Watching the news feels like a slow spiralling descent into depression, despair, and madness. There are far too many news stories to keep track of, and none of them show any signs of a happy ending. In the UK we have bitter divisions over Brexit which are making the entire British government a laughing stock. School kids all over the world are protest marching, trying to get the grownups to take the looming environmental crisis seriously.
Then you have poor young millennials who are bearing the brunt of the economic damage wrought by late-20th-century capitalism. If generations are characterized by crises, then many an academic is saying that ours is the crisis of extreme capitalism. Add to this further insecurities such as extreme individualism, and no wonder millennials are thrown into a dizzying state of perpetual panic. Author Malcolm Harris has forewarned that “Workers have always been exploited, but that rate of exploitation is increasing exponentially for millennials.”
And over in New Zealand we had one of the worst acts of violence perpetrated in the name of Islamophobia. Having witnessed the carnage in the southern hemisphere, Donald Trump refused to acknowledge the rise of white nationalist terrorism, despite the growing body of evidence that clearly points to a dramatic and overall decrease of Islamist terrorism, whilst at the same time trends show a very worrying increase in white supremacist terrorism. Instead he continues twittering on and on about the caravan hordes that are about to descend upon the greatest country in the world any moment now from its southern border (not true).
Perhaps Trump is refusing to see the rise in white nationalism because it does not play well with his 30% ever loyal base of supporters. Or perhaps he is suffering from mental health issues. Recently George Conway, husband of White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, wrote on Twitter “Whether or not impeachment is in order, a serious inquiry needs to be made about this man’s condition of mind…His condition is getting worse…*all* Americans should be thinking seriously *now* about Trump’s mental condition and psychological state, including and especially the media, Congress – and the Vice President and Cabinet.” His wife had to dismiss these concerns publicly voiced by her husband. And then Trump tweeted that George is a “loser.” Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the Conway household.
In addition to Trump and his psychological state, it seems the fuse on the mental health ticking time bomb is nearing its end. Professor Jean Twenge recently stated that “The epidemic is all too real. In fact, the increase in mental health issues among teens and young adults is nothing short of staggering…With more young people suffering – including more attempting suicide and more taking their own lives – the mental health crisis among American young people can no longer be ignored.”
For many months now I have had a nagging feeling that things are generally getting worse all across the globe. Whilst there are occasional pockets of happiness and advance, the far too many negatives outnumber the positives. Also, in some weird way I feel temporarily better when I meet a likeminded soul, someone who feels as pessimistically as myself, people like Hannah Jane Parkinson and Kenn Orphan:
The news is so bleak I, like many of us, am struggling. Sometimes, when I read the news I can barely take it. God, we hear people say, the world is so depressing right now! And it is. I really, genuinely, think it is. My head feels as though I have 20 tabs open and all the autoplay videos are clashing. I know I am not the only one who feels this. I know one doesn’t have to have a mental illness to feel it; these febrile times are affecting the mental health of so many people. It isn’t being a snowflake (and aren’t the people who make those accusations always the most thin-skinned?) It is being utterly drained and drowning, as though every breath is just taking in water. – Hannah Jane Parkinson, Mar 2019, from a New Statesman article entitled The World Is Falling Apart. And So Is My Mental Health
Like many others I have found myself encountering a grief that envelops my entire being more and more. An existential grief that cannot ignore our collective predicament as a species and that often accompanies a sense of panic and powerlessness. And I have begun to relate even more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an unheard anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of an omnicidal status quo. And so many of us feel that sense of terrorized paralyzation at the madness of rising militarism, fascism and brutality and an unfolding ecocidal nightmare. – Kenn Orphan, 15 Mar 2019, from a counterpunch.org article entitled Grieving In The Anthropocene
No wonder booksellers recently announced that sales of self-help books are at record levels. And what is causing this perpetual increase in hatred? As far as I am concerned, it is a lack of love and understanding. Increasing divisions mean we hate more and love less, and the internet, with all of its misinformation and disinformation, is making it really difficult to truly understand each other. A brilliant explanation of this comes from the journalist David Brooks who recently wrote about “the crisis of American conscience”:
I often wonder who didn’t love Donald Trump. I often wonder who left an affection void that he has tried to fill by winning attention, which is not the same thing. He’s turned his life into a marketing strategy. Even the presidential campaign was a marketing campaign to build the Trump brand. In turning himself into a brand he’s turned himself into a human shell, so brittle and gilded that there is no place for people close to him to attach. His desperate attempts to be loved have made him unable to receive love. Imagine what your own life would be like if you had no love in it, if you were just using people and being used. Trump, personifying the worst elements in our culture, is like a providentially sent gong meant to wake us up and direct us toward a better path. Trump is incapable of hearing any cries except the roar of his own hungers. This is how moral corrosion happens. Supporting Trump requires daily acts of moral distancing, a process that means that after a few months you are tolerant of any corruption. You are morally numb to everything. – David Brooks, 28 Feb 2019, from a nytimes.com article entitled Morality And Michael Cohen
