Saturday, May 25, 2013

Crazy? Of course we are: On why we need economic democracy

So, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has just been updated to include even more mental illnesses which we will all probably suffer at some point in our lives.  Sure, even the BBC and other mainstream media seem to think that this is just a really convenient way to sell more medications and to justify the existence of the huge psychiatric industry.  It also has spill over affects for therapists, psychologists, non-psychiatric health providers and the self-help industry.  But, what if they are right?  What if 25% of Americans are suffering from mental health problems at the moment and the majority will face mental health issues at some point in their lives?

Think this is all made up out of nothing?  Think again.  Let's look at some numbers before I tell you why I think this is happening.  You might be shocked to learn that between 1999 and 2007 the U.S suicide rate quadrupled to over 17 in 100,000 people.  This in a country that is not materially poor, where just about everyone can get a job, where social organizations exist to help people through hard times and where everyone can get at least something to eat.

17 in 100,000...think about that number for a moment.  That's four in 25,000.  That's two suicides in about 12,500.  That's every single year.  Do you know 12,500 people?  Do you know someone who has committed suicide?  Would you think that number is under or over reported?  According to a recent report in the Lancet, U.S suicides are massively unreported.  That's probably party because of investigators, family and coroners not wanting the victim to be recorded as a suicide.  Much nicer to say that he died cleaning his gun than he died with the gun in his mouth.  Three people who were very close to me committed suicide, and I know of many more.  I also know plenty of people who've attempted suicide.  Some of them more than once.  Believe me, I'm not making light of this in any way.  I'm not suggesting reasons or motivations for any one person or groups of people, but perhaps there is something seriously wrong with our society.

Let's look at some more numbers.  In 2010 there were nearly 34,000 deaths by motor vehicle accident and nearly 38,000 suicides.  You are more likely to die by your own hand than you are by a car.

Still think there isn't a mental health crisis?  How about the Boston bombing, the school shootings, the high murder rates and the violence?  How about the bar fights?  Is that really just a normal part of human existence?  Did we evolve from lone cats or from monkey's?  Are we social or territorial?  I argue that we are behaving in a way that is not natural for our species.  We are supposed to live most of our lives in peaceful coexistence for we are a social species.

But, look at how we are actually living.  Just about everyone of us spends the majority of our time trying to get enough of the proverbial pie to stay alive, keep our families alive, and to avoid social stigma.  Ever tried walking into a half decent restaurant in cheap clothes?  Ever felt like your car didn't totally project the image of yourself that you'd like to show the world?  Ever felt that you needed to upgrade your computer or camera because yours wasn't as nice as your peers?

I think the term "wage slave" might be overplaying it a bit, but how much of your life is spent in the pursuit of earning more money, spending money or thinking about money?  How many hours of sleep do you loose worrying about paying a bill, worrying about getting to work on time or worrying that your kids need a new pair of shoes and they won't wear the cheap ones?

Yes, we've always had to work hard.  But perhaps these days we are working hard and stressing even harder because we don't want to feel that sense of shame when we know we aren't keeping up; when we aren't giving our families what others are giving their families.

Why do we feel this way?  Well, it would be hard not to with so much of our culture being given to us by an elite.  Think you are just watching television or visiting a website for entertainment?  You, even you visitors to my site are being marketed to.  Advertisements, since the earliest days have worked hard to convince us that we need something.  You need to spray Febreze in your house because it stinks.  You need to buy coke because that is what people drink and you do want to be a person, don't you?  You need those new shoes because they are shiny and you must have shiny feet, mustn't you?  You need a new car that reflects your status, that separates you from those beneath you.  Go ahead, spend.  It's good for the economy.  You'll feel better.  You'll be anuyoo!  You'll get that date; that promotion and you're cat will stop vomiting on the floor.  Drink Coke!  Drink it now!  Rot your teeth and buy these new porcelain veneers.

And in charge of all this are the elite untouchables.  Massive corporations who pay less tax than you enjoy trademark protection.  Try to criticize them and they might take you down.  Question what it is that they are feeding you and they might legislate away your right to bring them to court.

There is no easy solution, but any solution has to recognize that democratic values have to be part of it.  Why do we have democracy over one type of social structure (our governments) but not over another structure (the economy) which has just as much, if not more direct impact on our lives?  Why do we settle for so much liberty granted to those at the top end, but none for ourselves in the work place?

How's your pension doing?  How's your vacation?  Are you getting paid for maternity leave?  Do you get holidays off?  For too many people, those programs are just a dream.  But, they tell you that it's not affordable that we need to stay competitive while massive profits fill their bank accounts and they don't even pay their taxes.

They go after the labour movement saying that it is closed to outside scrutiny.  They claim that "big labour" is secretly controlling left-wing parties like the NDP, while their corporate decisions are not open for public debate, are closed to outside scrutiny, are able to avoid paying taxes, avoid benefits for their workers and muscle governments into doing what's in their own interests.  But, they go after the labour union which anyone can join and are made up of people who work and pay taxes.

Of course, there are lots of other things that might be driving us crazy.  The banality of so much of our popular culture, our crowded city streets, our frantic daily schedule, but so much of it comes down to the way our lives are dominated and determined by the biggest cult, the biggest lie and the biggest, most sinister instrument of control, the economy.

The economy is the word that cannot be questioned.  It is ultimate truth and ultimate fact.  If it hurts you, that's your fault.  If it helps you, that's the government's credit.

Remember this: people built the economic system.  It is not a law from God.  The instructions were never found on the face of the mountain.  GDP targets are not written on a strand of DNA.  These are social constructions which affect material reality, and as social constructions they can be changed by people.  The economy can be democratized.  I believe it is going to happen.

I will leave you with this image I saw on earlier.


Leland said...


Craig S. Williamson said...

Thanks Leland. I was in a mood. I probably should take something for it ;)