Wednesday, April 19, 2017

12 Empowering Ways to Engage in Civic Affairs

It's evident that there's a growing desire among people, especially here in the U.S., to get involved in civic affairs. 
While online organizing can be an effective means of bringing about change, there's something powerful about showing up in person to talk with public officials and connect with others who are fighting for the same causes. 
We've pulled together a list of 12 ways to boost civic engagement. The list includes several suggestions from Lawrence Grodeska, founder of CivicMakers, a San Francisco-based social enterprise that offers collaborative civic tech tools, consulting, and other services for public agencies and nonprofits. 
1. Join a participatory budgeting initative: Participatory budgeting enables citizens to vote on how public and other funds should be spent. As we reported recently, the concept is becoming popular in the U.S. PB, as it's commonly known, can be done on a very small scale - at schools or community organizations - or on a larger scale, in cities, counties, and states. It's also a great opportunity for kids to learn and have a voice in budgeting processes. 
2. Attend city council meetings: A easy way to stay up-to-date on issues affecting your city is to attend local city council meetings. If you're unable to attend, check your local television listings as many community television stations broadcast council meetings. 
3. Attend town hall meetings: Town halls give constituents a way to connect directly with state and local representatives. They're all the rage now, as people are energized to make their voices heard, but they've long been a part of civic discourse and engagement at all levels of government. 
4. Join or create a Civic User Testing Group: The Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup), which is based in Chicago, is a community of residents who get paid to test civic websites and apps. It's an emerging field, but as open government platforms and tools become more commonplace, it's poised to spread around the country. 
5. Start or join a Civic Saturday club: Civic Saturday clubs are gatherings for people who want to learn more about politics and civic responsibility, engage in their communities, and reflect on the challenges we all face. 
6. Run for office: If you're ready to make a next-level commitment to improving the lives of your neighbors and fellow citizens, consider running for office. For information on getting started, check out VoteRunLead and 
7. Get involved in placemaking projects: Placemaking is a way of reclaiming public spaces, such as sidewalks, plazas, streets, and parking lots, as community spaces. Placemaking includes everything from street art projects and mobile libraries to pop-up public spaces, complete with classes, music performances, and other activities. 
8. Work for local government: One of the best ways to learn about the political system is to get a job in your local government. The connections made and hands-on learning experience will provide an invaluable glimpse into the functioning (and sometimes dysfunctioning) of government. 
9. Explore community land trusts: Community land trusts, which ensure community stewardship of land, are primarily used to ensure long-term affordable housing. Get involved with your local land trusts to have a say in the future of your town. 
10. Read the Constitution: How many of us have read the U.S. Constitution in its entirety? If you're overdue, make time to read it and further your understanding of the core tenants the U.S. is founded on. You can read it at 
11. Support independent journalism: More than ever, it's crucial find and support news outlets that are guided by a commitment to the truth rather than the political leanings of their owners. 
12. Turn off your TV and put your phone down: When it comes down to it, engaging more in your community often involves the simple act of turning off your television or gadget and getting out into your community. You'll meet people you might not have otherwise, get a first-hand look at the workings of your local government, and find ways to engage that are a good fit for you and your family. 
To get regular tips and resources about offline civic engagement, subscribe to the CivicMakers newsletter.
Header photo by mauro mora via unsplash. Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sweden Opens World’s First Mall for Repaired and Recycled Goods

(Photo by ReTuna Återbruksgalleria)
by , Good News Network: 
A new generation of recycling has now gone from local drop-off centers to a shopping mall that sells only repaired or upcycled products.
The new recycling establishment, ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, has nothing to do with the fish; instead, it was named after the Swedish town in which the building is located, Eskilstuna, Sweden.
The facilities contain both a recycling center and a shopping mall. Customers can donate the items that they no longer need, then shop for something new - all in one stop.
Dropped off goods are sorted into various workshops where they are refurbished or repaired accordingly. Products are then sorted into 14 specialty shops that include furniture, computers, audio equipment, clothes, toys, bikes, and gardening and building materials; all garnered from second-hand products.
The center also includes a café and restaurant with a heavy focus on organic products, as well as a conference and exhibition facility complete with a specialty school for studying recycling. The center, which is operated by the local municipality, has benefitted the local economy by creating 50 new repair and retail jobs, and providing space for private start-ups and local artisans.
The biggest bonus for the Swedish community is how the center relieves local government from the tremendous burden and expense of disposing of unwanted goods while turning potential “waste” into profits.
“Our idea is that the customer comes here and leaves for example some furniture and clothing that can get tired or have no use for anymore,” says Anna Bergström, center manager ReTuna Recycling Galleria. “Then you go a lap at the mall. Maybe find a new jacket and a new framework that will make the photograph of the grandfather unique and extra fine. Since you eat organic lunch in our restaurant to gather strength to go another lap and find new flowers for the garden and a new lamp for the living room. When you leave here, you should feel that you did something good for the environment and that they shopped climate.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Co-Creation - The Death Knell For Creative Agencies?

Ensure you're talking to experts in community recruitment & management
by , The Drum:

The broadcast model of advertising is dead.

Audiences, especially younger audiences, do not trust mainstream media outlets, Government, politicians, banks or big business and if brands are not careful, they will also fall into this growing bucket of institutions that have lost touch with their audiences.

Young people are becoming increasingly disenfranchised. This is hardly groundbreaking news, but recent global events seem to be making matters much worse. The banking crisis, Brexit and Trump getting elected all typify the disconnect between generations Y and Z and the ‘establishment’. Add to this fake news and who could blame these young people for being suspicious of what they see on TV or read in a newspaper.

Young people have a serious problem with traditional sources of information. The ways that information is shared has changed dramatically. Anyone can now be a publisher, a brand or media owner in their own right. Audiences don’t have to rely on news organizations for their news any more.

The world has changed for brands and brand marketing too. Brands have long understood the need for an authentic connection with their audiences. But smart advertising alone is not enough to engage young people who are searching for meaning in their relationships. Brands need to engage at a deeper level with their audiences who are making purchasing decisions based on what a brand stands for. A popular and successful way to create an emotional connection is to align with passion points of the target. Using music or sport has been hugely successful.

Cause is also now rapidly becoming a significant mobilising agent for youth audiences who care about the world around them. Young people don’t just want to know that a brand has integrity. They want to be involved; they want to be part of the conversation and play an active role.

