Why Are All the Middle Aged White People Dying?

When I search for “middle aged white person” on Google images I get pictures of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, so I bit the bullet, went with my gut instinct for what image needed to lead this article and just typed in “real life Hank Hill.” I got this. I think it gets across well enough in the abstract that I’m writing about middle aged American white people, so I’ll leave it.

Multiple news sources are discussing the recent release of a study showing mortality rates among non-college educated white men between 45-55 has increased while mortality rates in every other comparable demographic in every comparable country have declined in the same time frame. The primary causes cited have been addiction to opiates and suicide.

I grew up in a 94% white county in upstate NY among many people who have probably since aged into this study. I knew a couple of them fairly well. They weren’t happy campers. They drank like fish. A lot of them were popping oxy’s or had purposely stopped popping oxy’s. By a certain age, if you haven’t figured out much to do with yourself besides be white…well…do I have to finish this sentence?

Lacking any specialized background in statistics, I’m forced to write this column as a small story about an experience I had as a representative for Occupy Wall Street.

Pull up a chair kids, old man Levine’s trotting out the war stories again…

This story takes place in Malta, New York, as fitting a synecdoche as any for all the places where miserable people of advanced ages congregate to be white. It was after the main OWS camp had been raided but a week or so before the camp in Albany, NY, the closest one to Malta, was raided. It was getting fairly cold. I had been brought in to speak (or so I thought anyhow) at a Rotary Club meeting at 6am in the local diner. I’m not usually awake at 6am, but I was asked by a representative of the club to come in and speak.

The Rotary Club, for those unfamiliar, is a business networking club that are the only people still obsessively hung up on making polio be a thing again. They elect representatives to set up charitable events to raise money for the polio thing and presumably stalk especially pathetic looking children in wheel chairs in order to offer them modeling contracts for their newsletters.

Anyway, it turned out that I wasn’t actually the scheduled speaker and when they realized the mix-up I was given 5 minutes to take questions about OWS at the end of the meeting. The scheduled speaker, who ran long, gave a power point presentation about going over to meet someone in a foreign country who they’d donated money to. The foreign man had several llamas and the majority of the presentation was essentially vacation photos of this man posing in various ways with these llamas. It wasn’t entirely clear what this money they sent over was supposed to do, but all the old white people, who were uniformly old and uniformly white, agreed the llamas were adorable and returned to whispering angry gossip about each other and poking at the inedible eggs and hash browns. (how do you fuck up eggs???)

Their faces were reddish patches of circulation problems dotted with contempt that radiated in all directions all the more for its lacking a specific target. To look at them was to sense that the meeting was cutting into their scheduled recreational activities such as almost or actually running over cyclists in their SUVs then screaming at the cyclists for having had the audacity to breath the same air. You knew the question and answer session was gonna be a torturous screaming match over literally nothing.

My time came to speak. By then everyone had given up on actually eating the eggs and were shuffling around impatient to get to their cars and go bumper hunting. I got in one minute of explanation that we’d been in a park and had qualms about the banking system in the US before a woman in her early 50s whose mouth had not fully closed the entire morning screamed “Those kids in Albany!!! You know, I work for a living! They oughtta take fire hoses to those…uh..those kids!!” The temperature outside at the time was 10 degrees F. After another interjection the members rustled out of their chairs.

One of them stayed to tell me something. He looked like how Buster Keaton did right before he died. He comes up to me and says “Y’know what this country needs kid is uh…”

“What do we need?”

“We need uh, we need another Holocaust but with the uh, the Muslims this time…”

This was not the deep south. As far as I know none of these people were registered members of Stormfront.

So, in the face of the news today regarding the mortality rates, while I accept the superficial causes of increased opiate addiction and suicide, I must ask “why are these people increasingly taking opiates or killing themselves?” And I offer this story in lieu of a straightforward answer. Take it how you will.

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7 comments

  1. Talkin bout my generation. 45-54 year old males, late Boomers, early Gen Xers. We missed the 60s. We spent high school listening to bad heavy metal. Now we’re dying off. Maybe Kurt Cobain had a crystal ball and looked into the future. Bang. Please God don’t let me see 2015.

  2. Hahahaha. Maybe. The guy from Blind Melon was just an idiot though.

    1. Just finish us off now.

  3. One of them stayed to tell me something. He looked like how Buster Keaton did right before he died. He comes up to me and says “Y’know what this country needs kid is uh…”

    “What do we need?”

    “We need uh, we need another Holocaust but with the uh, the Muslims this time…”

    Yikes. Reminds me of the time I crashed a teabagger rally in Morristown. Hundreds of angry hillbillies seemed to have materialized out of thin air in the middle of blue America.

    (I’m not making this up) I almost got my ass kicked for riding a bike. It was unAmerican or something. They were really fucking angry that I had come 15 miles without burning up any oil.

    1. Hahahahaha…jesus…what the fuck is wrong with this country.

      1. But do we know what the politics of all those middle-aged white people really are? Could be right-wing. But there’s no way to be sure.

        The Tea Party, from what I understand, tends to be made up of the upper-middle-class, not necessarily in New Jersey or upstate NY but in the south. It’s a regional, not necessarily working-class phenomenon.

  4. […] The idea that the current generation of 45-54 year old white, working-class men is paying the karmic…, that “the chickens have come home to roost,” only gets at part of the truth. It’s a lot more complex than many people think. First of all, according to critics of the Deaton/Case report, working-class women are dying at a higher rate than working class men, an inconvenient little fact that all of the think pieces about “white privilege” overlook. Low-status women, even low-status middle-aged white women, are among the most liberal voters in the United States, going for Barack Obama twice, by large margins. While it’s temping to imagine that every 50-year-old white man in the United States is a member of the Tea Party, my generation, late Baby Boomers and early members of Generation X, is probably less militaristic than early Baby Boomers, who were split down the middle over the Vietnam War, and millennials, most of whom grew up after 9/11. In the 1980s, when I was in high-school, nobody thought the military was cool. Quite the contrary, the reputation of the United States Army, which had lost the Vietnam War only a decade before, was at an all time low. For many people my age, signing up for the military meant one of two things, either you were a loser who couldn’t do anything else, or you were a psycho who wanted to kill people. What’s more, unlike me, many people I went to high-school with knew the system was rigged, that if you were poor white trash, you were likely to stay poor white trash, that the Baby Boomers had hogged most of the good jobs and educational opportunities, and pulled the ladder up after them. […]

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