"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Mentally Fragile - The Latest Victim Group In An Age Of Identity

We live in a confessional age.  Everyone is speaking out about personal injury, abuse, disease, political disaffection, and sexuality.  Most of it is of no interest whatsoever, but for some reason people feel they have to get things off their chest.

Take Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, two highly-prized professional athletes who have withdrawn from competition because of what they said was the intolerable pressure at the highest level of sports.  Both women said that such pressure was damaging to their mental health, and asked the world for understanding.

Most people simply turned off the television and said, “Grow up”.  As former President Harry Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.  These young women had been in professional and Olympic sports long enough to know what fine-edged competition is like. Tennis and gymnastics are no different from any professional sport or entertainment. Black Swan and First Position are among a number of films about ballet, the intense competition and personal rivalries at the top of the dance world.  Hundreds of others chronicle or fictionalize similarly intense competition in Hollywood, Wall Street, and Broadway.

Image result for images harry s truman

Competition is the one aspect of American culture that most and best characterizes it.  It is at the heart of an ethos that applies to all.  Opportunity is offered, but success depends on will, persistence, ambition, and desire.  Competition weeds out the weak and infirm, and only the best survive and prosper.  Economic competition – the free market – assures that only the best for the least is offered to consumers.  There is no need for government surveillance, oversight, or intervention.  

High marks on entrance exams for the country’s most academically prestigious public high schools (e.g. New York’s Stuyvesant) are the only criteria for admission.  Competition is fierce, no quarter given, but the opportunity afforded by a premier education and the scholarships available to the best universities in the country is immeasurable.

Image result for images competition

Biles and Osaka went through tough amateur and junior professional ranks to get to the top of their professions.  They knew that the competition at lower levels of play would be increased and magnified many times over the higher they went.  There was plenty of time for these motivated, intelligent women to get out, leave, and find some other, more congenial, friendly work.  It wasn’t as if they didn’t know what was coming.

Novak Djokovic, Tom Brady, Stephen Curry, and Tiger Woods are not only considered talented, gifted athletes with a unique sense of their games and their own abilities and potential; but have indomitable will.  For them winning is not everything, domination is.  They thrive on competition, for only matched with the best can their best be judged.  They do not shy away from battle, nor are they afraid of it.  

They ‘have ice water in their veins’.  Emotional stress is not an issue.  They are admired not only for their once-in-a-generation skills but for their embodiment – the very incarnation - of the nature of American success, a fierce will to win.  They deserve the acclaim, the wealth, the fame, and the women that go along with such victory and supreme achievement. The system anoints them.  The fans worship them.

Image result for images novak djokovic

Recently Antonio Brown, a standout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an American professional football team, abruptly and summarily left the field of play, tore of his uniform and his shirt, and paraded around the stadium waving to fans.  The team summarily dismissed him, and he is no longer a Buccaneer. Brown had had a number of incidents which would have put him on the no-fly list for most teams –alleged sexual misconduct, falsifying COVID records, and general truculence and disobedience – but because of his talent, he was given a bye and played.  The Buccaneers had seen enough after his outburst and unprofessional display.  He was history.

Yet, the story was not one and done as it should have been.  The Buccaneers were well within their contractual rights to dismiss such a disruptive, disrespectful player; but the outcry to reinstate him was loud.  He had been badly misunderstood.  He needs help.  Mental illness should never be treated so dismissively.  Antonio Brown deserves our compassion.

Now this would never have been said before the current Age of Identity where the mentally ill are now a protected group – normal except for some troubling episodes which can and should respond to treatment.  Antonio Brown is no different from you and me, his supporters urged, and the only proper response to his actions is understanding and compassion.

Antonio Brown is a nutcase, an unpredictable, dangerous personality already on the margins of responsibility and professionally active only because of money.  He can win games.  The Buccaneers did the only right, reasonable, and just thing – they got rid of him and quick.

This whole compassion and understanding identity thing has become the new American ethos. Misfortune, suffering, and pain provide identity to those who would forever be lost in the crowd.

Diseases like cancer are not the private trials of years past.  Those affected do not reflect on their mortality but their heroic survival; and such survival requires evangelism.  Chemotherapy, radical surgery, and radiation treatments are not harbingers of an early death, but a battle against a dangerous enemy, a battle whose engagements must be sung about.  La Chanson de Roland of the operating theatre.

Image result for images le chanson de roland

Diseases which shorten life or make it intolerably painful are still the end which awaits most of us; and when the time comes we hope we can meet it with equanimity, spiritual insight, faith, or at least stoic acceptance.  The end of life doesn’t come every day. 

We don’t want to hear ‘survivors’ bang on about their heroic struggles.  There is nothing heroic at all about dealing with disease.  It was in the cards we were dealt at birth, always awaiting us.  No need to shout foul or bang on about ‘personal courage’.

One of the most memorable stories of Tolstoy is his The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the tale of a man who has constructed his life to keep irritation and complication away.  There is no love or affection in his life, just maintenance of family and job.  His life is happily on hold until….And that is the problem.  He gets terminal cancer and cannot understand how and why his carefully constructed life has been so seriously disrupted.  

He goes through the well-known stages of denial, refusal, accommodation, and finally acceptance; but his last days are not directed outwards.  He does not go public.  Nothing he says or does is meant to elicit sympathy or compassion.  He turns inward and reluctantly but inevitably faces his own death.

Image result for images tolstoy death of ivan ilyich

Life is filled with misfortune – pain, misery, abuse, rejection, assault, and unhappiness – and anyone paying even desultory attention is aware of unsuspected and unwanted circumstances that can occur.  We do not need stories of childhood mistreatment, sexual frustration, humiliation, and being left on the curb.  We are all in the same leaky boat.  No one is immune or privileged. So reflect on suffering and its meaning, pray for remediation, salvation, or a quick death; but keep it to yourself.  Life may be public, but death is private.

Victims groups may provide common comfort.  Sharing and learning how others deal with serious adversity can be useful; but more and more in this persistent Age of Identity, belonging to them provides a badge of honor.  I may not be successful in my profession, my marriage, or my community; but I am a hero in my confessional approach to misfortune.  I must tell others!

While one can extend one’s best wishes to Bile, Osaka, and Brown and hope they deal with their personal problems, we want to hear nothing more from them.  The air is already saturated with howls and appeals for social justice and a hundred other causes. Every sub-group of our ‘diverse’ population is getting heard.  Now the mentally ill have formed their own group with their own canon and list of grievances to be aired.  More static, less room to breathe, less time to consider our own inevitable destiny. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.