By any objective analysis, life in modern America is pretty darn good. You probably didn’t die in childbirth and neither did half of your children. You haven’t died of smallpox or polio. You probably haven’t lived through a famine or war. Cookies and meat are cheap, houses are big, most of us do rather little physical labor, and we can carry the collected works of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Wikipedians in our pockets. We have novacaine for tooth surgery. If you avoid drugs and don’t eat too much, there’s a very good chance you’ll survive into your eighties.
In the past, people grew up in small towns or rural areas near small towns, knew most of the people in their neighborhoods, went to school, got jobs, and got married. They moved if they needed more land or saw opportunities in the gold fields, but most stayed put.
We know this because we can read about it in historical books.
One of the results was strong continuity of people in a particular place, and strong continuity of people allowed the development of those “civic associations” people are always going on about. Kids joined clubs at school, clubs at church, then transitioned into adult-aged clubs when they graduated. At every age, there were clubs, and clubs organized and ran events for the community.
Of course club membership was mediated by physical location–if you live in a town you will be in more clubs than if you live in the country and have to drive an hour to get there–but in general, life revolved around clubs (and church, which we can generously call another kind of club, with its own sub clubs.)
In such an environment, it is easy to see how someone could meet their sweetheart at 16, become a functioning member of society at 18, get a job, put a down payment on a house, get married by 20 or 22 and start having children.
Today, people go to college.
Forget your highschool sweetheart: you’re never going to see her again.
After college, people typically move again, because the job they’ve spent 4 years training for often isn’t in the same city as their college.
So forget all of your college friends: chances are you’ll never see any of them again, either.
Now you’re living in a strange city, full of strangers. You know no one. You are part of no clubs. No civic organizations. You feel no connection to anyone.
“Isn’t diversity great?” someone crows over kebabs, and you think “Hey, at least those Muslims over there have each other to talk to.” Soon you find yourself envying the Hispanics. They have a community. You have a bar.
People make do. They socialize after work. They reconnect with old friends on Facebook and discover that their old friends are smug and annoying because Facebook is a filter that turns people smug and annoying.
But you can’t repair all of the broken connections.
Meanwhile, all of those small, rural towns have lost their young adults. Many of them have no realistic future for young people who stay; everyone who can leave, does. All that’s left behind are children, old people, and the few folks who didn’t quite make it into college.
The cities bloat with people who feel no connection to each other and small towns wither and die.
Opioids, whatever their source, bond with receptors all over our bodies. Opioid receptors evolved to protect us from panic, anxiety and pain – a considerate move by the oft-callous forces of evolution. …
The overdose epidemic compels us to face one of the darkest corners of modern human experience head on, to stop wasting time blaming the players and start looking directly at the source of the problem. What does it feel like to be a youngish human growing up in the early 21st century? Why are we so stressed out that our internal supply of opioids isn’t enough? …
You get opioids from your own brain stem when you get a hug. Mother’s milk is rich with opioids, which says a lot about the chemical foundation of mother-child attachment. When rats get an extra dose of opioids, they increase their play with each other, even tickle each other. And when rodents are allowed to socialise freely (rather than remain in isolated steel cages) they voluntarily avoid the opiate-laden bottle hanging from the bars of their cage. They’ve already got enough. …
So what does it say about our lifestyle if our natural supply isn’t sufficient and so we risk our lives to get more? It says we are stressed, isolated and untrusting.
(Note: college itself is enjoyable and teaches people valuable skills. This thread is not opposed to “learning things,” just to an economic system that separates people from their loved ones.)
Peter Frost recently posted on female shyness among men–more specifically, on the observation that adolescent white females appear to become very shy among groups of males and suffer depression, but adolescent black females don’t.
Frost theorizes that women are instinctually deferential to men, especially when they are economically dependent on them, and that whites show more of this deference than blacks because traditional white marriage patterns–monogamy–have brought women into more contact with men while making them more economically dependent on them than traditional African marriage patterns–polygyny–and therefore white women have evolved to have more shyness.
This explanation is decent, but feels incomplete.
Did anyone bother to ask the girls why they felt shy around the boys? Probably someone has, but that information wasn’t included in the post. But I can share my own experiences.
