Despair in a depressing country

Posted on: 07 April 2011 by Alexander Hay

We don't have to be so enthusiastic about being miserable

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and Eire) don't have much to brag about eitherIt is not much of a surprise to discover that prescriptions of anti-depressants are at an all-time high. GPs now dish out 23 million prescriptions for chemical coshes, an increase of 43% since 2006. Our woeful economy is blamed, or the lack of jobs, but never the real culprit.

Because life in the UK is depressing. The people are surly, the weather dreadful, the popular culture increasingly mind-numbing, the landscape dominated by an ugly, barely functional architecture, and a government presently lead by those who would remove even more of the welfare state and public services that alleviate some of that misery. Only money matters, but even that can't fill the hole in the national psyche.

There is much to be depressed about. If another crash doesn't happen, the economy remains in the doldrums. People working in later life can now expect to toil until they are 67, while having little reassurance that their pensions and savings are secure?

Adults will struggle to afford a house, work in an increasingly competitive workplace with little job security and will often have huge university debts to pay off.

Younger people will have even more debts, less housing, even fewer jobs and lower standards of living than their parents and grandparents. They all have every reason to be depressed.

The problem is also, however, due to aspects of the national character. Depression is in fact repressed, internalised anger. We live in a nasty, unfortunate culture where thugs, bullies, jobsworths, dolts and crooks prevail - all the rage that ensues is natural but there is no way to vent it.

So instead we engage in the national sport of passive aggression and accept the abuse either through a lack of courage or by rationalising it as 'a bit of a laugh'. And so the depression deepens.

But there is another trait which the British like to see as a virtue, but is really a corrosive rot. It is our prevailing cynicism, our confusing genuine wit and insight with a sneering contempt for anything and everything.

It is, not coincidentally, the outlook of depressed, miserable, angry but impotent people who complain a lot but don't actually do anything.

Irony upon ironies, it is irony that shows us how deep the rot has gone. The British are world leaders in it. But as a dead Danish philosopher (I won't name him, because - hey! - that's a little too much commitment these days) put it, at its worst, irony is a kind of nihilism, and nihilism in the end eats itself.

We're so busy being sarcastic and heckling our own existences that any value we ascribe to our lives has long since been cast aside. We don't believe in anything or aspire beyond an expensive house because, after all, that would be a bit uppity, and besides, it's not like you can change anything. The alternative is a void.

So instead we slowly destroy ourselves with brutally calculating politics and mass media, empty consumerism, apathy, the pursuit of brief, ugly pleasures and contempt for ideals. Or pills, nice strong pills. A cure for all traumas, and a sedated delirium we need never leave.

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Alexander Hay

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