Another thing I wrote for this lame psych class. The prompt this time: why is depression & its treatment so popular in American society?

For better or worse, America is a highly individualistic society. Self-reliance is generally considered to be a major virtue. Once an adult, an American is expected to provide for him or herself with minimal dependence on family or friends. In general, people who have not attained the expected level of independence are considered lazy or slothful. A failure to perform well in school or work is usually called a flaw of that person’s work ethic before anything else. In short, Americans tend to believe that most of a person’s successes and failures are up to that individual, and too much help will make them weaker and dependent. While these beliefs have probably helped maintain strong economic performance, they have encouraged behaviors and attitudes that leave Americans vulnerable to psychological instability.

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I wrote another thingadoodle for my abnormal psych class. The prompt was “How is the DSM IV a vital tool in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders? How is it an obstacle to the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders?”.

In the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, the Judeo-Christian god interferes with the attempts of mankind to build a temple that reached to the sky (now believed to be a Babylonian ziggurat) by inflicting a curse upon the men building the temple. The curse was that of individual language; by causing each man to speak and understand only his own language, they were no longer able to collaborate and finish the complex task of constructing the temple, and it was abandoned. This story speaks to a basic truth of mankind: collaboration requires that we have a shared understanding of one another. The DSM-IV is our current best attempt at achieving this shared understanding in the field of mental health.

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I wrote this for my abnormal psychology class, in response to the prompt “Identify a behavior that you engage in that others might classify as ‘abnormal’. Why is this behavior seen as different or unusual? How have you responded to the reactions of others?”. My choice of topic may at first seem glib, but I enjoyed writing it, and I like where I ended with it. I love being in school again. Nowhere else might I be asked to conjure up something of this nature.

I work in an office where the median age is in the late 50’s to early 60’s. Being 22 years-old, a number of my habits and behaviors naturally come across as abnormal to my co-workers. Some of these are merely a feature of different tastes and interests, but those that seem to have the most significant impact upon my interaction with my co-workers seem closely related to the different kind of relationship I have with technology. I have been using computers in various shapes and sizes since I was three years-old, and I generally find it extremely easy to engage in multiple activities (of a specific nature) simultaneously or in rapid succession.

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Of late, I’ve had a certain experiment on my mind. It’s a well-known study that involves placing an electrode into a specific area of a rat’s brain, and putting the rat into a box with a lever that activates the electrode.

Rats will perform lever-pressing at rates of several thousand responses per hour for days in order to obtain direct electrical stimulation of the lateral hypothalamus. Multiple studies have demonstrated that rats will perform reinforced behaviors at the exclusion of all other behaviors. Experiments have shown rats to forgo food to the point of starvation in order to work for brain stimulation or intravenous cocaine when both food and stimulation are offered concurrently for a limited time each day. Rats will even cross electrified grids to press a lever, and they are willing to withstand higher levels of shock to obtain electrical stimulation than they are to accept for food (thanks Wikipedia)

Reading this, I immediately see myself pressing the levers that make the pretty pictures appear on my screen and sounds burst from my speakers. My relationship with technology has been highly isolating. For as long as I can remember, my pattern of behavior has often resembled strong addiction and compulsion. I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering what my life would be like in an age without computers, the internet, and the many video games I’ve devoted tens of thousands of hours to. These entities have also enriched my life in myriad ways, enabling me to acquire knowledge and hone skills that have become the foundation of my identity. If I have any claim to mastery over rhetoric or vocabulary, I owe that to technology (and my grandmother, for all those games of Boggle). But the internet is a poor teacher of self-mastery, and my lack of this has been my continued downfall.

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Early morning found me awake, so I decided it was time again to see how my old church was faring. As I hoped, the visit brought forth a slough of new perspectives on ancient paradigms. This time, my ponderings focused on the concept of “living by faith”, a phrase often employed in many religious contexts.