Creative agencies largely still believe that they have the best ideas. And why wouldn’t they? There are some incredible minds in the creative agency world, but there is also a great deal of ego. And there has to be. You have to come up with the best ideas in the world for the biggest brands in the world - and for the biggest fees in the world. Who owns the idea? What does that even mean? Why do the majority of brands insist on developing their marketing strategies in isolation from their audiences?

Concepts are developed by creative teams, then in some cases, they then hit qualitative testing - which can either meet with approval or the idea gets killed. It’s the way it has been done for a long time. Creative agency groups have a significant chip in the game, with billing for global powerhouse brands numbering in the many millions. So its understandable that they should want to maintain the status quo. But the audience has already moved on.

There is more audience research and data than ever before - which should mean good news for audiences. However, a recent study by Havas found that “Some 60% of the content created by the world’s leading 1,500 brands is 'just clutter' that has little impact on consumers’ lives … that failure means globally consumers would not care if 74% of brands disappeared, with that figure rising to 94% in UK”. If this research is to be believed, there is a fundamental change needed in the way brands operate, especially in the UK.

So how do brands break out of the old model, create an authentic connection with their audiences and start making content that isn’t just ‘clutter?’ Co-creation is where brands are brought together with the audiences in creative communities to generate insights and ideas that lead to content. It seems painfully obvious that brands who want to know what their audiences think and feel should involve them in the creative process, but remarkably few actually do.

Brands have the opportunity to be a facilitator for new ideas, to become a platform for creative expression. Young people today want to be the architects of the brands and the causes they care most about. Empowering the audience gives a sense of shared ownership and sense of shared purpose that cannot be achieved through traditional approaches to marketing.

If you are a brand that is interested in co-creation, here are a few pointers to consider:
  1. Start by building a community. It’s important to find the right voices to contribute, so make sure you are talking to experts in community recruitment and management.
  2. Allow innovation to travel upstream. Don’t be afraid to let your audience explore new approaches to old problems - be brave.
  3. Be dynamic. Allow the ideas (not the old model) to drive the solution.
There is a huge opportunity for creative agencies to harness the power of co-creation for their clients by getting involved now. It’s just the ideas may not always be born in the boardroom. If you are a brand that is looking to get closer to your audience, create content that has a much greater chance of landing successfully and all for a fraction of the price, then perhaps co-creation is for you. 

Simon Voysey is partnerships and marketing director at Latimer. He Tweets at @Moorchat.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Safe in the City? Girls Tell It Like It Is

Image 20170323 4961 obycxt
How does a city shape women’s feelings of safety? P Salen
by Nicole Kalms, Monash University; Gill Matthewson, Monash University, and Pamela Salen, Monash University, The Conversation:

When authorities decide that an area of the city is “not safe”, the usual response is more lighting, CCTV cameras, and police.

But what if there are more subtle indicators of safety in the environment that they are missing?

This is a question being asked by a team of researchers from the Monash University XYX Lab who are collaborating with Plan International Australia to identify and illuminate why women and young girls often feel unsafe in Australian urban spaces.

Late last year, Plan International launched a campaign asking young women and girls in Melbourne to engage with a web-based interactive map Free to Be and, over a three month period, comment on how safe and welcome spaces in the city made them feel.

They did so by dropping “pins” on the interactive, geo-locative map of Melbourne and suburbs. In total, 1,318 pins were dropped by around 1000 women - either green ones (marking “happy” places) or red ones (marking “sad”).

Some responses were obvious: Federation Square and the State Library were “happy” spaces. “It’s usually pretty busy and I feel safe and connected to Melbourne here,” said one woman of Federation Square. Observed another of the State Library: “Always a lot of people hanging around and it’s a safe spot to meet others.”

“Sad” spaces, however, often involved accounts of concerning incidents and places that felt frightening. Said one woman of Swanston Street near Flinders St Station:
It’s scary here at night time. It’s well lit and there are always police around, but it can be really scary. One of the reasons I don’t stay in the city late at night.
Another reported an incident where
Two male teenagers loudly harassed me about my gender because I wasn’t wearing make up and have a short haircut.

Flinders Street, Melbourne. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017

Our analysis found some common themes. Busyness gave a place a buzz. But spaces that were crowded seemed to provide a cover for unpleasant incidents such as pushing and groping. Sexual harassment was a major element of “sad” places. It ranged from cat-calling to propositioning to distressing sexual assaults.

One young woman wrote:
I rarely go out after dark in the city any more after years of harassment from drunk men. To be catcalled, then verbally abused in a very aggressive manner if I don’t respond or turn them down is incredibly scary. I don’t like that they’ve won over the space, but I don’t want to be bashed or raped. And the only way seems to be not for the men to stop but for me to leave.
While the highest number of sexual harassment incidents were recorded at Flinders Street Station, the most serious events reported occurred in Chinatown. In total, there were over 300 cases of sexual harassment reported over the three-month period and 69 reports of sexual assault incidents, which ranged from groping to more than one alleged rape.

Signs in ‘Happy spaces’. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017
Interestingly, King Street - known for its strip clubs and with a reputation for violence - had markedly less red pins than other areas of the CBD. This indicated that women and girls have already self-excluded themselves from city streets that are explicitly identified as masculine.

This preliminary research raises important questions for architects, designers, planners and policy makers. For instance, are there environmental factors in the built environment that either support or discourage such behaviour?

One key description of “happy” spaces was that they were open, spacious and welcoming. It was also fascinating to examine the language, branding, signs, and advertisements in spaces described as both happy and sad. By looking closely at three “happy” spaces (Hardware Street and Lane, Degraves Lane, and the State Library) and three “sad” spaces (La Trobe Street between Swanston and Elizabeth, Bourke Street Mall and the Flinders Street Station area), a pattern emerged.

Signs in ‘sad’ spaces. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017
In the “happy” spaces, small and unique brands with positive messages and attractive graphics (Little Cupcakes, Clementines, Doughnut Time) were featured. Much of the advertising was hand-lettered menu boards, which seemed to create a friendly feeling.

In the “sad” spaces, restaurants were dominated by masculine names (Duncan’s, Mr Burger, Hungry Jack’s, Lord of the Fries, McDonalds). There were also subliminal and gendered messages such as logos that resembled large breasts and names linked to transgressive behaviour (The Joint Bar, Dangerfield, High Voltage City).

