As I See It by Columnist Jon Huer: ‘What’s killing America’s white men?’


Published: 10/10/2021 6:19:28 AM


As writer Tolley Jones says that Blacks are suffering exhaustion from racism, we might want to know: How is life for ordinary white men in America?

To get a simple, clear answer to this question, let’s consider this fact: In 2015, two researchers at Princeton University, Ann Case and Nobel-laureate Angus Deaton, discovered that middle-aged white men in America were dying in increasing numbers through drugs, alcohol, and suicides. Since 1999, the researchers noted, white men’s death rate in America steadily increased by 1 percent every two years, almost twice the rate of European white men. It is still climbing unbroken through this year.

Johns Hopkins’ data confirms that 90 percent of American suicides are carried out by whites, 80 percent of them male. Behind the boisterous display of fun everywhere for whites, truth tells us, is the misery that lurks in every corner of their lives. Otherwise, why would they drive themselves to early deaths in a land of total bliss?

This shocking news failed to arouse the popular American media or the American public as a national crisis. However, it duly alerted BBC in 2018 to make a 30-minute documentary entitled “What’s Killing America’s White Men?” The BBC crew went to Montana, the state with the highest suicide rate for white men and a strong Trumpian red state, to find out what was driving them to such a radical display of their suicidal despair alongside drugs and alcohol.

Even the very idea that a virulent red state has the highest white men’s suicide rate itself was a puzzling premise. Somewhat unexpectedly, the documentary concluded that it was loneliness that was killing America’s white men who, ironically enough, had the world’s best and most abundant entertainment and escapism.

“The brain reads loneliness like physical pain,” said one of the counselors in Montana, who handled dozens of suicidal cases during his two-day shift: “I talk to many of these (suicidal) men and loneliness literally hurts. . . like physical pain. To them loneliness is pain that is unbearable. They talk about this crushing loneliness.”

The documentary went on to interview a man who survived his own suicidal thoughts: “I was just gonna kill myself. I just said, ‘dude, you are just a flunkey in the machine, and it’s time to get the hell out.’” He said how tough it was to live a loser’s life in America’s money-dominant society, a pitiless reality to cope with behind the facade of swagger and prosperity. But the central cause of his despair, as with others in a similar situation, was loneliness, a condition originated in the savage nature of his own society. In it, he had no money, no power, no self-respect and, most damning of all, no deep sense of connection to other human beings.

Indeed, what is loneliness? Loneliness is a state of mind that exists in a vacuum of humanity created by both society and choice. You can be at the Arctic, alone, yet can feel the closeness of humanity. On the other hand, you can feel the “crushing loneliness” even sitting in the middle of a huge crowd at a ballgame. Loneliness exists whenever your mind does not recognize other human beings around you. Blacks, and other non-whites, might feel oppressed and exhausted, but rarely lonely. Loneliness, and its psychological depression that follows, even among teenagers, a luxury to non-whites, is a uniquely “white disease.”

Ultimately, personal loneliness is a function of social isolation, which also rejects communal wisdom, along with a sense of irony and shame. Elsewhere in the world, such communal influences come from one another and generations. Today’s America, a society that lacks the normal flow of citizen interaction, leads inevitably to political pathology, which coincides with the personal pathology of solitary individuals. In societies, not named “America,” the very presence of social structure prevents individual loneliness from turning into collective pathology. As opposed to living in nature as “solitary” animals, to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, humanity is to embrace the benefits of living in human society as brothers and neighbors, but not in America.

In America’s rampant consumer society where they can get anything their hearts desire, white men are in a peculiar position: Pampered but unloved, seduced but not respected, full of individualism but without the inner strength or economic power that gives substance to their individualist claim. Their robust spending on things that please them does not bring them happiness; their attendance at crowded ballgames or rallies does not give them a sense of community; their so-called white privilege, vague and impersonal, does not feel like a real accomplishment. In theory, they are the dominant majority in America, but personally they feel insecure and powerless. These angry and despairing white men are taking America along with them in their own desperate downward spiral.

Such a national madness could neither be papered over by our famous Christmas-everyday escapism, nor simply go away on its own. Trumpism, white America’s political solution, cannot be these desperate men’s cure-all, simply because it is an ideology of destruction, not of construction. In a perniciously toxic culture of self-indulgence (often called “Narcissism”), loneliness is but the last stop in the journey of self-indulgence just before one reaches Self-Destruction Terminal.

Jon Huer, columnist for the Recorder and retired professor, is a Greenfield resident. He is the author of “The Dead End: The Psychology and Survival of the American Creed,” which TIME magazine called “an important and brilliant book (about) America’s national death wish.”

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