DIFFERENT QUOTES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS

Digging-In-The-Dirt

Look deep in your heart. Deeper. Keep going. Somewhere down there you will find a blog shaped hole. The bad news is this blog shaped hole in your heart is there because I have not written a blog post for a good few weeks, partially due to being busy but mainly due to being lazy and slightly middle aged. The good news is that I have just written this blog post that you are happily reading now so prepare to have your hole filled!

Sure, we can argue as to whether the blog shaped hole is actually in my heart rather than yours, but that is kind of missing the point. So, due to the underwhelming outcry that my lack of blogging has caused, please find below 21 quotes I came across recently that I hope you find as interesting as I did. I have tried to make them random and various, so there should be something there for everyone.

Also, as an added bonus I have thrown in a few cartoons from the always awesome and rather controversial cartoonist Mr Fish. Enjoy!

Customer-Is-Always-Right

Either Putin has something on Trump or Trump is just an idiot who got played. And honestly, I don’t know. What did we expect? This is what you get when put a KGB agent up against a KFC agent. – Trevor Noah, on the recent press conference in Helsinki between Trump and Putin

Everybody does better when everybody does better. – Jim Hightower

Governments have always sought to keep secrets and control the flow of information. The Internet threatens that power. Totalitarian systems such as China’s are dealing with the problem by exerting iron control over the Internet within their borders. By erecting a Great Digital Wall, China shields its secrets and makes their transmission difficult. America leans in the opposite direction. Our Internet is a wide-open Gomorrah that makes Vegas look like a Sunday school picnic. Trump is dealing with this uncontrollable flow of information by discrediting information across the board. Published secrets lose their sting if the public is unsure whether to believe them. Trump says one thing today and something different tomorrow. He veers wildly from topic to topic and crisis to crisis, recasting enemies as friends and friends as enemies. And he promotes conspiracy theories while disputing facts. The result is a gradual erosion of the public’s confidence in anything we hear. Sowing doubt and discrediting truth is destructive in the long term. Unfortunately, the digital age — so far, anyway — roars ahead heedless of consequences. It’s no wonder Trump fits in. – David Von Drehle

I can’t believe they cancelled Vivaldi after just four seasons. – tweet from @Holy_Mowgli

I describe my girlfriend as Amazonian, not because she’s tall but because she recommends things I might like based on my previous purchases. – Olaf Falafel

I grew up watching musicals. Miss Saigon, Oliver, Les Mis. Because there’s nothing upper class people like more than going to the theatre and watching other upper class people, dressed as working class people, singing about how hard it is not being upper class people. – Tom Houghton

I like watching Antiques Roadshow with my nieces, because I get to tell them that the old people in the background are ghosts trying to get their stuff back. – Jake Lambert

I love Scotland, it’s such a beautiful country. If only I could speak the language I’d move up there in a heartbeat. – George Rigden

I think people want to laugh about the things that make them similar, not what makes them different. I mean, the funniest part is always the part that everybody can connect with. – Michael Che

I’m a comedian who was committed to a mental hospital and grew up in a rural, isolated agricultural community. I am the definition of Funny Farm. – Juliette Burton

I’m very passionate about education and its power in changing lives and creating a better world, particularly for young people who come from the kind of background that I come from…Reading is something I’ve done a great deal of, particularly while researching my book Natives: Race And Class In The Ruins Of The Empire. And the more I learnt, the more I realised I needed to learn. I am feeling the weight of my own lack of knowledge, my own lack of understanding. – Akala, author and rapper

In 2016 the Democrats and the Republicans played a little game of chicken with each other, and the Democrats said to the Republicans “Oh, you cannot be so stupid as to vote for Donald Trump.” And they said “Don’t ever tell us how stupid we can be.” – Bill Maher

In my view America doesn’t even have an immigration problem. We have a “my life didn’t turn out the way I wanted to so I blame other people” problem. Oh that we have. The greatest con the Republicans ever pulled on working class Americans was convincing them that it was the immigrants and the single mom who were blocking their way to the American dream. – Bill Maher

Jokes about feminism often get 20% less than they deserve. – Adele Cliff

My dad caught me curing a piece of salmon. To teach me a lesson he made me smoke the whole packet. – Olaf Falafel

My dad loves his dog more than us. He makes it a roast chicken seasoned in herbs every Sunday, which is stupid as dogs have no concept of thyme. – Rachel Fairburn