I’ve learned that a critical part of the process of reevaluation is finding a functional definition of the concept at hand – one that shies away from vagueries and can be envisioned practically. To this end, I felt this description accurately described the act of “living by faith”: engaging in any behavior where the outcome is uncertain or unknown. By nature of going forward with an action where there are a high number of unknown and uncontrolled variables, the risk of a negative outcome is much higher. Uncertainty naturally engenders much anxiety, which is why this concept is often paired with a call to trust in god to provide a positive result.

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The feeling of being a part of something bigger and greater than yourself is something that many chase for the whole of their lives. Being a part of the generation that will determine the fate of the Internet’s usefulness is thrilling in its own right, and the opportunity to fan the flames of revolution from the comfort of home is immensely enticing. Yet I find myself more concerned, than excited.

Much of what happens on the internet is essentially narcissistic.

For one of my psychology classes, I did a report on altruism, and in my research I came across a study that suggested that contributions to the Internet are fundamentally about attention, not altruism. Certainly, less nefarious motives can certainly be found in every aspect of the web. I am not about to suggest that retwittering feeds from Iran is wholly selfish, but more that the drive to support freedom of speech and democracy would not be enough to set the revolution in motion were it not for some modicum of desire for recognition.

There’s an instinctive desire to be the first, when it comes to participation and discovery.

Who wouldn’t want to tell their children they were among the fleet of internet denizens that helped to topple the Iranian government? This isn’t so much about attention, but about being “ahead of the curve”. There’s a sense of pride that accompanies seeing a video, an image, a fad, or a meme before it went viral. Being first initiates a sense of ownership and responsibility for whatever ensues in the aftermath. It’s why so many comments on popular articles are battles for the first post. Perhaps the very reason I am writing this, is to feel that I am the first to point these things out.

There is very little regard for source in the content of the internet.

I wrote about this a while back, but memes are crowdsourced. Although someone sent the first rickroll, and another personal created the first lolcat, it would be pompous and foolish for anyone to attempt to claim ownership over such entities. They become what they are through mass participation, not because of the genius of its author. Similarly, the number of reliable sources for information of what’s actually occurring in Iran are sparingly few. The reports from those on the ground are certainly moving, and it would be callous to turn away when something is obviously awry. Yet the headlines on Digg, Reddit, and BoingBoing are more than just a little emotionally manipulative. Only the most intense and outrageous tidbits are passed along, because that is how content on the Internet spreads. As my long-time hero Ze Frank points out, only one Western poll has been conducted concerning the election’s actual results, and they did not point to a victory for Mousavi.

Obviously, there is more than just an election that’s being disputed here. It’s about transparency and peace and cooperation, about making a government that’s for and by the people. It would, however, be irresponsible to fail to recognize the other elements that are at play here. It is not as if the Internet suddenly rose up to altruistically defend the rights of the Iranian people. It happened for a reason, and those reasons may not be particularly pleasant.

The internet has a very short term memory.

Perhaps it is insensitive to label the Iranian election as a fad, but it fits the criteria. In several months, the avatars on Twitter will go back to their normal colors. #iranelection will cease to top the trending topics. The conflict in Iran may go on or it will be resolved; but with time, the collective interest in Iran will return to where it once was. Maybe it will become an artifact of internet history, receiving reference whenever a new issue is championed by the internet. Only time will tell.


I’ve spent the last three weeks holed up in my room, for no particular reason. After oversleeping for a test in my logic class, I suddenly lost all desire to keep going, and here I am, accomplishing quite little. It’s relatively the same circumstance I found myself in a year and a half ago.

I’ve been consumed with the concept of purpose. The popular mindset is such that purpose is equivalent with desire. We do not have a distinct purpose outside of what we want; we seek something, and we do what is necessary to acquire it. It is unsurprising, then, that the nature of depression lies in apathy. If our purpose is derived from the basic notion that we have something we care enough to pursue, we lose purpose when either we lose that which we used to care for, or we cease to care. Statistically, suicide is most common among individuals that have recently experienced significant loss – a job, family, etc, or have very weak ties to those entities in the first place.

