On of the more popular pieces I wrote last year was called The Dying Americans (including among spammers promoting escorts in Dubai). It seemed to hit a nerve with a lot of people.
I think some of the main points of that piece may have gotten muddied somewhat, however. I argued that given bleakness of living in the horror show that the modern-day America has become, suicide is actually a rational option for many people. For a large and growing segment of the population, there truly is no hope. I’m less surprised by the rise in the suicide rate than the fact that it isn’t even higher than it is. I’m more amazed at what makes people go on in this vicious, hellish, Social Darwinist dystopia.
Furthermore, I argued that this was by design. I argued that eliminationism is an intentional, albeit unstated, policy of the ruling class of this country. From their perspective, it really would be more convenient, all things considered, if the excess population, would, you know, just sort of take care of themselves and not cause too much bother on their way out.
As my evidence, I noted that things like medical care and health services were being intentionally denied and curtailed by Republican governors of many states, even when it cost them nothing. There is simply no reason to do this besides ideology. They want their poor to die faster. And it’s working.
An 86-year-old Port St. Lucie man said he killed his wife while she slept because she was in poor health and he could no longer afford her medications…William J. Hager said he had been thinking about killing his wife Carolyn for several days because she was in pain…After Hager shot his wife, he went to his kitchen and drank coffee, called his daughters and later dialed 911, the affidavit said.
Records show the Hagers filed for bankruptcy in 2011. Staff at the Hands of St. Lucie County clinic say this is a tragic situation. They help people whose insurance won’t cover necessary medications. “These stories you hear from quite many people, that they actually decide whether they are going to pay the electric bill this month or buy the drug that may be keeping them alive,” said Andrew Passeri, Executive Director at Hands of St. Lucie County.
Maine’s supposedly progressive city of Portland is on the verge of compounding the LePage-wrought human rights disaster by potentially shuttering the India Street Public Health Center, the city’s only public clinic that provides overdose antidote prescriptions, sexually transmitted infection testing, a needle-exchange program and an HIV positive primary health care clinic that even the local government acknowledges has a stellar track record…Some members of Portland’s all-Democrat city council are justifying putting this clinic on the austerity chopping block by trumpeting their simultaneous pursuit of a privatization scheme that will rely on a non-profit clinic, the Portland Community Health Center, which is eligible for federal funding. Yet language about “fiscal responsibility” and “transfer of services” cannot obscure the fact that the closure is one particularly devastating part of a larger push to slash public healthcare spending by a quarter, at a time the city should be expanding lifesaving services.
The vulnerable are always the first to go.
The title of my post was inspired by The Dying Russians, a harrowing portrait of the morbid consequences of the fall of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union. That shock extracted a heavy death toll on the population that anyone would classify as a legitimate dieoff. The demographic fallout is felt even today, such as the skewed gender ratios (men died off at a higher rate than women, largely due to alcohol poisoning). Yet we are told that no such shock happened in America, just a short recession in 2008 that we have mostly recovered from. Yet the death rates are eerily similar, and they go back long before 2008. Is it possible our media propaganda machine is so powerful that a nation can collapse without us even knowing it? The evidence sure seems to indicate it. The old-style Soviets propagandists would be green with envy—the Americans have outdone them yet again!
The fact that the peasants are killing themselves in droves flies in the face of the Panglossian “You’ve never had it so good!!!” op-ed pieces regularly issuing from the mainstream media bullhorn. When the amounts of suicides and overdoses in your country is increasing by leaps and bounds every year, it acts as a potent refutation of the idea that every day in every way, things are getting better and better for everyone. Bigger screens are not much of a salve when a large and growing amount of your citizens are so tormented by life that they choose death as preferable to living in contemporary America.
The predictable “Even the poor have indoor plumbing,” rhetoric probably isn’t going to change the minds of many people in the post-industrial sacrifice zones of Middle America, but then again it isn’t meant to. It’s meant to be consumed by people in the elite citadels where extensive dynastic wealth and financialization ensure comfortable lifestyles and access to the all the credentials, gongs, and social connections it takes to get into the last few remaining high-paying non-service jobs in the government or corporate bureaucracy. It is designed to normalize the way things are and keep elites in their comfortable, filtered bubble, so that they can sleep with a clear conscience. You can rest easy in Palo Alto and the Hamptons tonight and not worry about the bodies of dead peasants piling up in morgues all across the country. You see, the peasantry is just to stupid to realize how good they’ve got it! I mean, even the Sun King Louis XIV didn’t have a smart phone, for Christ’s sake!!!
These articles are typically written by the children of those same elites doing unpaid internships after grad school in the world’s most fantastically expensive cities. They will become the opinion makers and shapers of the next generation, and their message will be the same: globalization was a roaring success; we created all the new jobs we needed to in the face of ongoing deindustrializtion and automation, and anyone left behind has only themselves to blame and is probably a racist to boot. “Why didn’t they just attend M.I.T. like I did?”
