Women’s rights are on the retreat yet again. Why? | Barbara Ellen

5 days ago

Donald Trumps ruling attaining it easier for companies to opt out of providing free family planning highlightings the need for vigilance

When modern females are ultimately fitted with their regulation compulsory chastity belts, dare one dream that they’ll come in a range of fairly colours, delightful the documentation and snazzy designs? Or would it simply be the old-school medieval iron trad models? Hey, little ladies, do you think we’d be allowed to choose?

I muse facetiously because, in the US, President Trump has issued a ruling that makes it far easier for companies and insurers to opt out of free birth control to employees on the grounds of religious and moral beliefs, rolling back a key feature of Obamacare. Now that it will become easier to opt out, many more will do so, with the health risks to affect 55 million females. The American Civil Liberties Union( ACLU) and the National Women’s Law Center have announced that they will sue the government over the decision.

Obamacare provisions also encompassed treatment for gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Now, many girls will be worried about being able to afford such therapies. However, these unfortunate girls probably just count as collateral injury. Apart from the huge amount of money that big business will save, the real target there are sexual autonomy, doubtless all sexual independence, but specifically the female kind that a certain mindset have all along wanted to control.

Contraception, though imperfect, was one of the chief liberators of women, taking much of the dread out of sex. Thus, this removal of free family planning could only be about putting the dread back into sexuality. At the least, putting an end to the corporate bankrolling of the more liberal, humanist, proactive and protective approaches to sex.

It should come as no surprise that among the reasons cited for the change were findings that access to contraception incited” risky sex behaviour “. Eh? One would have thought that reduced access to contraception was far riskier and that, for both sexualities, access to barrier contraception would be the least “risky” of all?

However, even believing like this is to participate in the delusion that this is about people enjoying themselves safely. Take away the figleaf of social responsibility and this becomes about stopping people being able to enjoy sexuality when they want, with whom they want, without anxiety of the results of unwanted pregnancy. And when I say ” people”, I mainly mean women.

Not that things are so peachy for reproductive rights back in Europe. Even as an Irish abortion reform referendum is under discussion for next year, a poll has revealed that only 24% of Irish people are in favour of legalising terminations in nearly all cases. Meanwhile, Prof Lesley Regan, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, has argued that parts of the 1967 Abortion Act are outdated and that females need faster, safer access to abortion, without the necessity of achieving the approval of two separate physicians- thus far to no avail. The lesson seems to be that it will never be over- there will always be laws that need to be updated and, where needed, protected. Where the Trump contraceptive ruling is concerned, it’s scary enough that it’s such a backward step- yet scarier that it has been so slyly done.

It’s an example of how a quite subtle shifting of legislative emphasis- simply making something easy( the opt-out) that had previously been difficult- could be enough to undermine, or even destroy, major sociopolitical progress, with far-reaching repercussions for women. The imminence of chastity belts or not, this appears to be an era when there’s a real need for women to stay alert- when hard-fought gains could be eroded in an instant with the quiet swish of a departmental pen.

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Jonathan Safran Foer: technology is decreasing us

21 days ago

Have you procured yourself checking email at dinner, or skipping from book to screen, unable to focus? The closer the world gets to our fingertips, the more we stand to lose

The first time my father looked at me was on a screen, utilizing technology developed to detect flaws in the hulls of ships. His father, my grandfather, could only remainder his hand on my grandmothers belly and imagine his infant in his intellect. But by the time I was conceived, my fathers imagination was provide guidance to technology that dedicated shape to sound waves rippling off my body.

The Glasgow-based Anglican obstetrician Ian Donald, who in the 1950 s helped bring ultrasound technology from shipyard to doctors office, had devoted himself to the task out of a belief that the images would increase empathy for the unborn, and attain girls less likely to choose abortions. The technology has furthermore been used, though, to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy because of deformity, because the mother wants a child of a certain sexuality. Whatever the intended and actual effects, it is clear that the now iconic black and white images of our bodies before we are born mediate life and death. But what prepares us to stimulate life-and-death decisions?

My wife and I debated learning the sex of our first infant before birth. I created the questions with my uncle, a gynaecologist “whos been” delivered more than 5,000 babies. He was prone neither to giving advice nor anything whiffing of spirituality, but he urged me, strongly , not to find out. He said, If a doctor looks at a screen and tells you, you will have information. If you find out in the moment of birth, you will have a miracle.

I dont believe in miracles, but I followed his advice, and he was right. One neednt believes in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them.

One neednt believe in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them Jonathan Safran Foer Photograph: Emily Berl/ Getty Images Portrait

Psychologists who examine empathy and compassion are finding that, unlike our almost instantaneous responses to physical pain, it takes time for the brain to see the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation. Simply put, the more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the cost of depth redefining text from what fills the hundreds of pages of a fiction, to a line of words and emoticons on a phones screen the less likely and able we are to care. Thats not even a statement about the relative worth of the contents of a fiction and a text, only about the time we spend with each.

We know that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. You wont risk killing anyone if you use your phone while eating a snack, or having a dialogue, or waiting on a bench, which means you will allow yourself to be distracted. Everyone wants his parents, or friends, or partners undivided attention even if many of us , especially children, are get are applied to far less. Simone Weil wrote that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.

Novels demand many things of readers, but the most obvious is attention. I can do any number of other activities while watching a TV reveal or listening to music, and I can carry on a conversation with a friend while at an art gallery, but reading a novel demands putting everything else aside. To read a book is to devote oneself to the book. Novels always trafficking in human empathy, always bringing the other closer, always ask us to transcend our perspectives, but isnt that attention, itself, a generous act? Generous toward ourselves?


My father was not present for his childrens births it was customary, then, for men to be in the waiting room. I witnessed my sons being born. My experience was richer, deeper, more memorable and fulfilling than my fathers. Being physically present allowed me to be emotionally present.

We think of technologies as wielders of information and manipulators of matter. Google, we all know, is in the business as they put it of organising and making accessible the worlds info. Other technologies are more earthy the car propels us over land at speeds our legs cannot reach, and the bomb allows us to kill many adversaries in ways our bare hands cannot.

But technologies are not only effective at attaining or thwarting the aims of those who encounter them, but are affective. Technology is not strictly technological. I love you the same I love you issuing from the same person with the same honesty and depth will resonate differently over the phone than in a handwritten letter, than in a text message. The tone and rhythm of voice craft the words, as does the texture and colour of stationery, as does the glowing typeface of the text chosen by our mobile phone manufacturer. We love our Macs more than our PCs because Apple was more interested in harnessing and inflecting the affective resonances of its technology and in restricting a smaller coterie of upper-class to guard and guide these affects so as to create a distinctive ecosystem. We find ourselves played with smartphones in a manner that is we never did with the functional handle of a traditional landline phone because, whereas the first telephone devised by engineers supposing in functional terms, the phones in our pockets nowadays are always built in dialogue with marketers who have carefully noted how colour and curve, brightness and texture, heft and size make us feel.

We consumers forget that technology always plugs into and creates certain affects, the building blocks of emotions, as well as full-blown emotional experiences. We forget this, but successful companies do not. They remember and profit staggeringly. We forget at the expense of who we are.

Most of our communication technologies began as substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldnt always watch one another face to face, so the phone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a message possible without the person or persons being near their phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster and more mobile messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements on face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if lessened, substitutes for it.

But then a funny thing happened: we began to opt the diminished replaces. Its easier to make a phone call than to stimulate the effort to see someone in person. Leaving a message on someones machine is easier than having a phone conversation you can say what you need to say without a answer; its easier to check in without becoming entangled. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up. Shooting off an email is easier still, because one can further conceal behind the is a lack of vocal intonation, and of course theres no chance of accidentally catching person. With texting, the high expectations for articulateness is further reduced, and the other shell is offered to hide in. Each step forward has constructed it easier simply a little to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey datum rather than humanity.

The problem with accepting with preferring lessened replaces is that, over day, we too become diminished replaces. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little. Or simply feeling whats been designed and sold to us to feel.

The novel has never stood in such stark opposition to the culture that surrounds it. A book is the opposite of Facebook: it requires us to be less connected. It is the opposite of Google: not only inefficient, but at its best, useless. Screens offer a apparently endless supply of information, but the true value of the page is not what it allows us to know, but how it allows us to be known.


Like so many people I know, Ive been concerned that telephones and the internet have, in subtle ways, attained life less rich, provided bright pleasures at the expense of deep ones, have distracted me, made concentration more difficult, led me to be elsewhere far too often. Ive received myself checking email while giving my children a bath, jumping over to the internet when a sentence or notion doesnt gone effortlessly in my write, searching for tint on a beautiful springtime day so I can see the screen of my phone. Have you?

Have you found yourself putting loved ones on hold so you could click over to a call from an unidentified number? Have you found yourself conflating aloneness with loneliness? Have you find your relationship to distraction reversing: what was once a annoyance is now attempted?

Do you want to click over to the other call, want to have an email to have to respond to, want even crave the ping of an incoming, inconsequential message?

Isnt it possible that technology, in the forms in which it has entered our everyday lives, has decreased us? And isnt it possible that its getting worse? Almost all new technology causes alarm in its early days, and humen generally adapt to it. So perhaps no resistance is necessary. But if it were, where would it come from, and what would it look like?

With each generation, it becomes harder to imagine a future that resembles the present. My grandparents hoped I would have a better life than they did: free of war and starvation, comfortably situated in a place that felt like home. But what futures would I dismiss out of hand for my grandchildren? That their clothes will be fabricated every morning on 3D printers? That they will communicate without speaking or moving? Merely someone with no imagination, and no anchor in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever. Its possible that many reading these terms will never die.

Lets assume, though, that we all have a defined number of days to indent the world with our faiths, to find and generate the beauty that merely a finite existence allows for, to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers. We often use technology to save period, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or builds the saved period less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. Its not an either/ or situation being anti-technology is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly pro-technology but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

One day, nanomachines will see weaknesses in our hearts long before any symptoms would bring us to a doctor. And other nanomachines will repair our hearts without our feeling any pain, losing any time or spending any fund. But it will only feel like a miracle if we are still capable of feeling miracles which is to say, if our hearts are worth saving.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer is published by Hamish Hamilton. To order a copy for 16( RRP 20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of 1.99.

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Ricky Gervais’s transgender gags present we’re all in a kind of transition

1 month, 2 days ago

The comic has been accused of transphobia after riffing about Caitlyn Jenner in his standup indicate. So does dedicating him a favourable review endorse those gags?

Ricky Gervais sometimes gets people backs up and so, it transpires, do reviewerswho write about him. B4 you write another @guardian review endorsing jokes about #trans people, I was advised on Twitter after covering Gervaiss recent reveal, please consider the impact. Gervais dedicates a section of his indicate Humanity to jokes about( specifically) Caitlyn Jenner but also, by sly association, the idea of transgendering more widely. If I tell Im a chimp, I am a chimp, one riff begins, as Gervais makes merry with the culture of identity as self-assertion and ratings dependable laughs with rudimentary monkey business too.

I wasnt surprised by that tweet, because Id been brooding on Gervaiss trans material( and, indeed, his cot death material ), and the degrees to which I discovered it appropriate, or offensive, or funny. Would I have reviewed him more harshly if those gags had been, for example, about race rather than gender? I feel like Im learning every day about gender right now, and I want to write about it sensitively and appropriately. Despite Gervaiss repeated affirmations that he wasnt being transphobic, it seemed clear that he was othering trans people and constructing them seem ridiculous. I stated that he could be callous and objectionable, and that his material was insensitive to trans people.

Sometimes, a comedians apparent opinions, or the style they convey them, can be so unpleasant, that no amount of joke-writing ability, and fantastic material elsewhere in the situated, can redeem them.( Ive found that to be the case with Gervais in the past .) But here, while it would be disingenuous to exonerate Gervaiss trans routine by arguing that it was about Jenner alone rather than trans people generally, it was specific to Jenner to a substantial degree. And Jenners celebrity and her public sparring with Gervais over his Golden Globes speech are fair game.

Gervais argues forcibly in the show as usual that theres no such thing as off-limits in slapstick; theres nothing you cant joke about. I agree with that just as I agree that comics, like anyone else, should take responsibility for what they say, do and impact. He deserves to be called out on his routine poking fun at the idea of transitioning, but I do think that the concepts he zeroes in on( deadnaming; identity as self-assertion) are fertile for slapstick, precisely because theyre new, theyre destabilising, and( whether you welcome them or not) were still establishing where the boundaries around them lie.( A process with which comedy may help .)

Public sparring Caitlyn Jenner. Photo: Tibrina Hobson/ AFP/ Getty Images

So, thats what I thought about Gervaiss trans material. A little snide, but( when it wasnt being snide) childishly funny. Amusingly spiky about Jenner. Contrarily pushing back against what he sees as diktats and what others see as requests for politenes or compassion. Does reviewing his present in those words add up to an endorsement of his gags? Is it even possible to endorse a joke? That would imply that jokes are ships for opinions, which is only sometimes the case, and not clearly so here. Or is the problem that I endorsed the act of joking about trans people? If so, I didnt single them out on balance, I would endorse the principle of joking about anybody.

But I acknowledge that others wouldnt. Weve likely all get weak spot, sensitivities or ironclad principles, the monstering of which we just cant discovery funny. Is it possible to laugh at a joke you disagree with? One of current challenges when writing about comedy is tracking those interactions between the head, the heart and the funny bone. Of course, the best comedy short-circuits them entirely, and you find yourself laughing at jokes that wholly up-end your politics, your pities and your expectations. But often I find myself sitting stony-faced in an auditorium , not because the jokes are bad per se, but because theyre promoting a worldview that I find cruel or cynical or rightwing.

