Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Unmanaged pain

A caricature is putting the face of a joke on the body of a truth.
(Victory, by Joseph Conrad)

What is most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands, In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class.
(Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, 1835)


I can't say I'm unhappy about seeing the end of 2016 even though 2017 holds promises of being much worse. In October of 2016 my dearest friend was murdered in her home. It was brutal and violent and has changed my life forever.

In December of 2016 I was diagnosed with moderate osteoarthritis in my right knee, hardly earth shaking, uncommon nor remotely unexpected. It has, however, become a permanent and irritating reminder of my physical self. But “irritating” is the operating word, not chronic, debilitating pain that can control a person's life in so many ways.

Increasing the pain in America

Angus Deaton, the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, published a study along with his wife Anne Case, about a segment of white America, which has proven to be eye opening and startling in its conclusions.

The two economists analyzed various information on working class whites, 45 to 54 years of age, with less than a college education. They discovered a 22% rise in death rates from 1999 to 2013, largely due to alcohol, drug abuse and suicide. (See white America). Deaton and Case concluded that this was a community engulfed by pain, which is both chronic and persistent physical and emotional pain. The researchers have suggested that possibly one-half million people are dead who should not be.

A people's dream died at the Battle of Wounded Knee.
(Black Elk, Lakota holy man)

A pain perspective

Frantz Fanon, the French psychiatrist, achieved near cult status in the 1960s among the global Left. Fanon, the author of Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, explored the relationship between racism, colonialism, mental illness and freedom while serving as a psychiatrist during the Algerian War of Independence against France. Fanon himself was born in the Caribbean island of Martinique to descendants of free black cocoa farmers.

Frantz Fanon was most interested in the psychological injuries, particularly the “shame and self contempt” it spreads among its victims. He also noted that both the oppressed and the oppressors were locked together and the chains could not be broken until those that were oppressed chose to struggle for their own independence.

Today, the American Psychological Association states that “pain has biological, psychological and emotional factors.” It is not purely a physical sensation. We know now that chronic pain can certainly cause feelings such as hopelessness, sadness, anxiety and most definitely anger.

An American dystopia

No, the death rates in general among African-Americans is still greater than rates for white Americans, but for a particular segment of white America—in the millions—there is a backward trend, unlike any other group in the developed world at the present time. It likely began in the early 1980s.

Yes, it is an oftentimes unspoken belief and feeling that this is the group that has provided the racist ground troops, the neo-Nazis, the xenophobia and the bottomless ignorance that has allowed the American kleptocracy to manipulate and exploit the so called white working class.

After all, wasn't it “Johnny Reb” in 1860, barefoot and penniless, that marched off to defend a vile, racist plantocracy? And yes, is this not the group that is about to put Donald Trump in the White House?

Of course the element of truth is there. But the pain, physical and psychological is real. And who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor? Can it sometimes be one and the same?

The painful cause

The truth may not always set you free but it has always been visible if you are ever so willing to actually study your surroundings. Frantz Fanon was right. It really is a matter of the oppressed finally deciding to be free.

Right now a significant percentage of the rich and the powerful in the United States is gleefully ready to gut American health care (among so many other things), which includes critically important mental health services. No one will be arriving in the nick of time to save us.

For an interesting example of our “free market” health care system go to Inside the WestVirginia prescription painkiller epidemic.