Pain is the Price of Remaining Human

Pain is the Price of Remaining Human

by Susan Rosenthal

There are two reasons why antidepressants are the top-selling category of drugs in America: capitalism creates a huge amount of misery by disrupting and corrupting human relationships, and the psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries push a pill for every ill. What if human pain were viewed as a social problem, rather than an individual one?

The human brain is a social organ. We yawn when others yawn. We laugh when others laugh. And we hurt when others hurt. Our brains enable us to interact with one another, and these interactions shape what we think, how we feel and our sense of who we are.

People need social connection so much that the emotional pain of separation or rejection hurts as much as the physical pain of a broken limb. Scientists think that the systems of emotional and physical pain are linked in human beings because social bonds are so critical for our survival.

Cooperation brings out the best in mind and body. People whose mental and physical abilities are tested in groups perform significantly better than hose who are tested individually. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease who have strong social networks demonstrate better mental function than more isolated patients with the same severity of the disease.

In contrast, isolation damages minds and bodies. Children deprived of emotional support cannot manage their emotions and suffer more mental and physical illness. Isolated adults have poorer health and die earlier than those with more social connections.

Toxic inequality

Capitalism violates the human need for connection by dividing the world into have-lots and have-nots. Instead of sharing life’s ups and downs, a few live in luxury while the rest are forced to compete against one another to survive.

Inequality ruptures social bonds, creating multiple layers of suffering. There is the pain of deprivation, of being unable to pay for food, accommodation or medical care for yourself and your loved ones. There is the pain of social discrimination, of bullying at school and at work, and of power struggles that poison our closest relationships. There is the pain of meaningless work (or no work) and fear for the future. Social inequality is so toxic that it raises the rate of disease and premature death, throughout society.

Because we are a social species, we feel the pain of others as if it were our own. We were all sickened by the events of 9/11. We were all outraged when Katrina victims were abandoned. Every day, we are traumatized by reports of people suffering and dying, for no good reason.

We should suffer when any one of us suffers. Our pain is the price of remaining human; it is our cry of protest against an inhumane world.

Human suffering is not treated as social and political, but as individual and medical. When war veterans are haunted by the screams and the faces of those they have killed, they are given a psychiatric diagnosis (PTSD) and medicated. Only the psychopath can kill without suffering. Most soldiers are not psychopaths; they have been traumatized by the barbarism they have witnessed and were forced to perpetrate. What’s sick is sending good people into the hell of war. What’s sick is allowing the barbarism to continue.

Humanity is the most social species on the planet. For several hundred-thousand years, our ancestors lived in cooperative, sharing societies. The rise of capitalism, about 400 years ago, plunged humanity into the most unequal society ever devised, generating unprecedented human misery.

Our pain calls us to action to heal a sick world. Solidarity is the best medicine.

See also, “Mental Illness or Social Sickness?

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