I dare say that happens to theatre and music reviewers too, but less so because those artforms address how we live now, its mores and ideologies, more obliquely. The artists in those fields tend to take less overt or provocative stands. But comedy often obliges the critic( this one, at the least) to take a political posture; to not do so would feel dishonest. Sometimes, I oppose that instinct: I have no desire to be the PC police , nor to rank comedians( add a starring, subtract a superstar) according to their fidelity to left-liberal pieties. If Id been that guy, Id have marked down Gervais. But while I wish hed curb his crasser instincts, and I dont find his impulse to taunt sympathetic, I do think its possible to appreciate a display without endorsing every opinion it seems to express.

Three to see

Like Father Like Son Scott Gibson plays the Glasgow comedy festival. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Glasgow comedy festival
A cracking lineup on the west of Scotland, as Glasgows annual comedy carnival enters its second week. Local heroes featured include Frankie Boyle, Burnistoun duo Iain Connell and Robert Florence, Fern Brady and the Edinburgh celebrations best newcomer winner Scott Gibson with his new show Like Father Like Son.
Festival operates to 26 March.

Count Arthur Strong
There were no signs that unexpected mainstream success had blunted the sharp edges of Steve Delaneys malapropping, senile alter ego where reference is last toured in 2015[ https :// www.theguardian.com/ culture/ 2015/ apr/ 20/ count-arthur-strong-review-reading-hexagon ]. Now Delaneys deluded ageing thesp makes the road once more, in a new confection rejoice in the title The Sound of Mucus.
On 15 March at Palace theatre, Southend, 15 March. Box office: 01702 351135. Then touring.

Spoof of old-school sexism Zoe Coombs Marr. Photo: James Brown

Zoe Coombs Marr
Nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy award last year, the Aussie character comics follow-up to 2015 s demonstrate Dave is a cracker. Doubling down on her spoof of old-school sexism, Trigger Warning mocks Gaulier-style clowns too. Its richly complex, but surpassingly silly too.
At Soho theatre, London , from 16 -2 5 March. Box office: 020 7478 0100.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Isis is as much an offshoot of our global civilisation as Google

1 month, 3 days ago

In the wake of terror attacks, and as Europe unravels, it feels as if we live in divided periods. But civilisation is more united than ever. The challenges facing the future climate change, AI, biotechnology will only bring us closer

Recent events in the Middle East and Europe seem to breathe fresh life into the conflict of civilisations thesis. Western incursions into the Middle East have triggered an Islamic backlash that has driven millions of Muslim refugees westwards and inspired terrorist attacks from Orlando to Nice; now the EU is unravelling as European voters abandon multicultural dreams in favour of xenophobic local identities. Allegedly, this has happened because the west has chosen to ignore the deep logic of history. According to the clash of civilisations thesis, humankind has always been is split into diverse civilisations whose members view the world in different and often irreconcilable styles. These incompatible world view stimulate conflicts between civilisations inevitable, and these conflicts in turn fuel long-term historical processes. Just as in nature different species fight for survival, so throughout history civilisations are systematically clashed, and merely the fittest have survived. Those who overlook this grim fact do so at their peril.

The clash of civilisations thesis has far-reaching political implications. Its supporters contend that any endeavor at reconciliation among the west and the Muslim world is doomed to failure. They further maintain that the EU can work only if it renounces the multicultural fallacy in favour of an unabashed western identity. In the long run, only one culture can survive the unforgiving tests of natural selection, and if the EU refuses to save western civilization from Islamic State and its ilk, Britain had better go it alone.

Though widely held, this thesis is mislead. Isis may indeed pose a radical challenge, but the civilisation it challenges is a global civilisation rather than a uniquely western phenomenon. Not for nothing has Isis managed to unite Iran with the United States, and to make rare common ground between Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. And even Isis, for all its medieval rhetoric, is grounded in contemporary global culture far more than in seventh-century Arabia; it caters to the fears and hopes of alienated, postmodern youth rather than to those of medieval shepherds and merchants. In pure organisational words, Isis has more in common with a large corporation like Google than with the Umayyad caliphate. The surest sign of a real clash of civilisations is reciprocal incomprehension. Isis, in contrast, sees its enemies only too well otherwise, its propaganda would not have been so effective. It is better, hence, to see Isis as an errant outgrowth of the global culture we all share, rather than as a branch of some mysterious alien tree.

Crucially, the analogy between history and biology that underpins the conflict of civilisations thesis is false. Human groups including human civilisations are basically different from animal species, and historic conflicts differ greatly from natural selection processes. Animal species have objective identities that suffer for thousands of generations. Whether you are a chimpanzee or a gorilla depends on your genes rather than your notions, and different genes dictate diverse social behaviour. Chimpanzees live in mixed groups of males and females. They compete for power by building coalitions of supporters among both sexualities. Among gorillas, in contrast, a single dominant male establishes a harem of females, and usually expels any adult male that might challenge his position. As far as we know, the same social systems have characterised chimps and gorillas not only in recent decades, but for hundreds of thousands of years.

You find nothing like that among humans. Yes, human groups may have distinct social systems, but these are not genetically ascertained, and they seldom endure for more than a few centuries. Think of 20th-century Germans, for example. In fewer than 100 years, the Germans organised themselves into six most varied systems: the Hohenzollern empire, the Weimar republic, the Third Reich, Communist East Germany, the federal republic of West Germany, and finally democratic reunited Germany. Of course they kept their language and love of beer. But is there some unique German essence that recognise their country from all other nations, and that has remained unchanged from Wilhelm II to Angela Merkel? And if you do come up with something, was it also there back in the working day of Goethe, of Martin Luther and of Frederick Barbarossa?

What will happen when computers replace people in an increasing number of jobs? Alex Proyass I, Robot from 2004 Photo: Allstar

The Preamble of the European Constitution( 2004) begins by stating that it describes inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law. This may easily give one the impression that European civilisation is defined by these values. Countless speeches and documents depict a direct line from ancient Athenian democracy to the present-day EU, celebrating 2,500 years of European freedom and republic. This is reminiscent of the proverbial blind man taking hold of an elephants tail and concluding that an elephant is a kind of brush. Athenian democracy was a half-hearted experiment that survived for scarcely 200 years in a small corner of the Balkans. If European civilisation for the last 25 centuries has been defined by republic and human rights, what are we to build of Sparta and Julius Caesar, the Crusaders and Conquistadores, the Inquisition and the slave trade, Louis XIV and Goebbels, Lenin and Mussolini?

European civilisation is anything Europeans stimulate of it, just as Christianity is anything Christians make of it. And they have made remarkably different things of it over the centuries. Human groups are defined more by the changes they undergo than by any continuity, but they nevertheless manage to create for themselves ancient identities thanks to their storytelling abilities. No matter what revolutions they survive, they can weave old and new into a single yarn. Even an individual may knit revolutionary personal changes into a coherent life story: I am that person who was once a socialist, but became a capitalist; I was born in Senegal, and now live in France; I wedded, then got divorced; I had cancer, and then got well again.

Similarly, a human group such as the Germans may come to define itself by the very changes it has lived through: Once “were in” Nazis, but we have learned our lesson, and now we are peaceful democrats. You dont need to look for some unique German essence that showed itself first in Hitler and then in Merkel: this revolutionary transformation itself constructs the Germans who they are.

Isis, too, may uphold an allegedly unchanging Muslim identity, but their story of Islam is a brand new tale. Yes, they used some venerable Muslim texts and traditions to concoct it, but if I bake a cake from flour, oil and sugar that have been sitting in my pantry for the past two months, does it mean the cake itself is two months old? Conversely, those who dismiss Isis as un-Islamic or even anti-Islamic are equally mistaken: Islam has no DNA. Just as with Christianity, Islam is whatever Muslims make of it.

Isis wrecked the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/ Tass

Yet there is an even deeper change distinguishing human groups from animal species. Species often split, but never merge. About seven million years ago, chimpanzees and gorillas had common ancestors. This single ancestral species split into two populations that eventually ran their separate, evolutionary styles. Once this happened, there was no going back. Since individuals belonging to different species cannot make fertile offspring together, species can never merge. Gorillas cant merge with chimps, giraffes cant merge with elephants, and puppies cant merge with cats.

Human tribes, in contrast, tend to coalesce over time into larger and larger groups. Modern Germans were created from the merger of Saxons, Prussians, Swabians and Bavarians, which not so long ago wasted little love on one another.The French were created from the merger of Franks, Normans, Bretons, Gascons and Provencals. Meanwhile across the Channel, English, Scots, Welsh and Irish gradually came together( willingly or not) to form Britons. In the not too distant future, Germans, French and Britons might yet merge into Europeans.

Mergers dont always last, as people in London, Edinburgh and Brussels are well aware these days. Brexit may well initiate the simultaneous unravel of both the EU and the UK. But in the long run, historys direction is clear-cut. Ten thousand years ago humankind was divided into countless isolated tribes. With each passing millennium, these merged into larger and larger groups, making fewer and fewer distinct civilisations. In recent generations the few remaining civilisations have been merging into a single global community. Political and ethnic divisions suffer, but they do not undermine the fundamental unity. Indeed, some divisions are attained possible merely by an over-arching common structure.


The process of human unification has taken two distinct sorts: weak heterogeneous unification and strong homogeneous unification. The weaker heterogeneous sort involves creating ties between previously unrelated groups. The groups may continue to have different beliefs and practices, but are no longer independent of one another. From this perspective, even war is a bond perhaps the strongest bond of all. Ten thousand years ago , no tribe in America had any quarrel with Middle Eastern foes, and no African clan bore grudges towards any European. In contrast, during the second world war, people born on the coast of the Mississippi went to their demises on Pacific islands and European grasslands, while recruits from the heart of Africa fell opposing among French vineyards and Alpine snows.

Historians often argue that globalisation reached a first peak in 1913, then went into a long deterioration during the era of the world wars and the cold war, and recuperated merely after 1989. They fear that new conflicts may again set globalisation into reverse gear. This may be true of economic globalisation, but it ignores the different but equally important dynamics of military globalisation. War spreads notions, technologies and people far more quickly than commerce. War also makes people far more interested in one another.Never had the US been more closely in touch with Russia than during the cold war, when every cough in a Moscow corridor send people scrambling up and down Washington staircases. People care far more about their foes than about their trade partners. For every US film about Thailand, there are probably 20 about Vietnam. The global war on terror simply continues the process of military globalisation.

Photograph: Benoit Tessier/ Reuters

Nowadays, the global unity of conflict is perhaps most apparent on the internet, where Isis and the drug cartels are scratching shoulders with Google and Facebook, and YouTube offers funny cat videos alongside instructions on how to build bombs. Islamic fanatics, murderous drug dealers and geeky hackers dont exist on unrelated planets; they share the same global cyberspace. All are thrilled by the blockchain technology that gave us the bitcoin; all count on easy accessibility via ubiquitous smartphones, and all are antagonised by national governments attempting to wrest control of the net.

Yet the world of the early 21 st century has gone way beyond the heterogeneous unity of conflict. People across the globe are not only influenced by each other, they increasingly share identical beliefs and practices. A thousand years ago, planet Earth was home to dozens of different political models. In Europe you could find feudal principalities vying with independent city states and minuscule theocracies. The Muslim world had its caliphate, claiming universal sovereignty, but also experimented with kingdoms, emirates and sultanates. The Chinese empire believed itself to be the sole legitimate political entity, while to its north and west tribal confederacies fought each other with mirth. India and south-east Asia contained a kaleidoscope of regimes, whereas polities in America, Africa and Australasia ranged from tiny hunter-gatherer bands to sprawling empires. No wonder even neighbouring human groups had difficulty agreeing on diplomatic practices , not to mention international laws. Each society had its own political paradigm, and saw it difficult to understand let alone respect alien political concepts.

Today, in contrast, a single political paradigm is accepted everywhere. The planet is divided between nearly 200 sovereign countries, which generally agree on the same diplomatic protocols and on common international laws. Sweden, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Paraguay are all marked on our world maps as the same kind of colourful shapes; they are all members of the UN; and despite myriad differences they are all recognised as monarch states enjoying similar rights and privileges. Indeed, they share many more political ideas and practices, including at least a token belief in representative bodies, universal suffrage and human rights. When Israelis and Palestinians, Russians and Ukrainians, or Kurds and Turks court global public opinion, they all use the same discourse of human rights, state sovereignty and international law.

The world may be peppered with various types of failed countries, but it knows merely one paradigm for a successful country. Global politics follows the Anna Karenina principle: healthy nations are all alike, but every failed nation fails “in ones own” way, by missing this or that ingredient of the dominant political package. Isis stands out in its complete rejection of this package, and its attempt to establish an entirely different kind of political entity a universal caliphate. But it is unlikely to succeed precisely for this reason. Numerous guerrilla forces and terror organisations have managed to establish new countries or subdue existing ones, but they have always done so by accepting the fundamental principles of the global political order. Even the Taliban sought international recognition as the legitimate government of the sovereign country of Afghanistan. No group rejecting the principles set out in global politics has so far gained lasting control of a significant territory.


In pre-modern times, humen experimented not only with diverse political blueprints, but with a mind-boggling variety of economic models. Russian boyars , Hindu maharajas, Chinese mandarins and Amerindian tribal chiefs had very different ideas about fund and taxation, and none was even well informed the existence of such a thing as the economy. Nowadays, in contrast, almost everybody believes in somewhat different differences on the same capitalist topic, and we are all cogs within a single global production line. Whether you live in Mongolia, New Zealand or Bolivia, your daily routines and economic fortunes depend on the same economic hypothesis, the same corporations and banks, and the same currents of capital. When ministers of finance or bank directors from China, Russia, Brazil and India meet, they have a common language, and can easily understand and sympathise with their equivalents woes.

