Daniel Ben-Ami has written
a review of a new book by Oliver James on affluence and it's impact on the western world. Here's the opening salvo:
It is a reasonable bet that Oliver James thinks you are mentally ill. The clinical psychologist and media pundit starts his new book with a questionnaire for readers to determine whether they have contracted the ‘affluenza virus’. Among the 16 questions he poses, each of which demands a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, are:
* I would like to successfully hide the signs of ageing.
* I would like to be admired by many people.
* I like to keep up with fashions in hair and clothing.
* Shopping or thinking about what to buy greatly preoccupies me.
If you answer ‘yes’ to any one of the questions he declares that, like most people in the English-speaking world, you have contracted the virus. His definition of affluenza is so broad it is hard to see how anyone, apart from perhaps Trappist monks or the Amish, can be immune.
This declaration is not simply a journalistic device to entice readers into the book. James means it literally. Selfish capitalism, he believes, is driving us mad: ‘my new theory is that the nasty form of political economy that I call Selfish Capitalism caused an epidemic of the affluenza virus, accounting for much of the increase in distress since the 1970s.’
Ben-Ami then goes on to lambast the book, ripping apart the methodology of the research and the author's sweeping conclusions. And I generally agree with Ben-Ami in his criticisms of the process of proving the case. But my personal anecdotal experiences are in total agreement with Oliver James and his theory of affluenza.
I think there are many examples of affluenza from Paris Hiltonitis, to the ubiquitous Cadillac Escalades, to the fact that people continuously live beyond their means. And there is never any shortage of proof in the business community with greed pretty much running the show.
But there's one example that I wanted to highlight. Last night PBS aired the third installment of it's Frontline series on the media. This installment focused on the plight of newspapers despite the fact that they are the last significant remaining source of original reporting. I think there is general agreement (except in the undemocratic nutbar arena) that the "Fourth Estate" is a critical part of our Democracy and has a significant role to play in informing the public. While I'm often critical of the newspaper media, there's no doubt that much of what is reported in the blogosphere has it's origination in newspapers. Bloggers may add to that information .... or be critical of it .... or report a wider variety of original reporting, but the origination of the information is largely a phenomena of newspapers.
During the various interviews on Frontline of those in the newspaper business, one thing became clear. The greed of Wall Street investors who own the public corporations who own newspapers are killing the business. Frontline cites the L.A. Times as an example. Despite bringing in a billion dollars per year in sales, and earning a 20% profit on those sales, Wall Street is "unhappy" with the paper and has been pursuing ongoing and crippling cost-cutting to improve the bottom line. The LA Times is but one example of a phenomena occurring throughout the business world as the pursuit of money, even when at the expense of the greater good, is paramount. Will the dogged pursuit of affluence at the expense of quality original news reporting actually make people happier? Will those investors who get improved quarterly results quarter after quarter feel any happier in the long run if newspapers ultimately become nothing but reporters or tabloidism, pandering to the lowest common denominator in people?
I know even the most cynical of nutbars may think that their affluence is or is going to make them happier. But my experiences show otherwise in that people experience greater happiness when they are under control. Out-of-control avarice only leads to obsession which is a decidely unhappy state.
Oliver James apparently sees a connection between the western world's out-of-control pursuit of wealth, it's disillusionment when that affluence is attained, and a deterioration in general happiness. I don't know if he can back that claim up with data, but it sure sounds right to me!