Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Spreading Derangement

Calling Dr. Laing! Image from Wikimedia Commons via IRETA.

The good news coming from last week's attempted murder by USPS package delivery of everybody Trump denounces in his rallies, from George Soros through Hillary Clinton to Maxine Waters, and the actual gun murders of Vickie Lee Jones, 67, and Maurice E. Stallard, 69, in a Kroger's where the gunman looking for black people to kill resorted after he was frustrated in his efforts to shoot up the nearby First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, Kentucky, and of the 11 congregants of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I can't name them all but their memory is a blessing...

The good news, I was saying, for David Brooks ("The New Cold War"), is that we don't have to worry so much about racism or anti-Semitism or guns or the president's poisonous language, or any other problems that a community might set about trying to solve in a practical effort:
These mass killings are about many things — guns, demagogy, etc. — but they are also about social isolation and the spreading derangement of the American mind.
Killing sprees are just one manifestation of the fact that millions of Americans find themselves isolated and alone. But there are other manifestations of this isolation, which involve far more carnage.
The bad news is that that violence is nothing compared to self-murder, quickly by gun or slowly by hypodermic, and as far as I would know the numbers he offers are correct:

The suicide epidemic is a manifestation. The suicide rate is dropping across Europe. But it has risen by 30 percent in the United States so far this century. The suicide rate for Americans between 10 and 17 rose by more than 70 percent between 2006 and 2016 — surely one of the most shocking trends in America today.
Every year nearly 45,000 Americans respond to isolation and despair by ending their lives. Every year an additional 60,000 die of drug addiction. Nearly twice as many people die each year of these two maladies as were killed in the entire Vietnam War.
Wait a second, what's that about Europe? Watson, I believe we've spotted a data point! Perhaps there is some interesting difference between these two places that accounts for it! Moreover, according to this graph from the American Enterprise Institute, those drug overdose death statistics are more than three times higher than those in the United Kingdom, and more than thirty times higher than Portugal, where all drug use was decriminalized in 2001.

But just as it has nothing to do with restrictions on gun ownership in Europe, so it has nothing to do with lower incarceration rates or the easy availability of health care including mental health care, or the general difference in economic inequality between a country with a GINI over 40 and one with GINI at 30 or below:

This is because, as David Brooks understands, your economic standing in reference to other people in your community has no relation to your social and psychological situation:
I keep coming back to this topic because the chief struggle of the day is sociological and psychological, not ideological or economic. The substrate layer of American society — the network of relationships and connection and trust that everything else relies upon — is failing. And the results are as bloody as any war.
It's the hill every conservative decides, in the end, to die on: don't threaten my beloved inequality!

And in the end, he's going to deny that there's even any social division in our country: the real division is in our heads:
Maybe it’s time we began to see this as a war. On the one side are those forces that sow division, discord and isolation. On the other side there are all those forces in society that nurture attachment, connection and solidarity. It’s as if we’re witnessing this vast showdown between the rippers and weavers.
And here’s the hard part of the war: It’s not between one group of good people and another group of bad people. The war runs down the middle of every heart. Most of us are part of the problem we complain about.
Because we're creating the problem and solving it at the same time, like Sisyphus, as if to ensure that it will never go away; you and I are, or at least David F. Brooks (better known as "most of us") is simultaneously
  • fostering division ("Most of us bought into a radical individualism that, as Tocqueville predicted, cuts each secluded self off from other secluded selves"), isolation ("Most of us buy into a workaholic ethos that leaves us with little time for community....[and] hew to a code of privacy that leads us to not know our neighbors"), and discord, ("Most of us live in insular media and social bubbles that provide us with Pravda-like affirmations of our own moral superiority") 
  • and nurturing attachment ("Most of us mentor and serve people unlike ourselves"), connection ("Most of us admire and want to be the teacher who reaches out to the lonely boy"), and solidarity ("Most of us are part of the chosen families that Americans are constructing to replace the decimated biological ones")
It's an internal war, as the forces of division combat the forces of unity inside your brain! Really, it's all the usual nonsense. The radical individualism is the characteristic of his own enemies inside the conservative movement and has no relationship to the rest of us, let's just say this once and for all. The "workaholic ethos" isn't the reason most of us have little time for community, but the terror of stagnant incomes and disappearing worker protections. As a professional drone with a lifetime job making him rich for 1600 words a week, Brooks can't even start to imagine. Hardly any of us have time to mentor and serve people unlike ourselves, for the same reason, and the "chosen families" Millennials seem to put together aren't all that available in meatspace to most of us. But it's also nonsense packed into an unusual density, in the sense that this whole "cold war" which is also "bloody carnage" is inside Brooks's own radically individualistic family-haunted friendly hostile obsessively private gregarious and mentoring lonely desperately divided self.

The only way he can talk about himself and his suffering has always been to project it on everybody else, which is why his picture of society is so wacky and inconsistent and at the same time so ridiculously limited ("most of us mentor" indeed). Which is interesting from a pathologist's standpoint, I guess. And I do frequently feel sorry for him in spite of his wealth and preposterously easy existence, because he's plainly a very unhappy man. But it isn't very informative about anything outside of him, and really, it's pretty tiresome, and his own derangement seems to be getting worse.

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