Thursday, December 22, 2016

Meanwhile, slowly dissolving...

So everybody's down on 2016:  all the celebrities who have died, the Cubs won the World Series, and then there's that election thing.

But what really should be worrying us is the gradually expanding sense of despair, one that culminates in early death and suicide.  It's hitting middle-aged white women particularly hard.  Regional and socio-economic factors contribute, but one thing is clear:  the communal web or network that used to hold together communities has frayed and is snapping. The individualizing age of the smartphone has shown its downside--and therein people suffer, well, individually, i.e., alone. Hence suicide becomes not possible but perhaps preferable.  From the article Jennifer Silva, a sociologist from Bucknell University:

"People are trying to solve the crisis on their own. I see a lot of relying on the internet to try to treat, especially mental health problems. I had an older white woman who was suffering from self-diagnosed depression, but a few years later I learned she actually died of a brain tumour but she never went to a doctor because she couldn't afford it.
"[These people] are often not working, not in relationships, just not connected to any kind of social organisations. In this coal region there used to be a church on every corner and people would join together and socialise and exchange information, but now, most of those churches have closed down.
"We have a whole generation of people who are just in some ways wasted talent. There's a lot of suffering, a lot of desperation, fear, vulnerability, and hopelessness. They're not really sure how they can make a world better for their children and they feel very betrayed."

Read more here.

Silva's work aside, few in the academy will admit this, but this corrosive denigration of women is polyvalent.  Consider this: As this blog has made clear several time, I am no fan of Donald Trump.  That aside, one must recognize what Kellyanne Conway has achieved;  the first woman to chair a victorious major-party presidential campaign. Nevertheless, you'd think Conway represents the triumph of every and all evil.  Paraphrasing St. Pius X on Modernism, Conway is the sum of all misogynies.  Except she's not--she just did her job very well.  Granted this is not the same as Clinton actually winning the presidency.  But because Conway's job involved preventing precisely that, she apparently has become a legitimate target of ridicule.  We cannot read about growing suicide rates among women--precisely in areas that voted for Trump--without noticing this troubling new acceptable misogyny.

Grappling with these issues gathers new urgency since it is clear that ISIS espouses a violent sexual theology requiring simultaneously the utter veiling of all female physical contours and male-perogative-based sexual activity. In other words, ISIS thinks all women must wear the burqa until ISIS's men desire sex.  Then and only then does the veil drop.  Nobody in the West, and many Muslims!, do not desire anything like this.  ISIS, however, sees a connection;  their violent sexual theology answers, critiques and, in their minds, cures the maladies of western materialism. In other words, the suicide epidemic besetting white middle-class American women.    When we examine the darker narratives lurking behind some of our most famous cultural expressions, some of ISIS' absolutism becomes understandable (although certainly not acceptable!).  The Sexual Revolution has hurt women far more than it has men.  It would seem the West, though, is OK with this.  Furthermore, it would seem American women now lose ground to men as our nation debates (re) definitions of gender.  Again, another subtle contribution to the accelerating dissolution.  Not only does American culture devalue some women more than others, it even robs them of the very definition of their identity as women.

The Theology of the Body, and just basic Catholic theology, has much to offer in positive, uplifting, and liberating response.  Being part of God's creation means that we each possess the same intrinsic dignity as everybody else, regardless of political party, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.  So the Ratzinger meme returns again to help:

Sources:  Cassie Pease Designs & Ratzinger Quotes
Indeed, we can do a better job conveying this simple truth:  we are each needed, willed, and loved. As 2016 becomes 2017, perhaps we will make some headway in reversing these trends that erode our faith in our communities as well as ourselves.  As the old Greek phrase goes, "kalepa ta kala" -- roughly, "good things are not easy."

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