It was in these spaces that there was a high incidence of sexual harassment recorded by those with the Free to Be app:
Someone spanked my ass…
Had a drunk, mid-40’s man with his friend slap my ass hard as I walked past with my husband.
He walked past and grabbed my vagina.
Was harassed and followed into a shop by a man trying to talk me into sleeping with him.

Swanston Street, Melbourne. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017

The analysis of the signage alongside the women’s comments suggests that there is a possible correlation in the way that language, as well as the precincts of franchisees, might affect the experiences of young women in urban space. Studying these “happy” and “sad” spaces in more detail will give us the potential to learn from them.

This research unfortunately reveals something that most young women already know: that the city is far from gender neutral. There is much work to be done to uncover how cities shape their experiences.
A recent workshop held by the XYX Lab with Plan International and the City of Melbourne brought together Victoria Police, public transport authorities, councils, Our Watch and other interested people. It revealed a willingness across the board to investigate and address these issues.

MADA’s new XYX Lab was officially launched on Sunday 26 March at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Nicole Kalms, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Monash University, Monash University; Gill Matthewson, Lecturer in the Department of Architecture, Monash University, and Pamela Salen, Lecturer, Communication Design, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Launching a Cooperative Isn't Easy: Here's a Resource to Get You Started

My foray into the cooperative movement began when I was a student at Indiana University doing campaign-based activism. 
Along with my fellow activists, I focused on putting a stop to things like the buy-out of the university-owned bookstores on campus by Barnes and Noble and the high costs of rental housing near our campus. 
After learning about the cooperative model - in which the users of an organization's products or services own and control the organization - our focus shifted to presenting cooperative solutions to these issues. However, our initial attempts at creating a cooperative failed, and we eventually lost energy for the work. I attribute much of this to not having sufficient outside guidance.
When we wanted to launch a network of low-income housing cooperatives off-campus, the lack of support continued to be an issue. I contacted a national organization dedicated to helping students start housing cooperatives and never got a response. Almost two years of work went by on these cooperative projects with virtually no outside assistance, resources, or expertise. Despite the lack of support and formal expertise, we were ultimately successful in starting our initiative. 
The cooperative, Bloomington Cooperative Living, now owns over a million dollars worth of property and provides affordable housing to more sixty students and non-students in the community. By working with these various groups, I learned by doing and failing, several times. In my over a decade of work in cooperative development, one of my biggest frustrations has continually been a lack of economically and culturally accessible resources for many of those interested in starting cooperatives.
In response, I envisioned a resource that would be both accessible and practical for people of all identities and backgrounds interested in the cooperative model, provide a holistic picture of entrepreneurship, share basic insight into the "hard" skills of starting cooperatives like financial planning, and focus most the more nuanced work of keeping a group together through the ups and downs of starting an organization.
This week, we at the Traveling Cooperative Institute, a peer-to-peer cooperative business development program of the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation, launched "Collecting Ourselves," a comprehensive cooperative entrepreneurship curriculum.
The curriculum walks participants through an examination of the philosophy and practice of cooperation, the meaning of "development" and "entrepreneurship" in their lives, the steps taken to develop a cooperative business, and an exploration of two of the most important steps of collective entrepreneurship: organizing people into a steering committee and creating a business plan. 

Popular Education methods are used throughout the curriculum, drawing directly on the expertise and insight of participants to guide the learning process, endeavoring to make the content relevant to a wide audience by "meeting people where they're at."

The total curriculum is comprised of nine workshops, encompassing up to 16 hours of training. The curriculum can serve as content for a semester class in university, be used in regular community study groups, or for a retreat-style academy. It was developed for young people in their teens to thirties, but is modular and adaptable for most ages, identities, and experiences.

My sincere hope for this resource is that it can serve as a tool to support all people in their efforts to pursue cooperative entrepreneurship. Further, that these pursuits don't just create cooperatives, but also contribute to halting patterns of harm in communities.

We are not just creating things with our friends - we are responding to and resisting systems that perpetuate injustice and hurt. Building cooperative businesses, if done with this both grand and fundamental intention, can be a way to contribute to necessary healing and the building of a better world. I hope this resource can help make building a better world a little easier for more people.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Important Matter of Doing Creative Work You Can Believe In

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)
Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Christopher Connors, Medium - The Mission:
"If one has fear, there can be no initiative in the creative sense of the word. To have initiative in this sense is to do something original - to do it spontaneously, naturally, without being guided, forced, controlled. It is to do something which you love to do" - Jiddu Krishnamurti.
I see so many creative works these days that lacks authenticity and integrity, because they’re regurgitated, reprocessed trash. Whether writing, painting, spoken word or music, there’s too much art now that is unoriginal. We’re lacking innovation and creativity because few people are trying to invent something wholly original and unique to their DNA. 

They’re not even mimicking what someone else did. They’re reproducing exactly what someone else did and calling it their own. Some might call that stealing or copying. I call it, “unoriginal excess” that does harm and danger to the creative community.

I checked out Facebook earlier to find that a good friend of mine had one of his designs taken and used by someone else. He’s a graphic designer and a very talented one. He’s grown a small business around Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gear. It’s thriving and growing. He’s passionate about it and believes in it.

And now, there’s someone else trying to not just mimic - but completely usurp and take his hard work to make it their own for profit. Somehow, someway, we’ve come to tolerate this garbage. It’s become more acceptable. Thing is, the part that bothers me most isn’t the stealing. Which DOES bother me. It’s the total lack of originality and the thought of getting away with it.

Original Content
"If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original" - Ken Robinson.
Crafting original content means that you take the brilliant ideas that pop into your mind and write them out in the unique style that only you can. And if you can’t? Be willing to cite or give a “shout out” to the person who did. Then, work harder and learn from those artists that you admire. Because eventually, your end-product will be a conglomeration of ideas, thoughts and works from thousands of sources that will end up uniquely your own.

I think about this constantly. I’m always trying to craft original content based on my life experiences. I’m always competing to find new ideas in the marketplace, when I go out into the world and in new things that I read online and at the library. I turn to writers of yesteryear - literary giants like Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis and Stephen Covey. I look to the stars of today like Brene Brown, J.K. Rowling and Malcolm Gladwell. On this publication alone, I’m inspired by a true original, James Altucher.


