This is the Great Depression

America is in the depths of the greatest depression in its history. You might assume I’m speaking of economics but I’m not — I am speaking of the mental health of our people and our society. We like to think and talk about ourselves as the richest country in the world — we are not — the smartest people in the room — we’re demonstrably not — with the best health care system in the world — far from it — and the highest standard of living ever — wrong again. Objectively, the word that best describes the condition that most of us are in most of the time is despair.

If you doubt that statement, consider the mounting evidence:

  • In the most recent decade studied, the suicide rate among American adults (35 to 64 years old)  increased by almost 30 percent. For those over 50, the increase was 50 percent and more. We’re talking about nearly 43,000 reported suicides a year. That’s 75% of the US death toll in the entire Vietnam War, every year.
  • Another way to commit suicide, which is of course the ultimate expression of despair — is to take poison. In 2015, 52,000 Americans died of self-administered drug overdoses (90% of the Vietnam War toll) and most of the drugs used were opioids, or derivatives of opium. That America is suffering an Opioid Crisis has become a cliche, but what is seldom mentioned is that only America is suffering from an opioid crisis. No other country in the world is similarly afflicted.
  • The spotlight may be on the opioids, but the poison of choice is still alcohol. Alcoholism increased by 49% in America in the first decade of this century; one in eight American adults now qualifies as an alcoholic; and alcohol is blamed for 88,000 deaths a year, making booze the winner and still champion as companion of choice for the despairing.
  • In the first 23 days of this year there were 11 school shootings in the United States. I include that fact here because a school shooting (like other mass shootings) is at its heart a suicide by cop. A school shooting exhibits a degree of despair and alienation and hopelessness that simply should not ever be found in children. Again, no other country in the world experiences regular school shootings.
  • Primarily as a result of these deaths of despair, as they are being called, the life expectancy of Americans is declining. This has not happened in this country for over half a century, and it is not happening in any other developed country in the world.

When depression turns suicidal, as it appears to have done on a massive scale in this country, it is well past time when those who care about the patient must either recognize and deal with the conditions that brought the patient here, or acquiesce in the tragic outcome. To do so, it seems to me, we must all accept two unconventional notions:

  1. That everything we think we know about depression is wrong. This case is laid out in damning detail in a new book by depression survivor Johann Hari (Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression). He reports that depression is not a simple chemical imbalance, easily cured with expensive pharmaceuticals. Guess who oversold that notion to a gullible nation? Depression, he found, arises from things such as meaningless work, superficial values, and massive cultural indifference to the well being of the soul.
  2. The second notion we need to acknowledge is that just as depression in individuals is rooted in the lack of quality in their lives, so the depression of a nation is rooted in the lack of quality of its culture. As fish swim in water, so we live in our culture; poison the water and the fish die, contaminate the culture with greed, selfishness, and gluttony, that culture will collapse. [Please see Umair Haque’s “Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse: The Strange New Pathologies of the World’s First Rich Failed State.”]

So here we are, in the midst of the greatest depression of them all, self-medicating unto death, doing everything we can think of to get out of this mess without indulging in real work, enduring legitimate suffering, giving up any of our destructive habits or sacrificing any material thing for the greater good.

If you are not depressed, you do not understand the situation.


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28 Responses to This is the Great Depression

  1. SomeoneInAsia says:

    If it’s any consolation, know that well nigh the rest of the whole world will be joining in the fun before long as the current order of things goes down the… shithole. Misery loves company.

    On my part, I try not to let despair overtake me by trying to lead a ‘decent’ life and taking heart in the thought that, after the whole bloody mess plays itself out, a few pockets of humanity still worthy of being recognized as ‘human’ will remain to start over, hopefully a little wiser this time round. (No, I don’t believe it’s going to be the end.)

  2. Mighty Day says:

    I beg to differ. Some people’s depression **is** a matter of chemical imbalance. Both depression and alcoholism tend to run in families, and some people are helped by now inexpensive pharmaceuticals. I speak from personal experience.

    I don’t disagree that despair can arise from quality of life issues, but sometimes there **is** a biological component.

  3. Mighty Day says:

    I think there is no question that the U.S. is at the end of empire stage. With every new tweet we devolve a little more. Instead of bread and circuses, we have French fries and superbowls.

  4. Kate says:

    Thanks for this. Stunning statistics. I had no idea we were alone in the opioid crisis. A merciless economic system, centuries of bone-deep racism, the systematic destruction of the natural world, and effective, soul-destroying advertising — enough to make the strongest sick.

    I have given up looking for meaning, have given up hope which keeps you dangling on the end of a weak string. Living day to day, enjoying what I can of the nonhuman world around me — it’s enough. But I’m nearing the end of my life. Can’t imagine what it’s like for a 20-year-old coming up into this meat grinder.

