Staying…

I’ve always been a bit neurotic. I have a tendency towards obsessive worry, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, the occasional panic attack and mild to moderate mood disturbances. Ironically, I hardly ever worry about the things others might – things grounded in reality, such as money, work or retirement. I worry about things that aren’t likely to happen. I’m an alarmist. If my stomach hurts for more than 2 days, I’m picturing my funeral and beginning to deal with how my son will grow up without me. Despite the fact that most of these symptoms and past or potential diagnoses have abated considerably within the past decade as a result of therapy, self-exploration, and a lot of damn hard work, each is still with me in some small and distant capacity. And that’s ok. At least I’m consistent. And besides, it isn’t all bad.

The flip side of neuroticism and the deep way I seem to experience anxiety and sadness – at least in my case – is an intense appreciation for the things I have. Thankfulness is a direct result of that little dark cloud always looming, reminding me that one day this will end. The dark reminds me of the light, and for this I am grateful. That said, it was a rough road getting to the place I am today.

I have been the primary cause of the end of several very important relationships in my life and I’ve deeply hurt several people who, at one time or another meant the world to me. As a direct result of the way in which I chose to struggle – or avoided struggling – with my demons, I stayed for far too long in relationships, circumstances, and mental, emotional, and behavioral states that were no good for me, or those around me. I spent far too much time and energy just treading water, and I won’t do it again. My time here is too short.

About 10 years ago, I happened upon this incredibly powerful poem by Haelinn Seu printed in probably my favorite magazine, Adbusters (check it out, it’s creative and really smart: https://www.adbusters.org/). To this day, it reminds me never to settle or simply exist in my life, but to thrive – to do whatever I need to, to avoid the stagnant complacency that insidiously creeps into everyday life. Here it is:

In the beginning you held me all night long.
Rarely does this happen anymore.
And I know this is just one of the minor deaths
for which I, as an adult,
am expected to settle for
like I do with the mice
squealing at night
from the glue traps under the radiator.
I’m supposed to close my eyes,
and repeat the mantra,
“That’s life.”

But I lie awake next to you
and I imagine them
chewing off their feet.

-Haelinn Seu

After having spent several cumulative years in the client’s chair, I have recently begun my role as a psychotherapist, as I’m a 5th year PhD psych student. What I’ve learned about people both from my own life and from listening to others talk about theirs, is that many times we are just trying to keep our heads above water and we stay too long.

We all get to choose the way we want to love ourselves, our lives, and others. And we all get to be in or end relationships and circumstances based on anything we want. I’m a huge proponent of ‘the less rules placed upon us the better’ – but many times we stay in the lives we live for reasons we shouldn’t. And I don’t just mean relationships. We stay in jobs, houses, towns, anger, jealousy, and fear for reasons we shouldn’t – and it’s destructive. We stay because it’s what we know, or because it’s safe. We stay because it’s not as bad as being alone, or being somewhere else, or because we’re afraid of what people might think. And in the mean time, tiny pieces of our selves- pieces so small you wouldn’t notice any one in particular – are quietly peeling away, leaving us forever.

And so, live however you want to live. Make any decision you want to. Take or leave people’s advice – you absolutely have that right. It’s your life and you get to decide what’s important and what’s not. But remember, if you’re spending all your energy just treading water, there is so much more.

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
– M. West

Advertisements

The Problem is Not Gun Violence

beyonce

Ugh. Videos, or dare I say propaganda like this distracts us from the actual problems this country faces. Here’s what I mean.

First of all, as has been proven repeatedly through a history of strategic analyses, trying to mitigate something by addressing it at the end of its causal chain – by creating laws aimed to address some secondary effect is both inefficient and ineffective. Creating more and more restrictive gun laws in an effort to prevent gun violence is akin to insisting every single person take off their shoes in order to board a plane in an effort to prevent terrorism.

Generally speaking, terrorist acts (at least the “type” we are currently so afraid of) are perpetrated upon the United States because there are individuals in the world with ill-will born of an enormously complex combination of grievance and frustration over years of U.S. interventions abroad, the desire for systemic socio-economic change, irredentist conviction, in some instances a commitment to revolution usually combined with a distorted view of the principles of Islam and a violent and criminal interpretation of the obligation of Jihad (Hoffman, 1995). If we want to effectively eradicate this type of terrorism, these are the issues that must be addressed. Chances are they won’t use a plane again. Focusing on a reactive law, whether it be the Homeland Security Act or stricter gun laws to address the method of attack rather than funneling time, money, energy towards root causes does almost nothing to increase the relative safety of Americans. Laws are reactive not preventative – or at least not effectively or efficiently preventative. They do however; provide the false sense of security essentially demanded by the U.S. public.

