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Allergic Reaction

The Adverse Effects of the Free Market

November 3rd, 2005 · Written by · No Comments

Others would contend the stage was set for our current mental health crisis long before television became a regular aspect Western life. Bruce Alexander, addiction specialist and professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University, believes free market society has manufactured displacement and social isolation since its inception. In his brilliant report, “The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society,” Alexander offers a number of historical and modern examples illustrating displacement caused by strict adherence to free market principals. In order to achieve a full-blown free market society in England by the early 19th century, massive, forced relocations of rural farmers to urban slums were necessary. Forced dislocation spread outward from England, with the “clearances” of the clan society in the Scottish highlands, and the settlement of Australia via the “transportation” of convict labor. In the New World, slave labor and the destruction of native culture were necessary in order to sustain North America’s new economy. Alexander traces this history of dislocation to modern Vancouver, the most drug-addicted city in Canada. While dislocation is common in urban areas, Vancouver’s is extreme. The population is comprised by diverse immigrants, many of whom left their families and cultures behind for jobs in the logging, fishing, and mining industries. Alexander contends that as a result of such dislocation, addiction – not necessarily to drugs, but to material pursuits as well – is the general condition of Western society and is being exported to the developing world.

It isn’t hard to see globalization is entwined with mental illness.

It isn’t hard to see globalization is entwined with mental illness. “Rapid urbanization, chaotic modernization and economic restructuring have left many developing countries reeling. Increased rates of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide have accompanied disruptions in cultural practices, social routines, and traditional work and family roles,” state Arthur Kleinman and Alex Cohen in their essay, “Psychiatry’s Global Challenge.” The challenge they speak of is the formulation of a psychological perspective that explains the cultural aspects of mental illness and depression.

Is any of this information really that unexpected? Not to evolutionary psychologists, who are sketching the contours of the mind as designed by natural selection. By contrasting the modern environment with the “ancestral environment” humans evolved in, evolutionary psychologists hope to discover the roots of mental disorders. Because cooperation improves chances for survival, it seems our minds are actually hardwired to work their best in socially intimate settings.

While it is true the anthropological record has disproved Jacques Rousseau’s notion of the “noble savage,” mental illness was almost unheard of in hunter-gatherer societies. Human beings have always been violent and competitive, but depression and addiction are relatively new developments. After all, doesn’t it make sense that the human brain elevates the stress response in times of prolonged social isolation? A lone individual, separated from their tribe in the ancestral world would have a much better chance at survival if they were constantly on edge, and feelings of depression would eventually spur them build the new social ties necessary for ideal brain function. The displacement required by unregulated economic markets prevents consumers from forming the types of strong social ties necessary for our well-being, thereby cementing our addiction to materialism. As long as we refuse to admit the ties between culture and mental illness, all the antidepressants in the world won’t make a bit of difference.

For a list of 150 ways you can become more socially involved visit: www.bettertogether.org/150ways.htm

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