Monday, January 17, 2011

US 'dishonour roll...longest of any nation'

And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the night before he died.

Gerald Caplan, Globe & Mail: America faces a deeper, more intractable crisis that no one has a clue how to deal with, largely because it's denied: a huge epidemic of mentally disturbed people, many with power and influence... The World Health Organization has found that 26 per cent of Americans have mental disorders of some kind or another, the highest rate on the planet, most of which goes completely untreated. But this was a clinical study and didn't examine political or cultural manifestations of mental disturbance in the United States... For all we know, the real total of those with mental disorders could be as low as that 26 per cent and as high as the sky.

Of course we Canadians have no right to complacency in this area... But how does Canada, or any other country, possibly begin to compare to the dishonour roll of America's mass and serial murderers, far and away the longest of any nation on Earth?

Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press: Americans have long valued individualism as opposed to collectivism, believing people are personally responsible for their actions, their successes and their failures... And yet environmental and cultural factors most certainly impact the behaviour of all citizens, the deranged among them, said [Marvin] Swartz, who coauthored a 2006 study that found environmental factors can play a role in increasing violence in schizophrenics...

But those sorts of questions go against American individualism, he noted, contrasting the state of affairs in Canada as opposed to the U.S. 'I think what's curious is when you compare Canada and the U.S., and how close we are in many ways, and yet how different the national character is... So much in Canada has to do with thinking collectively. Canadians value equity and everybody getting a fair shake... and somehow we've moved in a different direction in the U.S.... There are a host of issues raised here that Americans simply don't want to talk about or deal with.'

Jeremy Rifkin, AlterNet: The American character was forged, in large part, on a skewed idea about who we are as a people... From the very moment John Winthrop and his flock of Puritans landed on American shores in 1630, we came to believe that we are God's chosen people and that the Lord has a unique covenant with us that makes us special among the peoples of the world. In our economic life, we have become the fiercest supporters of Adam Smith's belief that the naked pursuit of individual self-interest in the market is the defining feature of human nature. In our political life, we have come to believe in 'American Exceptionalism,' that our political ideology is somehow superior to all others. In our social life, we are the strongest supporters of Social Darwinism, that life is a combative struggle in which only the strongest survive. These highly regarded core beliefs are antithetical to a mature empathic sensibility.

What is there about the concept of empathy that conjures up so much derision? Why are some so frightened? Perhaps it's because being empathic requires giving up the pretense of being special and anointed. It means being mindful of other points of view. It means abandoning the idea that rank self-interest governs all behaviour. And, most important, it means being open to the plight of others.
Image source here.