If most homicides in the United States involve a gun, the pressing or root issue is not the gun; it’s the prevalence of homicide – or intent to kill. The majority of the deaths involving guns are suicides, which narrows this to an even finer point – why are people killing themselves and each other? Let me be clear: the outrage over gun violence is justified – most definitely. However, the placement of that out rage, and the efforts made should be more accurately focused on the root problem – that being increased propensity for and tendency toward committing acts of violence based on perceived relative deprivation combined with a culture saturated in violence and fear and the commoditization of absolutely everything.

We are focused on the wrong things and for a very specific purpose. Focusing on the surface issues keeps us distracted from putting enough of the pieces together to identify the actual and root problems affecting the American public. Here are the links of the causal chain, as I see them. It’s a sort of explanatory hypothesis or theory about the potential correlations between the brand of capitalism used in the United States’ within the last 25 years – I’ll call it corporate capitalism under the political philosophy of neoliberalism – and the state of things today – specifically for the individual, and more specifically in regards to a reduced capacity for empathy, and a sense of community, and an increase in feelings of isolation, conformity, hedonism, and external rather than intrinsic goals. – Some of what I would call getting closer to the root causes of gun violence in the U.S.

Corporations and the rich control policy making in the United States. Yes, they do. In 2014, researchers at Princeton published an article in the journal Perspectives on Politics titled, “Testing theories of American politics: Elites, interest groups and average citizens”. Here is the link: http://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf .

Their findings state, “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” This is where our outrage should be placed.

Manufactured Consent. In order for a system like this to continue to function, and because we live in a ‘democracy’ (in quotes as was evidenced by the Princeton study and other data presented here, our country is not run by the general public) consent must be manufactured. In the United States this has been done in a number of ways. A culture of fear has been created (terrorism, violence) which not only keeps the citizenry distracted but conveniently aids in the justification of U.S. intervention, violence, and the use of hard power in order to meet the economic and profit needs of large corporations.

Keep in mind the media has never been more consolidated. Today, 90% of what we read, watch or listen to is controlled by 6 companies: GE, Newscorp., Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS. This contributes to the dissemination of misinformation, miseducation, and subsequently, the engineering of history. This is where our outrage should be placed.

Think for a moment about the state of the economy for most people, the job market, the debt each of us are trying to pay down, and the policies in place to help the middle class. And now read this: The first quarter of this year Chevron and Total had record-breaking earnings reports and six of the major international oil companies topped $50 billion in combined profit for the first time. Revenue rose significantly to $82.9 billion from $56.1 billion a year ago. This is where our outrage should be placed.

I’m surprised, though perhaps shouldn’t be, that many of my peers in academia disseminate the same information – that gun laws should be stricter. They post PSA videos made with celebrities demanding “enough”! With the ever more business-like model being utilized in higher education, academia and intelligencia play more to the tune of the dollar than they do to intellectual progress of man toward truth. Today, many universities play an integral role in perpetuating the status quo. They “allow” and encourage the initiation of just enough critical thinking (let’s demand the government do more to protect it’s citizens through stricter gun laws) that we remain distracted from the real issues. Much of the educational system “throws us a bone” and serves its purpose by producing drones that have the illusion of activism and progressive thought and action when in reality, the purpose it actually serves is further distraction from the issues that really effect its citizens.

My assigned (but now former) research advisor and the former chair of my dissertation committee, upon hearing that my dissertation topic centered on exactly this topic -the role education in our capitalist economy plays in perpetuating current social structures of oppression as well as in keeping the masses in check promptly stated, “Missy, we are not training philosophers.” Funny of him to say considering the dissertation I’m writing and the research I am conducting is to earn a degree titled ‘Doctorate of Philosophy’.

And all this, without even touching the significantly larger public health risks – those things actually responsible for the majority of American deaths each year and that are somehow unrealized by the majority of the American public. We’d rather be mad and quibble about gun laws than the actual problems in this country – that the vast majority of people who die in the U.S. every year die of preventable, diet-related diseases, or the fact that 1% of the rich in this country control not only the dissemination of information but the politics as well.

The most recent data reveals around 2,515,458 people die annually in the US.