For starters, I’ve never felt–and this may just be me–particularly shyer around males than around females, nor do I recall ever talking less in highschool due to class composition. Rather, the amount I talked had entirely to do with how much I liked the subject matter vs. how tired I was. However, in non-school settings, I am less likely to talk when conversations are dominated by men, simply because men tend to talk about things I find boring, like cars, sports, or finance. (I suspect I have an unusually high tolerance for finance/economic discussions for a female, but there are limits to what even I can stand, and the other two topics drive me to tears of boredom. Sports, as far as I am concerned, are the Kardashians of men.) I am sure the same is true in reverse–when groups of women get together, they talk about stuff that men find horribly dull.
Even in classroom conversations that are ostensibly led by the teacher, male students may make responses that just aren’t interesting to the female students, leading to the females getting bored or having little to say in response.
So, do black adolescent girls and boys have more conversation topics in common than whites?
Second, related to Frost’s observations, men tend to be more aggressive while talking than women. They are louder, they interrupt more, they put less effort into assuaging people’s feelings, etc. I am sure women do things men find annoying, like ramble on forever without getting to the point or talking about their feelings in these weirdly associative ways. Regardless, I suspect that women/adolescents (at least white ones) often find the male style overwhelming, and their response is to retreat.
When feminists say they need “safe spaces” away from men to discuss their feminism things, they aren’t entirely inaccurate. It’s just that society used to have these “safe spaces” for women back before the feminists themselves destroyed them! Even now, it is easy to join a Mommy Meetup group or find an all-female Bible study club. But, oh wait, these are regressive! What we need are all-female lawyers, or doctors, or mathematicians…
*Ahem* back on subject, if testosterone => aggression, it would be interesting to see if the difference in black vs white females is simply a result of different testosterone levels (though of course that is just kicking the ball back a bit, because we then must ask what causes different testosterone levels.)
I suspect that Frost is on the right track looking at polygyny vs. monogamy, but I think his mechanism (increased time around/dependence on men => increase shyness) is incomplete. He’s missed something from his own work: polygynous males have higher testosterone than monogamous ones (even within their own society.) (See: The Contradictions of Polygyny and Polygyny Makes Men Bigger, Tougher, and Meaner.) Even if women in polygynous societies were expected to behave exactly like women from monogamous societies, I’d expect some “spillover” effect from the higher testosterone in their men–that is, everyone in society ought to have higher testosterone levels than they would otherwise.
Additionally, let us consider that polygyny is not practiced the same everywhere. In the Middle East, sexual access to women is tightly controlled–to the point where women may be killed for extra-marital sexual activity. In this case, the women are effectively monogamous, while the men are not. By contrast, in the societies Frost describes from Sub-Saharan Africa, it sounds like both men and women have a great many sexual partners during adolescence and early adulthood (which explains the high STD rates.)
If polygamy increases male aggression and testosterone levels because them men have to invest more energy into finding mates, then it stands to reason that women who have lots of mates are also investing lots of energy into finding them, and so would also have increased levels of aggression and testosterone.
Speaking again from personal experience, I observed that my own desire to talk to men basically cratered after I got married (and then had kids.) Suddenly something about it seemed vaguely tawdry. Of course, this leaves me in a bit of a pickle, because there aren’t that many moms who want to discuss HBD or related topics. (Thankfully I have the internet, because talking to words on a screen is a very different dynamic.) Of course, if I were back on the dating market again (god forbid!) I’d have to talk to lots of men again.
So I think the equation here shouldn’t be +time with men => +shyness, -time with men => -shyness, but +pursuit of partners => +aggression, -pursuit of partners => -aggression.
None of this gets into the “depression” issue. What’s up with that?
Personally, while I felt plenty of annoying things during highschool, the only ones triggered by boys were of the wanting to fall in love variety and the feeling sad if someone didn’t like me variety. I did feel some distress over wanting the adults to treat me like an adult, but that has nothing to do with boys. But this may just be me being odd.
We know that whites, women, and the subset of white women suffer from depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness at higher rates than blacks, men, and pretty much everyone else. I speculate that anxiety, shyness, disgust, and possibly even depression are part of a suite of traits that help women women avoid male aggression, perform otherwise dull tasks like writing English papers or washing dishes, keep out of trouble, and stay interested in their husbands and only their husbands.