For example, Paul Krugman, who seem to be intent on shredding whatever credibility he once had, takes a pleasant stroll around the modern-day Versailles of Manhattan and declares everything better than ever in attempt to be the Marie Antoinette of his generation. Let them eat bagels!
If you want to feel good about the state of America, you could do a lot worse than what I did this morning: take a run in Riverside Park. There are people of all ages, and, yes, all races exercising, strolling hand in hand, playing with their dogs, kicking soccer balls and throwing Frisbees. There are a few homeless people, but the overall atmosphere is friendly – New Yorkers tend to be rushed, but they’re not nasty – and, well, nice.
Yes, the Upper West Side is affluent. But still, I’ve seen New York over the decades, and it has never been as pleasant, as safe in feel, as it is now. And this is the big bad city!
The point is that lived experience confirms what the statistics say: crime hasn’t been lower, society hasn’t been safer, in generations. ..
Will Fear Strike Out? (The Conscience of a Liberal)
Meanwhile, outside of the Acela corridor, things don’t look quite so rosy. People are dying at rates that would have been considered a national emergency between 1950 through 1970’s. But it’s not anymore. Why not? And why does no one care?
Middle-aged people laid off and unable to find work are taking another way out. They’re killing themselves.
Suicide rates are soaring, according to federal data released last week. Especially in economically depressed states and job-starved upstate New York. People in need of work are twice as likely to take their own lives as employed people, and people fired in their 40s and 50s find it hardest to get hired again.
That makes boosting economic growth a life-or-death issue for many. But you wouldn’t know it listening to President Obama and Hillary Clinton. President Obama whitewashes reality, claiming the “American economy is pretty darn good right now.”
Chicago is on pace for more than 600 homicides in a single year for the first time since 2003. The country’s third-biggest city has had more killings so far this year than the two larger cities — New York and Los Angeles — combined.
As often noted in the passionate writings of Henry Giroux, poor Americans are becoming increasingly ‘disposable’ in our winner-take-all society. After 35 years of wealth distribution to the super-rich, inequality has forced much of the middle class towards the bottom, to near-poverty levels, and to a state of helplessness in which they find themselves being blamed for their own misfortunes.
According to Pew Research, in 1970 three of every ten income dollars went to upper-income households. Now five of every ten dollars goes to them.
The Social Security Administration reports that over half of Americans make less than $30,000 per year. That’s less than an appropriate average living wage of $16.87 per hour, as calculated by Alliance for a Just Society.
Numerous sources report that half or more of American families have virtually no savings, and would have to borrow money or sell possessions to cover an emergency expense. Between half and two-thirds of Americans have less than $1,000.
For every $100 owned by a middle-class household in 2001, that household now has just $72.
Not surprisingly, race plays a role in the diminishing of middle America. According to Pew Research, the typical black family has only enough liquid savings to last five days, compared to 12 days for the typical Hispanic household, and 30 days for a white household.
The evidence for the health-related disposability of poor Americans comes from a new study that finds nearly a 15 year difference in life expectancy for 40-year-olds among the richest 1% and poorest 1% (10 years for women). Much of the disparity has arisen in just the past 15 years.
It’s not hard to understand the dramatic decline in life expectancy, as numerous studies have documented the health problems resulting from the inequality-driven levels of stress and worry and anger that make Americans much less optimistic about the future. The growing disparities mean that our children will likely see less opportunities for their own futures.
Disposable Americans: The Numbers are Growing (Common Dreams)
But of course, these people are non-people, and these areas are non-areas. After all, since deindustrialization, we just created all sort of terrific new service jobs, didn’t we? Everything just worked out okay! Ignore the open-air drug markets, boarded up storefronts, tent cities and people with cardboard signs standing beside freeway off-ramps in flyover country. New York and San Francisco look better than ever, and that’s what matters to people who work for the six media conglomerates which manufacture ninety percent of what we see and hear every day.
The old Soviet model suppressed “free speech” and locked dissidents up in gulags. Under the American model, you’re “free” to say whatever you like, because it makes no difference whatsoever to the people in charge thanks to the influence of the mainstream media. And instead of gulags, “undesirables” are just deprived of the means of subsistence until they just sort of, you know, go away. Or maybe they are arrested for some sort of imaginary “crime” like drug possession or failing to pay a parking ticket. Even homelessness is a crime now. As Goethe said, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
As I said in my original article, they don’t have to kill you if they can get you to kill yourself. Judging by the all evidence, that’s been a roaring success:
Imagine that the rate of terrorism deaths in the US had risen dramatically over the past 15 years.
Imagine that this rise in deaths had been remarkably widespread, affecting almost all identifiable demographic groups.
Imagine if more than 40,000 people a year died from terrorist attacks in this country, rather than a bare handful.
Imagine if terrorism were one of the 10 leading causes of death in the US.
It’s almost an impossible hypothetical; the impact would simply be too massive to really grasp.
