Thursday, April 19, 2018

Deindustrialization, Decline, and Opioids

Andrew Sullivan, writing in New York Magazine, on "the emptiness" and opioids:
"If industrialization caused an opium epidemic, deindustrialization is no small part of what’s fueling our opioid surge. It’s telling that the drug has not taken off as intensely among all Americans — especially not among the engaged, multiethnic, urban-dwelling, financially successful inhabitants of the coasts. The poppy has instead found a home in those places left behind — towns and small cities that owed their success to a particular industry, whose civic life was built around a factory or a mine. Unlike in Europe, where cities and towns existed long before industrialization, much of America’s heartland has no remaining preindustrial history, given the destruction of Native American societies. The gutting of that industrial backbone — especially as globalization intensified in a country where market forces are least restrained — has been not just an economic fact but a cultural, even spiritual devastation. The pain was exacerbated by the Great Recession and has barely receded in the years since. And to meet that pain, America’s uniquely market-driven health-care system was more than ready."
"Market capitalism and revolutionary technology in the past couple of decades have transformed our economic and cultural reality, most intensely for those without college degrees. The dignity that many working-class men retained by providing for their families through physical labor has been greatly reduced by automation. Stable family life has collapsed, and the number of children without two parents in the home has risen among the white working and middle classes. The internet has ravaged local retail stores, flattening the uniqueness of many communities. Smartphones have eviscerated those moments of oxytocin-friendly actual human interaction. Meaning — once effortlessly provided by a more unified and often religious culture shared, at least nominally, by others — is harder to find, and the proportion of Americans who identify as “nones,” with no religious affiliation, has risen to record levels. Even as we near peak employment and record-high median household income, a sense of permanent economic insecurity and spiritual emptiness has become widespread. Some of that emptiness was once assuaged by a constantly rising standard of living, generation to generation. But that has now evaporated for most Americans."


  1. This is one of the unfortunate by-products of capitalism. We, as a culture and society of capitalism, seem bent on breaking a person's faith, hopes and ambitions. Today, it seems a good employee is measured hourly for productivity and then receives their report with a demoralizing delivery. Many are working the physically demanding and soul destroying warehouse "fulfillment" jobs with an annual salary that is nominally above poverty. No doubt, the pain from disappointment, misery, and hopelessness can be veiled momentarily with these deadly opioid narcotics. The sense of mercy and an individual's dreams are far off at best. We are many and alone in the rust belt communities. The world around feels untrustworthy in these once proud places of home.

  2. It seems Ohio is facing a decline due to deindustrialization. Another unfortunate side effect of capitalism.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at