Here are U.S. gun violence statistics from the CDC:

  • Every year, an average of just over 100,000 people are shot
  • Every day, an average of 289 people are shot: 86 of them die; 30 are murdered; 53 kill themselves; 2 die accidentally.
  • Between 2000 and 2010 – in an entire decade – a total of 335,609 people died from guns.
  • This means that annually, roughly 33,000 people die from guns – 60% of them from suicide.

Ok, now lets look at some other interesting statistics:

  • Heart disease (23.72%), cancer (22.92%), chronic lower respiratory disease (5.68%) and stroke (5.125) are the top four causes of death in the United States, respectively, and together, they account for 57.43% of all deaths.
  • Accidents, which account for 5.02% of all deaths, are the 5th leading cause. This category includes all auto and transportation accidents, which make up the largest portion, as well as drownings, falls, accidental discharge of firearms, and accidental poisonings.
  • Alzheimers (3.37%), Diabetes (2.93%), Influenza and Pneumonia (2.13%), Kidney Disease (1.81%), and Suicide (1.57%) are numbers 6-10 respectively.

Let’s recap these. Of all the causes of death in the United States, 7 of the top 10 are diet-related, preventable diseases, accounting for nearly 75% of all deaths. This means every single day 3,966 Americans die and every single year 1,447,875 Americans die as a result of some diet-related, preventable death.

  • Just counting heart disease – the number one killer in the United States – just under 603,710 people die a completely preventable diet and lifestyle related death every year. This is compared to the 300,000 who died during the 10 years between 2000 and 2010 from gun violence (again remember, most of them suicide).
  • “Truth be known, coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never ever exist, and if it does exist it need never ever progress.”

– Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, researcher and clinician at the Cleveland Clinic for over 35 years. 1991 President of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, organized the 1st National Conference on the Elimination and Prevention of Heart Disease, 2005 1st recipient of the Benjamin Spock Award for Compassion in Medicine.

Despite the fact the top 4 killers in the United States are diet and lifestyle related preventable diseases, there is proportionately little information disseminated about how simply eating differently can halt and in the case of heart disease – reverse illness.

This is where our outrage should be placed.

Ok, there is proportionately little information disseminated about how simply eating differently can halt and in the case of heart disease – reverse illness? Because:

The top 10 drugs by number of monthly prescriptions are:

  1. Synthroid, 22.6 million
  2. Crestor, 22.5 million
  3. Nexium, 18.6 million
  4. Ventolin HFA, 17.5 million
  5. Advair Diskus, 15.0 million
  6. Diovan, 11.4 million
  7. Lantus Solostar, 10.1 million
  8. Cymbalta, 10.0 million
  9. Vyvanse, 10.0 million
  10. Lyrica, 9.6 million

And the top 10 drugs by sales are:

  1. Abilify, $7.2 billion
  2. Humira, $6.3 billion
  3. Nexium, $6.3 billion
  4. Crestor, $5.6 billion
  5. Enbrel, $5.0 billion
  6. Advair Diskus, $5.0 billion
  7. Sovaldi, $4.4 billion
  8. Remicade, $4.3 billion
  9. Lantus Solostar, $3.8 billion
  10. Neulasta, $3.6 billion

Note how many of these treat exactly these diet related conditions – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, COPD, acid reflux, hypothyroidism.

This is where our outrage should be placed. Where are the PSAs about the perverse, convoluted relationships between the Food and Drug Administration, the government, and Big Pharm?

Oh, and here are some of my favorites:

  • 2015 discretionary spending of the United States government looks like this: (As different cites contain vastly  different information, I’ll present these numbers with a range)
    • 53-71% of the discretionary budget was spent on military
    • 6-8% was  spent on education – and a lackluster education at that. 69.4 %of Chicago Public School students graduated last school year, and this pitiful number was an all-time high for the district.
    • In 2014, only 35% percent of 4th grade public schools students and 36% of 8th graders scored at or above the “Proficient” level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests.

What about the fact that most of the students failing in the U.S. educational systems are from the lower class? Here in the U.S. we use the term ‘middle class’ as opposed to ‘working class’ and terms such as ‘ruling or upper class’ are almost never used, lest we talk about the class system. But with most students failing coming from low SES backgrounds, that’s exactly what we’re talking about. This is where our outrage should be placed.

Inequality is consistently rising. Today, the top 3 percent of families hold over double the wealth of America’s poorest 90 percent of families. And there is no class system here. This is where our outrage should be placed.

