The commodified self: On how everything of our selves have been sold

in #philosophy2 years ago


The inherent worth of something does not necessarily reflect in the price we pay for that something. The pages of a classic (like Moby Dick) is printed on the same pages as an academic work (like Husserl’s work), but the price being paid for the former is not the same as the latter. The classic is dirt cheap, but the academic work is sometimes a hundred (or more) times more expensive. There are a vast number of different factors that lead to this price difference, but that is not the concern here. The concern here is that the final price does not necessarily reflect the inherent worth of that something. (The Moby Dick and Husserl book are both, say, 50 cents worth of paper, but the final price is $10 and $80 respectively.) There are a number of different applications of this, but the one concerned here is that of the self. What is the self worth, are there any inherent worth to it? I would argue, yes there is and should be. The self, the authentic self, cannot be commodified though, and this has happened. And this is the problem I am dealing with in this blog: we sold ourselves to pharmaceutical companies for vast amounts of money, but this amount, small or big, does not even come close to the inherent price or worth of the self.

Selling yourself to the highest bidder

What is the meaning of life? How should one live? What makes you happy or makes you flourish? What is the feeling of ataraxia or “at homeness”? These are the questions everyone asks at some point in their life. These questions do not have fixed answers. But that makes them dangerous, because there are so many who claim to have the answer to these questions. I could write about all the self-help books, charlatans, or internet influencers who proclaim to have these answers, and about how people fall prey to these people, but this not the idea. What I am writing about here is the pharmaceutical companies who proclaim to have the answers to these questions. This is very dangerous, and we are currently feeling the effect of this. Take, for example, depression. We (read: psychiatry) widened the category so much that normal sadness is now classified as depression. We (read: doctors) prescribe anti-depressants to people who are not really in need of these pills (due to the widened category of depression) and diagnose their “normal behaviour” as abnormal, deviant and a cause of their depression.*** This can help some, but it might harm others. The fact is that we are in a moral crisis and no one knows about it. (See, for example, Anatomy of an Epidemic, a book by Robert Whitaker, where he claims that our overmedicating is partly causing the depression crisis, or in other words, the vast amounts of medication available is not solving the problem. More people are on medication than ever before, but depression is also higher than ever before. How I am reading it, is that we are willing to trust professionals and doctors (more than charlatans, internet influencers, etc.) but this blind willingness to trust is causing us to sell our unique selves to the highest bidder.

Dangerous relationships and the magical pill

If someone knocked on your door and told you they had the pill that could answer the question to what the meaning of life was, or what constitutes a good life, you would chase him away. There is no way that the general public would trust such a person, but we trust the doctor (sometimes with our lives) that in similar fashion make this claim. The current problem of depression is handled in the following way: you go to a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist and state your symptoms. These symptoms are then subjectively evaluated by the doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, given to you as a diagnosis; pills are normally prescribed (mostly SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). The holistic approach is seldom taken, time is money. The problem that comes to mind, is that something like depression is not always that simple, it is not simply a chemical imbalance which needs tweaking. (See, for example, the book The Unbalanced Mind by Julian Leff, who did extensive research on societal or environmental triggers causing or triggering depression.) Yes, there are chemical balances which need tweaking when someone has depression, but factor like diet, lifestyle and environment is seldom looked at. But the magical pill can solve everything. This is a dangerous relationship we are having with pills. There are cases where it is really needed, but there are cases where it is not needed. Depression is not a disorder or problem one can simply “shake off”, get rid of, or simply ignore, but it is also not simply something that a pill can rectify without the willingness of the “patient” to also put in the effort.

Selling the self

So, what does it mean to sell the self? In my view, the selling of the self is when one simply gives into the demand to buy what others have to say about yourself. You know yourself the best, but we are so willing to conform to some arbitrary “normal” that we will take pills in order to get to that “normal”. (There is nothing wrong with taking medication to help with depression or mental disorders, this is simply against those who did nothing of the relevant research and bought into the mass hysterical mentality of rectifying brain chemistry.) No one knows how to live the good life, no one knows how to reach ataraxia, enlightenment or nirvana, no one knows how to live etc., because there is no single answer to these questions. Medication works over vast numbers of people, it is not something that only works for one person, in other words, medication works like a shotgun rather than a sniper. There are two reasons for this: firstly, medication, especially medication in mental health, works like a shotgun, one fires a lot of pellets with the hope that it hits something; and secondly, medication works over populations, in other words, pills work for most people, but there are those who are non-responders. The good life cannot be prescribed because medication is not tethered to individuals; it is made for vast numbers.

Imagine a piece of gold in a darkened room. You can grab any number of objects; you will never know if you grabbed the piece of gold. Medication, when trying to fix someone to some ideal, works in this way: there is no way of knowing if it worked, nor if you picked the right object. Trying to prescribe the good life to someone, is also like trying to grab a piece of gold in the darkened room. The only way of knowing if you have lived the good life, is to actually live it, whatever it might look like. One cannot simply sell the self to the highest bidder and hope that some form of medication or prescribed lifestyle will work. If you abide this recipe, then following the recipe will become more important that actually living your life.

***Please see a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist if you need to. This article is not to discourage you to see a professional; I am here voicing some objections to the current practice of giving medication to things that were normally seen as “normal”.