How the State of the World Affects My Mental Health
Daan Debie / July 23, 2023
10 min read
Yesterday was the first day of my much-needed and much-deserved (if I may say so myself) 2-week vacation. We’re not going anywhere. Instead, this will be a staycation in which I allow myself to indulge in all of my hobbies outside of work, ranging from going on trips with my wife and dog, reading books, playing video games, working on side-projects and generally taking life as it comes. And these staycations are usually a great opportunity to pay my social debts as well by seeing friends and family I haven’t seen for way too long.
The first day of a typical staycation for me starts with sleeping in - preferably an outrageous amount - after which I will slowly get into some of the aforementioned activities. Yesterday started in such a way, but a couple of hours after I got up, I was sitting on the couch bawling my eyes out, surrounded by my wife and dog who were trying to console me.
This is what happened.
Keeping up with Current Events
One of the first things I used to do after waking up, is to open the Apollo app to see what’s happening on Reddit. For better of for worse, through /r/news and /r/worldnews, I tried to keep myself up-to-date on what is happening in the world. After the 2023 Reddit API I refuse to use Reddit anymore, so I looked for other outlets to consume news and being curious about local news as well, I ended up frequenting nu.nl, a Dutch news outlet.
Comment Sections Are the Worst
Everybody who’s been on the modern internet for more than 2 seconds knows this: comment sections on websites are the worst. And social media are basically just giant comment sections without useful content (which is why I don’t have Facebook/Instagram/Twitter accounts anymore). For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to create an account on nu.nl to have friendly discussions with my fellow citizens on the news of the day.
I was dumb
Each day I got confronted more and more by how excruciatingly unempathetic, selfish, unreasonable and unkind people have become. You used to be able to explain this by virtue of The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, which states:
Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad
- John Gabriel (2004)
But a bunch of things have changed to make this even worse:
- Politicians have become more brazen and empowered to spread un-truths, ignore science and generally walk back on hard-won freedoms and improvements to the fabric of society
- People, feeling unhappy about their lot in life and feeling empowered by those politicians, don’t even care about anonimity anymore. People are openly being dicks wherever you look
What Triggered Me
Yesterday, I read 2 news articles that in particular triggered emotional distress with me - and especially the comments underneath the reporting on nu.nl on those topics:
- Malaysia bans the 1975 after Matty Healy defies anti-LGBTQ+ laws with stage kiss (article on nu.nl)
- Italy starts removing lesbian mothers’ names from children’s birth certificates (article on nu.nl)
I care deeply about LGBTQI+ issues, not in the least because my father is gay, I have a transgender niece and I have many people in my social circles that identify as LGBTQI+. And what makes me so sad is that - despite years of fighting for LGBTQI+ rights - I’m noticing a clear movement backwards on these topics. People seem to have this idea that the fight for equality, equity, diversity and inclusion is over now and they’re using this to argue we should sweep any expression of "otherness" under the rug.
I’m not against gay people, but why do you have to kiss in public?
- Paraphrased from a comment under an article about the Amsterdam Pride event
If you cannot accept self-expression of other people different than you, you are effectively against those people being different
The Cult of I
The sentiment of people towards issues I consider to be wrong in the world - and that I naively believed were generally considered to be wrong - can be summed up by me, me me. This sentiment pervades both on personal and societal level:
- People increasingly care about only themselves, and want others - including the government - to optimize for their happiness and any cost to the happiness of others is considered acceptable. The most notable example is climate change: even if people are willing to concede it’s real, a large group of people seem to be completely unwilling to accept even the smallest changes to their life-style for the greater good and the future of humanity (which includes their own children, grand-children etc.)
- The previously common attitude in modern society to live and let live has been turned on its head. Instead of letting people that are "different" live their lives in a way they want, we’re seeing an increasing acceptance of letting bad actors suppress people that are "different". In a way, live and let live applies only to the oppressors now. We let them get on with it.
The first point is not only prevalent on places like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the comment sections of the average news outlet. Even LinkedIn - a professional networking website - is rife with people that love to "challenge" ideas to improve the global optimum just so they can optimize for their own local happiness. I lament the passing of the days when LinkedIn was about professionals discussing professional things professionally with each other.But I’m happy to contribute to the downfall of professionalism on LinkedIn by posting this opinion piece once I’m done writing it
It’s the second point that makes my blood truly boil, especially because the acceptance of oppression is done under the guise of reasonableness. In the comment section on the article of The 1975 being banned from Malaysia, a common sentiment could be summed up as: you go to their country, you follow their laws. This completely ignores that there is such a thing as Universal Human Rights.
When you accept oppression - even under the guise of "law" - you let society slide downwards on a slippery slope and it will not end well. I truly don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I say this kind of acceptance is pretty much exactly what happened in Europe by the end of the 1930ies.
We should always keep fighting for the rights of our fellow citizens and borders do not matter in that regard
How Does This Affect My Mental Health
Society turning "harder" and "colder" by the day, causes depression in me. Reading how unreasonable and intolerant my fellow citizens are, makes me immensely sad. It also makes me feel lonely, because it sometimes feels I’m the only one who still cares about their fellow citizens that are not friends or family.
To be honest, I had some pretty dark thoughts yesterday.
If only the whole of humanity would just die, it would be better for everyone, especially the rest of the species we share our planet with
- Me, after reading one inane comment too many
I feel a strong juxtaposition of the happiness induced by my wife, my pets, my friends and my job and my increasing unhappiness with the world I live in. I’m sure other people have this as well, and part of me hopes that by writing this blog post, I’ll encounter people saying "Hey, I feel this too!" which would make me feel less lonely. But it is honestly increasinly hard to deal with.
What Will I Do about It?
I resolve to talk more about these feelings I have with others. Maybe we can form a counter-movement. Maybe we can rebel against the tide of "not caring".
I considered not reading these comment sections anymore. I’m not sure if I should or shouldn’t, because I also think that if I can turn only one mind towards positivity and caring about others, I will have "won" a little. And not speaking up is exactly what I’m trying to rebel against here.
What Should We Do about It?
Here is one of its most simple tennets and it is to me the core of what each person is entitled to:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
- Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
One important thing to note here, is that this only works if freedom of one group is not abused to limit the freedoms of another group. This means for example that you cannot limit the rights of LGBTQI+ people because you want to express your own religion.
Furthermore, I think that the time of being accepting of all opinions should come to an end. Any opinion that infringes on universal human rights, should not be tolerated. If we tolerate everything, we tolerate nothing.
It is time that news outlets and social media - such as nu.nl - take responsibility and limit the ability of people to express thoughts that lead to oppression. It is for example not ok to express your "opinion" that same-sex couples kissing is "icky" and should not be done in public. And news outlets and social media should not let you express such opinions in public.
I personally would even go so far to state that scientifically proven facts should not be allowed to be contradicted without proper evidence to the contrary. Everyone should be able to challenge the status quo, but there is the scientific method you can follow to do this in a rigorous and fair way.
PS: I’m Back?
When I started the new version of my blog, I promised that I would write more. That hasn’t really materialized and I don’t know if it will. I felt so strongly about the topic of this blog post, that I wanted to write down my thoughts. Let’s see if that will happen more often.