Neoliberalism and the rise in global loneliness, depression and suicide
- Kamran Mofid
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I believe these wise, informed and timeless words by Bertrand Russell are at the heart of neoliberalism and the greedy fat cat capitalists. Hence, their love and passion for de-regulation, self-regulation and privatisation of everything and everybody under the sun.
Today I read a very interesting, albeit, very sad article, on neoliberalism and the huge increases in global loneliness, depression and suicide, which I thought I wish to share with you.
However, before that, I want to take you a few years back to 2003, when I had written a short booklet, mainly on the rise of global neoliberalism and the concurrent rise in ‘Business with no Ethics’. Let me quote you a passage or two from that said booklet, very relevant to a better understanding of the article which I wish to share with you a bit later:
“…The benefits of neo-liberal globalisation are limited and are based on individualism, greed, self-interest and economism (which regards human societies primarily as economic systems in which financial considerations alone govern choices and decisions). Other fundamental values such as faith, spirituality, justice, love, compassion, sympathy, empathy and co-operation are neglected.
Individualism, valued by neo-liberals as a force for good in global capitalism, in fact has a major destructive impact on well- being. A lack of appropriate sources of social identity and attachment results in a tendency to promote unrealistic or inappropriate expectations of individual freedom and autonomy. Much unhappiness is often associated with people who have suddenly become super-rich, whether by winning the lottery, inheriting a fortune, or by fraud.
Neo-liberal capitalism is also anti-democratic; it is extremely harmful to the noble principles of democracy. Democracy believes in equality: it gives one vote to each person regardless of status, colour or creed. It does not matter what that person is, intelligent and educated or illiterate, well-informed, or not. Neo-liberalism aims to reward only the most talented and suc- cessful, thus clashing with the most fundamental principle of democracy.
By promoting individualism and self-centredness, neo-liberal- ism also runs contrary to the principles of community and society. What matters is individual preference. The suggestion is that those who squander their riches on conspicuous consumerism are just as worthy as those who use their wealth to help the needy.
The following is a revealing expansion of the above:
What the Richest Men in the World Don't Know
In 1923, a very important meeting was held at Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Attending this meeting were nine of the world’s most ‘successful’ financiers and businessmen. Those present were: the President of the largest independent steel company; the President of the largest utility company; the President of the largest gas company; the greatest wheat speculator; the President of the New York Stock Exchange; a member of the President’s cabinet; the greatest ‘bear’ in Wall Street; the head of the world’s greatest monopoly; and the President of the Bank of International Settlement. This, we must admit, was a gathering of some of the world’s most successful men – or at least men who had found the secret of making money. Twenty-five years later (1948) let us see what had happenedto these men: the President of the largest independent steel company had died, bankrupt, having lived on borrowed money for five years before his death; the President of the largest utility company had died a fugitive from justice, penniless in a foreign land; the President of the largest gas company was insane; the greatest wheat speculator had died abroad – insolvent; the President of the New York Stock Exchange had recently been released from Sing Sing penitentiary; the member of the President’s cabinet had been pardoned from prison so that he could die at home; the greatest ‘bear’ in Wall Street had died
– a suicide; the head of the world’s greatest monopoly had died
– a suicide; the President of the Bank of International Settlement had died – a suicide
All these men learned well the art of making money but none of them learned how to live, commented the original compiler of this list. It seems that the business world (who should know better, given what was described above) has changed not one iota. For them economic growth, the corporate bottom line and the pursuit of self-interest are what matters most. More recent observations also show that the self-interested pursuit of wealth brings only misery. Since 1950 there has been much economic growth and wealth creation in the West, but also a tenfold increase in the incidence of depression and a massive rise in the number of people suffering from sub-clinical neuroses, anxiety and pro- found self-dissatisfaction…”
What a powerful and telling story! A lesson to all those neoliberals that think whatever matters most is money and money and loads of it!
Then, in an post-Brexit article, reflecting on what happened and why, I noted the following:
“Call me an idealist, a dreamer, whatever. But, believe me, unless we address and tackle the causes of injustice, inhumanity, poverty (spiritual and material), inequality, loneliness, anger, frustration, hopelessness…, resultant from neo-liberal economic policies, then, the world falls deeper and deeper into the abyss.
A lot has already been written on the Brexit, what happened and why. Many have suggested many reasons, whilst offering many different solutions. I, myself, have many thoughts in my own head. But one thing is clear to me:
People rose against injustice, unfairness, inequality, the misery that has been unleashed on them by a group of self-serving elites, who have ignored the masses, inflicting pain and anguish on them, through their feral economic policies and capitalism, austerity, cut backs, lack of investments, corruption and more; so that they can give more and more to their friends, the 1%...”
Now, let me share with you the article I was mentioning.
Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. That’s what’s wrenching society apart
An article by George Monbiot Via The Guardian
‘Epidemics of mental illness are crushing the minds and bodies of millions. It’s time to ask where we are heading and why’
What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis.
There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.
In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.
Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.
As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their “beauty” settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves.
Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress? A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.
If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.
Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.
It is not hard to see what the evolutionary reasons for social pain might be. Survival among social mammals is greatly enhanced when they are strongly bonded with the rest of the pack. It is the isolated and marginalised animals that are most likely to be picked off by predators, or to starve. Just as physical pain protects us from physical injury, emotional pain protects us from social injury. It drives us to reconnect. But many people find this almost impossible.
It’s unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It’s more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.
Studies in both animals and humans suggest a reason for comfort eating: isolation reduces impulse control, leading to obesity. As those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, might this provide one of the explanations for the strong link between low economic status and obesity?
Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?
There are some wonderful charities doing what they can to fight this tide, some of which I am going to be working with as part of my loneliness project. But for every person they reach, several others are swept past.
This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.
See the original article, first published in The Guardian on Wednesday 12 October 2016