2,163 words / 13:19
On July 20, 2017, Chester Bennington, lead singer of the band Linkin Park, committed suicide by hanging. Just two months previously, Bennington perform Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at Soundgarden and Audioslave singer Chris Cornell’s funeral after Cornell was found dead, having also committed suicide by hanging, on May 18. These were just the most recent in a spree of mostly white and mostly male high-profile suicides over the past several years, from actor Robin Williams to author David Foster Wallace.
Some in the Alt Right have wanted to focus on simply judging Bennington as weak, or cowardly, or irresponsible, over the fact that he left behind six kids. But this is at least somewhat ironic, given the nature of our cause. In 2016, the suicide rate in the United States surged to its highest level in nearly three decades—driven almost entirely by an increase in suicide among middle-aged whites—even as the suicide rate among black men fell. This cannot be because white men as a group simply have weaker wills than all other demographics. The explanation must be, as leftists would say, “structural.”
But the traditional explanations offered by pundits in the popular press fall short. In an interview with the BBC, Pat Remington, a professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin, pointed to “the widespread availability of guns and prescription drugs” as significant causes. But black Americans are killing each other with guns at significantly higher rates than whites are, despite lower rates of gun ownership. Japan has a suicide rate that is nearly twice that of the United States, and South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world, despite nation-wide bans on firearms. Meanwhile, there may be fewer prescription drugs in black communities, but there most certainly isn’t any lack of access to drugs in general.
So what can we learn from this epidemic of white male suicide? The first lesson of note is what it tells us about the nature of white men: we aren’t simplistic, one-dimensional, hedonistic pigs. Our deepest needs obviously transcend the economic. All the money and cars and sexual access to young, willing women in the world weren’t enough to keep the lead singers of Linkin Park and Audioslave interested in going on with their lives.
Those experts also point to “the financial downturn that began in 2008.” But a major cause of that financial downturn was our collective refusal to admit that blacks and whites behave differently at equal levels of income (for instance, whites who earn less than $25,000 per year have better credit scores than blacks who earn between $65–75,000). As such, because the housing boom was disproportionately driven by expanded minority home ownership, the housing bust also disproportionately hit minorities. So this can’t explain suicide rates either.
“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war . . . our Great Depression is our lives.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
It may be worth revisiting why suicide exists in evolutionary terms.
A basic sentiment commonly expressed by the suicidal is: “Everyone would be better off without me!” Evolutionary analysis suggests that suicide exists because we really do have innate mechanisms crafted to evaluate whether or not everyone would be better off without us. Why? Because if our handicaps require assistance that limits our close kin’s ability to survive and reproduce, we may in fact increase our own genetic fitness more by committing suicide and removing the reproduction-limiting obligations we impose upon them than we would be going on living with the help of our kin.
This is only a paragraph-long oversimplification of a very complicated topic, but the underlying gist should be clear enough: what we really need more than anything is to be needed. As Sebastian Junger’s Tribe or Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men have been hammering in, this is why tribal societies are happier: the smaller a unit of people is, the more likely it is that it actually needs you.
That quote referenced above from Fight Club actually ends like this:
“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
But what are we to make of it when those very movie gods and rock stars turn out to be part of the suicide epidemic, too? Bennington, whose net worth was around $25 million, clearly could not have been a financial drain on his close kin.
Well, think back to his children: exactly what is it that he supposed to stick around to offer them? Under historical guild systems—which The Distributist Review opens by telling us are “the oldest, most necessary, most deeply rooted, of all human institutions . . . [appearing] in all civilizations which are at all stable, because it is necessary to stability”—a man knew that the trade he invested his life in was one he could pass on to his children. He could mentor his children and pass on the lessons he spent his life learning, because the lessons he spent his life learning were directly relevant for their success, since they were assured a place in his occupation.
Modern free market economies sever this particular kind of intergenerational tie. And public schooling ensures that fathers no longer truly raise their children, anyway. Libertarians will be quick to tell us how much more economically efficient the free market’s severance of that tie is, but how do we account for the psychological and sociological impacts of a world where fathers really do have little to pass on directly to their children?
Those libertarians will also be the first to tell us that value is subjective—could we not then have different subjective assessments of the value of increasing gross domestic profit versus building a more stable and rooted social order? I, for one, would unquestionably value the stability of a world where I knew that when I learned to increase my skills within a field, I was learning lessons I could pass on directly to my children well more than I value any increase in the amount of trinkets that exist to purchase in the current system.
Our sickness, as Palahniuk would have it, is a spiritual sickness. It’s about the nature of our social bonds—to each other, to our children, to the future.
