Every time I turn on the news I hear more bad news. It might be hyperbolic to say that humanity is sliding towards an apocalypse, but there are plenty of statistics and examples to build a case that the world is not as it should be. Divorce rates are hovering around 50%. Shooting sprees and terrorist attacks are fashionable. Depression, unemployment, homelessness, drop-out rates, road rage, domestic violence, excessive consumer consumption and drug abuse are epidemic, and all of these problems are happening in first world countries.
Every time I turn on the news I hear more excuses for why these social ills are happening, and at this point I’ve heard it all: violent video games, angry music, the waning of religion, insanity, laziness and personal irresponsibility. Undoubtedly you could point out even more causes for the world’s problems.
If you made a list of society’s problems and then made a list of all the causes of those problems and then tried to find common denominators across all of them you’ll find a few common denominators. Aside from bad parenting, the biggest common denominator you’re likely to find (in this author’s admittedly editorial opinion) is stress, and you can put this theory to the test. Take any individual who snapped and caused some terrible catastrophe in society, and I guarantee you’ll find that person was crushed with stress; the only question is where the stress was coming from.
I’m not saying that everyone who does everything bad should be allowed to just write off their actions as the by-product of stress. If individuals have even the tiniest sliver of free will then we have an obligation to personal responsibility, but even if everyone is responsible for their actions, the fact remains that society as a whole has a responsibility to the individual. So the call to action here isn’t to let the individual off the hook for its responsibility to the whole. The call to action is to not let the whole off the hook for its responsibility to the individual.
As it stands, the institutions humans have created to serve the whole have not achieved their mission. On the contrary, the institutions humans have created to serve the whole are stressing individuals to the breaking point for the benefit of the leaders who claim to serve the whole.
Take for example the high domestic violence and divorce rates. Regardless of whether or not you believe in the sanctity of marriage (as defined by the culture you were raised in), the fact remains that families are fighting and falling apart in record numbers. So what causes families to fight? The biggest cause is money problems. People in debt are more worried and stressed out about the future than people without debt. People in debt have less disposable income to alleviate stress than people with no debt. People in debt have to work longer hours and have less time and disposable income to allocate to upgrade training that would get them a better job that pays more and helps them get out of debt.
Families who are in debt are constantly walking a tightrope, and every time they fail at anything the consequences are catastrophic. Even if you can walk that tightrope, you can only go through life with a gun held to your head for so long before the stress wears you down and makes you impatient and grumpy. If you stay impatient and grumpy for too long you forget life was ever any other way, and after you’ve accumulated a lifetime of memories of being impatient and grumpy then your memories shape how you see reality for the rest of the time you have to live.
If you’re living under the crushing shadow of debt and you’ve made a few mistakes in your life then the powers that be are going to beat the shit out of you and throw you out into the streets without a blanket. Go to any super-max prison and you’ll find that the majority of prisoners there had the most mind-shatteringly abusive childhoods possible. If you go to any federal prison you’ll find adults who have received as many body-blows from society as they’ve given back. If you go to any juvenile detention center you’ll find bunks full of neglected children who were told their entire lives they were bad seeds who’d never amount to anything. The standard solution to society’s problems isn’t to beat and abandon anyone who fails at anything; any psychologist can tell you that’s a recipe for failure, not reform.
There are so few institutions in place that actually reform “failures” that everyone who is actually “responsible” has no hope of ever living in a world where crime is rare. Nor does nobody expect crime to drop to unnoticeable levels. We’ve accepted stress as the norm, and we carry that stress with us everywhere we go because we can never fully let our guards down.
In some ways the prospect of succeeding in life is more stressful than the prospect of failing. At least with failing there’s an early end, and it relieves the pressure of working for 60 years at a job that treats you like a commodity by paying you as little as possible, working you as long as possible and giving you as few breaks or benefits the entire time. You certainly can’t hope for a pension anymore. So society has the added stress of not even knowing if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s a dire position to place people in, because hope is a prerequisite for happiness.
College graduates might be able to eventually get promoted into a position with a pension, but everyone else has little chance of ever making a living wage, and there are so many people without college degrees that businesses who hire entry-level work know they can work their employees to the breaking point, throw them away and hire a new, unbroken kid to replace them every few months. That means, thanks to institutions invented by smart, rich people, most of the poor, dumb people are expected to let themselves be used as disposable punching bags, and since that’s the only career path open to them, that means it would be financially irresponsible of them to not let themselves be used as disposable punching bags.
When you tell someone they deserve to be treated like a disposable punching bag and then them treat them like one and convince them that they’ll always be a disposable punching bag… they get really stressed out, because they know their lives have value; it’s just irresponsible for them to expect to be treated like it. So they’re forced to use cognitive dissonance to justify their own mistreatment to themselves, and cognitive dissonance and dehumanization are both very stressful. To make matters worse, when you stress out and beat down dumb people, they find dumb solutions to cope with the abuse and hopelessness you’re heaping on them. That’s bad for everyone, and when you punish dumb people for being dumb, then you create a downward spiral.
And that’s the world we live in. Most of the problems going on around you are caused by the stress of how inhumanely smart people have designed the social institutions we’ve created to help us fulfill our potential. As long as those institutions remain unchanged society will continue on the downward spiral of stress. So the next time you hear someone ask why people are so unhappy and volatile even in the most white-washed neighborhoods, tell them, “It’s the stress, stupid.”
What can we do to solve these problems? Well, the good news is they’ve already all been solved by people smarter than you or I. The only problem there is that smart people don’t run the world. Rich people, who are profiting hands over fist by stressing out everyone else, run the world and make the rules. And rule number one is that the rich must get richer at all costs.
Money is power, and the poor don’t have any money. The only power they do have is their numbers. The world isn’t going to change until the poor stop waiting for a corrupt politicians to save them and stop fighting each other over the scraps that fall from the rich’s plate and work together to find solutions to the problems that are causing them the most stress.