Sunday, February 12, 2012

A few words on social diseases. Or, Bard for life?

First I thought I'd link to my latest media appearance, on FOX's KOKH (intriguing call letters) in Oklahoma. They edited my on-air time down to a rebuttal of about 20 seconds in the midst of an otherwise happy-faced piecewhich is what I basically suspected would happen. Still, at least I get to make a good point about the unreality of the SHAMland promise. You can play it on full-screen by clicking the tab that appears in the lower righthand corner of the vid screen a few seconds after the page loads.


Social inadequacy of varying stripes seems to be the generational bugaboo, gaining steam with Jenny McCarthy's misguided crusade on behalf of her son's autism (and its supposed cause), then reaching critical mass a few years back with the publication of aut-savant Daniel Tammet's remarkable memoir, Born on a Blue Day. Alienation is the anthem of this new decade (whispered very softly and without eye contact).
I've been doing a lot of reading about the fabric of latter-day society, and I come across the signature terms again and again: social anxiety, social awkwardness, social deficit, panic disorder with agoraphobia, Asperger and so forth. Social malaise gives indications of being to this decade what fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome were, respectively, to the first decade of the new millennium and, before that, the 1990s. (I know people who claim to be beset by both CFS and fibromyalgia; they acquired each new syndrome as it came to the fore. I suspect that they will declare themselves agoraphobic before long.)

In some ways it's not surprising that the generation now coming of age would indeed experience such maladjustments. They were too often the products of divorce and/or significant family dysfunction; even if Mom and Dad stuck around and tried to make a go of it, the family was
nuclear only in the sense that the household featured regular detonations of atomic intensity. In many cases these kids had computers for parents and turned to so-called social media for an ironic, disembodied form of friendship.

Etiology aside, this much is sure: The shrinks and gurus and life coaches will rake in the fees hand over fist, as will the drug companies that brew the various concoctions typically prescribed in such cases

If I may be permitted to inject my (untutored, unresearched) 2 cents here, in hopes of perhaps settling the mind of just one person who sees himself/herself as a freak ...

We are all socially awkward.
We always have been, too. This is not a new phenomenon. Some of us have just learned to do a better job of faking it or overcompensating in the opposite direction, acting the gregarious fool.

I don't mean to trivialize the plight of the now-and-then person who is truly the odd man or woman out. My point is simply that while the person with social deficit may look and seem more alone or detached than the rest of us, he or she doesn't necessarily feel more alone than the rest of us do. I'm not sure how such things could be measured on a comparative scale with any objectivity/accuracy, but I have confidence in the observation nevertheless.

It's been said many times before, but you can be at a party surrounded by 50 drunken, laughing revelers and feel every bit as alone as the Death Row inmate confined to solitary. Certainly this is true of one's facility as a sexual being. A guy can empty himself into an ever-changing cast of obliging lovelies and end up feeling...well, empty. If you're a young woman, you can end the weekend full of the semen of three different men and...still feel empty.

For those of us who are not clinical caseswhich, I'm convinced, is almost all of usthe answer to social awkwardness is to find two or three people who appreciate you for who you truly are. Ideally one of those three should be a mate, and the other two good friends. One good friend may suffice.

The rest of it, as Shakespeare tells us, is sound and fury signifying nothing.


Lena Phoenix said...

Can you clarify what you mean when you say

"Social malaise gives indications of being to this decade what fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome were, respectively, to the first decade of the new millennium and, before that, the 1990s."

The impression I'm getting is that you consider the mentioned conditions to be fashionable medicalizations of normal minor problems. Or am I misinterpreting that?

Steve Salerno said...

yeah, Lena, that's what I had in mind. Sorry if anyone was offended.

a/good/lysstener said...

As someone who has been there this hits a nerve with me, Steve. I generally like the satire you present on the blog but you are wrong when you trivialize the sense of estrangement so many young people feel, and you *are* trivializing it even if you say you don't mean to! Look at the suicide numbers and you'll see this is not a "SHAM" to poke fun at.

RevRon's Rants said...

slAlyssa, I believe that if it appeared that Steve is trivializing genuine disorders, it is likely an attempt to compensate somewhat by the trivialization that occurs when unaffected people glom onto such diagnoses en masse, in their efforts to quantify and perhaps minimize their insecurities.

In truth, most suicides - apart from the more violent forms, such as self-inflicted gunshot wounds or single-vehicle accidents under inexplicable circumstances - are actually accidental, and represent pleas for help and/or attention that went astray.

Years ago, we were taught in boot camp the right way to kill one's self, and warned that failed attempts using any of the less-certain procedures would result in a court martial. Pretty callous, but it did serve to minimize attempts by anyone who wasn't genuinely clinically depressed.

IMO, the most blatant form of trivialization is the collective marketing efforts that promote "cures" for pathologies to people who are unqualified to diagnose such pathologies. The most prominent examples being the television commercials and multi-page ads in periodicals targeted to the general public, rather than healthcare professionals. During my psych training, we were warned that virtually anyone who read through the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistics Manual) would see in themselves an assortment of symptoms which could indicate a pathology. The kicker was that everybody has idiosyncratic personality traits that are exhibited - albeit in a higher degree of severity - by those who have been diagnosed with some personality disorder, neurosis, or even psychosis. It is only when the traits impede one's function and/or are diagnosed by a trained professional that they are truly associated with the pathology in question.