UNICEF recently conducted a study called ‘Child Neglect in Rich Societies’ which pins the sharp divide between Anglo-American and European-Japanese models on the U.S. ideological preference for “market discipline for the poor has largely privatized child rearing while making it effectively impossible for most of the population to rear children.” Here is an excerpt:

“In the much more supportive European model, social policy has strengthened rather than weakened support systems for families and children. Contact time with children has declined sharply in the United States, which leads directly to the destruction of family identity and values. It leads to an increase reliance on television for supervision, an increase in latchkey children – kids who are alone – a factor in rising child alcoholism, drug use and criminal violence against children by children and other obvious effects in health, education, ability to participate in a democratic society, and decline in SATS and IQs.”

But you’re not supposed to notice that. We are a business-run society. Being at work all day is good for you and good for the economy. This is where our outrage should be placed.

All of this is staying domestic. Let’s cast the net a bit broader and think of the wars waged to protect U.S. or world citizens (or more accurately stated, corporate interests).

We had to bring down Saddam Hussein because of the atrocities he was committing, However, when he was playing nice in regards to U.S. interests, we had no problem with those same atrocities. Corporate interests. Remember those oil stats?

Meanwhile, Israel, one of our biggest allies committed serious violations of the laws of war during fighting in the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014. Israeli military operations in Gaza, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, caused the vast majority of civilian casualities and destruction of infrastructure. Israel’s blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment, while its settlement and other policies violated international law and harmed Palestinians. Israel also suppressed freedom of association and assembly. Israeli attacks damaged or destroyed 18,000 homes and half of all education facilities (261 out of 520 schools, kindergartens, and university buildings, according to the UN), including the only school for children with disabilities.

The following statistics are from a recent study aimed at identifying the number of deaths the U.S. military has been responsible for since World War II. Numbers include all types of affairs including wars, proxy wars and, in some instances, though nations other than the U.S. may have been responsible for more deaths, if the involvement of our nation appeared to have been a necessary cause of a war or conflict, we were considered to hold some responsibility for the deaths.

  • U.S. military forces are directly responsible for 10 to 15 million deaths during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the two Iraq Wars. The Korean War also includes Chinese deaths while the Vietnam War also includes fatalities in Cambodia and Laos.
  • The American public is largely unaware of these numbers and knows even less about the proxy wars for which the United States is also responsible. In the latter wars there were between nine and 14 million deaths in Afghanistan, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Guatemala, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sudan. Virtually all parts of the world have been the target of U.S. intervention.
  • The overall conclusion reached is that since World War II, the United States has been responsible for the deaths of between 20 and 30 million people in wars and conflicts scattered over the world.

This is where our outrage should be placed.

Corporate control of the government. Rising inequality. Systemic oppression under the guise of hyper-individualism. A complicit educational system. Placing the economy over society. Placing profit over people. The commoditization of every single thing, including you. The U.S. work ‘ethic’ is destroying families and child outcomes. Consumerism, materialism, and hyper-individualism have been internalized. Narcissism has risen. Empathy is decreasing.

There has been a qualitative break down in the structure of our society evidenced by the deep isolation an individual experiences growing up and existing in a culture that values money, appearance, talent, performance, output, and material possessions so much more than the human being. And we are ignorant of all of it, blaming our problems on the poor, demanding stricter guns laws, and thinking we’re spreading democracy.

This is the stuff we should be afraid of. This is the stuff we should be putting our effort into raising awareness around and trying to change. These are the factors responsible for the parts of our society that are devolving and they are the primary cause of the alienation and isolation of the individual. Subsequently I would argue, they are responsible for an increase in suicide and violence directed towards others.

Instead of calling for stricter gun laws, we should demand campaign finance reform and greater transparency between government and corporations. We should demand that our government listen to us, not corporations. We should demand more regulation and greater transparency on research funding and a stop to an educational system that perpetuates existing oppressive social structures. We should demand an end to the insidious connections between Big Pharm and the FDA. We should demand greater collective bargaining rights to improve the lives of millions of workers and families and children. And we should demand the end of the commoditization of the individual. Ours is a culture within which it has become increasingly difficult to exist as simply as one can, and still feel worth, love and acceptance.

What needs to change for unspeakable acts like the one perpetrated in Oregon yesterday to stop? We do. We need to change. Let’s start focusing on the stuff that might actually make a difference.