When Isis subdued large parts of Syria and Iraq, it murdered tens of thousands of people, demolished archaeological sites, toppled statues and systematically destroyed the emblems of previous regimes and of western culture influence. Yet when Isis fighters entered the banks and discovered hoards of US dollars covered with the faces of American presidents and English slogans praising American political and religion ideals, they did not burn these dollars. For the dollar bill is universally venerated across all political and religion divides. Though it has no intrinsic value you cannot eat or drink a dollar bill trust in the dollar and in the wisdom of the Federal Reserve is so firm it is shared even by Islamic fundamentalists, Mexican drug lords and North Korean tyrants.

Doctor all over the word will dispense similar medicines made by the same narcotic companies Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Yet the homogeneity of contemporary humanity is most apparent when it comes to our view of the natural environment and of the human body. If you fell sick in 1016, it mattered a great deal where you lived. In Europe, the resident clergyman would probably tell you that you had made God angry, and that in order to regain your health, you should donate something to the church, make a pilgrimage to a sacred site, and pray fervently for Gods forgiveness. Alternatively, the village witch might explain that a demon had possessed you, and that she could cast the demon out employing song, dance and the blood of a black cockerel. In the Countries of the middle east, doctors brought up on classical traditions might explain that your four bodily humours were out of balance, and you could harmonise them anew with a proper diet and foul-smelling potions. In India, Ayurvedic experts would offer their own theories concerning the balance between the three bodily components known as doshas , and recommend a therapy of herbs, massages and exercisings. Chinese physicians, Siberian shamans, African witch doctors, Amerindian medication humen every empire, kingdom and tribe had its own traditions and experts, each espousing different opinions about the human body and the nature of sickness, and each offering its own cornucopia of rituals, concoctions and remedies. Some of them worked astonishingly well; others were little short of a death penalty. The one thing that united European, Chinese, African and American medical conditions was that everywhere at least a third of people was dead before adulthood, and nowhere did median life expectancy outstrip 40.

Today, if you are taken ill, it builds far less change where you live. In Toronto, Tokyo, Tehran or Tel Aviv, you will be taken to similar-looking hospitals, where you will satisfy doctors who learned the same scientific hypothesis in not-too-different medical colleges. They will follow identical protocols and use identical exams to reach very similar diagnosis. They will then dispense similar medicines made by the same drug companies. There are still some minor culture changes, but Canadian, Japanese, Iranian and Israeli physicians hold much the same views about the human body and human illness. After Isis captured Raqqa and Mosul, it did not tear down the hospitals; instead, it launched an appeal to Muslim doctors and nurses throughout the world to volunteer their services there. Presumably, even Isis doctors and nurses believe that the body is made of cells, that diseases are caused by pathogens, and that antibiotics kill bacteria.

And what builds up these cells and bacteria? Indeed, what makes up the entire world? Back in 1016, every culture had its own narrative about the universe, and about the fundamental ingredients of the cosmic soup. Today, learned people throughout the world believe exactly the same things about matter, energy, period and space. Take, for example, Irans nuclear programme. The whole problem with it is that the Iranians is precisely the same view of physics as the Israelis and Americans. If the Iranians believed that E= mc, Israel would not care an iota about their nuclear programme.

People still claim to believe in different things. But when it comes to the really important stuff how to build a country, an economy, a hospital, or a weapon almost all of us belong to the same civilisation. There are disagreements , no doubt, but then all civilisations have their internal disagreements indeed, they are defined by these disagreements. When trying to outline their identity, people often make a grocery list of common traits. They would fare much better if they made a listing of common conflicts and dilemmas instead. In 1940, Britain and Germany had most varied traits, yet they were both part and parcel of western civilisation. Churchill wasnt more western than Hitler; instead, the struggle between them defined what it meant to be western at that particular moment in history. In contrast, a ! Kung hunter-gatherer in 1940 wasnt western, because the internal western conflict about race and empire would have constructed little sense to him.

The people we oppose most often are our own family members. Identity is defined by conflicts and dilemmas more than by agreements. What does it mean to be European in 2016? It doesnt mean to have white scalp, to believe in Jesus Christ, or to uphold autonomy. Instead, it means to argue vehemently about immigration, about the EU, and about the limits of capitalism. It also means to obsessively ask yourself What defines my identity? and to worry about an ageing population, about rampant consumerism and about global warming without actually knowing what to do about it. In their conflicts and dilemmas, 21 st-century Europeans are very different from their early-modern and medieval ancestors, but are increasingly similar to their Chinese and Indian contemporaries.

Whatever changes waiting for us, they are likely to involve a fraternal struggle within a single civilisation rather than a confrontation between alien civilisations. The big challenges of the 21 st century will be global in nature. What will happen when pollution triggers global climate changes? What will happen when computers replace people in an increasing number of jobs? When biotechnology enables us to upgrade humans, widen lifespans, and perhaps divide humankind into different biological castes? No doubt, we will have huge debates and bitter conflicts over these questions. But these arguments and conflicts are unlikely to drive us apart. Just the opposite. They will construct us ever more interdependent, as members of a single, rowdy, global civilisation.

Yuval Noah Hararis Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is published by Harvill Secker. ynharari.com

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Keep Calm and Carry On- the sinister message behind the slogan that seduced the nation

1 month, 16 days ago

It is on posters, mugs, tea towels and in headlines. Harking back to a blitz spirit and an age of public service, Keep Calm and Carry On has become ubiquitous. How did a cosy, middle-class joke assume darker connotations?

To get some sense of just what a ogre it has become, try counting the number of days in a week you see some permutation of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. In the last few days Ive watched it twice as a poster advertising a pub New Years Eve party, several times in souvenir shops, in a photograph accompanying a Guardian article on the imminent doctors ten-strike( Keep Calm and Save the NHS ) and as the subject of too many internet memes to count. Some were related to the floods a flagrantly opportunistic Liberal Democrat poster, with Keep Calm and Survive Floods, and the somewhat more mordant Keep Calm and Make a Photo of Floods. Then there were those related to Islamic State: Keep Calm and Fight Isis on the standard red background with the crown above; and Keep Calm and Support Isis on a black background, with the crown replaced by the Isis logo. Around eight years after it started to appear, it has become quite possibly the most successful meme in history. And, unlike most memes, it has been astonishingly enduring, a canvas on to which practically anything can be projected while retaining a sense of ironic reassurance. It is the ruling insignium of an era that is increasingly defined by austerity nostalgia.

I can pinpoint the precise moment at which I realised that what had seemed a typically, somewhat insufferably, English phenomenon had gone completely and inescapably global. I was going into the flagship Warsaw branch of the Polish department store Empik and there, just past the revolving doors, was a collecting of notebooks, mouse pads, diaries and the like, featuring a familiar English sans serif font, white on red, topped with the crown, in English 😛 TAGEND




It felt like confirmation that the image had entered the pantheon of truly global design icons. As an image, it was now up there alongside Rosie the Riveter, the muscular female munitions employee in the US second world war propaganda image; as easily identifiable as the headscarved Lily Brik bellowing BOOKS! on Rodchenkos famous poster. As a logo, it was nearly as recognisable as Coca-Cola or Apple. How had this happened? What was it that attained the image so popular? How did it manage to grow from a minor English middle-class cult object into an international brand, and what exactly was meant by carry on? My hypothesi had been that the combination of message and design were inextricably tied up with a plethora of English obsessions, from the blitz spirit, through to the cults of the BBC, the NHS and the 1945 postwar consensus. Also contained in this bundle of signifiers was the enduring pretension of an extremely rich( if shoddy and dilapidated) country, the sadomasochistic Toryism imposed by the coalition government of 201015, and its presentation of austerity in a manner so brutal and moralistic that it almost seemed to luxuriate in its own parsimony. Some or none of these believes may have been in the heads of the customers at Empik buying their published tea towels, or they may have just thought it was funny. However, few images of the last decade are quite so riddled with ideology, and few historical documents are quite so spectacularly false.


Imperial War Museum handout of a Dig for Victory poster by Mary Tunbridge. Photo: Mary Tunbridge/ PA

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster was not mass-produced until 2008. It is a historical object of a very peculiar sort. By 2009, when it had first become tremendously popular, it seemed to respond to a particularly English malaise connected immediately with the way Britain reacted to the credit crunch and the banking accident. From this moment of crisis, it tapped into an already established narrative about Britains finest hour the aerial Battle of Britain in 1940 -4 1 when it was the only country left fighting the Third Reich. This was a moment of entirely indisputable and apparently uncomplicated national valour, one that Britain has clung to through thick and thin. Even during the high levels of the boom, as the critical theorist Paul Gilroy flags up in his 2004 volume, After Empire , the blitz and the victory were frequently invoked, constructed necessary by the need to get back to the place or moment before the country lost its moral and cultural bearings. The years 1940 and 1945 were obsessive repeatings, anxious and melancholic, morbid fetishes, clung to as a means of not thinking about other aspects of recent British history most obviously, its empire. This has only intensified since the financial crisis began.

The blitz spirit has been exploited by politicians largely since 1979. When Thatcherites and Blairites spoke of hard selections and muddling through, they often elicited the memories of 1941. It served to legitimate regimes that constantly was contended that, despite appearances to the contrary, resources were scarce and there wasnt enough money to go around; the most persuasive way of explaining why someone( else) was inevitably going to suffer. Ironically, however, this rhetoric of sacrifice was oftens combined with a demand that consumers enrich themselves buy their house, get a new automobile, stimulate something of themselves, aspire. Thus, by 200708, when the no return to boom and bust promised by Gordon Brown appeared to be abortive( despite the success of his very 1940 s alternative of nationalising the banks and thus saving capitalism ), the image started to become popular. It is worth noting that soon after this point, a brief series of protests were being policed in increasingly ferocious ways. The authorities were allowed to make use of the apparatus of security and surveillance, and the proliferation of prevention of terrorism statutes set up under the New Labour governments of 19972010, to combat any sign of disagreement. In this context the poster became ever more ubiquitous, and, peculiarly, after 2011, it began to be used in what few protests remained, in an only mildly subverted form.

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster seemed to represent all the contradictions produced by a intake economy attempting to adapt itself to thrift, and to normalise surveillance and security through an ironic, depoliticised aesthetic. Out of apparently nowhere, this image blending bare, faintly modernist typography with the consoling logo of the crown and a similarly reassuring message spread everywhere. I first noticed its ubiquity in the winter of 2009, when the poster appeared in dozens of windows in affluent London districts such as Blackheath during the prolonged snowy period and the attendant breakdown of National Rail; the implied message about hardiness in the face of adversity and the blitz spirit looked rather absurd in the context of a dusting of snow crippling the railway system. The poster seemed to exemplify a design phenomenon that had slowly crept up on us to the point where it became unavoidable. It is best described as austerity nostalgia. This aesthetic took the form of a yearning for the various kinds of public modernism that, rightly or incorrectly, was ensure to have characterised the period from the 1930 s to the early 1970 s; it could just as easily exemplify a more straightforwardly conservative longing for security and stability in hard times.

Unlike many forms of nostalgia, the memory invoked by the Keep Calm and Carry On poster is not based on lived experience. Most of those who have bought this poster, or worn the various pouches, T-shirts and other memorabilia based on it, were probably born in the 1970 s or 1980 s. They have no memory whatsoever of the various kinds of benevolent statism the slogan purports to exemplify. In that sense, the poster is an example of the phenomenon given a capsule definition by Douglas Coupland in 1991: legislated nostalgia, that is, to force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess. However, there is more to it than that. No one who was around at the time, unless they had worked at government departments of the Ministry of Information, for which the poster was designed, would have watched it. In fact, before 2008, few had ever seen the words Keep Calm and Carry On displayed in a public place.

The poster was designed in 1939, but its official website, which sells a variety of Keep Calm and Carry On merchandise, states that it never became an official propaganda poster; instead, a handful were printed on a test basis. The specific purpose of the poster was to stiffen resolve in the event of a Nazi intrusion, and it was one in a set of three. The two others, which followed the same design principles, were 😛 TAGEND


and 😛 TAGEND


Both of these were published up, and YOUR COURAGE was widely displayed during the course of its blitz, given that the feared intrusion did not take place after the German defeat in the Battle of Britain. You can see one on a billboard in the background of the last scene of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburgers 1943 film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp , when the ageing, reactionary but charming soldier detects his home in Belgravia bombed. Of the three proposals, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON was discarded after the test print. Perhaps, this was because it was considered less appropriate to the conditions of the blitz than to the mass panic expected in the event of a German ground invasion. The other posters were heavily criticised. The social research project Mass Observation recorded many furious reactions to the patronising tone of YOUR COURAGE and its implied distinction between YOU, the common person, and US, the state to be defended. Anthony Burgess later claimed it was rage at posters like this that helped Labour win such an enormous landslide in the 1945 election. We can be fairly sure that if KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON had been mass-produced, it would have infuriated those who were being implored to be pacify. Wrenched out of this context and exhumed in the 21 st century, however, the poster appears to flatter, rather than hector, the public it is aimed at.

One of the few test printings of the poster was found in a consignment of secondhand books bought at auction by Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland, which then generated the first reproductions. First sold in London by the shop at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it became a middlebrow staple when the recession, initially merely the somewhat euphemistic credit crunch, hit. Through this poster, the way to display ones commitment to the new austerity regime was to buy more consumer goods, albeit with a less garish aesthetic than was customary during the course of its boom. This was similar to the Keep calm and carry on shopping commanded by George W Bush both after September 11 and when the sub-prime crisis hit America. The wartime utilize of this rhetoric escalated during the economic commotion in the UK; witness the motto of the 2010 -1 5 coalition government, Were all in this together. The power of Keep Calm and Carry On comes from a yearning for an actual or imaginary English patrician attitude of stiff upper lips and muddling through. This is, however, something that largely survives merely in the popular imagination, in a country devoted to services and intake, where elections are decided on the basis of house-price value, and given to sudden, mawkish outpourings of sentiment. The poster isnt just a occurrence of the return of the repressed, it is rather the return of repression itself. It is a nostalgia for the state of being repressed solid, stoic, public spirited, as opposed to the depoliticised, hysterical and privatised reality of Britain over the last 30 years.

