In James Burnham’s Managerial State, explains Julius Krein, “political power moves away from … institutions like Congress and toward the executive bureaucracy … The effect is the reduction of nonmanagerial political institutions to increasingly nominal status. Forms of ‘constitutionalism’ may still be permitted to exist, but the managerial elite does not derive its power or legitimacy from them. It can, therefore, easily manipulate or simply ignore these institutions while pursuing its own ends.”
The managerial elite has given us our dysfunctional, atomistic, fragmented society, where traditional support systems no longer exist. To pick up the slack we have the Expert Class.
In a way, the insidious Expert Class that shapes and manages perceptions about public affairs is an extension of the Managerial State. The expert class tends to remove moral and medical decisions from individuals, families, and communities of faith by medicalizing problems of living.
Once, big-on-the-military actor James Wood got word about a veteran who was about to shoot himself in some remote location. So he galvanized the … experts. He got him “help.” He outsourced the problem.
Most people need not therapy but community.
The reason people are desperate and depressed is not because they don’t have a suicide hotline’s number handy or an AA support group buddy; but because they are bereft of family and community.
This simplest of logical deductions we are no longer even able to arrive at without outsourcing thinking to the generators of empirical evidence, the expert class.
Here is that “doh!” factor, confirmed by The Economist in, “A pandemic of psychological pain: How to reduce the mental trauma of covid-19″:
Humans are resilient. Those who experience trauma mostly cope. When their homes are destroyed by earthquakes, they rebuild them and carry on. Even the mass bombing of cities in the second world war did not break civilian morale. Nonetheless, the world should take the collective mental damage of covid-19 seriously. Steps to reduce it cost little, and can benefit not only individuals but also society more broadly.
Research into previous disasters suggests that survivors’ long-term mental health depends more on “perceived support” than “received support”. In other words, donations of money or food matter less than the feeling that you can turn to your neighbours for help. Such help is typically offered spontaneously, but governments can also chip in. France, for example, sets up “medical and psychological emergency units” after terrorist attacks and other disasters. These try to minimise the long-term mental-health consequences of such events by offering immediate walk-in psychological support near the site of the disaster. Several cities in France have reactivated this “two-tent model”, one for medical care and the other for mental care, to help people cope with the toll of the virus.
Some people draw comfort from the fact that they are not alone—millions are facing the same tribulations at the same time. But the pandemic also presents unusual challenges. No one knows when it will end. Social distancing makes it harder to reconnect with others, a step in recovering from trauma. And the economic shock of covid-19 has undermined mental-health services everywhere, but especially in poor countries.
The most important measures will be local. A priority should be bringing people together by, say, expanding internet access. Mutual-aid networks (eg, WhatsApp groups to deliver groceries to the elderly), which tend to peter out once the initial disaster subsides, should instead be formalised and focused on the most vulnerable. Mental-health professionals should connect patients to such services, and train more lay folk as counsellors. In Zimbabwe, well before the pandemic, hundreds of grandmothers were taught how to provide talk therapy on village benches to depressed neighbours who could not afford to visit a distant clinic. Such innovations can work elsewhere, too.
- Image courtesy the Economist.