Killing Ourselves

Some societies have a lot of suicides and some don’t. The United States has a fairly high suicide rate (13.7 out of 100,000). But Europe as a region, for some reason, has the highest suicide rate in the world (15.4). To put that in context, the global average is 10.6 out of 100,000. That puts Europe more than half again higher than average. Excluding the United States, other former British colonies are about average: Canada (10.4) and Australia (11.7). And the United Kingdom for some reason is rather low (7.6). The United States is listed as the 34th most suicidal in the world (in a comparison of 183 countries), almost as high as Europe in general, but no where near the levels of specific European countries like Russia.

The suicide rate overall in Africa is actually quite low (7.4 out of 100,000), even if well above that of Eastern Mediterranean (3.9). The African rate is lower than Southeast Asia (13.2), Western Pacific (10.2), and Americas (9.8). So Africa’s rate is less than than half that of Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean a quarter — near the bottom can be found every single Eastern Mediterranean country (Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, and Jordan). On the other hand, some specific African countries have high suicide rates (e.g., Lesotho). In Africa, 28 countries are below the global average and 26 are above, but considering in total it’s so much further below average must mean there is larger populations in the low suicide rate African countries. Still, one must note that about half of the countries with the worst suicide problems are African. And to compare with Europe, there are 29 below and 20 above. That also has to do with some of the largest European countries being disproportionately found on one end of the rankings, tilting all of Europe toward the suicidal.

Interestingly, there isn’t a single European country in the bottom 26, whereas 4 of them are African. All of the countries with the very lowest rates, in the bottom 11, were Hispanic North American and Asian, which creates a stark contrast for the mostly non-Hispanic United States being so relatively high in the rankings. In the bottom 50, there are only 4 European countries: Greece, Italy, Albania, and Armenia; although Greece can be grouped instead with the Eastern Mediterranean countries. Europe is largely divided by more suicides in the north and less suicides in the south. It’s harder for me to discern, but the pattern with Africa seems to be more suicides in former regions of the slave trade, in contrast to many of the countries with fewer suicides being in the north and east of the continent. In general, countries around the Mediterranean (North Africa, Levant, and Southern Europe) tend to be less suicide-prone.

In the top 50, there is included only one country from Oceania (Kiribati). And, despite some being above average, no North American country is close to the top, not even the United States. Whereas several South American countries are at or near the top with the most suicidal country in the world being South American Guyana. The top 11 countries rate from 20 to 30.2 per 100,000 with several of them being European (Russia at 26.5, Lithuania at 25.7, and Belarus at 21.4), with that top level being more than twice as high as the United States and almost twice as high as the European average. Even some advanced European countries are above the United States (Belgium at 15.7 and Finland at 13.8) with others not far behind (Iceland at 13.3), if that makes Americans feel better.

At its worst during the Great Depression, the American suicide rate surged from 18 in 100k up to 22 in 100k (Jim Craven, More Americans Commit Suicide Than During the Great Depression). That is much higher than now, but because of the larger population there are actually more total number of Americans killing themselves now than then, similar to how there are more American blacks in prison now than once were in slavery. The United States is such a massive country with many states larger than most countries in the world and so it is helpful to break it down. Some parts of the United States and some demographics have low suicide rates while elsewhere it is extremely high. Looking at 2016 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, even though there isn’t data available for most places, I counted around 130 counties that have suicide rates greater than 25 out of 100k and maybe another few hundred with less than that but more than 20 out of 100k; the rural average being 18.9 (Suicide Death Rates for U.S. Counties).

The Mountain West is called the “Suicide Corridor” (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) with suicides at 17.65 per 100k, a pattern that has held for the past century. “The reason suggested for this suicide corridor is that the mountain west has people that have a propensity for suicide, which are: Native Americans, non-Hispanic whites, and older retired people. […] Arizona has one of the worst suicide rates at 17.65 out of 100,000. Arizona’s suicide rate is worse than the 22nd worse country in the world for suicides at 17.2 out of 100K, which is SUDAN. The causes for SUDAN’s high suicide rate is similar to the problems in Arizona, which are: poverty, crime, corruption, and a brutal legal system” (Mark and Carol Fairall, The Real Faces of Elder Abuse). Clarifying that it isn’t only about poor rural white men, consider that the Native American suicide rate is 22.5 out of 100k, compared to 15.4 for non-Hispanic whites (Caroline Jiang Andreea Mitran, Arialdi Miniño, and Hanyu Ni, Racial and Gender Disparities in Suicide Among Young Adults Aged 18–24: United States, 2009–2013). The Mountain West is a region of many tribal reservations and living conditions there are often quite poor, in more than one sense of the word — even the soil tends to be poor, as Native Americans were forcefully moved onto lands that were useless for farming.

To emphasize this point, “An Arizonan commits suicide every seven hours” (Fairall). To give a specific example from Mojave County in Arizona, 28.3 out of 100k kill themselves, “nearly triple the national rate and double Arizona’s rate” (Jim Seckler, County in poor health, poverty). Arizona is far from leading the way — according to 2014 data: Wyoming at 29.66 out of 100k, Montana at 23.17, Alaska at 23.0, New Mexico at 21.21, and Colorado at 20.27. It’s more impressive when you break it down by demographics, such as with middle age white men: “With a suicide rate of 44 per 100,000, men in this age and geographical group have more than three times the risk of dying by suicide than the national average. In Wyoming, approximately 80 percent of suicides are men; a quarter are men ages 45-64.” (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Surviving Suicide In Wyoming). Yet, “when you start looking at the data, this region of the country leads for men, for women, across all racial groups, across all ethnicities. It’s not just a rural problem, whatever it is is also in urban areas, as well as everywhere in between and across all age groups.”

Much of the above data comes from the Wikipedia article on international comparison of suicide rates, but on the same page there is a second collection of data from 1985-2017 that shows suicide rates as being much higher across the board. Accordingly, the United States has 21.8 suicides out of 100k, instead of 13.7, but in either case significantly above the global average. Considering the starting point of that data, I wonder if that is biased by the suicide spike that happened in my childhood of the 1980s, as my generation at the time had a high suicide rate (along with high rates of homicide, abuse, addiction, etc; most of it related to high rates of lead toxicity). Other countries saw a similar pattern that increased with lead toxicity and then decreased with environmental regulations that eliminated most lead pollution.