At the same time as it evokes a sense of loss over the decline of an idea of Britain and the British, it is both reassuring and flattering, connoting a virtuous( if highly self-aware) customer stoicism. Of course, in the end, it is a bit of a gag: you dont genuinely think your pay cut or your childrens inability to buy a home, or the fact that someone somewhere else has been stimulated homeless because of the bedroom taxation, or lost their benefit, or worked on a zero-hours contract, is truly comparable to life during the blitz but its all a little bit of fun, isnt it?


Unlike many forms of nostalgia, the memory invoked by the Keep Calm and Carry On poster is not based on lived experience.

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster is merely the tip of an iceberg of austerity nostalgia. Although early examples of the mood can be seen as a reaction to the threat of terrorism and the allegedly attendant blitz spirit, it has become an increasingly prevalent response to the uncertainties of economic collapse. Interestingly, one of the first areas in which this happened was the consumption of food, an activity closely connected with the immediate gratification of longings. Along with the blitz came rationing, which was not fully abolished until the mid-1 950 s. Accounts of this vary; its egalitarianism meant that while the middle classes experienced a drastic decline in the quality and sum of their diet, for many of the poor it was a minor improvement. Either way, it was a grim regime, aided by the emergence of various types of byproducts and replaces Spam, corned beef which stuck around in the already famously dismal British diet for some time, before mass immigration gradually attained feeing in Britain a less awful experience. In the process, entire aspects of British cuisine the sort of thing listed by George Orwell in his essay In Defence of English Cooking such as suet dumplings, Lancashire hotpot, Yorkshire pudding, roast dinners, faggots, spotted dick and toad in the hole began to disappear, at the least from the metropoles.

The figure of importance here is the Essex-born multimillionaire chef and Winston Churchill fan, Jamie Oliver. Clearly as decent and sincere a person as youll discover on the Sunday Times Rich List, his various crusades for good food, and the manner in which he marketplaces them, are inadvertently telling. After his initial reputation as a New Labourera star, a relatively young and Beckham-coiffed celebrity chef, his main concern( aside from a massive chain-restaurant empire that stretches from Greenwich Market in London to the Hotel Moskva in Belgrade) has been to take good food locally sourced, cooked from scratch from being a preserve of the middle classes and bring it to the disadvantaged and socially omitted of inner-city London, ex-industrial towns, mining villages and other places slashed and burned by 30 -plus years of Thatcherism. The first version of this was the TV series Jamies School Dinners , in which a camera crew documented him trying to influence the school meals choices of a comprehensive in Kidbrooke, a poor, and lately almost totally demolished, district in south-east London. Notoriously, this campaign was virtually thwarted by moms bringing their kids fizzy drinkings and burgers that they pushed through the fencings so that they wouldnt “re going to have to” suffer that healthy eating muck.


Essex-born multimillionaire cook and Winston Churchill fan, Jamie Oliver

The second phase was the book, TV series and chain of shops branded as the Ministry of Food. The name is taken immediately from the wartime ministry charged with managing the rationed food economy of war-torn Britain. Use the assistance of a few public bodies, setting up a charity, pouring in some coalfield regeneration fund and some money of his own, Oliver planned to teach the proletariat to make itself real food with real ingredients. One could argue that he was the latest in a long line of people lecturing the lower orders on their choice of nutrition, part of an immense building of grotesque neo-Victorian arrogance that has included former Channel 4 displays How Clean Is Your House ?, Benefits Street and Immigration Street , exercises in Lets laugh at picturesque prole scum. But Oliver get in there, and got his hands dirty.

However, the tale ended in a predictable manner: attempts to build this charitable action into something permanent and institutional foundered on the disinclination of any plausible British government to antagonise the supermarkets and sundry manufacturers who funnel fund to the two main political parties. The appeal to a time when things such as food and information were apparently dispensed by a benign paternalist bureaucracy, before customer choice carried all before it, can only be translated into the infrastructure of charity and PR, which is something we learn what happens over a few weeks during a Tv indicate and then keep forgetting it. A permanent network of Ministry of Food stores pop-ups that taught cooking skills and had a mostly voluntary staff were set up in the north of England in Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle and Rotherham, though the latter was forced to temporarily close following health and safety concerns in June 2013, reopening in September 2014.

Much more influential than this up by your bootstraps attempt to do a TV/ charity version of the welfare nation was the ministrys aesthetics. On the cover-up of the tie-in cookbook, Oliver sits at a table lay with a 1940 s utility tablecloth in front of some bleakly cute postwar wallpaper, and MINISTRY OF FOOD is declared in that same derivative of Gill Sans typeface used on the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. This is familiar territory. There is a whole micro-industry of austerity nostalgia aimed straight-out at the stomach. There is Olivers own chain of Jamies restaurants, which allows you order pork scratchings for PS4( they come with a side of English mustard) and enjoy neo-Victorian lavatories. Beyond Olivers empire, middle-class operations such as the caterers Peyton and Byrne blend the sort of retro food common across the western world( lots of cupcakes) with elaborated versions of simple English grub including sausage and mash. Some of the interiors of their cafe( such as the one in Mends on Tottenham Court Road in central London) were designed by architects FAT in a pop spin on the faintly lavatorial institutional design common to the surviving fragments of genuine 1940 s Britain that can still be found scattered around the UK pie and mash shops in Deptford in south-east London, ice-cream parlors in Worthing in Sussex, Glasgows dingier tavern, all featuring lots of wipe-clean tiles.


Make Do And Mend Photograph: Make Do And Mend

Other versions of this are more luxurious, such as Dinner, where Heston Blumenthal provides typically quirky English food as part of the attractions of One Hyde Park, the most expensive housing development on Earth. Something similar is offered at Canteen, which has branches in Londons Royal Festival Hall, Canary Wharf and after its scorched-earth gentrification courtesy of the Corporation of London and Norman Foster Spitalfields Market. Canteen serves Great British Food, brews, ciders and perrys[ that] represent our countrys brewing history and cocktails the hell is British-led. The interior design is clearly part of the appeal, offering a strange, luxurious version of a work canteen, with benches, trays and sans serif signs that aim to be both modernist and nostalgic. It presents the incongruous sight of the very comfortable eating and imagining themselves in the dining hall of a branch of Tyrrell& Green circa 1960. Still more bizarre is Albion, a greengrocer for oligarchs, selling traditional English make to the denizens of Neo Bankside, the Richard Rogers-designed towers alongside Tate Modern. Built into the ground floor of one of the towers, it sells its unpretentious fruit and veg next to posters advertising flats that start at the knock-down price of PS2m.

Closer to reality as lived by most people is a mobile app called the Ration Book. On its website, it gives you a crash course on rationing, when the government made assured that in the face of deficit and blockade the population could still get lifes essentials in the form of the famous volume, with its postages to get X amount of dried egg, flour, pollock and Spam. It is an app that aggregates discounts on various brands via voucher codes for those facing the crunch the people the unfortunate Ed Miliband tried to reach out to as the squeezed middle. The website countries: Our squad of Ministers broker the best deals with the biggest brands, to give you the best value. Is there any better way of describing the UK in the second decade of the 21 st century than as the sort of country that produces apps to simulate state rationing of basic goods, simply to shave a little bit off the price of high street brands?

This food-based austerity nostalgia is one way in which peoples peculiar longing for the 1940 s is conveyed; much more can be found in music and design. Stroll into the shops at the Royal Festival Hall or the Imperial War Museum in London, and you will find an avalanche of it. Posters from the 1940 s, playthings and bangles , none of them later than around 1965, have been resurrected from the dustbin of history and to be laid down for you to buy, along with austerity cookbooks, the Design series of volumes on pre-1 960 s iconic graphic artists such as Abram Game, David Gentleman and Eric Ravilious, plus a whole cornucopia of Keep Calm-related accoutrements. A particularly established example is the use of the 1930 s Penguin book encompasses as a logo for all manner of goods, purposely calling to intellect Penguins mid-century role as a substantially educative publisher. Then there are all those prints of modernist buildings, “re ready for” Londoners to frame and place in their ex-council flats in zone 2 or 3: reduced, stark blow-ups of the outlines of modernist architecture, whether demolished( the Trinity Square car park in Gateshead seen in Get Carter ) or protected( Londons National Theatre ). The plate-making company, People Will Always Need Plates, has made a name for itself with its towels, mugs, plates and badges emblazoned with different British modernist houses from the 1930 s to the 1960 s, elegantly redrawn in a bold, schematic sort that sidesteps the often rather shabby reality of the buildings. By recreating the image of the historically untainted build, it manages to precisely reverse the original modernist ethos. If for Adolf Loos and generations of modernist designers adornment was crime, here modernist builds are built into ornaments. Still, the choice of buildings is politically interesting. Blocks of 1930 s collective housing, 1960 s council flats, interwar London Underground stations precisely the sort of architectural projects now considered obsolete in favour of retail and property speculation.

Many of the buildings immortalised in these plates have been the subject of direct transfers of assets from the public sector into the private. The reclamation of postwar modernist architecture by the intelligentsia has been a contributory factor in the privatisation of social housing. An early instance of this was the sell-off of Keeling House, Denys Lasduns east London Cluster Block, to a private developer, who promptly marketed the flats to creatives. A series of gentrifications of modernist social housing followed, from the Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury( turned from a rotting brutalist megastructure into the home of one of the largest branches of Waitrose in London ), to Park Hill, an architecturally extraordinary council estate in Sheffield, given away free to the Mancunian developer Urban Splash, whose own favouring of compact flats has long been an example of austerity sold as luxury although after the boom, its privatisation scheme had to be bailed out by millions of pounds in public fund. Another favourite on mugs and tea towels is Balfron Tower, a council tower block about to be sold to wealthy investors for its iconic quality. It is here, where the rage for 21 st-century austerity chic meets the results of austerity as practised in the 1940 s and 1950 s, that a mildly creepy fad spills over into much darker territory. In aiding the sell-off of one of the greatest achievements of that era the housing built by a universal welfare state the revival of austerity chic is the literal extermination of the thing it claims to love.

The Ministry of Nostalgia by Owen Hatherley is published by Verso( PS14. 99 ). To order a copy for PS11. 99, going to see bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders only. Telephone orders min. p& p of PS1. 99.

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Zanele Muholi’s best photo: out and proud in South Africa

2 months, 10 days ago

She wanted to be a model, but not many South African bureaux accept LGBTI people as clients

This photograph is part of a series called Faces and Phases, which Ive been working on for a decade. Its about creating positive images of black lesbians and transgender people in South African society, and its dedicated to a close friend of mine who died in 2007 at persons under the age of 25. She was a so-called curative rape survivor. I felt I needed to remember the people that were growing up in front of me, and to find myself as one of us rather than one of them. The project is about us being counted in South African visual history. I think thats true photography to say that you were present.

Most of my subjects are friends or friends of friends, and often activists like me. I photograph people who are already out and fully understand who they are. I dont shoot people that are underage because I dont want them to danger their lives, especially if theyre still dependent on their parents. Its too dangerous.

I took this shooting of Sinenhlanhla Lunga at a friends place in the Katlehong township. I dont use a studio we just threw a blanket over the fencing as background. I think what defines this image is the gaze. Its beautiful; theres nothing superfluous. Sinenhlanhla wanted to be a professional model, but it never happened. You can have a dream of being a visible queer or trans model, but the mainstream hasnt reached that level of acceptance. When we last spoke, she was about to have a child.

Im so happy that were alive, living in a country that is so infested by hate crime. About three months ago, we had droughts in my hometown of Durban and a church leader said they had been caused by homosexuality and same-sex wedding. It was reported in the media, too. Its painful to me because the church should be preaching love. At the end of July, on the weekend of Durban Pride, there were blizzards, inundations and snow it was very strange. I said to a friend: I wonder what the church leaders are saying now?

In the same year this photograph was taken, lots of my photographic equipment and my computer was stolen from my apartment in Cape Town. It was a backlash against my work, and it was a double blow because I lost a lot of unpublished material.

One of the most challenging things about being a faggot visual activist in South Africa is not having access to spaces to exhibit my work here where it would be most important even as I gain recognition abroad. The position of politicians towards LGBTI people fluctuates a lot. When one of us has been killed or there are elections you find a lot of support, and then when its over they come up with a different agenda. Thats why its so important to have our own people in politics, in medicine and in the media.

Faces and Stage will carry on as long as I live we are growing up together. I also give workshops to young women and provide them with cameras to let them document their own lives. Some have even become photographers. That truly arouses me because I know Im not opposing alone.

Photograph: pr/ no credit

Zanele Muholis CV

Born: Umlazi township in Durban, South Africa, 1972.

Education: Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and Ryerson University, Toronto.

Influences: The LGBTI someones I photograph.

High phase: Working on a project that has reached 10 years. Also, Faces and Stages being shown at Venice Biennale in 2013 one of the few queer projects that has built it to that stage.

Low phase: Being misunderstood.

Top tip: Collaborate, support one another projects, and devote credit where its due. Feed the passion of people who want to become the next generation of photographers.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Attiya Khan: why I tackled the boyfriend who beat me- and made a film about it

3 months, 4 days ago

For the two years Attiya Khan was with Steve, he abused her daily. So why did she choose to make a documentary about an experience that nearly killed her?

Attiya Khan was 16 and a high-school student in Ottawa when she began dating Steve. He was a year older, he was funny, he was smart, he was her first real boyfriend. They started living together almost immediately- and the experience nearly killed her.

