This and that for your Sunday reading.
- Lynn Stuart Parramore writes
about our increasingly traumatic social and political culture, along with the response which can help to overcome it:
A 2012 study
of hospital patients in Atlanta’s inner-city communities showed that rates of post-traumatic stress are now on par with those of veterans returning from war zones. At least 1 out of 3 surveyed said they had experienced stress responses like flashbacks, persistent fear, a sense of alienation, and aggressive behavior. All across the country, in Detroit, New Orleans, and in what historian Louis Ferleger describes as economic “dead zones
” — places where people have simply given up and sunk into “involuntary idleness” — the pain is written on slumped bodies and faces that have become masks of despair.
We are starting to break down.
When our alarm systems are set off too often, they start to malfunction, and we can end up in a state of hyper-vigilance, unable to properly assess the threats. It’s easy for the powerful to manipulate this tense condition and present an array of bogeymen to distract our attention, from immigrants to the unemployed, so that we focus our energy on the wrong enemy.
Unfortunately, the cycle doesn’t end with you: trauma comes with a very high rate of interest. The children of traumatized people carry the legacy of pain forward in their brains and bodies, becoming more vulnerable to disease, mental breakdown, addiction, and violence. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on trauma, emphasizes that it’s not just personal. Trauma occupies a space much bigger than our individual neurons: it’s political. If your parents lost their jobs, their home or their sense of security in the wake of the financial crisis, you will carry those wounds with you, even if conditions improve. Budget cuts to education and the social safety net produce trauma. Falling income produces trauma. Job insecurity produces trauma.
When I do something as simple as nurture a friend in need, or let myself be drawn in by an artistic creation, or meet the eyes of a stranger with kindness, or plant a living tree, I’m intervening in the trauma and rewriting its trajectory — perhaps only a paragraph, but many paragraphs can make a page, and many pages, a volume.
The etymology of the word “trauma” is associated with the Greek word “wound.” To be human is to be wounded, and the ability to cope with our wounds is the essence of life’s journey. Without wounds, we can’t know our own strength and competence, and we can’t develop empathy for our fellow creatures. Moving from the static place of trauma to something fluid and transformative is the key. The trauma doesn’t go away, but it’s possible to bring it along in a way that helps us witness each other, hear each other, and help each other.- And Monica Pohlmann interviews
Armine Yalnizyan about the need to move past self-defeating policies:Pohlmann:
What keeps you up at night?Yalnizyan:
The way we are transforming our views about immigration in Canada. In the coming decades, nation states will be competing to attract people, not just capital. Population aging is occurring in all advanced industrialized nations. Without newcomers, the Canadian labour force would start to shrink in the next year or two. An unsettling trend has emerged in Canada. Public policy now favours a rise in temporary foreign workers over permanent economic immigrants. When companies say they face a skills shortage, all too often the solution is bringing in a foreign worker temporarily for what is often not a temporary shortage. These workers are tied to their employer, and can get deported if they complain about anything.
In such a workplace environment, it’s hard for any worker to ask for anything better. People are constantly looking over their shoulder, wondering, “Will they find a cheaper me?” It’s a recipe for growing friction between “us” and “them.”
The problem arises from a common view that low wages and low taxes are “good for business.” What may be good for an individual business is a dead-end path for society and the economy as a whole. Wages and taxes are never low enough for businesses. Their job is to maximize profits. But the continuous drive to lower wages and taxes erodes the economic heft of a country. The message to workers is “expect less,” even when companies grow and profits rise. The idea that labour is simply a cost, rather than the essential building block of performance, is destructive nonsense.
Middle-class jobs are being cut, replaced by more low-paid and some higher-paid work. Wages aren’t keeping up with costs for most people, and savings rates are falling. A rising proportion of Canadian households don’t have enough funds to last a month should they lose their pay cheques. We pay tribute to a large and resilient middle class as the mark of a flourishing economy around the world, but our own middle class is being squeezed in every way, ironically in the name of economic growth.- In a similar vein, Robert Reich reminds us where jobs and economic development come from - and that funneling ever more wealth to the privileged few does nothing to help:
- Alison examines
the "rejectionist" model of politics which has done plenty to eliminate the belief that it's possible to accomplish anything positive through our elected governments. And Jim Day discusses
Stephen Lewis' sharp - but entirely justified - criticism of Canada's social breakdown.
- Finally, Carol Linnitt examines
the Burnaby Mountain pipeline protest as an all-too-clear example of petro-politics taking precedence over all else.