Finally, I think you should know Steve well enough to realize that he would not "poke fun at" genuine distress. He saves his ribbing and ridicule for the ridiculous.

a/good/lysstener said...

Ron, you shouldn't criticize till you've walked a mile in my heels. You can quote all the texts you want, but no one on the outside should presume to know what's going on on the inside.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think your blog has no real point except to crap all over the things that are meaningful to others. I try to give you the benefit of the doubt. I just don't understand posts like this one. So you really think the philosophy you share towards the end makes this post profound or useful to the millions of American struggling with social anxiety? Never mind what all those MDs and licensed psychologists say. All hail the great and wise Salerno!

RevRon's Rants said...

Alyssa, I'm certainly not judging your personal situation, and I apologize if you perceived my comment as being dismissive of you. By the same token, I think you might reconsider whether you might be projecting your own agenda a bit more broadly than is justified, and internalizing Steve's comments - and my own - to a point well beyond their intent. In short, and to paraphrase your own admonition, it can be tempting to project one's own "inside" issues upon others, even when such projection bears little correlation to the facts as presented.

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps our society's greatest source of social anxiety is based in the reshaping of what we perceive as being social. While it has long been the lifestyle of many - if not most - writers to be somewhat solitary, the technological advances of the last few decades have reinforced that solitude as being the norm, with more and more people's social interactions dominated by the context of e-mail, instant messaging, texting, tweeting, blogging, and the like. What is glaringly absent from such interactions is the observation of nuances that are so prevalent in face-to-face dialog.

Lacking the ability to observe those nuances, we readily project our own biases and issue-driven mindsets upon others' words, with the result too often being a complete misinterpretation of what other participants in the dialog are actually trying to say. When you factor in the tendency to color our perceptions according to our own experiences (and our frequently defensive responses to the things that push our buttons), the dialog can become heated rather quickly. This only serves to heighten our misconceptions and drive the defensiveness factor even higher.

As we reject others, not because of their worth as a person, but because of their expressed ideas, we rob ourselves of potential friendships - the very resource we most desperately need to keep our heads on straight. And by defining the worth of an individual by the symmetry between their ideas and our own, we reinforce the illusions that have their basis in our fears,rather than in reality. It is no wonder, therefore, that so many people feel dissociated from humanity, and fail to see the humanity in others. In this context, perhaps Vonnegut would have been more accurate had he written that "SUICIDAL beggars could ride."

RevRon's Rants said...

One need not personally experience something prior to offering a reasonable assessment of it. Were having shared a given experience a necessary prerequisite to offering commentary, can you imagine what would happen to our criminal justice system, for example? Imagine what a jury of one's peers would be like in a murder trial. At the very least, we'd see a pronounced surge in "not guilty" verdicts.

Steve Salerno said...

I like Ron's point about "the reshaping of what we perceive as being social." I think that's key here.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous February 12, 2012 8:16 PM,

Slander and gossip is Salerno's gig. Without labelling other's activities as flawed a he would have nothing to say. And of course Salerno has none of the weaknesses or foibles he so expertly points out in the world.

"All hail the great and wise" (and superior) "Salerno!"

Steve Salerno said...

RE Anon: Geez, dude. At least come up with something more original/clever to day. How many times are you gonna post the same critique?

I get it, OK?

Anonymous said...

Here's Vonnegut being prescient and sharply observational again in BoC, chapter 19:

"As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.

Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.

And so on.

Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead."

There is no order in the world around us--published in 1973-- so not much change there, then.

Gary said...

The real social disease is the disintegration of the extended family. Back in the day when grandma and grandpa plus uncles, aunts, and cousins, all lived nearby and visited frequently. In those days, there was a tremendous amount of what I call "social wisdom." We don't have that much any more.

My niece is now a pre-teen. She is bright and talented, yet, she is also heavily attached to social media. That attachment is a silent conditioning. I see so many behaviors imitated from it. She is also becoming VERY accustomed to over stimulation. She will watch TV, play website games on the computer, and instant message friends on her iPad, all at the same time. Frequently. She does read books, THANKFULLY, but it's hard for her to sit still with them for long. She reads in spurts.

The website and video games she plays are designed with no real end. It's just go, and go, and go... hundreds of little gratification prods that appear again, and again, and again... They instill addiction. Websites want kids addicted to their games and features, so that they keep visiting and STAY on the website to be included in their captive audience metrics, which translates to marketing power and ultimately revenue. Kids don't realize this is happening to them.

My niece isn't the only one. I know of several friends with kids where there is a perpetual challenge of getting the kid off the computer, of taking them off the perpetual mental stimulation. I am not a social scientist with empirical evidence to support my claims, but I am convinced that we will see more social problems going forward if this trend continues.

Steve Salerno said...

Gary, I agree wholeheartedly, especially about video games.