Shame has its place. Shame is what you do to a kid to stop them running on the road. And then you take the shame away and immediately they’re back in the fold. You should never soak anybody in shame. It’s the prolonged existence of shame that then flips out into destructive rage. We can’t exist in that. It’s like treacle. – Hannah Gadsby

There is a massive consensus: we’re all agreed that the world is indeed fucked right now. Everyone knows that the American president is a ludicrous person. In this country (Britain) we’ve got two zombie political parties having a pretend show of political debate that’s never going to lead to anything. And Britain is going through this extraordinary act of sending itself to its room and not coming down as a show of…what? You shat your pants in front of the whole world and you’re sulking? It’s embarrassed by its own behaviour, frankly, and it’s a postcolonial sulk. Everybody’s just looking around, waiting for the embarrassment to fade. But Britain has this tradition of carrying on resolutely, because you’re committed to something, and is therefore locked into a position where it has to be seen to execute the absurdity it doesn’t want to go through with. These are desperate times. – Dylan Moran

Trump isn’t popular here in Scotland because we don’t trust anyone who can live to the age of 72. – Leo Kearse

What’s the best thing about being on your own? To be alone gives you the chance to lean into yourself. When we’re around other people, we’re being a performed version of ourselves that others bring out. It’s not always bad, it just grants you less time to observe yourself in your entirety. While it can feel scary to be alone, that might be because you’re not used to familiarising yourself with your own company. Get used to it! – Chidera Eggerue, social media star

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, which is just long enough to be president of the United States. – Spike Milligan

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THE INSTAGRAM ILLUSION OF LOVE ISLAND

Speak Truth

I try my best to scour the internet to bring you some of the better, more interesting articles out there. This is easier said than done because we live in a digital age where everything happens so quickly. It is like watching a TV show on fast-forward. Nowhere is this speed more apparent than in the 24 hour news cycle. With multiple breaking news alerts a day the narrative is constantly changing. Opinions are reversed such that what was once received wisdom yesterday will become outdated nonsense tomorrow. Theories and opinions are developed by ‘experts’ at the start of the day only to have them thoroughly debunked before lights out. This makes it really difficult to try and stay on top of things. Here’s comedian Michelle Wolf expanding this theme further:

I mean, yes, we’re all addicted. The news makes money off the ratings, and I think we’re all partly responsible, too, because we keep watching it, and so it’s this vicious cycle. Of course they’re going to keep talking about everything outrageous that is happening, because we keep tuning in. But they’re not doing it to present the news; they’re doing it to present a show of some sort. – Michelle Wolf

Aside from the increasing speed of everything, there is also the fact that with Trump in charge we have this weird normalisation of abnormality. A recent example from a few days ago involves Trump giving an interview with The Sun newspaper. He made some rather politically provocative comments and the backlash to what he said was quite strong from many quarters, to put it mildly. So how did Trump react to all this? He just called the whole thing fakes news. He simply denied saying the actual words he actually said during the actual interview, words that are actually recorded for all to actually hear. The Sun responded to Trump calling them fake news by stating that “To say the president called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well…fake news.” And round and round we continue to go down the digital rabbit hole.

Trump has a communications strategy which is a classic exercise in Orwellian doublethink: repeating false accusations while also shifting his position from a stance that he held just moments before. He did what he does best in situations like these, he adopted a tactic of sheer dogged efficacy to repeat a lie until it was no longer questioned.

There is a bumper sticker that says “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” Trump lies to the extent that whilst he remains calm, soothed by his lies, the rest of us sit there shaking our heads in disbelief. Therefore speaking truth to power is nigh on impossible when the powerful lie so often and so effectively. I have no idea how to explain this phenomena of normalisation, so I will let someone else take a shot at trying to illuminate us all:

Current Moment

And to hopefully add further clarification to what is going on right now, please find below a selection of articles that I hope you find interesting and informative. As always only selected quotes are presented in most of these, and the articles are worth reading in full. Topics include Love Island, truth, ignorance, and euphemisms. Enjoy!


