In the current media frenzy over the Swine Flu virus, I’m wondering just how dangerous this virus really is? In spite of hours of news coverage, I’m still uncertain how worried I should be and I have a lingering suspicion that while most of the Western world seems to be whipping itself into a frenzy of anxiety in advance of the next big global catastrophe, we might actually get distracted from several major global catastrophes that are already here (children dying from malaria, young girls forced into prostitution, millions of people who live without sanitation, I could go on).

One of the more subtle catastrophes that is already with us has been highlighted for me recently by the book Affluenza by Oliver James. Listed as a Sunday Times bestseller, it came out in 2007 (so I’m not that up to date, sorry!).

Oliver James has one BIG idea: that in westernised societies huge numbers of people have been ‘infected’ by what he calls the ‘Afflluenza’ virus. By this he means that they place a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame. His theory is that those who hold these values are at hugely increased risk of emotional distress, by which he means depression, anxiety, substance abuse and personality disorders.

So, for example he says that the UK is riddled with Affluenza victims and 25% of the population has experienced emotional distress in the last 12 months, with another 25% being on the verge of emotional distress, which puts half the population of the UK in a pretty bad way. His theory, and I have to say he comes up with a lot of convincing evidence, is that this distress is linked to our devotion to these four warped values.

Bearing in mind that he is not writing from a Christian perspective, it sounds like a very Christian message ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole word but loses his soul?’ Mark 8:36 or as it is in The Message ‘What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?’

It’s a great book if you love statistics and real life stories, he bases his research on interviews with 240 super rich people from 7 different countries. I have to say Denmark sounds like the best place to live, shame Danish is so hard to learn! Many of the stories are of people who have everything but have lost ‘the real them’.

I have two criticisms of the book: once you’ve read the prologue (or even just this review) you have grasped his one BIG idea and the only point in reading on would be to look at his evidence and the antidotes he recommends. None of these are earth shatteringly original but he does go to some lengths to show that having a spiritual faith is an excellent ‘vaccine’ against Affluenza.

The second problem I have with the book is that he only interviews the super rich even though he maintains that Affluenza affects us all. I am very interested in how a desire for money, possessions, appearance and fame affect the people in my street.

Lots of food for thought and I have a feeling that once Swine Flue has been and gone, Affluenza and its insidious effects with still be with us.

Affluenza by Oliver James published by Vermillion
ISBN 978-0-09-190011-3

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