Start With Anxiety, End With Regret: The USA’s Chronic Systemic Stress Legion
“When Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he was saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ And Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’”
“My name is Legion, for we are many.”
A Roman Legion was 4,500–6,500 soldiers. That’s a lot of demons. You and I will never see something that awful. Let’s hope, anyway.
But what if we already are?
What if something like that is already going on around and in us, that we don’t see?
Think of it as a deal you’re being offered. It begins with a foregone conclusion that you are inadequate. Failure is certain. You lose. Period. You’re born that way, but that doesn’t let you off the hook — everything is still all your fault. But never mind that, it’s all up to you to get it right. You can’t fail. Everything rides on your success. It’s all up to you. But wait, I just said there’s no way you can do it. If you try and fail, it was to be expected. But you still have to try, and you have to stay positive — you owe that to the rest of us, and we owe it to you. What’s to stay positive about? Well, um, not much. When things don’t go the way they’re supposed to (they never do) it’s all your fault.
Suppose you take it. Then what?
You live in a state of constant anxiety. You can never get it right. Failure vs. success is the ultimate issue in life. Nothing is more important. Your survival depends on it. So does your ability to move beyond survival — being able to thrive, not just survive. But remember, it’s all up to you. You can’t count on getting any help. So good luck out there. But there is no luck. You’re on your own. And that’s a good thing. The best thing. A thing worth everything. A thing worth dying for. The right to do it all your way, even if you can’t. To take survival into your own hands. To be able to say “I did it my way.” — even if everybody else can see the game was rigged.
It’s rigged because the deal is a fraud — all lies, all promises made and broken at random. Everything is always subject to change without notice, and every change works against you. You can and will be overruled. Bait and switch is the norm. There are no ethical codes, everything is at whim, arbitrary. Someone higher up always calls all the shots. You’ll be told what’s good and bad, right and wrong, what’s rewarding and what’s not, what to embrace or avoid… all of which is always changing, so you’ll never really know. But no problem — you’ve got your self, remember? The self that you’d rather rely upon. The self that’s responsible for everything, even if your self was born to be inadequate.
But surely there’s a reward?
Well yes, kind of, sort of — I mean, you have to take it on faith, because you’ll die before finding out for sure, and once you’re dead, you can’t tell the rest of us one way or the other. In the meantime, stay positive, keep your attitude up — that’s your duty, too. Let your guard down, you seal your own fate. Keep believing, that’s the thing. Keep on keeping on. Keep the faith, baby. You owe it to the rest of us. We’re doing our best all the time, too. We’re working hard, just like you. Hard work is the way we can all agree we’ve got good sound character, the right stuff.
How’s that feel? Well, um, it’s a lot of pressure. But you’ll do your best, mean well, want to please, even though you can’t and never will. You’re a loser from the get-go, remember? If you ever let down your self-reliant, positive attitude guard, you’ll feel guilty and ashamed, full of regret. You’ll try to make amends, make sense of confusing and contradictory instructions. Meanwhile your brain will be stuffed with all the times you screw up, embarrass yourself, fall short again and again and again. You’ll have to constantly confess your faults — all of which are held against you, whether you admit them or not. Every conversation will begin with saying you’re sorry, you don’t deserve anything but the worst. Next comes begging for mercy. Self esteem? Not a chance. You’re a worm — a conniving, weaseling worm.
No wonder you’re afraid, stressed out, overwhelmed, despairing. No wonder you’re full of regret.
Would you take it?
So have millions, billions of others. It’s what people do all around the world, but I don’t live all around the world, I only live in the USA, so I’ll only talk about my home country.
What are we talking about? An abusive relationship? The boss from hell? Yes, that. And much, much more. Way worse.
Welcome to the USA’s Chronic Systemic Stress Legion.
Life in the USA is characterized by systemic, chronic stress. Ubiquitous, unrelenting stress. Stress so everywhere and all the time that we don’t even know it’s there or what it’s doing to us.
We’re talking about the American Way.
The deal is the American Way.
