I see a lot of depression around me.
Perhaps you do, too.
But it is a strange kind of depression the kind of depression that comes when everything around us seems wrong.
Depression And Culture
What I am seeing is a fairly complex depression that comes from a number of sources – like an octopus messing with our inner well-being. I am calling it cultural depression.
Culture and psychological well being are closely related. If a culture does not support the well-being of its members, then numerous emotional and psychological conditions can be expected. According to Time Magazine, one in five Americans are taking medication for mental health issues. That number does not take into account the numbers of people medicating themselves in other ways.
Depression And How We Value Ourselves
We humans have an important need: the need to like and be happy with ourselves.
Our ability to do that is aided or harmed by our culture through rewards and punishments, approval and disapproval, being included or excluded. How that is handled is very important and can make or break a society.
We humans also have a need to be a part of and contribute to the culture that sustains us, and we also want to be proud of it. We need to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at night and know that we did our best, made our contribution and had something to do with the good in our world.
What happens when that contribution is marginalized? limited? controlled? and diminished?
What happens when we are treated as commodities? treated as burdens? made demands of without having our own needs met?
What happens when our ability to solve our on problems is taken away? our skills are undeveloped? our talents unwanted?
What happens when we are nothing more than cogs in a wheel rather that the important creative force in our lives? How many can say that their real self is truly valued?
Cultural Depression And How We Define Ourselves
Because we grow up in a particular cultural context, we learn to define ourselves in terms of the culture we live in. Question the culture and you discover quickly how much culture and identity are intertwined. Want to abandon a culture? You will soon discover how much you depend on it.
Of course we can practice detachment and that is healthy. However, it is equally valid to assert that a culture needs to serve its members and needs to have a healthy purpose and healthy practices. Which means that it needs to support the health and self-actualization of its citizens.
How Cultural Depression Feels
I am mostly interested in how it affects us on the inside, which impacts our ability to function and live well. Our highly mechanized economic system has an affect on how we feel. Many people have some of all of these feelings:
- we are incidental. Most of our living comes from a “system”. What is not systematized? We have systematized food production, all sorts of goods production and distribution, and the education and economic system. It is operated by humans working machines. We are largely incidental and feel it.
- we are displays. We are able to display the results of all of this systematization: through the clothes we wear, cars we drive and houses we live in. We are all mannequins in this store called Earth.
- we are dependent. We cannot usually leave this system because when we go to school, we learn the skills necessary to survive in it, not without it. So we have become dependent on it which can make us feel insecure. Are we living our lives or just passing through on a conveyor belt from birth to death?
A highly mechanized and systematized winner-take-all economic system like our current version of capitalism leave a lot of people feeling depressed and unhappy. And that is a reasonable response to a difficult situation. Often it feels uncomfortable because
- it seems relentless – the activity and production. It’s a system that seems afraid to stop.
- of the hustling: hustle to work, to feel good, to smile no matter what. The forced and expected validation of a system that we have to support to survive.
- then comes the fear:
- the fear of not being included or dropping out.
- the fear of the judgment of others should you not measure up
- the fear as one famous critic said, “of being irrelevant.” Being irrelevant is often seen as a failure and the end of your livelihood.
- then the exhaustion, because no matter how hard you try, it is very difficult to get to a place where you can rest. In essence the odds are stacked against you. It’s not just a rat race, it is a rat trap.
Our culture has supported our growth in some important ways, however, the growth that is supported is very limited and confined to the direct needs of that economic system. So if you decide to define yourself beyond the economic system, you may find yourself out on a limb.
What started innocently as a way to improve the material well-being of the human race has now become an albatross around our necks – a shallow and relentlessly materialistic model that has turned human beings into commodities like everything else.
Unfortunately this system needs for us to be dependent on it so that it can survive – a dependency that causes us to feel vulnerable when something goes wrong. Then we have to take notice of how many of our basic needs are met by products transported to us from elsewhere. We are living with a societal structure that has so many points of failure that we are all excessively vulnerable. That does not feel good.
What Can We Do About Cultural Depression?
Our current system is mature and entrenched. It is unlikely to respond to individual needs and concerns in a meaningful way. That is asking more than it can do. But we do not have to leave it at that. We can start to get rid of cultural depression by taking our lives back by:
- taking our bodies back from processed and fast food, soft drinks and snack foods.
- take our minds back from packaged entertainment that offers a negative view of people and the world.
- take our livelihoods back by investing in skills that help us and others to become healthy.
- investing in local sources of food and other necessities so that we are less vulnerable to supply disruptions in other places.
- investing in our local community so that it becomes the life supporting and sustaining place it can be.
We do not have to be victims of cultural depression. Everyone has natural creativity which can be used to make life more enjoyable. sustainable and satisfying.
It means living on a human scale and just requires a leap of faith.