Middle-aged white guys are killing themselves at alarming rates and the experts don’t know why. The suicide rate for men in their 50s increased 49% in the decade ending 2010. According to the CBC;
A recent study, co-authored by this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, Angus Deaton, found that a long-term decline in death rates changed direction in 1999 for middle-aged, non-Hispanic white Americans, especially for the segment of that population with only a high school degree or less.
I don’t think the trend is surprising nor the reasons mysterious and, despite what the “men’s rights” windbags contend, it is not the fault of women or feminism. These men who are failing to thrive were brought up in a kinder, gentler world, where income inequality was considerably less. When they were growing up, the middle class was booming and every generation seemed to be better off than the one before. That is clearly no longer the case. Working class Joe did what society expected him to do, but the rewards that were promised have not been not forthcoming.
The new reality of low economic mobility coupled with extreme income inequality grinds against the deeply entrenched, but now mostly false, belief that the “American Dream” is possible. Millions of Americans have been shoved out of the middle class into poverty, and the depth of that poverty is getting worse. In short, the working class white guy has finally figured out that he’s been lied to, and he feels duped and powerless. He didn’t see it coming, so he feels he’s failed to protect and provide for his family. That is a heavy burden to carry alone, and traditionally, men have been socialized to be stoic and not reach out for help, so they suffer in silence until it becomes too much for some of them to bear.
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. – Wikipedia
If we’ve been lied to all these years about the American Dream, what other core beliefs are just delusions? Here’s a hard one to swallow: America is no longer a democracy. Let that sink in. The ideal that Lincoln put forth in the Gettysburg Address of government of the people, by the people, for the people has indeed perished in the United States of America. The government is now more accurately described as a corporate-controlled Oligarchy. An academic study done by experts at Princeton and Northwestern concluded in September 2014 that policy decisions are driven by the economic elite and the average voter has a level of influence on public policy that is “near zero.” That’s right, the average voter has no power, no influence on the legislative process. Let. that. sink. in. This is a really tough truth to absorb. That uncomfortable feeling – a painful sense of betrayal – is called cognitive dissonance.
It not news that money is power and power is money. What many failed to notice is that there has been a massive transfer of wealth into the pockets of the 1% from the rest of us. The ultra-rich are hoarding vast amounts of capital and passing it down to their children, so the oligarchs at the top of the pyramid are using and abusing inherited wealth to buy influence and control politicians and policy. The game is rigged. The concentration of media ownership means that mainstream media does not distribute truth, but propaganda that shapes public opinion to keep people distracted from the fundamental shift of power into the hands of the economic elite. We could solve the energy crisis by hooking up a generator to George Orwell spinning in his grave.
Middle-aged, working class white guys are now on a level playing field for the first time with millions of others from marginalized groups who can’t help but think “karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?” The powers that be have always used our differences to divide us with the political weapons of fear and anger. Even the poorest white people considered themselves better off (or just ‘better’) than their black neighbours. There is certainly a tradition of dis-empowered men building up their own egos at their wives’ expense. If even the formerly privileged white guy finally realizes he’s just as screwed as everyone else, what is left to divide us with? Many men still cling to the idea that competition is better than cooperation. When a critical mass of people understand that compassion is more likely to lead to happiness, we may see a shift in consciousness that leads to greater social justice, reduced inequality, and greater prosperity for the 99%. However, that isn’t going to happen in an Oligarchy.
The way out of this mess isn’t rocket science. The same forces at play in the U.S. have been at work in Canada, where we finally kicked out a right-wing Prime Minister in favour of one who promises to reform the electoral system to make it more fair to voters. Electoral reform is the key to taking democracy back. In Canada it means getting rid of first-past-the-post so our votes aren’t wasted. In the U.S. the biggest issue is campaign finance. Now that Americans are learning that they don’t live in a democracy anymore, what are they going to do about it?
Edit: Bernie Sanders could have done amazing things. Perhaps people will wake up by 2018.
Here are some links to some other interesting ideas;