Inspiration is vital. It should lead us to a greater belief in ourselves, to find what we want to do and then go create it with maximum effort and a positive attitude. That’s when we do our best work. I pour my heart and soul into each article I write. I’ve had some extremely kind people in this Medium community reach out to me and offer me praise. It touches my heart. Writing is such an enormous part of my life and I have big, big dreams just like so many of you. All of us should want success on our terms, rooted in the belief that we can have it if we stay true to ourselves.

Trust me when I tell you, imitation is not always the most sincere form of flattery. Value your originality and the desire to be yourself over any desire to want to be exactly like someone else. That’s something you can count on and believe in with all your heart.

Believe In It
"Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy" - Norman Vincent Peale.
If you’re a creator of art, chances are, you do it “for the love of the game.” You want to inspire, attract and produce content that a community of people get value from. That’s the way it should be. We as a people are so afraid to make mistakes, these days. So as a result, we sometimes lack faith in three ways:
  • We’re afraid to simply put our art out there
  • If we do create, we’re afraid of what others might say
  • We’re uncertain and doubt whether our creation is “good enough”
We have to disabuse ourselves of this mindset! It’s stultifying progress and hindering bold, new creations from coming into existence. 

Do what you love. But first, believe in it! You have to believe in what you’re doing. That belief should transcend every other factor or obstacle in your life. Your faith should be rooted in creating and doing things that ONLY YOU can do. Work and art that is unique to you, because there is only one you. Never, ever let anyone hold you back from this. Be original.

Believe in what you’re doing. Don’t just do something because you think it’s what people want. When you’re true to yourself and uniquely, boldly yourself, you’ll see the best results. The world will thank you for it.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Myth of the Alpha Leader is Destroying our Relationships - At Work and At Home

Does the suit really make the man? (Unsplash/Ben Rosett)
by Danielle Teller, Quartz:

According to a Fox News article written by Suzanne Venker, women’s achievements in the workplace are dooming their marriages. As women are increasingly “groomed to be leaders rather than to be wives, [they] become too much like men. They’re too competitive. Too masculine. Too alpha.”

The author’s premise is that the husband is meant to be the alpha in the household, and cohabiting alphas are like “like two bulls hanging out in the same pen together.”

I take exception to this article, but not for the obvious reason. The contention that women’s success at work leads to marital dissolution is so laughably unsupported by facts that it’s hardly worth disputing. Divorce rates are strongly negatively correlated with women’s educational attainment and income level, as well as the rise of two-income families

While University of Chicago economists made a splash a few years back by reporting that marital satisfaction is diminished when wives earn more than husbands, a more up-to-date study paints a more nuanced picture: Unequal incomes are associated with marriage instability regardless of who earns more, but having a career decreases a woman’s probability of divorce by a whopping 25%. Equal-earning marriages are even less likely to end in divorce.

What bothered me about the article was not its easily falsifiable premise, but the author’s unthinking acceptance of an American trope, the leader as alpha male or female. The metaphor evokes images of chest-thumping silverback gorillas and snarling she-wolves. This symbolism of leader-as-dictator has wormed its way deeply into the American subconscious - and it’s wrong.

Cultural assumptions have the power to shape society in both positive and negative ways. Countries that expect children (boys and girls) to be good at math produce better mathematicians. Conversely, expectations can backfire: countries that paint youth with the brush of sexual innocence have high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. And when an entire culture conflates leadership with aggressive domination, it opens the door to bad behavior in both the boardroom and the living room.

As a society, we pay a steep price for maintaining the fiction of silverback gorillas and lone wolves. We reward bad behavior in the workplace like stealing credit from others, self-aggrandizement and entitlement. We discourage smart, talented people from seeking leadership positions because they falsely believe that superhero skills are a prerequisite (this particularly affects women, who systematically underestimate their abilities relative to men. It is probably no coincidence that America lags behind many nations in women leaders).

And, as evidenced by Suzanne Venker, this stereotype can even infiltrate our romantic lives, setting the expectation that one partner - of any gender - needs to be dominant. This may be a recipe for fun and games in the bedroom, as Venker claims, but over the long term, respect and self-esteem are eroded by a partnership of unequals.

In the American mythos, great men accomplish great deeds with little or no help from others. The truth, of course, is much messier. Nobody lives in a vacuum. Schoolchildren are taught that Thomas Edison single-handedly invented the lightbulb, and that Abraham Lincoln unswervingly shepherded the country toward the abolition of slavery. 

But in fact, the achievements of Edison and Lincoln would not exist without the cooperation, counsel and labor of many other talented and insightful individuals. Those contributions were not forced by intimidation or displays of dominance. Just as generosity is more effective than bullying or criticism when it comes to eliciting welcome behaviors in a spouse, so do colleagues respond best to leaders with positive motivations.

Great leaders do not succeed mainly through classical alpha behaviors like intimidation, micromanagement, and aggressiveness. Even Steve Jobs, a poster child for the American alpha male, said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do.” And for every visionary, controlling executive like Steve Jobs, there are many more people like Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who acknowledge that they succeed by amplifying other people. Yet outside of management classes and business self-help books, not nearly enough Americans have internalized the use of soft power, persuasion, collaboration and mentorship as keys to great leadership.

By blindly accepting the trope of the alpha male or female, we perpetuate it. If we can shift the leadership mythos in America toward more clear-eyed realism, we will ultimately get more leaders whose qualifications go beyond a talent for chest-thumping. It may not feel as satisfying to declare that you’re good at nurturing, empowering, and lifting up other people. But that’s what great leaders - and romantic partners - do.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Is it Possible to be Too 'Nice' for Your Own Good?

Giving alms to the poor is often considered an...
Giving alms to the poor is often considered an altruistic action in many cultures and religions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Juliet Wakefield, Nottingham Trent University, The Conversation:

Niceness is a topic that tends to fundamentally divide people. Should you put yourself first, stand up for yourself and get back at people who’ve wronged you or should you put others first and turn the other cheek when attacked? Is being nice more likely to make us happy in the long run – leading to fewer regrets and closer relationships?

Researchers have suggested that a “loneliness epidemic” is currently spreading across the Western world, arguing it can be as bad for health as smoking or obesity. With such clear evidence of the importance of social conceitedness for our well-being, it seems logical that we should spend as much time cultivating social relationships as we spend on other healthy pursuits such as exercise and diet.

Like other healthy activities, maintaining relationships requires the investment of resources. It involves the giving of time, energy, knowledge and sometimes money. But to what extent is giving or sharing good for us? Do the benefits of generosity outweigh the costs?

