Modern societies tend to produce two kinds of people: oblivious fools, or obliviots, who fail to notice failure and just blunder on like drunken gourmands; and depressed smarter people, who realize that the long-term prognosis for such stupid decisions is awful, but simultaneously note that everyone else is an obliviot, therefore there’s little chance of change.
So they sink into depression and solipsism (right), or depression and narcissism (left), which in fact worsens the problem by removing them from interaction with reality, which is the one thing that could actually undo the problem.
Now, new research on depression shows us how it is habit-forming. Notice bad things, live in a state of terror and negativity, and soon you can’t see good things — like how just acting sensibly toward a goal could remove all the problems you see, easily.
While depression is often linked to negative thoughts and emotions, a new study suggests the real problem may be a failure to appreciate positive experiences.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that depressed and non-depressed people were about equal in their ability to learn negative information that was presented to them.
But depressed people werenâ€™t nearly as successful at learning positive information as were their non-depressed counterparts.
Instead, people complain and make themselves sicker, while indulging in surrogate activities like video games and shopping as an activity and casual sex and television watching, which makes them feel more impotent and thus more depressed — but not while they’re doing the activity. Like drug addiction, the activity creates its own cycle.
This feeds into one of our most primitive tendencies, one which even predates our monkey heritage: to look for threats before comforts. It’s just a good idea, in the wild. In an orderly civilization, it’s a good idea. In a chaotic and centerless civilization like ours, it is debilitating.
Imagine I show you a list of 30 words. One of the words is written in green ink. The rest are blue.
Half an hour goes by and I ask you to recall the words on the list. Which word are you most likely to remember?
The one written in green ink, of course. This is the “von Restorff Effect”: Novelty grabs our attention.
It’s basic cognitive hardwiring. Journalists don’t zero in on “man bites dog” stories because they’re perverse. They do it because they’re human.
When a story breaks, grabs the media’s attention, and gets people talking, something else happens. The story ceases to be about a single incident. Instead, it creates a narrative.
The absence of a narrative means a story must stand or fall on its own. And when a story runs contrary to a narrative, it is positively resisted.
Another word for narrative is “script,” as in, “since we were looking for guys dressed in black carrying bicycles, he fit right into our script.”
The media uses these means to control you: novelty and its stepchild, negativity — since evolution has primed you to first look for threats — and a script into which all news must fit. We could call that script a “justification,” as we do in our manifesto.
When those who have money and power want you to jump, they make a few calls to their friends and business associates. They put out the meme: X is the new threat, or Y is another instance of the current script of threats, whether it be global warming, hackers, racists, Satanists or godless Communism.
That’s how you keep a nation in line when they don’t have much in common as far as ideologies, values, etc. go. You manipulate them with carrot and stick: we free, they bad.
Much as democracy relies on having a horde of people who don’t read or think very deeply about issues, modern society relies on useful idiots to bleat out that the sky is falling any time such a meme comes around.
In individuals, they need an abstract future goal to follow that can always develop them. “I want to be better at my task” is even healthier than “I want to be the best at my task” because the latter compares you to others, while the former compares you to yourself.
So it is with nations.
“We are the Macedonians, and we want to make the next generation of Macedonians better than any previous generation,” is the type of message you expect from organic society civilizations.
People do best when they have an abstract goal related to a values system, and a society that backs them up so they feel rewarded in pursuing those values, even if something bad happens.
Witness soldiers returning from Vietnam, and the legendary amounts of post-traumatic stress disorder they experienced. They came home to a society that shunned them for participation in what was viewed as a failed activity. They were seen as losers and failures, babykillers and primitive, violent morons.
In contrast, American soldiers returning from other wars met cheering crowds — and so found it easy to forget things like killing babies (bombing civilian areas guarantees baby death — they explode like pomegranates in the high-pressure waves of modern explosives). They had a much lower incidence of PTSD even though they often faced more horrifying circumstances.
If you have a society that encourages you forward, to positive goals, you can escape depression and feel you’ll be rewarded for the right thing.
If your society is chaotic, and unclear on its goals as later-stage civilizations are, you will find no affirmation of your attempts to do the right thing, and will feel rejected, and become more prone to observe the negative and make the negative define your narrative for the future.
As you can see, it’s easy to undo this damage: we need to start with the seeds of negativity, liberate ourselves from them, and then start looking around for the things we can do that are positive. We already know the negative too well.