After all, though the impact of terrorist violence on the United States has been negligible since the September 11, 2001, attacks, we’ve already made massive changes to the basic functions of our system to combat it. We’ve tortured; we’ve jailed people without trial for a decade and a half; we’ve undertaken a system of vast warrantless surveillance; we’ve built an immense, and immensely expensive, infrastructure for combatting terrorism. All in the face of a threat that kills a negligible number of people.Yet the conditions I outlined above accurately describe another killer, one that attracts far less attention: suicide.
The National Center for Health Statistics recently released a major study, examining the national trends in suicide. The results are grim: The age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased a staggering 24% from 1999 to 2014. Increases were seen in every age group except for those 75 and above and in every racial and gender category except for black men. The national rate rose to 13 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014. Contrast that with homicide, which killed 5.1 Americans per 100,000 in 2013. We instinctively fear the murderer hiding in the bushes, but we are at far greater risk from ourselves.
America’s suicide epidemic has gotten worse (Business Insider)
More Americans are dying, a new report shows. For the first time in many years, the overall death rate ticked up in 2015, according to new federal data.
“Among the causes of death included in this report, increases between 2014 and 2015 in both crude and age-adjusted death rates were observed for Alzheimer’s disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, chronic lower respiratory diseases, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, septicemia, homicide, firearm-related injury, suicide, and unintentional injury and drug overdose,” the NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in its report.
The number of white, non-Hispanic Americans dying aged between 45 and 54 years old has jumped significantly. If the mortality rate was still the same as between 1979 and 1998, half a million deaths between 1999 to 2013 could have been avoided, according to research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis are to blame, especially among the less educated, it found. Drug poisoning has already become a more common cause of death than lung cancer, and now suicide is poised to become more common, too.
The decline in caucasian Americans’ mortality bears resemblance to what happened during peak of the AIDS epidemic, which killed 650,000 people between 1981 and 2015. Public awareness of AIDS increased, and along with behavioral change and drug therapy, the disease was brought under control, but PNAS found that this generation taking drugs could “age into Medicare” in worse health than the current elderly.
It’s not a figment of your imagination. Eliminationism is real. It’s the Final Solution for the working class.
What obscures this is the fact that it’s not usually active elimination. Once and a while, it does become up-close and personal, such as in the significant amount of homeless people who are routinely shot and killed by police each year. My guess is the Black Lives Matter movement correctly inferred that all those stray bullets finding their way into black people across the country were just a more direct means of dealing with them than having to go through the complicated and expensive legal system.
Most police encounters do not end in people getting killed. But far too many do. Every two days, a black person is shot by the police. It can be easy for some to say that espousing a sense of fear for a routine police encounter is hyperbolic and counterproductive. But one can only say such a thing when those who look like them have not been deemed disposable by the state. In the past several years, we have been witness to more and more black men and women dying on the other side of the camera lens, and earlier this month we saw two more.
The stream of names of those who have been killed at the hands of the police feels endless, and I become overwhelmed when I consider all the names we do not know—all of those who lost their lives and had no camera there to capture it, nothing to corroborate police reports that named them as threats. Closed cases. I watch the collective mourning transpire across my social-media feeds. I watch as people declare that they cannot get out of bed, cannot bear to go to work, cannot function as a human being is meant to function. This sense of anxiety is something I have become unsettlingly accustomed to. The familiar knot in my stomach. The tightness in my chest. But becoming accustomed to something does not mean that it does not take a toll. Systemic racism always takes a toll, whether it be by bullet or by blood clot.
…Living under the perpetual and pervasive threat of racism seems, for black men and black women, to quite literally reduce lifespans. Black people face social and economic challenges—often deriving from institutionalized racism—in the form of disparities in education, housing, food, medical care, and many other things. But the act of interfacing with prejudice itself has profound psychological implications, resulting in the sorts of trauma that last long beyond the incidents themselves.
Perhaps just as important, according to research published this past December in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, simply perceiving or anticipating discrimination contributes to chronic stress that can cause an increase in blood-pressure problems, coronary-artery disease, cognitive impairment, and infant mortality. Black Americans do not have to directly experience police brutality to experience the negative health ramifications of its possibility. And that fear is not something grounded in paranoia. As President Obama noted in his speech after the deaths of Sterling and Castile, these disparities in treatment at the hands of the police are well-documented.
Racism, Stress, and Black Death (The New Yorker)
But then, again, homeless people and black criminals deserve to die, right?
Right? Certainly a lot of Americans think this way. And people wonder how the holocaust could have happened.
For the rest of the population,however, it’s more passive elimniationism that rules the day. Here’s a brief sketch:
1.) Shrink the pool of jobs that pay enough to live on. Make it so that they are not able to sell their labor power at any price. Concentrate poverty in ghettos that can be safely be ignored by the people living outside of it.
2.) Increase the credential requirements for the remaining jobs in order to restrict them to the offspring of the affluent and well-connected. As people become more and more desperate for lifeboat jobs, jack up the price of these credentials into the stratosphere and profit $$$. It’s a whole new income steam for debt. Of course, most graduates will never get these jobs, just as not all people in a game of musical chairs will get a chair. That’s not an opinion, it’s just math. But don’t ever acknowledge that fact.