There do seem to be social advantages for people who behave benevolently towards others. Evolutionary psychologists have described the competitive altruism hypothesis, which posits that helpful group members tend to be perceived as possessing the highest status in the group, and are more likely to be selected as partners with whom to interact and cooperate. So being helpful to others within a group can be seen as a “costly signal” – a behaviour that consumes resources, but which ultimately signals the person’s positive aspects to the other group members. The popularity of such individuals may increase their chances of reproducing and passing on their genes, making altruism an evolutionary advantageous behaviour.

Altruism has also been shown to benefit the giver by increasing their levels of personal well-being. In fact being altruistic has been linked to higher satisfaction with life and happiness, as well as lower levels of depression. There are also strong positive relationships between altruism and physical health, including reduced mortality rates in altruistic groups when compared to less altruistic groups.

There are many different reasons for such health benefits. From the perspective of my own research, which is couched in the social identity perspective of social psychology, it can be argued that it is the group connections that are fostered through the giving and receiving of assistance that benefit our health and well-being. This also applies to helping those that are not part of our immediate group, such as refugees. Such actions will help to show that we are generous, intelligent and so on to people in our own group.

Good friendships help us stay healthy. Regissercom/Shutterstock

Identifying with social groups and their members provides us with a sense of purpose in life, as well as the knowledge that we will be likely to receive support from fellow group members during times of stress or crisis. I have shown how this subjective sense of group identification can be even more important for mental health than the amount of contact that we have with members of the group. This suggests that the costs of being nice are ultimately outweighed by its numerous advantages.

The downsides

The story doesn’t end there, however. It does also appear that it is possible to be “too nice”. This is clearest in instances where people become overburdened with the need to care for or provide for others. This situation can lead to stress, burnout and poor mental health. It is commonly observed in people who help others for a living, such as healthcare professionals and hospice caregivers, but it can be seen among those who spend a lot of time helping others in their personal lives too. Striking a balance between helping others and looking after your personal well-being is important, although not always easy.

Helping others is of course important, but if we are coming close to burning out it may be helpful to focus on people in a social group we identify strongly with. In this context the people requiring help are likely to also receive support from other group members – taking some of the pressure off.

But being nice is also about having a pleasant attitude; not being aggressive, manipulative or vengeful. Here there’s mixed evidence. Expressing anger, which is central to vengeful behaviour, has actually been shown to be associated with heart-related health risks in Western cultures, but the opposite trend has been shown in Asian cultures. There is also evidence that both feeling anger and suppressing it is bad for physical health, while anger suppression has been linked to depression and guilt. So the overall message (at least in terms of keeping yourself healthy in the West) is to avoid becoming angry – but to express the anger if you do. And this seems reasonably consistent with being a nice person.

Juliet Wakefield, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Enough's Enough: Buying More Stuff Isn't Always the Answer to Happiness
by Anthony James, Swinburne University of Technology:

The average German household contains 10,000 items. That’s according to a study cited by Frank Trentmann in his sweeping history of consumption, Empire of Things.

We’re “bursting”, he says, with the amount of stuff that we have - while all of this consumption is steeping us in debt and dangerously depleting the planet’s resources and systems.

So after Christmas, and the Boxing Day sales, it seems like a good time to ask: what is the purpose of all this consumption?

The consumption cake

If consumption is about facilitating quality of life, then quantities of money, materials, energy and so on are merely ingredients. They’re not the end product. If I was baking a cake, would it make sense to use as many ingredients as possible? Of course not.

Yet “more is better” remains the narrative of modern society, and therefore of the economic system we use to make it happen. This makes sense while there is a sustainable correlation between quality of life and material resources consumed.

But this correlation is weakening. There is growing evidence that we are on a trajectory of diminishing returns on quality of life. A growing spate of titles such as Affluenza, Stuffocation and How Much is Enough? speak to the phenomenon.

Yet in the midst of unprecedented wealth, and unprecedented threats (from climate change and mass extinction, to inequality and social fragmentation), is the opportunity to move on to better things - to move beyond the consumer machine, and gear the future economy towards what we are really after in life.

So what are we baking? And what are the optimal amounts of ingredients we need?

Optimising consumption to maximise quality of life

What is the optimal level of income, for example, and of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a country? What about energy use per person? We scarcely even ask these questions.

Take energy, for example. Around a decade ago, the UN noted that beyond a certain point, increasing energy use does not lead to increases in the Human Development Index (HDI). Indeed, Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil had shown that the highest HDI rates were found to occur with a minimum annual energy use of 110 gigajoules (GJ) per person. This was roughly Italy’s rate at the time, the lowest among industrialised nations and around a third of the US figure. He noted no additional gains past that point, with diminishing returns past the threshold of only 40-70GJ per person.

Tim Jackson reported a similar pattern in his 2009 book Prosperity Without Growth. In a study from the year 2000, life satisfaction measures were found to barely respond to increases in GDP per person beyond around $15,000 (in international $), “even to quite large increases in GDP”. He noted that countries such as Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Ireland recorded as high or higher levels of life satisfaction than the United States, for example, with significantly lower income levels.

By way of comparison, at the time of that study, GDP person in the United States was $26,980. Denmark’s was $21,230, Sweden’s $18,540, New Zealand’s $16,360, and Ireland’s $15,680. Australia’s was $18,940, also with a comparable life satisfaction measure to the United States.

It has long been recognised that GDP is not only a poor proxy for measuring a society’s wellbeing, but that from its inception we have been warned us against doing this. As Ross Gittins put it recently:
It defines prosperity almost wholly in material terms. Any preference for greater leisure over greater production is assumed to be retrograde. Weekends are there to be commercialised. Family ties are great, so long as they don’t stop you being shifted to Perth.
On a related note, in the context of self-reported perceptions of subjective wellbeing in Australia, Melissa Weinberg of the Australian Centre on Quality of Life at Deakin University reported in a presentation earlier this year that once incomes rise above A$100,000 per year, there is little discernible gain in subjective wellbeing.

Boxing Day sales in Sydney 2014. Shoppers were expected to spend a record A$2.5 billion on Boxing Day 2016. AAP/Sam Mooy

How can we move beyond the consumer machine?

There is no inherent or fixed notion of optimal wealth or consumption. It is for us to create ways of deciding together what is most important to us at any given time and place. Indeed, there are growing efforts around the world to do just that, as part of developing better measures of quality of life.