The Death Of Truth: How We Gave Up On Facts And Ended Up With Trump

Michiko Kakutani, 14 Jul 2018, theguardian.com

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins Of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Donald Trump, the 45th president of the US, lies so prolifically and with such velocity that the Washington Post calculated he’d made 2,140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office – an average of 5.9 a day. His lies – about everything from the investigations into Russian interference in the election, to his popularity and achievements, to how much TV he watches – are only the brightest blinking red light among many warnings of his assault on democratic institutions and norms. He routinely assails the press, the justice system, the intelligence agencies, the electoral system and the civil servants who make the US government tick.

Language is to humans, the writer James Carroll once observed, what water is to fish: “We swim in language. We think in language. We live in language.” This is why Orwell wrote that “political chaos is connected with the decay of language”, divorcing words from meaning and opening up a chasm between a leader’s real and declared aims. This is why the US and the world feel so disoriented by the stream of lies issued by the Trump White House and the president’s use of language to disseminate distrust and discord. And this is why authoritarian regimes throughout history have co‑opted everyday language in an effort to control how people communicate – exactly the way the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four aims to deny the existence of external reality and safeguard Big Brother’s infallibility.


The Meaning Of Love Island: It Shows The Pain Behind The Instagram Illusion Of A Perfect Life

Mala Mawkin, 04 Jul 2018, theguardian.com

If even these pretty and outwardly confident people can experience such anxiety, doubt and heartache, perhaps it’s OK for the rest of us to feel the same

The adverts are causing body image issues, TV talk shows claim it is “bad for teens” and headlines have dubbed it “toxic and hollow”. Love Island has been accused of epitomising everything that is wrong with the Instagram age – by placing a dozen preened, polished and beautiful contestants on TV in front of a susceptible young audience who end up feeling inferior.

But it’s unfair to say Love Island always has a toxic effect. Instagram has been accused of fuelling a “mental health epidemic” among young people, with the Royal Society for Public Health report naming it the worst social media platform for fuelling depression, anxiety, loneliness, bullying and poor body image. But Love Island might be the antidote.

Because it is filmed 24/7 for every blissful moment, we see the behind-the-scenes tears; for every romantic dalliance, there’s a bitter split. Sure, contestants parade around in swimwear and dress up every night, but we also see them take that makeup off and get into their pyjamas. When Dani Dyer’s boyfriend Jack went into a different villa, with his ex-girlfriend there as a surprise new contestant, Dani said she was scared he would meet a girl with “lipstick, tits, who doesn’t eat toasties every night”. These moments shatter the fakery of social-media images; if even these seemingly perfect people can experience self-doubt and heartbreak, perhaps it’s OK for the rest of us to feel the same.

Maybe this is part of its appeal. On Monday, the show pulled in the highest 16-to-34-year-old audience of any digital channel programme ever, with 1.7 million young viewers out of a total of 3.4 million.

Love Island has given us a salutary window into the psyche of the contestants, behind the confident veneers, and it has revealed a shocking fact: they are just like us. As A&E doctor Alex said when he had struggled, repeatedly, to find a romantic match: “I feel like I’m a leper or something…what is wrong with me?” Name a person who has not felt that way at some point in their lives.


The Ignorant Do Not Have A Right To An Audience

Bryan W Van Norden, 25 Jun 2018, nytimes.com

We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” This form of “free speech,” ironically, supports the tyranny of the majority.

The media are motivated primarily by getting the largest audience possible. This leads to a skewed conception about which controversial perspectives deserve airtime, and what “both sides” of an issue are. How often do you see controversial but well-informed intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Martha Nussbaum on television? Meanwhile, the former child-star Kirk Cameron appears on television to explain that we should not believe in evolutionary theory unless biologists can produce a “crocoduck” as evidence. No wonder we are experiencing what Marcuse described as “the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda.”

The invincibly ignorant and the intellectual huckster have every right to express their opinions, but their right to free speech is not the right to an audience.


From Alternative Facts To Tender Age Shelters – How Euphemisms Become Political Weapons Of Mass Distraction

Marina Lambrou, 28 Jun 2018, theconversation.com

The recent images of children in cages provided yet another reason to throw your head into your hands over America’s inhumane treatment of immigrants. So – for most of us – it was a great relief to hear that Donald Trump eventually gave into pressure and signed an executive order to stop enforcing the laws mandating the separation of children from their parents. But there are still many hundreds of young people detained in the euphemistically termed “tender age shelters” – in reality, prisons for children and toddlers.

