Queen’s Day and good weather have made the week much shorter than it otherwise would’ve felt. Short reading list this week.
The first one resonates, because I find myself going through the same transition, from outright rejection to a gradual understanding and acceptance of the system that I now live with. The second piece attempts to find answers to a shocking and perplexing series of events. I’m grateful for the outside-in perspective it provides to a world that we otherwise would never have access to. The last piece is hardly the definitive piece on the subject, but the subject is one that hits close to home. I can not read pieces like this, or watch movies like Away From Her without first preparing myself. My grandfather had it for the last ten years of his life. It’s genetic. The implications of the last point is never far from my mind.
1. Warming up to a different social and welfare system. Going Dutch – How I Learned to Love the European Welfare State
I haven’t hit the 18 months mark yet. Once I do, perhaps I will come to the same conclusion? I haven’t yet, but the points made in the essay are valid, I can verify a number of them. For example, it is ridiculous that the tax rate can be over 50% for a modest income, but it is also true that the government and one’s employer periodically deposits money in one’s account depending on the number of children you have, vacation money, and sometimes a 13th month of pay.
It is also interesting that he addressed certain contradictory parallels that represent the Dutch mentality – a drive for both capitalism and collectivism. Both threads run through historical narratives, and carry their respective incarnations into present-day business and social styles. The author talked about various historical base for collectivist democracy (it has to do with water), for the basis behind the social welfare system, its uniquely compromising labour system, its attitudes toward public housing, and its over-haul of the health care system.
The shortcomings are also pointed out: the homogeneity of the population and the dangers of counting on everyone to do the same going forward, an over-reliance on government, the good-enough attitudes, etc. But for most part, here is a country of very happy people, raising (some studies say) the happiest kids in the world. For some, that is enough.
2. String of suicides in an idyllic Welsh town. The Mystery Suicides of Bridgend County
A cluster of small, backwater villages in Wales have been hit with a disproportionately large string of suicides. All those that did away with themselves were young, between 18-30. All lived close to each other; many knew each other prior to the suicides. Most killed themselves by hanging. The split of female versus male was almost 50/50, highly unusual. Sound like a P.D. James novel, or some sensationalist fictional stories from supermarket rags? Unfortunately, this one is true.
There are undoubtedly many places like these within the industrialized world: pockets of stagnation, poverty, and youthful angst, lost in the broader picture of prosperity. The Japanese have been grappling with a similarly frustrating problem with little to show for it. What obstacles and miseries had life thrown in front of them, that could have possibly resulted in such an absolute exit?
The dead cannot speak. So those of us who are alive can merely theorize and speculate. The author travelled through the region, spoke to their friends and acquaintances, and came up with the following. Life had become grimy since the 70s and 80s, once Thatcher closed down most of the mines in the region. Having lost its main livelihood, the social structures within the region disintegrated, resulting in more single-parent families. The lacking social fabric is exacerbated by the perceived lack of opportunities, and the idea that one just can’t get out of a small town. The author also cites psychologists that speak of the lowered barrier to suicides once one’s friends do it.
It’s long, it’s bleak, but it is a peek into a world that most of us will probably never wrap our heads around.
3. What no one should have to go through, but so many have, are, and will. Coping with Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s doesn’t kill people. I wish it would. Because diseases that ravage bodies are less cruel than those that destroy minds. I saw it firsthand: what a degenerative disease can do not only to the patients, but to loved ones around them. Losing one’s memories, motor skills, speech, losing all those that make us who we are, losing everything that took a lifetime to accumulate, is too much to even contemplate.
I’m not sure how much talking about it really helps. It’s not preventative like breast cancer or colon cancer (get screened!), it’s not actionable (put on a condom!) like AIDS. It’s just nature’s way of messing with us. When it hits, we’ll be forced to deal. In the meantime, more understanding might help out when us, our those around us, are confronted with the disease one day.