These include national projects in countries such as Canada, France, the UK and of course Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness. There are also broader projects such as those undertaken by the OECD, the New Economics Foundation and the Genuine Progress Indicator.

Unfortunately, Australia recently did away with its official effort, although the proposed Australian National Development Index (or ANDI) seeks to further the agenda locally, ultimately aiming to become our primary set of national accounts.

Why is this important? Well, given that we’re finding our optimal levels of resource use and income appear far lower than commonly assumed, it is clear that a “good life” does not depend on the continual expansion of these things. Reducing the negative consequences associated with excessive consumption comes with the genuine prospect of improving our lives.

However, in scaling back consumption growth, the good life may also serve to reduce GDP; that is, it may be an inherently recessionary pressure. And that scares us.

But what if we find our broader aspirations for a sustainable quality of life are tracking well, while GDP slows or even contracts? The new measures we decide upon can help anchor our confidence in the necessary changes to how we deal with money, work and consumption. After all, there would be little point in preserving GDP growth at the expense of our actual goal.

What does this mean for the holiday season?

It doesn’t necessarily mean you should buy nothing. This isn’t about avoiding or demonising consumption. It’s about asking what would happen if we looked to optimise it and to maximise what is most important in life.

We could focus more on giving the gifts of quality time, good health, less debt, less stress and a flourishing planet to each other. Perhaps even create the space to give more to those less fortunate.

And what if, in 2017, we resolved to explore and hone in on our optimal levels of income, work hours, energy use, GDP and so on? Perhaps even support the development of those new measures mentioned here.

Above all, it is clear that we no longer need to feel compelled by outdated narratives of excessive consumption being good for us, or for the economy generally. There is more to being human, and now more than ever it is time to organise ourselves to that end. After all, the cake that we are baking is a better life for each other. That would be something worth celebrating.

Anthony James, Lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Drugs du Jour: LSD in the ’60s; ecstasy in the ’80s; ‘smart’ drugs today: how we get high reflects the desires and fears of our times

by Cody Delistraty, Aeon: 

Cody is a writer and historian based in New York and Paris. He writes on literature, psychology and interesting humans. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Atlantic, among others.

Few people’s views on drugs have changed so starkly as those of Aldous Huxley. Born in 1894 to a high-society English family, Huxley witnessed the early 20th-century ‘war on drugs’, when two extremely popular narcotics were banned within years of one another: cocaine, which had been sold by the German pharmaceutical company Merck as a treatment for morphine addiction; and heroin, which had been sold for the same purpose by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer.

The timing of these twin bans was not coincidental. Ahead of the First World War, politicians and newspapers had created a hysteria surrounding the ‘dope fiends’ whose use of cocaine, heroin and certain amphetamines allegedly showed that they had been ‘enslaved by the German invention’, as noted in Thom Metzer’s book The Birth of Heroin and the Demonization of the Dope Fiend (1998).

As the rhetoric of eugenics flourished during the interwar years - both from the mouth of Adolf Hitler and from Huxley’s older brother, Julian, the first director of the Paris-based UNESCO and a notorious eugenicist, Aldous Huxley imagined the use of drugs by government entities as a nefarious means of dictatorial control.

In Brave New World (1932), the fictitious drug soma is doled out to the populace as a means to keep them dumbly happy and sated (‘All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects,’ Huxley wrote), and the book makes multiple mentions of mescaline (which at that point he had not tried but clearly did not approve of), which renders his character Linda stupid and prone to vomiting.

‘The dictatorships of tomorrow will deprive men of their freedom, but will give them in exchange a happiness none the less real, as a subjective experience, for being chemically induced,’ Huxley later wrote in The Saturday Evening Post. ‘The pursuit of happiness is one of the traditional rights of man; unfortunately, the achievement of happiness may turn out to be incompatible with another of man’s rights - liberty.’ Hard drugs were inherently tied up with politics in Huxley’s early years, and to be a proponent of cocaine or heroin was, in many ways, to be aligned with Nazi Germany in the eyes of politicians and leading newspapers.

But then, on Christmas Eve 1955 - 23 years after the publication of Brave New World - Huxley took his first dose of LSD and everything changed. He loved it. It inspired him to write Heaven and Hell (1956), and he introduced the drug to Timothy Leary, helping him in 1962 to establish the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Eventually, Huxley would align himself with Leary’s hippie politics - in ideological opposition to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign and the Vietnam War - in large part due to his now-positive experience with mind-altering drugs.

In his novel Island (1962), Huxley’s characters inhabit a utopia (rather than Brave New World’s dystopia) and gain serenity and understanding by taking psychoactive drugs. Whereas in Brave New World drugs are a means of political control, in Island, they are ‘medicine’.

What explains Huxley’s changed perspective - from seeing drugs as an instrument of dictatorial control to a way to escape from political-cultural repression? Indeed, in the grander picture, why are drugs universally despised at one time, then embraced by intellectuals and cultural influencers at another? Why do we have an almost decadal vogue for one drug or another, with popular drugs such as cocaine all but disappearing only to pop up again decades later? Above all, how are drugs used to affirm or tear down cultural boundaries? The answers colour nearly every aspect of modern history.

Drug use offers a starkly efficient window into the cultures in which we live. Over the past century, popularity has shifted between certain drugs - from cocaine and heroin in the 1920s and ’30s, to LSD and barbiturates in the 1950s and ’60s, to ecstasy and (more) cocaine in the 1980s, to today’s cognitive- and productivity-enhancing drugs, such as Adderall, Modafinil and their more serious kin.

If Huxley’s progression is to be followed, the drugs we take at a given time can largely be ascribed to an era’s culture. We use - and invent - the drugs that suit our culture’s needs. The drugs chosen to pattern our culture over the past century have simultaneously helped to define what each generation has most desired and found most lacking in itself. The drugs du jour thus point towards a cultural question that needs an answer, whether that’s a thirst for spiritual transcendence, or for productivity, fun, exceptionalism or freedom. In this way, the drugs we take act as a reflection of our deepest desires and our inadequacies, the very feelings that create the cultures in which we live.

To be clear, this historical investigation predominately concerns psychoactive drugs. It accounts for a large family of drugs embracing LSD, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, barbiturates, anti-anxiety medications, opiates, Adderall and the like, but not anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Advil) or pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). These pharmaceuticals are not drugs that alter one’s state of mind and are consequently of little use when making sociocultural analyses.