The damage from lead toxicity is permanent and so carries on for the rest of a generation’s lifespan. It is unsurprising that suicide rates have increased to such a degree to capture the attention of mainstream media. Guess who now forms the middle age demographic? Yep, Generation X. Here is a good summary: “Generation-X also, statistically, has suffered the highest childhood suicide rates since 4 previous generations spanning almost 100 years, and now have the highest middle age suicide rates of any living generation. Their current suicide rates now have silently reached the AIDS epidemic levels of deaths — which they also had to worry about in youth” (Danny Brooms, comment).

Also in that second set of Wikipedia data, Greenland shows a whopping level of 116.9 per 100k. That is confirmed by an NPR piece that shows the Greenland suicides as being that high in the late 1980s and having since dropped to 82.8 (Rebecca Hersher, The Arctic Suicides: It’s Not The Dark That Kills You), and so maybe also related to lead toxicity. As another comparison, “In some Native communities in the U.S., the suicide rate is even higher than it is in Greenland. For example, among Alaska Native men 15 to 24 years old, the suicide rate is about twice that of Greenland’s” (The Arctic Suicides: Your Questions Answered). Even so, Greenland too has its local populations that are feeling the pressure. One town there, Tasiilaq, has a suicide rate of 400 per 100k (Hersher). This high national level of suicide is a drastic change from the 1960s when Greenland had few suicides at all, a shift that some blame on the increase of processed foods and so loss of vitamin D that is so important in northern regions, especially to maintain positive mood.

To really put it all in perspective, societies like the Piraha apparently have a rate of suicide that is zero and, one might note, they also eat little if any processed foods, but then again neither do they have any of the other problems of modern civilization. Suicide is so incomprehensible to the Piraha that, when Daniel Everett told a group of Piraha about his aunt’s suicide, they all laughed because it was so absurd they thought he was joking. So, when we see societies with high suicide rates, we shouldn’t take it as normal and inevitable. It’s a sign that something is seriously wrong.

Mark Fisher’s Suicide

Mark Fisher died earlier this year. I didn’t even know about it. He wasn’t much older than me. But similarly he suffered from severe depression, having struggled with it for a long time. That is what finally got him, by way of suicide. He was an interesting writer and no doubt his depression gave an edge to his way of thinking and communicating.

His book on capitalist realism was insightful and brought difficult ideas down to ground level. He had a talent for explanation, connecting the unfamiliar to the familiar. His descriptions of capitalism in some ways fits in with Corey Robin’s theory of the reactionary mind, but with his own twist. Here is Fisher from Capitalist Realism:

“When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis. The limits of capitalism are not fixed by fiat, but defined (and re-defined) pragmatically and improvisationally. This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.”

I always appreciate writers who can connect intellectual ideas to pop culture examples. It’s one thing to call something reactionary but it’s a whole other thing to offer a clear image of what that means. That which is reactionary is also dynamically creative in that it can take in anything — not just co-opt but absorb, assimilate, and transform anything and everything it touches (or that touches it). Portraying capitalism as the Thing makes it more real within the imagination.

I just bought his latest book that also just came out this year in the US. I’ll have to prioritize reading it before all else.

In Memoriam: Mark Fisher
by Dan Hassler-Forest, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Mark Bould, Roger Luckhurst, Carl Freedman, Jeremy Gilbert

Mark Fisher’s K-punk blogs were required reading for a generation
by Simon Reynolds

Remembering Mark Fisher
by David Stubbs

The Desperate Acting Desperately

There was a shooting of a police officer a little over a week ago. Both men involved died, a murder-suicide. It happened in Flagstaff, AZ. I lived there for a time and so it caught my attention. Also, what stood out to me was the story behind the shooting.

I saw it reported by Michelle McManimon in the Arizona Daily Sun. It was a surprisingly thoughtful and respectful piece. I particularly liked that an explanation is given for what was going on that led up to the altercation. Most mainstream reporting rarely ever explains much of anything at all, just leaving the reader with the impression that sometimes people do scary things for no reason other than being crazy or bad.

McManimon begins her report by stating about the shooter, Robert W. Smith, that, “It was the intense pain and four nights without sleep, not the police officer or any psychosis, that drove him to pull the trigger.” The shooter didn’t have a long, sordid history of crime, violence, abusive behavior, drug addiction, or psychiatric issues. Besides having gone without sleep, he “had not been able to eat for at least two days… because of the pain from his tooth infection”

There was no evidence that he had planned the shooting. His friend thinks he had the gun in his pocket because he was contemplating suicide. That friend suspects that, when the officer went to search him, Smith panicked. He probably wasn’t in a normal, rational state of mind at that point. The infection was severe and the pain was pushing him to the edge. As his friend explained, “I know he felt completely backed into a corner with no way out.”

It wasn’t just a toothache. It had gotten extremely bad, way beyond what most people have ever experienced or could imagine.

“His teeth were falling out,” his friend said. “It had gotten to the point where he had a severe jaw infection and he had nothing he could do about it. He didn’t have insurance. He was in severe pain. He didn’t have any pain meds for it except maybe Tylenol.”

Smith put it in simpler terms when he texted to a friend that, “My tooth is killing me.” That wasn’t even necessarily an exaggeration as infections that enter the jaw can easily kill someone.

This is the type of situation we don’t think about happening in the modern developed world. It is hard for most of us to imagine how desperate he must have felt. The reason the police officer was talking to Smith was because of a fight he had with his girlfriend. In his texting to his friend, he said that, “My tooth hurt so bad I lost control.”

He visited a dentist who told him that it would cost $20,000 out of pocket since he had no insurance, money he did not have. The fear and shame of going in debt or going bankrupt apparently kept him from getting treatment.

