The Psychology of America’s Decline #4

Hidden and Not-So-Hidden Sources of Bad Behavioral Contagion

In order to avoid catalyzing bad behavioral contagion the avenues of its development must be identified. The behavioral contagion model is similar to the medical contagion model in that the best way to treat pathology (whether it is physical or psychological) is through prevention. Whether it is a medical epidemic or a psychological epidemic, only treating the afflicted individuals is generally a losing strategy. It is the source of the epidemic, along with its modes of transmission of the pathology, that must be identified and controlled to stem the tide.

With medical problems the discovery of germs and genetics and the modes of their spread that was a major advancement. Within the psychological world, it is certain classes of environmental events (genetics included) within a population and the spread of their effects through human direct and indirect interaction that cause numerous “epidemics” of psychopathology.

Chapter X identified several cultural rule changes that have catalyzed various forms of bad behavioral contagion. Many avenues of bad behavioral contagion were identified that will not be so easy to control in a socioculture such as ours. America has historically preserved individual choice (also called liberty or freedom) for its citizens. In the past 50 years those freedoms have been dramatically expanded and this has powerfully catalyzed many forms of bad behavioral contagion within our population.

Among those identified were the legalization of Pornography and Gambling which catalyzed related socially damaging impulse control problems. Another was the interpretation of “separation of church and State” to mean that there could be no references to religion in our public places: thus reducing the beneficial influences of America’s traditional moral codes upon our behavior.

Changes in civil divorce laws increased rates of divorce and this increased the rate of numerous bad events for children (poverty, parental alienation and abandonment, lack of parenting time and supervision, physical and sexual abuse), and the many psychological problems that flow (are contaged) from these damaging environmental experiences—through generations. On balance marriages that contain untreatable infidelity, abuse and neglect are often more damaging to psychological health than a divorce. But divorce, when children are involved, for mere reasons of self-fulfillment are more dangerous to the children’s normal development.

For those who take notice and objectively evaluate the behavioral contagion consequences of these and other rule changes in America, the bad consequences will be clear. Unfortunately many other changes in America, and elsewhere, have brought damaging contagion consequences that are more difficult to see and address.

For example, the inexorable process modernization itself has had a weakening effect upon our behavior. Individuals appear to have less resistance to extinction (they give-up trying more quickly), they become depressed and anxious more frequently. Modernization has also allowed medicine to save those with central nervous system impairments that lead to increased rates of population behavior problems. Similarly, modern psychotropic medications have allowed for  release the mental patients who formerly would have been hospitalized during their reproductive years. Now those who suffer from genetically-based chronic mental illness are medicated and release back into our general population where their reproductive rates are similar to that of non-mental patients. The increased common use of recreational drugs has produce difficult to detect increases in central nervous system damage to infants who grow among us with increased behavioral/psychological problems. More such examples of “hidden” sources of bad behavioral contagion were discussed in Chapter X. But in summary, all of these human behavioral/psychological problems, and more, move forward in time and they multiply themselves among others within our population through the continuing processes of behavioral contagion.

It is with significant trepidation, and all due respect to the intentions of America’s Founding Fathers, that I address this delicate matter. The many advantages of historically beneficial freedoms in America are well known and do not require discussion here. However, the modern explosion of many free choices, newly allocated to both adolescents and adults has revealed grave disadvantages to the health and viability of our socioculture.

The same must be said for the curtailment of some free choices (such as restrictions to the celebration of traditional religious holidays and references to God in public venues). The same must be said of the freedom from hard effort and labor (afforded by modernization and technology). The same must be said of the increased freedom from the consequences of our own incompetent actions (i.e., The expanded protections of poorly designed Well-Fare Programs).

It is true, especially in the American system of government, that all of the social and environmental conditions that catalyze good or bad behavioral contagion cannot be changed to achieve maximum benefits. But this is not a good reason to ignore and fail to discuss the presence of these important conditions as well as the possibilities or impossibilities involved. After all, there should be ways to bring vast improvements to the quality of our own behavior patterns while keeping restrictions to our individual choices in life to some minimal acceptable limits.

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