Oliver Burkeman reviews Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, by Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and the Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir:
"Scarcity captures the mind," explain Mullainathan and Shafir. It promotes tunnel vision, helping us focus on the crisis at hand but making us "less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled". Wise long-term decisions and willpower require cognitive resources. Poverty leaves far less of those resources at our disposal.
Their most arresting claim is that the same effects kick in – albeit not always with such grave implications – in any conditions of scarcity, not just lack of money. Chronically busy people, suffering from a scarcity of time, also demonstrate impaired abilities and make self-defeating choices, such as unproductive multi-tasking or neglecting family for work. Lonely people, suffering from a scarcity of social contact, become hyper-focused on their loneliness, prompting behaviours that render it worse.
In one sense, Mullainathan and Shafir concede, scarcity is so ubiquitous as to be almost meaningless. But the feeling of scarcity – of not having as much of something as you believe you need – is something more specific and agonising. To use the authors’ favourite metaphor, life under such conditions is like packing a tiny suitcase for a trip. It entails a ceaseless focus on difficult trade-offs: the umbrella or the extra sweater? The greatest freedom that money can buy is the freedom from thinking about money – or, to quote Henry David Thoreau, “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone”.
"Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.”
―Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
By turn hilarious and haunting, poet Shane Koyczan puts his finger on the pulse of what it’s like to be young and …different.
“ When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.
"Suleika Jaouad was a senior at Princeton when I was a sophomore. I didn’t know her — she was two years older, and intimidatingly beautiful. After graduation, she moved abroad. Then she was diagnosed with leukemia. Since the end of last year, Suleika has been writing a column for The New York Times’s “Well” blog. With frank insights and tremendous eloquence, Suleika tackles a series of tough topics, from managing pain during chemotherapy, to navigating relationships made complicated by cancer (for example, her brother becoming her bone-marrow donor). Her articles, as well the series of video clips which accompany them, offer an affecting glimpse of what it means to be a young person wrestling with cancer.” —Alyssa Loh
“ Perhaps that is the real challenge of psychiatric care: to hold up a picture of what language actually is. Where communication is broken, dysfunctional, turned back on itself, persons are trapped; care for persons is care for their language, listening to the worlds they inhabit (to their souls) so as to engage them with other worlds — neither reductively or collusively.
Dr. Marty Klein, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist in Palo Alto, California, contributed this insightful article, You’re Addicted to What?, to the July/August 2012 issue of The Humanist:
I don’t diagnose people I haven’t met. More importantly, I don’t use the diagnosis of sex addiction. In thirty-one years as a sex therapist, marriage counselor, and psychotherapist, I’ve never seen sex addiction. I’ve heard about virtually every sexual variation, obsession, fantasy, trauma, and involvement with sex workers, but I’ve never seen sex addiction.The article is quite long, but thoroughly worth the read.
New patients tell me all the time how they can’t keep from doing self-destructive sexual things; still, I see no sex addiction. Instead, I see people regretting the sexual choices they make, often denying that these are decisions. I see people wanting to change, but not wanting to give up what makes them feel alive or young or loved or adequate; wanting the advantages of changing, but not wanting to give up what makes them feel they’re better or sexier or naughtier than other people. Most importantly, I see people wanting to stop doing what makes them feel powerful, attractive, or loved, but since they don’t want to stop feeling powerful, attractive or loved, they can’t seem to stop the repetitive sex clumsily designed to create those feelings.
“ You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave.
From The Guardian, Uncomfortable in Our Skin:
Are today’s diets – the way we are encouraged to eat cognitively – to blame for our anxiety? An eating-disorder specialist at the inquiry confirmed that the “Atkins diet generates many cases for my work”, but the problem is not eating disorders but disordered eating. Disordered eating includes competitive dieting and eating in secret – it can lead to both eating disorders and obesity, but more commonly just adds to the eater’s anxiety.
Rates of depression in women and girls doubled between 2000 and 2010; the more women self-objectify, the more likely they are to be depressed. Could the mainstream media’s warm embrace of disordered eating have contributed to that rise?
“ Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.
Stephen Marche for The Atlantic, Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?:
Loneliness is at the American core, a by-product of a long-standing national appetite for independence: The Pilgrims who left Europe willingly abandoned the bonds and strictures of a society that could not accept their right to be different. They did not seek out loneliness, but they accepted it as the price of their autonomy. The cowboys who set off to explore a seemingly endless frontier likewise traded away personal ties in favor of pride and self-respect. The ultimate American icon is the astronaut: Who is more heroic, or more alone? The price of self-determination and self-reliance has often been loneliness. But Americans have always been willing to pay that price.Inspired by Ario.
Today, the one common feature in American secular culture is its celebration of the self that breaks away from the constrictions of the family and the state, and, in its greatest expressions, from all limits entirely. The great American poem is Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” The great American essay is Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” The great American novel is Melville’s Moby-Dick, the tale of a man on a quest so lonely that it is incomprehensible to those around him. American culture, high and low, is about self-expression and personal authenticity. Franklin Delano Roosevelt called individualism “the great watchword of American life.”
Pico Iyer on the joy of quiet:
The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
“ My grief, like that of millions of others, signalled the loss of something truly vital in my life. This pain was part of the remembering and maybe also the remaking. It punctuated the end of a time and a form of living, and marked the transition to a new time and a different way of living.
In the mid-1950s LIFE magazine published a five-part series titled The Background of Segregation, exploring in depth how the politically charged issue played out, in human terms, from the post-Civil War Jim Crow South to the first fiery stirrings of the Civil Rights movement. Here — on the eve of the 2012 South Carolina GOP primary, in which the issue of race is again making headlines — LIFE.com presents rare and unpublished color photographs by the great Margaret Bourke-White.
Picture of the Day. Claire Felicie’s series of portraits of Marines before, during and after their tours of duty in Afghanistan are touching and powerful. Above are Jasper, Age 21 and Luke, Age 25. Visit her website to see more of her photography of Marines in Afghanistan, especially her series of portraits of them holding their lucky charms. Also check out the Lens Culture post on this series.
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