Plus, he just wasn’t in a state of mind to think straight about his options. He needed someone to represent him and look out for his interests. Simply put, he needed help, but didn’t know where to turn.

Yet it wasn’t for a lack of asking for help. He told his problem to anyone who would listen. He stated it in no uncertain terms, and he pleaded for help:

“I’m too scared to go anywhere,” Smith said. “I (expletive) need help.”

He turned everywhere he could. From what I can tell, his friends offered him no practical help. He had just spent several days with his family because of Christmas and obviously didn’t get any assistance there either. Also, neither the dentist nor the officer gave him guidance about how to get his tooth treated. There had to have been a free medical clinic he could have turned to or maybe some kind of government assistance, but he didn’t know how to find it and no one was making it easy for him to find it.

He was left to deal with his own suffering and desperation, as best he could, which basically meant doing nothing at all.

This case is important because of what it says about our society. There are a lot of suffering and desperate people in communities all across this country. The police shooting part is less usual, but homicide and suicide are far from unusual. If not that, others turn to drugs to numb the pain or escape from a dark reality and an uncaring world, which might end up with death by overdose or else incarceration. Still others might turn to crime (drug-dealing, prostitution, theft, etc). in order to get money or simply out of a sense of hopelessness, which also often leads to bad ends.

Desperate people do desperate things. Then we act surprised when that sometimes leads to violence. Yet most of this could easily be prevented, if we cared as a society. Many developed countries take better care of their citizens. It would cost a lot less to pay for basic needs (healthcare, housing, etc) than to deal with the costs of not dealing with social problems.

However, it isn’t about rational cost analysis. That misses the more fundamental point.

I don’t think it as an issue of people not understanding and so getting them to understand. At some basic level, I suspect most Americans already know about all of this.

It isn’t an accident that our society is structured this way. Such misery and despair isn’t just a side effect, an unintended consequence. No, it serves a direct purpose in maintaining the social order. In a Social Darwinian meritocracy, the losers of society must be made to suffer as a ‘natural’ consequence of their failure. The poor person with the excruciating toothache is being punished for being a lazy worthless degenerate. If he dies from lack of healthcare, that just takes him out of the Darwinian gene pool, as the Invisible Hand of God intended it in this great Christian nation.

The rate and duration of despair shift depending on various factors, but nothing really ever changes. We Americans have a hard time imagining it any other way. We know so much and yet we don’t know, because we refuse to know. It would be too scary to fully acknowledge reality and admit how fucked up is our society. We live in a world of stories… but I can’t help wondering what other stories we could tell ourselves.

Rate And Duration of Despair

“One of the most remarkable features of the unemployment figures is that both the rate and the duration of unemployment have increased during every Republican administration and decreased under every Democratic one, without a single exception.”
~James Gilligan, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others,  Kindle Locations 704-706

This pattern has existed since records first began being kept, unemployment rate since 1900 and unemployment duration rate since 1948.

It’s not even just unemployment. The same partisan disparity is found with rates and, when applicable, durations of diverse issues: poverty and economic inequality, recessions and depressions, GDP and GNP, homicides and suicides, etc. The author further explores the broad range of studies that show various correlations between these factors, most especially how the other factors have through time-series analysis been causally linked to increasing violence.

Then Gilligan connects it all to regional partisan politics and differences of populations. He considers many angles, from crime policies to studies on authoritarianism; revealing “some very interesting inter-correlations between all three of these variables: character, party, and state” (Kindle Location 1816).

Also, he offers a thorough survey of the data on incarceration and crime rates. There is no clear, strong evidence that mass incarceration decreased crime and violence. An argument, instead, can be made that mass incarceration has been contributing to the problem.

Gilligan’s main argument is based on his accidental discovery of how the homicide and suicide rates followed party administrations. No one had noticed because the two parties were averaging each other out. No party was in power continuously for long enough to make the pattern obvious enough for a casual observation. The more the author looked at the data the stronger the correlation became and the wider set of the correlated data.

The primary conclusion is that economics is so bad during Republican administrations that an increasing number of Americans turn to violence, both against others and against themselves. Furthermore, the longer a Republican administration remains in power the worse it gets. The opposite happens with Democratic administrations. This is what the data shows.

It’s freaking mind-blowing.

He does offer a cautionary note. Even under Democrats, violence rates although lower than Republicans are still at what would be considered epidemic levels in other Western countries. Still, the pattern remains interesting.

One has to wonder what the pattern would look like if Democrats or those even further to the left had maintained political power continuously for this past century. Or imagine how our society would be transformed if ever a left-wing party came to power, as seen in other Western countries. Screw both the Republicans and Democrats! We can only take so much backlash of misery and temporary respite.

Even for someone who despises the two party system, this pattern can’t be easily dismissed or ignored. The differences between the parties are real. Politics does matter.

Many independents wish the differences were even greater, but one has to be extremely cynical to argue these differences aren’t significant enough to make a difference. If one is unemployed or at risk of unemployment, if one is poor or homeless, if one feels the shame and desperation of being deemed a loser in a society based on Social Darwinism, it certainly matters.

Nonetheless, what is an independent to do when the back and forth partisan power struggle never leads to permanent solutions that get to the root of problems? As a psychiatrist who worked for 25 years in the prison system, that is what James Gilligan wants to know (Kindle Locations 123-134):

“Given the stability of that correlation between the political parties and the violent death rates, and my inability to disconfirm it, the question that remains is: what does it mean? Why is it occurring, and doing so repeatedly? As a physician, my interest has always been in matters of life and death, not politics, and this foray into politics because of a chance discovery that implicated political actors only happened because of my attempt to learn what was causing these deaths and how we could save lives.”

Ignoring parties, how do we get positive results? How do we make the world a better place? What lesson should we learn?

I wish I knew.

Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates

I just watched this video and recommend it.

Stephen Ilardi made two very important points.

First, depression is a disease of civilization. He spoke of research done on a hunter-gatherer tribal people. What the researcher found was that depression was almost non-existent among them. They lived a hard life and often hard deaths, but they weren’t clinically depressed. Nor did they have many of the other diseases of civilization, all of which are related to inflammation in the body.