For the two years they were together, Steve abused Khan daily. He punched her, he hurled racist slurs against her, he strangled her until she passed out. She was often afraid for her life. Aged 18, Khan operated from the relationship; literally kicked off her heels and ran. And then, 20 years later, in 2013, Khan stopped running. Instead she sat down with Steve in front of a camera and asked: why? Why had he hurt her? Was he sorry for what he’d done?

The result of Khan’s conversations with Steve is A Better Man: an intensely personal documentary that’s often difficult to watch. But the movie isn’t just about one female, about one relationship: it’s a call to action for abusive humen to stand up and take responsibility for their fury and their actions. Before the film’s debut in New York on November 15, as part of the annual documentary film festival DOC NYC, I spoke to Khan via email.

I guess the first question a lot of people might have when hearing about your movie is why you would you want to talk to a human who violently abused you. What constructed you decide to talk to Steve?

I had been bumping into Steve every few years since escaping from him. These encounters were short and we mostly just had small talk. There was one time, around 10 years after leaving him, where Steve asked me to sit down with him and I concurred. We sat in a coffeehouse and he merely cried and recurred “I’m sorry” over and over again. I did not say much. I was waiting for him to say more. I wanted to know what he was sorry for.

Something shifted in me after this. I realized how likely it was that he had been affected by the violence he used against me. This led me to asking him if he would participate in A Better Man. At the beginning, I didn’t know what I would get out of these conversations, I just knew I needed and wanted to have them. I wanted Steve to know in detail what he had done to me and how it has affected every day of my life. It’s time for people who have harmed others to step up and be accountable for their harmful behaviors. It’s also time for people who have experienced violence to have more options to find security, mending and justice.

What did your conversations with Steve teach you about the sources of male violence and aggression?

We know that a lot of people who hurt others were hurt themselves at some phase, which doesn’t excuse their choices to use violence( after all, many people who experience violence growing up do not go on to abuse others ), but it does offer some context. Steve’s own experience of violence before he gratified me influenced his use of violence against me. At one point in the film, Steve says that he use violence to keep me at his side. He was afraid to lose me. Fear is not an emotion that many humen feel comfy expressing. Fear constructs you vulnerable, and most boys and men are learned how to never indicate vulnerability. They’re taught they should always be in control, and often they’re taught to take control by dominating other people. Although it isn’t easy to accept, it does make sense to me that Steve responded to his own anxiety by trying to control me.

You frame A Better Man as a” film that changes the conversation on violence against girls “. Could you explain that change a little more ?

Before I made this film, I worked as a counselor for women fleeing violence. My work in this field has inspired me so much, but it also stimulates me angry how much weight females have had to carry in the movement to end violence against us. If we don’t carry that weight, who will? I think hearing from people who are working to end their violence, and the people who are helping them change, shifts some of the weight off the shoulders of survivors and reminds us all where the responsibility to stop violence actually lies.

How did stimulating the film affect your PTSD ?

During the making of the film I started to heal. Every day I would sit down with Steve, I would feel some of my ache, decades of pain stored in my body being lifted. I felt this change even when Steve did not say or recollect much. This had an impact on my life in major ways. I don’t have nightmares any more. I feel safer leaving the house. When I’m out, I’m not always expecting to be hurt by him or others. I don’t spend as much time thinking about potential dangerous the status and how I would get out of them. I feel more relaxed and am enjoying life more.

Did you ever is considered that Steve should have faced prison time ?

The criminal court system is one track to justice, which is heavily focused on punishment. In my suit, punishment was not what I wanted. Some of us don’t want the person or persons we care for to go to prison, even though we really want the violence to stop.

I also don’t think the threat of prison is always successful in get people to take responsibility for harm they’ve caused. In many cases, people end up denying harm that they know they’ve caused in order to avoid prison. The criminal court system wouldn’t have asked me what I needed to move forward and how the damage could have been repaired. There also isn’t much focus within the criminal court system on rehabilitation and helping those who have harmed others move towards a life without violence. This doesn’t make sense to me.

Attiya Khan with Steve, in their late teenage years. Photo: Attiya Khan& Lawrence Jackman

What has the process of making this documentary teach you about restorative justice versus traditionally bred different forms of penalty?

There’s no single pathway to justice that will work for every survivor, which is why I think we need access to as many pathways as is practicable. When it’s doing well, restorative justice necessitates the person who did the harm to listen and acknowledge the hurt they’ve caused to others, and to try to repair the harm on words laid out by the person they hurt. I don’t think facing the damage we’ve caused is very easy for most people. Many of us run from these truths about ourselves for as long as we can, because of the shame to participate in confronting them.

Restorative justice does require some involvement from the survivor, so they can situate terms that work for them- although it doesn’t have to be face-to-face, and friends, family and facilitators help share the emotional labor. This type of process suited me because I wanted to have some control, I wanted to ask Steve questions in person and I wanted my own needs to be centered, which wouldn’t have been the case if I had pursued justice in the criminal system.

What steps do you think humen- all men , not just abusive men- should be doing to help prevent male aggressivenes and domestic violence cases ?

A lot more people engage in abusive behavior than we might gues. It may not be physical abuse, and it may be occasional rather than a pattern, but abusive or hurtful behavior in relationships is common. Manipulating our partner to try and “win” an argument can be abusive. Excessive resentment can be abusive. I think if we were all willing to look at our own behavior more honestly, abuse would be much less common. Everyone is capable of causing harm.

We also have to be willing to look at our friends and family more honestly, and tell them when we have concerns about their behaviour. It can be helpful for men to have supportive spaces to talk about these things- I think it can be hard for a lot of men to have emotionally vulnerable conversations with each other. My squad generated a discussion guide to assist groups of men to watch the cinema and discuss how it might apply to their own lives and relationship.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Which countries have the worst drinking cultures?

3 months, 15 days ago

From savouring flavors in France to binge drinking in Australia readers talk about the alcohol culture where they live

How much alcohol is safe to drink? It is a question scientists have been trying to get to the bottom of for centuries, and now a survey exploring drinking advice around the world has found that the answer varies significantly depending on where you live.

In the US, for example, three or four drinkings a day( 42 g for women and 56 g for men) is thought to be safe, but in Sweden that is well over the amount health authorities recommend: 10 g for women and 20 g for men. Whats more, a standard drink in Iceland and the UK is 8g of alcohol, compared to 20 g in Austria.

Government standard drink definition in grams with readers quotes about the countrys drinking culture
Government standard drink definition in grams

Can these fluctuations be attributed to the fact that each place has its unique drinking culture? We asked readers to summarise their countrys stance towards alcohol and the unscientific, we should stress outcomes seem to suggest we might all be tip-off the scale when it is necessary to consuming a safe amount.

South Africa

It is differed, but most people drink socially , not generally to excess, but responsible drinking( not drinking and driving for example) is rare. We should have tighter drinking and driving statutes. Dickon, 40


In the Spanish equivalent of a greasy spoon, workers stop for brunch with a beer followed by a big brandy then get into their autoes and go back to work. Its the drink-driving that I dont like. Anonymous, 45


Binge drinking is glorified in Australia, and the focus is not on drinking in moderation or for enjoyment. We should be encouraging alcohol-free days. I am likely not a true representative of the Australian drinking population as I am a very light drinker I drink maybe once a month. Anonymous, 44

New Zealand

There is a big binge-drinking culture among the youth in the country and a huge part of the health budget and policing budget is spent on dealing with drink-driving, collision and emergency services, and other long-term harmful effects of alcohol. We have a robust liquor industry that lobbies the government ferociously to prevent regulation of alcohol marketings. Advertising here has been grudgingly curtailed. Anonymous, 50


People often go to Izakayas[ Japanese-style pub] after work on Fridays or special occasions with their colleagues. However, alcohol is nearly always drunk here alongside snacks or food, entailing very few people get incredibly drunk. There are some cases of people with alcohol-related problems in this country, but people dont drink alcohol in order to get drunk, but rather to relax.

A bar in Tokyo. Photo: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Japans alcohol safety guidelines seem approximately around the same as my home country[ the UK ]. However, you need to be 20 years old to buy alcohol in Japan, although unless you seem underage they wont ask you for ID, especially if you seem non-Japanese. Anonymous, 23


Beer sold in every frituur[ chip store ], open bottles of wine to help yourself to in supermarkets but drunkenness is socially unacceptable. The guidelines seem fair enough, especially having at least two non-drinking days a week. Elspeth Morlin, 46


In France people drink extensively and steadily, but in small divisions. Even though I have find a couple of people drunk, I have never seen any aggressivenes. At a dinner party you are able to ordinarily have an apritif, three glasses of various types of wines and a digestif but all in small quantities. There will also be water on the table. The guidelines in France are sensible, although here there is a tradition of ignoring regulations and laws anyway. The French drink to savour the flavors and to enhance their food. Peter, 62


In Italy, consuming alcohol revolves around food. So you are either drinking to accompany your snack( wine will always be on the table at an Italian meal ), or you are please give free snacks to soak up your drink when at a bar. So the idea is that you order a drinking at a standardised cost and you are given crisp or other bite-sized food. Or you can help yourself from a generous buffet.

The whole point of aperitivo is that you have it before dinner and drinking on an empty belly generally leads to unpleasant situations( especially as typical aperitivo beverages are of the likes of the murderer negroni ). Hence the free food. This has led to the creation of a sub-culture: the one of apericena[ a hybrid of aperitivo and cena: dinner ]. So people, instead of going for a drinking and then on to dinner, go to the bar with the best buffet, order a drink( commonly 8-10) and then simply reached the buffet and stuff their faces, scoring a very cheap dinner. Benedetta, 31


Once a bottle is opened it must be finished; its never shut while still full. I guess 14 g a day for women seems reasonable, but 28 g a day for a human seems a little high. However, I have never seen these guidelines published or “was talkin about a” anywhere in this country. Richard Hartland, 39


In the UK the notion of enjoying yourself in the evening without alcohol is so unusual it can lead to you being called a freak( or at least miserable and antisocial) whereas drinking yourself insensible is not just acceptable, it is admired. Unfortunately( and I am a drinker) all advice dedicated seems to be decided upon somewhat arbitrarily and although most doctors agree alcohol is bad for you, restriction seem to be plucked out of the air with no real evidential statistics.

While most would agree that binge drinking in the UK is deplorable and turns our towns and cities into ugly and threatening places at night, I find the nanny country reaction of teaches us that any amount of drinking can give us cancer or liver failure somewhat unhelpful. In Europe people seem to drink as part of a food experience and it is an accompaniment , not an end in itself. We have much to learn but our history suggests an entrenched route of relating to alcohol. Fergus, 68


We would have a lot less underage drinking problems if we lowered the drinking age to 18. Young adults are getting targeted at parties and social events at universities where police know there will be alcohol and the people who are there and under 21 get underage drinking charges( and people over 21 get charged with the supply of alcohol to minor ). I am not even a huge drinker, just seems absurd that freshman and sophomores have to be sneaky about it, which leads to more issues. There is also a binge-drinking culture generally in the US Karina, 23

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud | Oliver Burkeman

3 months, 15 days ago

The long read: Cheap and effective, CBT became the dominant kind of therapy, consigning Freud to psychologys dingy basement. But new analyzes have cast doubt on its domination and presented dramatic results for psychoanalysis. Is it is high time to get back on the lounge?

Dr David Pollens is a psychoanalyst who assures his patients in a modest ground-floor office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a neighbourhood probably only rivalled by the Upper West Side for the highest concentration of therapists anywhere on countries around the world. Pollens, who is in his early 60 s, with thinning silver hair, sits in a wooden armchair at the head of a sofa; his patients lie on the lounge, facing away from him, the very best to investigate their most embarrassing fears or fantasies. Many of them come several times a week, sometimes for years, in keeping with analytic tradition. He has an impressive track record treating anxiety, depression and other disorders in adults and children, through the medium of uncensored and largely unstructured talk.

To visit Pollens, as I did one darknes wintertimes afternoon late last year, is to plunge immediately into the arcane Freudian speech of resistance and neurosis, transference and counter-transference. He exudes a sort of warm neutrality; you could easily imagine telling him your most troubling secrets. Like other members of his tribe, Pollens ensure himself as an excavator of the catacomb of the unconscious: of the sex drives that lurk beneath awareness; the hatred we feel for those we claim to love; and the other distasteful truths about ourselves we dont know, and often dont wish to know.

But theres a very well-known narrative when it comes to therapy and the relief of agony and it leaves Pollens and his fellow psychoanalysts decisively on the wrong side of history. For a start, Freud( this story runs) has been debunked. Young boys dont lust after their mothers, or fear their fathers will castrate them; adolescent girls dont envy their brethren penises. No brain scan has in the past situated the ego, super-ego or id. The practice of charging clients steep fees to ponder their childhoods for years while characterising any objections to this process as resistance, demanding farther psychoanalysis looks to many like a swindle. Arguably no other notable figure in history was so fantastically incorrect about nearly every important thing he had to say than Sigmund Freud, the philosopher Todd Dufresne proclaimed a few years back, summing up the consensus and echoing the Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Medawar, who in 1975 called psychoanalysis the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the 20 th century. It was, Medawar went on, a terminal product as well something akin to a dinosaur or a zeppelin in the history of notions, a vast structure of radically unsound design and with no posterity.

A jumble of therapies emerged in Freuds wake, as therapists struggled to set their endeavours on a sounder empirical footing. But from all these approaches including humanistic therapy, interpersonal therapy, transpersonal therapy, transactional analysis and so on its generally agreed that one emerged triumphant. Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a down-to-earth technique focused not on the past but the present; not on mysterious inner drives, but on adjusting the unhelpful think patterns that cause negative emotions. In contrast to the meandering conversations of psychoanalysis, a typical CBT exercise might involve filling out a flowchart to identify the self-critical automatic thoughts that occur whenever you face a setback, like being criticised at work, or rejected after a date.

