Sunday, January 13, 2019

Obsessive Comparison Disorder


The eye doctor looked at my chart, then looked at me. My right eye was bloodshot, red as red can be. Like a vampire’s eyes. She placed the chart on the desk and said: ‘Your chart says that you are 75, is that true?’

‘Of course not’ I was tempted to reply. ‘I only wrote that so I would get preferential treatment. People give up their seat in the waiting room, open doors for you and don’t strike up annoying conversations, thinking that you are gaga anyway.’ Instead, I said: ‘Yes I am 75’.

You look great for your age’ the doctor said, as she told me to put my chin on the chinrest and peered into my bloodshot eye through the retinal camera. As I was trying to avoid eye contact with someone whose face is a few inches away, I wondered if she looked good for her age. I had no access to her chart, but if she was 50, she looked terrific; if she was 40, she wasn’t too bad looking, but if she was 35, she looked downright awful.

I wondered on what facts she based her statement about my looks. How is one supposed to look at my age? She was a pediatric doctor to whom I had been assigned on an emergency basis, so her judgment could not be based on comparing me with her other patients, who ranged between 2 and 7 year olds.

I couldn’t let it go. Sitting in my car after the appointment, I googled: ‘How is one supposed to look at 75’. Did you notice that Google never admits to not having an answer to anything? It didn’t say: ‘Sorry Madeleine, I do not know what a woman is supposed to look like at age 75’. Instead, it offered me numerous images of wrinkled, grey haired faces - faces of women I didn’t want to look like at any age.

My usually chaotic mind led me down a stream of consciousness path, and I started to wonder if we could know anything about anything without comparisons. How do I know I am a human? Without other humans around, I could be a cat walking on its hind legs, or a worm with 4 appendages. Would I know I am alive without all the dead people buried in the cemeteries? Ok, so I admit that comparisons serve a useful purpose. Without it, the world would be one big bowl of blended pea soup.

But you see, we have come to a point in our evolution where comparisons are running amuck. We, as a species, suffer from what some have dubbed ‘Obsessive Comparison Disorder’ (OCD), especially Millennials. It must be exhausting to have to adjust your self-image, not knowing who your are without a day to day, hour by hour, minute by minute comparison to your peers via Facebook and Instagram.

There was a moment in our evolutionary history called the ‘Ediacaran period’ (about 635 million years ago), when living beings spent their blissful lives as stationary and motionless creatures, anchored to the ocean floor. All they had to do was gently sway in the current, wait for something edible to float by and feed on it. They peacefully minded their own business, ignoring other stationary creatures, in a Zen like trance. Scientists actually call this evolutionary period ‘the secret Garden of Ediacara’. Comparing themselves to other Ediacarans was the furthest thing from their minds.

As professor of philosophy and deep sea diver Peter Godfrey-Smith explains in his book Other Minds: the Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness:Ediacarans’ lives seem not to have been lives of conflict and complicated interactions. It was a garden of relatively self-contained and self-possessed beings. Macarons that pass in the night.’

But good things never last, so after this heavenly period in the distant past of life on earth, nature came up with the bright idea of giving living beings the ability to move about. That was the beginning of our troubles. Once you go down that path, you are bound to meet other things that move and if you don’t want to end up as someone else’s lunch, you have to equip yourself with all sorts of claws, pincers and poisonous stingers.

You have to develop a tail and fins so you can flee and a nervous system that can process and react to what’s out there, and the whole dance starts to revolve around the relationship between you and the world. Gone are the good old Ediacaran days of navel staring, when all you needed to worry about was find a nice spot on the ocean floor and anchor yourself there for the rest of your life.

But even that wasn’t enough for busy mother nature. She insisted that some living beings, at a critical point in their evolution, should become self-aware. Once we were able to anticipate other creatures’ (usually evil) intentions, to read their mind so to speak, we turned this ability around and employed it to our own mind. Self-awareness was born.

Self-awareness is usually viewed as a positive trait, but why do we need to know that we know, instead of just knowing? Isn’t it enough to feel, without feeling about the fact that we are feeling? Did it give us an evolutionary advantage? Does my cat Emmy, know that she knows? She certainly knows a lot, but I don’t know if she bothers knowing that she knows. It does not serve any purpose in her life.

So, considering the current downsides to self-awareness, awareness of how much better off your peers are, how good or terrible you look for a 75 year old, our ability for self-awareness might be more harmful than beneficial.

I read that Obsessive Comparison Disorder diminishes with age. Soon, there will only be centenarians I can be compared to, and eventually I will be dead. That will be the end of my comparison troubles. Although, someone is bound to visit me in my coffin and say: ‘She really looks good for a corpse’. leave comment here Read more...

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Rome is Fun

It’s been a while since we returned from our last trip to Europe. I have already posted a couple of pieces about this trip, primarily dealing with stressful events, but I promised that I would also describe positive experiences. So here I go, better late than never:

When we go to Europe, besides Holland, where I come from, we almost always hit Italy and France as well. Our most frequent destinations are Rome and Paris. However, we also “diversify,” visiting the provinces, for example Tuscany, the Italian Lake District, the Amalfi Coast, the French Riviera, the Dordogne, Normandy, etc.

We usually combine revisiting favorite spots and new places. In recent years we spent a marvelous week in Berlin and another one in Ireland, both of which were new to us. Sometimes we’ll tour some new parts of Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Scandinavia, Scotland and elsewhere.

This past year, we decided to return to Rome, as we have done almost every year for quite some time, then spend a week in Paris, and finally check out the Southwest of France and Spain’s adjacent Basque country. Today, I’ll just write about Rome. Read more...

