We have never been so happy and depression will soon be disease number 1. How can these two facts be reconciled?
A plea for awareness.
We live in a paradise. It is good that we realize that. We live in a paradise in the sense that we have never lived that long. We have never had such a long period without war. And we have never been as highly educated as today. If you look at the research data, then there have never been so many people happy.
On the other hand, we have to conclude that, according to the World Health Organization, depression will soon be disease number 1. We have never had so many people who have a long-term illness. And we have to conclude that we will soon have to look for a child who isn't been labeled with some kind of disorder.
How can these two facts be reconciled? If we are so happy, why are we so unhappy? Somehow, something doesn't seem right. There is a fundamental discrepancy between that one fact, which is correct, and that other fact, which is also correct. To try and understand that, I have linked three things. Identity, alienation and pleonexia. The latter sounds a bit strange, but that will soon be clear.
When I talk about identity, I start by correcting two presuppositions that we all rely on, including myself. First, the idea that our identity is formed reasonably early in childhood, around the age of 10. That identity is simply there. It changes a bit, we become more intelligent. We gain knowledge, experience. But at the core we keep being the same person.
The two assumptions that underlie this are: identity is unchangeable and it's deep inside of us.
In reality, exactly the opposite is the case. Identity is a construction that is provided from the outside and it changes us a whole lifetime. Sometimes very drastically. I am going to give a convincing example. An example that is convincing because it shows all the characteristics of a scientific experiment. And it is also an example which you also know examples of: adoption.
A baby born in India and adopted in the Netherlands by Amsterdam parents who have lived there for seven generations, becomes an Amsterdam lady with all the trimmings. Had that same baby been adopted by American parents in the Midwest, she was now an American woman who would vote for the Republicans and would be cheering for Trump. A completely different person.
Why is that? Through the input from outside. Our identity is constructed by the interaction we have with our environment. And that environment tells us what we can become and what we need to become. This is done through words and images: we absorb these archetypes that we bury in our subconscious.
And when we become adults, we can make choices ourselves. We can absorb things and ignore other things. But the younger we are, the less choice we have. That actually starts immediately after birth. Our parents will tell us what we feel, why we feel it and how we can deal with it. More broadly: they tell us who we are.
We absorb all these matters, and with that our identity is gradually constructed. It is also clear that those messages, those images and words that come to us, are not limited to the parents and the immediate environment. That sphere of influence only becomes broader and wider.
We grow up in a culture, a society, that offers us images and words, which we then take over. Maturity means, among other things, that we are aware of what we can take over and what we should not take over. In this area, we have undergone a major change in the last fifteen to twenty years. We ended up in an image culture. Digital images. There are screens everywhere and we constantly look at images. There is a lot of research that expressly shows how much these images influence us.
Moreover, research also shows that we take over these images without realizing it. So the awareness is missing. And with that I come to my second concept: alienation. That is a concept that we all know from a political perspective. Then we think of the totalitarian regimes of Stalinist Russia, the GDR and North Korea. Totalitarian regimes that had organized a system through which people had to fully model their thinking to whatever was being told. Not only their thinking, but even their appearance. When we look at those countries, people all look the same.
There we see how alienation works. In the end, alienation is the same process as identification, with one important difference: the images and words that are presented and imposed actually go against the being of those people. What that being is, is difficult to define. But let's say that the core is certainly our body.
If you have to take over images and words that go against the essence of your body, then the outcome is pretty clear. Then you become ill. Alienation causes disorders: psychological disorders, psychiatric problems or simply organic diseases.
That term, alienation, and its mechanisms, were described very nicely by George Orwell in his novel 1984. He shows how the manipulating of language can guide our thinking, for example by removing certain words, introducing certain words, or the imposition of certain words. And Orwell also realized that an image culture plays a very strong role in this.
If I bring these two things together now, then it seems that we are all alienated without realizing it. Little by little, day after day, month after month, year after year. Through the images that come to us, and which we absorb without realizing it. These images send us in a certain direction, and determine our identity.
And that brings me to the third concept: pleonexia. The irresistible urge that's inside us to always want to have more. More property, but also more fame and honor. And also more security. Aristotle says that this is a very dangerous characteristic. Society, represented by the government and by us, citizens, must be focused on limiting the pleonexia. Because if that does not happen and certainly when people enter into competition with each other, it will become very dangerous.
Looking at our era and society, we see that we are doing the exact opposite. What does the alienation that we experience tell us? What are the images that are shown to us? They are images that tell us that we must have more and more. We speak about growth within the economy. That is the fetish of this market economy: everything has to grow.
I do not understand that. You cannot keep growing? And that growth is no longer limited to the effective production of things. No, it's also about us. We must excel. We have to devote ourselves to an ideal. That ideal is a kind of shifting target. We don't ever get there, but we have to keep trying.
As I said, we live in a paradise. One of the characteristics of the paradise in which we now live is that we have never been so free. But there is an important condition attached to it. Freedom means you can choose. But to be able to choose we have to be aware of a number of things. One of them is alienation.
So I end with a plea for awareness. We have a very helpful pointer for this: our body. When our bodies begin to protest, when our bodies literally begin to show the effects of that alienation, then there is something not right. Through this awareness we can then use the freedom that our paradise offers us.
Are you ready to make other choices?