Related to the previous post, I circulated the recent research on the higher death rates of less-educated whites 45-54 among a fair number of clinicians at work (Read: advanced degree) . We work in the world of suicide risk, drug abuse, and comorbidity. It has been recognised in suicide research for at least 15 years that white males over 50 have an elevated risk. This new info is more dramatic and alarming, it now includes women and other risks beyond suicide, but it's not completely out of the blue. Nor, I thought, was it especially political.
My own thoughts drifted to a couple of possibilities. 1) There is the New Economy, requiring more of cognitive and personal skills over the brawn (agriculture, construction) and fine-motor (typing, assembly) skills that are inexorably being taken over by machines. This has been going on for centuries (think lace-making), but has accelerated recently. Minority youth were the canaries in the mine on this problem. This is the second group to lose out. 2) There were older definitions of self-worth that they were raised with, now less valuable or even discarded*: parenting and fidelity; piety; hard work even if ill-paid; neighborliness and small kindnesses: loyalty. 3) Even diet, as I am especially torqued at the government-encouraged food pyramid that takes years off your life at present, noticing its effect in the mirror every morning. Mostly my own fault, certainly. But still...
I don't say those are the only possible explanations. I rather doubt I'm even half-right on this.
But the people who emailed back or wandered around to discuss it with me - all quite liberal, most of whom reflexively assume I am a liberal because hey, social worker, smart, witty - had explanations that frankly dumbfounded me.
"This is going to be a big election issue in 2016. They (I think he means conservatives) are going to be tying this to the heroin epidemic: that marijuana is a gateway drug, that physicians prescribing painkillers are gateway drugs. But Bernie's on that. He can handle that criticism." (BTW, if it were meth he were trying to tie in I might have seen it, though it's still a stretch. The trend starts 1999 or before, after all.)
"I think the changes have been hard for them. A black man has been elected president. Gay marriage. A woman running for president." I note again...1999...
"It's really sad. They thought Iraq was going to be better than Vietnam." (1999? The assumption that the less-educated are conservative, when the opposite is true?)
"Well, we don't have to worry. This was about the uneducated." (I think less-educated would be a fairer description when we are including high-school grads. Am I over-reading a snobbery here? And it's pretty callous anyway, for one who thinks herself on the side of the average Joe.)
"I wonder if it has to do with increased diagnosis of things like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, things that there aren't a lot of cultural support for." Huh? (I didn't ask for any elaboration) The study was about deaths.
*And as many of these have failed even at those older definitions, as statistics tell us must be so, then so much the worse. They fit neither in the new world nor the old, but in straddling the two, fell between stools.
Some of my readers are more liberal, and they get testy or offended when I generalise about them. They aren't necessarily wrong. I probably don't see things straight. Limited sample size and all that. But when I go off on rants about them, this is why. They live entirely in the social now, with decorative items from history to look intelligent. Not the Kardashian now or the Taylor Swift now - oh no, such things are far beneath them. They live in the NPR now.