Who comes up with these terms? They are not fooling anyone – especially as “tender” and “shelters” have completely different meanings to what is, in fact, the enforced separation of children who are then held in cages. That’s the trouble with euphemisms – they can enrich language, but in the hands of politicians they can be strategically used to mislead and disguise brutal practices, concepts and ideas. Euphemisms – or what are known in some quarters as “weasel words” – are used to conceal the truth of unpalatable situations or practises so that they are easier for the public to accept.

Who can forget “collateral damage” – or rather the incidental deaths and injuries of unintended and non-combatant victims? The euphemism – from the Latin word collateralis, which means “together with” – was adopted by the US military in the mid-20th century to describe the unintentional deaths that occurred “together with” the targeting of legitimate targets. The term was first used in the 1961 article “Dispersal, Deterrence, and Damage” by Nobel Prize-winning economist D.C. Schelling. He argued that weapons could be designed and deployed in such a way as to avoid collateral damage and thus control the war.

It didn’t take long for the Trump administration to wheel out one of the more ridiculous euphemisms of recent times. The day after Trump’s inauguration, the counsellor to the US president, Kellyanne Conway, came up with the much-derided “alternative facts” to counter accusations that the then White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration.

Politicians of all stripes quickly come to realise how useful it can be to soften the impact of unpopular actions with some carefully chosen weasel words. Former UK prime minister Tony Blair was a great user of euphemisms in his political discourse. Many examples can be found in his interviews and speeches in 2003 to justify the Second Gulf War on Iraq, for example. He spoke of the “liberation of Iraq” (meaning occupation), “peace-keeping” (meaning war) and these could only be achieved by “removing Saddam” (meaning his death rather than forcing him from a position of power).

A decade earlier, the slaughter, torture and imprisonment of Bosnian Muslims in Serbia was described as “ethnic cleansing” when there is nothing purifying about these war crimes.

The US government’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” is another example of strategic word choices to disguise systematic torture. When he was US president, Barack Obama tended to avoid using the word “war”, preferring to use words such as “effort”, “process”, “fight” and “campaign” to describe the military action against ISIS, Iraq and Syria as it lessens the violence that war connotes.

Euphemisms have become part of political discourse that intentionally obscures, misleads or distracts audiences from unpleasant truths. Unfortunately, this is what politicians do with language and this is how they win support for otherwise unpalatable policies.

THE EXISTENTIAL DEATH OF THE AMERICAN DREAM

American dream CNN

For reasons I can’t explain I have recently been reading a number of articles about the American dream. Given the chaotic political and social situation in America over the last few years there has been a deluge of writing on this topic and, with the chaos set to rise further and given that it is July 4th, American independence day, such articles will continue to be written unabated. Interestingly, pretty much all of these articles talk about the imminent death or the slow decline of this most cherished of American ideals. The American Dream, this mantra of self-improvement that has driven the US through its glory days, is now looking, according to many, decidedly tarnished.

Initially conceived of by Thomas Jefferson as each citizen’s inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the American dream is ingrained deep into the American psyche. It has been talked about by Martin Luther King Jr in his 1963 Letter From A Birmingham Jail. Playwright Arthur Miller refers to the fruitless pursuit of it in his seminal play Death Of A Salesman. Even Barack Obama used the phrase in 2006 when, as a then US Senator, he wrote a best-selling memoir called The Audacity Of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream. If Obama’s book is an endearing narrative of hope then books such as Requiem For The American Dream: The 10 Principles Of Concentration Of Wealth & Power by Noam Chomsky, and American Dream, Global Nightmare by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, both present a much darker alternative.

Barack Dream

The world of literary fiction also plays on the American dream theme. Recent examples include the brilliant Exit West by the Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid, and The Golden House by controversial writer Salman Rushdie. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Rushdie commented that:

There’s not much left of the American dream. If you live in New York, the recent issues and politics are so alarming. It doesn’t feel like a city on a hill or a New Jerusalem. – Salman Rushdie, Jun 2018

Perhaps the best literary example of the American dream in fiction came in 1925 when F Scott Fitzgerald wrote his classic novel The Great Gatsby. Set in 1922 the novel is about the breakdown of the ideals behind the American dream. There are few books that capture the pursuit of, and utter disenchantment with, the American Dream as well as The Great Gatsby, so much so that the book has been adapted for the stage hundreds of times all over the world, and it has also been turned into major Hollywood movies. Gatsby has been played on the big screen by Robert Redford in 1974 and more recently by Leonardo Di Caprio in 2013.