He points out that studies have shown that depression is related to inflammation in the brain, at least partly caused by an unhealthy ratio between Omega 6 fats and Omega 3 fats. Combined with the stresses and social isolation of modern society, clinical depression has become a massive problem.

Second, clinical depression is a growing problem. Each generation has higher rates of depression than the generation before. It correctly can be called an epidemic at this point and it increases as people age. The younger generations will as they age, if the pattern holds, have 50% or more experiencing clinical depression.

This gets at an issue I continually return to. Everything is getting worse for the young generation such as poverty, economic inequality, unemployment and homelessness. My generation is the first generation do worse than their parents in the 20th century. My generation as children had poverty rates not seen since the Great Depression and had the worst child suicide rates since such things were recorded. How bad does society have to get before even children become so desperate and hopeless that they kill themselves?

Most people in the older generations never personally experienced these kinds of conditions. Because of this, they have no tangible understanding, no sympathy. They can’t see how this is a systemic problem throughout society, a problem transcending individuals and even generations.

I’ve previously discussed this a bit in terms of capitalist realism (see here and here), but I’ve never gone into much detail about this before. The analysis behind the concept of capitalist realism is based on the collective inability to imagine alternatives and hence collective inability to perceive the problems of the present system. The individual is the product and the scapegoat of capitalist realism.

* * * *

I decided to look more closely at the increasing rate of suicide.

There definitely is something going on in society. It’s hard to make a simple assessment, but obviously particular demographics are hit really hard, specifically the youth demographic (also particular states and white men). A lot of it seems to do with the economy such as with peaks during industrialization and the Great Depression and then a slow rise during the era of globalization.  Overall national suicide rates go up and down. It is only with particular demographics that you see long-term trends.

http://www.haciendapub.com/medicalsentinel/homicide-and-suicide-america-1900-1998

http://www.suicide.org/suicide-statistics.html

U.S. Suicide Rates, 1950–2003
(per 100,000 population)

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 1995 2000 2001 2002 2003
All ages, age adjusted 13.2 13.2 13.2 13.2 12.5 11.8 10.4 10.7 10.9 10.8
5–14 years 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.8 0.9 0.7 0.7 0.6 0.6
15–24 years 4.5 5.2 8.8 12.3 13.2 13.0 10.2 9.9 9.9 9.7
15–19 years 2.7 3.6 5.9 8.5 11.1 10.3 8.0 7.9 7.4 7.3
20–24 years 6.2 7.1 12.2 16.1 15.1 15.8 12.5 12.0 12.4 12.1
25–44 years 11.6 12.2 15.4 15.6 15.2 15.1 13.4 13.8 14.0 13.8
25–34 years 9.1 10.0 14.1 16.0 15.2 15.0 12.0 12.8 12.6 12.7
35–44 years 14.3 14.2 16.9 15.4 15.3 15.1 14.5 14.7 15.3 14.9
45–64 years 23.5 22.0 20.6 15.9 15.3 13.9 13.5 14.4 14.9 15.0
45–54 years 20.9 20.7 20.0 15.9 14.8 14.4 14.4 15.2 15.7 15.9
55–64 years 26.8 23.7 21.4 15.9 16.0 13.2 12.1 13.1 13.6 13.8
65 years and over 30.0 24.5 20.8 17.6 20.5 17.9 15.2 15.3 15.6 14.6
65–74 years 29.6 23.0 20.8 16.9 17.9 15.7 12.5 13.3 13.5 12.7
75–84 years 31.1 27.9 21.2 19.1 24.9 20.6 17.6 17.4 17.7 16.4
85 years and over 28.8 26.0 19.0 19.2 22.2 21.3 19.6 17.5 18.0 16.9
Male, all ages 21.2 20.0 19.8 19.9 21.5 20.3 17.7 18.2 18.4 18.0
Female, all ages 5.6 5.6 7.4 5.7 4.8 4.3 4.0 4.0 4.2 4.2

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2013/05/chart-americas-rising-suicide-problem.html

http://news.msn.com/science-technology/us-suicide-rate-for-middle-aged-rose-28-percent-in-past-decade

Suicide rate: Chart.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/06/chart-what-killed-us-then-and-now/258872/

historicaldeaths-615.jpg

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113316/suicide-rates-rise-us-because-economy-not-culture

http://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures

http://grerp.blogspot.com/2010/12/thoughts-on-fourth-turning-part-2.html

http://2020plus.net/Editorial-323-Mal-Fletcher-Middle-Age-Suicides-Does-X-Mark-The-Spot.aspx

http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14191&page=0

http://www.richardeckersley.com.au/attachments/YMHPbook_chapter_1.pdf

Republicans: Party of Despair

“If I believed in what you believe, I’d kill myself.”

I recently said that to someone. The person in question is a Republican, but I don’t say it as a Democrat. I’m not a practitioner of partisan bickering and, in fact, I don’t like the entire sham of a two-party system. I also don’t say it lightly or disingenuously. I meant every word of it.

I’ve attempted suicide before and have often contemplated it many times over the years. When I make a statement like the above, I’m deadly serious. Just thinking about the Republican worldview makes me despair to the point of near hopelessness. If I were to believe that worldview to be true, what would be the point of going on?

I’m reminded of James Gilligan’s recent book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others. I first learned of it from a book review which offers a great summary (I’ve posted it before, but it’s so important that I’ll post it again):

James Gilligan’s new book, ‘Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others’ (Polity Press, 2011) could be reduced to a few key statements, the main one being ‘Republicans are very bad for your health’. Gilligan, Professor and MD at New York State University, has combed the statistics on violent deaths (homicide and suicide), from 1900 through to 2007 in order to determine political causation.

