The DSM 5 — Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — now recognizes hoarding as a disorder. Google [CBS News Seeking help for hoarding] for a short report on this. Frankly, I‘d say we have more of a diagnostic disorder. In our quest to identify human problems as disorders, we are blind to the core cause of many so-called disorders. How can we effectively deal with a set of problems as long as we avoid recognizing core causes? This is like the binding of women’s feet in China and then diagnosing a walking disorder in females.
Seeing Problems vs. Recognizing Causes
We’re quick to identify problems, yet very slow to face the underlying causes. This is due to the ease of seeing problems compared to the toil involved in seeking out underlying causes. We may also avoid facing true causes because many have no real solution. Facing true causes threatens advantages we hold dear as well. We feel we’ll lose out and so we can’t help but stick our head in the sand and grasp onto superficial solutions. This feels a lot like the saying, “Ignorance is bliss”.
Fortunately, I find seeking and facing the core cause of a problem doesn’t deprive me of my ignorance is bliss side of life. I am constantly ignorant about knowing what to do, and chapter 3’s doing without doing (wéi wú wéi) suggests how I can find bliss in that ignorance. Knowing that something needs to be done doesn’t mean I am willing or capable of dealing with it. I suspect our innate belief in free will may actually hinder our ability to see things as impartially as possible. For example, if we acknowledged that civilization and language had severe shortcomings, we’d impulsively feel compelled to correct these. However, sensing the impossibility of corrective changes, at least over the short term, we naturally rationalize alternative rationales that promise solutions. Acknowledging that we are powerless to fix the problem threatens our entire free will paradigm, and perhaps civilization itself. The actual causes are overwhelming and so turning a blind eye to them becomes irresistible.
This feels sad, but as Buddha’s First Truth begins, “Life is sorrowful”. Clearly, we can’t return to living a hunter-gatherer existence, let alone return to our pre-language hominid state. We are stuck with imagination, thought, and language. We are stuck with civilization. We could never give up the added comfort and security these afford us. Nevertheless, I find ruthlessly facing the facts—the negative consequences of civilization and language—help me manage the negative effects better even if the causes are irreversible.
Our all or nothing, black and white, predisposition also hinders perspective. This myopia hinders the ability to know ourselves, let alone any ability to see beyond ourselves. Everything stands disproportionately large in our present-day moment. In truth, we are still in the early phase of self-discovery as a literate species. It was only a few thousand years ago that Buddha succinctly articulated the practical causes of human suffering, and early Taoist articulated the ultimate subtler sides the human cognitive problem: names, words, and thinking which altogether add up to language.
As you read the list of disorders in the chart below, try to imagine the likelihood of these being disorders under hunter-gather circumstances. Certainly, no innate genetic susceptibilities could have changed between Neolithic and modern times. Only the circumstances have changed, and thus only these can be held to account. For instance, any aboriginal with Hitler’s genes would not have the same affect on the tribe because circumstances would make the historical Hitler’s behaviors impossible. Indeed, a ‘hunter-gatherer Hitler’ might not stand out at all. What’s more, the healthier circumstances of his upbringing would have made him reasonably normal.
Circumstances strongly affect how genetic traits play out. We, like other animals, are naturally attracted to rich food. In the wild, high caloric content favors survival. In the cornucopia of modern civilization, obesity and eating disorders result. In the social isolation of modern civilization, anxiety and psychiatric disorders exist. In material abundance, a hoarding disorder follows naturally. In a techno-academic culture, dyslexia stands out.
Since civilization is here to stay, these problems are not going away. However, accepting that either civilization and/or language are primary causes of these disorders could only help to understand and manage these situations better. Perhaps many would agree that circumstances of civilization play a key role, and yet we never hear this addressed. Or if we do, the complaints focus on the specific evils of civilization, such as, war, capitalism, drugs, etc. We think that if we could just rid civilization of those bad aspects, everything would be great “again”. We want it both ways, which makes it impossible to face life honestly.
The following is from The Kim Foundation. They seem to do a good job of outlining our main disorders.
Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older or about one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
Children diagnosed with Autism 2% Boys diagnosed with ADHD 11.20% Girls diagnosed with ADHD 5.50% Dyslexia disorder occurs in an estimated 10% Obsessive-compulsive disorder at some point in life 2.30% Mood disorders 9.50% Anxiety disorders 18% Panic disorder 2.70% Social phobia 6.80% Eating disorders 5% Hoarding disorder 5% Feeling they have too much stuff. 33%
Viola! The Hording Disorder
Professor of Psychology Randy Frost studied hoarding for 20 years. I list a few of his findings below. Consider these finding vis-à-vis a hunter-gather existence. One thing that stands out at once is how this inherited hoarding trait would be an asset to anyone living in the wild. Wilderness living would keep hoarding in balance just as it does for our attraction to rich food. Most of our so-called disorders would facilitate survival in the wild. Are we not like Cinderella’s sisters trying to stuff our fat civilized feet into nature’s slipper?
1) Hoarding affects people across the whole economic spectrum;
2) There is evidence that hoarding behavior is inherited, at least in part;
3) A significant number of hoarders also suffer from depression;
4) The region of the brain that determines the importance of objects (the Anterior Cingulate Cortex) shows abnormal activity when hoarders are faced with making decisions about dealing with their belongings.
“The cut-off for where this becomes a disorder really has to do with the place at which this behavior influences their functioning, to the point that it is harmful or impairing their ability to live,” said Frost.