If you give a man a fish part 2: Sweatshops and bootstraps

In 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry sailed with his small flotilla into Tokyo Harbor.  Forcing Japan to open itself to the world.  Now some folk claim that this was for the purpose of exploiting Japan and insisting that Japan buy Western products.  It was actually more complicated than that.  Among other things when shipwrecked sailors washed up on Japanese shores, the Japanese killed them.  That was a perfectly valid justification for war in those days.  It would be a justification for war today.

In any case, Japan was opened up to the West.  Japan came into its new relationship with the west at a decided disadvantage.  Because of their former isolation the Industrial Revolution had passed them by.  Japan had to play catch-up if it was going to compete with the rest of the world from a position of parity.

The process began simply.  They began providing cheap labor, both in Japan and exported.  It wasn’t just cheap Chinese labor that built the railroads in the American West.  There were a lot of Japanese toiling right alongside them.  In addition to exported workers, Japan itself needed to industrialize.  Much like Britains Industrial Revolution, they started in textiles.  Textile mills, operated mainly by young women who “gave” their wages to their fathers.  They went almost directly from hand powered looms to coal fired steam.  Miserable, dangerous work for low wages the workers were not even allowed to keep.

But.  As miserable as this work was, it was better than working in the rice paddies.

It also provided a stepping stone to actual industrialization.  This provided an avenue for economic growth leading to improvement, at first gradual then not so gradual, in the standard of living of the average Japanese person.

A third benefit was that it broke feudalism and its caste system.  Economic and social mobility became much more achievable (achievable at all in social terms).  Eventually, this economic growth that started with the functional equivalent of sweatshops has made Japan one of the economic powerhouses, ranking the third largest economy in the world.

Japan was the first of the Asian nations to take that path.  Others, for various reasons, were delayed in starting.  However, in every case of a nation growing from abject poverty to some level of economic success they all start at one place:  cheap labor.  They cannot compete with the skill and productivity of more developed nation, not yet.  All they have to offer to start with is low costs.  But in the process, they learn.  They develop the skills to be more productive.  They also tend to break old lines of hereditary aristocracy–who ones father was becomes less important than can one do the job.  Oh, vestiges hang on, but the potential of a person of “low birth” to improve his or her position increases dramatically.

And these “poor” “exploited” workers?  Do you think there are press gangs going and dragging people kicking and screaming into the factories?  Do you think they have barbed wire and machine guns to make the people stay in the factories?  Chained to their work stations?

No.  The people running the factories simply offer better pay, and better working conditions than would be available to those workers otherwise.

Look, these “sweatshops” may look horrid from our perspective but they’re a step up, generally a big one, over what would be available to the people working in them otherwise.  Try working in a third-world subsistence farm sometime while being a single drought away from starvation to see just how heavenly reliable work with a reliable (if small) income with which to reliably feed your family can be.

I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and bring everybody in the world up to First World standards of living.  Reality, however, doesn’t work that way.  It takes time and there’s a learning curve.  Take away a nation’s ability to start up that learning curve and they can never get to the top.

Modern industrial production is not something learned overnight.  There are institutional habits and skills that take time to develop.  And until they are developed folk in those nations only have one thing to offer:  cheap labor.

Take away that competitive edge by forbidding Western businesses from “exploiting” (read “improving the lives of”) cheap labor and you take away their ability to pull themselves up out of their current levels.

And you condemn them to crushing poverty…forever

If you give a man a fish…

This is going to ramble a bit.  I ended up going a completely different direction from what I had in mind when I started.

If you give a man a fishyou feed him for a day, the old saw goes.  And if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

As someone who has come home empty handed often enough from a day of fishing, I’m not so sure it quite works that way, but it’s close enough to be a reasonable metaphor.

Benjamin Franklin put it this way: “I am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

The truth is, there are some people–not everyone, perhaps not even most, but some–who, if you provide them enough for even a basic living without their having to earn it, will accept that and make no attempt to improve their lot through their own efforts.  Oh, they may complain about how hard they have it, but that complaint doesn’t motivate them to go work their way out of their situation.  If anything, it’s intended to influence you to provide more of that “basic living” they’re not having to work for.

This is not to say that there aren’t people who legitimately cannot provide for themselves but how often is that really the case?

The problem is two-fold.  Three-fold, actually.  The first is the “making them easy in poverty”.  Yeah, I can hear the howls now of how hard the poor have it.  Want to try again?  I grew up with an outhouse–having to go outside in the dead of winter to an unheated, drafty wooden building to do my business through a hole in a board.  A wood stove heated the kitchen.  Steam radiators heated the rest of the house.  Air conditioning?  What’s that?  I packed sandwiches for my lunch at school because we couldn’t afford the hot lunch.  We did have electricity–when it worked.  So, please, tell me again how “hard” most of the “poor” in the US have it today.   I can use the laugh.

And, no, I don’t begrudge the poor having a better life than I did.  That’s progress.  But, dammit, is it too much to ask that they appreciate what they have?  Apparently so.  Somebody else has more and that’s just too much to bear.

The second and thirds problems are closely related.  The second is that sometimes you just have more people than jobs, at least jobs that one could make a living at.  And the third is mismatch of skills required for the jobs available and skills people seeking work possess.  It doesn’t matter how great a typist you are if the job requires a welder.

So what to do?