His findings confirm what many have hitherto instinctively and experientially known: murders and suicides increase under Republican rule. Why? Because they also create inequality and unemployment, both of which produce an employer’s market that keeps wages down. In fact, unemployment figures – in rate and duration – have increased during every Republican administration, and decreased during every Democratic administration. Ironically, despite Republican policies that favour employers and cause greater levels of inequality and unemployment, their policies then inculcate shame amongst the unemployed – blind – or to coin a much-favoured Republican word, ‘evil’ to the fact that they are its main cause. The Republican ideology – hypocritical and misanthropic – fosters the most rancid shame that goes like this: can’t find a job? It’s your own fault. Lost your job? What did you do, must have done something. Not rich. That’ll be your own fault too – or ‘thats God’s plan for you’. Addicted? Can’t hold your damn liquor. Single mum? Slut. Had an abortion? Murderer and slut. Moaning about low pay? You should thank god you’ve got a job. The list goes on. It is a terrible, cruel, vicious circle in which people become imprisoned. In short, Republicans are architects of despair that leads to suicide, and of rage that leads to murder.

My emotional response to the Republican wasn’t just emotional. The facts speak for themselves.

Since reading that review of Gilligan’s book, I’ve bought and read it. I might consider it to be one of the most important books I’ve read in my life, despite it not being great literature. It is a simple and straightforward presentation of facts that can’t be rationalized away. The facts themselves aren’t the product of an ideological agenda for they are government statistics recorded over a 107 year time frame. No Democrat started recording this data with the evil plan of more than a century later showing that Democrats are better. It’s just the typical bureaucratic data gathering.

It really is mind-blowing. I wouldn’t ever have expected to come across data that so starkly puts the two parties in contrast. After the shock wears off, though, all that I feel is sadness. I don’t care about blaming one party and praising the other, but the data is what it is. It’s not even to say everything Republicans do that is wrong. It’s just that there is a vast discrepancy between their ideals and reality. Republicans need to do some deep soul-searching.

I honestly don’t know what to do with data like this. Republicans won’t pay attention to it and most people in general would assume that it’s mere ideological rhetoric fancied up in scientific guise. It’s the type of data our entire society, including both parties, doesn’t know what to do about. You won’t hear any Democrat bring this up in a campaign debate. You won’t come across Gilligan being invited on as a guest on all the major news providers.

In this way, everyone is complicit, especially Democrats. As the author explains (pp. 187-8):

What has made it so difficult or seemingly impossible for the Democrats to free themselves from Republican campaign rhetoric’s reversal of the truth and take credit for their success in ending epidemics of lethal violence in this country for over a century? They, and they alone, have done this. Could this be the downside of being ruled by a guilt ethic and inhibiting their aggression so much that they, the Democrats, often fail to defend themselves strongly enough to undo both the misinformation and the damage caused by their Republican adversaries?

It so often comes to culture from my perspective. Gilligan alludes to this in speaking of a “guilt ethic”. Republicans have their cultural worldview and Democrats have theirs, and the two have become intertwined like a codependant relationship.

But can they be separated? Instead of going back and forth between a Democratic decrease of misery and a Republican increase, couldn’t we have a dynamic that allows for continuous progress? Imagine what kind of wonderful society we might now live in if we had more than a century of continuous decrease of murders, suicides, unemployment and income inequality. Why does that seem so hard to imagine for so many Americans and even for so many partisan Democrats?

To return to the personal, I can’t state more strongly how much I don’t want to live in the Republican worldview of fear and hatred, outrage and despair, self-righteousness and judgment, blame and scapegoating. Yet like so many Americans I feel helpless against the power Republicans have wielded for so long. Nothing ever seems to change.

It’s not about my becoming a loyal Democrat and fighting on the side of good. I just want the misery to stop. I’d like to live in a world of hope. Life is hard enough as it is without creating further unnecessary suffering.

There was a line of thought I forgot to follow through on.

I mentioned culture. I was making the connection between an ideological vision and a cultural worldview. What do I mean by that?

The reason I brought up culture was partly just because the quote from Gilligan’s book seemed to allude to it. But I was also thinking of the larger context of my previous writings on ideologies and cultures.

I’m in a conciliatory mood. The campaign season is over. Like most people, I’ve had enough mindless partisan cheerleading for a good long while. Judging others is easy. The hard work comes with trying to compassionately undertand. I feel tired, sad and tired.

However, conciliatory mood aside, I’m not quite ready to roll over and die. This data sticks in my craw. What does it mean? How could this data sit there gathering dust for a century without anyone giving it much notice?

The data apparently didn’t fit the framework of American politics. Or maybe it was ignored because of political correctness. I don’t know. For whatever reason, it had been as if invisible in all mainstream political debate and, as Gilligan’s book has drawn little attention, the data remains invisible for all practical purposes.

Cultural worldviews can become reality tunnels. In this way, people become blind to what otherwise would seem obvious and common sense. This explanation is an important perspective for culture gets past the blame game. Despite how it seems sometime, most people aren’t tying to be willfully ignorant… any more than a bird flying into a window is trying to be willfully ignorant of the window. Likewise, Republicans aren’t trying to create a world of suffering and death.

No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. There isn’t any single thing that is wrong or problematic, no particular belief or value or policy that is in and of itself causing this increase of social dysfunction.

I even feel tempted to say that conservatism shouldn’t necessarily be blamed. Like all humans, there are good and bad conservatives. Like most ideologies, there are good and bad ways conservatism can manifest.

Still, conservatism must be held to account. What I was struck by is that this isn’t just a problem of American conservatives in the Republican Party. Along with the first quote above, I shared in the same earlier post some other research that shows the same correlation with the British conservative party. Of course, we Americans largely inherited our political system from the British and in return our political system has had much influence on the British.

It would be interesting to further test this correlation in other societies. Is the cause of the social problems, is it only particular traditions of conservatism, or is it something else enirely? Ultimately, I don’t know if the exact cause matters.

It’s more important to consider why it continues. Why do Americans vote for a party that leads to the death of other Americans along with leading to other undesirable results? What makes it such a compelling and attractive worldview, despite all the negatives? Why is the connection to the negatives so hard to see or understand?

