Suicide and Depression Vs. Modern Medievalism

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If there’s anything more saddening than hearing about the death of Robin Williams, it might be hearing some of the commentary about his demise that came from certain clueless and classless ideological fanatics.  Civilized and civil behavior requires a certain amount of respect toward the newly deceased, at least for a few minutes. But no sooner had rigor mortis set in than certain individuals began vying furiously for the honor of having produced the most insensitive and idiotic response to the news

The ever-dependable Rush Limbaugh concluded that Williams killed himself out of the “guilt” attendant upon “political leftism”; and when there was an outcry over his utterances, he blamed the whole thing on — what else — the librulmedia. Shepard Smith at the ever-dependable Fox “News” suggested that Williams killed himself because he was a “coward”.  (Smith, unlike the others mentioned here, at least had the decency to apologize later.) . Chris Fields, an official with the Minnesota GOP, thought the mourning of Williams’ fans was, somehow or other, a golden opportunity for him to urge them to vote for the candidate of his choice — and he continued politicizing repeatedly even after  a fellow Republican admonished him to “Shut. The Fuck. Up.” because he was “making an ass of all of us”.

Not only political hucksters, but religious hucksters, weighed in and cashed in. The ever-dependable Westboro Baptist Church Tweeted hateful comments about Williams and threatened to picket his funeral.  Popular Christian blogger Matt Walsh declared (as one of his “absolute truths and alpaca grooming tips” — I’m not sure which he was intending) that “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice”, and went on to say some other insulting things about depressives (more about that in a moment).  The Family Research Council — DING! DING! DING! (sorry, that alarm always goes off whenever the word family appears in the name of an ideological organization) saw the opportunity to hawk a supposed cure for homosexuality.  WorldNetDaily, not content to refer to depression and substance addiction as figurative “demons”, posited that Williams literally was in league with “demonic powers” that eventually destroyed him — and oh by the way, they just happen to have little video that tells you all about other celebrities who’ve done the same, available at the special low price of only $15.95.

There’s nothing new about this type of exhibitionist opportunism. That’s just the kind of thing these people do, and they’re never going to let a perfectly good tragedy go to waste. Ever. But it underscores just how little the American public understands depression and suicide — which are inextricably bound together. Smith and Walsh are symptomatic of a mindset that holds that depression and suicide are voluntary; and that Williams should have been able to just step back and look at his life in perspective, and make the correct choice. But at its worst, depression is something that totally takes control of you. Williams in his final hours  probably was no more capable of being rational than a Fox anchor or a holier-than-thou religious blogger.

We have pious religiosity to thank for much of the current attitudes about suicide and mental health issues.  But these attitudes are more of medieval than biblical origin. The Bible contains no specific injunction against suicide; moreover at least two of its most vaunted heroes — Saul and Samson — did themselves in. The notion that suicide is a “sin” for which one will “go to hell” originated with writers during the Middle Ages — most notably Dante. And as for the mentally/ emotionally imbalanced, they were often presumed in the good ole days when religion ruled the world to have been possessed by or in league with evil spirits, and subjected to whippings or worse.

Christian fundamentalism has not evolved much, if any, beyond the medieval phase. (Fanatics no longer burn “heretics” at the stake, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if they could still get away with it.) It’s still a jarringly contradictory combination of fatalism and free will doctrine, stitched together by the conviction that prayer can alter anything, including the will of God — unless He invokes His power of veto. No wonder Christians are so often confused about what is or is not within their control. No wonder people like Matt Walsh can be so condescending toward people like Robin Williams.

Religionists passing judgment on suicides are likely to point to a set of stone-engraved rules for living that they inaccurately call The Ten Commandments and mistakenly believe are to be found in the Bible. (See previous postThe Myth(s) of the Ten Commandments). One of them admonishes flatly, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”; and the traditional inference is that this applies even when the killer and the killee are one and the same. Your life, folks believe, is not your own, and it’s inexcusable for you to deprive God of the fiendish delight of tormenting you indefinitely.

You know as well as I, however, that there are asterisks on the stone alongside the words. The same God who commanded his people that they shalt not killeth also instructed them to slaughter their enemies by the thousands and stone to a pulp anyone who ran afoul of this or that tribal taboo. Likewise, even today many people who consider themselves Good Christians have no problem with capital punishment or aggressive warfare that annihilates innocent men, women and children all over the place.

