The other day I was listening to a 2011 speech by Dr. Gabor Mate, a Canadian Physician but born in Hungary, entitled “Capitalism is Making us Sick.” It’s a very rational and eye opening talk about how much social issues are factors of chronic illness and addiction. It really hit home to me, especially living on Guam who has its own fair share of health problems, as he talked about how the United States, a population where 50% of the adults have a chronic illness, has a society that makes “us sick.”
Mr. Mate uses the logic that addiction wasn’t in cultures of old, and it is only when the rise of Capitalism, in the 18th century, we see the widespread of Alcoholism. Just like the Native Americans used Peyote and Tobacco with their religious ceremonies, and Chamorros had their Pugua and Tuba, so called addictive substances were used but were not turned into addictions in these indigenous societies. But the way Capitalism functions, it creates the lower class, and the adults in this class will have constant stress and uncertainty in their daily lives, and some do turn to substances that dull their senses. This in turn will affect the children because they are not getting a strong adult figure.
You look back into Guam’s history, and see how each interaction with a new colonial power, and see how health has been undermined. The Spanish with early cases of the flu of course and to the high rates of Diabetes and Cancer we have after World War II. The Americans did bring Capitalism (Coke and Spam), but they also brought disease and some of the unhealthiest people in the nation. Also he talks about how even a loving parent, who needs to work 2 jobs to support their children, cannot spend any time and create a strong adult bond with their child. They simply cannot, and the emotional state of the parent directly affects the state of the child. This is so common on Guam, and it just creates this cycle of Economic Worry and health issues. I remember talking to an Auntie of mine and she worked as a School Nurse, and she found a student who nearly had a diabetic shock, and she learned that the child’s diet was a big bottle of King Car and Cheetos every day. Where is an adult to say that this diet is not healthy?
This past year there has been so many theft and burglary cases of young men, of all races, hitting all over island. Often more times than not, the reasoning we hear behind this needed influx of cash was to buy whatever drug they are on. We can say all day that this is bad and we need to stop people selling/buying, but why not solve the problem of addiction? Ask why do they feel the need to do this? At what point in their life were they willing to do harm to another person for their own needs? What factors in their upbringing influenced this decision? These questions don’t get solved though because the root of the problem is economics, as poor and middle class families simply do not have the luxury of time with children and their parents. This is a problem Gabor Mate says that we need to address these issues but society would rather punish and perpetuate more of these offenders.
We live in a society that rewards workaholics, and applauds behavior that “undermines the health of the family.” Reading about early Chamorro societies, and how tight and cohesive the family unit was, makes me think that Capitalism and all of these Western notions of society may not be the best system that we often read in text books about it.