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Mind Openers: Taking Toll of a High-Speed Society

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Published Oct 17, 2007 11:45 AM


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Copyright © Illustration by Johanna Goodman


It's fitting that a wake-up call about how our high-speed society is killing us should come from a leading expert on depression.

Are you an American maniac?

Take the interactive American Mania quiz to find out just how warped our light-speed society has made you. Plus, learn about Whybrow's other books, speaking engagements and interviews.

"I think we’re in for bad, bad times," says Dr. Peter C. Whybrow, physician-in-chief of the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, executive chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

"The fast new world is so demanding that we are forced into a very short-term appraisal of our life," says the author of American Mania: When More is Not Enough. "The economists have a fancy term for it: temporal discounting. What it means is that, as animals, we’re so hooked on short-term survival that our intelligence gets obliterated … That is a very serious issue for America and all industrialized countries."

Indeed, two years after its initial publication, American Mania is gaining momentum as a clarion call for developed cultures. American Mania is a bestseller in Poland and has just been published in Germany.

And Whybrow continues to warn about a society moving at dangerously unsafe speeds. He takes his message to the City of Industry on October 26, as part of a panel on "Mental Health and Simple Living," at the Kaiser Permanente 2007 Behavioral Health Symposium.

In American Mania, Whybrow shows how our hyper-consumer lifestyles contribute to many of the health-related crises facing our country. He explains that brain systems evolved to deal with privation 200,000 years ago cannot sync with a relentlessly consumptive, nonstop, digitally enabled culture that has no brakes.

"If you have children or grandchildren, you know they are completely inundated with things, and learning self-restraint is impossible for them," he notes. "So we’re doing another temporal discounting [by] providing them with instant gratification."

But there's hope, says Whybrow: "I think we want to change. I read on the financial page of The New Yorker that we've been buying larger and larger cars, which consume more and more gas. But when you ask individuals if they would like constraints such as gas mileage, something like 70 percent want that. We want somebody to regulate us."

Mental Health and Simple Living. Kaiser Permanente 2007 Behavioral Health Symposium. Friday, Oct. 26, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tickets (lunch included): $125 physicians, $105 non-physicians. For tickets and information, register at Kaiser Symposia or Simple Living America/Get Satisfied.

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