One of the most disabling conditions to afflict human beings, that we hear a lot about today, is depression. Nevertheless, in spite of its negative effects, its prevalence today is an indication of a protective posture that actually has some usefulness in dealing with the sensory distortion that exists in modern technological environments. In other words, for some people, depression is a lesser evil in comparison to sensory distortion. In particular, I am talking here about depression as a manifestation of conative anesthesia - the numbing of the will. People withdraw inside themselves and go numb - sort of like an emotional hibernation - in order to avoid feeling the panic and disorientation that comes from feeling a lack of organic bonds in the vacuum spaces of the world today. People also withdraw inside themselves in order to avoid feeling the pain and irritation that come from the tension pocket segments in the environment. However, for this article, I am going to focus more on the effects of vacuum spaces.
Up until now in my articles, I have tended to focus more on certain parts of my philosophical model: on the relationship between figure and ground and on the relationship between discrete stimuli and organic continual stimuli. But the experiential vacuum patches and the vacuum continuous stimuli also have a profound effect on people today and depression is just one of the most visible of these effects.
Particularly in the West, the vacuum is looked on as having a specific purpose. To the extent that people think of life as affirmative engagement with figures in grounded environments, in order to have rich vibrant experiences and make, receive and preserve organic imprints, the vacuum is the place where people go to preserve organic imprints and create a surrogate immortality to prepare for death. The vacuum is the place where people rise above the perishability that occurs in organic grounded environments and where they can live in the belief that “things”, whatever “things” may be in a particular person’s life, can go on forever. Perhaps a perfect example of such a vacuum environment would be a penthouse apartment in a modern glass box skyscraper. One is totally separated from the organic movement on the ground, living in a building made of cold steel and glass materials that are not subject to the perishability that wood and other organic materials are. There are usually no wooden beams or moldings to give sensory variety in such steel and glass skyscrapers.
The problem is that in an apartment or a condo in such a structure, one is separated from the field of experience on the ground, where one is likely to encounter the organic phenomena - the people, the movement, the encounters, the situations, the adventures, the street life, the patches of nature - that can predispose a person to make and receive imprints and to live vibrantly. The environments that are best for preserving imprints are not the environments that are best for making and receiving imprints.
And depression is not only caused by the fundamental experience of sensory distortion in vacuum environments. It is also the result of the consequence of such sensory distortion - the lack of opportunity to make and receive new organic imprints and to live a more rich vibrant life. Without such opportunities, one is in a kind of living death.
Now, in fairness, there have been many philosophies and religions throughout human history that have somewhat different values about life than those I have put forth in my articles. In these philosophies and religions, life on earth is simply a step on the journey to the return to the eternal cosmic oneness. A person is trapped in the perishability of the world of matter, but eventually, he can return to that which lasts forever, an eternal spiritual world that is the only meaningful world. With such a conviction, there is much less to impel a person to worry about the imprints that he makes and preserves in the sensory world of this life. The whole notion of the individual with individual imprints or even a group of people with a collective imprint like a building or a bridge is much less important if one is focused on attaining bliss in the experiential vacuum of the next world. Rather than being depressed as a result of having to live in a vacuum, people with these vacuum-affirming philosophies and religions embrace those experiences that can give them a sense of the cosmic vacuum while still in this world. This is where meditation, mysticism and certain drug experiences come in.
On a certain level, this orientation relates to a variation of the mind-body dichotomy that has been present throughout human history, and that I discussed in a previous article. It deals with the existence of non-material and material worlds. My principal concern is that to the extent that one focuses on dwelling in a non-material world that is separated from the material world, in order to embrace eternity and infinity in this life, one is minimizing the importance of the human drama. In the fundamental human drama, one grapples to make, receive and preserve imprints, have rich vibrant experiences in the sensory world and create a meaningful surrogate immortality on the surfaces of the field of experience in the sensory world. If one is to come into the material world only to then develop a posture to do as much as possible to stand apart from it, why bother. If, with our highly developed cerebral cortex and our highly developed reflexive awareness, we are so afraid of death that, on a certain level, we embrace an almost death-like state, as we embrace the cosmic oneness, the cosmic vacuum, then we are avoiding the whole narrative that makes us special as humans. We as humans are destined to tangle with the forces of organic perishability to make our small durable imprints on the face of the universe. But we make these imprints as finite entities that are distinct from the forces of infinity and eternity that are embodied in the experiential vacuum of outer space and of the vacuum spaces in the modern technological living environments that we have created.
We wish to have some of these imprints protected by eternity and yet, because they are imprints, they still are finite and they still have some of the vibrancy of transitory organic phenomena. It is a human mission to try and take that which is vibrant and finite and transform it into something that partakes of eternity. This is how humans can transcend their reflexive awareness of their mortality within the context of a meaningful human narrative. To sink into a life of meditation, mysticism and/or drugs is to embrace the infinity and eternity from which they, the humans, came and to which they will return without embarking on their uniquely human mission.
And yet the sensory distortion of modern technological society pushes large numbers of people to give up the grappling for more eternal meaning within the finite external sensory world. By withdrawing into vacuum mental states, they are giving up on a fundamental opportunity in life.
Unlike meditation, mysticism and drugs, depression, is an involuntary numbing of the will. Rather than an affirmative embracing of infinity and eternity, it is an involuntary withdrawal into the experience of the vacuum. And in the state of depression, one still maintains a strong awareness of the world from which one is withdrawing and one experiences feeling bad about not being properly able to make, receive and preserve organic imprints. Yet more and more people are using this mental posture as a vehicle for dealing with the sensory distortion of modern technological living environments. It is a posture that leads to dwelling in a living death. And although depression is a tactic that helps people to survive today, its prevalence is not a good sign for human society.
© 2012 Laurence Mesirow