CBT has always had its critics, primarily on the left, because its cheapness and its focus on getting people promptly back to productive work constructs it suspiciously attractive to cost-cutting politicians. But even those opposed to it on ideological grounds have rarely questioned that CBT does the job. Since it first emerged in the 1960 s and 1970 s, so many studies have stacked up in its favour that, these days, the clinical lingo empirically supported therapies is usually simply a synonym for CBT: its the one thats based on facts. Seek a therapy referral on the NHS today, and youre much more likely to end up , not in anything resembling psychoanalysis, but in a short series of highly structured sessions with a CBT practitioner, or perhaps learning methods to interrupt your catastrophising believing via a PowerPoint presentation, or online.

Yet rumblings of dissent from the vanquished psychoanalytic old guard have never quite gone away. At their core is a fundamental disagreement about human nature about why we suffer, and how, if ever, we can hope to find peace of mind. CBT exemplifies a very concrete opinion of painful emotions: that theyre principally something be removed, or failing that, made tolerable. A condition such as depression, then, is a bit like a cancerous cancer: sure, it might be useful to figure out where it came from but its far more important to get rid of it. CBT doesnt exactly claim that happiness is easy, but it does imply that its relatively simple: your distress is caused by your irrational faith, and its within your power to confiscate hold of those faiths and change them.

Psychoanalysts contend that things are much more complicated. For one thing, psychological pain needs first not to be eliminated, but understood. From this perspective, depression is less like a tumour and more like a stabbing ache in your abdomen: its telling you something, and you need to find out what.( No responsible GP would just pump you with painkillers and send you home .) And happiness if such a thing is even achievable is a much murkier matter. We dont actually know our own minds, and we often have powerful motives for keeping things that way. We find life through the lens of our earliest relationships, though we usually dont realise it; we want contradictory things; and change is slow and hard. Our conscious minds are tiny iceberg-tips on the dark ocean of the unconscious and you cant genuinely investigated that ocean by means of CBTs simple, standardised, science-tested steps.

This viewpoint has much romantic appeal. But the analysts debates fell on deaf ears so long as experimentation after experiment seemed to confirm the superiority of CBT which helps explain the shocked response to a study, published last May, that seemed to show CBT get less and less effective, as a therapy for depression, over time.

Examining scores of earlier experimental trials, two researchers from Norway concluded that its consequence sizing a technological measure of its usefulness had fallen by half since 1977.( In the unlikely event that this trend were to persist, it could be entirely useless in a few decades .) Had CBT somehow benefited from a kind of placebo impact all along, effective merely so long as people believed it was a miracle cure?

That puzzle was still being digested when researchers at Londons Tavistock clinic published results in October from the first rigorous NHS study of long-term psychoanalysis as a treatment for chronic depression. For the most severely depressed, it concluded, 18 months of analysis worked far better and with much longer-lasting effects than treatment as usual on the NHS, which included some CBT. Two years after the various therapies ended, 44% of analysis patients no longer fulfilled the criteria for major depression, compared to one-tenth of the others. Around the same day, the Swedish press reported a finding from government auditors there: that a multimillion pound scheme to reorient mental healthcare towards CBT had proved completely ineffective in meeting its goals.

Such findings, it turns out, arent isolated and in their midst, a newly emboldened band of psychoanalytic therapists are pressing the instance that CBTs pre-eminence has been largely built on sand. Indeed, they argue that teaching people to guess themselves to wellness might sometimes make things worse. Every thoughtful person knows that self-understanding isnt something you get from the drive-thru, said Jonathan Shedler, a psychologist at the University of Colorado medical school, who is one of CBTs most unsparing critics. His default bearing is one of wry good humour, but exasperation ruffled his demeanor whenever our dialogue dwelt too long on CBTs claims of supremacy. Novelists and poets seemed to have understood this truth for thousands of years. Its only in the last few decades that people have said, Oh , no, in 16 sessions we can change lifelong patterns! If Shedler and others are right, it may be time for psychologists and therapists to re-evaluate much of what they thought they knew about therapy: about what works, what doesnt, and whether CBT has really consigned the cliche of the chin-stroking shrink and with it, Freuds picture of the human mind to history. The impact of such a re-evaluation could be profound; eventually, it might even change how millions of people around the world are treated for psychological problems.

How does that stimulate “youre feeling”?


Freud was full of horseshit ! the therapist Albert Ellis, arguably the progenitor of CBT, liked to say. Its hard to deny he had a phase. One big part of the problem for psychoanalysis has been the evidence that its founder was something of a charlatan, prone to distorting his findings, or worse.( In one especially eye-popping example, which only came to sun in the 1990 s, Freud told a patient, the American psychiatrist Horace Frink, that his sadnes stemmed from an inability to recognise that he was lesbian and hinted that the answer lay in making a large fiscal contribution to Freuds run .)


Illustration: Peter Gamlen for the Guardian

But for those working challenging psychoanalysis with alternative approaches to therapy, even more troublesome was the sense that even the most sincere psychoanalyst is always engaged in a guessing-game, always prone to finding proof of his or her hunches, whether its there or not. The basic premise of psychoanalysis, after all, is that our lives are was governed by unconscious forces, which speak to us only indirectly: through symbols in dreamings, accidental slip-ups of the tongue, or through what infuriates us about others, which is a clue to what we cant face in ourselves. But all this stimulates the whole thing unfalsifiable. Protest to your shrink that , no, you dont actually dislike your father, and that merely shows how desperate you must be to avoid acknowledging to yourself that you do.

This problem of self-fulfilling prophecies is a disaster for anyone hoping to figure out, in a scientific route, whats really going on in the mind and by the 1960 s, advances in scientific psychology had reached a point at which patience with psychoanalysis began to run out. Behaviourists such as BF Skinner had already shown that human behaviour could be predictably manipulated, much like that of pigeons or rats, by means of penalty and reward. The burgeoning cognitive revolution in psychology is of the view that goings-on inside the mind could be measured and manipulated too. And since the 1940 s, there had been a pressing need to do so: thousands of soldiers returning from the second world war exhibited emotional disturbances that exclaimed out for rapid, cost-effective treatment , not years of dialogue on the couch.

Before laying the groundwork for CBT, Albert Ellis had in fact originally trained as a psychoanalyst. But after practising for some years in New York in the 1940 s, he found his patients werent getting better and so, with a self-confidence that would come to define his career, he concluded that analysis, rather than his own abilities, must be to blame. Along with other like-minded therapists, he turned instead to the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, teaching clients that it was their beliefs about the world , not events themselves, that distressed them. Getting change over for a promotion might induce unhappiness, but depression came from the irrational propensity to generalise from that single setback to an image of oneself as an all-round failure. As I see it, Ellis told an interviewer decades later, psychoanalysis devotes clients a cop-out. They dont have to change their styles they get to talk about themselves for 10 years, blaming their parents and waiting for magic-bullet insights.

Thanks to the breezy , no-nonsense tone will be approved by CBTs supporters, its easy to miss how revolutionary its claims were. For traditional psychoanalysts and those who practise newer psychodynamic techniques, largely derived from traditional psychoanalysis what happens in therapy is that seemingly irrational symptoms, such as the endless repetition of self-defeating patterns in love or run, are revealed to be at least somewhat rational. Theyre responses that made sense in the context of the patients earliest experience.( If a parent abandoned you, years ago, its not so strange to live in constant dread that your spouse might do so too and thus to act in ways that screw up your matrimony as a result .) CBT flips that on its head. Feelings that might appear rational such as impression depressed about what a disaster your life is stand exposed as the outcomes of irrational thinking. Sure, you lost your job; but it doesnt follow that everything will be awful forever.


Illustration: Peter Gamlen for the Guardian

If this second approach is right, change is clearly far simpler: you need only identify and correct various thought-glitches, rather than decoding the secret reasons for your agony. Symptoms such as sadness or nervousnes arent necessarily meaningful clues to long-buried anxieties; theyre intruders to be banished. In analysis, the relationship between therapist and patient serves as a kind of petri dish, in which the patient re-enacts her habitual ways of pertaining with others, enabling them to be better understood. In CBT, youre just trying to get rid of a problem.

The sweary, freewheeling Ellis was destined to remain an foreigner, but the approach he pioneered soon attained respectability thanks to Aaron Beck, a sober-minded psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania.( Now 94, Beck has probably never called anything horseshit in his life .) In 1961, Beck devised a 21 -point questionnaire, known as the Beck Depression Inventory, to quantify clients suffering and showed that, in about half of all cases, a few months of CBT relieved the worst symptoms. Objections from analysts were dismissed, with some justification, as the complaints of people trying to protect their lucrative turf. They detected themselves compared to 19 th-century medical doctors bungling improvisers, threatened and offended by the notion that their mystic art could be reduced to a sequence of evidence-based steps.

Many more analyzes followed, demonstrating the added benefit of CBT in treating everything from depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder to post-traumatic stress. I went to the early seminars on cognitive therapy to fulfill myself that it was another approach that wouldnt work, David Burns, who went on to popularise CBT in his worldwide bestseller Feeling Good, told me in 2010. But I passed the techniques to my patients and people whod seemed hopeless and stuck for years began to recover.

Theres little doubt that CBT has helped millions, at least to some degree. This has been especially true in the UK since the economist Richard Layard, a vigorous CBT evangelist, became Tony Blairs happiness czar. By 2012, more than a million people had received free therapy as a result of the initiative Layard helped push through, working with the Oxford psychologist David Clark. Even if CBT wasnt especially effective, you might argue, that kind of reach would count for a lot. Yet its hard to shake the sense that something big is missing from its model of the agony mind. After all, we experience our own inner lives, and our relationships with others, as bewilderingly complex. Arguably the entire history of both religion and literature is an attempt to grapple with what it all means; neuroscience daily uncovers new subtleties in the workings of the brain. Could the answer to our woes truly be something as superficial-sounding as identifying automatic supposes or modifying your self-talk or challenging your inner critic? Could therapy genuinely be so straightforward that you could receive it not from a human but from a book, or a computer?

A few years ago, after CBT had started to dominate taxpayer-funded therapy in Britain, a woman Ill call Rachel, from Oxfordshire, tried therapy on the NHS for depression, following the birth of her first child. She was sent first to sit through a group PowerPoint presentation, promising five steps to improve your mood; then she received CBT from a therapist and, in between sessions, via computer. I dont guess anything has ever constructed me feel as lonely and isolated as having a computer program ask me how I felt on a scale of one to five, and after Id clicked the sad emoticon on the screen telling me it was sorry to hear that in a prerecorded voice, Rachel recalled. Completing CBT worksheets under a human therapists guidance wasnt much better. With postnatal depression, she said, youve run from a situation in which youve been working, earning your own money, doing interesting things and suddenly youre at home on your own, mostly covered in sick, with no adult to talk to. What she required, she sees now, was real connect: that fundamental if hard-to-express sense of being held in the mind of another person, even if only for a short period each week.

I may be mentally ill, Rachel said, but I do know that a computer does not feel bad for me.


Jonathan Shedler remembers where he was when he first realised there might be something to the psychoanalytic notion of the mind as a realm far more complex, and peculiar, than most of us imagine. He was an undergraduate, at college in Massachusetts, when a psychology lecturer astounded him by construing a dream Shedler had associated about driving on bridges over ponds, and trying on hats in a store as an expression of the fear of pregnancy. The lecturer was exactly right: Shedler and his girlfriend, whose dream it was, were at that moment waiting to learn if she was pregnant, and urgently hoping she wasnt. But the lecturer knew none of this context; he was apparently merely an expert interpreter of the symbolism of dreams. The impact could not have been greater, Shedler recollected, if his terms had been heralded by celestial cornets. He decided that if there were people in the world who understood such things, I had to be one of them.

Yet academic psychology, the field Shedler next entered, entail having that kind of exuberance for the mysteries of the mind drummed out of you; researchers, he concluded, were committed to quantification and measurement, but not to the inner lives of real people. To become a psychoanalyst takes years of training, and its compulsory to undergo analysis yourself; analyzing the intellect at university, by contrast, necessitates zero real-life experience.( Shedler is now that rarity, a trained therapist and researcher, who bridges both worlds .) You know that thing about how you need 10,000 hours of practise to develop an expertise? he asked. Well, most of the researchers inducing pronouncements[ about which therapies work] dont have 10 hours!

Shedlers subsequent research and writing has played a significant role in undermining the received wisdom that theres no hard evidence for psychoanalysis. But its undeniable that the early psychoanalysts were sniffy about research: they were prone to viewing themselves as embattled practitioners of a subversive art that needed nurturing in specialist institutions which in practice meant forming cliquish private bodies, and rarely interacting with university experimenters. Research into cognitive approaches thus got a big head start and it was the 1990 s before empirical studies of psychoanalytic techniques began hinting that the cognitive consensus might be flawed. In 2004, a meta-analysis concluded that short-term psychoanalytic approaches were at least as good as other routes for many ailments, leaving recipients better off than 92% of all patients prior to therapy. In 2006, a study tracking approximately 1,400 people suffering from depression, nervousnes and related conditions ruled in favour of short-term psychodynamic therapy, too. And a 2008 analyse into borderline personality disorder concluded that merely 13% of psychodynamic patients still had the diagnosis five years after the end of therapy, compared with 87% of the others.


Illustration: Peter Gamlen for the Guardian

These analyzes havent always compared analytic therapies with cognitive ones; the comparison is often with treatment as usual, a phrase that encompasses a multitude of sins. But over and over again, as Shedler has argued, the starkest differences between the two emerge some time after therapy has finished. Ask how people are doing as soon as their therapy ends, and CBT seems persuading. Return months or years later, though, and the benefits have often faded, while the effects of psychoanalytic therapies remain, or have even increased is recommended that they may restructure the personality in a lasting style, rather than simply helping people manage their moods. In the NHS study conducted at the Tavistock clinic last year, chronically depressed patients receiving psychoanalytic therapy stood a 40% better opportunity of going into partial remission, during every six-month period of the research, than those receiving other treatments.