3.) Blame the people who didn’t get those jobs for their own predicament. Promote “rugged individualism.” There are an endless number of bingos out there: STEM degrees, worker retraining, become a plumber, McDonalds is always hiring, etc. Tell them that they just need to get more “skills” for the “jobs of the future,” or that they need to “Hop in the U-Haul” and “move to where the jobs are.” Once these internal economic refugees leave their decaying post-industrial hellholes and make their way to the bright lights of Seattle, L.A., Boston or Denver like modern-day Okies, their future will be bright, the pundits tell us. If they don’t, well, then they are just stubborn mules who deserve what they get. Here’s a prime example courtesy of The National Review:
The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves…It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.
Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. …
The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. … The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.
3.) Use the media to normalize the situation. For example, the media constantly proclaims that the economy is doing great and the professional economist class tells us that the unemployment rate is only five percent. We’re at full employment!!! And college degree-holders make so much more money! If there is one reliably consistent message in the mainstream media, it is that a college degree is always a “good investment” and if you don’t get one you deserve to make sub-minimum wages, if you make any wages at all, that is.
4.) Restrict abortion so the peasants will continue to breed no matter how immiserated and desperate they become. Yes, they are worthless useless eaters, but you need the extra people to keep wages low, and the more extra people, the lower the wages. The excess people will sort themselves out, as per below.
5.) Promote the idea that people are simply paid “what they’re worth”. i.e. their “marginal productivity.” Argue that supply and demand and uneven power relations play no role whatsoever. After all, it’s been “scientifically proven” by the economists! Also, make sure and tell them “government can’t create jobs” and that the reason there aren’t enough jobs to go around is because taxes are too high combined with an overly generous welfare state.
6.) Minimize public assistance to the greatest extent politically possible so workers are desperate. If some of them starve or die from preventable diseases, oh well, that’s just natural selection in action. Once they are desperate enough, they will take anything. Be sure and use racial animosity to help nurture this process—people will happily suffer if they know the people they hate are suffering more.
7.) Make sure guns and lethal opiates are plentiful and readily available to the general public. I’m a little skeptical that the opiate epidemic allegedly caused by doctor’s prescriptions just sort of “accidentally happened.” And gun culture is heavily promoted among the very bottom-most strata of the white working class. Those guns almost always end up in their own mouths, or pointed at their friends and relatives, rather than at the scary brown hordes or jack-booted government thugs of their fevered imaginations.
Days After Kids Go Back To School, They’re Already Being Shot (ThinkProgress)
8.) If people have the temerity not to quietly slink off into a corner and die, make sure you have plenty of security forces to cart them off to jail if they get uppity. The people in Americas vast carceral system, the world’s largest by far, become official non-persons. They are not counted as unemployed and they have no constitutional rights—slavery is 100% legal if convicted of a crime. Many prisoners work for pennies a day for some of the largest corporations in the world.
Jail is a big business, both for bail bondsman and for cash-strapped counties in the South (some of which are notorious for stopping out-of-state black people on any imaginable pretext so as to hold them up for bail money). Many court dockets, particularly in poor, populous locations, are completely swamped with cases without remotely enough resources to process everyone according to the rules of due process. One quick and easy shortcut is to load up the accused with as many charges as possible, demand a gigantic bail, and rely on fear and economic pressure to secure a guilty plea. (Some 97 percent of cases which are not dismissed are settled by plea bargaining.)
It’s hard to say how many legally innocent people are jailed in this way. At any given moment, roughly 646,000 people are in American jails, but there is also tremendous churn in and out of the jail system — 11.4 million admissions in 2014 alone.
The fact that millions of these people probably sat in jail for lack of money is nothing less than a moral abomination.
9.) Normalize that using the media. If you have nothing to hide, why worry, right? It can’t happen to you, just get back to work. Maybe check out all the ways tech is going to totally transform your life!
10.) If the number of proles actually threatens to go down because of soaring death rate and plummeting birth rate, (despite #5), simply import from the bottomless pool of workers abroad. There are enough Hispanic line cooks and Indian engineers to last until the end of time—they breed like rabbits. The new electorate will be forever grateful for their shot at the “American Dream” and for getting them out of whichever failed state they came from, and will vote accordingly. Depict anyone who opposes this as a racist bigot. This is why both mainstream political parties, economists, and the media all support open borders.
The remaining “disciplined” workers will continue to be happy turkeys so long as they are regularly fed and watered by their owners. After all, the ones who got their heads lopped off clearly did something to deserve it, didn’t they? They will continue to think that even while Thanksgiving approaches.
Whether this plan was hatched in an apocryphal smoke-filled room or not (probably not), it’s pretty clear that, to paraphrase the malfunctioning Marco Rubio, “Let’s not pretend that the people in charge don’t know what they’re doing. They know exactly what they’re doing.”