One could just as easily ask these questions about the Evangelical worldview of apocalyptic End Times. There is something apparently compelling about dark visions. It probably isn’t accidental that the type of person drawn to Evangelicalism is also drawn to the Republican Party.

I wish I understood.

A 99’er Welcomes Death

A Disillusioned 99’er Shares His Disappointment With The American Dream, Welcomes Death

“Mark”, a member of the ever growing cadre of disillusioned, disenchanted and disgruntled millions of American unemployed, has written a letter shared by A Company of One, in which he explains the plight of 99’ers (those whose extended unemployment benefits are set to expire) in which he chronicles his plight and his terminal disappointment with the American system. One can only imagine how all the “99’ers” would feel if they did not have the benefit of living at least partially subsidized for 2 years in the socialist state of America. If Bahrain is any indication, where the government’s attempt to purchase the love of its people just failed today, pretty soon not even the 99 weeks of EUCs will do much to suppress what is an unmistakably rising anger among the broad US population.

From Mark’s letter:

To the unemployed, sick, disabled and poor:
Hello,

I’m unemployed over two years now, a 99er without any benefits for three months. I followed Unemployed Friends almost from its start, never posted until now, but am grateful for my time with you all. I did as asked with calls and e-mails, etc. I’ve a confession to make to you all. I’m a criminal.

I’ve obeyed the 10 commandments and all laws except: I’m unemployed and that’s now a crime, I’m poor and that’s a crime, I’m worthless surplus population and that’s a crime, I’m a main street American Citizen born and raised in the USA and that’s now a crime, and I’m euthanizing myself as I write this note — so arrest my corpse. This isn’t a call for help, the deed is done, it’s not what I wanted. Death is my best available option. It’s not just that my bank account is $4, that I’ve not eaten in a week, not because hunger pangs are agonizing (I’m a wimp), not because I live in physical and mental anguish, not because the landlady is banging on the door non-stop and I face eviction, not that Congress and President have sent a strong message they no longer help the unemployed. It’s because I’m a law abiding though worthless, long-term unemployed older man who is surplus population. Had I used my college education to rip people off and steal from the elderly, poor, disabled and main street Americans I would be wearing different shoes now — a petty king. Hard work, honesty, loving kindness, charity and mercy, and becoming unemployed and destitute unable to pay your bills are all considered foolishness and high crimes in America now. Whereas stealing and lying and cheating and being greedy to excess and destroying the fabric of America is rewarded and protected — even making such people petty king and petty queens among us.

Since the end of 2008, when corporate America began enjoying the resumption of growth, profits have swelled from an annualized pace of $995 billion to the current $1.66 trillion as of the end of September 2010. Over the same period, the number of non-farm jobs counted by the Labor Department has slipped from 13.4 million to 13 million — there is no recovery for the unemployed and main street. We taxpayers have handed trillions of dollars to the same bank and insurance industry that started our economic disaster with its reckless gambling. We bailed out General Motors. We distributed tax cuts to businesses that were supposed to use this lubrication to expand and hire. For our dollars, we have been rewarded with starvation, homelessness and a plague of fear — a testament to post-national capitalism.

Twelve years ago, I lost the last of my family. Ten years ago, I lost the love of my life, couldn’t even visit him in the hospital because gays have no rights. I fought through and grieved and went on as best I could. Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with Diabetes and Stage 2 high blood pressure with various complications including kidney problems, mild heart failure, Diabetic Retinopathy. These conditions are debilitating and painful. I am on over eight prescribed medications, which is very difficult without insurance and income. But I struggled on and my primary caregiver was very pleased with my effort overtime with my A1C at seven. Still these physical disabilities have progressively worsened, and I have had a harder and harder time functioning in basic ways. All the while, I give thanks to God because I know there are many more worse off than me — and I tried to help by giving money to charities and smiling at people who looked down and sharing what little I had.

I am college educated and worked 35 years in management, receiving written references and praise from every boss for whom I worked. Yet, after thousands of resumes, applications, e-mails, phone calls, and drop ins, I’ve failed to get a job even at McDonalds. I’ve discovered there are three strikes against me — most 99ers will understand. Strike one — businesses are not hiring long-term unemployed — in fact many job ads now underline “the unemployed need not apply.” Strike two — I am almost 60 years old. Employers prefer hiring younger workers who demand less and are better pack mules. Strike three — for every job opening I’ve applied, there are over 300 applicants according to each business who allow a follow up call. With the U3 unemployment holding steady at 9.6percent and U6 at 17 percent for the past 18 months, the chances of me or any 99er landing a job is less than winning the Mega Million Jackpot. On top of that, even the most conservative economists admit unemployment will not start to fall before 2012 and most predict up to seven years of this crap.

I believe the Congress and President have no intention of really aiding the unemployed — due to various political reasons and their total removal from the suffering of most Americans, their cold-hearted, self-serving natures. Had they really wanted to help us, they could have used unspent stimulus monies or cut foolish costs like the failed wars or foreign aid, and farm subsidies. The unspent stimulus money alone cold have taken care of ALL unemployed persons for five years or until the unemployment rate reached 7 percent if Congress and the President really wanted to help us — and not string us all along with a meager safety net that fails every few months. In any case, if I were to survive homelessness (would be like winning the mega-millions) and with those three strikes against me, in seven more years, I’ll be near 70 with the new retirement age at 70 — now who will hire an old homeless guy out of work for nine years with just a few years until retirement?

So, here I am. Long term unemployed, older man, with chronic health problems, now totally broke, hungry, facing eviction. My landlady should really be an advocate for the unemployed — she bangs on my door demanding I take action. A phone call and a “please” are not enough for her — she is angry. She is right to be angry with me, I am unemployed — as apparently everyone is now angry with us unemployed.

Two hundred and eleven and social services cannot help single men. Food banks and other charities are unable to help any more folks — they are overwhelmed with the poor in this nation. So I have the “freedom” to be homeless and destitute and “pursue happiness” in garbage cans and then die — yay for America huh? It’s the end of November and cold. A diabetic homeless older person will experience amputations in the winter months. So I will be raiding garbage cans for food, as my body literally falls apart, a foot here, a finger there. I have experienced and even worked with pain from my diseases — hardship I can face. I just cannot muster the courage to slowly die in agony and humiliation in the gutter.

