A thoroughly modern predicament

Affluenza
One of the benefits of working in an academic library is the ready availability of smart books on a huge variety of interesting subjects. Thanks to this, I've recently read a book about the paranoia of bibliophobes, an exploration of punk music's links with dadaism and the situationist movement, and a history of early computing. If I was capable of retaining information, I'd probably be feeling a lot better informed right now.

The book pictured, Affluenza by Oliver James, is one of the best random picks I've made so far. It's by a prominent psychologist and broadcaster who believes that modern capitalism is making us both physically and psychologically unwell. He claims that we are trained to value the wrong things in life, having goals and motives that are to do with wealth gain and materialist satisfaction rather than more emotionally satisfying objectives. Not only does this poison our relationships with one another, it makes it almost impossible for those afflicted by this so-called affluenza to find satisfaction through their work or family life. It's not a cheerful read.

At the beginning, James offers a short questionnaire to ascertain if the reader is a sufferer. I was relieved to find that I was largely unaffected. However, as I read on, it was amazing how many of the stories I recognised from my own life. That nagging feeling that doing something just for fun is somehow taking away from doing something "proper", the reliance on the immediate gratification of food or alcohol when stressed, placing less value on unpaid but satisfying work than on the 9-5 grind... It's amazing how familiar these issues are, and terrifying when we consider the potential cost.

James includes a very comprehensive bibliography of the texts and studies he has referred to in the book, all of which support and build upon his affluenza hypothesis. The studies on the effects of our current childcare systems on the development of children into healthy adults is particularly depressing, and James spends a large chunk of the book talking about how our ideas of gender roles, childcare and education all need to change in order to prevent the affluenza sickness from spreading. By the end, he has sketched out a social model that he feels would help us to live healthier and more satisfying lives. Some of it comes across as a bit pie-in-the-sky but, having read the book, it seems certain that something needs to change.

For a 500-page non-fiction piece, I devoured this with as much interest and enjoyment as I do a good trashy horror. In this case, though, I got some great life advice on something more useful than how to not be eaten by werewolves. It's made me rethink my attitude towards my paid work and, in particular, the social expectations of my body, young and female as it is. This is an important book and deserves to have its message heard more widely.

And if you're not sure that affluenza is a real thing, just take a read of this astonishing story and see what you think of humanity then...

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