America is an aging society, but this is no country for old men.
Last year nearly 50,000 Americans took their own lives, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The figures are preliminary, but that looks like it translates into the highest suicide rate since World War II.
Among Americans 65 or older, suicides increased by 8% in the past year.
They climbed 7% among Americans 45 to 64.
The median age in our country today is 38.9, and it’s only rising.
Will suicides rise with it?
The CDC says men account for 80% of suicides, and white men have particularly high rates.
So do rural Americans — areas with the lowest population densities, those designated “micropolitan” and “non-core,” have the highest suicide levels, 19.2 and 21.7 per 100,000 people respectively.
There are differences by occupation as well: Mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction has the highest rate (54.2 per 100,000 men), followed by construction (45.3).
Veterans kill themselves at a rate 57.3% higher than the average for other Americans.
The raw number of suicides last year exceeds the number of Americans who died in the Korean War and the 46,233 who were killed in action or died of wounds during the Vietnam War — a conflict that lasted nearly a decade.
Suicide is one of our nation’s deadliest enemies.
The epidemic of self-murder has many causes, some of which are unique to each case, but others that are culture-wide.
Christianity always discouraged suicide, both by designating it a mortal sin and by offering hope of a new life to even the most wretched earthly sufferer.
In our culture today, Christian assumptions no longer prevail — the taboo on suicide has weakened, and millions believe there is no life beyond divorce, unemployment, addiction, dishonor, sickness and pain in the here and now.
The blessings of modern medicine can also be a curse.
The elderly and seriously ill can live longer, but prolonged treatment is costly, and men who’ve lived independent lives don’t want to end up sustained by machines.
The opioid scourge, meanwhile, condemns the despairing in two ways: Prescription pain medication is now heavily restricted, leaving some Americans in agony to feel they have no escape, while others who have abused and become dependent on the drugs see no future beyond them.
The main prey for suicide is not a recognized victim group — rural whites and men with blue-collar or military backgrounds receive little sympathy from the highly educated elite who’ve been taught all their lives that the industrial economy is a fossil and America must become more diverse to be truly good.
When economists laud the global economy’s “creative destruction” and progressives rail against “white privilege,” their implication is that the world would be better off without older working-class whites.
And when those obsolete Americans respond by voting for Donald Trump or other populist candidates, that only confirms the sensitively educated liberal’s judgment — these people are deplorables, human obstacles to a more efficient and enlightened future.
The old American left put a great deal of emphasis on solidarity and mutual aid; it also built the entitlement programs that promised to provide for the material needs of the old and unemployed, though these programs totter as the ratio of dependents to workers rises.
The new left now elevates diversity over solidarity and exalts moral purity — in identity-politics terms — above traditional economic class.
The emerging America of the 21st century is not only more “diverse,” however, it’s more alienated, with fewer common bonds of religion or civilizational inheritance and without the public as a whole feeling well-represented by the institutions or government or the media.
Older Americans have lived through a cultural revolution that has turned them into strangers in their own land.
In these conditions, as the connections between young and old dissolve and the Christian background of our culture fades away, the rise of suicide is not surprising.
Simple partisan politics is not to blame, but the move of our culture and economy away from the commitments that used to give meaning to Americans’ lives has left tens of thousands of our countrymen lost and looking for a way out.
America is a worse place for the 50,000 men and women we lost to suicide last year.
The next 50,000 need to hear that before it’s too late.
Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.
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