“Limitless,” in all its pulpy glory, represents the logical terminus of a certain pattern of modern thought, endlessly fueled by the culture: if you can theoretically become perfect, then it follows that you should at least try. This idea (that man is perfectible and so should strive for perfection) has been around for 2,000 years, but it has lately been streamlined and turbo-charged: in its contemporary incarnation, it regards any unfulfilled human potentialities as a particularly sad and sclerotic form of entropy. I happened to first catch the trailer for “Limitless” online on the same day that Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” was excerpted in The Wall Street Journal, which was two days after Timothy Ferriss’s “4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman” was reviewed in The Times. This was about four days after Russell Simmons’s new self-help book, “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All” (a follow-up to his book “Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success”) was published, which was just three days after the debut of the new Oprah Winfrey Network, ominously christened OWN. This wave of anxiety inducement nearly knocked me over.
And, sure enough, sitting in the theater watching Bradley Cooper evolve from a frizzy-haired dreamer into a slick and sophisticated doer, I started to count the number of waking hours I’ve spent involved in kind of a frenzied metaphysical calculus, trying to figure out what steps I need to take (or would have needed to have taken) to become a fully actualized version of myself.
The introduction to this essay is a very good two paragraph Cliff Notes version of the free will versus determinism debate. Whether we have free will or not might even be unimportant in the context of how we live our lives. We do live it and are held responsible ( in most ways) for the lives we lead as though we had completely free will. I’m not trying to have it both ways. It seems as though there are elements of both determinism and free will. Since we’re in the era of the video game that will do nicely as an analogy. Given several choices we can have several variations on the same outcome and our level of satisfaction at the outcome varies accordingly. Some ways to make your way to victory or finding the treasure or whatever the general goal is, are more enjoyable, i.e. less painful than others. And yes you can die several times before figuring out how to beat the game or your opponent. Life might be similar, except for having several lives to spend. The basic game plan is in place, but you are free to make some choices. In the game and in life it is frequently making those choices which cause the core anxiety. Another recent take on anxiety from an interview with Taylor Clark who wrote “Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool”, “Nerve”: Why is America so anxious?
That explains the disparity in anxiety levels between the United States and the developing world, but why are we more anxious than, say, your average European nation?
It’s hard to pinpoint an answer, but I think Americans have become extremely vulnerable to the pressures of the 21st century. For the past 50 years, we’ve been getting progressively more anxious in good economic times and bad, so we can’t even blame it on the recession. As I was conducting research for the book, psychologists pointed to three basic reasons why our psychic state is deteriorating. The first is a simple matter of social disconnection. As we spend more time with our electronic devices than we do with our neighbors, we lose our physical sense of community. Social isolation flies in the face of our evolutionary history. The second major cause is the information overload that we’re experiencing with the Internet and the 24-hour media cycle. We’re all aware of it, but I’m not sure we realize how big an impact it’s having on our brains. The third explanation can be attributed to what one psychologist refers to as a culture of “feel goodism” — the idea that we shouldn’t ever have to be upset and that all our negative emotions can be neutralized with a pill. This to me feels like a distinctly American phenomenon.
Taking the first part first – social media and isolation. I tend to think it works as described for most people. Most is not all. Some people are just comfortable with themselves and having large blocks of time alone. We call them loners or introverts or hopeless romantics, but they are people who just do not feel compelled to be constantly plugged in on the personal level or the media deluge level. For them social media, which has an off switch, is a great way to control the level of communication they need. “People who need people” may be the luckiest people in the world or be a little needy if they always have to have some connection going on whether in person or electronically. Otherwise they would be alone with themselves and their thoughts – oh, the horrors. The culture of feel goodism is not all bad. Who wants to feel angst ridden 24/7. And doesn’t everyone appreciate a nice warm smile once in a while. To experience or share a simple warm moment with friend or family. It is the pressure to have those feelings, to float around on a cloud, at all times soldier, that sucks the joy out of the very concept.
I thought this was a victory for sanity and endangered species. An added bonus was a wise interpretation of the commerce clause, Ninth Circuit Rejects Commerce Clause Challenge to Endangered Species Act Regulation
A federal appeals court has rejected a conservative legal group’s argument that federal protections of an endangered species violate the Commerce Clause.
A unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the federal protections of delta smelt, a small fish endemic to California, against challenges from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which argued that the protections diminished water exports from the Delta, The Sacramento Bee reported. The federal protections of the fish were created pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific Legal Foundation argued that the fish are “purely intrastate species,” with no “commercial value,” and therefore the federal government regulations to protect the fish were “invalid exercises of constitutional authority [under the Commerce Clause].”
The Ninth Circuit panel disagreed, writing in part, that “Congress has the power to regulate purely intrastate activity as long as the activity is being regulated under a general regulatory scheme that bears a substantial relationship to interstate commerce.” Citing the Eleventh Circuit, the panel ruled that “the Endangered Species Act is a general regulatory statute bearing substantial relation to commerce.”
Conservatives tends to flip-flop on the commerce clause – recently the tea stains and certain libertarians like to pretend that almost two hundred years of legal precedent does not exist and ironically it is the axe they reach for to try to subvert the Endangered Species Act.
This wallpaper has a pretty slightly teal green tint when you download it – the way I created it. Why it shows up on the web as a muted green is a mystery.