Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: Trump, meths and heroin: the white man's burden

If World War Three doesn't break out in the Middle East (a big if), 2016 may well feature the increasingly grotesque and tragicomic banality of American life.

Not long ago in these pages, I wrote about the massive addiction of white Americans with only a high school diploma or less to the stimulant, methamphetamine.

Now this same demographic group appears to be "hooked" on Donald Trump, who has a real chance of becoming the next POTUS.

Washington Post

Moving up the social feeding chain, now it seems that heroin addiction is soaring among affluent, suburban, young white people,
When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white. New York Times
Since Heroin is no longer about black people in the inner city ghettos, this is leading to a growing clamor for a kinder, gentler, war on drugs.

The affluent taking opiates is not entirely new, there have always been rich old ladies shooting morphine prescribed by a "doctor-feelgood" and administered by a nurse, but not  middle class young people, with a higher education, or possibilities of getting one, OD-ing in public toilets.

Heroin is very different from methamphetamine, That drug is a powerful stimulant, one that was given to starving, freezing, German soldiers fighting in Russia is WWII in order to keep them awake and aggressive. That might come in handy in today's America if you are forced to work 60 or more hours a week at minimum wage.  Heroin, however, goes like this:
Injecting can give a pleasant rush, where there is an immediate feeling of intense euphoria, warmth, and general apathy toward anything that doesn't involve one's high.  Drugs-Forum
Which might be a good fit for a rich, lonely old lady, not something that can help you hold down a couple of McJobs, but then again might be quite useful in calming the angst of an empty, alienated life or the anxiety of paying back a student loan, while living off your parents.
Nationally, nearly half of 25-year-olds lived with their parents in 2012-2013, up from just over a quarter in 1999. (...) many factors have been suggested for why young adults return to or continue living at home, including significant student debt, weak job prospects and an uncertain housing market.(...) additional research has shown that the underemployment rate for recent graduates was about 40 percent during the Great Recession. Canon and Gascon noted: “An implication is that a significant portion of recent graduates were earning lower wages than what they should have been, given their education.” Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis
Adding to this, being raised in what most consider a privileged environment can lead to much mental distress as many brought up this way are led to automatically assume that life should be wonderful, but as that "wonderful" is ever out of reach, vacuity, frustration and boredom fill its space, There is even a name for it now: "affluenza".

Thanks to the continuing escapades of Ethan Couch, these days we are hearing a lot about "affluenza". 
    Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2001) defines affluenza as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."The term "affluenza" has also been used to refer to an inability to understand the consequences of one's actions because of financial privilege, notably in the case of Ethan Couch.(...) British psychologist Oliver James asserted that there was a correlation between the increasing nature of affluenza and the resulting increase in material inequality: the more unequal a society, the greater the unhappiness of its citizens. Referring to Vance Packard's thesis The Hidden Persuaders on the manipulative methods used by the advertising industry, James related the stimulation of artificial needs to the rise in affluenza. Wikipedia
    The poor whites on meths and the coddled millennials on heroin, the angry, undereducated white people who will vote for Donald Trump are all the flotsam and jetsam of neoliberalism and globalization, the crippled stepchildren of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

    How does their economic philosophy lead to such damage? The late William Pffaf diagrammed it perfectly:
    Both monetarism and market theory remove from economic management voluntarism, political intelligence, and moral responsibility, by describing economic function as objective and automatic. Thus the customer always makes the most advantageous choice, so the market presents a perfect and efficient mechanism dictating the choices that must be made by businesses, while always tending towards perfect competition. Labor is a mere commodity, and unions and wage demands obstacles to the free function of markets. Governments by nature are obstacles to economic freedom. — William Pfaff
    That is the aquarium we swim in today.

    We are seeing a massification of a classic American recipe for dealing with angst.
    "Basically, I'm for anything that gets you through the night - be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels."  -  Frank Sinatra
    Not to contradict the lord of the ring a ding dings, but nowadays it might be more productive to face with sober senses our real conditions of life, and our relations with our kind.

    Perhaps this presidential election year, of all times, Americans should meditate more intensely on who exactly the "We" are, that we are talking about when we say, "We The People". DS

    1 comment:

    stunted said...

    Meditating is precisely what is rarely done in the USA and certainly not on problems--if it can't fit on a bumper sticker it has no place here. Action is valued; reflection is for pussies.

    There is a good article in today's (2 Jan 2016) Guardian about Luc Sante, Belgian born US writer/cultural archeolgist in which he speaks briefly of his working class upbringing in a family of autodidacts who read their entire lives, the antithesis of the image that the term working class evokes today, which is anti-intellectual, xenophobic and prone to voting for Carson, Trump or Cruz here, and Le Pen in France. The free market has shackled them to intolerance and bigotry. As Mr. Sante says at the end of the piece, money may not kill immediately as terrorism does, but it changes the fabric of society in more insidious ways and will be much harder to defeat.