Fine, Let’s Talk About Despair

Ross, like Brooks, always opens his enormous yawp when it’s my turn to blog and I PROTEST, ADRASTOS, HE CAN BE YOURS FROM NOW ON: 

Now a new report from the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee charts the scale of this increase — a doubling from 22.7 deaths of despair per 100,000 American in 2000 to 45.8 per 100,000 in 2017, easily eclipsing all prior 20th-century highs.

By way of comparison to climate change, this summer’s National Climate Assessment estimated that rising temperatures could cause between 4,000 and 10,000 additional heat-related deaths annually by the end of the 21st century. But had deaths of despair remained at 2000-era levels, approximately 70,000 fewer Americans would have died this year alone.

Okay, so clearly “despair” here is designated as “bummed-out feelings” and not “my house is underwater and the insurance won’t pay for it because it was categorized as ‘flood damage’ and I didn’t have a flood rider, and also a hurricane wiped out my hospital and I can’t get my chemo by just like walking into the 7-Eleven and the company I work for doesn’t exist anymore because the goddamn peninsula it sat on washed away last year so yes, I fucking despair.”

Ross’s column is the equivalent of that asshole who, when you mention you are undergoing treatment for depression, tells you he was once a little down because his second cousin died but then he got over it without the help of “pills.”

Let’s dig further into his toolery:

Despite the absence of a CNN marathon on the issue, it’s possible to discern several working theories of the crisis, and to imagine roughly how a “deaths of despair” debate might go:

The Technocrat (voice of Pete Buttigieg): “This is primarily a drug abuse and mental-health crisis, and the only way to solve it is with more and better drug treatment programs, more and better psychiatric care. We’ll save these lives one patient, one addict, one treatment center at a time.”


The Socialist (voice of Bernie Sanders): “This is obviously an economic crisis! People are despairing because their jobs have been outsourced, their wages are stagnant, the rich have hijacked the economy. Tax the plutocrats, raise the minimum wage, give everybody health insurance, and you’ll see this trend reverse.”

I would never say money solves everything. I know lots of fucking miserable rich people who have no life coping skills. But you know, two thirds of the fights people have with their kids and each other are about money and not having those fights is some kind of solution to despair.

The Cultural Healer (voice of Marianne Williamson): “You can’t just medicate this away or solve the problem with wonkery alone. There’s a spiritual void in America, a loss of meaning and metaphysical horizon. The problem is cultural, spiritual, holistic; the solution has to be all three as well.”

She’s an anti-science crackpot who in no way will be president but she ain’t WRONG, in that people are constantly told the only meaning they can possibly find is in jobs that don’t pay them enough, family that hates them, or a punishing God who tells them they’re sinners.

We don’t validate joy and from the top of this country to the goddamn bottom we’re told all our problems are unsolvable and this column is no exception.

I have written this for the voices of Democratic candidates, but there is an equivalent for Republicans: Instead of the Technocrat, imagine the Enforcer, talking about drug interdiction and border security; instead of the Socialist, the Populist, talking about China and wage subsidies and industrial policy; instead of the Cultural Healer, the Preacher talking about the need for a religious revival while the Online Nietzschean bellows from backstage about restoring masculinity.

Well, honey, at least you know.

This conclusion fits with an earlier argument from The Washington Free Beacon’s Charles Fain Lehman that we should subdivide the “despair” problem into distinct categories: A drug crisis driven by the spread of heroin and fentanyl which requires a drug policy solution; a surge in suicides and depression and heavy drinking among middle-aged working-class whites to which economic policy might offer answers; and an increase in depression and suicide generally, and among young people especially, that has more mysterious causes (social media? secularization?) and might only yield to a psychological and spiritual response.

As advice to policymakers this disaggregation makes a lot of sense, not least because the next president is more likely to improve drug policy than to ban iPhones or usher in religious renewal.

Ban iPhones. You fucking idiot. Young people aren’t upset because they have iPhones, they’re upset because *gestures broadly at everything including the nonstop drumbeat from the pages of our august publications that they’re stupid and doomed to fail.*

Following the link Douthat puts in instead of doing research, we find that OH GOSH BIG SURPRISE the study he’s so obsessed with here is primarily concerned with the “despair deaths” of … white people:

For decades, mortality rates had been falling across the developed world. But in the paper, Case and Deaton identified something odd: Mortality among middle-aged, non-Hispanic whites actually began to rise in the late 1990s, upending the popular assumption rates would decline indefinitely.

Once again, the Times is only concerned with the problems of the suburban mommy and the white coal miner. The rest of us can get fucked.

But at the same time the simultaneity of the different self-destroying trends is a brute fact of American life. And that simultaneity does not feel like just a coincidence, just correlation without entanglement — especially when you include other indicators, collapsing birthrates and declining marriage rates and decaying social trust, that all suggest a society suffering a meaning deficit, a loss of purpose and optimism and direction, a gently dehumanizing drift.

The solution is always for white people to have more babies. Amazing.


2 thoughts on “Fine, Let’s Talk About Despair

    1. We feel your pain, but that is as nothing compared to the agony Athenae endured
      working her way through the latest screed by the execrable Douthat

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