ANTHILL PSYCHOLOGY vs. EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY

10 08 2006

There’s a lot of psychiatric meds being sold these days, in case you hadn’t noticed. And there’s a lot of cui bono questions around all those prescriptions.

Cui bono—who benefits? There’s all kinds of evidence showing that drug companies make massive profits from psychiatric medications, even while unbiased clinical tests show that many of them are of little or no benefit to most people. There’s a whole mental health industry that needs chronic nut cases in order to keep its stockholders and salaried employees happy. There’s research that’s sent normal people with fake symptoms into that system and discovered that it’s very difficult for people to get out of the mental health system once they’re in it, no matter how normal they are.

But that’s not what I want to talk about right now. I want to talk about the assumptions behind our current mental health system, assumptions prior to even the profit motive: what is the mental health profession trying to accomplish? What is their basic vision? What are the results of that basic vision? Are their other possible “mission statements” for a mental health movement, that might produce very different results from those we are dealing with due to the current model?

I would submit that most members of the psychological/psychiatric world see their mission as “helping people fit in to society.” That’s why so many children are on ritalin, and why so many adults are on everything from anti-anxiety medications to anti-psychotics. Society needs to function smoothly, and it is up to individuals to adjust to society by any means available.

Is something wrong with this picture? No, from the mainstream perspective. Early psychologists had a revolutionary, we-can-change-the-world attitude, but since Freud wrote “Civilization and its Discontents” the mainstream has seen its task as helping people adjust to an imperfect world. Well, hey, it is an imperfect world and we need to get used to it, but not THAT used to it. The world-as-it-is is not some absolute that we cannot change. We are not ants in an anthill, but mainstream psychology tends to see society in that way, and treat individuals accordingly.

In the 1950’s, some psychologists, chief among them Abraham Maslow, made the observation that, once basic human needs of food, shelter, and emotional security are met, a different set of priorities kicks in—a need for what Maslow called “self-actualization.”

Dr. C. George Boree summarized Maslow’s idea in the following words:

“(Self-actualized people are)” reality-centered, which means they (can) differentiate what is fake and dishonest from what is real and genuine.  They (are) problem-centered, meaning they (treat) life’s difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be railed at or surrendered to.  And they (have) a different perception of means and ends.  They (feel) that the ends don’t necessarily justify the means, that the means could be ends themselves, and that the means — the journey – (is) often more important than the ends.

“(Self-actualizers) also (have) a different way of relating to others.  First, they (enjoy) solitude, and (are) comfortable being alone.    And they (enjoy) deeper personal relations with a few close friends and family members, rather than more shallow relationships with many people.

“They (enjoy) autonomy, a relative independence from physical and social needs.  And they (resist) enculturation, that is, they (are) not susceptible to social pressure to be “well adjusted” or to “fit in” — they (are), in fact, nonconformists in the best sense. “

(note to readers—I changed the tense of these sentences from past to present)

“Reality-centered,” eh?  Well, we all know about where the reality-based community is at, don’t we?

Right down the list, Maslow’s vision of higher consciousness clashes with anthill psychology’s need for smoothly fitting cogs in the societal mill.

Paying attention to the difference between what is fake and what is genuine? No, no, don’t you dare pay any attention to the man behind the curtain.

Treating life’s difficulties as problems to be overcome rather than caved in to? You’re asking people to make waves, dude.

The journey is more important than the goal? What are you, some kind of hippie?

You enjoy solitude? Without even a TV or radio on? That’s scarey! I wouldn’t wanna hafta listen to what’s goin’ on in my head! Keep me distracted, please!

Deep personal relations with a few friends? You’re askin’ to get hurt, buddy.

Independence from physical and social needs? How ya gonna be a good consumer? I mean, isn’t life about buying things and showing off your ability to buy them?

Maslow’s line of thinking was not picked up by university psychology departments—there was no drug research money in it–and now his “third stream psychology” is the province of a dying breed of twinkly old men and women who still work wonders for the lucky few who find them. They send their patients out with solutions, not prescriptions. All the drugs that facilitated third stream psychology—MDMA, psilocybin, LSD and similar mind-manifesters, have been expressly forbidden by the US government, with greater penalties attached to their use and distribution than for many violent crimes. Can’t be disrupting the anthill, now.

It’s not just about wanting to feed the drug companies. The third stream—call it evolutionary psychology—has been purged from America’s consciousness because it is evolutionary, and sometimes messy. Beings who are on their way beyond being ants do not fit into ant colony life very well. Having it be OK to get a little crazy at times (an essential part of the evolutionary process) is not conducive to orderly life in the anthill.

But anthill psychology assumes a steady-state society, and that is where it falls down. We are running out of the resources that have fueled our current trajectory, and need to change course so we don’t hit the climate change/peak oil wall that is looming up fast. We need to evolve past being ants. So don’t reach for that pill bottle, folks. If you haven’t changed your mind lately, are you sure you still have one?

music  Greg Brown, “One Cool Remove

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