And that can’t be reduced in any way to the number of trinkets and widgets up for purchase in the economy. Nor is there any necessary link between increasing the number of widgets up for sale and restoring us from that sickness. We’re also getting married less than our parents. At the same time, we’re participating in the economy less than our parents.
Clearly, the two phenomena aren’t unrelated. Men’s conspicuous consumption is an evolutionary adaptation to attract women. As Bridget Brennan (author of Why She Buys) writes at Forbes, “Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. Influence means that even when a woman isn’t paying for something herself, she is often the influence or veto vote behind someone else’s purchase.” She concludes, “There is certainly no doubt: women’s consumer domination is here for the long term.”
In short, the basic fact is that one of the biggest reasons men work at all is to afford women. But today, “female empowerment” takes the form of things like lowering standards for firefighting just to ensure that women who are less physically capable of performing the duties of the job can join. And this combines with welfare to the point that over the course of a lifetime, only men pay taxes; men collectively pay more in taxes than they receive until around the age of 80, while the average woman will, over the course of her lifetime, represent a net fiscal impact of –$150,000.
When women are artificially subsidized into positions of work, and all men are collectively forced to pay all women just to exist, we artificially create a situation where no particular woman truly needs any particular man any longer. And the one thing we, as human beings, need most of all is to be needed.
By the way, Anne Case and Angus Deaton published a follow-up this year to their original 2015 paper covering the “shocking increase in midlife mortality among white non-Hispanic Americans.” In the original paper, they concluded that the rise in white deaths was “largely accounted for by increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis.” But the follow-up corrects for the fact that in this original conclusion, they focused only on the increase in deaths, without focusing on the disparities between this demographic’s death rate and the falling death rates found everywhere else in the world.
Fifteen years ago, middle-aged whites in the United States were tied with their German counterparts; now, white Americans are 45% more likely to die than white Germans. Every year, about 285 people out of 100,000 die between the ages of 45 and 54. In the United States, that number is more than 410. And of these additional 125 deaths, only about 40 are explained by the spike in drug use, drinking, and suicide.
Much of the other two thirds of this figure is owed to deaths from heart disease—and it is very well established in the scientific literature that psychological and emotional stress plays a massive role in producing heart disease.
People who have been clinically depressed even once are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, as long as ten full years after the original episode. A 2014 study, “An Inflammatory Pathway Links Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease Risk to Neural Activity Evoked by the Cognitive Regulation of Emotion,” found that the very psychological experience of negative emotion contributes directly to creating the type of inflammation that causes heart disease.
In fact, subjective psychosocial factors probably do more to explain death from heart disease than physical lifestyle factors do: “Traditional coronary risk factors cannot explain the rapid increase in CHD mortality among middle-aged men in many of the newly independent states of eastern Europe. However, eastern European men score higher on stress-related psychosocial coronary risk factors (e.g., social isolation, vital exhaustion) than men living in the West.” In other words, men in eastern Europe have higher rates of heart disease, but this can’t be explained by the normal physical factors, because men in eastern Europe eat and exercise just as well as their Western counterparts. They are, however, more socially isolated, and have higher rates of ‘vital exhaustion’ (a fancy term for nervous breakdowns).
The average age of first heart attack in men is 65—for women, it’s 72. And men are 50% more likely to die from it. As you include older age groups, more women end up dying annually from heart disease than men—but this is only because older age groups are skewed female because most of the men have already died by then.
I normally wouldn’t share articles from the Huffington Post. Much less one authored by a lying plagiarist. Much less one that attributes bad behavior to environment, rather than choice or innate disposition. But I actually think drug abuse is an exception to the rule, and Johann Hari’s article on addiction really is excellent.
To summarize, the most important point here is that most of the animal studies on the addictiveness of hard drugs involved putting rats in small cages alone with nothing else to do, and then seeing how addicted they became to cocaine-laced water. But when Vancouver Professor Bruce Alexander placed rats in “Rat Park”—filled with colored balls and winding tunnels and access to social relationships with other rats—as a whole they consumed less than a quarter the amount of cocaine-laced water that the isolated rats did, and none of them became heavy consumers or died of overdose.
Further, when he took rats who became addicted to cocaine while stuck alone in small cages and placed them in Rat Park, even they got off of the drugs—voluntarily; spontaneously.
So the rise in white and male deaths, even as deaths fall for most other cohorts, is mainly owed to three things: suicide, drug abuse, and heart disease. All three of these things are major symptoms of psychological and emotional stress as well as social isolation.
And that is why, no matter what we think about the teen angst-fueled nu-rock music of Linkin Park, we shouldn’t contribute to a public atmosphere of condemnation of Bennington for committing suicide—because the fact is, for everything else that can rightly be said about this event, and whether Bennington himself was even able to recognize the fact or not, he was also a casualty of the same forces that are currently working to destroy us all.