Maladaptive Perfectionism

Most of my readers should also read this excellent, long article on–basically–IQ, conscientiousness, anxiety, standardized testing, and medical school. Maybe the title should be enough to persuade you: “The Stanford Marshmallow Prison Experiment.” But if not, read this:

There’s a type of joke that I think of as the “white people” joke, although it’s rarely funny and it doesn’t have to be about someone who’s white. The joke is about a mid-40’s housewife who is way too well-educated and bored to be a housewife, and so she tries to find the Grail of healthy food (organic, GMO-free, low acidity, one diet after another) and she plants a garden, and she adopts pets, and she joins nonprofits, and she joins the school board, and she reads every novel on NPR’s end of the year list, and she gets weekly therapy and monthly massages (to about the same effect), and she meditates on the present, and she achieves peace with the past, and she contemplates the future, and everything is feng shui, and yet, despite all this, she feels restless, anxious, unhappy, and she dreams of some sort of vacation.

Or sometimes the joke is about an elderly businessman on his second hair transplant and third cardiac stent and twenty-billionth dollar, and his kids all have grandkids and his wife is deceased, and when he goes out he he orders scotch more expensive than houses, but that isn’t too often—he’s seen enough parties, he’s seen enough people, he has no strong affections, and he works round the clock fighting tooth-and-nail for his billions, because he’s not sure what else, exactly, he’s supposed to be doing.

And the joke, which you hear on forums or sitcoms or in crowded sports bars, goes: “Haha, even though these people are successful, they’re still dissatisfied.”

And I’m here to tell you that this joke is totally backwards. It’s because these people have always been dissatisfied that they achieved success.

If you like that, you’ll probably also enjoy The Last Psychiatrist. Whenever I read Zizek (or indeed many of the French inheritors of Althusser) I think that he’s taken us off the path of melding psychoanalytic insights with marxian political economy. These posts strike me as routing around the damage he’s done. This is the direction I wish philosophy was headed, making sense of the problems at the intersection of our lives, our political economy, and our self-deception.





2 responses to “Maladaptive Perfectionism”

  1. […] Are we merely doing this to get off the treadmill of anxiety, to overcome maladaptive perfectionism? Is all this elaborate metaethical reflection really just therapeutic? Is it the philosopher’s obsessive #actually that demands we reassess the common sense for no other reason than to avoid imprecision? Is there a pragmatic upshot? What’s the cost of self-esteem? And what are its benefits? […]

  2. […] schools are pretty good at teaching future citizens to sit still, respect authority, and constantly try to achieve success within a narrow definition of what that means. They’re also very good at producing delinquency, as Levine himself mentions in citing the […]

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