Dying Sooner, Economics and Christianity

I was shocked to read in the ‘Guardian’ this week that the length of life is actually going down! It is not actually that many people are not living as long, but that there are more people in certain groups (from 25 – 64) who are actually dying! You will have to excuse my language, but the doctors who first noticed this are calling it ‘Shit Life” Syndrome. This means that because of the poor quality of life of this group, they are actually dying from  “Drug overdoses, but mortality also increased for alcohol-related conditions, suicides and organ diseases involving multiple body systems” (notably liver, heart diseases and cancers).

The author, Will Hutton, goes on to say Poor working-age Americans of all races are locked in a cycle of poverty and neglect, amid wider affluence. They are ill educated and ill trained. The jobs available are drudge work paying the minimum wage, with minimal or no job security. They are trapped in poor neighbourhoods where the prospect of owning a home is a distant dream. There is little social housing, scant income support and contingent access to healthcare. Finding meaning in life is close to impossible; the struggle to survive commands all intellectual and emotional resources. Yet turn on the TV or visit a middle-class shopping mall and a very different and unattainable world presents itself. Knowing that you are valueless, you resort to drugs, antidepressants and booze. You eat junk food and watch your ill-treated body balloon. It is not just poverty, but growing relative poverty in an era of rising inequality, with all its psychological side-effects, that is the killer.


Then comes the punch line: “ Shit-life syndrome captures the truth that the bad medical statistics have economic and social roots.”


We have been getting to this point for at least the last thirty years. If you don’t count the ‘Mont Pelerin ’Society, who met in the late 1940s with the express aim of winding back the welfare state in favour of business, we have had since Ronald Regan and Maggie Thatcher, and the rise of think tanks like ‘The Institute for Public Affairs’ a shift in the power from workers to bosses, from employees to shareholders and CEOs.


This has given us the Banks that we have , the Superannuation Societies that we have, the ‘Gig Economy’ and insecure, low paid work, the idea that ‘trickle down economics’ works (Hoping to get higher wages via tax cuts to the rich), and the demonization of the poor.


I am not talking here about globalisation, or the effects of technology on the workforce. These things perhaps are inevitable.


What I am taking about is that this shift in power has led to the current corruption that we see, and so to the social conditions that give rise to the ‘shit life’ syndrome.


What we see happening is a polarisation of society. Instead of looking for the real causes of this malaise, people in desperation are turning inwards, against migrants and muslims and ‘African Gangs’ and any other convenient scapegoat that they can find. There are some politicians who will stir up such fears as a distraction, while they go about cutting taxes for the rich. The ‘sensible centre’ has gone, and we see now the Liberal Party in turmoil because there are those determined to stop the stream of votes to the populist cause by occupying that space themselves.


Do you notice the phrase ‘finding meaning in life is close to impossible’. I think that our times are close to those that pertained in the late 18th Century, right up to the 1930s of the last century.

Back then, it was John Wesley’s preaching and Methodism that helped people to find meaning in life, and then begin to form Trade Unions. Later it was Catholic Social Teaching in Rarum Novarum that ‘pushed back’ against rampant capitalism on one side, and Marxism on the other to establish the principle that a person’s income is not a function of their ‘added value’ but a function of what they need to live a dignified life.


All this has been wound back in our time.


The Church is suffering terribly because of the Child Sexual Abuse scandal. But we could do a deal to recover our reputation by devoting ourselves to pointing out the real causes of the sickness.


First, human dignity is given to us because we are created in God’s image. Calling people into a dignified life, rather than pointing opt their sins might be a good start. If every hair of our head is numbered, why are people treating is as though we are great clumps of hair that can be used for any purpose they like?


Then we could start to hold forums that are designed to highlight the true economic bases of the nature of work, the obesity epidemic, the increase in electricity prices, and so on. There is a direct link between islamophobia and insecure work. This link needs to be spelled out.


We could begin to help those people who are worst affected by having to deal with ‘Robo-debt’ form Centrelink by actually going with them when they have to deal with Government, or sitting with them when they have to be on the phone for hours.


If our congregation was known in our towns and suburbs for these things, we might be on the way to renewal.


About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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