Thursday, November 05, 2015

Or Sometimes, Just Odd...

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.


Christopher B said...

Is there a possibility this is a generational thing, i.e. confined to a certain age cohort passing through this time frame, or does the data suggest this is a permanent change?

RichardJohnson said...

I am struck by the callousness of a number of these remarks. They do not support the lib/prog narrative that they are more caring than the heartless wingnuts. But since when were narratives necessarily descriptive of reality?

AVI: Some of my readers are more liberal, and they get testy or offended when I generalise about them.

The tendency of some libs/progs to generalize about the cave-dwelling, racist teabagging rethuglicans is undoubtedly not something that those who object to your generalizations have ever done, no?

They live in the NPR now.
Love it. In weekly talkfests at a local bar with a yellow dog Democrat, I get the impression that he imbibes the talking points of the week. While he is always current with the latest talking points, he never bothers to investigate beyond the talking points. I get the impression that for him, rooting for his Democrats is rather similar to rooting for his alma mater's sports teams: done with serious intent, but with minimal thought. His car is plastered with Democrat bumper stickers- which show he is a loyal member of the team. Root, root for the home team.

Earl Wajenberg said...

I'm probably too ignorant of psychiatry to find this odd. Or maybe of the demographics. We're now crawling out of the biggest economic slam since the Great Depression. Lots of middle-aged white guys lots their jobs. Lots of white guys have been desperate for a long time, and even if the economy is starting to pick up, lots of those guys now have stress problems similar to slow-motion PTSD, with accompanying depression and anxiety, even if they got another job. It might well hit that age-group disproportionately because they were not ready to retire and certainly not ready to start all over. Why wouldn't the suicide rate go up?

Sam L. said...

" Their support is a sign of the frustration and desperation of a broad swath of the Republican electorate. " He got THAT right; wish to hell the GOP establishment would recognize that.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

RJ - I have a pretty reasonable groups of liberals here. They don't like to be kicked so they usually communicate with me only in private. They often have points that are at least decent correctives, if not fully persuasive.

As for NPR now - listen to the game shows over the weekend. Showing snarky wit about current events is the prime skill. When I was in high school, I was taught that there was something inherently noble about Current Events and keeping up with such things. I now think that's not very true. As CS Lewis noted, if events are big enough people will tell you about them. In fact, they won't stop. He didn't take a newspaper.

JMSmith said...

I really like your expression "NPR now," and think it is relevant to the subtitle of your blog. When a person moves into the post-liberal zone, they often continue listening to NPR for some time. I know I did. It's sort of like those people who continue to attend church after they have lost their faith. Eventually I couldn't stomach it any more, but before that ultimate moment of revulsion, there were stages of NPR withdrawal. The first was seeing that NPR has a point of view, the second was seeing that that point of view is part of a larger lifestyle, the third was seeing that a big part of that lifestyle was sneering and sniffing at things I hold dear, and the fourth was switching it off. As I passed through the stages, I found myself editing, correcting and contextualizing more and more of what came over the radio. I finally switched it off when my children were old enough to listen to the radio and understand what was being said, but not old enough to put up a critical filter.

This all came back the other day when I attended a seminar at the university and the presenter began by playing a audio-clip from NPR. She treated it as if it were holy writ, and her seminar was, in effect, pious commentary on the NPR text. It had been years since NPR, but it struck me that that it had become even more of what it always was. It's as if there is a Platonic ideal of NPRness, and every "NPR now" moves closer to it.