Saturday, 28 July 2012

What to do about dysphoria?


Dysphoria - feeling bad, unpleasant, pain, alienated, experiencing any form of subjective suffering...

Humans, obviously, dislike this - and what to do about it is one of the most fiercely contested of all areas of discourse.


There is the therapeutic perspective - dysphoria taken to imply disease, and requiring treatment.

The is the distracting perspective - take your mind off the bad feelings.

There is an idea of intoxication, which is an extreme of distraction - make yourself unable to think about it by disabling brain function. In other words, stop being a human. Surprisingly popular option, this one.

Another is the evolutionary view that natural selection has made us to be unhappy strivers, goaded by instincts towards goals we will never be allowed to enjoy - the inference would seem to be that we should try to defy natural selection by a combination of the above (therapy, distraction, intoxication etc).

The neglected idea is that dysphoria is intrinsic to the human condition - it tells us something about the nature of reality. The state of sin as basic, universal, unavoidable. In the past, it seems, almost everyone believed this was the bottom-line.


So either dysphoria is a normal state, from which we have periods of relief - or an abnormal, perhaps pathological state, from which any departure invites therapy.

The first is religious, the second psychological.

The first attempts to obliterate dysphoria - as indeed the primary objective in life, to be avoided at any price. The second regards dysphoria (or some dysphoria) as intractable, not something we should try to avoid at any price but to do with the nature of reality and thus proper beliefs, attitudes, behaviours.


The psychological has now almost wholly displaced the religious perspective in public discourse - indeed the religious perspective on dysphoria is now widely perceived as ignorant, dangerous, cruel, nihilistic...

This may rank as one of the most profound ever changes in human perception - that an experience of dysphoria now automatically implies action to remove that dysphoria - as the major priority.