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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Quack Diseases and Syndromes for the Millennium

Quack Diseases and Syndromes for the Millenium
In the distant past you had only 3-4 diseases, any of which invariably killed you. And their causes were merely variations on the vitalistic metaphors that presumably explained how our bodies worked. Thus disease was invariably attributed to evil spirits, vaporous gases, or other forces that acted in  otherwise hydraulic ways. Now of course we know better, and we can easily trace our ailments to such realistic entities as saturated fats, cigarette smoke, or that taco we ate last night. But there are many ailments that cannot be traced to some obvious disease, environmental agent, or special sauce. 
Horrible New Disease Agent 
(Source: American Bar Association)
A good thing about disease is that it implies a disease agent or defect, and has the benefit of completly absolving responsibility. Recently, obesity, alcoholism, and gambling have become diseases as diligent researchers have found the genetic sources for the craving for that Big Mac, Bloody Mary, and roll of the dice. But in this new post-modern age, we need more diseases to meet our craving for new excuses and alibis, and in general to have something to whine about. (Hmm, could that be genetic too?) Bad habits, if shared by enough people, neet to have a ready rationalization that we can all use. Thus new diseases that are sure to be adopted in the near future will likely be useful ailments like procrastination, sloth, and unbridled lust. But there are other lesser known diseases, syndromes, and instinctual drives that give our behavior that satisfying level of quirky eccentricity that distinguishes us from the more rational members of the animal kingdom, like the insects. I have highlighted a few of the more intriguing ones, but I am sure that new ones will be added yearly to that pantheon of ailments that justify our natural inclinations to be slobs or total jerks. 

Cleaning Threshold
Originally thought up by the psychologist Paul Chump, for which he was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize in psychology, the cleaning threshold is embodied by the well known motto: a man works from sun to sun, and that's enough. Men, according to Chump, are stronger than dirt, and they demonstrate their prowess by refusing to be cowed by dust bunnies the size of jackrabbits, and leaning towers of dirty dishes that would make its counterpart in Pisa look straight. This is a sign of strength, although women in their weakness refuse to admit it. Whereas women would be inclined to vacuum the entire house upon noticing a stray hair, men appreciate the natural order of things, and will only be sparked into action when the dust on the TV screen totally obscures the game, and when there is only one clean fork or plate left to be had. The much higher cleaning threshold in men frees up a lot of time that could be better spent writing that great novel, becoming a titan of industry, or sleeping on the couch. 

Dust Bunny
Nesting Impulse

Since the first toad like creatures crawled on land countless eons ago, nest building has evolved along with the ever greater intellectual sophistication of species. From the primitive mud holes of our amphibian ancestors to the posh condos of Manhattan cliff dwellers, humans have developed nesting standards to meet their ever expanding brains. Well, except perhaps for men, who if left alone would feel perfectly at home in a mud hole, as long as it was wired for cable of course. Our earlier mammalian ancestors adorned their nests with twigs, leaves, and brightly covered rocks. This impulse continues with us to this day, as women are instinctively drawn to lining their homes with bric-a-brac that would do a pack rat proud. 
Male pack rat surveys his domain

Although we hate to admit it, our brains are hard wired to respond to simple patterns of information that are as profound as the wet dream of a housefly. Consider a cantaloupe. Seeing a cantaloupe in the store will only evoke the simple response: "Yup, that's a fruit!" But put two cantaloupes under the cuffs of your pants, and you will look like you have some horrid skin disease. Place them in your back pants pockets, and you will look like a Wal-Mart shopper, and gender willing, put them up your blouse and you become Miss January for JUGGS magazine.
The Transforming Power of Fruit!
This fun with fruit exercise illuminates the stark fact that our brains have not evolved much past that of bumblebees. A bee sees a flower, it smells good, and then it makes a bee line for it. Similarly, a guy sees a pretty girl and wants to make a bee line for her, and a girl spots a sale and wants tobe in line to buy. Luckily, society has long noted that these bee-brained activities are detrimental to that of our collective hive mind which we call civilization. Thus, it has invented things like morality and credit card limits to keep our impulses in line.