    • Leroy stoner says:

      Bone deep racism? Wtf!
      Racism doesn’t exist.
      It’s called tribalism and it’s ingrained into us since our conception.
      It’s inherent and there’s nothing u can do about it.

  5. Greg Knepp says:

    The other evening a friend and I were talking, and we agreed that loneliness has reached epidemic proportions in this country. Anthropologists regard humans as a ‘hyper-social’ species. It would seem that extreme and/or prolonged alienation is a killer. Our technology is largely to blame; everything from cars to medications to smart phones to guns – our whole techno-culture – discourages one-on-one camaraderie, friendship, or even pair-bonding (love).

    Technology brought us to where we are; now it’s fixin’
    to take us out.

    PS/ Neither my friend nor I own smart phones – not by design, it just worked out that way.

  6. The situation here now is not dissimilar to when the Soviet Union collapsed. Of course the difference is that we don’t have the resources to eventually recover. But the point being, this is the cultural side of imperial collapse and is normal.

    • Greg Knepp says:

      Agreed…Trumpism and all that it entails and represents is better seen as a symptom rather than a cause.

  7. BC_EE says:

    Tom, two points – and thanks.

    First, the U.S. is not the only country experiencing an opioid epidemic. Although by extension due to the proliferation in the U.S., Canada is also experiencing the same crisis. Perhaps because of the usual 9:1 population ratio the Canadian one appears on the scale of a state level problem as opposed to a national one. But they are dying 4-5 a day in Vancouver due to Fentanyl too.

    Second, timely article today. I got up this morning and continued to read a chapter of David Ray Griffin’s “Bush and Cheney How They Ruined America and the World”. (for the record, it should be the U.S. as Canada and Mexico are part of “America” – learn your geography!). The subject matter is not new to me, however the depth of the revealing information has left me with a new profound feeling of the world around me is entirely insane. And that leads to despair.

    Yet, as shown in your references, I am not alone and that has some curative effect. But what is going on?

    My historical analogy has been widely used, yet many question when it will actually happen. The decline of Rome as indexed by the rule of Emperors is the historical yardstick of collapse. The difference between Rome and the U.S. lies in rate of entropy and epochs. (rate of entropy is a thermodynamic metric for rate of decay, or if greatly accelerated, either collapse or explosion – think a chemical reaction. Either iron rusts slowly, or iron filings explode).

    The U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world rate of entropy is magnitudes greater than that of Rome. This accelerates the decay and drives the aberrations into destructive oscillations. But it is in the difference of the time cycle of the epochs where we find the driver for mass confusion, disillusionment, or despair. Rome was measured by the lifespan of the Emperor. It may have been 10 years or 40 years with the decline of Rome spanning a few centuries. About 5-6 cycles of a continued vector into depravity and corruption.

    The U.S. cycle is 4-8 years! Hence, the arc of depravity and corruption is greatly condensed to 40-60 years from 200-300 years. And there you have it. Within the lifespan of one person they see the heights to FDR reduced to the lows of Trump.

    I say this with dark sarcasm: the next great American cocktail will be “The Hemlock”.

    Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight – Bruce Colburn. “Lovers In A Dangerous Time”.

  8. Charlie says:

    Tom, Well stated as usual. I know the sky is dark but I spent too much time watching the old Star Trek shows. I can’t help holding on to a little bit of optimism. I realize the odds are against us (I know to much astronomy, physics and behavioral science) but life is a gift regardless of how dark the horizon gets and I choose to try and look towards the sun.

  9. Rob Rhodes says:

    I do understand the situation but am not depressed, although I have been. The resolution for me was to grasp that there is a huge overlap of the things that you can do to both reduce your impact now and help prepare for the future our planet faces. Among other things I am trying to throw a long pass into the future by keeping the skill of scythe mowing alive.

  10. Clive Elwell says:

    It is good to read an article presenting the human situation ‘as it is’, instead of the endless discussions about which politician can save us from ourselves, and what future technology will resolve the environment and social problems we are creating. However, it is misleading and untrue to present the USA as having some sort of monopoly on social chaos and individual unhappiness.

    Take New Zealand as an example. It is often cited as a form of paradise, a place everyone would like to move to, take refuge in even. A high degree of social justice, high environmental standards, pristine natural beauty…… but what are the facts? NZ has the second highest rates of incarceration in the western world; it hovers at the top of the chart for youth suicide. Kiwis and Australians have the highest levels of amphetamine use of any region in the world. Historically NZ set the record for the rate of destruction of the natural environment, and that continues. I have heard an environmentalist describe it as “a green desert”.

