Wednesday 7 October 2020

Homogenising the Way the World Goes Mad

To travel internationally is to become increasingly unnverved by the way American culture pervades the world. We cringe at the new indoor Mlimani shopping mall in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We shake our heads at the sight of a McDonald's on Tiananmen Square or a Nike factory in Malaysia. The visual landscape of the world has become depressingly familiar. For Americans the old joke has become bizarrely true: wherever we go, there we are.
We have the uneasy feeling that our influence over the rest of the world is coming at a great cost, loss of the world's diversity and complexity. For all our self-incrimination, however, we have yet to face our most disturbing effect on the rest of the world. Our golden arches do not represent our most troubling impact on other cultures, rather, it is how we are flattening the landscape of the human psyche itself. We are engaged in the grand project of Americanizing the world's understanding of the human mind. 

(...) Particularly telling are the changing manifestations of mental illnesses around the world. In the past two decades, for instance, eating disorders have risen in Hong Kong and are now spreading to inland China. (...) In addition, a particularly Americanized version of depression is on the rise in countries across the world.

(...) Over the past thirty years, we Americans have been industriously exporting our ideas about mental illness. Our definitions and treatments have become the international standards. Although this has often been done with the best of intentions, we've failed to foresee the full impact of these efforts. It turns out that how a people in a culture think about mental illnesses - how they categorize and prioritize the symptoms, attempt to heal them, and set expectations for their course and outcome - influences the diseases themselves. In teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we have been, for better and worse, homogenizing the way the world goes mad. (excerpts)

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- Watters, E. (2010). Crazy Like Us. The Globalization of the American Psyche. New York, London, Toronto & Sydney: Free Press.
- photograph (America Seen Through Stars and Stripes, New York City, 1976, by Ming Smith) via


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