What do we get for the deal? Here’s a short list, from the Mayo Clinic:
Muscle tension and pain
Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke
Memory and concentration impairment
Here’s a longer list, compiled from other sources:
Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
Aches, pains, and tense muscles
Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
Frequent colds and infections
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Forgetfulness and disorganization
Inability to focus
Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
Changes in appetite — either not eating or eating too much
Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing
Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
Obesity and other eating disorders
Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
Good stress is when our “executive function” — the thinking, planning, organizing part of our brain — goes to work on a specific task and motivates and instructs us how to get it done. We feel some pressure, but we need that kind of stress. We rise to the challenge. We take it on. We make it happen.
That’s not the kind of stress we’re talking about. We’re talking about chronic, survival-level stress that’s everywhere, all the time, always in and around us, always shaping and warping and plaguing our outlook on life — the kind of stress that pokes our lizard brain until it wakes up, snaps its chains, and lashes around, making a mess of us and everything and everybody else — stress that sounds the amygdala’s fight or flight siren and never shuts it off.
That’s systemic chronic stress.
Chronic stress becomes systemic when it’s pumped into moment-by-moment life by innumerable invisible psychic energy sources — thoughts, emotions, accusations, judgments — that function like the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy: it shapes, defines, organizes, sustains identity and worldview, culture and custom, behavioral norms and character-defining criteria — how we view life and how we respond to it in all the ways that make us instantly recognizable as the people we and the society we live in think we are.
When stress is both chronic (always) and systemic (everywhere), it floods us and our lives with harm, individually and collectively.
It creates the Legion that torments us.
How did this happen?
It didn’t happen. It’s always been this way, since the beginning. It came to the New World on the first boat. We’re just seeing the latest, most fully developed version. Legions don’t stay static, they progress. Our Legion is cultural — chronic stress is the American way, how we do life, our worldview and modus operandi, how we create and evaluate the world and ourselves and our lives in it. It generates what we see and feel and taste and touch, how we think, what we value, what we believe. It tells us how we’re doing.. It’s also cellular — rooted in our brain cells and the cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine, norepinephrine producing organs of our bodies. We’re so immersed in chronic stress, and it’s so embedded in us, that we don’t even notice.
It comes from our founding ideologies — Protestant Christianity and the Protestant Work Ethic. They’re so intertwined that “God and Country” and “One nation under God” seem like natural and obvious things to say.
Let’s take a quick tour.
“Peace on Earth, good will to men” might be the biggest lie ever told. Want the truth? Try this:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Matthew 10:34–36 ESV
What does Christianity want from us?
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 ESV
That might be the scariest verse in the Bible. Perfect like God is perfect? The God of the Bible is the brutal, blood-lusting, war-mongering, hyper-nationalist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, totalitarian, authoritarian despot who arranged Jesus’s murder by torture and has committed himself to the final destruction of the world and the eternal tormenting of its people.
Some kind of perfection.
Be perfect, just like that.
You’ll need that sword.
Only trouble is, you’re a sinner. You screwed up before you were born. Ever since you’ve been making things worse.
As it is written, ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’” Romans 3:10–12,Psalm 14:1–3,Psalm 53:1–3 ESV
You want to get a deep look into Biblical stress, check out Psalm 22 ESV. Christians think it refers to Jesus. Talk about somebody who got a raw deal. Here’s a taste:
“I am a worm and not a man” Psalm 22:6 ESV
Yeah, that about sums it up. If it was written about Jesus (centuries ahead of time), then this is God’s beloved Son we’re talking about, remember? The one whose loving Father arranged for him to be tortured to death — which is another thing that’s all our fault. He’s the one who told us that we can believe anything we want into existence.
“All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 ESV
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:23 ESV
“All things.” Nothing left out. Carte Blanche . Believe what you want, don’t doubt, and it’s yours. You can move mountains. Nothing will be impossible for you.
So let me get this straight — the beloved Son who was really a worm and no man said the rest of us can make mountains move by faith, as long as we never have any doubt about it, but then God arranged to have him killed.
Right. I think I got it.
So I’m supposed to never doubt I can throw a mountain into the sea.
I don’t even need to be a sinner for that to be a set up to failure.
Let’s look at another set up to failure.
No, not all capitalism. The kind of capitalism that pulled us out of the Depression, set up a massive social safety net of health care and retirement benefits and worker protections, won a war, rebuilt the USA and world economies, floated all boats, built the middle class, made Horatio Alger upward mobility a reality, sponsored the Civil Rights Movement and a Great Society, and even made a Republican President propose a universal basic income… that kind of capitalism worked just fine.
