Present Tense

Present Tense

    In case you haven’t noticed, America has gotten a whole lot crazier in the last few years. We’ve become a metaphor of the mean old man chasing kids off his lawn. Everybody is on edge, and for good reason. Americans are working harder and longer than ever before, and being paid less and less for their labors. But with the decimation of unions that began under Reagan, they have little if any say about workers’ rights, benefits, or pay. And they’re the lucky ones — they have jobs. We’re under stress as never before, and people are increasingly snapping. Last month a 22-year-old man punched a 78-year-old man in the face at a Costco, because he was taking too long at one of the sample tables. We hear stories like this nearly every day, along with bonus coverage of the latest mass shooting.
    We’ve known about road rage for decades, but these days some of those angry drivers may be packing. “Cover me, honey, I’m changing lanes.” Now there’s “pedestrian rage” too. People in front walking too slowly, or a couple holding hands is blocking another pedestrian who’s in a hurry. That guy behind me, riding my ass, is what, tailgating? It’s even been given a name — pedestrian aggressiveness syndrome. And in a kind of crossover move, drivers get irritated with pedestrians who amble through crosswalks. Everyone is on edge. It’s what comes from living in a pressure cooker, while at the same time our quality of life keeps diminishing. Add to that both prescription drugs and guns, stir until mixture comes to a boil, then run for cover. For safety reasons, just assume everybody is armed.
    Americans are the most medicated people on the planet. 70% of us are taking at least one prescription drug. At 5% of the world’s population, Americans consume nearly 50% of the pharmaceuticals. The two classes most prescribed are opioids like OxyContin for pain, and SSRI anti-depressants or anti-psychotics. Opioids are extremely habit forming, and because of their cost have led to a new epidemic of heroin addiction, the latter being much cheaper. SSRIs are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Basically they cause the brain to produce less Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, hunger, and sleep. side effects of SSRIs can be agitation, anxiety, insomnia, hostility, aggression, and mania, in addition to the loss of empathy and suicidal ideation.
    Mix those last two with the easy availability of guns, and you have the ingredients of a mass shooting. If you look at the histories of previous mass shooters like Eric Harris (one of the two Columbine shooters) or Kip Kinkel (a mass shooter in Oregon about the same time) you find that many of them were on either anti-depressants or anti-psychotics. It’s literally a deadly combination, and both the ingredients are on the increase. Why? Because they’re profitable. Big Pharma is a multi-billion dollar industry, and so is the weapons industry. Big Pharma has phalanxes of lobbyists and attorneys, the weapons manufacturers have the NRA.
    Between 1982 and 2011 there was a mass shooting on the average of every 200 days. From 2011 – 2014 there was one every 64 days (Harvard School of Public Health, Congressional Research Service). This year we seem to be up to a couple a week. For me, the metaphor that comes to mind is popcorn. At first you hear a sudden “pop,” startling in its suddenness, then another pop, then another. Soon enough they overlap into a sound like static. Leave it to the brilliantly satirical magazine/site The Onion to paint the truth of it: “Nothing we can do about this, says only nation where this regularly happens.” There’s seemingly no limit to how insane this has gotten. For Exhibit A, last month in White Pine, TN, an 11-year-old boy got angry because an 8-rear-old girl wouldn’t show him her new puppy. He went home and got a shotgun from an unlocked closet, and shot the girl dead, right in the chest.
    What can be done about this, if anything? If you know, please tell me. The NRA controls the narrative to such an extent that any mention of reasonable gun legislation, like universal background checks, is greeted with hysteria: They want to take our guns! How powerful is the gun lobby? The CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is prohibited from research on gun deaths! In 1998 the Republicans added language to an appropriations bill that helps fund the CDC: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the CDC may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” It was introduced by Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR), and called the Dickey Amendment. He now “regrets doing it.” To his credit, after the mass shooting at Sandy Hill Elementary in Newtown, CN, the President instructed federal agencies to take the amendment literally, there being a difference between advocacy and research. The CDC has hesitated, though, and is so cowed that they now flag for the NRA any study that has anything to do with firearms (New York Times).
    Incidents of people snapping are becoming commonplace. Every few weeks we hear about a passenger on an airline flipping out, and sometimes they’re pilots. Police brutality seems to be a national epidemic. They’re underpaid, under-trained, and remember that every day they have to deal with the worst people possible. This is why they should be better paid and better trained. We have a couple million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD or TMI (traumatic brain injury), having difficulty finding jobs and reconnecting with family and their communities. You’d think the only happy people are the billionaires, and yet they spend their lives secluded in their office towers, or locked away in gated communities, sending the help out to buy groceries. Don’t even get me started with the survivalists and other conspiracy freaks.
    As if these fires needed more gasoline poured on them, right wing hate radio screams its obscenities nationwide over hundreds of stations, 24/7/365. They’re screeching about black people, illegal immigrants, terrorists, or godless commie liberals bringing the country to ruin. he targets are, and they keep shifting with the political winds. Fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry is also a profitable industry, and so it goes on. We hear pundits tell us they’ve never seen the country so divided before, and I agree. There’s no longer a feeling that as a nation we’re all in this together. It’s like everybody is simply in survival mode, looking out for themselves. This is what it looks like when a society disintegrates. Look at the word — dis-integrate. One of its definitions is “to destroy the unity or integrity of.”
    What’s been happening in this country, as well as other countries globally, is the growth and power of corporate capitalism. It used to be called fascism, but it’s the same old game. Oligarchs and multi-national corporations are seizing the controls from government. This is not what democracy looks like, and I doubt Americans are going to settle for the Dickensian neo-feudalism the power elite has in mind. I don’t know how much more Americans are going to take before they say “Enough!” We’ve already seen the seeds of this unrest both in the birth of the Tea Parties and the Occupy movement. Both were outcries from average citizens that something is seriously wrong. Those feelings aren’t going away. Do you hear that hissing? It’s the sound of fuses burning.

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