Mental Health In A Capitalist World
We are crumbling. The battle for humanity is being waged between the individual and organisations with only one motive – profit. Mental health is the the most intimate casualty in this carnage by capitalism.
I came across some news about Netflix’s new policies around password sharing. The Netflix page explains it as ‘A Netflix account is for people who live together in a single household’. This brings up the question of how much right do companies have to determine how we use their offerings? Especially when it goes into questions of how we live and describe our lives?
Do we necessarily share the intimacy and trust of shared viewing (a la television watching up to the 90s) with our co-inhabitants? Are we really not more in a world where our ‘real’ family, our tribe if you will, is not necessarily the people we live with? What about geographically distant, emotionally proximate relationships? Is Netflix purporting to be the arbiter of these decisions the way Facebook has been impacting (and manipulating) the ways we feel connection to each other? And is it wise to base it on social systems from decades ago? My sense is that Netflix is not even thinking about this. Why would they? Like every other capitalist organisation, their sole focus is profit, monetary gain, greater savings.
Remember when the word ‘piracy’ came into popular parlance? Pirates had existed for centuries as the renegade, sometimes romanticised bandits of the sea. Then the 90s brought connectivity, media and the harbingers of the content revolution with easier, cheaper technology to record & consume. We all realised there was a bigger world of art and culture out there and it was accessible to more of us, faster, easier. The promise of the very internet was to make information more democratic, more accessible (and that includes affordable) to more people. It was a revolutionary idea in a world that for centuries across cultures, has hoarded communication, media & knowledge (including art & storytelling) as currency of power. The whole notion of piracy-as-evil happened when music & film publishers decided they wanted not just a larger slice of the bigger pie, but the whole pie itself. People were finding ways to access content without paying the bloated charges imposed and controlled by these industries (which included massive exploitation of the original creators).
Look at the promise of ebooks and ereaders when they first came in. We were enamored by the thought that books would be cheaper once the entry cost of the device was paid, because all manner of logistics and material cost didn’t apply. Yet, the average book today has the same price in ebook form as in hardcopy form today. It has not hurt the sales of e-readers or books but it’s debatable whether authors are making more money than they were before. The only ones benefitting are publishers.
Revolutions begin with the idealists and they end with the capitalists.
I have been in severe dental pain for a week and discomfort for about a month before that. I only realised I couldn’t go on like this when I woke up with a splitting headache that got worse when I took a sip of water. I had to put all plans on hold to rush to the dentist. I’ve just started a new project and I’m concerned that my colleagues will think I’m slacking off or move on to others. This, even though they seem really nice and like people I’d wish to have in my life, long after our collaborative work is over.
How about I cry quietly but visibly but also get all my work done? Will I still be treated with dignity? Will I be deemed worthy of love & respect still? I know I will not. Even though I’ve kept my word, fulfilled my responsibilities, the bottomless pit of efficiency will find me lacking. It will treat my health issues as suboptimal. It will see the extra effort I made to get to the same result and conclude that I could be optimised with a more perfect health. It will not make allowance for the fact that the human body and life itself is too complex for a steady flow of positive output. It will not even recognise factors that do not fit into neat, linear descriptions and equations but deem them useless and hence worthless, even bad. There is no notion of unique experiences adding dimension, of the value of patient healing over popping a pill, of evolution instead of just bottomline growth.
My existence has been boiled down to an equation on my use in churning out steady, tangible profit. I am a citizen of the ROI-focussed, capitalist culture that equates my worth to my productivity. That means, the closest thing I’ve had to feeling loved is to feel productive. To be useless, is to be unworthy of love – so I’ve learnt. This includes all the things that are love and cannot be quantified – empathy, gentleness, generosity, respect, the desire to treat another human with dignity.
I know this is cruel & lacking and when I can, I’m battling this, mostly by examining my own assumptions about other people and myself. It was a lesson that first started coming down hard on me when a dear colleague died. I found myself carrying the grief of 26 people who knew him as a friend & mentor. I was faced with the realisation that he had been unaccountably kind to me behind my back. It made me have to accept the selfishness of my corporate agenda in thinking of people as ‘resources’. It’s a lesson I’ve tried, however awkwardly, to embrace in penance for the dehumanising ways I acted assuming that the professional meant the impersonal.
