It is disheartening to read the paper these days, what with war spreading across North Africa, bodies piling up in Syria, Egypt in a state of emergency with dire predictions of state collapse, and US drones hovering like venomous mosquitoes over lord knows how many countries of the world. And a chilling story from Israel, where the government has just admitted forcing Ethiopian women to have injections of Depo-Provera in order to immigrate, which is wrong on so many levels it boggles the mind.
I am disheartened, too, by some of the dynamics in my daughter’s family, where my 9-year-old grandson, the middle child, has clearly been assigned the role of Difficult Child and is anxious, unhappy, volatile, and argumentative. My son-in-law was laid off and they’ve lost their health insurance, so the counseling and evaluative services that were available are no longer, and they must either cope on their own or start all over again trying to find services they qualify for. It breaks my heart to see my grandson in so much pain. I’ve offered to try and pay for family counseling–I hope they take me up on it.
People’s lives are so stressed and chaotic, it’s no wonder there’re so many dysfunctional families. What would a society look like that actually was supportive? Surely health care and mental health services would be basic, along with food and shelter. And how many places in the world are lacking all of these? In Speaking of Sadness, a book about depression and society, author David A. Knapp quotes C. Wright Mills’ view that what often are institutional problems feel like personal failure:
Nowadays men often feel that their lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling they are often quite correct….Yet men do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction….They do not grasp…the interplay of man and society, of biography and history, of self and world.
–-C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959
Are depression and anxiety, so widespread in our population, just genes gone awry, fatal flaws in brain chemistry, or are they actually a reasonable response to the world we see? The medicalization of fear and sadness have put the onus on the individual, and biochemical explanations have made medication–chemical adjustments–the primary treatment. But where is the treatment for the ills of society?
In Upside Down, A Primer for the Looking Glass World (1998), Eduardo Galeano writes,
….In 1948, and again in 1976, the United Nations proclaimed long lists of human rights, but the immense majority of humanity enjoys only the rights to see, hear, and remain silent. Suppose we start by exercising the never-proclaimed right to dream? Suppose we rave a bit? Let’s set our sights beyond the abominations of today to divine another possible world:
• the air shall be cleansed of all poisons except those born of human fears and human passions;
• in the streets, cars shall be run over by dogs;…
• the TV set shall no longer be the most important member of the family and shall be treated like an iron or a washing machine;…
• in no country shall young men who refuse to go to war go to jail, rather only those who want to make war;
• economists shall not measure living standards by consumption levels or the quality of life by the quantity of things;
• cooks shall not believe that lobsters love to be boiled alive;
• historians shall not believe that countries love to be invaded;
• politicians shall not believe that the poor love to eat promises;…
• the Church, holy mother, shall correct the typos on the tablet of Moses and the Sixth Commandment shall dictate the celebration of the body;
• the Church shall also proclaim another commandment, the one God forgot: You shall love nature, to which you belong;…
• perfection shall remain the boring privilege of the gods, while in our bungling, messy world every night shall be lived as if it were the last and every day as if it were the first.
I’ve left out many–it was a much longer list, and hard to pare–but we can always add our own. It’s worth dreaming, if only to enlarge the view and honor possibility.
Let us honor if we can
The vertical man
Though we value none
But the horizontal one.