I certainly respect Ray Dalio’s success as an investor, hedge fund manager, and author. In his article, he includes references from a “wise and high-ranking Chinese official” that compares and contrast the cultural, political and economic differences between the U.S. and China.
The best-kept secret in America is that our system was designed to be continuously improved in pursuit of “a more perfect Union.” What the design has lacked is a method or operating system that we can “individually” and “collectively” apply in taking action that results in outcomes where everyone benefits or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term. This “operating system” or paradigm, was discovered by Walther Shewhart and further developed by W. Edwards Deming. How China reacts if and when we start to leverage the capability of this new operating system will be interesting to watch.
Given human nature and the fact that people are imperfect, there will likely always be suicides. Studies indicate that there is a correlation between culture and suicide. As a Society, is our system stable, e.g., the number of suicides fall within a predictable range, or is it unstable? The article by Kristen Powers identified “that suicide rates have risen nearly 30% since 1999, making it a national crisis.” Does the 30% represent special cause variation? A special cause identifies that based on the numbers, it is a statistically significant shift justifying the conclusion that it is a “crisis.” If the “30%” represents common cause variation, then the number falls within a predictable range. Stable does not mean good – just means its predictable.
The so what? The aim of the Deming system for improvement is to take action that results in outcomes where everyone benefits or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term. This standard cannot be met without an understanding of common and special cause variation. Application of this knowledge significantly increases the probability that needed change will result in improvement – especially one that may require cultural changes. Deming estimated that failure to understand the difference between common and special cause variation can lead to situations where 95% of action resulted in no improvement. He referred to this as “tampering.” Kristen Powers’ decision of sharing her story can certainly be considered among the positive improvement actions that can be taken.
Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong. We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.
But most Americans are depressed, anxious or suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, not because something is wrong with them.
Changing our culture is critical. Being honest with others about our own personal struggles and dark nights of the soul is the first step. People on the edge need to hear stories that assure them there is a way through the all-consuming pain to a meaningful life.
As a behavioral scientist who studies basic psychological needs, including the need for meaning, I am convinced that our nation’s suicide crisis is in part a crisis of meaninglessness. Fully addressing it will require an understanding of how recent changes in American society — changes in the direction of greater detachment and a weaker sense of belonging — are increasing the risk of existential despair.
Empirical studies bear this out. A felt lack of meaning in one’s life has been linked to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and — yes — suicide. And when people experience loss, stress or trauma, it is those who believe that their lives have a purpose who are best able to cope with and recover from distress.
Sebastian Junger’s book is doing tremendous damage to the public perception of veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.
Most horrifically, Junger claims that there is no relationship between suicide and combat. This ignores a trove of medical, academic, and journalistic evidence that clearly demonstrates that such a relationship exists.
Though only 10 percent of American forces see combat, the U.S. military now has the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in its history. Sebastian Junger investigates.
Israel is arguably the only modern country that retains a sufficient sense of community to mitigate the effects of combat on a mass scale.
Another Israeli researcher, Reuven Gal, found that the perceived legitimacy of a war was more important to soldiers’ general morale than was the combat readiness of the unit they were in.
Given the profound alienation that afflicts modern society, when combat vets say that they want to go back to war, they may be having an entirely healthy response to the perceived emptiness of modern life.
It might also begin to re-assemble a society that has been spiritually cannibalizing itself for generations. We keep wondering how to save the vets, but the real question is how to save ourselves. If we do that, the vets will be fine. If we don’t, it won’t matter anyway.