“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Morbidity and Mortality*

Last Friday, May 3rd, was the 100th anniversary of my mother’s birth.  She died in 2002, but she has been with me a lot since then.  T.S. Eliot says that “As we grow older/the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated/Of dead and living.”  And Leonard Cohen sings hauntingly about what I mean:

Also on last Friday, the PBS Newshour aired two stories of particular interest to me.  The first concerned a report from the CDC concerning a jump in suicide rates.  For the year 2010, the number of Americans choosing not to live increased by 28%.  Among white Americans, the increase was 40%.  And among men in their 50s (my age) the jump was 48%.

This story was followed by one on the difficulty that unemployed older Americans, especially those who lost their jobs in the recession following the 2008 global financial collapse, are having finding employment.  This report included clips from a discussion which the reporter, Paul Solomon, held with a group of unemployed older Americans. One of them was a man who said that he had run through his entire savings, including his 401K, and had only $2000 to his name.  He was to be getting his last unemployment check this week.  He was already getting help in the form of financial hardship pricing on electricity and gas and in the form of food stamps, but he was behind on his mortgage.  He did not know what he was going to do.

At the end of the segment, the man who runs the counseling agency to which all these people had turned, Joe Carbone, said this:

"I love this country so much, but I can't imagine that we would ever leave any of our citizens, any of our brothers and sisters, to be part of a process that's declaring them hopeless. And that's what's going on."

The link between these stories was noted, though not discussed at length.  I was struck by the fact that the report on suicide identified sub segments of our society by race and by age, but not by class.  (I must note that I do not know whether the research paper published by the CDC included economic as well as other analyses, but the news report for the general public did not.  The Director of the CDC did talk about the impact of drugs and alcohol on an individuals risk for suicide.  He said that it was important that health care providers be aware of their patients’ substance abuse, etc.  He did not say that a more equitable economic system might have huge and even life-saving medical benefits

Nobody on television that night said that poor folk have little reason to go on living in 21st century America.  The notion that "they" can work their way out of poverty and upward into prosperity is a vicious (I mean that word quite literally) lie.  And the society as a whole, the “nation” (if indeed one can talk about this country as a unified community at all), does not want to help support those who can find no way to support themselves adequately.  The myth of the Rugged Individualist (Rand, Reagan, et al.) has conveniently given the housed and fed an excuse to wash their hands of any responsibility for the rest of us.

*My title. "Morbidity and Mortality" is also the title of the prestigious medical journal published by the CDC in which the report on suicide appeared.