So how does one even begin to counteract this? Perhaps by getting people to focus on love and not hate. Presented below are two recent examples that I personally came across. I hope these two examples can act as a counterweight to all the negativity that we seem to be surrounded by. The first is from the 2016 movie Patriots Day, about the terrorist bombing that occurred during the annual Boston Marathon on the 15th of April in 2013. Even though the movie was heavily criticised about exactly how accurate it portrayed events, there is one poignant scene when, whilst on an intense manhunt for the bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, two police officers have a private conversation where they try to make sense of the mayhem and chaos. Officer Tommy (played by lead actor Mark Wahlberg) is asked by Officer Tommy (not played by lead actor Mark Wahlberg) if these kinds of events are in any way preventable. Officer Tommy responds by telling his colleague a story about his wife Carol and their attempts to have kids:
Seven years ago, on March 11th, we went to the doctor, who said we couldn’t have any kids. Carol couldn’t have any babies. I remember right after that we went home, we parked the car in the driveway, and you don’t make this kind of stuff up, but right there were the Mulaney kids. Three little five-year-old girls out there playing hopscotch. We just sat there dead quiet watching them play. It was like we were in a trance. The sound that Carol made, it wasn’t crying. It was deeper. No, crying does not describe that kind of sound. I looked into her eyes and it wasn’t pain. It was more like war. Like a war between good and evil right there in her eyes. Like the devil attacked and God was inside of her fighting back. I just held her. What else could I do? That’s all I saw today. Good versus evil, love versus hate. When the devil hits you like that, there’s only one weapon you have to fight back with. It’s love. That’s the only thing he can’t touch. What are we going to do? We hunt them down, catch them, kill them, and all that? They’re still going to get us. So no way can it ever be entirely preventable. But if we wrap our arms around each other, let love power us, feed us, then I don’t think there’s any way that they could ever win. – from the movie Patriots Day (2016)
Rather jokingly his colleague Billy then says “I always knew there was a thing of beauty buried deep in the holy soul of Tommy Saunders!”
The last example of love that I found really moving comes from the 2009 documentary Facing Ali, about Muhammad Ali and some of the boxers he fought. One of these boxers is George Chuvalo, who had two fights against Ali. He went the distance both times, in each case losing the decision by a wide margin on the scorecards. The first fight, on the 29th of March in 1966 at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, was for Ali’s world heavyweight title. After the fight Ali said “He’s the toughest guy I ever fought.”
In the documentary Chuvalo gives some rather raw and emotional details about his family. He speaks candidly about how his family, especially his kids, were plagued with problems:
The wife and I had five children, four sons and a daughter. And I lost three sons and I lost my wife. I lost my three sons to drugs. I lost my wife to suicide after the loss of our second son. One son shot himself. Two others died of a heroin overdose. And my wife died, ironically, from pills that she’d taken from my sons in a previous drugstore heist. The hold that drugs have on a person is unbelievable. I was told by one of my sons that drugs had such a strong hold on him that when he and his brother would go down to use them, they would ask the dealer at the bar if he had any, and the dealer would show him the white stuff in the palm of his hand, the heroin. And when they would see the smack in the dealer’s hands my sons would be so desperate for it that as soon as they would see it, within the flash of one single second, the very first single second, both of my sons, on cue, would crap their drawers. They would crap their drawers as soon as they saw the drugs. Then they would pay for the drugs. Then they would take the drugs into the bathroom of the hotel where they were and they would then they would suck it up in a syringe and they would shoot it into a waiting vein. And only then would my handsome sons clean themselves off. Every time I tell that story I get sick to my stomach. When my son died, four days later my wife took her life. That was such a bleak period. I was in bed for a month and a half. I don’t even remember going to the bathroom during that period. I must have, but I don’t remember. But I do remember my son Mitchell coming to visit me. My son Steven was alive at the time. My daughter Vanessa. My daughter-in-law Jackie. My only grandchildren at the time, Jesse and Rachel, who are Steven’s children. And some of my friends coming over, hugging me and kissing me and telling me they loved me each and every day. Every day. And I remember articulating to myself after a few weeks how love made you feel. I said “Love makes you feel strong. Love makes you feel tender. Love makes you feel secure. Love makes you feel appreciated. Love makes you feel important.” I think we all like to feel strong, tender, secure, appreciated, important. I think we all like to feel like that. – George Chuvalo, from the documentary Facing Ali (2009)