There are plenty of other major Hollywood movies that have the American dream as a central plot line, movies such as Citizen Kane, American Beauty, The Godfather, Rocky, Bonnie And Clyde, Wall Street, Titanic, Idiocracy, and The Hunger Games, to name just a few. And musicians such as Childish Gambino also rely heavily on this notion, with various subtle comments being made about the American dream in his controversial music video This Is America, something that caused a bit of an online stir earlier this year.

Stand ups also rely on the American dream for material. The legendary American comedian George Carlin famously said that “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it,” a sentiment also made by the British comedian Al Murray:

I love Americans. You’re beautiful people. I love them. I love Americans because the world needs people like Americans because you’re dreamers. You’re dreamers because you’ve got that AMERICAN DREAM! The American dream! You’re an American dreamer dreaming the American dream. Now, the fact is that we don’t ever dream in Great Britain. We don’t. There is no British dream. This isn’t because we lack some sort of sense of moral purpose. This isn’t because we haven’t got a sense of guiding destiny taking us towards a better tomorrow. No! We don’t have a dream in this country because we’re awake! It’s that simple. – Al Murray

I also found a short but interesting clip featuring the American Muslim comedian Hasan Minhaj with his take on the American dream:

Politicians have also spoken about the American dream. Richard Nixon, in his first inaugural address in January 1969, famously said that “The American dream does not come to those who fall asleep.” And if talk of the American dream was good enough for that scoundrel then it’s good enough for the scoundrel Trump. Trump has used the idea of the American dream to propel himself to the highest office in the land. There is even a 4-part Netflix documentary series released earlier this year called Trump: An American Dream. Documentaries tend to humanise their subjects, even if they paint them in an unflattering light. This series, however, paints a grim picture indeed as it reads more like a supervillain origin story instead of something more humanising.

American dream Netflix

One can argue that the origin took place in June 2015 when Trump descended a golden elevator and announced his bid for presidency. In the subsequent speech he made there were many crazy sentences uttered, including the following:

Sadly, the American dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again. – Donald Trump, 16 Jun 2015

True to his word he has indeed brought this great American institution back to life, according to himself anyway. Some 18 months after declaring its death, Trump announced the glorious rebirth by tweeting the following in early 2017:

And, as if to hammer home this point, in June of this year vice president Mike Pence, speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington, said:

After eight years of the Obama nightmare, president Trump has renewed the American dream. After eight years of a static economy, stagnant wages and being told that no growth is the new normal, this president kick-started a great American come back. After eight years of retreat, America’s advancing because president Donald Trump has restored American strength at home and abroad. – Mike Pence, Jun 2018

A quick Google News search of the term “American dream” will reveal dozens of articles recently written by various academics, historians, social commentators, and journalists, all of them putting forward their propositions as to why there appears to be a decline in this national ethos.

I find it intriguing that we live in such an advanced technological age, with America arguably the most advanced nation on earth. But yet tens of millions of Americans still seem to suffer such personal ailments as anxiety, depression, substance addiction, and mental health issues. Why is this paradox the case? I guess if you really want to know what is going on in America at the ground level then the following articles will hopefully provide some much needed valuable insight. As always selected quotes are presented and the articles are worth reading in full. As much as one can given the subject matter, enjoy!

American dream game


An Autopsy Of The American Dream

Sean Illing, 28 Jun 2018, vox.com

A conversation with “Tailspin: The People And Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall–And Those Fighting To Reverse It” author Steven Brill.

Sean Illing…

Over the past 50 years, lots of things have changed in the United States. Here are a few examples.

1) A child’s chance of earning more than his or her parents has plummeted from 90 to 50 percent.

2) Earnings by the top 1 percent of Americans nearly tripled, while middle-class wages have been basically frozen for four decades, adjusting for inflation.

3) Self-inflicted deaths — from opioid use and other drug addictions — are at record highs.

4) Nearly one in five children in the US are now at risk of going hungry.

5) Among the 35 richest countries in the world, the US now has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.

These facts, and many others, are cataloged in a new book by Steven Brill about America’s gradual decline over the last half-century. Brill has been writing about class warfare in the US since 2011, and the picture he paints is as depressing as it is persuasive. The book argues the people with the most advantages in the American economy have used that privilege to catapult themselves ahead of everyone else, and then rigged the system — to cement their position at the top, and leave the less fortunate behind. I spoke to Brill about how this came to pass, why the American dream has vanished, and what it will take to undo the damage that’s been done.

