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The Ultimate Oxymoron: Industrial Civilization And Mental Health

Carolyn Baker, Speaking Truth to Power
In the days following the tragic Tucson massacre where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was critically wounded and several other individuals shot and killed by suspect Jared Loughner, mainstream media has simmered with interviews and sound bytes regarding the status of mental health treatment in the United States. It is now apparent that Loughner was a troubled young man whose emotional issues intensified in recent years and that as a result of his bizarre behavior, he was dismissed from Pima Community College and prohibited from returning without passing a psychological evaluation.

In the ensuing discourse since the massacre, we have been incessantly reminded by media that mental health issues are as real and valid as physical illness and should not be viewed with disdain but rather treated by mental health professionals as any physical ailment such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer would be treated by a physician. Yet even as journalists and mental health and political pundits banter about mental health treatment in the United States, they fail to address, or perhaps even understand, the deeper questions.

This article is intended to address those questions, the implications of which extend vastly beyond the January 8, Tucson tragedy.

The Loughner Generation

Almost no one has noticed that Loughner is a member of a generation which has virtually no economic future in this country. Were he to continue attending college, as a member of the working class, in order to graduate, he would almost certainly need to finance his education by way of student loans and complete his degree program by accumulating tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Upon graduation, he would most likely join the masses of unemployed or underemployed college graduates who will be student loan debt-slaves for the rest of their lives with income levels that will force them to default or live in poverty in order to pay off the loans. We can only speculate about how long young people in this nation will continue to pursue a college education under these circumstances and what the implications of millions of them rejecting the higher education shell game will ultimately be socially, economically, and politically.

Naturally, one might wonder what has prevented millions of other young people of Loughner’s generation from erupting in displays of mass mayhem regarding their future, but a bit more research on their public school education experience and the pressures foisted on them by the college-to-cubicle philosophy of higher education answers the question. College is no longer a venue for learning, but rather an assumed guarantee of employment. College life is all about preparing for the big “J,” and there is little time for all-night discussions, student protest, or deeply pondering what mortgaging one’s future over the course of four years is all about. What is more, the pressure to “do whatever it takes” to graduate is so intense that more than 70% of students admit to cheating in order to make the grade.

…Moreover, there is almost no mention in the current media mental health discourse of the death spiral of psychotherapy in the United States. While mental health treatment in the nation was never fully accepted without stigma, it may have been most widely embraced in the 1970s during the Carter Administration when the National Mental Health Systems Act was passed. Only a few years later, the act was repealed by the Reagan Administration, and mental health and substance abuse program funding was cut by 25%. While Reagan himself did not stand at the door of mental health institutions and tell patients to flee, the repeal had the same results in terms of the priority mental health treatment received in subsequent state and federal budgets.

…The larger issue unaddressed because it is un-named and willfully unexamined, is the paradigm of industrial civilization itself. Historians note that civilization began with sedentary, agricultural communities which evolved into cities. Cities are by definition, communities that are not self-sufficient and depend on external venues for resources. Increasingly, cities became non-agricultural and dependent on other communities and nations for their survival. Disconnection from the land base facilitated what Thomas Berry calls a “use relationship” with nature and other members of the earth community, including humans. Once relationship devolves from relatedness to using the other, we are well on the road to madness because relatedness means seeing, appreciating, valuing the innate qualities of the other. Use inherently means not seeing the other and its/his/her attributes but objectifying the other and perceiving the other only in terms of how the other can benefit oneself. Such is the essence of dysfunctional relatedness….
(16 January 2011)

Nicole Foss: We Need Freedom of Action To Confront Peak Oil

Nicole Foss, The Nation

In the third video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth productions, co-editor of The Automatic Earth, Nicole M. Foss, explains how energy relates to the economy and what our impending energy crisis will look like. Foss discusses the issues associated with peak oil in financial rather than environmental terms, because she finds that peak oil has much more to do with finance than it does with climate change.

Foss talks about what she calls a “false positive feedback loop,” which involves optimism leading to “caution being thrown to the wind.” When this happens, Foss believes that people become angry. Succumbing to fear and anger might lead to engagement in destructive behavior, which would make it harder for society to confront peak oil and climate change.

