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American Mania: When More is Not Enough Paperback – April 17, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The indictment of American society offered here—that America's supercharged free-market capitalism shackles us to a treadmill of overwork and overconsumption, frays family and community ties and leaves us anxious, alienated and overweight—is familiar. What's more idiosyncratic and compelling is the author's grounding his treatise in political economy (citing everyone from Adam Smith to Thorstein Veblen) as well as in neuropsychiatry, primatology and genetics. Psychiatrist Whybrow (Mood Apart) diagnoses a form of clinical mania in which "the dopamine reward systems of the brain are... hijacked" by pleasurable frenzies like the Internet bubble. Genes are to blame: programmed to crave material rewards on the austere savanna, they go bananas in an economy of superabundance. Americans are particularly susceptible because they are descended from immigrants with a higher frequency of the "exploratory and novelty-seeking D4-7 allele" in the dopamine receptor system, which predisposes them to impulsivity and addiction. The malady is "treatable," Whybrow asserts, not with Paxil but with a vaguely defined program of communitarianism and recovery therapeutics, exemplified by his friends Peanut, a farmer rooted in the land, and Tom, a formerly manic entrepreneur who has learned to live in the present moment. Whybrow's analysis of the contemporary rat race is acute, and by medicalizing the problem he locates it in behavior and genetics—away from the arena of conventional political and economic action where more systemic solutions might surface, but toward a place where individual responsibility can turn "self-interest into social fellowship."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Whybrow has seen the future. -- New York Times, Irene Lacher
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Reading this book will make anyone re-evaluate your lifestyle, your diet and your family life. Whybrow touches on our daily activities, our addiction to material goods, what we truly value, and how we live, exercise and interact with one another. He even addresses the seeds of income inequality.
This book pairs nicely with Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Collapse;" Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" and Bill Nye's "Undeniable."
That the CITIZENS of this great nation-experiment called America were long ago renamed and reclassified as mere CONSUMERS, and by the corporate culture that now controls every facet of our lives and well being -- to ME, that is what is TRULY "anti-American," my friend. Too many of us have unthinkingly, willingly accepted it, despite the dysfunctional, personal results (obesity, anxiety, depression, etc.) that are outlined in this book. It appears that we have adapted our definition of "the pursuit of happiness" toward working our self-centered butts off, no matter the personal costs of physical or mental health, so that we can "shop till we drop" and "accumulate" -- and all the while becoming isolated from family, neighbors and community -- the very social fabric that once defined the substance and strength of this great nation.
Having rejected the current model some time ago, refocusing and recommitting my life toward active involvement in the social and community relationships that have redefined "happiness and success" for me, this book simply resonates with reality and truth. Further, and most importantly, it not only explains why, as descendants and members of America's "immigrant culture," we are predisposed to the "addiction to more" that once held me in its grip, but it proposes the very cure I discovered through my own agonized searching -- a recommitment and active involvement in neighbor/community relationships.
Dr. Whybrow states, "Ironically, the same tools and technologies that have enabled America to achieve Adam Smith's `universal opulence' have also compromised the social anchors that the old philosopher took for granted."
Yes, Adam Smith, the god of free market capitalism, wrote about more than "Wealth of Nations" -- and in fact, that entire volume presupposed a continued structure, membership, and concern with the COMMUNITY ENTITY.
" `The man whom we naturally love the most,' Smith wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments - the book that established his reputation as a thinker - `is he who joins to...his own original and selfish feelings, the most exquisite sensibility...and sympathetic feelings of others'."
The very fact that Adam Smith's name is more easily and closely associated with "Wealth of Nations" than with "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" is a telling indictment of our current culture. That we might, everyone, re-read "Moral Sentiments" followed by an equally careful read of "American Mania"...
"No man is an island unto himself" are words whose proof we are now living.
For those of you who are uncomfortable, but can't put your finger on "why," I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
American Mania illustrates the personal and cultural problems that arise when our rate of technological advancement outpaces our ability to evolve. The bottom line is that mechanisms that once served us and helped us to survive become self destructive. For example, a craving for fats and sweet things was good 100,000 years ago, but not so good now when we have all kinds of food available to us all the time and lead more sedentary lifestyles.
This book is wonderful for looking the implication of all of the above within the individual and at the level of culture. It is great food for thought. It will help anyone who is looking for balance to put things in perspective and understand why we have a tendency to err in the directions that we so often do as individuals and as a society.
As a student of Urbanism, I found this book fascinating. One of the distinctive characteristics of the American built environment- a pattern that repeats everywhere you look- is the instrumentalization of all things for some other material end. Whybrow explains (to my understanding) the mentality behind the landscape.
Whoever you are, whatever your interests or profession, this book is a must read if you want to better understand your country!!
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analysis of American society.Read more