Today, capitalism like that would be called “Socialism” — the ultimate insult to anything that would look like government for the “general Welfare,” like it says in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. But never mind, government like that is bad now. Today, government’s job is to sponsor capitalism for capitalists (only). We’ve got that thanks to the “free market” version of capitalism — another contender for the Biggest Lie Ever. Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics said it was science and they had proved it. It wasn’t, and they hadn’t. What they did was to come up with clever equations that they proved mathematically, and never mind real life. The equations were so smart that smart people won Nobel Prizes for them, so they had to be good.
Then along came Reaganomics and the Gipper’s “trickle-down” economists. Make the rich richer, and it will be good for everyone — another contender for biggest lie ever that explains why we now have economic inequality as bad as what brought on the Great Depression in the first place. We’re repeating history, just like we’re supposed to, and this time the version of capitalism that bailed us out back then is available because it’s not capitalism anymore, it’s socialism. (Shudder when you say that.)
All of that was supercharged in the Bill Clinton/Tony Blair era of we don’t need no stinking social safety net and besides if we privatize everything it will all work.
Then we “won” the Cold War, which proved that Communism was a bad idea (it was) and meant that everything that wasn’t free market trickle down bless the rich economics was socialism (it isn’t). Which trashed the old style capitalism and gave us today’s interplanetary version.
So now we’ve got half the country who thinks “Freedom” means “I by God get to do anything I want and the gummit better keep its hands off my guns and its needles out of my arms, and if I still think Trump won, then he did.”
Well at least they’re right about one thing.
The American Can-do Spirit
America used to be the land of can-do. We got behind stuff -went to the moon, did the impossible (just like Jesus said). But then can-do metastasized. Christian faith moving mountains became think and grow rich, which became the power of positive thinking, which became self-help, which became believe whatever the hell you want, it’s all fake news anyway. Meanwhile capitalism metastasized into entrepreneurs and corporations making gazillions of dollars, paying no taxes, and duking it out to be the first to colonize Mars.
So now we’re got a bunch of believe-whatever-you-want, gun-toting warmongers bringing the Kingdom of God to the USA, and it sure as hell ain’t socialism. And now “work” — i.e., holding a job at low pay and no benefits or promises — is considered a certificate of good character, and if employers can’t get away with it anymore, not after COVID gave their work peons a new outlook, it means that “nobody wants to work anymore.”
Meanwhile, politicians on both sides of the aisle still believe in bootstrap social mobility. Anybody else remember this?
“It’s a simple fact: The more education you’ve got,
the more likely you are to have a good job
and work your way into the middle class.”
Pres. Obama, 2013 State of the Union Address
Good job?! Middle class?! Not anymore, not in 2021.
And education? Say no more.
But the Democrats still believe it.
The Republicans used to believe it, too. Now they just believe in Donald Trump (that was their 2020 “platform,” remember?).
As for Donald Trump, there’s no evidence he believes in anything other than he was born to be king, and the best way to fulfill his destiny is to rally Christian “dominion theology” fundamentalists and keep his “base” enraged and free enough to bring down American democracy — the final blow to which is officially scheduled for the 2022 elections. That’s when it ends. After that, it’s just a matter of time before King Donald takes his throne.
I wish I was making that up.
The Legion Howling in the Tombs
That’s life in the USA in 2021.
We’re talking about the world’s biggest religion, its dominant economic system, and its most powerful country. Christianity. Capitalism. The USA.
Stress. Anxiety. Fear. Uncertainty. Insecurity. Frustration. Unworthiness. Regret. And all the rest of the list.
That’s how we live in the USA. We’re a nation of cortisol, adrenal, epinephrine, norepinephrine junkies. We have to be, to survive. Nobody’s got our back — except for the people taking aim at the targets we’ve got painted there.
But how about the people who are supposed to protect us?
Don’t trust the protectors, all I’m sayin’.
How’s that working for you?
Oh, you know — opioid addiction, obesity, the other stuff on the list. Just normal — our steady self-destructive diet, the polluted air we breathe, the rocks we cut ourselves with.
But we deserve it, remember?
Originally published at http://iconoclast.blog on November 5, 2021.