7 MIN READ
What is the American ur-problem? If you're careful you can trace the tracks back to it from multiple terminuses.
Nobody talks about the root cause. Cable nor independent news coverage addresses it. One possible explanation is that it's too abstract for most news consumers to understand. I hypothesize that it's not discussed because there is not easy solution, thus it is a dark thing to even acknowledge.
We have to be methodical in tracing causes. Although imperfect in many ways, the news 70-odd years ago consisted mostly of detached reporting of facts. Now all news primarily consists of emotional manipulation one way or the other. I do not often make sweeping statements like that in my essays but it is true, this applies to all news, conservative or liberal, establishment or indie, nuanced or simple.
We will explore two points of ingress into the ur-problem. If you were to ask a group of liberal-leaning citizens what the biggest issue in America is today, many of them would say the "gun violence epidemic". Conversely if you were to pose the same question to a group of conservative-leaning citizens, many would reply "the opioid epidemic".
Both groups have entertainment propaganda around their causes.
For the "gun violence" Chads there is Apple TV's For All Mankind. Guns are introduced multiple times throughout the series and whenever they are something bad happens. "See, we could have a utopian city on the Moon if only we could ban guns!"
For the "opioid epidemic" Stans there is Hulu's Dopesick. Opioids are targeted as the main reason that mining towns in Appalachia are largely destitute. "See, Virginia mining towns would be economic powerhouses if only we could stop opioids from coming into the country illegally and being prescribed!"
I enjoyed both shows for the record. Neither are completely wrong, but they introduce a significant amount of emotional clouding around our ur-problem. I suppose they wouldn't make very good TV if they didn't.
Before progressing, a short disclaimer. I know those affected by the opioid epidemic. There are victims, in real life, of gun violence, and opioid addiction. I'm not debating that. What the rest of the essay will explore is what the more fundamental issue is in both epidemics. We know that gun bans do not work. We know that stricter drug laws do not work. Targeting the root cause presents the possibility of some kind of solution that actually solves these downstream issues.
Let's probe deeper on each issue.
The essential issue: Opioids are coming into the country illegally from China via Mexico, or being overprescribed by American doctors, citizens are then getting addicted to opioids and becoming homeless or worse.
The idiot will suggest banning the opioids. When prohibition began, alcohol consumption went down briefly and then sharply rose. In addition to having an alcohol problem, through prohibition, America also created an organized crime problem. Banning things that people want does not work, you need to find a way to make them not want the thing in the first place. I wish it did, but it just doesn't. Moralizing about good and evil to someone with an addiction not only doesn't work, it makes it less likely that they'll seek help to get clean.
The natural response to the opioid epidemic for any thinking person is to begin exploring the question, "Why are millions of Americans abusing opioids in the first place?" The answer is obvious for anyone who has seen someone close to them struggle with addiction, opioids are a response to some kind of trauma. We'll pick up this thread later.
Gun Violence Epidemic
The essential issue: Americans are acquiring firearms and then using them to commit acts of violence sometimes to the point of mass shooting events.
The idiot will suggest banning guns, magazines of various capacities, types of guns, etc. This defies reason completely. These same zealots will cite statistics all day that gun violence in the US is increasing and that we need to ban whatever the scariest looking legal gun is at the moment. If that would help, why then, by their own statistics, has gun violence continued to increase after the 1986 FOPA Act when (essentially) all fully automatic weapons were banned? Banning guns does not decrease violence, it only makes your civilization ridiculous like the UK where now you cannot carry a knife without a "good reason" (yes, really). Who defines what reason is good?
The natural response to the gun violence epidemic for any thinking person is to begin exploring the question, "Why are so many Americans choosing to commit violence?". The answer is obvious for anyone that has worked in a customer-facing job before (coincidentally not a huge overlap with those of the anti-gun persuasion) - people become aggressive when they are mad, people get mad when they perceive that some injustice (real or not, put that aside for a moment) has been done to them.
Our ur-problem revealing question is "Why are Americans much more likely to experience negative emotion (the depression, anxiety, and anger that drive us to abuse drugs or kill innocent people) right now compared to previous decades?"
Our ur-problem defined as concretely as I am capable without speculation: Something about American culture and/or lifestyle is making us angry, anxious, and depressed. It is getting worse (which may give us clues as to what is causing this). Nothing we have tried over the past 20-30 years has measurably and permanently curbed the intensification of this phenomenon. Our best idea so far has been to just play a shell game with where these negative emotions cause harm, e.g. if we ban guns, knife violence increases. Not all effort towards reducing these downstream causes is a waste, but it would be better to put that energy towards more comprehensively understanding the ur-problem. Whatever kind of societal illness America is afflicted with seems to have marked the beginning of the end for many historical empires when not healed early enough.
Like I mentioned earlier, probably too dark for a 30 minute news show.
I do have a hunch about what factors are making us anxious, angry, and depressed. I could (and might) write an essay about each of these but a short summary follows each heading.
The Dissolution of the Nuclear Family
Whenever I see a baby in public I have found myself either smiling or making a funny face at them before I could consciously think of doing it. It is a natural reaction for any person that is not a sociopath. Even at times in my life when I didn't want my own child I have done this. Even when I have been very ill, I have done this, and briefly felt healed while doing it. A child is a vote of confidence for the future - that it might be a bit better than today.
Now that I have a child, I notice that not as many strangers smile at her in public as I thought would. A number of (now former) friends didn't even bother to congratulate me for becoming a father. There is a growing community on Reddit called "childfree" that seems to hate parents, or "breeders" as they call us.
Stable civilizations consist of stable nuclear families. This essential unit, when handled correctly, raises healthy, compassionate, and intelligent citizens that improve society. The absence of a father or mother increases the probability that a child will become addicted to drugs or have a mental illness in adulthood.
The Death of God in the West
I'm not arguing a case for Christianity. I am arguing that a nation without some unifying myth that lays out basic morals and taboos will fall apart. Many in civilization seek to assert Science as Christianity's successor. I would refer them to the writings of Jung for numerous tear-downs of why this can't work.
Isolation/Atomization of People
It is really hard to make friends. I know I'm not the only adult that feels this way. It's difficult to serendipitously meet people in real life because so many in-person going-ons have been virtualized. When you do meet an acquaintance, there's a very high probability that they won't possess the social skills necessary to have a two-sided conversation. Oftentimes, they'll either obsessively talk about themselves, or gaze zombielike into their phone while half paying attention to the conversation.
Understand - in prison, when the guards need a harsher punishment for an inmate, they isolate them.
Lack of a nuclear family isolates people.
Lack of a community that shares values isolates people.
Lack of friends isolates people.
In my own life, the way in which I'm trying to fight this societal illness is to be more social. I don't know if that's the best way but I'm giving that a shot for a while in my own life to see how it changes things.