There is still time to control our competitive urges
SOCIETY UNDER PRESSURE
Wednesday 15 September 1999
Why are we so much more depressed despite being richer? The major causes are the collapse of intimate attachments and changing work patterns.
The outward winners in our society, who have material wealth and good jobs, end up feeling like losers in their inner life because they are made to feel they are not achieving a high enough status.
The key problem is that we tend to compare ourselves to others all the time.
The pursuit of individualism has become more prized than the pursuit of collectivism, but it has been hijacked by consumerism. The way we seek to be individuals is by buying things, and it is not just the latest Nike trainers or Prada bag, it is about services like education. You need to be able to show everyone that you can afford to buy certain things which will reinforce your status.
The other great mantra of the moment is "wannabeism" where people want to be something they are not, or have something they lack.
Everyone is constantly dissatisfied and feels they are entitled to more, then they think it is essential for their well-being to have more. And because they can't have it, they feel like a failure.
They blame themselves and say they must work even harder to make more money to buy more things. All this leads to depression and overwork and the destruction of relationships, making us even more depressed.
It is a vicious circle but it can be broken if we adopt a more Scandinavian attitude to society. Britain has adopted the US notion of capitalism which is basically selfish capitalism. In every country that has followed this route, levels of crime, mental illness and depression are rocketing.
But in Scandinavia they have a notion of co-operative capitalism, which works to avoid inequality. They have simply not allowed capitalism to destroy people's relationships with each other and their children.
They have done this by state intervention and a regulated economy. People do not have to work such long hours, and there is greater emphasis on home life and childcare. Their maternity and paternity deals are much more generous and those with real problems are looked after. The Government needs to realise this is the way forward.
Oliver James is author of "Britain on the Couch"
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