Steven Brill…

The key distinction in the book is between the protected and the unprotected classes. Why is this so important in American society? I think it’s a much more relevant distinction than saying people are Democrats or Republicans, or that they’re conservatives or liberals. The unprotected are all the people in this country who rely on the government in some way to provide for the common good. They actually need public education to be good because that provides opportunity to their children. They need mass transit. They need a fair tax code. They need someone to answer the phone at the Social Security Administration when they get their Social Security check.

And what’s happened over the last three or four years is that big swaths of the unprotected people in this country have gotten very frustrated and angry that basically nothing is working for them — whether it’s the economy, or the highways, or the power grid, or the tax code, or job training programs, or public education, or health care. They basically have the sense that the government’s responsibility to provide for the common good is gone. It’s evaporated. This is why they reacted, or at least 46 percent of them reacted, the way they did in the 2016 election, which was really an effect of severe frustration — “Let’s just elect this guy who’s promising all this stuff. He seems really unconventional, but at least he says exactly what’s on his mind. Let’s try this.”

And the protected class? Well, they’re the “winners” in our system who don’t need a good system of public education because their kids go to private school, who don’t care about mass transit because they can afford to drive anywhere, and they don’t need public health care because they can pay for private coverage. In short, they’re not invested in the common good because they’re protected, and the system is rigged to keep them that way.

The core promise of the American dream has always been that you can do better than your parents. “If you work hard and you play by the rules,” as Bill Clinton used to say, “you can make it in this country.” For a large swath of the country, the majority of the country, that’s just not true anymore.

In many cases, the people doing the most damage aren’t breaking any laws or consciously trying to hurt anyone else. They’re simply doing what they were told to do — go to prestigious law schools, get a job at a prestigious law firm, and make lots of money. But the end result of what they’ve done is increase the gap between the protected and the unprotected, and to create a country that is more unequal and less fair.

I think we need to redirect our old values. The values that were hijacked — the First Amendment, due process, meritocracy, the financial and legal engineering — they need to be redirected to undo some of the damage that’s been done. We have to demand leaders in Washington and state capitals who unite us, who will tell the frustrated middle class that they have more in common with the poor than with the protected class. If we can’t do these things, we’re in trouble.

I conceived the book as an autopsy of the “American dream” when I started, but I also realized that there was another part of the story. In the course of trying to collect all the facts for the autopsy, I started talking to the people who were tackling campaign finance or infrastructure or income inequality, and I realized that there were a lot of people out there doing really important work, really good work. So yes, things are very bad, but the patient isn’t quite dead yet — there are some cures that are still possible.


Suicides Have Increased. Is This An Existential Crisis?

Dr Clay Routledge, 23 Jun 2018, nytimes.com

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released startling new statistics on the rise of deaths by suicide in the United States, which are up 25 percent since 1999 across most ethnic and age groups. These numbers clearly point to a crisis — but of what kind?

Many argue that this is a crisis of mental health care, that people are not getting the services they need. The proposed solution is better therapies, more effective antidepressants and greater access to treatment.

This assessment may be correct. However, the suicide rate has increased even as more people are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, and even as treatment for those conditions has become more widely available. An additional explanation seems to be needed.

As a behavioral scientist who studies basic psychological needs, including the need for meaning, I am convinced that our nation’s suicide crisis is in part a crisis of meaninglessness. Fully addressing it will require an understanding of how recent changes in American society — changes in the direction of greater detachment and a weaker sense of belonging — are increasing the risk of existential despair.

Like other organisms, humans are in the survival and reproduction game. We have a strong orientation to live — that is, to avoid death. However, the neurological machinery that has helped us survive has also rendered us distinctively ruminative. Our capacity to reflect on ourselves, to think about the past and the future and to engage in abstract thought has given us access to some uncomfortable truths: We know that we and everyone we care about will age, become frailer and die. We recognize that life is uncertain. We understand that pain and sorrow are part of our destiny. What is the point of it all?

In order to keep existential anxiety at bay, we must find and maintain perceptions of our lives as meaningful. We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also for significance. We want lives that matter. It is when people are not able to maintain meaning that they are most psychologically vulnerable.

