The United States: A nation of emotional wrecks

As the American dream spirals out of control, insanely smiling faces are seen throughout the land.

by Nathan Paulsen

Our collective odyssey through the social wasteland of free-market capitalism has severed modern life from its emotional roots, leaving many of us entirely unprepared to face the horrors of an increasingly violent and uncertain world.

The dominant culture we live and breath every day of our existence subjects our bodies and spirits to a relentless barrage of violence. Those eternally smiling faces that greet us just about everywhere we go are a fascade made to mask a tumultuous emotional stew composed of a thousand traumas too terrible to speak of. Rape. Murder. War on Terror. Abuse. Racism. Poverty. Drug addiction. Hunger. Meaninglessness. Ecocide. America is devouring itself in bites small and large.

The accumulated stress of rushing day in and day out to make ends meet leaves little energy to attend to emotional needs. We are earning less in terms of real wages than our parents were during the Nixon administration. More than 27.5 million Americans ” more than 61 percent of them adults older than 25 ” take home less than $8 an hour.

Five of the 10 occupations projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to be among the fastest growing are also the lowest paying in the economy, including retail salespeople, cashiers, office clerks and personal care and home health aides.

When bills are overdue and job prospects are bleak, the routine of sweeping under the rug the pain that arises in the course of daily living seems almost inevitable.

As if the economic busyness of life on the edge of poverty isn’t enough to shield us from the dark feelings elicited by a nation gone awry, working class oppression has a way of morphing into an emotion-suppressing cultural nowhere land.

Fed a constant dose of intolerance for all things emotional from the time we are born, and hardened by years of isolation in our atomized profit-driven society, many of us try to forget about the sorry state of affairs we are in by escaping into a world of hyperconsumerism.

Luckily, the civilization we have constructed offers a wide array of distractions from prevailing adversities. Just how far we have traveled into late capitalism’s social abyss is indicated by Americans propensity to spend the last few hours of the day eating fast food, watching television, having a few drinks and masturbating to the latest porn flick.

Instead of cooking nutritious meals with family and friends, we have elected to allow grease, saturated fat, cholesterol and meat which farmers themselves would never eat to course through our veins at all hours of the day. Americans spent a whopping $110 billion on fast food in 2000, representing more than an 18-fold increase from 1970.

In the average American home, the television is now on for seven hours and 40 minutes a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on public education found: “By the time adolescents graduate from high school, they will have spent 15,000 hours watching television, compared with 12,000 hours spent in the classroom.”

One in five adults is an active alcoholic and untold millions are abusing other drugs. An executive office of the president report estimated that in 2002 alone, substance abuse accounted for more than $15 billion in health care costs.

When gorging down fast food, watching the tube and consuming drugs is not enough to relieve us of our worries, we can always turn to the porn industry for additional assistance. Hard-core porn outlets in the United States now outnumber McDonald’s restaurants.

The U.S. porn industry makes more money than the combined revenues of all the professional football, basketball and baseball franchises.

So we have it: The 21st century American dream consists of one bigscreen TV, a bottle of Jack Daniels, two or three quarter-pound double-bacon cheeseburgers and about 50 million dead-end jobs.

No wonder that despair, fear, anger and obsessiveness have become the unconscious fabric of so many of our lives. According to statistics found in Miriam Greenspan’s “Healing Through the Dark Emotions,” one in four adults in the United States seek professional help for anxiety at some point in their lives.

Some 20 million Americans are clinically depressed. The American Association of Suicidology estimates that about every two hours a person younger than 25 commits suicide. Today’s suicide rate for 15- to 24-year-olds is more than double what it was in 1950.

There is no chance of overcoming the nightmare we are in if we do not even have the capacity to say how it makes us feel.

Nor can we be expected to confront this generation’s social and ecological challenges if we do not have the support needed to face our collective demons head on.

Seeing our way through this madness therefore entails rediscovering how to sense our emotions, talk about them and give patient support to the people around us that are struggling with the trauma our culture has visited upon them.

Nathan Paulsen welcomes comments at [email protected]