05 November 2015
The death of the angry white male?
It sounds like someone's conspiracy theory at work: the National Academy of Sciences published a report this month showing that the death rate for white Americans aged 45-54 has increased sharply since 1998, while death rates for minority groups, in some cases still higher than for whites, have been dropping. Many people in that particular demographic may already think they're being targeted for extermination, and the ones we might presume most likely to believe such a thing, the less-educated, are the ones dying the most. Self-destructive behaviors seem to explain much of the trend, from increased suicide rates to greater use of drugs from heroin to Oxycontin. This provocative analysis suggests that these people are dying with the American dream, victims of despair over their diminished economic prospects in the modern (or postmodern) economy. It might follow that they are dying in greater numbers now -- though, again, still not in greater numbers than still-poorer but improving groups -- because they're less accustomed to hard times and perhaps more traumatized at the apparent loss of a supposed birthright. Yet if sociological factors are killing poor, ill-educated whites, it can be argued that they've contributed as much to their premature deaths by voting Republican so often -- if not for sustaining the entire bankrupt two-party system -- as they have by abusing drugs, alcohol and junk food. Republicans, of course, will offer a second opinion. They will continue to blame outside forces or conspiracies from within, from a President allegedly dedicated to his country's decline to a party that allegedly would prefer to replace whites entirely with more compliant non-whites. And for many this will continue to be a comforting diagnosis, because it will mean they've done nothing wrong. But there's little point in blaming Republicans if your only remedy is voting for Democrats. Regardless of which party is in power, and regardless of what country you live in, the global economy simply doesn't need as many people as the globe holds. It's no more necessary to that economy, it'd seem, for everyone to consume than it is for everyone to work. From a libertarian perspective, this seemingly alarming trend in the U.S. may simply be nature and market forces working together to correct an imbalance. But for the rest of us, this is no time to gloat, no matter how obnoxious this demographic often seems. More educated people might give themselves credit, but the numbers may only prove that education, for now, is a competitive advantage. It does not help us set the terms of the competition, nor does it assure us that alternatives are possible. If we want an alternative, we'll need numbers on our side, and with those numbers education may matter less than common sense. Their problem may not be that they're dumb, but that they've been bamboozled by flattering pseudo-intellectuals peddling ideological snake-oil. The remedy may not require us to demonstrate intellectual superiority to such sophists. It might be as simple as telling the majority, in language they'll understand, "come with us if you want to live."