Empirical studies bear this out. A felt lack of meaning in one’s life has been linked to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and — yes — suicide. And when people experience loss, stress or trauma, it is those who believe that their lives have a purpose who are best able to cope with and recover from distress.

How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives? There are many paths, but the psychological literature suggests that close relationships with other people are our greatest existential resource. Regardless of social class, age, gender, religion or nationality, people report that the life experiences they find most personally meaningful typically involve loved ones.

Critically, studies indicate that it isn’t enough to simply be around or even liked by other people. We need to feel valued by them, to feel we are making important contributions to a world that matters. This helps explain why people can feel lonely and meaningless even if they are regularly surrounded by others who treat them well: Merely pleasant or enjoyable social encounters aren’t enough to stave off despair.

All of which brings us to the changing social landscape of America. To bemoan the decline of neighborliness, the shrinking of the family and the diminishing role of religion may sound like the complaining of a crotchety old man. Yet from the standpoint of psychological science, these changes, regardless of what you otherwise think about them, pose serious threats to a life of meaning.

Consider that Americans today, compared with those of past generations, are less likely to know and interact with their neighbors, to believe that people are generally trustworthy and to feel that they have individuals they can confide in. This is a worrisome development from an existential perspective: Studies have shown that the more people feel a strong sense of belongingness, the more they perceive life as meaningful. Other studies have shown that lonely people view life as less meaningful than those who feel strongly connected to others.

Something similar is at stake in the decreasing size of the family. Americans today are waiting longer to marry and have children, and are having fewer children. This may be a desirable state of affairs for many people (though evidence suggests that American women are having fewer children than they want). Nonetheless, researchers have found that adults with children are more focused on matters of meaning than are adults who do not have children, and that parents experience a greater sense of meaningfulness when they are engaged in activities that involve taking care of children.

As for religion, which has long provided the institutional and social scaffolding for a life of meaning, it, too, is in steep decline. Americans these days, especially young adults, are less likely to identify with a religious faith, attend church or engage in other religious practices. But as my research has shown, the sense of meaningfulness provided by religion is not so easily replicated in nonreligious settings: When Americans abandon traditional houses of worship, they increasingly search for alternative religious-like experiences (including those involving ideas about ghosts or space aliens) in order to feel as if they are part of something larger and more meaningful than their brief mortal lives.

There is even reason to think that America’s existential crisis may be contributing to our rancorous political divisions. Studies show that when presented with existentially threatening ideas (such as reminders of their mortality), people respond with increased bias toward their own worldview, particularly if they are not finding meaning in their life through other sources. In this way, our fractious political culture may be fueled not just by ideological disagreement, but also by a desperate search, common to all lost souls, to find meaning anywhere we can.


The Fading American Dream May Be Behind Rise In US Suicides

Andy Coghlan, 27 Jun 2018, newscientist.com

Shrinking life chances plus lack of a social safety net may have left middle-aged Americans more vulnerable to suicide than peers in other rich nations.

Sobering statistics published earlier this month show that the annual rate of suicide in the US has risen by almost 28 per cent between 1999 and 2016. A number of explanations have been put forward, including the 2008 economic crash, the upsurge in addiction to opioid painkillers and the migration of manufacturing jobs to other countries. But none alone explains why the suicide rate is rising so fast in the US as it falls in other rich countries. Is something uniquely American at work?

One of the key drivers could be the American dream itself – the idea that you can work hard and climb out of poverty. A growing mismatch between the life expectations this brings and the increasingly bleak reality for many US citizens could lead to hardship. This may be particularly felt by middle-aged white Americans, who have the highest suicide rates and the steepest rises. The American dream is deeply ingrained, but it no longer seems to be true for working class, middle-aged people.

Unlike the US, governments of rich nations such as Finland, France and Belgium promote healthcare through non-medical support, including housing, education and social insurance. “The US spends plenty, but we spend differently,” says Laudan Aron at the Urban Institute in Washington DC.

This rejection of the state and the prioritising of individual rights, no matter the potential costs, runs right through US culture. It explains why people in the US are more likely to indulge in risky behaviours such as overeating and gun-related activity, and tend to defy safety-based but restrictive norms such as wearing seatbelts. So could this attitude also be behind US suicide rates?

Deborah Stone of the CDC agrees it may have played a part. “It is possible that the culture around individualism and stigma around seeking help does leave people vulnerable, perhaps more so than in other Western countries.”