Worrying ourselves to death

We hear about a crisis in mental health which requires urgent solutions, but it may be that, rather than any physical cause, this is the result of the way in which the realities of our modern world are affecting peoples' perceptions.

Those living in these islands for the past two millennia have had much to cause them concern. The dictatorship of the Roman Empire, the wars between the original British and the Saxons, then those between the latter and the Danes, followed by the Norman Conquest, the many wars with Spain, France and others, culminating in the battles with Germany, and then the Cold War. In addition we have endured plagues, and famines, while much of the nation lived in what we would now describe as poverty.

Today we have been faced with the Covid pandemic, the renewal of war on the European continent in Ukraine, demands that we wear sackcloth and ashes for the past sins of our ancestors, accept blame for supposed climate change, and fret over matters of sexual identity. If there is any truth in American police dramas, as shown on TV, psychiatrists seem to be inventing countless new phobias, and other mental conditions, although it often seems that these are produced by defence lawyers trying to excuse the guilty.

There are however two major differences between our times, and the past. Firstly for many centuries, however bad things were, the vast majority had a religious faith, which offered a hope, and for most, a certainty, that there was an order to their lives, presided over by a beneficent deity, who would ensure that in the end justice would prevail, and they would enter a blissful new life. Now, with so many believing in no such thing, people face an existence in a vast, unending, perhaps eternal universe, with only personal oblivion to which to look forward at the end.

However, such thoughts may usually be far from most people's thoughts, but what is not is the fact that the unprecedented expansion in communications brought about by the technological revolution is bringing concerns before us that would not have disturbed our ancestors. I can remember when the first live satellite signal to Britain from the United States was broadcast via satellite on July 23, 1962, but now we think nothing of speaking live to friends in Australia from our own studies at home. Where once, if one had an opinion on some issue which one wished to share publicly it was necessary to write a letter to a newspaper, or hold a meeting, now everyone with access to the Internet can broadcast their views to their heart's content via social media. The inevitable result is that people are worried more and more by things of which they would not have been aware in the past, and expected to take positions on matters that do not impinge on their daily lives, and on which nothing they do or say would have any effect.

That this sort of generalised anxiety is contrary to our wellbeing was made clear on what many of us believe to be the ultimate authority. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ said "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Of course this must be taken in its religious context as Christ is saying worry doesn't fix anything. Anxiety over things we cannot control, or out of our reach, makes no sense. God loves us and already knows not only what He wants to accomplish, but what we need to make that happen. From a much lesser source a relevant statement was voiced by Charlie Brown of the Peanuts' cartoons, when he says "I worry about worrying so much about school; my anxieties have anxieties", and indeed much of the modern concern about mental health could be summed up in that way.

Youngsters are being convinced by green fanatics on social media that the planet must be saved from man-made climate change, when the whole issue is open to question, it being uncertain that any sustained change is taking place, and, even if it is, it is very likely to be due to factors outside our control. Nevertheless we are told that many of these children are suffering from extreme anxiety about something they can in any case do nothing about. The fanatics of Extinction Rebellion choose to block fuel supplies over their false claims that changes to climate are manmade, while millions are worried that they will not be able to heat their homes.

One of the hobbyhorses of the Twitterati is to condemn Britain over colonialism and slavery, causing many to feel guilt over events from centuries ago. No reasonable person would deny that the history of slavery should be an important part of the educational curriculum, provided that it is taught objectively, and not merely from the position that Britain is somehow the exclusive villain. This evil practice has existed throughout much of human history, and those civilisations of classical times, such as Greece and Rome, which we are encouraged to admire, were built upon the backs of slaves. Even looking at the age of colonialism and empire it should be remembered that, not only was almost every major nation involved, but that among the worst of those exploiting human misery were the Arab nations, who were notorious as slave traders, while very many African slaves were in fact sold to the slavers by their own leaders. It is also true that English people, prisoners of war, and those taken from our shores by raiders, endured a subsequent life of slavery, while it was the Royal Navy, at a cost of many ships and men, who finally swept the slaving ships from the seas. Comparisons with the Holocaust ignore the fact that there is a major difference in these subjects, in that as far as the horrors of the Holocaust are concerned, there are still alive many who were either perpetrators, or victims, of this horrifying Nazi crime, while those who suffered directly from slavery are now figures from history. We obviously sympathise with what the latter endured, but the Britain of today cannot be held responsible, any more than we would expect Italy to atone for the sins of the Roman Empire.There is no reason for the current population of these islands to hang their heads in shame, unless of course we are to see the same judgements applied to every nation throughout the world, regarding events from classical times onwards. Feelings of guilt must affect the mental health of those who believe them to be justified, although they are not.

Another obsession of the social media section of the chattering classes is the question of 'trans', which has led to feminist icons such as Germaine Greer, and J K Rowling, being demonised for daring to suggest that the rights for which women have fought for decades must be undermined by the demands of a vanishingly small sexual minority, most of whom probably only wish to be left alone, not used as a means for the liberal left to burnish their image as morally superior. The cases where self identified 'trans' men have been found guilty of assaulting women to whom they have obtained access do not seem to trouble the latter. The cherished principle of innocent unless proved guilty is gradually being eroded by those who assert that an accusation is somehow proof, particularly in relation to claims of sexual abuse. Who would now want to risk being a teacher, scoutmaster or priest when they may be subjected to false accusations, and treated as guilty unless they can prove otherwise. Ordinary people are increasingly persecuted for choosing to disagree with the fashionable opinions promulgated by the 'woke', to the point where we are supposed to reject much of our culture in case it offends the snowflakes of the universities. The burning of books which contradict the opinions of these self appointed guardians of morality cannot be long delayed.

The main point to be made is that we are worrying ourselves to death, and being overloaded with feelings of guilt over matters, which, while we cannot change, affect us mentally, and plunge those vulnerable to depression into mental illness. It is clear that, however useful in some respects, social media is a curse, and this is particularly true for children. Their loss would not be important, except to children obsessed with their use. Nevertheless, I fear that we are now so addicted to this technology that we will continue to use it, whatever the effect on the mental health of the population.