And yet…

Suicide still remains strictly taboo, under any circumstances.  Walsh declares it to be a “bad decision. Always a bad decision.”   In part because it entails a “willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”  Notice that word willingness. While Walsh insists that he doesn’t consider depression to be a sign of weakness, he also says:

I know that in my worst times, at my lowest points, it’s not that I don’t see the joy in creation, it’s just that I think myself too awful and sinful a man to share in it.

No matter how you slice it, it’s still that time-honored smug WASP pastime of blaming the victim. (Indeed, many smug WASP neocons refuse to acknowledge that there is any such thing as a victim at all.) I recall reading about a woman who had been molested by a relative as a teen, and when she confided to her minister about it, he replied, “Let’s pray for your forgiveness.” That’s the kind of lunacy that results from a worldview that maintains that on the one hand God and His agents have total authority over you, and yet on the other, that you are totally responsible for whatever circumstances you find yourself in. The kind of worldview incorporating the notion that, just by committing the offense of being born, you’re graded a sinner by default.

To be sure, there are indeed some suicides that (apparently) are willful acts. These include those situations when an individual has a painful terminal illness; and it is their conclusion that their protracted living under those conditions will cause unnecessary pain, grief and expense to both them and their loved ones. Which doesn’t seem to be such a problem for the anti-suicide moralizers.

But the vast majority of suicides are the result of depression, which is a topic very close to home for me. I had a severe struggle with it myself. It runs in my family. I even had a cousin who committed suicide at age 17. None of which qualifies me to determine what is in someone else’s head unless they tell me. And to the best of my knowledge, Robin Williams wasn’t talking to anyone as he tied the knot around his neck. Walsh claims to be able to speak authoritatively about depression because he’s suffered from it himself. It’s hard to imagine, however, that he’s endured any but the mildest emotional turmoil if he can be so presumptuous and judgmental. And even if we assume that he’s really been through the mill himself, that does not put him in anyone else’s shoes. Depression is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon; nor, for that matter, is suicide. 

Yet he professes to know beyond a doubt that Williams died of “choice”  His ideology demands it, so it must be true. He joins the ranks of such experts on the topic as Tom Cruise (a religious fanatic of a different stripe) who know more about depression than do the professionals. He doesn’t go so far as to say, as Cruise did, that “there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the body”, but he does insist that it has a “spiritual” element, whatever the hell that means. Well sure, depression has a spiritual component if you choose to look at it that way. So do mud wrestling and nuclear warfare. And how exactly does that change anything? People still slit their wrists, get dirty, and fry.

For Walsh, the prescription for depression is simple: “joy”. It’s the only thing that really defeats depression, he says. Just inject more joy into your life, and you’ll never succumb. Well, yeah — and the key to immortality is simply to refrain from dying. But telling a severely depressed person to experience joy is like telling a blind man to go out and gather some yellow flowers.

The law has long recognized the validity of an “insanity plea”, based on the premise that people sometimes commit atrocious acts that they are not responsible for because they are not in control of their faculties. Most people accept this as reality, as long as you’re talking about one person killing somebody else. Yet when it comes to suicide, we’re still in the Dark Ages. 

Suicide and depression have always been with us, but that doesn’t mean we have to view them as they’ve traditionally been viewed. It’s the Twenty-First Century, folks; and we have unprecedented tools at our disposal to save people from this horrible affliction called depression, and to prevent many suicides. But our feet our still mired in modern medievalism.

Don’t believe it? Cool. Let me tell you about an informative little video that details how many entertainers have sold their souls to the devil. I can sell you as many copies as you like for the amazingly low price of only $49.95 each.

 

(UPDATE: Matt Walsh has done a followup to his original piece, in which he backtracks a bit, and tries to clarify some false inferences some readers have made, and tries to distance himself from the medieval mentality. But he still insists that he knows beyond all doubt that suicide is always a choice.)

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“Tarp Gate”: A Sign of the Times

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Just when you thought you’d heard EVERYTHING that ANYONE, ANYWHERE could POSSIBLY blame on Barack Obama, along comes… the bungled suspension of a major league baseball game because of rain. No, seriously. Well, it did happen in Chicago, so surely the prez must have been involved somehow or other, eh what?

On the night of Aug. 19, the Chicago Cubs were hosting the San Francisco Giants when a downpour interrupted the action in the middle of the fifth inning, and a grounds crew clumsily covered Wrigley Field with a tarp. Then everyone waited until after 1:00 a.m., when the game was finally called off because the field was too wet. Since the Cubs were leading 2-0 at that point, they were awarded the victory.