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Dunning-Kruger Effect


“You have to be relatively intelligent in order
to realize how stupid you are” - John Cleese.

Once upon a time a little girl was born. Her mommy and daddy were so proud and happy, that they gave her not just one name but three. That way, if she got bored being called Samantha, she still had two other names in reserve.

She was very well taken care of. There were no brothers or sisters, so everything was hers: her room was hers, her potty and bath toys were hers, her room was hers and especially her mommy! She was ALL hers.

Samantha was very curious to learn about the enormous world she was born in. So many things she had to figure out! Why doesn’t the sun fall out of the sky? Who makes the day turn into night? Where do kittens come from?

Sometimes she asked as many as 300 questions a day and they all needed to be answered because that’s what questions do; they wait for an answer before they go away and make room for the next question.

Samantha was really lucky, however. She didn’t have to go far to get answers to the millions of questions that popped up in her head. Her daddy was right there, on the other side of the room because he worked from home. Read more...

Friday, December 28, 2018

Is the (Federal) Government a Useless Waste of Money?

 So now we have another government shut-down. It’s a stalemate between Trump and Congress about “the wall.”

I log onto my web portal/browser (Yahoo!) and I get the news story of the hour - This one about the government shutdown that started on December 22. The article of the hour is usually followed by many comments, sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands.

I often scroll down a few dozen of these comments, because I am a sociologist and I am keenly interested in public opinion. I understand that these comments are obviously not representative. Many of them are probably written by trolls with an agenda to grind, many of their authors may not even be Americans. Yet, these ARE voices. And when I scroll down the list, peruse a few dozen of them randomly, and find an OVERWHELMING majority of them writing more or less the same stupid and WRONG thing, I worry.

Today, the vast majority of these trolls, while using different iterations of it, agreed with this familiar imbecile meme:
That the present (federal) government shutdown hasn’t made a damn bit of difference in anyone’s life; and that this is proof that the (federal) government is an utterly useless and wasteful institution, which employs millions of pencil-pushers who enjoy fat paychecks while doing nothing of value; that the permanent shutdown of this bureaucracy would make no difference in our lives, and that it would be a blessing. Read more...

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kando's Dogma - Part Two

 About a year ago, I posted a piece called. Kando’s Dogma. I now add some further beliefs which I hold to be true:

1. All people are created equal (Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson). There are no inherent differences in intellectual aptitude between the races and between the genders. The science of psychology has not discovered any. Differences in wealth are the result, to a small extent, of aptitude and effort, but much more the result of social class, family wealth and above all: luck.

2. There is no (anthropomorphic) deity, no super-brain which decided at some point in the past to create a world. The universe is a physical reality in which life and mental processes develop. In other words, the universe becomes aware of itself. It is a psycho-physical reality.

3. The nature and processes of the universe are best discovered and understood through science.

4. Science distinguishes between truth and error, and through it, knowledge increases. Humans progress by increasing their knowledge. The total amount of knowledge is infinite.

5. In addition to science, there is philosophy and there is religion (Auguste Comte’s three stages). Philosophy discusses metaphysical questions. These are questions beyond those pertaining to the physical world. Positivist science cannot answer them. Answers to such questions cannot be proved or disproved empirically. Read more...

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Old Age


My long distance friend Rebecca came to visit this week. I don’t see her a lot, since she lives in Holland, on the other side of the big pond. She is old, like I am, but charming, sweet and terribly damaged by something that happened in her early twenties. That was when she found out her husband had been cheating on her with her sister from the day they were married. This happened 50 years ago. The husband is gone, the sister is gone, but the wound has never healed. Rebecca is not so much bitter as completely uninterested in her own future and even her present seems to take a backseat to her main preoccupation, scratching and unscabbing this old old wound.

I feel sorrow for her and a good deal of confusion. I also am prone to certain obsessions regarding my past. Who isn’t at my age? There is a drawer in every old person’s head, marked regrets, but I can keep it closed most of my waking hours. Rebecca on the other hand, has lost the key and her drawer is now permanently open, oozing its nasty contents into her otherwise very witty, interesting and intelligent mind.

‘She just needs a good dose of therapy’, I hear you say. But what will that do? Would it take away the hurt? Would it leave a void? Rebecca’s self image is now so fused with what happened all these years ago, that she might not survive the excision.

You see, growing old is a complicated affair. It creeps up on you like a black cat in the night and settles in comfortably. Before you know it, old age has taken over the reigns of your life. You are too caught up living you see. You don’t spend your days thinking: ‘Oh, my God! I am older than yesterday!’ Then, suddenly, you ARE old. Read more...

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Capitalist and the Greek Philosopher

Warning: this piece is meant to be light-hearted.

The world remains firmly stuck in the age of mass consumption and materialism.

America, Europe, and the developing world each contribute to humanity’s continuing plunder of the planet.

To be sure, ever since the 1960s, many people in the Western world have moved in a counter-cultural direction, becoming more “green.” A growing number of Americans are becoming aware that unfettered consumption is a dead end and that our voracious consumption habits need to be toned down. As to Europe, many people there have probably reached a somewhat more advanced stage of “green consciousness.”
However, all such progress is more than negated by an opposite worldwide trend, namely the all-out drive into consumerism by the emerging nations, including giants such as China and India. And of course, much of the growing green consciousness is more talk than action. America remains in the forefront of materialism.
And most telling is the continued worldwide consensus among all governments, all economists, all policy shapers, that economic growth will solve all our problems - poverty, hunger, inequality, war, crime, refugees... Read more...