A Ontario university student livestreamed an apparent suicide attempt online Saturday evening while 200 people watched and encouraged him on a notorious website. The 20-year-old man was taken to hospital with serious injuries after he set his dorm room on fire.
This is a sick, sad story, but clearly evidence of the moral turpitude of today's youth, right? It's not a structural problem, it's not a culture problem, it's just that these kids aren't as tough or as morally upright as their forefathers, right?
But then there's this:
A recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has noted "strong evidence of a link between economic hardship and suicide." In 2009 there was a 24% year-on-year increase in suicides in the Republic of Ireland, while the most recently available figures in the UK show that the beginning of the economic downturn in 2007-8 resulted in a 6% rise.
And of course, we here in Canada know that First Nations suffer from a much higher rate of suicide than the general population.
But really, it's just because them Aboriginals aren't with the program, right? They refuse to adapt to "the way things are" just as today's youth have these delusional expectations of higher learning translating into greater employment opportunities?
The problem with today's poor, today's youth, today's First Nations populations, people with mental illness, unions, the recently unemployed and a growing list of demographics is that they simply refuse to accept the realities of free-market capitalism. They are the problem, not the system.
Which is kinda like pollsters saying there's nothing wrong with their methodology - it's the people that are the problem.
The prevailing (but shifting) political wisdom these days is all Ayn Rand - selfishness is morality, or as Gordon Gecko put it, greed is good. People should be prepared to work hard, sell harder and not be afraid to elbow the competition to get ahead in life. Why, if everyone would aggressively pursue their own self-interests, then everyone would end up getting ahead, wouldn't they?
The Political Right tend not to like the term "survival of the fittest" and for good reason - because survival of the fittest implies that the weak die off.
Despite their call for tougher sentences for criminals without consideration for the causation behind the crime, despite their desire to shrink social services and welfare support and reduce social housing stock the Stephen Harpers, Tim Hudaks and Rob Fords of the world aren't trying to create conditions that remove the weak from society - in their heart of hearts, they think throwing kids in the deep end so they are forced to swim is both healthy and natural.
Competition, they will tell us, is the way to get the best of everything; we want poor-performing companies to die off and we want under-performing employees to lose their jobs, but the what's next piece never crosses their minds.
Which is a tragic, because we know exactly where this short-sighted, aggressively reactionary approach leads us. It leads to increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots, a focus on hoarding by those at the top and increasingly aggressive competition in the shrinking middle (immigrants take my job away, so keep them out; welfare bums eat into my tax dollars, cut 'em loose) and on the bottom end, even more aggressive competition for resources and status (through crime), a sense of belonging to some society as a response to rejection by the mainstream (gangs) and responses like suicide and accumulated mental illness.
They don't realize it, but the libertarian/neo-liberal/hard-right political model is trying to recreate a state of nature before civilization, where there were less people using less resources and a rigid power hierarchy where success could only be achieved by eliminating the person on the rung above you.
This is a legitimate model, if you don't mind unwinding our dense, complex social framework, but it simply doesn't work when you have as multi-faceted a social system as we have now. When you try to unwind our societal framework, you end up with war, disease and suicide.
There are countless symptoms of our social ills manifesting themselves; everything from Senate corruption to movements like the Tea Party and Occupy to an increase in populism and rising suicide rates are trying to tell us that our system is inadequate to our current needs.
The tide is rising, both metaphorically and in reality. It's hard to see the horizon when you're barely treading water, but there is land just beyond our sight-lines.
The aggressive swimmers can race past everyone else and get there alone, but the shore is shifting - and some of those left struggling in the water just may be better adapted to survive in this transformed landscape.
Which is the big secret about natural selection - in the long run, fittest isn't about independence and strength - it's about the ability to adapt. As we've seen, adaptation is not a strength of the political right.