I have no family, I have no friends. For the past two years, I’ve had nobody to talk with as people who knew me react to the “unemployed” label as if it were leprosy and contagious. I am not a bad person, in fact people really like me. But everyone seems to be on a tight budget these days and living in incredible fear. It is hopeless since we all are hearing more and more that we unemployed are to blame for unemployment, that we are just lazy, that we are no good, that we are sinners, that we are druggies, yet we are the victims who suffer and are punished while the robber baron banksters and tycoons become senators, congress, presidents and petty kings. So the only option left for me is merciful self euthanasia.

It is with a heavy heart that I have set my death in motion, but what I am facing is not living. So off I go, I have made peace with God and placed my burden on Jesus and He forgives me. This nation has become evil to the core, with cold-hearted politicians and tycoons squeezing what little Main Street Americans have left. It is not the America into which I was born — the land of the free and the home of the brave with kind folks who help neighbors — it is now land of the Tycoon-haves and the rest of us have-nots who march into hopelessness and despair.

Every unemployed person I have met over these past two years have been saintly. Sharing what little they have, and being charitable — being kind and patient and supportive. Isn’t it amazing that we Americans who suffer so much, have not taken to the streets in violence, riots or gotten out the guillotines and marched on tycoons and Washington in revolt as would happen in most other nations? But rather we plead with deaf politicians to please help us. We don’t demand huge sums — just 300 bucks a week, barely enough to cover housing for most. Most of all we say, please help us get a job, please allow us dignity.

I can’t help but juxtapose our plight to the tycoons and politicians. They are never satisfied with their enormous wealth, and always want more millions no matter whom it hurts. They STEAL from pension funds, banks, the people and government, and little Wall Street investors. Then rather than face punishment, they become petty kings in this world. They are disloyal to America, unpatriotic, and serve their own foreign UN-American greedy causes and demand more and more and more. I feel that this is not the nation into which I was born. I was born in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. America, where people give as much as they receive. America, where all people work for the common good, and try to leave a better and more prosperous nation for the next generation. America, where people help their neighbors and show charity and mercy. This new America is alien to me — it is an America of greed and corruption and avarice and mean spirited selfishness and hatred of the common good — it is an America of savage beasts roaring and tearing at the weak, and bullying the humble and peacemakers and poor and those without means to defend themselves. I am not welcome here anymore. I don’t belong here anymore. It’s as if some evil beast controls government, the economy, and our lives now.

I must go now, my home is someplace else. Goodbye and God bless you all. God bless the unemployed and poor and elderly and disabled. God bless America and the American people except the tycoons and politicians — may God retain the sins of tycoons and politicians and phony preachers and send them to the Devil.

Mark

 

Just Another Day in an Evil Corporation

“We have all been trained to identify more closely with the abusive personal and social dynamics we call civilization than with our own life and the lives of those around us, including the landbase. People will do anything—go to any absurd length—to hide the abuse from themselves and everyone around them. Everything about this culture—and I mean everything—from its absurd “entertainment” to its equally absurd “philosophy” to its politics to its science to its interspecies relations to its intrahuman relations is all about protecting the abusive dynamics.”
 ~ Derrick Jensen, Endgame

I noticed the following clear example of corporate propaganda. It starts off seeming like a real news report, but it becomes clear that this is just corporate news rationalizing away corporate wrongdoing. I don’t know if there is a direct conflict of interest. It could just be institutionalized bias in giving big business the benefit of the doubt even when the evidence is damning.

I was able to see this as corporate propaganda because I’d already seen other reports about it from sources outside of the mainstream. What caught my attention was the info left out and the way the reported info was spun. Several details I recall (hopefully I’m recalling correctly) from the other news report are:

  • The workers have long days (as I recall something like up to 15 hr days) which would, of course, be illegal in the US.
  • The workers have high quotas and are penalized if they don’t meet those quotas.
  • The workers have high incidents of repetitive injury which causes them to lose their jobs at high rates and I’m sure they don’t have disability compensation like we have in the US.
  • The workers are the poorest of the poor in a society that has almost no opportunity for the poor.
  • The workers have families who depend on their paychecks.

To be fair, this news report did report one unpleasant truth. They mentioned that the managers had a history of abusing workers.

These workers are young people from rural areas. This is their first employment and first time away from family. They are simultaneously isolated from everything they knew and they are surrounded by strangers. In fact, they are forced to live in a room with eight other workers and so have no personal space or time to themselves. They have little chance to make friends as they’re constantly working and there is high turnover. The factory is entirely enclosed and so the workers have their entire lives controlled by the corporation. Worse still, this oppressive factory exists in one of the most oppressive countries in the developed world. These workers have little if any legal recourse and I truly doubt they have union representation. These are just poor people to be used up in a year or two and then replaced (like cogs in a machine) by an endless supply of the desperately poor.

All of this is done to create cheap products for rich people around the world. Foxconn makes parts for companies such as Apple (iPhone and iPad), Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Nokia.

The news report wasn’t half bad for corporate media. They were honest about some of the issues, but they had to spin it right at the end. Suicide cluster? They compare it to angsty teenagers who commit suicide because other angsty teenagers had committed suicide. They have got to be kidding. If they’re going to be in the business of corporate propaganda, they need to do a better job than that.