But the Giants protested (They wanted to play until 3:00 in the morning?) because they maintained the crew did not adequately protect the field. Officials ruled in their favor, and the game was resumed a couple of days later. The Giants still lost, them bums, but they claimed the consolation prize of the first successful protest of a major league game in 28 years. End of story, right?

Well no, this is where it really gets interesting. And weird. It turns out that the reason the grounds crew was so inept at covering the field was that they were drastically shorthanded. And the reason for that was that some of them were sent home early. And the reason for that was that the bosses didn’t want the lowly laborers working too many hours. And the reason for that reportedly was that they didn’t want to shell out a few more bucks as required by “Obamacare”.

Now there was no real damage because of any of this, except maybe the sore butts of the fans sitting in the bleachers so long — the Cubs even got to keep their mark in the win column. But for some people (notably those at the ever-entertaining National Review), it was another catastrophic failure of the Affordable Care Act — oops, that should be “Obamacare”, of course. Another failure right up there with… well, you know, death panels and stuff.

It’s a sign of the times for a couple of reasons. First, the craze involving blaming any and all problems on President Obama, somehow, anyhow. Second, the trend toward corporate directors being Scrooges and squeezing the underpaid workers at the bottom of the food chain — and then blaming their Scrooginess on President Obama. But there’s yet a third reason.

It turns out that the big cheeses for the Cubs were rather misinformed about the ACA. (What? Someone misinformed about “Obamacare”? Say it ain’t so, Rush.) The dreaded provision of the law requiring them to treat their workers like human beings isn’t even in effect this year. They could have had the full complement of tarp spreaders on hand without having to pay a penny in penalties. As Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research bluntly observes, “This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.” In other words, maybe this is why the Cubs suck so much.

It’s another sign of the times. Few if any of the attacks leveled at “Obamacare” are totally accurate, and most have no basis in reality whatsoever. You’d think that if people were going to criticize a law, or anything else, they’d at least want to avoid making fools of themselves by learning a little bit about it first. Just a tad, a smidgen, a modicum, a crumb.  But for the Cult of Obama  Hatred, this would only spoil the fun.

So far, Republicans in Congress have not cited Tarp Gate as grounds for impeachment. But it’s surely just a matter of time.

 

Of Redskins and Red Herrings (Plus Eric Holder On Racism)

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By now you’ve probably heard that the NFL team long known as the Washington Redskins will likely be compelled to change its name soon, thanks to a decision by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. And reactionaries have reacted as reactionaries always do — ridiculing the move and dishing up a generous serving of red herrings.

A red herring, as you may know, is a decoy, a distraction — an irrelevant matter introduced to divert attention away from the real issue. An excellent example occurs frequently with the topic of abortion. “Pro-life” ideologues devote a great deal of time to discussing whether abortions “should” occur (accompanied by a very strong answer in the negative), which in turn is masked by another debate on when life supposedly begins.  All of which steals focus from the vital question of how to prevent abortion.  All the “pro-life” posturing in the world does nothing to answer this question, and, by all evidence, makes the problem even worse.  (See previous posts: Abortion: the Big Lie and the Inconvenient Truth, Part 1 and Part 2 and ACORNization: the Curious Vendetta Against Planned Parenthood.)

And so it is with the Redskins flap. Ideologues lecture the rest of us about whether Native Americans “should” be distressed over the use of demeaning stereotypes (with a very strong response in the negative). Does it really matter whether you or I believe they should be? (Even if you are Native American yourself, does that entitle you to decide that nobody else should disapprove?) The thing is, they do object, or at least a good many of them do. The real question, then, is whether the rest of us are willing to respect them enough to cease and desist the use of such stereotypes. Some people will go to the ends of the earth to evade such a question, leaving a trail of crimson fishlets as substantial as Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs.

Inevitably, for instance, the reactionaries peg the outrage as an instance of “political correctness” run amok — whatever the hell that means. “Political correctness”, like “liberalism” is one of those things people love to hate but hate to define or clarify. Naturally, then, the two are often lumped together. This whole stink about the Redskins, they say, is just another attempt by them librulz, whoever they are, to wield political correctness, whatever it is, to take away our freedom, somehow or other. Never mind that the USPTO’s decision was the result of numerous complaints, over a period of many years, by Native American advocacy groups with no political affiliation, expressing the sentiments of Native Americans of all ideological persuasions. What’s really important is to apply the “PC” and “L” words to as many people as possible, as frequently as possible.

