A THEORYYes, yes, I have taken note of concerns that there was only one mention of kites in my last month's newsletter, but this is such a significant insight (or delusion), that I just can't leave until later:
Like all good theories, it links a number of unexplained and seemingly unconnected things, which is what every conspiracy theory does of course. But this isn't a conspiracy, there's no shadowy group behind what I think I'm seeing. And it's not so much that these things are unexplained, but that the explanations generally proffered don't hold up under even cursory examination.
Here's one: "Swedish Withdrawal Syndrome" and it's pretty strange: refugee-children-sweden and U.S. National Library of Medicine
Refugee children in Sweden have been "withdrawing" into a coma and would sometimes have died without life support, but have no apparent physical symptoms. Explanations focus on these children "making the bad things in their lives go away", which seems plausible. But, it only effects children of Eastern European refugees; traumatised native born Swedish children are not similarly affected, nor are refugee children from other world trouble spots such as the Middle East. Strange.
Here's another one: "Conversion Disorder", here are AISHA DOW and New Zealand Herald on this subject
Which tends to occur in clusters, seems to almost exclusively effect women and can manifest as the symptoms of a stroke; one side of the body numb and unresponsive, and slurred speech. Except that scans show no evidence of brain damage and the symptoms are not present while the person is asleep! Weird! Explanations also hover around reaction to trauma, but, as Dr Alex Lehn from the Mater Centre for Neurosciences in Australia, who deals with about a hundred cases a year says: "in 30% of patients you can dig as hard as you like - you won't find previous trauma".
And, not to leave men out, there's 'Shell Shock': Men in battlefield situations become dysfunctional and incapable of caring for themselves, sometimes permanently. This came to prominence in WW1 when early sufferers were executed for malingering. It was clearly a response to artillery bombardment, but there seems to be a 'social element' in susceptibility: During WW2, the Eastern Front was incomparably more brutal and dangerous than the Western Front, and yet Shell Shock (now regarded as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD) was much more common in the West. Organisations of old soldiers from the Eastern Front (both German and Russian) also report less ongoing PTSD amongst their members than similar organisations for Western Front survivors, even, I've read, after allowing for more of the affected not surviving to be counted in the East.
There are many other variations on this theme: psychological disorders which occur in some social contexts, but not in others. For example, medieval and religious histories are replete with episodes of mass madness, and outbreaks of apparently infectious hysteria afflict school girls from time to time.
But the big one is suicide, and this is where the developing theory becomes uncomfortable.
Taking New Zealand as a proxy for the West (we're a pretty good fit), during the last 50 years, youth suicide has increased by 300% and is now the major cause of death for males in the 15 to 30 age group.
New Zealand Medical Journal and NZ Ministry of Social Development
Some of these suicides occur in clusters and appear to increase in response to publicity.
And not just suicide; anxiety and depression amongst young people are epidemic in Western Societies.
Why? Here are some of the reasons put forward by various authorities, and why they are wrong:
Stress: Rubbish: Nobody can seriously pretend that life is more stressful for young people now than it was back when there was an excellent chance of dying from infectious disease or random violence on an almost daily basis and no recourse against endemic bullying by those more powerful. When I was a kid during the US/USSR nuclear arms race, Armageddon was a real, frightening, ever-present threat.
Poverty: Ditto, what nonsense, if truly the cause, then poorer countries would have higher youth suicide rates, but they don't, their rates are lower.
Inequality: Again, places that are more unequal than developed Western Societies (South America, India, Africa for example), have LOWER youth suicide rates.
Status: Status in human societies is a zero-sum game: Doubling everyone's wealth does not shrink the status hierarchy. Nor does a 'flatter' society result in less competition for status- when differences reduce, tiny things assume more and more importance. If you doubt this, read about Versailles under Louis 14th or the daily life of closed religious communities. Socially engineered changes in status can therefore only shift suicide around- and in the current ideological climate, would probably result in males carrying even more of this burden (and their rate is historically 3 times that for females already).
Drugs: Now this one appears to have something; increasing drug use by younger people here in recent years does correlate with the increase in youth suicide. However, correlation is not cause: Drug use amongst younger people has also sharply increased in Asia (the Philippines and Afghanistan, in particular) but their youth suicide rates have not similarly shifted. And in NZ, many young suicides have no history of drug taking. Nice try though, and could be true at the margins.
Overparenting: NZ Herald Article
New Zealand psychologist and anxiety specialist Gwendoline Smith believes that children lack problem solving skills because they've been overindulged by their parents. Unable to deal with situations they encounter in the wider world, they then fall victim to anxiety, depression - and suicide. This fails as a general explanation because the rate of suicide amongst groups here who have definitely NOT been overindulged by their (lowlife) parents, has increased the most.
But there is another possibility: That in all of these apparently unconnected occurrences, people are just behaving in ways their particular society "expects" them to. By this theory, suicide and some other psychological disorders are at epidemic level in developed Western Countries because they are socially mandated: We are somehow sending a signal that acquiring a debilitating condition lacking any physiological basis, or opting out by suicide, is an acceptable response to problem situations. Not that individuals necessarily make a conscious choice when they get swept along in this cultural current. By the same theory, I expect that suicide, except for heroic reasons, was almost unknown in the warrior culture of ancient Sparta - because they would have been sending the opposite signal; that opting out was NOT acceptable. As a researcher, coming to the same view about Swedish Refugee Withdrawal Syndrome said: The community surrounding Eastern European refugee children in Sweden are somehow "sanctioning" their withdrawal. Similarly, our fathers and grandfathers marched off to war without experiencing undue anxiety, even though they would have had good cause, because this was the expectation that their society had placed on them. And many of our children are caught in an epidemic of anxiety because we have filled them with the expectation that they won't be able to cope with a world that is full of problems.
If this 'socially mandated' theory is correct, suicide reduction initiatives based on widely believed but wrong causes, will not only fail, but will likely increase the rate by validating the rationalisations that those having suicidal thoughts develop to justify their positions. "Just snap out of it", mostly won't help either, but neither will full-on sympathy. Counselling those who are anxiety ridden or suicidal just reinforces that they have a big problem, and risks pulling them further into the cultural currents carrying them to destruction.
A palliative may be to involve the at-risk in activities outside of their internalised concerns. Support for this approach comes from the counter-intuitive reduction in neurosis (moderate depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour and hypochondria) that occurs during war and times of national emergency- presumably because people then have other things to worry about. It's also said that the most effective way to change a potential suicide's mind is to threaten to kill them- and this could certainly derail a train of thought!
There will now be few Westerners who haven't been impacted personally by the suicide of family or friends. Thankfully, my immediate family has so far stayed safe, but I've lost friends, and other friends have lost children.
If we really want suicide rates to decrease, then our societies need to again erect strong sanctions against suicide as a way of solving a problem or avoiding unpleasant situations. While I'm reluctant to give succour to religion, perhaps the seemingly cruel Christian practice of condemning suicide as a sin and refusing to allow burial in hallowed ground for people who took their own lives, was wise public policy in this context.
Ashburton - New Zealand.
December 1st 2017