Saturday, August 20, 2011

Addiction Goes Dionysian But Falls Short of Real Change

It looks like the “illness” called “addiction” has gone into the right hemisphere.  The medical community has released a new definition (here; a news story about it here) and it is very much a Dionysian version.

From the news essay:

Addiction…is a “bio-psycho-socio-spiritual” illness characterized by (a) damaged decision-making (affecting learning, perception, and judgment) and by (b) persistent risk and/or recurrence of relapse; the unambiguous implications are that (a) addicts have no control over their addictive behaviors and (b) total abstinence is, for some addicts, an unrealistic goal of effective treatment.


bad behaviors themselves are all symptoms of addiction, not the disease itself. "The state of addiction is not the same as the state of intoxication…” Far from being evidence of a failure of will or morality, the behaviors are the addict's attempt to resolve the general "dysfunctional emotional state" that develops in tandem with the disease.

While I am in general agreement with the new definition (because I prefer Dionysian holistic views on medicine and the old Modernist view was medieval), I also find some of its wording to be awful.

We continue to place “mental illness” in categories that demean people and incite prejudice.  Calling something a “disorder” or “dysfunction” or “illness” tends to place those with these traits into a living hell.  They are pushed to the margins of our society and generally treated poorly by the masses.

When you start out by calling something “bad behavior” or “illness” or “disorder” you taint the characterization with moral overtones.  While the medical community tries very hard to combat the morality discussion (Far from being evidence of a failure of will or morality) all they do is perpetuate it.  Terms such as these are based in Apollonian values of order, functionality, and “normality” (as defined by the scientific community) [1].

If you want to argue that people with “mental illness” are not immoral [2], then you must rephrase the discussion. 

Such as, some people are mentally blessed, they are closer to god, they are touched by god.  Their purpose in society is to inspire us and remind us of our shortcomings.  Many of these people have spurts of creativity that most of us will never have; many are or have been conceptual geniuses who can give us brief periods of wonder and bedazzlement. When their era of creativity is done we take care of them with honesty and dignity.

If 10 percent of our society has “mental illness” then why is it an illness?  Why not view it as part of the known range of human existence, as part of the order of life?  From this perspective we can confront excessive or destructive behaviors as something we want to limit without demeaning people or stifling creativity.

1. Modernists were obsessed with psychological and psychiatric issues; they wanted to define normal mental behavior and kill off all "abnormal" mentality.  They were broadly anti mental illness.  It threatened their love of intellectualism and conceptualism. They used to say that there was a thin line between genius and crazy. I think they were using bad ideas.
2.  Why do we have to continually live with 18th century (Kantian) ideas about human morality?  If excessive literalism is an addiction are Christian fundamentalists "addicts"?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Risk Free is Buried

Last week I discussed the S & P downgrade and focused on the loss of “risk free” investing, here.

Others have focused on the issue too.  Here are some good examples.

Good Luck out there.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pajamas and Pancakes: Anytime & Anywhere

At Wal-Mart the other day, I saw people wearing pajamas while shopping.  Just search “shopping in pajamas” to see commentary and videos about it.  I wondered:  when did it become okay for such casualness?  Also, why do I think it is casual?  After all, some people think it is just normal.

As a kid, I grew up in a world where the social rules of conduct were based in Modernism, a world of order and hierarchy.  Everything in its place and a place for everything was a common phrase.  That meant that there were acceptable clothing styles for different parts of the day, for working or leisure, and for being in public or in private.  Various activities all had their clothing selections and were defined as formal or casual.   Golf shoes were for golf and not hiking; tennis shoes were for tennis not basketball.  Pajamas were worn while sleeping and maybe having breakfast with the kids--not shopping.

There used to be all kinds of rules for formality and being in public.  Restaurants had dress codes.  The more formal or upscale the place the more strict the rules.  Dinner jackets and ties for men; dresses and nylons for women.  Many places had No Shirts No Shoes No Service signs by the entry.

Clothing reflected social status.  Family restaurants were casual and noisy with children.  Formal dining was quiet, reserved, and full of ties and dresses.

Under Modernism there were three meals a day and each had its separate items.  Breakfast was eggs and pancakes or cereal.  Lunch was sandwiches and/or soup; dinner was a main dish and maybe a dessert.  Restaurants had different menus for each meal.   

In the 1980s and 90s this all changed due to the spread of our new Romanticism.  Casualness spread everywhere because formality declined everywhere. Public and private blended, as did work and leisure. Modernism was steeped in its domestications and hierarchies of cultural class.  All of it was defined by what you did, what you wore, what you read.  Paul Fussell (here) described very well America’s classes as they were at the end of Modernism.   He takes the three old classes of early Modernism (High Brow, Middle Brow, and Low Brow) and breaks them down into several subclasses of each. 

Under Modernism, the upper crust abhorred egalitarianism.  Under Romanticism, egalitarianism is the dominant theme.  Modernist social class (based on education, occupation, & money) has collapsed into Romanticism’s two groups, the Haves and the Have Nots (money and power divides everything); the Alpha personalities against everyone else.

Today, we have few outlets for formality.  You still see it in weddings and some ceremonies.  Graduations tend to maintain the old sense of order but the number of people wearing spoofy outfits (or nothing) under their gowns has turned these events into opportunities for satire.

In terms of clothing, there has been some backlash to the casualness.  Mild dress codes are still in force or are being reinstalled with different levels of acceptability.  However, meal categories are now useless.  Restaurants now have breakfast all day ads or their menus are a blend of separate meal categories and items served all day (see here for the Jack in the Box menu). 

Some have yet to figure this out.  McDonalds--Does it really matter what time of day I buy a Big Mac or an Egg Mac Muffin? 

You won’t see me in pajamas at Wal-Mart (because I don’t wear them).  However, if I want pancakes for dinner, I will have them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

About that Downgrade

After the close on Friday the S & P folks downgraded US debt, here.  The ramifications of this are hard to understand but I offer one view of it.

Back in the day when I was studying for the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) the mantra was that people invest in stocks because they provide an acceptable risk/reward rate of return above treasuries.  If you are not willing to accept any risk then put your money into treasuries.  We had to know the formulas for estimating future prices of stocks and one common formula used the basic idea known as the risk free choice, using US treasury bonds of some duration, often the 10 year.  The formula used the current stock price, the current treasury yield, a future date in time, projected earnings per share, and did a time value of money calculation.  So the estimated future price of a stock would be based on some acceptable level of risk above the rate of treasuries.

Now that treasuries have been downgraded, they cannot be viewed as risk free and some other AAA rated instrument should be used.  What it will be, I do not know.

Thus, estimating future returns of stocks is now made more difficult.  Thus, more uncertainty will hit the markets.

Another thought is that all the contracts and loans that require AAA bonds as collateral will now be in jeopardy because that collateral is likely treasuries.  Some bank borrows 100 million and puts down 10 million in treasuries as AAA collateral now has to dump their treasuries and swap in something else.

All this suggests that precious metals will bounce hard.  Maybe that is why they were smacked down last week as the insiders played this game.