Posts tagged: existential

American Angst

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesThere is a tension out there.  It’s in the home, the store and the school.  Tempers are very short.  Frustration tolerance appears to be waning.  If you haven’t lost your job yet, you are aware of many others who have been terminated.  It would be convenient to blame one’s boss, but it is likely they are as fearful as the next person.  Many, if not most, are held hostage to their paycheck.  They fear it will flee without notice, and leave neither food or water for survival.  Since it appears that no one person may be identified as the ringleader, frustration and anger lack direction.  The hapless victims may turn upon each other.

It should be noted that America was warned.  Back in the 1830’s, a highly insightful French bureaucrat offered numerous observations and predictions regarding the future of the young United States.  Mr. A. De Tocqueville opined that the death of our democratic free market economy would come at the hands of business interests controlling the government.  A scant 65 years later, Senator John Sherman of Ohio was able to unanimously pass a set of laws that were aimed at creating fair competition between companies.  At least in part, it was a response to the railroad owners who had the country by its throat.  They essentially controlled the flow of commerce, and a subset of the most wealthy were highly influential within the U.S. government.  The great depression of the 1890’s was believed to be an artifact of the monopolies and moneyed interests that had co-opted the government of the day.  The depression that began in 1929 and really hit in 1931 was largely secondary to unregulated speculation in equity markets.  It was unregulated because few wanted to spoil the party enjoyed by the most wealthy.  Politicians did not want to upset the flow of campaign contributions, and the poor man did not want to spurn the few crumbs that fell from their table.  The middle and lower classes had little to say in the government of the day.  It is as if a salesman questions whether you would prefer the green or red jacket.  The success of this sales strategy is centered on making the customer forget that there are better alternatives.

In the early 1800’s, the white house was largely open to all citizens.  Thomas Jefferson famously gave money to people who visited the white house and were in need of assistance.  This is rather quaint and speaks to a less complicated time, yet it also speaks volumes regarding the current access of American citizens to government.  Many believe that in our highly insecure terrorist world that we live in today, having citizen access to representatives would be sheer folly.  Please note that the world has at all times in its history experienced terrorist actions.  It is not a new phenomenon.  The greater apparent frequency of terrorist events may reflect the increase of international reporting.  There may be less serious threats to the existence of the United States today than there has ever been in its history.  The average citizen is not distant from the governmental power base for the safety of themselves or others, rather it reflects a decreasing respect for the opinion of the individual man.  Those who command wages and men have the potential to deliver votes.  As an elected official, it is more efficient to meet with a man who controls a thousand men, than meet with each of the men commanded.  The American people are given the illusion of choice on voting day.  We are given the choice of a red or green jacket.  Better clothes are always left hanging on the rack.

This historical cycle is not a conspiracy of the wealthy against the poor.  Anyone who inherits or acquires wealth will seek to retain and even augment their wealth.  This is neither evil or unexpected; it is human nature to feather one’s nest.  It is necessary for survival, but not sufficient.  The poison element is the advantages wealth confers on the individual.  An employer may peruse the want adds in order to set the lowest possible hourly wage of their employees, whereas the employees are sworn to secrecy regarding their actual pay.  The wealthy person may hire specialists to influence the American government.  The middle and lower classes do not enjoy these options.  The wealthy play golf with their representatives.  The poor leave messages with “staffers.”  These government employees freely acknowledge that the representative won’t actually read any of these messages from average constituents, but if thousands accrue, it might actually influence their actions!  Currently, the influence of one wealthy constituent is commonly more powerful than concerted independent action by hundreds of poor constituents-if not thousands.

The American people are currently called upon to repay the debts of the wealthy few who were successful in curbing regulation, or smugly circumvented existing laws.  It is as if a wealthy carefree relative spent the last 20 years wandering the globe, spending money indiscriminately; only to return home penniless, and expect the poor relatives to pay for his thrills.  The wealthy relative insists that they were actually doing  the family a favor, because some of the money spent may eventually trickle down to the poor family.  Having convinced his family to loan him more money, the wealthy relation resumes the indiscriminate spending, while the poor relations resume the payment of his old debts.  Few if any people would tolerate such behavior in their family.  Why do the American people tolerate such behavior in their government?