The pervasiveness of simplistic evolutionary theory in my psychology classes has thus far been rather depressing. I don’t buy that most of our facilities can be reduced to functions of mate selection and special superiority. That just isn’t how I live my life on a day-to-day basis, nor anyone that I know. I recognize the importance and necessity of evolutionary theory in, say, biology, but I’ve come to think of the matter in this way: if we have evolved such that matters of morality, of love, of art and music, of poetry and film, are merely abstractions of survival mechanisms, then perhaps it is best to treat them at their abstracted level, rather than attempting to simplify them into more quantifiable terms. The process strips all that we gain in that abstraction, leaving us with very little that, to be rather blunt, makes us happy.

Perhaps what is so attractive to me about love is that it is both a desire and a purpose.


I will start this off simple by revealing the not-so-surprising fact that I do not like Optimal Purchase, and I do not find my job to be filled with any measure of joy. While it’s good to work, and the money will eventually make it worth my while (since most of this will be going towards my Europe experience), it does nothing more than serve its purpose. Yet what floors me is that so many of my co-workers are positively thrilled to accept it at that. They have absolutely no true vision for their future.

Not every person is so deluded or thrilled, and in fact, the majority of them treat it for exactly what it is: a job, with a paycheck, and some benefits. Yet they, too, have no desire to move beyond their current position, and seek nothing more than the next step up in pay-grade so they can make the down-payment on that new (insert object of desire) coming out next month. Where the hell is their vision? What happened to bring people to such a level of mediocrity?

People have, from the beginning of their societal integration, been trained to separate their identity from work. What you do and how you do it is not a reflection upon your true self. (long side note: it’s for this reason that I dislike jobs that require you to hide jewelry or tattoos, to wear company-branded polo shirts, to mask self-expression for the sake of uniformity and organization) Work, school, these are just necessary hoops to jump that we can seek meaning in the rest of our lives, via marriage/family/kids, or through houses/cars/boats, or by climbing the social/political ladder. Life is not viewed as a whole, but as a series of experiences that must be suffered or enjoyed. To reach the moments of joy, you have to wade through a mire of despair – and to handle this, people have broken it down to a daily cycle, in doses that are deemed safe for general consumption.

I cannot deny that some parts of life just plain suck, but what the fuck – when it was determined that life sucks and that there’s nothing we can do about it, that was based on the presence of elements like death, sickness, the cruel nature of humanity. Those are the basics, and I don’t think those will be going away at any point in the nearby future, even with epic technological innovation. Yet, people seem content to live in a never-ending pattern just so they can try to grasp at trails of true happiness, hoping that maybe this time they’ll be content and that all of their hard work will have payed off.

I think this view of life is what pushes people into many of today’s most common ailments – loneliness and depression. It is not surprising that a man that hates his job so fiercely would eagerly desire the devoted company of another woman – yet how attractive is a man that hates half of his life? Depression, likewise, is a natural progression from such a hopeless and repetitive functionality as tossing yourself into joyless activities. People look to sex and drugs to solve these problems, but the solutions are not so skin-deep.

I often think about the classic experiment Rat Park, when considering what makes people truly happy. For those that have not heard of it, professor Alexander was studying the nature of drug addiction. He found that rats placed in healthy environments – environments that enabled appropriate amounts of exercise, social interaction, and entertainment – would not choose the morphine-laced water. The rats placed in cold, dark isolation, however, would always choose the morphine-laced water. When these rats were brought to the aforementioned “Rat Park”, they would, with time, stop taking the morphine-laced water, and would not drink it again, no matter what incentives the researchers provided.

My point is that happiness is holistic. We look to patchwork solutions when, in reality, there’s much more to look at. What’s required is a complete re-evaluation of our lives and what we deem most valuable and worthy of our time. The difference between the rats, and us, is that we are capable of crafting our environments as we deem fit (or so I believe). We have control over how we live – yet most people are perfectly content not to take advantage of that control, to sit by and let life happen to them.

My cynicism is hardcore, but I don’t think my observations are inaccurate. I’m not filled with angst, or even despair; I simply believe that there’s a hell of a lot of people that are capable of so much more than what they are, but they don’t even know it. Ignorance is not bliss, in this case.