America in decline: nothing personal

When I arrived in the United States, curiously enough, it was precisely at the end of the long positive structural-demographic (SD) trend, which saw historically unprecedented rise in broadly based measures of well-being, including its economic and biological aspects. The trend reversal from the integrative to disintegrative SD trend can be dated fairly precisely to 1977-1978…

In other words, just as the US was triumphantly winning the Cold War and becoming the world’s sole superpower, deep down in the American society’s foundations, a disintegrative trend was gathering steam, the significance of which is becoming glaringly obvious only today.

— Peter Turchin, “1977-2017: A Retrospective

Our moment is the first in any living person’s lifetime (or in America’s lifetime, most probably) of convergence between structural-demographic “disintegration” and imperial decline. How does this manifest in today’s politics? “Make America Great Again” as an all-purpose banner for fear of emasculation and obsolescence.

Not being the sole (or even primary) geopolitical superpower isn’t a tragedy. Just ask the happy, prosperous folks in Denmark, or the happy, piss-poor folks in Bhutan. But for people who lived the unipolar moment of the fabled 90s, disorientation is to be expected.

To what degree is international status anxiety contributing to America’s internal “disintegrative” trend by making people feel like dispensable losers? It’d be hard to gauge. To be sure, it’s not the main driver of our spike in partisan rancor, mass shootings, fatal overdoses, and endemic complacency.

But the degree to which Americans cling to exceptionalism can’t be psychologically healthy (Hell, I voted for Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders, and the thought of America not being #1 even stings me a bit!). And when this clinging plays out at the ballot box, tectonic plates shift—and never in our favor.

How can we convince people that changes in the global order needn’t be experienced as personal tragedy?

Dharma, Mindfulness, and Muck

Israeli therapist, spiritual teacher, and psychedelic activist Galia Tanay talks about deep dharma practice, the problems with mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy, and how psychedelics shape the self.

From Erik Davis’ Expanding Mind—it doesn’t get any better than this podcast. Most valuable episode of the last few months, for my money.

Two more excellent psychedelic links

They keep coming—we might have to start a digest/newsletter.

At Quillette, The Case for Psychedelics, which has two psychologists making the case for use on many fronts. This endorsement—not a puff piece or a hedged, tired feature about the psychedelic revival—is a big step. Happy to see it run at Quillette, an up-and-coming home for sanity and freethinking.

And at The Scientist, Decoding The Tripping Brain is a well-linked article summarizing the state of researchers’ understanding of how psychedelics fit into our wider understanding of serotonin psychopharmacology, and how their effects are made manifest on the network level.

Most semi-scientific coverage has focused on psychedelics’ molecular level of action, because this is what was established during the first era of psychedelic research. Understanding the role of psychedelics, and serotonergic compounds more generally, in modulating the activity of the default mode network, and its interaction with the salience network, provides a crucial link between the neurotransmitter level and person-level, describable effects.