Alongside this growing body of evidence, intellectuals have begun to ask pointed questions about the studies that first fuelled CBTs ascendancy. In a provocative 2004 newspaper, the Atlanta-based psychologist Drew Westen and his colleagues showed how researchers motivated by the desire for an experiment with clearly interpretable outcomes had often excluded up to two-thirds of possibilities participants, typically because they had multiple psychological problems. The practise is understandable: when a patient has more than one problem, its harder to untangle the lines of cause and impact. But it may mean that the people who do get analyzed are extremely atypical. In real life, our psychological problems are intricately embedded in our personalities. The issue you bring to therapy( depression, say) may not be the one that emerges after several conferences( for example, the need to come to words with a sex orientation you fear your family wont accept ). Moreover, some studies have sometimes seemed to unfairly stack the deck, as when CBT has been compared with psychodynamic therapy delivered by graduate students whod received only a few days cursory training in it, from other students.

But the most incendiary charge against cognitive approaches, from the torchbearers of psychoanalysis, is that they might actually make things worse: that finding ways to manage your depressed or anxious guess, for example, may simply postpone the point at which youre driven to take the plunge into self-understanding and lasting change. CBTs implied promise is that theres a relatively simple, step-by-step route to gain mastery over agony. But perhaps theres more to be gained from acknowledging how little control over our lives, our emotions, and other people actions we really have? The promise of mastery is seductive not just for patients but therapists, too. Clients are anxious about is available on therapy, and inexperienced therapists are anxious since they are dont have a clue “what were doing”, writes the US psychologist Louis Cozolino in a new volume, Why Therapy Works. Therefore, it is comforting for both parties to have a task they can focus on.

Not astonishingly, resulting supporters of CBT reject most of these criticisms, arguing that its been caricatured as superficial, and that some decrease in effectiveness is merely to be expected, because its grow so much in popularity. Early analyses employed small samples and pioneering therapists, enthused by the new approach; more recent analyses use bigger samples, and inevitably involve therapists with a wider range of talent levels. People who say CBT is superficial have just missed the phase, said Trudie Chalder, professor of cognitive behavioural psychotherapy at the Kings College Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience in London, who highlights the fact that no single therapy is best for all maladies. Yes, youre targeting peoples beliefs, but youre not only targeting easily accessible beliefs. Its not just Oh, such person or persons looked at me peculiarly, so they must not like me; its faiths like Im an unlovable person, which may derive from early experience. The past is very much taken into account.

Nonetheless, the dispute wont be settled by adjudicating between clashing analyses: it goes deeper than that. Experimenters may reach wildly different conclusions about which therapies have the best outcomes. But what should count as a successful outcome anyway? Examines measure relief of symptoms yet a crucial premise of psychoanalysis is that theres more to a meaningful life than being symptom-free. In principle, you might even aim a course of psychoanalysis sadder though wiser, more conscious of your previously unconscious reactions, and living in a more engaged way and still deem the experience a success. Freud famously declared that his aim was the transformation of neurotic suffering into common unhappiness. Carl Jung said humanity requires difficulties: they are necessary for health. Life is painful. Should we be thinking in terms of a cure for painful feelings at all?


Theres something profoundly appealing about the idea that therapy shouldnt be approached as a matter of science that our individual lives are too distinctive to be submitted to the relentless generalisation by which science must be pursued. That sentiment may help explain the commercial success of The Examined Life, Stephen Groszs 2013 collect of narratives from the analysts couch, which expended weeks on UK bestseller lists and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Its chapters consist not of experimental findings or clinical diagnoses, but of narratives, many of which involve a jolt of insight as the patient suddenly gets a sense of the depths he or she contains. Theres the man who lies compulsively, in a bid for secret intimacy with those he can persuade to join him in deceit, just like his mother hid evidence of his bedwetting; and the woman who eventually realises how effortfully shes been denying the evidence of her husbands infidelity when she notices how neatly someone has stacked the dishwasher.

Each life is unique, and your role, as an analyst, is to find the unique narrative of the patient, Grosz told me. There are so many things that only come out through slip-ups of the tongue, through someone confiding a fantasy, or employing a certain word. The analysts undertaking is to stay watchfully receptive to it all and then, from such ingredients, help people stimulate meaning of their lives.


Illustration: Peter Gamlen for the Guardian

Surprisingly, perhaps, recent support for this seemingly unscientific view has emerged from the most empirical corner of its further consideration of the mind: neuroscience. Many neuroscience experimentations have indicated that the brain processes information much faster than conscious awareness can keep track of it, so that countless mental operations run, in the neuroscientist David Eaglemans phrase, under the hood unseen by the conscious intellect in the driving-seat. For the above reasons, as Louis Cozolino writes in Why Therapy Works, by the time we become consciously aware of its own experience, it has already been processed many times, activated memories, and initiated complex patterns of behaviour.

Depending on how you interpret the evidence, it would seem we can do countless complex things from performing mental arithmetic, to reaching a automobiles brakes to avoid a crash, to making a choice of wedding partner before becoming aware that weve done them. This doesnt mesh well with a basic assumption of CBT that, with develop, we can learn to catch most of our unhelpful mental responses in the act. Rather, it seems to confirm the psychoanalytic intuition that the unconscious is huge, and largely in control; and that we live, unavoidably, through lenses created in the past, which we can only hope to modify partially, slowly and with great effort.

Perhaps the only undeniable truth to emerge from conflicts among therapists is that we still dont have much of a clue how minds run. When it comes to easing mental suffering, its like weve got a hammer, a watch, a nail-gun and a loo brush, and this box that doesnt always work properly, so we just maintain making the box with each of these tools to consider what works, said Jules Evans, policy director for the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London.

This may be why many intellectuals have been drew attention to what has become known as the dodo-bird verdict: the idea, supported by some studies, that the specific kind of therapy induces little difference.( The name comes from the Dodos pronouncement in Alice in Wonderland: Everybody has won, and all must have awards .) What seems to matter much more is the presence of a compassionate, dedicated therapist, and a patient committed to change; if one therapy is better than all others for all or even most problems, it has yet to be discovered. David Pollens, in his Upper East Side consulting room, said he had some pity for that verdict, despite his passion for psychoanalysis. There was a wonderful British analyst, Michael Balint, who was very involved in medical train, and he had a question he liked to pose[ to physicians ], Pollens said. It was: What do you think is the most powerful drug you prescribe? And people would try to answer that, and then eventually hed say: the relationship.

Yet even this conclusion that we simply dont know which therapies work best might be seen as a point in favour of Freud and his successors. Psychoanalysis, after all, personifies merely this awed meeknes about how little we can ever comprehend about the workings of our minds.( The one question nobody can ever answer, writes the Jungian analyst James Hollis, is of what are you unconscious ?) Freud the man scaled heights of arrogance. But his legacy is a reminder that we shouldnt inevitably expect life to be all that happy , nor to assume we can ever genuinely know whats going on inside indeed, that were often profoundly emotionally invested in preserving our ignorance of unsettling truths.

What happens in therapy, Pollens said, is that people come in asking for help, and then the very next thing they do is they try to stop you helping them. His smile hinted at these components of sillines in the situation and in the whole therapeutic endeavour, perhaps. How do we help a person when theyve told you, in one way or another, Dont help me? Thats what analytic treatment is about.

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Downward spiral: how addiction decimated a Wyoming family

3 months, 29 days ago

The nations suicide rate is three times “the member states national” average and 16% of its people experience alcoholism or addiction. Alexs family are the faces behind the figures

Alex remembers taking his wife to ensure a psychic. The clairvoyant came highly recommended by her doctor. Danielle was struggling. Pete, her son from a previous relationship, had killed himself in 2004. He was merely 13.

Alex drove 180 miles west from Rock Springs, Wyoming, where the couple lived, to Rainbow Gardens in Ogden, Utah. They drove through Sweetwater Countys extraterrestrial rock formations, its oil and gas fields, its mines. There was nothing to consider for miles but sage-covered high desert, a landscape of stark beauty and eerie desolation.

The clairvoyant told them that some peoples spirits were solitary, and that other people occupy and leave this world in clans. Pete wouldnt have learned anything new in this life, the clairvoyant continued. He needed to die and wait for his clan to succumbs so they could all start life over with him.

In the years that followed, one after another of Alexs clan died.

Danielles sister died from a prescription drug overdose in 2009. In 2015, Danielle died, following 15 years of opioid addiction, and that same year, her mother succumbed to complications related to alcohol abuse.

For years now, the US has been engulfed in an unprecedented epidemic. Americas white suicide rate is the highest it has been in 30 years, with Wyoming resulting at three times the national average. While the life expectancy of Americans of coloring has increased endlessly, the mortality rate of non-Hispanic, middle-aged whites particularly those with little formal education has risen dramatically.

In Wyoming, the number of people with diabetes has risen steadily, and heart disease is expected to affect four times as many people in 2030 as in 2010. The Center for Integrated Behavioral Health Policy, a research center based at George Washington University, estimates that more than 16% of Wyomingites suffer from alcoholism and addiction to illicit drugs.

But Wyoming is not alone with this problem: the national median is just under 14%. One change is, however, that in the second least populated country in the US, mental healthcare can be hard to come by. Wyoming has one of the lowest number of psychiatrists and the fewest child and adolescent psychiatrists per capita.

The hypothesis surrounding the causes of addiction are differed: childhood abuse and forget, trauma, mental illness and incarceration of a mother are often blamed. Experts point to the role of epigenetics, the inheritability of genetic code and gene expres. Inner isolation and the lack of a supportive community also appear to play a role. Family systems are more fragmented today than the latter are 50 years ago, and the church, which used to be the center of peoples communal and spiritual life, has lost its importance for many Americans.

Addiction and suicide are democratic, swallowing up individuals across all education and income levels. Americas medical and mental healthcare and Veteran Administration systems are struggling to address problems that may have been averted by strong family and community systems in the past. The narrative of Alex and his family illustrates how a series of tragic events can snowball to claim an entire household. Suicide, mental illness and craving are never due to merely one cause; they are the results of a perfect storm.

Alex Alex in front of the trailer where Pete died. Photo: Sabine Heinlein

At 42, Alex is burly and almost bald. When I visit him around Christmas a few days before what would have been his stepson Petes 22 nd birthday he offers to take me on a tour of the places in Rock Springs that are connected to his familys downward spiral.

Clad in beige vinyl siding, the mobile home where Pete killed himself seems neat but impersonal. It hadnt yet snowed enough to sugarcoat the scenery. Alex tells me that Danielle wasnt able to return home after Petes suicide. She grabbed her pets and daughters and moved in with neighbours. The couple quickly decided to sell.

Trudging through snow under big gray skies that portend a storm, Alex and I visit Petes grave. Someone has put an artificial flower and a small American flag next to a piece of an antler. The antler is there because Pete was supposed to learn how to hunt that year. There is also an ashtray because Pete liked to smoking. Alex seems detached, and I ask him what he is feeling. He has come to terms with Petes suicide, he tells me. His mission is now to understand the forces that ravaged his family.

Danielle and Alex met in the mid-1 990 s. They were drawn to each other because they were both unique, as Alex puts it. Alex was shy he still is. One of Danielles limbs was stunted due to a birth defect, and she was supporting herself by working at a gas station.

The youngest of more than a dozen children from several different sets of mothers, Danielle was daddys daughter. But according to Alexandria, her longtime friend, her familys home was filled with emotional abuse. There was always sorrow and one craving after another, Alexandria remembers. The home was never clean, and her parents regulations were idiosyncratic. They gave her whatever she wanted. They didnt push her to do things for herself.

In elementary school, Danielles teachers and fellow students marveled at how fast she could get dressed. Though Danielle had only the one hand, she was faster than anyone else in her class. But in middle and high school, rewards became harder to achieve and expectations crumbled.

In seventh grade, Danielle got involved with the bad kids who hung out at a local gas station. Parties took place in the mountains, even in the middle of winter, and it was( and still is) common for kids to start drinking in their early teens. In rapid succession, Danielle had two children, Pete and Melissa, from two different fathers.

Then Alex came along.

I wasnt one of those arrogant assholes who exude so much confidence, Alex says. I have a soft spot for people who are handicapped or the underdog. Danielle was always smiling and happy, with a sense of sentence you can only get from being a mother. Im going to do it this style and no one can tell me different. She taught me that about myself.

Soon after the couple got married, Danielle insisted they follow their friend Alexandrias family to Louisiana. They took their new newborn daughter Tammy and Danielles eight-year-old son Pete with them. Seven-year-old Melissa stayed in Wyoming with her biological daddy, who was addicted to alcohol.

Things were drying up here, Alex remembers. I sold everything and chose, OK, for better or worse, here we go. But things were drying up down there, too. In Louisiana, there were additional obstacles. Louisiana is a buddy-buddy thing. If youre not Cajun, then youre a nobody. He acknowledges: Its the same here in Wyoming. Any outsider you look down on.

At humors objective, Alex joined the army. To his astonish, he enjoyed it. I was becoming something more than what I was, he explains. Growing up, every time I got a friend in school theyd move. The majority of my life I have been by myself.

For the first time ever, the lone wolf felt like part of a pack. His household was get a foothold in a more stable life, and things seemed to be looking up.

In May 2000, Alex was driving with his family. They had just bought carpeting for their home on the base because Danielle fretted the children would hurt themselves on the tiled floor. Seven months pregnant with Ashley, the couples second child, Danielle sat next to Alex. In the backseat were nine-year-old Pete and the couples newborn daughter Tammy.