The sad thing is the American people are happily going along with the program. They’re too busy being clawing each others’ eyes out thanks to media-manufactured “culture wars” to put up any effective resistance, unlike during the Great Depression. Either that, or they’re working two jobs to keep a roof over their head or heading off to school for yet another wildly expensive diploma so that some other poor sap ends up in living in their car instead of them.
Now the white working class are the nation’s new n*ggers:
His solution to every problem had always been work. Work harder. Work weekends. Work doubles. Work a second job. In Northeast Indiana, the epicenter of American manufacturing, everything was right there if you were just willing to work for it, so in the weeks after the announcement Setser had taken every available shift, increasing his hours and working 19 consecutive nights while still making it back home on school days to stand on the porch and wait for the bus.
Together between his overtime and Bowers’s small salary at another manufacturer in Fort Wayne, they had remained firmly in the middle class by finding ways to make their money stretch. When they wanted to drive to Florida for their first overnight vacation in a decade, Setser could volunteer for more overtime to save up the cash. When they wanted a new TV, he could spend the 10 percent premium he earned for working third shift. He had cashed out part of his 401(k) account to pay for his daughter’s braces, purchased some of their basic household items with credit cards and taken out a no-money-down loan on their $95,000 house.
He had never worried too much about saving money, because there was always more to make. Every night was another shift. Every week was another paycheck. It was Day One to Day Dead, but now a few executives from Mexico had begun visiting the UTEC factory to prepare for the move and the layoff was closing in.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, there was an urgent and acute perception that we were in a crisis, and the people in charge needed to do something about it, or else. By contrast, today “we” have successfully eliminated a large portion of the workforce, and degraded a swath of the United States the size of Western Europe down to sub-Saharan African levels of poverty, violence and destitution without so much as a hint of resistance. Or even an acknowledgement from economists and the media that it even happened!
The existence of a professional class of economists and the media is the major difference between then and now, and they serve their purpose admirably. Every culture has ways to get rid of undesirables; some ways are just more direct than others.
They are what the popular blog post at More Crows than Eagles dubbed the Unecessariat. These are the people who just have no role in society anymore, so we’re just happy to stand by and watch them die, whistling past the graveyard hoping that we won’t become one of them someday. First they came for the trade unionists, but I did not speak out because i was not a trade unionist…
The viral article offers a visceral boots-on-the-ground depiction of the silent holocaust happening in middle America:
A typical day would include three overdoses, one infant suffocated by an intoxicated parent sleeping on top of them, one suicide, and one other autopsy that could be anything from a tree-felling accident to a car wreck (this distribution reflects that not all bodies are autopsied, obviously.) You start to long for the car wrecks.
The workers would tell jokes. To get these jokes you have to know that toxicology results take weeks to come back, but autopsies are typically done within a few days of death, so generally the coroners don’t know what drugs are on board when they cut up a body. First joke: any body with more than two tattoos is an opiate overdose (tattoos are virtually universal in the rural midwest). Second joke: the student residents will never recognize a normal lung (opiates kill by stopping the brain’s signal to breathe; the result is that fluid backs up in the lungs creating a distinctive soggy mess, also seen when brain signalling is interrupted by other causes, like a broken neck). Another joke: any obituary under fifty years and under fifty words is drug overdose or suicide. Are you laughing yet?
And yet this isn’t seen as a crisis, except by statisticians and public health workers. Unlike the AIDS crisis, there’s no sense of oppressive doom over everyone. There is no overdose-death art. There are no musicals. There’s no community, rising up in anger, demanding someone bear witness to their grief. There’s no sympathy at all. The term of art in my part of the world is “dirtybutts.” Who cares? Let the dirtybutts die.
The article points out that the increased deaths are equivalent to the AIDS epidemic at its height. Yet there is no alarm, no sense of crisis or urgency on the part of elites or the general public. Instead, we are all told that this is the new order of things. The people in the shrinking winners circle are there because they are better people, you see, and they are the only ones that matter. So you’d better do what it takes to join them, or else. Maybe invent the next Facebook. And God help you if your children don’t graduate at the top of the class.
Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!
It wasn’t always that way, of course:
In an interview with the US PBS service (December 26, 2013) – Tracking the breakdown of American social institutions in ‘The Unwinding’ – George Packer described the “breakdown of institutions” in this way:
“And a social contract that sort of underwrote all of them, a contract that said if you work hard, if you essentially are a good citizen, there will be a place for you, not only an economic place, you will have a secure life, your kids will have a chance to have a better life, but you will sort of be recognized as part of the national fabric. And over the generation of my adult life, going back to the late 70s, that fabric has come unraveled, and the contract has essentially been torn up.”
He implicates policy makers who abandoned support from promoting a well-paid workforce:
“And, instead, workers became disposable. Their wages flattened out. And the benefits of our free enterprise system went more and more to the top. And so we have more of a society of winners and losers.”
And the media is solely focused on the winners. After all, they’re the only ones with the money to buy the advertisers’ products.
