|Forlornness in the Fatherland
By Greg Strange
According to Edward Shorter in his book A History of Psychiatry, the status of that branch of medicine which tries to deal with problems of the human mind was of "unparalleled sophistication" during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Germany. It's too bad that didn't hold up another century or maybe the worst of Germany's mass psychoses could have been assuaged, saving the world tens of millions of lives and untold destruction.
Be that as it may, Germany is now undergoing yet another psychiatric problem on a mass scale, though one less devastating to its neighbors and the world at large (at least so far). According to research performed by a German health insurance company, cases of depression among Berliners has risen by 70 per cent since 1997 and up to 70 per cent of all Germans say they are prepared to seek professional help for psychological problems.
So, rather than the citizens of surrounding countries trembling at the prospect of German incursions, hordes of Germans are trembling at the prospect of having to get out of bed each morning and face a new day. But what could be causing so many normally vivacious, hard-working, productive people to become afflicted with such a dolefulness of spirit?
It seems rather puzzling considering that Germany has achieved the standard idyllic EUtopian state of government-subsidized and government-sanctioned bliss with short work weeks, long vacations, free health care, frowned-upon religiosity, moral relativism, abortion on demand and even legalized prostitution. It's just a very groovy, post-Christian, nonjudgmental, nanny state kind of existence, so what's there to be despondent about?
Mental health professionals blame the increase of depression on the faltering German economy, which has seen unemployment rise to a postwar record of 12 percent. Granted, 12 per cent unemployment in a modern, highly developed Western economy is ridiculous, but Germany has had chronically high unemployment for many years without the prevailing Zeitgeist becoming such that nearly three quarters of the population are poised to go slinking off at any moment to find a shrink.
Maybe there's more going on here, and maybe it's a precursor of what's to come throughout Western Europe, as the downside of the modern, social democratic welfare state catches up with them. Maybe the conditions created by that kind of state have worked in Germany to squelch vivacious, hard-working productiveness, replacing that instead with a dispirited torpor that permeates the fatherland like an Oktoberfest hangover.
It doesn't seem like rocket science to figure out that the more a government does for its people, the less those people will feel motivated to do for themselves. Consequently, the less they do for themselves, the worse they may eventually feel about themselves. Any psychiatrist worth his salt will tell you that excessive dependency upon just about anything is not healthy.
So maybe after decades of pursuing the perfect, socially progressive welfare state, the psychological chickens have come home to roost. Call it the law of unintended consequences. You try to build a government-designed social utopia and you end up with a country full of bummed-out dependents.
If Christianity once was the opiate of the European masses, it looks like it has simply been replaced by the opiate of nanny statism. In any case, as religion ceases to be a meaningful part of most people's lives, the danger exists for a kind of soullessness to fill the vacuum, further contributing to the general malaise. Under such conditions some pretty crazy things can happen.
Take Germany's legalization of prostitution, for instance. Reasonable people can argue till doomsday over the morality or immorality of it, but what is inarguable is the absurdity of the government threatening, as it did, to take away the unemployment benefits of a young woman for turning down a perfectly good job as a professional whore.
No one should be forced by one's own government to choose between prostitution and destitution, but it was just another one of those unintended consequences. This particular farcical consequence was the result not only of legalizing prostitution, but also of German welfare reforms which said that any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job or lose her unemployment benefits.
The government did consider making brothels an exception to that rule on moral grounds, but decided it would be too difficult to morally distinguish between them and bars, for instance. Well, sure, it's an incredibly difficult moral distinction to expect the average government bureaucrat to make. Imagine having to decide which is worse: mixing drinks or . . . selling one's body to dissolute strangers for loveless profligate sex. It's the ultimate bureaucratic conundrum.
The German government may be able to legalize sex for money, but unfortunately it can't force its citizens to have sex for the very purpose for which it was intended by nature: procreation. Which leads to another reason for Germans to be lugubrious: If the birth rate keeps falling, Germany could eventually run out of Germans, and the prospect of population replacement coming only through the immigration of unassimilable Muslims won't likely lift their spirits. If a significant proportion of Germans are depressed these days, their demographics are positively suicidal.
The papacy in Rome just elected the first German pope in over a thousand years. Lord knows his countrymen could use some spiritual guidance, but being, like most of Western Europe, in a fairly advanced stage of post-Christian secularity, all signs for the immediate future are that they will continue their slide into moral relativism, spiritual bankruptcy and forlornness. If that happens, the only growth industry in Germany, other than harlotry, will be mental health services. The problem there is, if 70 per cent of all Germans really were to seek state-provided psychological help for their blues, the social welfare state would collapse like a house of cards. Then they'd really have something to be glum about.
This is Greg Strange's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. (c) 2005 Greg Strange.
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