In a society where monogamy is enforced, people (or their parents) may even preferrentially chose partners who seem unlikely to stray–that is, women (or men) who display little interest in actively pursuing the opposite sex. So just as women in polygamous societies may be under selective pressure to become more aggressive, women in monogamous societies may be under selective pressure to have less interest in talking to men.
Eventually, you get Japan.
Amusingly, the studies Frost quotes view white female shyness as a bad thing to be corrected, and black female non-shyness as a good thing that mysteriously exists despite adverse conditions. But what are the effects of white female shyness? Do white women go to prison, become pregnant out of wedlock, or get killed by their partners at higher rates than black women? Do they get worse grades, graduate from school at lower rates, or end up in worse professions?
Or maybe shy girls are perfectly fine the way they are and don’t need fixing.
Disclaimer time: I am not a doctor. I am not a psychologist/psychiatrist. If you have a mental illness/disorder/concerns, take them up with a trained professional who knows what they’re talking about. For the love of god, DO NOT make medical/mental health decisions based on my speculative babbling about what might have been useful to our ancestors.
Americans are an anxious people.
According to the Kim Foundation (I don’t actually know who they are, but they are the first hit that comes up when you Google “Percent Americans with anxiety,”) about 18% of us have some form of anxiety disorder, such as, “panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias.”
An additional 10% of us have mood disorders, eg, “major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.”
There’s a lot of interesting data in this graph. For simplicity’s sake, from here on out, when I say, “Women,” I am referring primarily to “white women,” but remember that no group is entirely lacking in crazy.
Also, the graphs for mood disorders:
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, those numbers don’t add up!”
They don’t have to add up. You can get diagnosed with two things at once. Or five. It just depends on how often you go pester the shrinks.
It’s no secret that women are kind of crazy, but I still find the numbers a little shocking. According to the Huffington Post, 25% of women are on psychiatric drugs of some sort. The article also claims that, “One in four women is on antidepressants,” so I guess 100% of women taking psychiatric drugs are on anti-depressants, or the math got fucked up somewhere.
Why do 22-25% of women feel so bad that they need psychiatric medication just to deal with their lives? (Not to mention 15% of men.)
Some quick possibilities:
1. Shrinks are handing out pills like crazy, whether patients are actually mentally ill or not, because who wouldn’t like to be happier and better-adjusted?
2. Something about modern life makes people (especially white women) very anxious.
3. Highly anxious people are a side effect of low infant mortality + the baby boom expanding the class of parents.
4. Anxiety/depression are actually adaptive, and so we are supposed to feel this way.
5. Some combination of all of the above.
Personally, I lean toward #5.
Now, a quick aside: I don’t really like feelings. Oh, sure, I’m okay with the good ones. Happiness, love, joy, enthusiasm, sure, I like those. But the rest of the feelings I could generally do without. I especially dislike other people’s emotions. “I am having a sad,” translates all too quickly into, “I am yelling at you.” So, as I stated at the beginning, if you think you need help handling your emotions, or the people around you think you do, please consider getting help. You don’t have to live in pain.
That said, I think anxiety is supposed to serve some purpose that modern conditions have gotten out of whack.
Stress in a personal relationship such as marriage
Stress from an emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one
Stress from a serious medical illness
Side effect of drugs, legal or otherwise
Medical symptom, eg, low oxygen
The last three I consider perfectly rational biological responses–it’s very understandable that someone who can’t breathe feels anxious. But other than coffee, I doubt these are seriously affecting the overall anxiety rates.
That leaves us with “stress,” (which is basically a synonym for “anxiety”) from pretty much every part of life. Almost 20% of women cannot cope with work/school/relationships/finances without medication. It is tempting, therefore, to think that our entire modern lifestyle, from large, dense cities to two-income households could not exist without medicating women into not freaking out.
But why would they freak out in the first place?
