Are we a society of self-indulgers? In The New York Times, Judith
explores the idea that America has moved from "a culture of
narcissism" to a culture of "dysregulation," in everything from Wall
Street excess and oil rig safety standards to Internet addiction and
The signs that something is amiss in
our inner mechanisms of control and restraint are everywhere. Eating
disorders, "in general a disorder of self-regulation," ... grew
epidemic in the past few decades ... Obesity is viewed in many cases by
mental-health experts as another form of self-dysregulation: a
"pathologically intense drive for food consumption" akin to drug
addiction ... We read about dopamine fiends sitting enslaved to their
screens, their brains hooked on the bursts of pleasure they receive
from the ding of each new e-mail message or the arousing flash of a
tweet. We see reports of young children so unable to control their
behavior that they're being expelled from preschool. And teenagers who,
after years spent gorging on instant gratification (too-easy presents
from eager-to-please parents, the thrill of the fast-changing screen),
are restless, demanding, easily bored and said to be suffering from a
plague of insatiability ... [M]any of the problems--in both children and
adults--according to Peter C. Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute
for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California in
Los Angeles, come from living in a culture of excess.
does a "culture of excess" work? The idea, according to Warner, is that
usually "the emotional, reward-seeking, selfish, 'myopic' part of our
brain is checked and balanced in its desirous cravings by our powers of
cognition--our awareness of the consequences, say, of eating too much
or spending too much." But a period of "affluence and endless messages
promoting instant gratification" upset this balance. Is it possible now that we, as individuals and a society, are suffering from a pathological lack of self-discipline?
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