Reacting to former vice president Dick Cheney, who once said “the American way of life is not negotiable,” Foss says, “That’s true because reality is not going to negotiate with you.”

Go here to learn more about “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate,” and to see the other videos in the series.

—Kevin Gosztola
(18 January 2011, but labelled “Jan 11”)

La Niña as Black Swan – Energy, Food Prices, and Chinese Economy Among Likely Casualites

Yves Smith, naked capitalism
Reader Crocodile Chuck highlighted an important post at Houses and Holes, an economics-oriented Australian blog. While Australia is reeling from the immediate impact, the broader impact of 2010-11 weather patterns may have much bigger ramifications for food and energy prices in Australia and abroad.

The post focuses on the possibility, increasingly endorsed by top meteorologists, that the heavy Australian rains are the result of a super La Niña, the last of which was seen in 1973-4,the time of the last severe flooding in Queensland. Super La Niñas are hugely disruptive to agricultural production and can have other nasty knock-on effects (some contend the 1917 La Niña helped spawn the 1918 influenza pandemic).

In this case, the damage of a super La Niña will not only increase food costs at a time when price rises and food scarcity are already a major concern, but will likely extend to energy prices as well. That one-two punch would be particularly devastating to China.

In Australia, fruit and vegetable prices are projected to increase 30% this year as a result of La Niña. And recall Australia is a major agricultural exporter, so production shortfalls there will hit other markets. Super La Niñas tend to impair food output overall. 2007-8 saw a borderline super La Niña, and we saw sharply higher food prices in the first half of that year. Note that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that staples are already more costly than at any time in 2008.

Similarly, energy markets are already showing signs of supply pressure even before possible weather effects, namely, more and more intense hurricanes in the Gulf and Caribbean reducing oil output, in addition to the expected decline in coal shipments out of Australia.
(16 January 2011)

The population explosion

Leo Hickman, The Guardian
This year, there will be 7 billion people on Earth. But how will the planet will cope with the expanding population – and is there anything we can, or should, do to stop it?

… with rising greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion ever-growing concerns, the approach of this year’s population landmark has become an awkward, even unwelcome presence in the environmental debate. No one likes to talk about it, for there are no easy answers. Even a mention of it can see the questioner accused of racism, colonialism or misanthropy. Increasingly, environmental thinkers such as Jared Diamond, George Monbiot and Fred Pearce have made the case that population growth is not, in fact, the real problem (the UN predicts that growth will plateau at nine billion around mid-century before slowly starting to fall), rather that a rapid rise in consumption is our most pressing environmental issue. There are more than enough resources to feed the world, they say, even in 2050 when numbers peak – a point made this week by a report jointly published by France’s national agricultural and development research agencies. The problem is that we see huge inequities in consumption whereby, for example, the average American has the same carbon footprint as 250 Ethiopians. The French report concluded bluntly that “the rich must stop consuming so much”.

… Paul Ehrlich, the Bing professor of population studies at Stanford University in California, has been a figurehead of this debate ever since his still highly controversial book The Population Bomb was published in 1968, when the human population stood at 3.5 billion. The book attracted international attention with its stark, Old Testament predictions about how devastating famines would ravage the human populace in the 1970s and 80s and how “all important animal life” in our seas would be made extinct by over-fishing and pollution. Growth must be stopped, he urged, “by compulsion if voluntary methods fail”.

… Ehrlich still stands by many of his predictions, but says that the timings were postponed by innovations that he never anticipated. For example, the so-called “green revolution” in agriculture enabled a much more productive global grain harvest than he ever imagined.

… You cannot view consumption and population growth as separate issues, says Ehrlich: “In one sense, it is the consumption that damages our life support system as opposed to the actual number of people expanding. But both multiply together.”