Biochemically, “stress” is the feeling of your body responding to threatening or potentially threatening situations via your “fight or flight” response. In nature, fight or flight is very useful: it prepares you to run for your life or fight to the death. According to Wikipedia, Fight or Flight works like this:
The reaction begins in the amygdala, which triggers a neural response in the hypothalamus. The initial reaction is followed by activation of the pituitary gland and secretion of the hormone ACTH. The adrenal gland is activated almost simultaneously and releases the neurotransmitter epinephrine. The release of chemical messengers results in the production of the hormone cortisol, which increases blood pressure, blood sugar, and suppresses the immune system. The initial response and subsequent reactions are triggered in an effort to create a boost of energy. This boost of energy is activated by epinephrine binding to liver cells and the subsequent production of glucose. Additionally, the circulation of cortisol functions to turn fatty acids into available energy, which prepares muscles throughout the body for response. Catecholamine hormones, such as adrenaline (epinephrine) or noradrenaline (norepinephrine), facilitate immediate physical reactions associated with a preparation for violent muscular action.
The basolateral amygdala has been linked to conditioned fear and disgust learning, while the central amygdala has been linked to conditioned fear learning. … liberals had elevated amydalar responses to the viewing of a political commercial about nuclear war. …
Hart et al. (2000) selected an equal number of blacks and whites, repeatedly showing them pictures of white and black faces while performing fMRI. They noted: “across all subjects, we observed significantly greater…BOLD signal in the amygdala to outgroup vs ingroup faces, but only during later stimulus presentations. …
Further, Phelps found that activation in the left amygdala and right amygdala (all the way to the insular cortex) were correlated with a negative bias towards black faces on the Implicit Association Test.”
Last time I took an implicit association test, it told me that I prefer fat people over skinny and blacks over whites. I don’t know why everyone else fails these things.
… the only region that was activated in both the Implicit Association and Startle Eyeblink tests was the left-superior amygdala. … Phelps noted: “the region in the amygdala most strongly correlated with negative evaluation [of black faces] was the left-superior amygdala”.
… Richeson et al. (2003) performed an fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function, and uncovered a critical findings with regards to racial prejudice: it is inhibited by right hemispheric neural networks such as the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate. Richeson’s findings of a right-hemispheric network that inhibits racial prejudice shows the push-pull mechanism of the amygdala and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, especially on the right side.
… Cunningham used two different exposure periods: an subconscious exposure of 30 milliseconds; and, a conscious exposure of 525 milliseconds. During the subconscious exposure, which was not long enough for most of the subjects to even be aware of the black and white face photos, Cunningham found the right amygdala to be activated in the black minus white condition, … Longer presentations of racial stimuli favor activation in the left amygdala, at least according to Phelps.
But with the 525 millisecond presentation, the amygdala’s racial responsiveness was inhibited, meaning it didn’t take very long for another area in the brain to assume control. And that region was located predominately in the right hemisphere, confirming the work of Richeson. Cunningham noted: “the regions Richeson et al. identified as underlying the control of prejudice were nearly identical to the regions identified in this study as being associated with modulation of automatic evaluations”.
Here is where I get speculative:
When we meet another human, we automatically assess whether they are a threat or not. If we know them well or they look like someone we know (and like), they go into the “not a threat” category. If they don’t look familiar, they go into the “might be a threat” box, and your body begins preparing to run/fight for your life.
Your brain makes this assessment subconsciously and begins preparing your fight or flight response before your conscious networks have even kicked in. Your conscious networks appear to be trying to override your unconscious ones–perhaps by just rationally evaluating potential threat, or perhaps by yelling at your amygdala to stop being so racist.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this mental push-pull between the amygdala and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex created more stress.
Men seem to cope better than women with stress and aggression. They have a naturally higher aggression “set point” due to being descended from the men who killed all the other men. Aggression has historically been a winning strategy for men, but not women. Aggressive women, historically, were more likely to kill their own children or, if pregnant, get their children killed by someone else. Being the smallest, weakest person around makes aggression a losing strategy.
Personal anecdote time: In my younger, dumber days, I was a lot more aggressive than I am now. Not so much in real life, because men are bigger than me and I’m not dumb. But in the relative safety of the internet, certainly. Then I got pregnant. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand aggression. I remember watching a YouTube video of police aggression. My heart started racing. My palms were sweating. I was reacting as though the aggression were in the same room with me, not a recording on a little screen of something that happened hundreds of miles away. After that, I stopped watching TV News and stopped fighting with random strangers on the internet. I couldn’t take them anymore.