Competitive individualism and the cult of personal failure have ensured that, unlike a disease, we will perceive ourselves as deserving of our fate. You can’t cure AIDS by studying harder, after all, and diseases don’t care what your IQ is. The above article correctly asserts that the destruction of any sort of sense of community explains why the white working class, just like the blacks before them, are as lambs to the slaughter.
The original apostles of the Market promulgated it as the best and most effective way to ensure collective prosperity for all. It was a utilitarian ideal – the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Sure, some unfortunate folks get thrown under the bus from time to time, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, after all. The ends always justify the means, argued the great Liberal economists.
They said this about the Enclosure Movement, and they said it again with Globalization. It will make us all better off in the long run, you’ll see. Just a generation or two of suffering during the unfortunate “transition period ” and our grandchildren will be living lives “we can’t even dream of!” After all, it’s a law of nature, just like gravity.
Now, by contrast, they don’t even try to roll out those arguments anymore, except for some naive center-leftists like the Paul Krugmans of the world. Instead, the Market (and the University system) is now promoted as sort of a Social Darwinist winnowing mechanism designed to cull the hapless and weak. Those who prosper are invariably the “fittest” of the human species because they get the highest grades in school and work the longest hours. Or maybe they can find an economic niche to exploit for a while (professional entertainers, athletes, motivational speakers, nutritional supplement peddlers, etc.).
The rest of us, by contrast, are evolutionary dead weight and would be better off dying as soon as possible to decrease the surplus population (Dickens’ clever dialogue for Ebenezer Scrooge was a sly dig at Thomas Malthus). Pure, unrestrained, unceasing, unremitting, constant struggle and competition is what ensures the “progress” of the human species in the minds of an increasing number of people, including influential libertarians and the alt-right. Eliminationism is just a part of the process. It’s for the good of the species, you see.
In other words, a large part of the population simply deserves to die. Suicide is seen as merely sort of a Social Darwinist “cleansing” of the “weak” from the population. This is in contrast to older ideas which once saw poverty in a wealthy society as something to be ashamed of, and something that could, in theory, at least be ameliorated if not eliminated outright.
Instead, the new Market apostles argue, poverty should really be maximized, because people are only poor if they are inferior. The Market distributes its rewards fairly, and this lets us identify those who are feckless and weak, and the sooner they are culled, the faster the advancement of the human species to it ultimate goal: the creation of artificial life and the expansion of humanity out into the stars. Or perhaps the ushering in of the “Singularity” where the remaining survivors of the Market mechanism will live as immortal cyborg gods traversing all time, space and dimension for all eternity. More subtle arguments simply point out decreased levels of interpersonal (but not institutional) violence and the increasing incomes of those inside the winners’ circle. The ubiquitous Stephen Pinker is the go-to guy here. And Pinker does not hide his love for “non-zero-sum, cooperative” markets as the driving force behind his utopia, making him a very convenient intellectual for the powers-that-be. “The Market makes even the poor rich,” they proclaim. It also makes a lot of them dead.
Societies have operated under Malthusian mechanisms before, of course. But this was seen as an unfortunate consequence of the way the world worked. It was conceived of as a feature of the natural world – food production increased arithmetically while population increased geometrically, leading to inevitable shortages. The power of animal reproduction was greater than the power of the earth to sustain it. But the idea that we should intentionally design human systems to eliminate large portions of the population even in times of unparalleled plenty, well, that’s something totally new.
The thing is, it’s not just the poor who are dying. As the terror of falling into vast, yawning chasm of the underclass becomes an ever-present existential dread, the unremitting strain and constant pressure of keeping up is extracting a heavy toll even on the alleged “best and the brightest.” The media-supported notion that college degree holders are doing just fine flies in the face of the evidence:
Workplace suicides are sharply on the rise internationally, with increasing numbers of employees choosing to take their own lives in the face of extreme pressures at work. Recent studies in the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Taiwan all point to a steep rise in suicides in the context of a generalized deterioration in working conditions.
Rising suicides are part of the profound transformations in the workplace that have taken place over the past 30 years. These transformations are arguably rooted in the political and economic shift to globalization that has radically altered the way we work…today’s globalized workplace is characterized by job insecurity, intense work, forced redeployments, flexible contracts, worker surveillance, and limited social protection and representation. Zero-hour contracts are the new norm for many in the hospitality and healthcare industries, for example.
One evening in 2007, Jan Yoder of Normal, Illinois noticed that her son Jason seemed more despondent than usual. Yoder had been a graduate student in organic chemistry at Illinois State University but after incurring $100,000 in student loan debt, he struggled to find a job in his field. Later that night, Jason, 35, left the family’s mobile home. Concerned about her son’s mood, Jan Yoder decided in the early morning hours to go look for him on campus, where a professor she ran into joined her in the search. The two of them discovered his body in one of the labs on campus and called campus police at 8:30AM. 32 minutes later, Jason was declared dead due to nitrogen asphyxiation.