For more detailed info, here is the section from the Wikipedia article on Foxconn:

In June 2006, allegations of Foxconn operating abusive employment practices came to light as reported by Mail that were later denied by Foxconn.[8][9] Apple launched an investigation into these claims.[10] The result was that the claims of mistreatment of employees were judged by the Apple inspection team to be largely unfounded, but the inspection team also discovered that at peak production times some of the employees were working more hours than Apple’s acceptable “Code of Conduct” limit of 60 hours and 25% of the time workers did not get at least one day off each week.[11] These same workers complained there were not enough overtime work during off peak periods. The auditing team also discovered that workers had been punished by being made to stand at attention for extended periods,[12] and junior employees were subjected to military-style drills.[13]

Foxconn admitted that it makes workers do an extra 80 hours overtime per month while the local labor law only permits 36 hours[14] Foxconn sued Wang You and Weng Bao of China Business News, the journalists responsible for revealing these practices, for $3.77 million and filed a successful court ruling to have the journalists’ assets frozen.[15] Some disagree with the demands and the court ruling.[16] Reporters Without Borders sent a letter to Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs to implore Foxconn to drop the case.[17] Later Foxconn reduced the demand to a symbolic 1 yuan (12 U.S. cents), withdrew the request to freeze the journalists’ personal assets and initiated legal proceedings to sue their employer.[citation needed]

In a conversation between a Reuters journalist who had visited the Foxconn factory and a BBC interviewer broadcast on 27th May 2010,[18] the Reuters journalist commented that “many workers told us that throughout their shift…they are not allowed to speak at all, so there is absolutely no conversation at all between workers during their shift”.

It obviously annoyed me that this was corporate propaganda at worst and corporate spin at best. However, what specifically annoyed me was that this was just another day in the world of capitalism. Our wealth is built on immense suffering. Factories like this exist all over the world. People are abused by management, driven to suicide and harmed by unsafe working conditions. They’re poor when get these jobs and they’re poor after the company gets rid of them (if they don’t get rid of themselves first).

The same mentality that allows Foxconn to operate as it does also allows BP to operate the way it has been operating. While the rich get richer, the poor suffer and the environment is destroyed. This is how capitalism operates, how it has always operated.

This disgusts me. We in the West like to feel morally superior because we no longer enslave our own poor and we no longer persecute our own indigenous, but our capitalist system is dependent on countries that still do these things. I can’t even begin to explain how much this disgusts me. I really don’t see the average transnational corporation being any better than the average totalitarian government. These people are the worse of the worse. Even studies have proven that people who get positions in upper management show higher rates of sociopathic behavior. It’s just an obvious fact. Anyone with eyes to see can see the obvious. Yet, corporate media goes on spinning their stories.

This kind of evil is in some ways worse than something like the oppression under a Hitler, Stalin or Mao. At least, we (in the “civilized” world) can look back at those totalitarian governments and see them honestly as manifestations of the worst in humans. The immorality of corporations, however, is so much more subtle and hidden. We don’t have to see or even know about all of the suffering. It happens elsewhere to other people. I’m continually surprised by how ignorant most people are (including educated people) about what goes on in the world, but what saddens me is that most people don’t seem to care. It breaks my heart again and again.

No matter how outraged I feel, I can’t do anything to stop it. Every major corporation does business in oppressive countries. In capitalism, there is no choice between buying products from moral or immoral companies. They’re all immoral… or at least they’re all part of the same immoral system. Foxconn, for example, makes parts for all of the major technology companies. Most of the time, you don’t know (and can’t find out) where products and parts are made and where the natural resources were taken and how. Few people want to know… just as long as it doesn’t harm them personally. The only way to not contribute to the evil that is capitalism would be to entirely go off the grid and not even buy so much as a nail to pound two boards together.

To be honest, corporations in and of themselves aren’t the real problem. They are just a symptom of the disease. We all are the disease. We all are a part of the corruption and despair. It’s just a fact that capitalism as it exists couldn’t continue as it is without all of our support, whether overt or implicit. The same poor who are oppressed also join the various militaries of the world and oppress others. The wealthy may think they’re above it all, but they’re not. The disease touches everything, corrupts everything. Pollution and violence knows no political boundaries. The rich and the poor blindly follow along the path that those before them have travelled. The suicide of the Foxconn workers is just a sign of the collective suicide that the human species is committing.

“What does a scanner see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner ? see into me ? into us ? clearly or darkly? I hope it does see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.”

Integral… ?

Integral… ?

Posted on Jul 17th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
Access_public Access: Public What do you think? Print // Post this!views (176)  

Fiction Books From My Past Vaguely Remembered

There are some books I’m trying to remember from my past.

 – – –

(1) When I was in 7th grade, I discovered in the school library an author who wrote a series of books. 

The story was about a boy and older man who is a wizard.  I believe it took place in the US somewhere.  The kid was essentially an apprentice, but there was nothing formal about it.  Even the wizard I don’t think dressed oddly.  It wasn’t like Harry Potter.  The wizards and witches were just normal people. 

In one book, the boy finds a small statue of liberty and removes it from a house.  It turns out it was cursed.  In some book (that one or another), the boy and the wizard are driving in a car and being chased by a witch also in a car (or at least I think the chase was enirely in cars, and the boy and wizard cross a bridge where the witch can’t follow because of the running water.  I read several of the books in the series and I wish I could remember who the author was.

 – – –

(2) The next book was after I graduated from high school and so was in the mid 1990s (probably 1996), but I don’t know when the novel was published. 

The story was about two guys who are friends and a girl.  I believe both guys were in love with the girl or else only one of them was in love with her at first.  One friend kills himself by jumping off a dam, and I remember the surviving friend later on visiting the dam and contemplating his friend.  As I remember it, the surviving friend and the girl hook up, but I can’t remember what happened to their relationship.  I believe this was going on in the summertime.  Near the end of the book, the surviving friend goes to a beach where he meets a guy who he looks up to.  The guy is very energetic and it later shown after he crashes that he has manic-depression.  It’s a coming of age story.  I suppose it was depressing, but I remember being very moved by it. 

If I remember correctly, the title was something like Save the Last Dance, Save the Last Dance for Me, Last Dance, or even maybe it was Last Summer… I swear there was a “Last” in the title somewhere, but I could be wrong (I might be mixing the title up with some entirely different book).

 – – –

I’ve done many websearches about these books.  No matter what words I put in the search, I can’t find the books I’m looking for.  I don’t know how to find books when one doesn’t know either titles or authors.  I’m writing this blog post in the hope that someone out there will notice it and give me an answer.

I sometimes really really wish I had a better memory.