Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture

The Myth of Nornal; Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, Gabor Mate with Daniel Mate, 2022

If we begin to see such illness itself not as a cruel twist of fate or some nefarious mystery but rather as an expected and therefore normal consequence of abnormal, unnatural circumstances, it would have revolutionary implications for how we approach everything health related.
The current medical paradigm, owing to an ostensibly scientific bent that in some ways bears more resemblance to an ideology than to empirical knowledge, commits a double fault. It reduces complex events to their biology, and it separates mind from body, concerning itself almost exclusively with one or the other without appreciating their essential unity.

My own observations of self and others have led me to endorse fully what a review of the stress literature concluded, namely that “psychological factors such as uncertainty, conflict, lack of control, and lack of information are considered to most stressful stimuli and strongly activate the HPA axis.” A society that breeds these conditions, as capitalism inevitably does, is a super powered generator of stressors that tax human health.

Capitalism is “far more than just an economic doctrine,” Yoval Noah Harari observes in his influential bestseller Sapiens. “It now encompasses an ethic — a set of teachings about how people should behave, educate their children, and even think. Its principal tenet is that economic growth is the supreme good, because justice, freedom, and even happiness all depend on economic growth.” Capitalism’s influence today runs so deep and wide that its values, assumptions, and expectations potently infuse not only culture, politics, and law but also such subsystems as academia, education, science, news, sports, medicine, child-rearing, and popular entertainment. The hegemony of materialist culture is now total, its discontents universal.

“The political system seems to be failing as much as the economic system,” (Joseph) Stiglitz writes in his 2012 book, The Price of Inequality. In the eyes of many, he continues, “capitalism is failing to produce what was promised — inequality, pollution, unemployment, and most important of all, the degradation of values to the point where everything is acceptable and no one is accountable.”

The Swiss bank UBS reported in October 2020 that during the COVID-19 induced market turmoil the international billionaire stratum had grown their fortunes to over ten trillion dollars between April and July of that year. The worlds than richest individual Jeff Bezos had increased his wealth by over $74 billion Tesla owner Elon Musk by up to $103 billion. …the Toronto Star reported. “That’s in the midst of an economic crisis that has left millions of Canadians unemployed or working reduce hours and struggling with bills and our governments are borrowing to fund emergency financial aid for individuals and businesses to stave off even greater hardship.
In the realm of political decision making, a widely circulated U.S. study showed that the views of ordinary people make no difference to public policy: a lack of control on a mass scale. “When a majority of citizens disagree with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose.” “Even when fairly large majorities favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Scottish labor leader Jimmy Reid:

“Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society…Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.”

Not only does our individual and societal sanity depend on connection so does our physical health. Because we are biopsychosocial creatures, the rising loneliness epidemic in Western culture is much more than just an psychological phenomenon it is a public health crisis.

psychoanalyst Steven Reisner:

“Narcissism and sociopathy describes corporate America. But it’s flat-out wrong to think in twenty-first century America that narcissism and sociopathy are illnesses. In today’s America, narcissism and sociopathy are strategies. And they’re very successful strategies, especially in business and politics and entertainment.”

in what the Wall Street Journal called “an unprecedented plea” editors of two hundred health journals internationally, including the Lancet, the British Medical Journal, and the New England Journal of Medicine, called the failure of political leaders to confront the climate crisis “the greatest threat to global public health.” The harms of climate change include acute and chronic physical illness such as cardiovascular disease and susceptibility to infections, along with mental health challenges. Especially at risk are people with heart or kidney conditions, diabetes, and respiratory ailments. I need hardly mention food and water insecurity, major stressors already affecting millions.

Underlying the active and callous disregard of our Earth’s health is the sociopathology of the most powerful entities, whose planetary poison-pushing removes any hint of metaphor thus this book’s subtitle phrase “toxic culture.” The oil companies pumped billions of dollars into thwarting government action. They funded think tanks and paid retired scientists and fake grassroots organizations to pour doubt and scorn on climate science. They sponsored politicians, particularly in the U.S. Congress, to block international attempts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. They invested heavily in greenwashing their public image…in 2020 the top hundred or more American corporations channeled their political donations largely to lawmakers with a record of stalling climate legislation…Compared with financial gain the climate is, well, small change.

Historically the idea of race arose from the impulse of European capitalism to enrich itself by subjecting, enslaving, and if necessary, destroying Indigenous people on other continents, from Africa to Australia to North America. Indeed, the word “race” did not exist in any meaningful way until it was created in the late eighteenth century. Psychologically, on the individual level, the “othering” of racism entails an antidote to self-doubt: if I don’t feel good about myself, at least I can feel superior to somebody and gain a sense of power and status by claiming privilege over them.

The brilliant writer James Baldwin once said, “What white people have to do is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessay to have a n_____ in the first place. If you, the white people, invented him, then you’ve got to find out why.”

For another take on the current worldwide health crisis see Deep Medicine