When the story was posted on several different sites in 2007 and 2008, the Internet chatter was not always kind to the dead man. While many expressed great sympathy for Yoder and ranted against the student lending system, others were quick to invoke the “personal responsibility” argument — “it was his fault;” “why did he take out that amount of loans?;” “Mr. Yoder took out those loans . . . he had an obligation to pay them back.” — and denigrate him…
The Ones We’ve Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides (The Huffington Post)
Let’s Talk: Suicide And Student Loan Debt (The College Investor)
The night after Cameron’s death, a sophomore at Gunn named Martha Cabot put up a YouTube video that eventually logged more than 80,000 views, and comments from parents all over the country. Sitting in her bedroom in a T-shirt, with curls falling loose from her ponytail, she confirmed many parents’ worst fears about themselves. “The amount of stress on a student is ridiculous,” Martha said. “Students feel the constant need at our school of having to keep up with all the achievements.” She was recording the video mostly for parents, she explained, because apparently it took a suicide to get adults to pay attention. “We’ll do just fine, even though we got a B‑minus on that chem test,” she said. “And no, I won’t join the debate team for you.”
The Silicon Valley Suicides (The Atlantic)
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds, a 128% increase since 1980 (The Jason Foundation)
Meanwhile, the usual suspects will argue that such people deserved their fate. In the libertarian marketplace, you always get what you deserve. And that includes death.
Neoliberalism wants to achieve a utopia by neutering nation states. In the service of this utopian goal it is willing to kill a lot of people, not in battlefields or gulags, but in their own homes and communities. If you cannot make it into the lifeboats, well, that’s that’s no one’s fault but yours.
But all this means is that the conflict is no longer between nations, but between a global class of elites and the broad class of citizens within their own counties without money or connections. In this struggle, the elites are unified. They meet each another at Davos regularly. They vacation in Dubai or at the Olympics. Their kids go to the same universities (Harvard, Stanford, etc.). They may speak different first languages, but they all converse in English. They know each other by their first names. A lot of them are economists.
The several billion members of the working class, however, have never been more divided. Even workers in the same industry in the same country see themselves as competitors and enemies in the musical chairs game.
It is said that humans divide the world into in-groups and out-groups. For the elites, the in-group is other elites, and the out-groups are their own fellow citizens. And those citizens are likely to be greeted with stun grenades and tear gas from the internal police forces supported by their tax dollars if they resist. It turns out that world peace and rising incomes for the Chinese comes at a price. It’s war all right – but war by economic means.
A utopian ideology determined to subsume the whole world no matter how many people it kills. Where have we seen that before? The difference is, Neoliberalism appears to be succeeding where Communism failed. As advancing technology becomes more mature, the window of resistance will soon be forever closed, if it isn’t already. The Internet, supposedly a tool for uniting us, has been the greatest weapon in dividing us thanks to the media filters that only expose us to what we want to hear. Any visit to an online comments section will confirm that. Everyone can indulge their own biases and believe their own facts, tailor-made to order. And the digital tools of our economic liberation really just lead to wealth concentration to a greater extent than ever before, along with a strengthening of elite power and a loss of jobs. Now, the reach of global corporations is infinite, as is the spying power of the states that exclusively serve them . The rest of us will just have to fend for ourselves—under Neoliberalism, governments are just impotent hollow states. You’re on your own.
It is a digital boot stamping on the human face forever.
What [recent research] tells is almost identical to what has already been narrated for Russia and Greece. And what is responsible for the increasing death rates is neoliberal economic policy, neoliberal trade policy, and the polarization and impoverishment of a large part of society. After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, death rates soared, lifespans shortened, health standards decreased all throughout the Yeltsin administration, until finally President Putin came in and stabilized matters. Putin said that the destruction caused by neoliberal economic policies had killed more Russians than all of whom died in World War II, the 22 million people. That’s the devastation that polarization caused there.
Same thing in Greece. In the last five years, Greek lifespans have shortened. They’re getting sicker, they are dying faster, they’re not healthy. Almost all of the British economists of the late 18th century said when you have poverty, when you have a transfer of wealth to the rich, you’re going to have shorter lifespans, and you’re also going to have emigration. The countries that have a hard money policy, a creditor policy, people are going to emigrate…Now, the question is, in America, now that you’re having as a result of this polarization shorter lifespans, worse health, worse diets, where are the Americans going to emigrate? Nobody can figure that one out yet…
So it looks… this trend looks very bad. If you want to see where America is going demographically, best to look at Greece, Latvia, Russia, and also in England. Dr. Miller has done studies of health and longevity, and he’s found that the lower the income status of any group in England, the shorter the lifespan. Now, this is very important for the current debate about Social Security. You’re having people talk about extending the Social Security age because people are living longer. Who’s living longer in America? The rich are living longer. The wealthy are living longer. But if you make under $30,000 a year, or even under $50,000 a year, you’re not living longer.