Aggression is useful for finding mates, because it gets people out of the house and helps them talk to each other. Sometimes it also results in punching.
Pregnant women have no need for aggression. They have already found a mate, and now they need to keep him. (Mates are very useful for bringing you food during that healing period after birth.) Further, pregnant women need to protect their fetuses (and later, babies.) The mother needs aggression only to save her own life or her child’s life.
Corporations are stressful because they’re full of aggressive men, who interrupt more, take credit for other people’s accomplishments, are noisy, and use their physical size to intimidate each other. Women respond to this in a variety of ways you’re already familiar with, including the consumption of large quantities of Xanax to keep them from freaking out and having a meltdown every time a strange man gets into an elevator with them.
You know what? This… isn’t helping.
Neither are these:
Anxiety exists because it helped our ancestors avoid dangerous situations, but modern life basically requires spending high amounts of time in anxiety-inducing situations. Some people eventually learn not to freak out and suppress their instincts, but for many people, repeated stimulus exposure only makes things worse.
But aside from preparing people to flee or fight, I suspect that anxiety serves another purpose: it forces women to do whatever it takes to remain part of the group, the tribe, because the tribe is survival, and outside the tribe is nothing but the howling wind and empty, barren waste. Female survival and evolutionary success has not historically depended on dominating the tribe, but on not getting kicked out.
Anxiety does not manifest itself as a rational response. Someone else does something wrong, you tell them not to, and afterward, you feel anxious. Objectively, you are in the right. The other person did something wrong. But your emotions tell a different story. Your emotions say that you are wrong. This is because you are not at peace with your tribe, with your friend or family member.
Or let us suppose that you say something innocently, even helpfully to another person, and they take it the wrong way and become angry and yell at you. Afterwards, do you feel mad at them? Or do you just feel unhappy that they are feeling so unhappy?
Okay, maybe not you, my faithful reader. You probably aren’t female.
Anxiety is one of those things that I suspect is good in moderation. A bit of concern for safety makes people pay attention as they go about their business. Double-checking that the locks are locked and the stove is off before going to bed could save your life. Being willing to put aside hurt feelings and make amends with others makes life more pleasant, and is probably crucial to living in large communities. Taken in excess, any of these behaviors becomes debilitating–the person develops agoraphobia, OCD, or pathological unwillingness to stick up for themselves.
A small amount of anxiety may also be useful in getting people to pay attention to little details. It’s making sure that all of the is are dotted and ts are crossed that makes sure airplanes stay in the air, after all.
Peter Frost has laid out a series of posts onguilt, and by contrast, shame. Now, here I must make a confession: I lack an intuitive sense of the distinction he is drawing between guilt and shame, or perhaps just lack sufficient exposure to “shame cultures” to really get it. Regardless, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to suspect that “guilt” and “anxiety” may be deeply linked.
Frost proposes that, “Pervasive feelings of guilt are part of a behavioral package that enabled Northwest Europeans to adapt to complex social environments where kinship is less important and where rules of correct behavior must be obeyed with a minimum of surveillance.”
While most commentator posit the European guilt complex arose in response to specific events, eg, the Holocaust, Frost traces it back to a much earlier time, citing, for example, Aelfric of Eynsham, an English abbot born in 955:
He who cannot because of shame confess his faults to one man, then it must shame him before the heaven-dwellers and the earth-dwellers and the hell-dwellers, and the shame for him will be endless. (Bedingfield, 2002, p. 80)
And The Song of Beowulf:
That was sorrow to the good man’s soul, greatest of griefs to the heart. The wise man thought that, breaking established law, he had bitterly angered God, the Lord everlasting. His breast was troubled within by dark thoughts, as was not his wont.
(Personally, I’ve always thought Grendel was a metaphor for plague, and Beowulf plunging into the lake represents a human sacrifice by drowning/throwing the sacrificed victim into the lake to appease the gods, but I am really not an Anglo Saxon culture expert.)