Is that an acknowledgment that only “liberals” respect people of all races? If so, I can’t buy it. I’ve known many “conservatives” who were also quite respectful. They may be a minority, but there are still plenty of them.

Yet right-wing zealots make it standard procedure to politicize/ polarize just about anything and everything to the Nth degree — even climate, for crap’s sake. And they proclaimed the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Hobby Lobby case as a victory for “religious freedom” (which, if not itself a red herring, is at least a deep pink mackerel) and a defeat for “liberalism”. As opposed to, say, a slap in the face for women in general whatever their ideology, a religious incursion into government that ultimately is bad news for people of all religious persuasions, and a judicial precedent that will extend the (already quite extensive) imperious reach of the current unscrupulous bench, ultimately having an impact on everyone.

When it comes to encapsulating the reactionary silliness over the Redskins issue, it would be hard to top this commentary called “20 Other ‘Allegedly Offensive’ Team Names That The Left Isn’t Complaining About” by Justen Charters at Independent Journal Review. It wastes no time attributing the dastardly deed to “The Left” and the “PC Police”. And of course to the big bad black guy in The Formerly White House.  Indeed, Charters even links to another article on Independent Journal Review (Should they be required to put a “sic” after Independent?) titled “President Obama is Stripping Washington Redskins Trademarks After Owner Refused to Give Up Team Name”, that begins with this prize paragraph:

This is how the Obama administration rolls. Get in a confrontation with the president, and some IRS branch patent office makes trouble for you. That’s how “community organizers” do business. That’s the Chicago Way.

Never mind that the USPTO made the same decision, later overturned by court interference, in 1999 — which not only was well before Obama was elected, but probably even before he traveled back in time to plant a bogus birth announcement in a Hawaiian newspaper. Never mind that the USPTO has made many similar rulings for the past 20 years or so. After all, President Obama publicly stated that if he were the team’s owner himself, he would “think about changing” the team’s name. What a severe “confrontation”. What more proof do you need that he must have taken time out from his busy schedule of confiscating your guns and euthanizing your grandma to personally dictate that the Redskins must go.  And those cleverly crossed out words above, of course, are an allusion to the IRS “scandal” we’ve debunked before.

Smears against President Obama, by the way, often not only contain red herrings, but not infrequently illustrate how red herrings differ from, yet neatly dovetail with, straw men, which we’ve discussed before. Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said “Political dissent is NOT racism.” That’s a classic red herring — nobody is suggesting that political dissent IS racism. But it’s an obvious reference to a straw man very popular among sufferers form Obama Derangement Syndrome: the premise that Obama hatred is nothing more than “political dissent”, and to attribute the former in some degree to racism is to attribute the latter entirely to racism,

Political dissent consists of expressing/ demonstrating political differences — not circulating wackadoodle rumors about birth certificates, death panels, Islamic roots, Benghazi cover-ups, IRS conspiracies, faked mass shootings or FEMA concentration camps. Nor does it involve reflexively obstructing, or trying to sue or impeach a president just because you don’t like him — or his politics. Obama hatred goes way way way waaaaaaayyyy beyond political dissent, beyond disagreement with or criticism of the president, even beyond all bounds of sanity.

It may not always be rooted in racism, but quite often racism definitely is at least one factor in play. Yet when Attorney General Eric Holder pointed out this indisputable fact, the wingers seized upon and distorted his comments to push the astronomically false narrative that President Obama — who seldom mentions race (and even then it’s generally to the tune of “let’s get along”) and rarely mentions racism — loves to play the race card. Here are Holder’s allegedly inflammatory words:

There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me and directed at the president. You know, people talking about taking their country back. … There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.

These comments were almost universally spun — not only on talk radio and in the rightwingnutball blogosphere, but also in the supposedly more centrist mainstream media (aka the librulmedia) as “Eric Holder Says It’s Racist to Disagree With Him and Obama”. Holder said no such thing, of course. (Read it again if you really need to. We’ll wait.) On the contrary, he clearly specified that  he didn’t even consider racism “the main driver” in that “animus”. The winger spin distorting his words actually lends them validation. And provides us with another classic straw man.

But back to the Redskins. The Independent (sic) Journal Review‘s 20 additional mascots are essentially red herrings, and quite often sterling specimens of false equivalence, which is something we’ll be examining in the near future. They include The Toronto Raptors (Fine, marginalize all the people who got scared by the Jurassic Park movies.”) and the BYU Cougars: (“Last time I checked, Provo Utah isn’t famous for middle aged women prowling on young men.”) Nyuk nyuk nyuk,

Okay, okay. So the piece is intended to be cutesy-poo satire. But that’s just it. By listing team names for which outrage would be preposterous, Charters hopes to portray the disapproval of “Redskins” as equally petty and laughable. It isn’t.

