If you're one of the millions of people suffering from terminal despair, please don't despair. Because you don't have an economic or a social problem as much as you have an attitude problem or a spiritual problem. The cure for what ails you is just the right blend of sermonizing, technological tweaks, and maybe even a little uninsured psychotherapy or drug rehab.
Furthermore, advises Ross Douthat, the New York Times' resident conservative scold, you should also take heart knowing that climate change will not do all of us in nearly as quickly as substance abuse is doing some of us in right now. In other words, you might be feeling desperate, but at least you're not dead. Unless, of course, you're one of those Bahamians whose unburied body lies rotting in the rubble of the one of the worst hurricanes in history.
Douthat does not go there, because he is solely concerned with American despair and the presidential horse race. In any case, the devastated Bahamas are still largely inaccessible to both rescue crews and journalists. Even some of the lucky few Bahamians who managed to get on a rescue boat were kicked off and refused entry at Florida ports, ostensibly because their travel visas were lost in the storm. If Douthat talked about their despair, then he would also be forced to talk about the Trump administration's sadistic policies.
But cruelty at the highest levels of corporatized government is not the purpose of his column. Selling hope in a can is, one "smart" little aerosol huff at a time. Like toxic vaping product, hoping product even comes in a variety of colors and flavors to help us overcome such personal handicaps as "meaning deficits" and "loss of purpose" which get all entangled with low marriage and birth rates and other such "gently dehumanizing drifts."
(Now, if you wonder why Douthat sounds like a refugee from a TED talk, just remember that until Saturday - the very day that this column was published - the New York Times Company's Board of Directors had included Joichi Ito, disgraced head of the "prestigious" MIT Media Lab, a major financial neoliberal corporatist source for the lucrative TED franchise. See Ronan Farrow's excellent takedown in The New Yorker for all the gory details about how the trafficking of humans and money intersects, and how corrupt power attracts corrupt power.)
Nevertheless, Douthat persists:
So if we’re going to answer whatever is killing tens of thousands of our countrymen, it’s as important to pay attention to the would-be cultural healers — from the old churches to the New Agers, the online Nietzscheans to the neo-pagans, Jordan Peterson to Marianne Williamson — as it is to have the policy conversations about what’s possible in the next presidential term.I'm surprised he didn't end his screed with "May the Force Be With You." I'm not at all surprised, though, that he still has a job on the prestigious op-ed page of the Times, whose board consists entirely of tech moguls (including Facebook's marketing director), vulture capitalists and corporate CEOs - but not one actual journalist.
Despair as a sociological phenomenon is rarely permanent: Some force, or forces, will supply new forms of meaning eventually. And it matters not only that this happens, but which forces those will be.
I'm also not surprised that the Times buried my submitted comment so well that I wasn't even aware it had been published until a reader of this blog clued me in (see comments). I assumed it was rejected because I had never received the customary email notification from them thanking me for my submission.
A former comments moderator, denying that censorship exists at the Times, once told me that an algorithm controls reader comment placement or rejection as well as timing, and that its secrets shall never be disclosed to the teeming masses. Nonetheless, the Times ostentatiously welcomes gender and racial "diversity" from its comment writers - so long, apparently, as the diversity of opinions runs the entire Dorothy Parker gamut from A to B.
Anyway, here's my response to Ross Douthat:
"Despair is all in your head."
That is the subliminal message of this column, based upon a report issued by a GOP senator, Mike Lee. The report downplays deaths from despair by blaming them on opioids. Were it not for people taking drugs, the report facilely concludes, the despair death rate, adjusted for age, would be at the same level as it was in 1975.
This is another way of blaming the victim instead of blaming the neo-feudal capitalist system that is literally crushing the life and hope out of millions of people. The rising US death rate for the third straight year cannot just be ascribed to overdoses.
Another recent study shows that more older people are literally starving in the richest country on earth. The waiting time to get Meals on Wheels home deliveries is now as long as one year. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is seeking even more cuts to the food stamp program, disqualifying at least 25% of current recipients. Hunger is indeed a desperate situation, coupled as it is with the unaffordability of prescription drugs and rising medical bankruptcies, even among those with health insurance.
Douthat also doesn't mention the student debt crisis. The birth and home ownership rates are both drastically down because indebted people can't afford kids or a roof over their heads.
So we should feel better knowing that in another hundred years or so, our lives will be just peachy-keen, because societal despair is a cyclical thing?
What a depressingly obnoxious and deeply cynical suggestion.