Neoliberalism lowers life expectancy (Washington’s Blog)
The stories have become all too familiar in Japan, though people often do their best to ignore them. An elderly or middle-aged person, usually a man, is found dead, at home in his apartment, frequently right in his bed. It has been days, weeks, or even months since he has had contact with another human being. Often the discovery is made by a landlord frustrated at not receiving a rent payment or a neighbor who notices an unpleasant smell. The deceased has almost no connections with the world around him: no job, no relationships with neighbors, no spouse or children who care to be in contact. He has little desire to take care of his home, his relationships, his health. “The majority of lonely deaths are people who are kind of messy,” Taichi Yoshida, who runs a moving company that often cleans out apartments where people are discovered long after they die, told Time magazine. “It’s the person who, when they take something out, they don’t put it back; when something breaks, they don’t fix it; when a relationship falls apart, they don’t repair it.”
These lonely deaths are called kodokushi. Each one passes without much notice, but the phenomenon is frequent enough to be widely known. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported there were 3,700 “unaccompanied deaths” in Japan in 2013, but some researchers estimate that because of significant under-counting, the true figure is closer to 30,000. In any case, the frequency of kodokushi has been on the rise since they emerged in the 1980s.
But the increase in deaths of despair may not be unique to Japan. In November of last year, Nobel Prize–winning economist Angus Deaton and Anne Case reported a reversal in one of the most reliable and reassuring trends in modern public health: A big slice of the American populace was dying faster than expected. Deaton and Case, a pair of Princeton economists who happen to be married to each other, specifically found that the mortality rate for white people aged 45–54 without a college education had increased dramatically between 1999 and 2013. The increase ran counter to all recent historical precedent, and it contrasted with concurrent decreases among black and Hispanic people in the U.S. and nationwide decreases in all other rich countries. “Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” Deaton told the Washington Post. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with [deaths from] HIV-AIDS.” Deaton said the increase is so contrary to longstanding trends that demographers’ first reaction would be to say, “‘You’ve got to have made a mistake. That cannot possibly be true.’”
Alienation is killing Americans and Japanese (Nautilus)
Economic growth is creating a world where more and more people want to kill themselves, and more and more of them are dying alone. Individualism, exclusion, social isolation, and capitalism always go hand in hand.
The dieoff is global.
We talk about suicide prevention. But we never consider the social factors that drive people to suicide in the first place: the alienation, the despair, the struggle to secure any kind of paying work, the uncertainty as to whether you’ll be able to keep it, the debt burdens and associated harassment, the abuse and bullying in the workplace, the competition and ranking from birth on, the individualism, the social isolation, the lack of close personal relationships, the pressure to succeed, the shaming if you don’t, “no money no honey,” the culture of extreme overwork and “the devil take the hindmost” social attitudes. It’s hard to see smartphones and big screen TVs making up for all this.
It’s well-known that drug abuse is less a problem in healthy societies, despite drugs being just as common, and just as addictive. So if people are overdosing at epidemic rates, does that not tell us something? Can this be measured in GDP or income figures? Karl Polanyi wrote: “…of course, a social calamity is primarily a cultural not economic phenomenon that can be measured by income figures or population statistics…Some who would readily agree that life in a cultural void is no life at all nevertheless seem to expect that economic needs would automatically fill that void and make life appear livable under whatever conditions. This assumption is heavily contradicted by anthropological research…” In other words, rising incomes and computer gadgets do not compensate for a working atmosphere which amounts to psychological torture.
It has been said that having children is a sort of referendum on the future. But not only has the birthrate sunk to historic lows, but even the people who are already alive are deciding that it’s just not worth living. Did someone forget to tell them about the Mars rockets???
Polanyi cites the Ghost Dance of the Plains Indians as an example of an attempt to revive a dying culture destroyed by the inexorable forces of Market and globalization. Given the of Trump campaign’s emphasis on bringing back manufacturing jobs from overseas, kicking out foreigners, and “Making America Great Again™” I think it makes sense to see the Trump campaign as sort of a “Ghost Dance for White Americans.” It’s likely to be ultimately just as effective.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
At the end, I’ve no solutions to offer. Maybe, however, we should acknowledge that the way we’re going has been a failure. It’s going to lead to a lot of death, if not complete and total social breakdown. It doesn’t matter if you go faster if you’re headed in the wrong direction. Maybe we should ditch the econometric and productivist agenda rammed down our throats. Maybe we should stop listening to the mainstream media and treat economics like the pseudoscience it is. Maybe we should stop fighting our fellow citizens all the time in media-manufactured culture wars. Maybe we should acknowledge that the Fordist economy is gone for good, and that we aren’t going to automatically create enough good jobs for everyone via “impersonal market forces.” Maybe we should look for different social models, before it is too late. Maybe we should take the stigma off the unemployed and quit worshiping at the altar of the Protestant work ethic. Maybe we should cultivate some goddamn empathy instead of behaving like crabs in a bucket all the time. Maybe we should realize we shall all hang together, or we shall all hang separately. Maybe we should recognize that most of us are losing out under the current system. Maybe we should find a way to climb out of our invisible boxcars.
Maybe we should fight back for once.