Playing the Indian Card

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Geopolitical Importance of Depression

This is what depression looks like.

Just saw this interesting map of depression rates by country.

It could be wildly misleading, because depression is an invisible thing, and so rates of diagnosis could be very different from actual rates of occurrence. For example, I do not buy the extremely low rate of depression the map shows for East Asia—China, Japan, Korea. I have lived in some of those countries, and my impression is that the real rate of depression is very high. The difference is that suicide is culturally accepted: instead of seeking therapy, people just go off and kill themselves.

The map seems to disprove the claim, sometimes heard, that depression is a disease of prosperity, or of modernity, or a kind of spoiled malingering of the rich. Even though you would expect reported depression to be higher in richer countries simply because the medical infrastructure is better, this turns out not to be the case. Western Europe and North America do well on the depression scale; sub-Saharan Africa does poorly.

But I was struck by the rather consistently high rate of reported depression across what is sometimes called the MENA region—Middle East and North Africa, aka the Muslim world. As if to prove the point, Israel and Lebanon, Jewish and semi-Christian enclaves within the Middle East, do not conform to the overall trend.

I think this illustrates my own thesis that depression is caused by being caught in a double bind, a situation in which you are wrong no matter what you do—the kind of situation commonly caused by emotional abuse. Specifically, the Muslim world is caught in a double bind of conflicting values, pulled in two different ways. Traditional Muslim law says one thing, and the liberal secular doctrine of the West says another, and the two are not compatible. So what's the point of anything?

The same problem is surely at the root of “Islamist terrorism.” People feel a natural rage at being told to do two contradictory things at the same time, and the obvious solution is to go with the one and reject the other as oppressive. This would be why Islamic terrorism invariably arises among the ranks of Muslims who have had the greatest exposure to the West and Western ideas.

This problem would not be as acute in South Asia, among Hindus, or in East Asia, because Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese folk religions are not ethically prescriptive. They do not lay out any strict moral requirements, any strict doctrine of right and wrong. Accordingly, there is less conflict with modern secularism.

In general, too, there is less conflict with Christianity, because, although it, like Islam, is an ethical religion, modernism has emerged from it, and it has had many more years to adjust to the moral conflict. In this connection, however, it is worth noticing that the Netherlands is a standout among European nations for having high levels of depression. Why? Perhaps because the Netherlands has put itself in the forefront of secularization, with things like free and open prostitution and free and open drug use, so boosting the sense of conflict with more traditional values.

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