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CULTURE AND BEHAVIOR: Dangerously Addictive: Why We Are Biologically Ill-Suited to the Riches of Modern America

CULTURE AND BEHAVIOR: Dangerously Addictive: Why We Are Biologically Ill-Suited to the Riches of Modern America

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Humans may pride themselves as being the best evidence for intelligent life on Earth, but an alien observer would record that the (un)sustainability conundrum has the global community floundering in a swamp of cognitive dissonance and collective denial...Indeed, our alien friend might go so far as to ask why our reasonably intelligent species seems unable to recognize the crisis for what it is and respond accordingly. To begin answering this question, we need to look beyond conventional explanations--scientific uncertainty, societal inertia, lack of political will, resistance by vested interests, and so on--to what may well be the root cause of the conundrum: human nature itself.
Humans may pride themselves as being the best evidence for intelligent life on Earth, but an alien observer would record that the (un)sustainability conundrum has the global community floundering in a swamp of cognitive dissonance and collective denial...Indeed, our alien friend might go so far as to ask why our reasonably intelligent species seems unable to recognize the crisis for what it is and respond accordingly. To begin answering this question, we need to look beyond conventional explanations--scientific uncertainty, societal inertia, lack of political will, resistance by vested interests, and so on--to what may well be the root cause of the conundrum: human nature itself.

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Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Sep 22, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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The Post Carbon Reader Series: Culture and Behavior
Dangerously Addictive:Why We Are Biologically Ill-Suitedto the Riches of Modern America
By Peter C. Whybrow, MD
 
About the Author
Peter Whybrow is director of the Semel Institute forNeuroscience and Human Behavior and the JudsonBraun Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry andBiobehavioral Science at UCLA. He is an internationalauthority on depression and manic-depressive dis-ease and the effects of thyroid hormone on brain andhuman behavior, and is the recipient of many awards.He has lectured widely across the United States andEurope, and is the author of 
 American Mania: When More Is Not Enough
(2006). Whybrow is a Fellow of Post Carbon Institute.Post Carbon Institute© 2010613 4th Street, Suite 208Santa Rosa, California 95404 USAThis publication is an excerpted chapter from
The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’sSustainability Crises
, Richard Heinberg and DanielLerch, eds. (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2010).For other book excerpts, permission to reprint, and purchasing visithttp://www.postcarbonreader.com.
 
DARS ADDICTI: W W AR BIICA I-SITD T T RICS  MDR AMRICA1 T PST CARB RADR SRIS
 Reprinted with permission from Peter C. Whybrow,“Dangerously Addictive: Why We Are Biologically Ill-Suited to the Riches of Modern America,” 
Chronicle of Higher Education
55, no. 27 (March 13, 2009), B11.
“It’s called the American Dream,” George Carlinlamented shortly before his death, “because you have tobe asleep to believe it.” Too bad for the rest of us thatGeorge and his signature satire haven’t been aroundfor the wake-up call of the current market meltdown.After all, George Carlin knew something about thedangers of addiction from first hand experience. Heunderstood earlier than most that the debt-fueled con-sumptive frenzy that has gripped the American psychefor the past two decades was a nightmare in the mak-ing—a seductive, twisted, and commercially conjured version of the American Dream that now threatens ourenvironmental, individual, and civic health.The United States is the quintessential trading nation,and for the past quarter century we have worshiped the“free” market as an ideology rather than for what itis—a natural product of human social evolution and aset of economic tools with which to construct a just andequitable society. Under the spell of this ideology andthe false promise of instant riches, America’s immigrant values of thrift, prudence, and community concern—traditionally the foundation of the Dream—have beenhijacked by an all-consuming self-interest. The aston-ishing appetite of the American consumer now deter-mines some 70 percent of all economic activity in theUnited States. And yet, in this land of opportunity andmaterial comfort—where we enjoy the 12-inch dinner plate, the 32-ounce soda, and the 64-inch TV screenmore and more citizens feel time starved, overworked,and burdened by debt. Epidemic rates of obesity, anxi-ety, depression, and family dysfunction are accepted asthe norm.It is the paradox of modernity that as choice and mate-rial prosperity increase, health and personal satisfac-tion decline. This is now an accepted truth. And yetit is the rare American who manages to step back fromthe hedonic treadmill long enough to savor his or hergood fortune. Indeed, for most of us, regardless of what we have, we want
more
and we want it
now
. The rootsof this conundrum—of this addictive striving—are tobe found in our evolutionary history. As creatures of the natural world, having evolved under conditions of danger and scarcity, we are by instinct reward-seeking animals that discount the future in favor of the imme-diate present. As a species we have no familiarity withthe seductive prosperity and material riches that existin America today. A novel experience, it is both com- pelling and confusing.Brain systems of immediate reward were a vital sur- vival adaptation millennia ago when finding a fruit tree
 
Regardless of what we have,we want
more 
and we wantit
no
. The roots of thisconundrum are to be foundin our evolutionary history.

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Ginny Kleven added this note|
I guess I would have to disagree with the statement that Europe's productivity levels match that of the US. Their social programs have kept the people of Europe poor. How do I know this. I have a niece who lives there. The VAT tax keeps everyone from purchasing goods. as it increases the amount double. I cannot understand why we compare ourselves to Europe and keep saying we should live like th
Vu Ngoc Linh Phuong added this note|
Thank you for uploading the file. This is very interesting: In the world we're living, less is More!
Jed Diamond, Ph.D. added this note|
If you want to understand why "too much is not enough" for so many people today, read this informative report from the excellent Post Carbon Institute.

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