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February 14, 2024

Three Toxic Phrases

“You’re not needed.”

Terrible thing to tell a person. We’re descended from tribal ancestors as far back as when we were swinging from trees. Anyone in a tribe who “isn’t needed” is well on the way to being out of the tribe. A tribal animal without a tribe usually ends up dead. Not being needed makes us anxious, to say the least.

But “you’re not needed” is the message we send to people when we tell them that we’ll feed them and clothe them and house them whether or not they “choose” to work.  The message isn’t only morally and ethically wrong, it’s also incorrect. We do need the contribution of everyone who can work even with automation. We have an aging population (including me) who will need more and more care and be able to contribute less and less. Our infrastructure is decrepit and needs to be revamped to deal with the effects of climate change. We’re short of housing. Population has peaked in almost all developed countries and is on the verge of a worldwide decline. We need all hands on deck. There’s no good reason to signal to anyone that they’re not needed.

One of the pathologies that afflict people who have been told they are “unneeded” is drug abuse. The difficulty or recovering from addiction has been compounded by another terrible message:

“You’re not responsible for your addiction.”

Sounds like a nice thing to say but it isn’t. It says you are helpless. It says you have no agency. It says you are dependent on others.

We know from the long experience of Alcoholics Anonymous that only people who take responsibility for their addiction can be cured. Saying “I’m Tom and I’m an alcoholic” has been a first and necessary step to a cure for many Toms. According to the signs sponsored on the windows of Burlington Airport by a proliferation of drug-treatment nonprofits, there isn’t even such a thing as drug abuse; people have “substance use disorder”. Apparently their treatment should start by saying “I’m Tom and it’s not my fault. I can’t do anything about my addiction. I need a safe place to take my drugs.” It is incredibly hard to break an addiction; we make it harder by telling people that they are not in control of their own lives.

“You’re not from our tribe.”

Because tribalism is in our DNA, it’s easily resurrected by demagogues. The often-successful melting pot which is the USA is being stirred into a toxic caldron by reawakening old tribalisms and inventing new ones.  The endless conflicts in the Middle East and the ignored but just as deadly wars in Africa come from tribalism (sometimes reinforced by religion). We’re not Americans first and then possibly an ethnic heritage (or two or three); we’re ethnic first and not so sure we want to be Americans. We’re not Americans who try to figure which people we want to govern us; we’re Progressives, Democrats, Republicans, MAGAs trying to assure that our minority rules. We’re not people; we’re cis-gendered men, women, L,G,B,T,Q, and/or+. Our civil rights are not the ones the creator endowed all people with, they come from our tribes and are at the expense of other tribes. This doesn’t work.

Charmed Phrases

We need your work.” (we’ll help you find some)

“Only you can cure your addiction.” (we’ll help you if you want to be cured).

“E Pluribus Unum.”

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