From the extended mind to the extended will
Thank you, great essay. Something that I find interesting is that ADHD has exploded as a diagnosis relatively shortly after the executive function requirements of high status jobs have greatly increased. In terms of hours worked and the intensity of work during those hours, but also (at least where I am, in the UK) in terms of record keeping requirements, real consequences for professionals for failing to follow an ever increasing number of regulations, the reduction in individual secretarial support (who needs an AI assistant if you have an actual assistant), that sort of thing.
Which might imply that back when high status jobs didn't actually require an executive function elite, then as a society we didn't notice that there was a problem - menial jobs were constantly monitored, and high status jobs could be undertaken by those with average, or even below average, executive function (as long as they had a good PA). That's now changed, and we as a society now see a problem that needs addressing.
High self-control elites have arguably always been able to enjoy indulgences that traditional cultural restrictions used to forbid to others. They just had to enjoy them informally, on the down low. The present more open stratification-- the divide between Belmont and Fishtown, as Charles Murray would have it-- is not a manifestation of some new drive for class domination; it's what happens when longstanding elite predilections collide with a new ethos of formal equality, which says that if elites are free to do a thing, everyone else should be too.
That new equality-mediated tension between elite hedonism and traditional "scaffolding" isn't always resolved so clearly in favor of the elites, either. I am reminded of now-King Charles asking whether people really expected him to be the first Prince of Wales in history not to have a mistress.
Great stuff! I don't know if we've talked about this before, but I think ADHD basically falsifies Becker-style price theory. Classic utility needs a stable structure of preferences, such that given the representation of a range of options, those options can be ordinally ranked. The ranking is meant to reflect expectations of utility. Those expectations, if they aren't just arbitrary, are based in memory. If I prefer apples over oranges, it's because I remember how each tastes and that I enjoy apples better. How is that memory represented in the brain such that recalling the taste of an apple and an orange biases choice toward the apple? That's part of the function of the dopaminergic system. But what if that system doesn't work quite right? It can lead to a sort of affective amnesia. My understanding of the literature (and in my experience) so called "executive function" issues are partly a matter of weak embodiment of past payoffs in the motivational systems, even if there is a decent level of "intellectual" memory of past payoffs, and a decent level of "intellectual" anticipation of future payoffs. That is, in my opinion, where ADHD akrasia or mismatch between first- and second-order desires lies. It's not a matter of "will" so much as a difficulty of the brain in translating memory of experience into clear, motivationally effective forward-looking representations/expectations of relative payoffs. I think in many instances, there just isn't anything that neurologically corresponds to a coherent ordering of options by expected utility -- no utility function -- that is relatively stable across contexts. The idea that whatever you ended up doing is what you most wanted to do isn't just vacuous, it's really misleading when there actually is no fact of the matter about what you most wanted to do because you simply lacks a stable representation of "most wanted" that connects in the right way with your reward/motivation subsystems.
Very well written. Adding supporting structure is a little mantra I have given myself - if not for it, I enter total collapse. I struggle with ADHD quite a bit
As computer vision models get better, I am looking forward to something that makes my executive function *stronger*. Outsourcing it. My current executive function augmentation is my wife reminding me. Surely we will attain that, a little angel on our shoulders.
Obviously, I read this post as a fine commentary to the Caplan-Scott debate (ongoing since 2015 or since Szasz). But is it? https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/sure-whatever-lets-try-another-contra
Thanks a lot for your ADHD description, first time I got it - as in: Oh, that's how it feels? Hey, that's me - somewhat milder only.
stop toying with us and post your review of the new Deneen book :D
"This may even be the mechanism behind why belonging to a religion confers so many benefits to mental health."
Putting it like this may lead to just-so stories, it might be better to reframe this question so that we can look back into deep time, when we had no religion but lived as individuals in a shared world of few people (if multiple Homo sp.)
It's not "religion", for religion is relatively recent, but it is an outcome of the same processes that also give us outcomes which we now have recursively differentiated and now call many _things_ (art/culture/spirituality/state/market/etc/language/poetry/etc/etc/family/tribe/monarch/etc/etc/shamanisticPractice/etc/etc/)
dependning on what we see as practical and political within frameworks that become more complex over time.
Focussing on a subset of these under the rubric of religion is a mistake (potential category error).
So, with this concern, I say, it's not religion, but it is world-building, and in individual-emphasising contexts world-building is deprecated, and so remnants are found in "religion".
Religions per se were invented by the state, or rather they co-invented each other, but once separated off, they later maintain curiously distinct interdependent magisteria which get the blame/credit for X/Y/Z. The benefit conferred (in modern economies emphasising the individual) is contingent on that history, (one might argued that "religion" has colonised or privatised those practices or provided refugia for them) and not contingent on the relatively recent worldview/s which we now call religion. "Religion" has gained mindshare in branding (the worldbuilding urge in building community) in its own image from the superset of human practice and survival : (art/culture/spirituality/state/market/etc/etc/family/tribe/monarch/etc/etc/shamanisticPractice/etc/etc/)
Also said--- and well said— : "This has given rise to a “self-control aristocracy,” Heath argues. In turn, right-wing elites oppose restrictions on tobacco and alcohol primarily meant for chain smokers and alcoholics so they can sip their IPAs and indulge in the occassional cigar. Meanwhile, left-wing elites downplay the consequences of sexual liberalization and other forms of destigmatization from the stability of their high-functioning, two-parent households. On this account, these parallel forms of neoliberalism — economic on the right, cultural on the left — are an ideological guise for class domination."
Well said I say again. But this is an outcome, and not necessarily a structurally deep causal input of the infrastructure. Much structural analysis is a just-so story, even when it position as itself with more explanatory powers (and even if true I would say). If religion has something, then it is also unlikely to be its ideology (dogma, cosmology etc) which it shares with the unconscious and deliberate ideologies of the state and class systems. It will be something else which we cannot see, because like fish in water, like the air we breathe, we are in it.
This is the world, which doesn't really exist outside of the urge we build it with. The question then arises, not who is right (dogma), not who should be obeyed (stuff those narcissists) in order to maintain order, but how do we worldbuild healthily? Usually this framework is asked with the phrase how do we live well (which we take on individual notice with a view to should others, this might not be best practice.)
For more context to my comment here see https://www.academia.edu/40978261/Why_we_should_an_introduction_by_memoir_into_the_implications_of_the_Egalitarian_Revolution_of_the_Paleolithic_or_Anyone_for_cake
and my substack for further commentary on ¿what is the ethical response to morality?