The fact that mating, buying or other behavior is released by near insubtantial bits of information shows that much of our behavior is really insectoid in origin. Thus giving us a new cop out meaning to the old melodic refrain that didn't go somwhat like this: birds do it, bees do it, the insects in the trees do it, let's all do it, let's misbehave!

Bonding Instinct

As social creatures, people need other peopl. However this bonding instinct is displayed  differently depending upon your sex. For women, bonding is sort of like a bee hive sewing circle, where women bond together to attend to the eggs (of the breakfast variety), feed the brood, and buzz endlessly about what color to paint the bedroom. In contrast, men resist such bee like behavior, and prefer a higher calling that is dynamic, competitive, and aggressive. In other words, men bond all right, but like fire ants.

Men have a very strong bonding instinct, but it is elicited by events that are abstract and rare. Men will not talk long about wall paper colours or floral designs, but will chat endlessly about colorful and meaningful contexts that reflect, in a man's eye, important things. Thus, to guys, bonding means dynamic pairings like Batman and Robin, Jackson and Lee, or Montana and Rice, and where you fight the bad guys, evil northern  invaders, or for the home field advantage. Of course, in a safe and secure world, there are far fewer opportunities for men to bond together  to defend civilization as we know it. So guys hang out alone, out of  touch and out of mind until brought   together  for the next big cause, war, or football season. 

To get an idea of how important bonding is to men, look at art. Male bonding is everywhere in art. Just look at all those civil war paintings, Rembrandt portaits, and Renaissance sculptures. One will note immediately that they are full of guys doing important and meaningful things together like debating philosophy, fighting wars, or pondering the meaning of life. In contrast, female bonding doesn't occur in art, which represents the fair sex mainly in paintings that picture them in idle and sedentary pursuits. Thus, your typical museum painting includes such staples as a girl on a swing, reclining on a couch, or emerging from a clamshell, all in various stages of dress and undress of course. 
Guy and Girl Pictures in art
So what type of bonding is preferable? The answer perhaps lies to each to his or her tastes. and tastest to his or her genes. Yet, if art was our arbiter and guide, the question could perhaps be phrased like this: what picture would you rather have on your mantlepiece: Hamlet pondering poor Yorick or Martha Stewart pondering floral arrangements?
Guys and Girls obsessions
PC Time Travel

Not quite a syndrome really, but is is nonetheless amazing that you can sit down to play a few minutes of the computer game 'Quake', and next thing you know twenty years have passed, and you're being rudely distracted by a wrecker ball crashing through your window. This effect, unkown to the world until Rip Van Winkle discovered it while bowling in the 18th century, represents an exciting new way to travel in time without all that constant waiting. 
Rip: the first time traveler. 
Just fire up that latest hyper addictive video game and soon all time and space will collapse into a blur, and you will wake up to new worlds and new wonders. Unfortunately, as you travel through time, you get older too. But at least you won't have much of a lost past to be nostalgic about, except perhaps some sweet reminiscences of Pac-Man games. 

Gamers Block

Oftentimes, no matter how much we try in life, we can't seem to make it to the next level. So, we take time out from our daily frustrations to play a video game, only to find out that as you waste time playing the game, you find you are wasting time learning how to play it well. This is particularly  galling when the clue to reaching the next level is in hindsight oh so obvious. Gamer's block is particularly harmful to those who take pride in their ability to loaf productively. This it is particulary prevalent  among office workers, bureaucrats, and writers of satirical web sites.

Biological Alarm Clock

We all have biological clocks that tell us when to eat, when to sleep, and when to make babies. For women, oftentimes the biological clock goes awry, and begins to signal all sorts of jarring behaviors.that seem at least to the man of the house to be most untimely. This biological alarm clock jolts a woman into action, or more likely, into prodding a man into actions at the wrong time. A woman's biological alarm clock is often out of sync with her husband's own biological clock, which naturally  runs much slower. The man compensates by resetting his own clock to give himself more time. Unfortunately, women have no capability to reset their own  clocks. This results in their ringing just in time to tell their husband to vacuum the floor as he settles back to relax from a hard day at the office, or to mow the law or bath the kid just as the big game comes on TV. All too often the wife gets all wound up just as the husband  starts to unwind. Unfortunately, the only way to set back your wife's clock is with a blunt object to the head. However, this is not recommended since it would set her back in time permanently, and force you to do time, as in jail.

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