Productive Personality Disorder

harold lloyd

“Time’s inexorable nature provides the ultimate model of domination.”
–John Zerzan, “Time and Its Discontents” [1]

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) was released last May and has since attracted a significant amount of criticism.  Many such as the Coalition for DSM-5 Reform have argued that:

“the lowering of diagnostic thresholds in several categories, rais[es] the spectre that thousands of individuals experiencing normative distress might be labeled with a mental disorder and treated with psychiatric drugs that have dangerous side effects” [2]

Normal human behavior is seemingly being pathologized with only a very narrow range of behavior being deemed healthy or normal and not in need of intervention.  Not only have additional disorders been added since the last edition (DSM-IV) but fewer criteria are now required in order to be diagnosed with a previously established disorder.  Allen Frances of Duke University has written that:

“Grief is now Major Depressive Disorder; medical illness is Somatic Symptom Disorder; everyday worries are Generalized Anxiety Disorder; the forgetting of old age is Mild Neurocognitive Disorder; being geeky smart makes you an Aspie; gorging is Binge Eating Disorder; having temper tantrums is Childhood Bipolar Disorder; and all of us have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).” [3]

Diversity is antithetical to industrial society where efficiency requires interchangeable parts.  Expanding what counts as illness therefore serves the both the function of creating new customers for high priced pharmaceuticals as well as providing rationale for modifying human behavior that is inefficient or otherwise undesirable from the perspective of industry.

While I wholeheartedly share these concerns, I am going to articulate a concern different from the above theme.  I am going to suggest a new disorder that could also be added to the DSM-5: Productive Personality Disorder (PPD).* So here it goes:

Do you feel the need to be always busy?  Do you feel compelled to “accomplish” something as a means of demonstrating your self-worth to others?  Do you mistake stillness for idleness? Quiet for deficiency?  Does a hectic schedule make you feel more important?  Do you feel the need to produce something simply to have “something to show for yourself”?

You may suffer from Productive Personality Disorder (PPD).

There is not a pill to take and consulting a doctor is not advised.  PPD is not an illness that simply afflicts individuals.  PPD afflicts whole societies and only derivatively afflicts members of a society.

The good news is that the harm imposed by PPD can be mitigated.  Unfortunately, the needed course of action is precisely what those afflicted with PPD struggle to do: pause.

Given the difficulty of such an instruction, some therapeutic exercises may be helpful.  In no particular order:

  1. Go outside.  Admire the shape of a nearby rock.
  2. Listen to any sound within earshot.  Recognize it as music.
  3. Look to the horizon.   Trace its contour.  Watch it move.
  4. Make eye contact with an animal.  Wish them well.

It’s important to remember that PPD is not your fault but has been imposed on you no less than the deliberately inflicted injuries imposed on nonhuman animals in a laboratory.  Your very birth may have been scheduled according to the needs of hospital bureaucracy or a doctor’s vacation schedule.  Compulsory factory style education is rigidly scheduled with ringing bells to set a prescribed pace and often includes paperwork to be completed before a student can relieve his or her bowels.  In “Time and Its Discontents,” John Zerzan writes:

 “In the world of alienation no adult can contrive or decree the freedom from time that the child habitually enjoys–and must be made to lose. Time training, the essence of schooling, is vitally important to society.”

Time training.  Learning to be busy and without opportunity to reflect.  To pack up your books and move to your next class when the bell rings and not until the bell rings.  Furthermore, all modern (read as: electronic) correspondence is now dated, time stamped, and archived (not simply by the NSA).  I can, for example, look back and learn that on November 27, 2009 at 6:26am, I shared a story online about a chupacabra sighting (the creature in question turned out to be a coyote—so really, it was a coyote sighting).

For many, the urge to do something (anything!) may be based on the realization that the current of our culture is towards destruction and therefore to simply be is to feel complicit.  The pace being set is that of a person with their hair on fire.  Yet, in a different time and place, with a different cultural current, to simply be would be to contribute; the practices of everyday life could potentially benefit others.  To exist would mean to be complicit.

This rationale for frenetic action even in the face of a world on fire is captured and defused by Paul Kingsnorth:

“Perhaps to a political activist, sitting by a stream in a forest seems like self-indulgence in the face of mass extinction and climate change, but it is the opposite. If you don’t know why that stream matters, you are not equipped to protect it. If you have forgotten how to listen to it, you may end up on the wrong side, as so many have before you.” [4]

It takes time to visit and to listen.  And to then, but only then, act decisively.


*It will be most embarassing for me if this fanciful disorder is actually included in the DSM-5.