Bipolar Disorder as an American Survival Strategy

American mania as described in the previous post, the right to do what makes me feel good now, is unsustainable. How, then, are we surviving the influence of our predominantly manic culture?

Good feelings usually cost a lot of money and earn little or none. I imagine some people find maximum immediate gratification in their work. However, for most people doing what feels best right now takes them to a bakery or ice cream parlor or the beach. Or it may prompt destructive behaviors such as drug use or promiscuous sexual behavior. Others may choose to just stay at home and sleep. Seldom does one get paid for these behaviors, and usually they cost.

If you pursued what brings you the most immediate gratification, how long would your money last? Remember that we are not thinking long-term, trying to figure out how to stretch our money to derive the most pleasure from it. We are talking about immediate gratification, which entails spending whatever it costs to derive the most pleasure out of this very moment. Most of us would be bankrupt in a month employing this approach to life.

That’s where the bipolar part comes in. Americans live in the manic phase as long as possible, and then when the money runs out they revert to the old materialist perspective that calls for a rational approach to living.

The old McDonald’s slogan promising “We do it all for you” was successful because it appealed to the manic American mind. Not to be outdone, Burger King announced that you can “have it your way.” You were also told that “you are number one at First National Bank.” Of course, none of this is true. If they do it all for me at McDonald’s, why the cash register? I can’t have it my way at Burger King because my way is to get it free. And if I am number one at First National Bank, why don’t they tell the guy in line in front of me to get out of the way? Nonetheless, these and many similar slogans worked because they appealed to the mania side of Americans. They convey that I am the only real person, the god in my universe, and that consequently I have a right to whatever makes me feel good now.

However, at a practical level these slogans are valid as long as the person has money. As long as you pay at McDonald’s they will do it all for you. If you have enough money at First National Bank you can go right in to talk with an executive. However, the person who runs out of money will not have it done all for them at McDonald’s or anywhere else.

What then?

The alternative is to revert to the materialistic option of applying reason to my situation, which tells me to get a job at McDonald’s where I must do it all for somebody else, a very non-manic-like activity. My goal is to get enough money to move back to manic living on the other side of the counter.

We see this bipolar approach at work not only at the individual level but also in our broader society. We require that engineers and brain surgeons function in the rational, materialistic realm, realizing that if people in those roles took a manic approach to their work the results would be disastrous. However, fields where failure is not as easily detectable such as education and government, exhibit manic tendencies.

Though American mania is most easily detectable in the realm of money, it is practiced in virtually every others aspect of our society. Many approach marriage with a manic attitude, seeking maximum immediate gratification in a relationship. This leads a large segment of American society not to marry at all while others stay only as long as the good feelings last. Though reason might tell them that hanging in there through the tough times will ultimately provide a more profound joy, their feelings will hear none of it. We could likewise examine every other dimension of American existence and find that the driving force is good feelings now. Only when life gets bad enough, when the demands of reality become sufficiently urgent, do we begrudgingly revert to applying reason to our situation.

Therefore, American culture entails living in the manic phase as long as possible and reverting to the rational, materialistic phase when necessary. As such, the manic phase is predominant, the ultimate goal. If society were perfect it would allow me to live in a manic phase all the time. The rational, materialist phase represents a necessary evil that should be minimized if not eliminated completely.

In my next post I plan to expose how politicians play to American mania, and do so successfully—for them, not for us.

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