Our socioeconomic system keeps itself going by forcing us to suppress what makes us human. Before capitalism and class societies, our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived within tight-knit communities whose members had to cooperate and maintain good relationships in order to survive. But this isn't how humanity is meant to work if the owning class wants to make a profit off of the labor of the workers.
Now more than ever, capitalism functions by making society fragmented. Lengthening working hours for ever-lower wages give people less time to pursue social interactions outside of work. Soaring unemployment makes people unable to provide for themselves and ashamed as a result. The defunding of arts, education, and other centers of culture give people less opportunities to pursue their interests or seek out a community. The commodification of ever more aspects of life, in contrast to the model of mutual aid, creates barriers to how people can interact. We have less places and times to be able to form bonds with each other, or to engage in creativity.
The result is a sense of purposelessness, a feeling that one has failed to amount to anything meaningful. In a culture that blames people for falling behind economically, it's especially easy to get this deficiency of self-worth. Those in the lower classes often tend to believe that the poor are poor due to a lack of character, a phenomenon which comes from the general resentment and hostility that our social environment instills people with; when you're economically struggling and are taught to view capitalism as the only legitimate system, your frustration gets turned on the people in your own class who you feel are freeloading, or on the people just below you.
This impulse to blame yourself or other lower class people for falling behind under capitalism comes both from the cult of individualism, and from a lack of access to the resources that can bring about class consciousness. The ruling institutions demonize socialism while only presenting people with political brands that advance the forces of reactionary capitalism. With this wall of social engineering separating people from the information that can give them a clear picture of their own situation, they can only find intellectual stimulation through the ideologies and media content that the system offers them.
When one's passion isn't being misdirected towards reactionary paranoia or liberal illusions of change, it's funneled into commercialism, with corporations constantly trying to get people to tie their personal identities into brands and products. In the era of Covid-19, this is especially evident; pharma and tech plutocrats are expanding their empires while portraying themselves as allies of the regular people who are struggling during these times.
Amplified by social media and the rising culture of parasocial relationships, these efforts to profit off of our anxieties, loneliness, and desire for a purpose are deeply integrated into our everyday lives. The alienation that we feel as a result of living under late-stage capitalism is being exploited by a vast advertising machine, one that offers us countless ways to attain the illusion of having a purpose.
When what's supposed to give us meaning and satisfaction has this shallow and artificial nature, it's no wonder why so many people are unable to avoid giving in to despair. Suicides, which have been increasing in the U.S. since 2000, are climbing during the pandemic. Anxiety and depression, which have always been especially prevalent in neoliberal societies, are also on the rise. Those aged 18 to 29 are the most impacted by this general decline in mental health, with 36% of them reporting depression in a recent study and 42% of them reporting anxiety.
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