The drugs up for discussion also cut across boundaries of law (just because a drug is illegal does not preclude it from being central to a cultural moment) and class (a drug used by the lower class is no less culturally relevant than drugs favoured by the upper class, although the latter tend to be better recorded and retrospectively viewed as of ‘greater cultural importance’). Finally, the category of drugs under scrutiny cuts across therapeutic, medical and recreational usage.

To understand the way we create and popularise drugs to match the culture we have, consider cocaine. Readily available at the turn of the 20th century, cocaine was outlawed in 1920 with the passing of The Dangerous Drugs Act in the United Kingdom (and in 1922 in the United States under the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act).

Cocaine’s initial popularity in the late-19th-century was in large part due to ‘its potent euphoric effects’, according to Stuart Walton, an ‘intoxication theorist’ and author of Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication (2001). Cocaine, Walton told me, ‘helped potentiate a culture of resistance to Victorian norms, the abandonment of rigorous civility in favour of an emergent “anything goes” social libertarianism in the era of the Jugendstil, and the rise of social-democratic politics’.

Once Victorian moralism had been overcome, social libertarianism had vogued, and secularism had its sharp uptick in the period after the Second World War, cocaine generally fell out of style with white European-American culture. Until, that is, the 1980s, when cocaine had new cultural questions to answer. As Walton explained to me: ‘Its return in the 1980s was predicated on precisely the opposite social tendency: iron conformism to the dictates of finance capital and stock-trading, which underscored the resurgence of entrepreneurial selfishness in the Reagan and Thatcher period.’

Another instance of drugs answering cultural questions (or problems) concerns women who became addicted to barbiturates in 1950s suburban America. This was a population that faced a bleak, oppressive culture, now infamous through the works of Richard Yates and Betty Friedan. As Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique (1963), such women were expected to have no ‘commitment outside the home’ and to ‘find fulfilment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love’.

Frustrated, depressed, neurotic, they numbed themselves with barbiturates so as to fulfil norms there was as yet no licence to buck against. In Jacqueline Susann’s novel Valley of the Dolls (1966), the three female protagonists dangerously come to rely on stimulants, depressants and sleeping pills - their ‘dolls’ - in order to cope with personal decisions and, especially, sociocultural boundaries.

But the solution provided by prescription drugs was not the hoped-for solve-all. When drugs are unable to fully answer the cultural questions at hand - in this case, how suburban American women might escape the crippling dullness that so often characterised their lives - alternative drugs, often seemingly irrelevant to the situation at hand, tend to present themselves as potential solutions.

Judy Balaban began taking LSD in the 1950s when she was still in her 20s, under the supervision of a medical doctor. She had a seemingly perfect life: the daughter of the affluent and respected president of Paramount Pictures, Barney Balaban, she had two daughters, a sprawling home in Los Angeles, and a successful film-agent husband who represented and befriended Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck and Marilyn Monroe. She counted Grace Kelly as a close friend, and became a bridesmaid at her royal wedding in Monaco.

It would have seemed crazy for her to admit it but, beneath it all, Balaban felt deeply dissatisfied with her life. Her equally privileged friends felt the same. Polly Bergen, Linda Lawson, Marion Marshall - all actresses married to famous film agents or directors - complained of a similar, underlying dissatisfaction with life.

With limited options for fulfilment, clear cultural expectations, and the dreary outlook of living life on antidepressants, Balaban, Bergen, Lawson and Marshall all began regimens of LSD therapy. Bergen told Balaban in Vanity Fair in 2010: ‘I wanted to be the person, not the persona.’ LSD, Balaban wrote, afforded the ‘possibility of a magic wand’. It was a more effective ‘answer drug’ to the problems at hand than antidepressants had been. Many of Balaban’s culturally disenfranchised peers felt the same way: between 1950 and 1965, a reported 40,000 people were treated with LSD therapies. It was legal, but unregulated, and nearly everyone who tried it swore to its efficacy.

LSD spoke to unmet needs that affected not only suburban housewives, but also gay or sexually confused men too. The actor Cary Grant, who was housemates with the handsome Randolph Scott for several years and was married to five different women for an average of five years each (often while living with Scott), likewise found release through therapeutic LSD.

Grant’s film career would have been destroyed had he been seen publicly as homosexual; like many of the suburban women of his time, he found that LSD afforded a much-needed escape valve, a way of sublimating sexual anguish. ‘I wanted to rid myself of all my hypocrisies,’ he said, somewhat subtly, in an interview in 1959. After going to more than a dozen LSD therapy sessions administered by his psychiatrist, Grant admitted, ‘at last, I am close to happiness’. 

But sometimes, instead of people finding drugs to answer their cultural questions, cultural problems are manufactured to sell pre-existing drugs.

In the case of today’s most popular drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Ritalin and Adderall, their wide availability has led to a significant increase in ADHD diagnoses: between 2003 and 2011, there was a 43 per cent rise in the number of schoolchildren in the US diagnosed with ADHD. It’s unlikely that those eight years coincided with a massive spike in US schoolchildren manifesting ADHD: it is much more plausible that the presence of Ritalin and Adderall - and their savvy marketing - grew in that period, leading to greater diagnosing.

‘[I]n the 21st century, diagnoses of depression have risen dramatically, as have those of post-traumatic stress disorder and attention hyperactivity disorder’, writes Lauren Slater in Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century (2004). ‘[I]ncidences of certain diagnoses rise and fall depending on public perception, but also the doctors who are giving these labels are still doing so with perhaps too little regard for the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] criteria the field dictates.’

That is to say, today’s drug-makers have helped to create a culture in which people are perceived to be less attentive and more depressed in order to sell drugs that might answer the very problems they’ve manufactured.

Similarly, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), deployed to ease discomfort during the menopause, and in which oestrogens and, sometimes, progesterone used to be injected to artificially boost a woman’s hormone levels, has since been expanded to include therapies for transgender people and also as an androgen replacement, in which male ageing can theoretically be delayed via hormone treatment. This desire to constantly expand the uses and necessity of drugs speaks to the way in which culture is created (and bolstered) by the drugs at hand.

Clearly, the causal motion swings both ways. Cultural questions can popularise certain drugs; but sometimes popular drugs end up creating our culture. From rave culture booming on the back of ecstasy to a culture of hyper-productivity piggybacking on drugs initially meant to help with cognitive and attention deficits, the symbiosis between chemical and culture is evident. 