Alex insured the traffic lights change to amber. He decided to stop. As soon as the car eased to a halting, he felt potential impacts of the loaded semi-trailer truck behind them. The children were fine, but Alex and Danielle suffered herniated disc in the neck.

It seemed like a big old snarl that started the snowball rolling down the hill until the big crash at the bottom, Alex says about the accident.

Alex and Danielle were both in severe ache, and doctors in Louisiana were quick to prescribe opioid analgesics. Alex cant recollect whether doctors ever told him or Danielle that the analgesics were addictive, but while he didnt like how hazy the medicines attained him feel, Danielle soon couldnt live without them.

Once, Danielle tried to go off the drugs cold turkey, ending up in the hospital. Physicians there said she could have killed herself. Thats when arrangements were made to send her to a[ rehab] facility, Alex remembers. But the program was only a week or two long, and Danielle, who seemed to be in constant ache, relapsed soon afterwards.

Alex Alex holding a family photo, back when he was in the army. Photograph: Sabine Heinlein

Both Alex and Alexandria wonder whether Danielle exaggerated how much ache she was in to get more narcotics, but they are careful about making assumptions. Danielle always seemed to feel every longing, every hurt, more intensely than others. Maybe she felt pain more strongly, too.

Alexs neck pain developed into migraines, and he was no longer be permitted to do the armys morning calisthenics. Once, while driving a truck, he blacked out. He came to on the wrong side of the road.

His military career stalled. He had become what his superior policeman called one of the broke-ass people. He explains: When you are injured, you are frowned upon. You are hazed. Because you are not up there doing everything with the big dogs.

Alexs second daughter, Ashley, was born two months after the accident, addicted to oxycodone. When she was just 24 hours old, Ashley stopped inhaling and almost died. Physicians dedicated her a Narcan injection, commonly used to treat withdrawal syndromes in babies exposed to opioids before birth. Suffering from withdrawal and in pain, the newborn cried all the time.

In 2001, Danielle had neck surgery, but her ache still didnt subside. Soon afterwards, she was back to spending much of her time in bed, high on medications. Alexandria, who more than once tried to talk to her about her craving, recollects. She never took responsibility for her own actions.[ Therapy] was scary. It was always somebody elses fault.

Alex was placed on desk duty. He couldnt believe how quickly the military had written him off. Instead of supporting him on his difficult journey, medical doctors started the process of medical discharge. Shortly after he was “lets get going”, his division shipped out to Iraq. I wasnt able to fulfill my investment. I felt like a piece of crap, Alex says.

In 2002, Danielle and Alex moved back to Rock Springs to be closer to their clan. Melissa, Danielles oldest daughter, was back in the picture, helping them raise her two young stepsisters.

With Alexs discharge from the army, Danielles spousal insurance was terminated, and due to her pre-existing conditions no insurance company would take her. Alex was paying more than $500 a month for Danielles narcotics. Eventually, a doctor set her on methadone a prescription analgesic more commonly known for helping heroin junkies detoxify as a less expensive alternative.

In 2006, Danielle and Alex received a quarter-million-dollar settlement from the accident. Alex maintained $10,000 to start a welding business. The rest he devoted to Danielle. Danielle hired a housekeeper, bought a doublewide trailer home and an SUV. She gave money to relatives, took her children on vacation and dragged Alex to the mall to buy $ 1,500 worth of clothes. Within a year she had blown all the money.

Rock Springs is three hours from the closest metropolitan area, Salt Lake City. But thats in good weather conditions. When it is snowing, it can take more than twice that long. During blizzards, I-8 0 sometimes shuts altogether.

A bust-and-boom town, Rock Springs wasnt reached as hard by the Great Depression as the rest of America; everybody still needed coal. The proud community had splendid gardens to grow their own veggies. Ethnic minorities put on culture events featuring food, drinkings and dances. Established as a safety net for employees, the Mutual Aid Society hosted balls, and Union Pacific organized parades and first assist competitors. The prevalent sentiment was: We built this community out of the desert, we made a great a home for ourselves says Brie Blasi, the executive director of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.

It wasnt all rosy, however. Alex leads me to a big paint at the Rock Springs Library that depicts one of the most serious incidents of anti-immigrant violence in American history. While Rock Springs celebrates itself as Home of 56 Nationalities, it is anything but diverse, and not exactly known for being accepting of foreigners. Sweetwater County is 94% white, and its immigration history is fraught with alienation and bloodshed.

Years of unjust labor policies that favored whites and fomented xenophobic sentiments culminated in the 1885 Chinese Massacre, in which a mob of 150 white humen murdered at least 28 Chinese miners. Dozens more were injured, robbed and driven from their shacks at Bitter Creek.

How many white people were murdered? Alex asks the librarian. The answer is none. The Chinese didnt carry guns.

Castle Castle Rock, Wyoming. Photograph: Sabine Heinlein

Rock Springs last coalmine closed in 1963. Social clubs shut or became less active. People no longer huddled together where they ran but had to drive out of town to the oil and gas fields and the mine that extracted trona( a mineral used to construct baking soda, glass, detergents and textiles ). Closely dependent on the mineral prizes, the economy seesawed.

For many years, Rock Springs white, working-class people enjoyed an atmosphere of social cohesion that today is hard to find. But as stark differences in wealth are paraded in schools and on social media, members of the general atmosphere has become one of one-upmanship, Alex says. Something has to change. He thinks that Donald Trump will bring the change America needs.

Maybe change has already been under way. In recent years, thanks to its minerals, Sweetwater County has been doing well economically very well, in fact. Between 2000 and 2015 the median household income rose from $54,173 to $81,592, well above the national median of approximately $56,000.

Alexs welding business, too, went well for a while but he was powerless over Danielles expending habits. I wanted things to work out, he says. Thats why I did everything she asked for. When the economy tanked, I would have been able to survive had I treated it like a business and not like her personal piggy bank.

Meanwhile, Danielles son Pete had been sucked into his own pain. Pete was ruined before I came around, Alex says, adding, seemingly ashamed, that an uncle had shown porn to Pete when he was just two or 3 years old. He was distraught over a lot of things, and the biggest one was being rejected by his biological father. He couldnt understand why I wanted something to do with him and his father didnt.

In school, Pete was in constant difficulty. He was bullied for his emo style, and once another kid hit him with a stone, dividing his head open. At home, he was called at and hit by Danielle over the smallest violations. Alex was often away, working 12 -hour changes in the fields.

The counseling and the different medications doctors tried out on Pete didnt seem to do much.

When a young family friend was taken to an institution for emotionally challenged juveniles and Pete saw her improve, he demanded to be taken there, too. According to his sister Melissa, he wanted to be somewhere where he could get one-on-one focus all the time to work out his issues and not have to worry about the family life. But since he wasnt held high-risk, there werent any immediate options available for him.

Melissa, the oldest of Danielles three girls, recollects the tragic day in 2004 clearly. Then 12 years old, she had caught 13 -year-old Pete smoking marijuana with a cousin. She told Danielle. As part of his penalty, he was to sit in his room, with no volumes, publications or video games.

As she recalls the tale, Melissa is calm and thoughtful , not unlike her stepfather. She seems like the various kinds of person who has everything under control, but as you excavate deeper, her struggle emerges.

When Alex came home from work that day Danielle was in bed, like the majority of cases. The first thing he did was check in on Pete. He procured him reading a publication that Melissa had slipped him. Mom said nothing is nothing, Alex said, taking away the publication. He went to light the BBQ to make dinner. It was a warm summertime evening, and Melissa was playing horsey with her three- and five-year-old half-sisters.

Suddenly, Melissa heard Alex hollering. When I strolled over to the bedroom doorway and appeared in, I thought that they were fighting, she remembers. But when Alex laid my brother on the ground, I assured that he wasnt breathing, that he was purple and blue. I ran and woke up my mommy, and she started freaking out, so I grabbed the phone and called 911. Then I grabbed my little sisters and my cousin and I told them that they needed to go outside.

Alex says it couldnt have been more than 15 minutes until he went back to check on Pete. He had hanged himself in his closet.

After breaking through the cloud of the initial shock, Melissa went to see her junior high school counselor. It would be better if she didnt talking here her stepbrothers suicide, she remembers the counselor telling her. Better not devote other children any ideas( she adds that this policy has since changed and counselors are more open and engaged with their own problems now ). Over the next few years, Melissa would ensure several of her schoolmates attempt suicide and succumb of medication overdoses.

Like Danielle, Alex holds himself spiritual but doesnt go to church. For him, organized religion has lost its message. It is not as complicated as people make it out to be, he tells me. Whatever Alexs and Danielles beliefs, the family couldnt “lets get going” of Petes young soul.

After his death, they would sometimes hear their little daughter Ashley giggle in her room. Pete, stop tickling me, she would squeal. Once Alex and Danielle thought they find his white pant-leg duck into the bathroom; another time the couple heard an indefinable growling under the bed. It wasnt a cat, Alex says, locking eyes with me.

The The graveyard where Pete is interred. Photograph: Sabine Heinlein

In the midst of all this, Danielles sister had also become addicted to painkillers. One day, she was detected unconscious in the rain. She had overdosed and reached her head severely. Pill bottles with Danielles name were found in her home. Suffering from memory problems, the sister lost her undertaking before succumbing of an overdose in 2009. It was never determined whether her death was accidental.

The cataclysms didnt be brought to an end. Four years ago, Danielle asked Alex to sit down. She had to tell him something. Their daughter Tammy wasnt his child after all. A DNA exam had confirmed it.

For a week, Alex lay in agony, curled up in a ball. That was the worst ache I ever had, he told me. I didnt want to kill myself, but if my heart was going to stop, Id be OK with that.

It is not that Alex has never tried to access the mental healthcare system. He and Danielle had taken their daughters to household therapy after Ashley, their youngest, had threatened to kill herself in 2012. Alex partially blames himself for Ashleys self-harm ruminations: he was working 12 -hour transformations to make ends meet, and Ashley, who had always been the calm one in the family, wasnt getting enough attention. But family therapy was like World War Three, Alex remembers. All the feelings were coming out it might have been better to leave them all bottled up. The household soon fell out, but the fighting and heartache continued.

For Alex, psychiatric assist never seemed available when he needed it most. The local clinic that serves veterans didnt have an appointment available for another month, and the nearest VA hospital was 160 miles back. Alex didnt want to call the VA suicide hotline because he didnt feeling comfortable having an intimate dialogue about his pain on the phone.

In 2013, Danielle and Alex separated; the kids bided with Danielle, but Alex came around frequently. Soon, Danielles new boyfriend moved in. Alex tried to go back to college but fell out because his daughters implored him to come home.

Danielles health began to deteriorate rapidly. Running back and forth to get medicine from doctors in Utah and Wyoming, she switched from methadone back to OxyContin. She tried to go to rehab in Laramie, Wyoming, but it was too late. Danielle had developed a rare blood clotting disease, diabetes and lung problems. A physician also suggested that she suffered from bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that, merely in hindsight, stimulated sense to her family and friends.

Then Danielle suffered several strokes, with the third one causing mobility and speech problems. She briefly went to physical and speech therapy but quit when she suffered another major bout of depression around the anniversary of Petes death. In 2014, she was diagnosed with early stages of dementia.

In March 2015, a few days after her 43 rd birthday, Danielle died of kidney failing. A couple of months later her mom succumbed of complications related to alcoholism at 69.

In the span of a decade, Alex and the three girls had lost their friend, aunt, mom, and grandmother. A big part of their clan was now gone.

The snowstorm has ended when I drive through the trailer park where Tammy and Ashley live. The black night is partly lighted by a timid half-moon, and the packed snowfall on the streets gleams cold blue. Tammy and Ashley , now 15 and 17, still live in Danielles old mobile home, together with a roommate and “the mens” they continue to call mommies fiance.

Tammy, the 17 -year-old, sports a curly wild mane that matches her extroverted demeanor. She greets me warmly while rapidly wiping kitchen counters. Ashley quietly sits on the beige sofa with the roommate who is cradling an infant the girls agreed to babysit for the night. Across from us is a dusty shelf filled with memorabilia. There are photos of Pete and Danielle, as well as some of her favorite objects, among them a clay ashtray Pete made for his mother in grade school.

Mom said Pete had the darkest blue eyes. Nothing I have ever seen before. As if he was a god, Ashley tells me. A cat and puppies of various sizings squirrel around us. Tammy says she only rescued a pregnant cat whose paws had gotten stuck on the ice. The atmosphere exudes warmth and openness.

Tammy and Ashley both dropped out of school. The girls now do what teenagers do when left to their own devices. They sleep much of the day, watch Tv and go to Walmart for a stroll. Afterwards, over dinner at their favorite diner, they talk about why they didnt like school. They were bullied, they say. Unless you have a certain family name or youre one of the best athletes or super smart-alecky, you get bullied, Alex agrees.

Alex has tried to get Ashley to go to therapy after a friend of hers told him that she was cutting herself. He is concerned. Earlier that day, he received a bellow from a local counselor asking whether Ashley would come back. He cant drag her there, Alex told the counselor.

If Alex knew what his daughters required, hed give it to them. For now, he only wants to give them time to process their loss.

As I am leaving Rock Springs behind me, fiddling with the radio to find something other than pop music, Christian sermons, commercials or Christmas ballads, I think back to what Alex said about his hope that Donald Trump would bring change.

What kind of change does he and his family require? The old coalmining days are long gone. People no longer dance and garden with each other. Parents can no longer rely on their offsprings upward mobility.

The pride of hard, manual labour has faded, and family emergencies rarely bring whole communities together. The mental healthcare system in the US continues to struggle to fill the gaps that the changes have created. In a secluded, sparsely populated region where both mental illness and therapy are met with mistrust stemming from both disgrace and anxiety, those who are down and out often have no place to go.

Danielles name was changed, alongside their lists of her children

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here