruled by the circumstances of our birth.  And any sincere Sermon on Inclusion ought to acknowledge our existence and outlook.

Unfortunately, this omission is hard to correct.  Why?  Because one of the main goals of Sermons on Inclusion is to foster group pride, and the existence of renegades is an affront to group pride.  You can’t favorably discuss the assimilated Irish without tacitly snubbing people who cherish their Irish identity.  You can’t people who leave Orthodox Judaism without tacitly snubbing Orthodox Jews.  Et cetera.

But don’t Sermons on Inclusion lionize some renegades, like anti-war veterans or the transgendered?  Sure.  But since the the Sermons barely acknowledge the existence of these renegades’ groups of origin, there’s little tension.  It’s easy to welcome renegades from group X if your default is to exclude typical members of group X.

Are efforts to promote inclusion therefore self-defeating?  Not if you’re careful, because actions speak louder than words.  As I’ve argued before, the best way to make people feel included is just to be friendly and welcoming.  Sermons divide us.  Common decency brings us together.

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On Diversity

The desire by so many for racial diversity seems to trump all other types of diversity. Can it be said that those who clamor for racial diversity “only see color”? Can it also be said that in their pursuit of racial diversity that they are tokenizing individuals as representatives for their race? If the goal is to produce a mix of different skin tones and facial features, then how can the goal also be to respect each person as an individual with individual merit and an individual perspective? What gives a person value in this mix is not their individuality, who they are on the inside and what they have accomplished, but rather, something superficial and virtually uncontrollable, who they are on the outside. It’s as if their only worth is as a member of a certain group (race, gender, sexual orientation). This seems strange to me at best, very cruel at worst. What do you think? And that’s today’s two cents.

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Is “Intentions=Results” a Straw Man?

I was struck by this passage in the recent WaPo profile of the Federalist Society:

The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.

Question: Given this framing, how many readers would not leap to the conclusions that due to the influence of the Federalist Society…

1. The environment and health will deteriorate.

2. A noticeable number of businesses will refuse service on religious grounds.

3. Transgender people will on balance be worse off.

After all, the laws the Federalist Society opposes intend to help the environment and health, and intend to reduce religious and trans discrimination.  And Intentions=Results, right?

You could call this a straw man, but I don’t think so.  This is how I was taught until I starting learning economics in my senior year of high school.  And until I opened those economics books, Intentions=Results was precisely how I saw the world.  It’s mind-boggling to think that there are lots of people who silently reach the economist’s epiphany that Intentions and Results are two very different things.

At least to me.

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