Since then, I’ve tried to be a more supportive boss, a more grateful teacher, a more trusting vendor, a more vulnerable performer. This I do even as I battle organisations that don’t pay on time, people who exploit artists, systems that don’t value teachers, the dangers of career activism (and activists). It feels important, even more important than picking up another impressive entry on my professional profile and fattening my bank balance.
The pandemic keeps echoing in my head – how will those weigh in on the balance between struggling to breathe & exposing loved ones with co-morbidities? What are you going to do with all that if a heart attack hits you just like that? Who and what will catch you if you fall while waiting for an oxygen cylinder and never make it to the hospital gates? In those last moments, I’m convinced my deepest regrets will come to torture me. It will be my moments of inhumanity that see me to my death. I’d like to soften their sting.
The sole agenda of capitalism is to make money at all costs and by any means possible. It is single-minded and makes no room for human development, unfair (and uncompensated) exploitation. It is a system with zero checks & balances which means it continues to disproportionately bloat the already bloated while shrinking the already starving. Nothing else matters, including groups that have faced historic discrimination and whose chances of a basic life shrink with every act of greed. You see it in the politics of the progress model of my country. Greed, as this system says, is good.
What is this doing to us? Capitalism benefits large, nameless organisations. Organisations are still run by people. This system lets them pretend that their decisions are not really their responsibility or their fault. But wallets are owned by individuals. And what is it doing to us? We are each on an endless treadmill (hat-tip to Black Mirror S1 E2 ‘Fifteen Million Merits’). There is no time, no energy to allow empathy or healing when there’s another goal to chase.
If this sounds too touchy-feely, think about some other industries that impact each of us even more than an entertainment service. The quest for better mental health was turned into a discriminatory malpractice by Big Therapy. The humanitarian efforts that we all participated in and partook of, when COVID loomed high are now the number-crunching domain of Big Pharma. (‘Love and Other Drugs‘ takes a sharp look at the ugliness of Big Pharma while couched in a sweet romcom). Of the 8 billion people on the planet today, how many can afford real healthcare? And is that a luxury that should be limited to the 1% that were born into wealth and/or made their exploitative ways into wealth while stepping on the bones of everyone else?
Think about drinking water. It’s one of the most fundamental living needs. Big Bottled Water is hitting the environment with its massive plastic outlay, fueling the use-and-throw notion to tamp down reuse in a bid to boost repurchase. Finally, this industry is making potable water something you only deserve if you’re rich enough. Are you sure you’ll be rich enough to afford water 20 years from now, if you’re alive then? Maybe you’ll be working hard on the treadmill to earn it. What about your older family members or your small children?
I’ll leave you with that thought because I am just one individual and I don’t have the answers. I am rapidly losing ways to choose my life. We will all die someday and it looks likely that it will be because we cannot afford to live. I’d rather go as a human being, than as a money maker powered by blood. It’s the only thing that lets me get out of bed in the morning and get through the day of the life that I am able to afford.
Hey smithy. If you every need help , I will come and help . If I have any energy left in my body at that time :). But hey I am just a stranger….
Unsolicited advice (If I don’t I’ll feel guilty for not having shared). As I too have undergone my whole health issues, I found doing suburban diagnostics blood test package platinum 40/50 for her really helped find levels which needed meds or vitamins. Please do it and also a usg pelvic+abdomen at least once. Did the dentist visit clear up all your symptoms? I’m curious about the hba1c levels.
Going through similar insecurities being single all my life. I hoped to start a singles support network. But family health issues are not helping.
@XXFan: That is so nice of you!
I know some physical health factors directly contribute to mental health but are not very visible. I have been tracking them for years myself. Doctors are still discovering how COVID may have impacted some of these. Even with the education to know to look for these, the financial ability to pay and metro city access to the top systems, I am struggling. What happens to those who have less? My post is pointing out that human wellness is coming at a price that increasingly nobody can afford. I blame capitalism.
The western medicine model of popping a pill doesn’t exactly solve our human situations, especially in India. We also have to deal with a lot of other mental and emotional burdens because of the way our society is structure. I hope you will find your peace, nice stranger.