Wealthy people necessarily have a different agenda than poor people.  A poor person made wealthy will soon adopt the agenda of other wealthy people, and that agenda will be to maximize their wealth and power.  The centralization of wealth and power into a few always comes at the expense of the many.  Regulation of business is the sophisticated realization that particular types of people will tend to exploit others if given the means.  It would be lovely if this was not the case.  Lack of enforcement of existing securities and antitrust law may assist these people in robbing both rich and poor.  The lower class relations have little to no control over their rich spendthrift relative.  Not only are they paying for their wealth relatives’ past debts, they will soon pay for his current adventures in banking and international politics.  There is no higher governance to appeal the case, as the officials listen exclusively to the wealthy relation.  What is making matters worse, the wealthy relative has discontinued finding jobs for his poor relations.   It is feared that his poor relations will not be able to pay off the debts of their wealthy relative in the future.

Excuse me if I do not continue this discussion.  I’m feeling a little tense right now…

Depression-Existential

Joseph Holzmacher's Business Logo for Orlandopsych.comIt is a dark day when our lives lose meaning and purpose.  Most people do not realize that their lives are predicated on implicit assumptions.  Most people take these axioms of their life for granted.  If one lives a relatively trouble free life, these implicit assumptions may never be shaken.  It is rare to find someone that can hang labels on their reasons to live; that have insight into the meaning of their existence.  We all hope our life will sail along so calmly that one’s assumptions about the nature of water will never be called into question.  Unfortunately, calm seas and favorable winds are not the norm, such that we are often unrealistic navigators of our own life.

When people tell me that their life has lost meaning and/or purpose, I typically ask what had been the guiding meaning of their lives.  Without exception, people do not have a ready answer.  They know when it is gone, but are vague about its essence when present.  A common purpose of life is to raise children to be successful adults.  Most adults, especially older adults, readily agree that raising children was the central purpose of their lives.  Roughly half of my adult patients find their work to be meaningful.  It is rare for someone to voice an implicit meaning to their lives without naming one or the other, work and/or children.  It is rare for people to name an intimate partner as the primary reason to live, or activities outside of work as giving meaning and purpose to one’s life.  Exceptions to this rule often occur in childless couples and people who have talent in the arts, but the key word here is exception.

Is there an overriding meaning to life?  Can one climb the mountain and obtain an epiphany of the true transcendent meaning of life?  I do not think so.  Meaning and purpose are unique to the individual, yet there are similarities between individuals.  Meaning is congruent with one’s upbringing and experiences, and so the flavor will be change from person-to-person.  For example, the purpose of raising children for many people is to send them to college, for others to marry and have grandchildren, and yet others want someone to shield them from the ravages of aging.  While all three world views center about the meaning of children in their lives, the purpose and goals of each is different.  If one’s vocation fills them with meaning and purpose, is it because of the assistance they render to others, the money they make, or the competitors they crush?  Here again we find one meaning and three divergent forms of purpose.

The first step in discovering one’s new meaning in life, the new purpose of one’s existence, is to analyze the nature of the old meaning.  It is natural to assume some aspect of the past was a golden age in one’s life, but thorough examination always reveals troubles that had to be surmounted.  Know that there is no one grand overriding meaning, but whatever meanings and purposes are congruent with your particular beliefs and values.  By way of example, I became close to an older adult patient while training for my degree(s).  He was a very loving husband and father.  His family held him in the highest regard.  They were understandably shocked by his first Major Depression occurring at over seventy years of age.  Even before my awareness of these existential issues, it was evident that he no longer felt useful in life.  He was satisfied by his performance as a parent, having met the goals he set for himself as a father.  The patient became increasingly aware of the satisfaction he experienced mentoring younger business people.  He truly enjoyed mentoring others, and more importantly, it became central to his self-image and purpose in life.  After discharge, the patient became involved in consulting to small businesses.  Until the time of his death, many years later, the patient was not only free of depression, but contented with his retirement as well.  Please leave comments regarding this post in the space provided below.

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