I think I’m getting emotional whiplash.
When I read an inspiring “call to arms” from someone like Rev. William Barber (yesterday’s post), I feel hopeful. Then I stumble across an article like this one from a publication called Eudaimonia & Co., titled “Why We’re Underestimating America’s Collapse.”
When we take a hard look at US collapse, we see a number of social pathologies on the rise. Not just any kind. Not even troubling, worrying, and dangerous ones. But strange and bizarre ones. Unique ones. Singular and gruesomely weird ones I’ve never really seen before, and outside of a dystopia written by Dickens and Orwell, nor have you, and neither has history. They suggest that whatever “numbers” we use to represent decline — shrinking real incomes, inequality, and so on —we are in fact grossly underestimating what pundits call the “human toll”, but which sensible human beings like you and I should simply think of as the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing society.
The author’s first example is our epidemic of school shootings–when he wrote it, we’d had 11 school shootings in the prior 23 days.
America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.
Then there’s the opiod epidemic, which he asserts is also unique to the U.S. He says such epidemics don’t occur elsewhere, “ especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy.”
His third example is the phenomenon of “nomadic retirees”. These are older Americans who live in their cars, going place to place, season after season, chasing low-wage work.
Now, you might say — “well, poor people have always chased seasonal work!” But that is not really the point: absolute powerlessness and complete indignity is. In no other country I can see do retirees who should have been able to save up enough to live on now living in their cars in order to find work just to go on eating.
Our lack of health care gets a predictable call-out; life expectancy in Costa Rica is higher than in the United States, because Costa Rica has universal healthcare. But he ends with an even more depressing observation.
How did America’s elderly end up cheated of dignity? After all, even desperately poor countries have “informal social support systems” — otherwise known as families and communities. But in America, there is the catastrophic collapse of social bonds. Extreme capitalism has blown apart American society so totally that people cannot even care for one another as much as they do in places like Pakistan and Nigeria. Social bonds, relationships themselves, have become unaffordable luxuries, more so than even in poor countries: this is yet another social pathology unique to American collapse…
Americans appear to be quite happy simply watching one another die, in all the ways above. They just don’t appear to be too disturbed, moved, or even affected by the four pathologies above: their kids killing each other, their social bonds collapsing, being powerless to live with dignity,or having to numb the pain of it all away.
This is a dramatically dystopian view of our country. The author, one Umair, concludes that ours is “a predatory society,” and he has chosen examples–he has cherry-picked examples–that support his thesis.
I’m not prepared to accept his diagnosis.But it is hard to argue that his examples aren’t significant, compelling–and horrific. Or–unrepresentative though they may be– that they don’t have a ring of truth.
Should the world follow the American model — extreme capitalism, no public investment, cruelty as a way of life, the perversion of everyday virtue — then these new social pathologies will follow, too. They are new diseases of the body social that have emerged from the diet of junk food — junk media, junk science, junk culture, junk punditry, junk economics, people treating one another and their society like junk — that America has fed upon for too long.
Somewhere between the hellscape that Umair apparently lives in and the resistance that William Barber proposes to lead is a more balanced picture. For every sociopath Umair describes, I know a loving, caring, engaged citizen. For every pathology he identifies, I can point to a countervailing virtue.
But he sure made me think. And drink.