Reducing consumption is a much easier task, though, than tackling population growth, he says: “What many of my colleagues share with me is the view that we would like to see a gradual decline in population, but a rapid decline in consumption habits. We utterly transformed our consumption habits and patterns of economy in the US between 1941 and 1945, and then back again. If you’ve got the right incentives, you can change patterns of consumption very rapidly.”

… The seven billion figure is eye-catching, but behind it lies a complicated demographic reality. For example, population growth in developed nations has largely stagnated. Even in places traditionally associated with rapid population growth, such as Bangladesh, birth rates have fallen considerably over the last generation, yet remain well above the natural replenishment rate of just above two children per woman. The only place where birth rates still remain at pre-industrial-age rates – six or more children per woman – is sub-Saharan Africa.

Every region requires its own solution, says Ehrlich. “In the US, where the population has risen by 10% in a decade, largely due to immigration, it is super critical that we tackle the population rise because we are super consumers. But, in general, in the rich countries where population growth has stopped or fallen, we should now be concentrating on reducing per capita consumption levels.”
(14 January 2011)

Neo-feudalism and neo-nihilism

Jerome a Paris, Daily Kos
One of the trends of our times has been this creeping move towards something that looks like feudalism, ie a system where wielding uncontested power (political or economic) becomes more important than what that power is used for. A more authoritarian, more unequal, and, ultimately, poorer world.

Those at the top have decided they didn’t care that they could be better off, in absolute terms, in a fairer world – they are happy that they are richer, relatively speaking, and more powerful, in the system they are slowly bringing back by corroding all the great institutions that made our prosperity in the second half of the 20th century – good government, strong unions, the rule of law for (almost) everybody and good education and healthcare for all.

Some push that ideology out of naked shot term self-interest. Many support because it is wrapped in the name of individual freedom (be entrepreneurial ad successful!) or validates their life (you earn what you deserve / you deserve what you earn); many go along because they yearn for simpler days when “people knew their place” or because they think their freedom and opportunity is hampered by some evil parasitic other.

But this is known and has been diagnosed by many, here and elsewhere. What has struck me over the past few weeks, as I was able to take a bit of quieter time off work and look around me, is the state of mind of a lot of people who are somewhat or fully aware of this situation.

They basically know that there is a massive transfer of wealth from the majority to a small minority, they see inequality rising and institutional solidarity being chipped away; they know that the political class is part of the problem and the parties of the left are only notionally so these days, ie that they are a lesser, slightly gentler, evil rather than a real alternative. They saw massive transfers to the banks and now they see the sustained calls to dismantle the social programmes that (still) work.

And they don’t care anymore.

They don’t expect that any politician will change this – indeed, those who have a chance to get to power are all more or less enabling it, and the others – well, they have no power and no chance to get any. And they don’t expect that they are going to be able to do anything themselves in any meaningful way.

Call it despair, call it despondency, call it ignorance, but a lot of people are willfully retreating from the political scene. Add to that the need to focus on surviving – keeping your job, finding one, facing spiralling healthcare or debt service costs, etc… and you have people who by choice and by necessity are on their own. They don’t find help when they need it, and they can’t or won’t provide it to others, because they don’t have the resource, and because they can’t see why they should pay for others (again – whether they believe they are already paying for bankers or for browner people)

Which in turn feeds selfishness in society, as people close off to one another beyond their immediate circle, and lose trust in government. (And by the way, this is why the “they all do it” meme is so corrosive – it destroys belief in, and support for, collective action, and as such it is always right-wing propaganda. We know ours are corrupt, but yours are too, so we’ll stick to “our camp” against the alien you).

Most of the time, this just translates into brainless consumerism for those who still have money, and sullen bitterness for those who don’t. But occasionally (and maybe this week-end’s shooting can be seen as a warning), it can bubble up into something nastier. In fact, given the media’s tendency to ignore or mock obviously left-wing protest movements, and to shine a light, often favorable or at least neutral, on rightwing events, people may be forgiven from thinking that hate-mongering populism seems more likely to succeed in changing things than the more idealistic kind.

And this is noticed, which feeds yet more cynicism and retrenchment into one’s own.

It sounds like we rather desperately need hope and change.
(9 January 2011)