Frost pushes back the potential beginnings of guilt culture even further, to the semi-sedentary Scandinavian/Baltic hunter-gatherer/fishing communities of 8,500 years ago. He suggests that in this environment, guilt made people cooperate, Prisoner’s Dilemma-style, and community sanctions against defectors ensured that they stayed a low enough percent of the population that they couldn’t take advantage of the folks who felt a lot of guilt. Quoting Frost:
What is to stop some individuals from exploiting the guilt proneness of others while feeling no guilt themselves? This free-rider dilemma may have been resolved in part by identifying such individuals and ostracizing them. It may also be that these semi-sedentary communities were conducive to evolution of altruistic behavior, as described by Maynard Smith’s haystack model (Wikipedia, 2013). According to this model, guilt-prone individuals are at a disadvantage within any one community and will thus become fewer and fewer with each generation. If, however, a community has a high proportion of guilt-prone individuals, it will have an advantage over other communities and thus expand in numbers at their expense. And if these communities disperse and regroup on a regular basis, the overall proportion of guilt-prone individuals will increase over time. …
There is an obvious issue that arises if a guilt-ridden society suddenly obtains a large number of individuals who don’t buy into the whole guilt complex.
… it was the hunter-fisher-gatherers of the North Sea and the Baltic who led the way to behavioral modernity, i.e., individualism, reduced emphasis on kinship, and the market as the main organizing principle of social and economic life. Their mode of subsistence was not wiped out by agriculture, unless one sees fishing as a kind of farming. They not only survived, but also went on to create what we now call the Western World. Not bad for a bunch of losers.
The guilt complex is obviously deep in Christianity. My researches so far have not revealed a similar guilt complex in other religions, though to be fair, Hinduism is vast and well beyond my understanding. IMO, some Christians take this guilt to an unhealthy level:
Some members of strict monastic orders, and some members of the Catholic lay organization Opus Dei, practice mild self-flagellation using an instrument called a “discipline”, a cattail whip usually made of knotted cords, which is flung over the shoulders repeatedly during private prayer. Pope John Paul II took the discipline regularly.
The Wikipedia page on Flagellantism, a Medieval Religious movement, deserves reading in its own right, but I will try to quote a representative bit here:
The 11th-century zealot Dominicus Loricatus repeated the entire Psalter twenty times in one week, accompanying each psalm with a hundred lash-strokes to his back. … The movement did not have a central doctrine or overall leaders, but a popular passion for the movement occurred all over Europe in separate outbreaks. … The prime cause of the Perugia episode is unclear, but it followed an outbreak of an epidemic and chroniclers report how the mania spread throughout almost all the people of the city. Thousands of citizens gathered in great processions, singing and with crosses and banners, they marched throughout the city whipping themselves. … The movement spread across Northern Italy, up to 10,000 strong groups processing in Modena, Bologna, Reggio and Parma …
The German and Low Countries movement … established their camps in fields near towns and held their rituals twice a day. The ritual began with the reading of a letter, claimed to have been delivered by an angel and justifying the Flagellants’ activities. Next the followers would fall to their knees and scourge themselves, gesturing with their free hands to indicate their sin and striking themselves rhythmically to songs, known as Geisslerlieder, until blood flowed. Sometimes the blood was soaked up in rags and treated as a holy relic. … some towns began to notice that sometimes Flagellants brought plague to towns where it had not yet surfaced. Therefore later they were denied entry. They responded with increased physical penance.
The anchorites were early hermits/monks who were literally walled into tiny rooms they never left for the rest of their lives:
Maybe if Xanax had existed in Medieval Europe, people would have been less prone to walling themselves up in churches.
Note that self-flagellation and anchoritism are not rational responses to life in Medieval Europe–not only do they not solve problems like the Black Death, they may have exacerbated them. They are extreme emotional responses to overwhelming feelings of guilt and anxiety.
Properly balanced, guilt and anxiety can prompt people to treat each other fairly and be attentive in their work. Unbalanced, the individual (or society,) becomes unhinged. They start demanding that their own societies be destroyed because they they must have done something wrong to have more advanced tech than other societies, or groveling for forgiveness for things they didn’t even do:
White woman begs forgiveness for slavery
Anxiety and guilt have their good sides. Society probably couldn’t exist without them. But they have to be in balance.