Tuesday, May 18, 2010

qotd: J.R. Slosar's "The Culture of Excess"

The Culture of Excess
How America Lost Self-Control and Why We Need to Redefine Success
By J.R. Slosar

From the Introduction

The first chapter provides a background of definition and symptoms of narcissism and its application to our culture and society. The complexity of the concept is presented from history, research, and application. Chapter 2 separates out the factors in the economic marketplace that contribute to cultural narcissism. Chapter 3 focuses on coping with the impact of the factors of cultural narcissism, and explores reality and loss, rigidity and self-destruction, and perfectionism and deception. The fourth chapter looks at our avoidance and anxiety of numbers, math or quantitative analysis, a cultural weakness that opens the door to faulty comparisons and poor decisions. A different perspective is offered in Chapter 5, as our health care system is offered as a primary example of how our society sanctions cultural narcissism and self-defeating behavior. Chapter 6 focuses upon changes in reality and hero images as representative of today's cultural narcissism. An analysis of sports as a dramatic seeking of reality is discussed. Chapter 7 discusses identity theory and development with the focus on today's youth and how they see and present themselves. Finally, the last chapter summarizes, integrates, and offers structural recommendations to help change directions and return to a more balanced and realistic appraisal of our economic system and our day-to-day lives and decisions.

From Chapter 5 - Health Care: Waste, Excess and Brokers

The dramatic insistence on free market principles and competition determines the way  health care is delivered today. The entire process exemplifies the culture of excess and cultural narcissism. The excess comes from the tremendous waste of money and resources. This is coupled with the ability of brokers and corporate entities to overcharge and take out money at everyone else's expense. These are the entitled "me" in the equation. The rest of us continue to pay more and more and even get less and less. Or, many just cannot afford health care at all. Facts and meaningful comparisons are dismissed and not considered by the fear of an alternative labeled as Socialism.

From Chapter 8 - Generation We

To address current trends, our culture must develop a new generation that will move toward a different concept and process of attaining success or "making it." This new concept is based on connectedness with culture and has a broader perspective of inclusiveness. It also involves having less sense of entitlement, more realistic expectations, and more willingness to regulate one's own behavior and the marketplace we live in. These are the components need to develop a Generation of We. To effect these changes will mean challenging basic economic assumptions and the elevated status of established economic theories and principles. In turn, we must challenge our current definition of success. The transition from a "me" society to a "we" society can be framed as the classic dichotomy of individualism versus collectivism. But it is a larger and more complex issue than that.

The literature in social psychology is extensive in arguing about the issue of what comes first in order to change. Is it necessary to change behavior first, for change to occur - or is it necessary to change attitude before behavior change can occur? The dichotomy of behavior versus attitude for individuals to change is also applicable to our culture. Changes in individual behavior will principally follow changes dictated by policy. Our mass consumption society will only redirect when forced to. Narcissistic entitlement is too high - self-control is pummeled and expectations of voluntary change are naive. The cycle and patterns  of the culture of excess are too ingrained. As a result, regulation in policy will be an important factor in the change process, and replace the conscious efforts of deregulation and no regulation. As discussed earlier, the cultural deregulation and no regulation movement has deregulated our inner mechanisms of individual self-control. Changes in attitude and thinking will also be related to policy; however, confrontation must occur between current attitudes and thinking that is "me based." Challenging some existing and entrenched beliefs about economics and economic growth will be necessary for change to occur.

Comment:  When you look at different models of health care delivery and its financing, the logic of single payer prevails. President Obama has stated such, and even many conservatives agree, though ideologically opposed. So it has been difficult for those of us who support health care justice to understand why there has not been an adequate national grassroots uprising demanding the enactment of an improved Medicare for all. Dr. Slosar's book provides some insight as to why.

In "The Culture of Excess," Dr. Slosar gives us the perspective of the discipline of psychology, both as applied to individuals and as applied to our culture. He explains how cultural narcissism has permeated our society and has led to the culture of excess. As the "me" society has dominated over the "we" society, narcissism has suppressed the support for collective solutions to our social problems. Within that framing, it is easier to understand why a near-perfect "we" solution for health care reform - single payer Medicare for all - was rejected in favor of the highly-flawed "me" solution - the individual private insurance plans.

Although the process will not be easy, Dr. Slosar shows us why addressing our cultural narcissism must be an integral part of achieving health care justice for all. In a Generation We, everyone will have the health care that they need.

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