But while drugs can both answer cultural questions and create entirely new cultures, there is no simple explanation for why one happens rather than the other. If rave culture is created by ecstasy, does that mean ecstasy is also ‘answering’ a cultural question; or was ecstasy simply there and rave culture blossomed around it? The line of causality is easily blurred.

A corollary can be found in the human sciences where it is extraordinarily difficult to categorise different types of people because, as soon as one starts ascribing properties to groups, people change and spill out of the parameters to which they were first assigned. The philosopher of science Ian Hacking coined the term for this: ‘the looping effect’. People ‘are moving targets because our investigations interact with them, and change them,’ Hacking wrote in the London Review of Books. ‘And since they are changed, they are not quite the same kind of people as before.’

This holds true for the relationship between drugs and culture as well. ‘Every time a drug is invented that interacts with the brains and minds of users, it changes the very object of the study: the people who are using,’ says Henry Cowles, assistant professor of the history of medicine at Yale. On this reading, the idea that drugs create culture is true, to an extent, but it is likewise true that cultures can shift and leave a vacuum of unresolved desires and questions that drugs are often able to fill.

Take the example of American housewives addicted to barbiturates and other drugs. The standard and aforementioned causal argument is that they were culturally repressed, had few freedoms, and so sought out the drugs as a way to overcome their anomie: LSD and later antidepressants were ‘answer drugs’ to the strict cultural codes, as well as a means to self-medicate emotional pain.

But, Cowles argues, one might just as easily say that ‘these drugs were created with various sub-populations in mind and they end up making available a new kind of housewife or a new kind of working woman, who is medicated in order to enable this kind of lifestyle’. In short, Cowles says: ‘The very image of the depressed housewife emerges only as a result of the possibility of medicating that.’

Such an explanation puts drugs at the centre of the past century of cultural history for a simple reason: if drugs can create and underscore cultural limitations, then drugs and their makers can tailor-make entire socio-cultural demographics (eg, ‘the depressed housewife’ or ‘the hedonistic, cocaine-snorting Wall Street trader’).

Crucially, this creation of cultural categories applies to everyone, meaning that even those not using the popularised drugs of a given era are beholden to their cultural effects. The causality is muddy, but what is clear is that it swings back and forth: drugs both ‘answer’ cultural questions and allow for cultures to be created around themselves.

Looking at the culture of today, perhaps the biggest question answered by drugs are issues of focus and productivity - a consequence of the modern ‘attention economy’, as termed by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Alexander Simon.

The use of Modafinil - intended for treating narcolepsy and misused to stay awake and work longer - and the abuse of other prolific, attention-deficit drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin for similar reasons reflects an attempt to answer these cultural questions. They’re widely used, too. In a Nature magazine survey in 2008, one in five people said they’d tried cognitive-enhancing drugs at some stage in their lifetime. And according to an informal poll in The Tab in 2015, the highest rates of abuse occur at the most academic institutions: students at Oxford University abuse cognitive-enhancing drugs more than students at any other university in the United Kingdom.

These cognitive-enhancing drugs help ‘disguise the banality of work in a double sense’, says Walton. ‘They goad the user into a distractive state of high excitement, and simultaneously persuade him that it must be his success at work that allows him to feel so elated.’

In this way, modern drugs of choice not only keep people at work and make them more productive, they also permit them to stake more of their emotional worth and happiness on work, thereby reifying its importance and justifying the time and effort spent. These drugs ‘answer’ the cultural prescription of more work and more productivity not just by allowing users to focus better and stay awake longer, but also by making them less miserable.

The flip side of the cultural productivity imperative is a demand for heightened convenience and ease of leisure in daily life (think of Uber, Deliveroo, etc) - a desire that is sated by dubiously efficacious drug-like experiences such as ‘binaural beats’ and other cognitive-altering sounds and ‘drugs’ that can be accessed easily via the internet (in the case of binaural beats, one can listen to melodies that allegedly put the listener in ‘non-ordinary states of consciousness’). But if today’s drugs mostly answer the cultural needs of the attention economy - focus, productivity; leisure, convenience - they also alter what it means to be oneself.

Critically, it is the way in which we now take drugs that shows the shift in the notion of the ‘self’. So-called ‘magic-bullet drugs’ - one-off, limited-course drugs designed to treat highly targeted problems - have given way to ‘maintenance drugs’ - eg, antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills that must be taken in perpetuity.

‘This is a big shift from the old model,’ says Cowles. ‘It used to be: “I am Henry. I am ill in some way. A pill can help me get back to being Henry, and then I’m off it.” Whereas now: “I am only Henry when I’m on my meds.” Between 1980, 2000, and now, the proportion of people on that kind of maintenance pill with no end in sight is just going to keep going up and up.’

Might maintenance drugs then be the first step in drug use that permits a post-human state? Although they don’t necessarily fundamentally change who we are - as anyone who is on daily antidepressants or other neurological medications knows - there is a certain cloudy feeling or dullness that begins to redefine one’s most basic experiences. To be oneself is to be drugged. The future of drugs is likely to be an extension of this.

Here, it is worth stepping back. Over the past century there has been an intimate interaction between culture and drugs, each informing the other, exemplifying the cultural directions in which humans have wanted to go - be it rebelling, submitting or moving entirely outside of all systems and constraints.  Taking a good look at what we want today’s drugs and the drugs of tomorrow to do provides an idea of the cultural questions we are looking to solve. ‘The traditional model of drugs that do something active to a passive user,’ says Walton, ‘will very possibly be superseded by substances that empower the user to be something else entirely.’

Surely, this possibility will come to pass in some form or another in a relatively short time - drugs allowing a total escape from the self - and with it we will see the new crop of cultural questions that are being raised, and potentially answered, by drugs.

Patterns of drug use over the past century gives us a surprisingly accurate insight into wide swaths of cultural history, with everyone from Wall Street bankers and depressed housewives to college students and literary scions taking drugs that reflect their desires and answer their culture’s issues.

But the drugs have always reflected a simpler, consistent truism. Sometimes we have wanted out of ourselves, sometimes we’ve wanted out of society, sometimes out of boredom or out of poverty; but always, whatever the case, we have wanted out. In the past, this desire was always temporary - to recharge our batteries, to find a space away from our experiences and the demands of living pressed upon us. However, more recently, drug use has become about finding a durable, lengthier, existential escape - a desire that is awfully close to self-obliteration.