Also included among the 20 are the Chicago Blackhawks and the Cleveland Indians. Had Charters done just a smidgen of homework, he might have learned that in fact the Cleveland baseball team has been a frequent target of protests over the years by The Left, or The PC Police, or whoever those guys were with feathers in their hair. And the Blackhawks? Not so much so, but there are several probable reasons.

First, Blackhawk, unlike Redskin, is a perfectly legitimate and respectable designation for a particular group of people, (Indian, though not preferable, is also respectful and respectable enough; the clamor over the Cleveland Indians isn’t because the word itself is inappropriate.) Second, it’s the name of a specific tribe rather than an entire ethnic population. And third, the NHL team wasn’t even named after that tribe in the first place. It was named after a combat unit in World War I, which in turn was named (like the tribe) after a single historic Native American leader.

Interestingly, the Independent (wink wink) Journal Review overlooks or deliberately omits one of the most egregious offenders: the Atlanta Braves, whose fan ritual of intoning a “war chant” and mimicking a tomahawk chop has ruffled the feathers of those ruddy-complexioned PC Police on The Left for years. The article does, however, suggest that monikers like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Boston Celtics should be regarded as equally tasteless.

Which is not only nonsense, but screaming-out-loud nonsense. Because the Irish/ Keltics do not have the same kind of history in this country that Indians do. On the contrary, they were, to put it bluntly, among the historical white oppressors rather than the Indian and African oppressed. Furthermore, it appears that those team names were chosen by Irish persons themselves. Native Americans, however, did not choose the Indians, the Braves or the Redskins. Which brings us to the real crux of the problem: a long, long history of white Christian males making choices for everyone else — often through the use of barbarically brutal force.

Native Americans were slaughtered like the bison they depended on, driven from their land and stripped of their religions, their languages, their traditions, their lifestyle and their dignity. All bygones, you say? Not really. The aftermath of that ethnic and cultural decimation is still very much with them. Many of them still live on reservations (paleface lingo for “land we have no use for anyway”).  They still have abnormal rates of poverty, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and suicide. Their traditions have been trivialized and their sacred objects have been lampooned by mass-market gewgaws cranked out in Asian sweatshops. And throughout the sordid history of their interaction with Caucasians, they have been portrayed in mainstream pop culture as cardboard stereotypes at best, and quite often as simpleminded, bloodthirsty savages.

Many Native Americans feel that there is a connection between these things — i.e., that how they are perceived and portrayed has a significant impact on how they are treated. And guess what? Many sociologists agree. Is there any reason we should not give this conclusion the benefit of a doubt?

When we speak of the mascot-ization of Indians as being offensive, we don’t mean that it results in “hurt feelings” — another common red herring. We mean that it undermines respect and dignity. Which brings us to the Independent (snicker snicker) Journal Review‘s concluding red herring, perhaps the mother of them all:

Instead, we should be recognizing the idea that names like Redskins and Patriots are ways to honor the legacy of our ancestors, not defile them.

Now if you really believe that Redskin is an honorific appellation on a par with Patriot, you probably don’t have the cognitive faculties to have made it to this point in the discussion. But for those of you still with us, here are some final questions to ponder.

The reactionaries like to cite a poll indicating that 90 percent of Native Americans have no problem with “Redskins”, and other polls indicating that 79 to 89 percent of the general public don’t (the figure I hear most often is 83); do you really believe that more non-Indians than Indians are bothered by the word? Another poll indicates that 56 percent of Americans believe the term is racist; does this mean that 46 percent of Americans (56 times 83) and 50 percent of Native Americans (56 times 90) think racism is hunky-dory?  Since we’ve been making comparisons here, do you really believe that any sports team today would consider naming itself The Los Angeles Spics? The Memphis Niggers? The San Francisco Chinks? The New York Kikes? What about The Honolulu Japs? Why, then, has it taken so long to get rid of “Washington Redskins”? Why do so many people still think Indians are fair game? Why are they so willing to engage in grotesque distortions of reason in order to justify that predilection? Is it just coincidence that, so very very often, they are the same people who indulge in spittle-flecked, head-banging, pants-pooping delirium about the nation’s first dark-skinned president?