    However, it is an utter waste of time to analyse the positions of nations on the level-of-collapse charts. ALL nations are undergoing this curious malaise, this extraordinary deterioration in health, physical and mental, compassion, fairness, intelligence. Everywhere we are fouling our nests. Everywhere there is division, conflict, the collapse of relationship. Everywhere people are suffering. Some are honest and admit it.

    It is certainly not only in the US where “ Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom.”

    I am not claiming that all nations are homogeneous. They have their idiosyncrasies, their relative strengths and weaknesses. And in many ways the USA does seem to be leading the charge into the abyss. But surely the important, fundamental question we have to ask is: Why this human deterioration? Why this chaos? After all, we have these big brains which are amazingly proficient technically. Why can’t we solve the problem that is US?

    As I have written before, the real crisis is in the mind of man. All other crises stem from that, and I don’t see how that can be denied (although it often is).

    After all their experience and sorrow why are human being still carrying on in the same pattern? What is wrong? What has happened to man’s brain and heart after these millions of years? And why don’t we LEARN?

    These are not just rhetorical questions, to shake one’s head at in momentary wonder, and then forget. They demand answers. And the politicians, the scientists, the psychologists, all the experts, are not going to give us those answers. The responsibility lies with each one of us.

    • Greg Knepp says:

      ‘LEARNING’ has nothing to do with it. Our instinctual programing has been designed by countless eons of evolution to have us live as nomadic (‘Hebrew’ in the Sumerian) hunter-gatherers. The ‘civilized’ format is quite recent and is not conducive to creatures of our DNA background.

      The ancients were on the scene as the nascent civilizations were forming, and they knew the problems first hand. See The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the OT accounts of Cain, the tower of Babel, and the books of Judges and Samuel. Some of the Greek myths are also instructive in this matter, though, for me, Greek mythology seems a bit contrived.

      Also, check out Dunbar’s 150. We’re nothing more than clever primates. Learning stuff has only made things unmanageable.

      • SomeoneInAsia says:

        A civilized way of living that does not lead to the sorry excesses of the modern world is perfectly feasible. Premodern China for example was able to maintain a reasonably cultured and well-fed populace on the whole since the 10th century AD, all without conquering other peoples and appropriating their resources. The system wasn’t perfect (can any ever be?), but it was still able to produce great art, literature etc. There was no antisemitism, no religious persecution, and very little slavery. It was the repeated acts of aggression coming from hostile foreign forces that eventually forced the Chinese to abandon their premodern way of life in the early 20th century and adopt the modern way of life. If they didn’t they would be trampled upon by those who did. So they had no choice but to join in the game — and where it’s leading us all, we can see clearly now.

        • Greg Knepp says:

          Feasible, yes…but not typical. Even so, your point is well taken, and offers some hope in all the dreariness.

    • Leroy stoner says:

      The one and only ‘real crisis is overpopulation.
      ALL other so called crises stem from this one malady.
      What our we gonna do about It?

  11. Clive Elwell says:

    Incidentally, I disagree with Tom’s last sentence:

    “If you are not depressed, you do not understand the situation”

    I find the more I understand, the more I am aware of what is, the less I am depressed, the less I am caught up in it all. This is, I think, because understanding encompasses the understanding of oneself, and one’s realtionship to the world.

  12. Liz says:

    A point of information: the USA has the worst opiate epidemic, but isn’t alone in having a problem that has gotten much worse in the past few years. I live in Canada, and overdose deaths in the past few years have skyrocketed here. BC is the worst off province. Total population of BC in 2016 was about 4.75 million, with 922 illicit drug overdose deaths, the highest number ever at that time, surpassed in the first 10 months of 2017. Numbers are rising in other areas of Canada, too, if from a lower base. Our problem is nowhere near as bad as many areas of the USA, but it started later here, so give us time and we could end up in the same boat. I really hope not, and I tend to think ours will peak at lower levels than the USA’s. But I can’t know that for sure.

    As for reasons… in our case, the introduction of fentanyl pills from overseas into the drug supply is a major part of the problem, but I suspect the interaction between insane house prices and inadequate wages to be another puzzle piece of BC’s problem.

    I’ve heard that Britain has some issues though I’m not sure of details, and if you want to look at other regions in history, with different drugs, Russia in the 1990s certainly had quite the epidemic of alcohol deaths.

    The point I’m trying to make is not that the USA doesn’t have a horrific problem with opiates that is the world’s worst right now, it does, but that that misery and self-medication during declining empires and civilizations is pretty standard, and the USA is not unique in having this kind of problem on the way down.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      You and Clive Ewell have made a similar point about other countries having opioid problems. The source I relied on for that point said the following: “In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America — especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy.” Whether or not the American opioid crisis is unique (and I think a case can be made that in its reach and severity it is) I think we can agree that it is a symptom among many others of collapse.