Us Against Them

In the last week, two related stories have grabbed the American public’s attention.

The controversy surrounding the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center and place of worship in New York has taken on a life of its own.  And then there’s that recent poll which shows that nearly 1 out of every 5 Americans surveyed believes that President Obama is a Muslim and not, as he truly is, a Christian.

It’s striking how, in both cases, a large segment of America views Islam as “not-like-me” or, to take it a step further, “not-American.” 

Many of us, still hurting from the horrors of 9/11, find it easy to see those extremists who attacked our country and more moderate Muslims who peacefully follow their faith as one in the same. 

Meanwhile, as his approval ratings continue to sag, some of President Obama’s uninformed political adversaries contend that, at its core, his belief system deviates from what the average American citizen values.  Speaking out last week in favor of green-lighting the Islamic center near Ground Zero, while the majority of Americans say they oppose it, only helped to reinforce the “Obama’s a Muslim” misconception.  

Simply put, what we have here is the old, dangerous “logic” of Us Against Them.  But this time some of us have gone so far as to paint our commander-in-chief as one of them.

What I Want Versus What’s Expected Of Me

“In a nutshell, it all comes down to what I want versus what’s expected of me.”
–Faye Miller to Don Draper
Mad Men, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
Originally aired on AMC, August 1, 2010

This quote intrigued me beyond its ramifications for the characters on my favorite TV show, Mad Men.

My mind went right to good old Sigmund Freud and his ideas regarding the Pleasure Principle as it relates to the Reality Principle.  We all possess many desires, and we often yearn for instant gratification, but there exists, of course, the fact that we are compelled to tame our passions for the sake of keeping society together.

Beyond Freud, though, something else struck me after looking deeper into Faye Miller’s line to Don Draper.

There are many times, when considering topics for this blog, that I struggle to focus on what I want to write as opposed to what I believe people expect me to write.  This is especially the case when I imagine what family and friends might think of me, of my thought process, after reading my posts here.

It’s a matter of my authenticity set against my need for approval.  Hopefully, as I move forward with my blogging endeavors, I’ll allow myself more opportunities to express my true sentiments, and thus gain my readers’ respect, even if we don’t always agree.

The Social Construction Of Depression

This post first appeared on my MySpace blog on March 4, 2007.  I felt the need to add it here because it still hits very close to home.

Recently I’ve been reading an excellent book called Pathology and the Postmodern: Mental Illness as Discourse and Experience (Dwight Fee, ed. London: SAGE, 2000). As its title suggests, the book focuses on mental illness as a social construct.

Beyond the scientific and biological forces that inform certain mental conditions like depression, various cultural elements affect how numerous “diseases of the mind” are displayed, interpreted, diagnosed, and treated.

Mental health has its own discourse; there exists a rhetoric of depression, the authors argue here. People with a diagnosis of clinical depression start to identify with their depressed selves, and this colors everything they do. Often “meta-depression” enters as patients get depressed about having depression.

What begins as a “chemical imbalance” often leads to a social imbalance wherein the depressed person gradually becomes detached from his or her culture. In America, where individuality is praised and pursuing happiness is a civic duty, depression is the ultimate enemy, as expressed in this essay by Hewitt, Fraser, and Berger entitled “Is It Me or Is It Prozac?”:

Depressed mood, lack of interest in or the motivation to undertake ordinary activities, and lowered self-esteem are not only among the significant symptoms of depression but also serious indicators of failure to meet the expectations of contemporary American culture. Our cultural expectation is that people have the right to pursue happiness–indeed, not only to pursue it but to get it… The constellation of symptoms we associate with depression, in other words, looks very much like a specification of how individuals may fall short of what their culture expects of them. (174)

This passage suggests to me that depression is not just a diagnosis but an existential template, one that stands in direct conflict to the American way of life. Why stop and ask who you are, why you are here, and where you are going when there is so much buying to do!

When a person doesn’t fit into the superstructure, then he or she is labeled as having an “illness.” Serious medications are administered in the hopes that depressed people will “return to themselves” and continue to feed the system as the system slowly destroys everything and everyone.

But, alas, there is no escape from the machinery of American existence. Regardless of how we “feel,” middle-class life continues to kill us a little every day.

My Tea Cup Runneth Over

The Tea Party is worried about our country’s direction, and wants everyone to know it. In fact they feel that America, with a liberal president at the wheel, is close to taking a sharp left turn onto Socialism Way.

Smaller government, states’ rights, less taxes: the Tea Party is filled with freedom-loving, God-fearing folks who cling to conservative ideals. And when they’re out preaching their gospel, they claim to have the common man in mind.

But who, in their estimation, is the common man?

If we were to fix our gaze on a crowd of patriotic Tea Party-goers, we’d have to assume that he’s one of them–a wealthy, college-educated, older white male with undying faith in our meritocracy.

“Work hard and you’ll be successful,” he’d proclaim, ignoring the fact that there are scores of Americans who don’t work hard but earn tons. Or the realization that numerous people work very hard at multiple jobs every day but languish in the depths of poverty.

Never mind that the Tea Party is looking out for itself, for its own stash of cash. “Don’t redistribute the wealth,” a member declares on Fox News.

Of course, “Don’t redistribute my wealth,” is what he really means.