First thing, impose the old dictate “if any of you would not work, neither shall he eat.” (And before you start “but what about…” note that word “would”.  It’s a matter of will, not ability.  If a person truly is incapable of doing anything of value that would qualify as work, then that’s a separate story.  But how many of those are there really?)

Personally, I’d like to see government welfare done away with entirely and private, and let helping those who can’t work, or those who’ve temporarily fallen on hard times, devolve to private, mostly local charities.  But I realize that such changes do not happen in an instant without causing their own problems.  Still, there’s a lot that can be done to move in that direction and the most important is a work requirement for anybody drawing any kind of government assistance.  Take away the incentive not to work to get off welfare.  You can work for your government assistance or you can work for your own money, but you’re going to work.

A related issue is that even for a person who, after for whatever reason got on government assistance, wants to get off it can find the prospect daunting.  You find a job that pays more than that welfare check, well, and good, but now you also lose SNAP, oh, and while before you could stay home with the children, now you need to find daycare.  That costs money.  You’re actually worse off than you started.  Another perverse incentive.  Some people will push through that anyway but not everyone will.  And if our goal is to get people off welfare and on their own feet then shouldn’t the incentives work that way?  Say, reduce their total benefits from all sources one dollar for every two dollars they earn?

But in addition to removing the incentives for people to remain on welfare, we need the other side:  to make sure that there are jobs for them to take.  And to do that there’s one thing that so many people have trouble wrapping their heads around.

We.  Need.  A.  Political.  Climate.  Favorable.  To.  Business.

Whether it’s small businesses and people employing themselves, or big businesses employing thousands or even in some cases millions, businesses provide jobs.  Politicians do not provide jobs.  Governments do not provide jobs (except the jobs of government).  Businesses provide jobs.  And basic laws of economics apply.  If you make it more expensive for businesses to hire people, they will hire fewer people, or they will go where it isn’t so expensive (like, say, overseas).  If you cut off their ability to go where it isn’t so expensive, then foreign firms will take advantage of that opportunity to undercut our own businesses.  If you try to use tariffs or other trade restrictions to try to penalize the foreign companies in favor of our own, then they respond in kind and, again, our people suffer.

“But, but…big Megacorporation makes billions in profits!” And has trillions in sales.  The profits are a small fraction of the total amount of the business.  Most of that money goes to people working for the company, or people working for suppliers to the company.  Oh, and much of that profit is paid out to things like pension funds and retirement accounts that invest in things like big Megacorporation, not just to millionaires and billionaires.

“But, but…CEO compensation!” Do the math.  A company has one CEO.  Big ones, the ones where people complain about CEO compensation, employ hundreds of thousands to millions of people.  What the CEO makes is a drop in the bucket compared to the total labor costs.

For any large company, labor costs are their biggest expense.  Increase the cost of hiring people and they hire fewer people.  That’s not just Economics 101.  That falls right out of the first day‘s lecture in Economics 101.  Practically the second thing taught (right after “wants are unlimited, resources at any given time are limited, so it’s not possible for everyone to get everything they want”):  increase the cost of “buying” something and people buy less of it.

Now labor costs are at least something that produces value to the company.  So long as the value of the labor is higher than the cost of the labor it’s possible to come to an agreement.  But there’s another factor, the regulatory cost.  Almost a quarter of our economy is eaten up in regulatory costs.  If those costs were the GDP of a country, it would be larger than Germany’s.  That’s four trillion dollars spent making sure every i is dotted and every t is crossed.

Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations had the great insight that the wealth of a nation was not in specie, in gold, silver, and precious gems, it was not in paper money, and if he’d had to foresight to predict the modern age he would certainly have said it was not in electronic banking records.  It was in the amount of goods and services available to a nation.  It is not the money in my wallet and my bank account that is my wealth (such as it is).  It’s what that money can by.  Produce and trade for more goods and services and you are wealthier as a nation, and the people within the nation are wealthier.

And everyone, rich and poor alike, benefits.  That cheap “prepaid minutes” smartphone you can pick up for $50 at Walmart?  A portable phone alone would have been a mark of wealth and prestige just 30 years ago–and one so small, unheard of.  And one with more computing power than supercomputers of the day?  With instant access to a wealth (note that word.  It has meaning) of music, to movies and TV shows, to more information than all the libraries in the world held then?   How many millions would somebody have paid for that capability back then?

And it’s cheap.  A device that the wealthy of a generation past would have mortgaged their first three children for and it’s cheap.

You want to teach people to fish?  Economic growth.  And we’re wasting 25%  of our GDP not on developing and growing the economy but on regulatory burden.  Is some regulatory oversight necessary?  Probably.  But 25% of our economy?  That’s resources that could be used to make life better for all of us, frittered away on some government bureaucrats.

Darkship Revenge: A review

First, this is a fast paced science fiction adventure story. Don’t forget that as I write the rest of this.

Patrician Athena Hera Sinistra returns to Earth from the asteroid colony named Eden one more time.  As usual when she gets mixed up with Earth, things don’t go as planned.

Centuries past, genetically engineered supermen called “Mules”, both because they were to be the servants of mankind and because they were engineered both to all be male, engineered to be nearly impossible to clone, and engineered to be sterile a triple-whammy to ensure they don’t reproduce.

Unfortunately, the first falls rapidly by the wayside.  The “Mules” seize power and become the “Biolords”.  But their numbers are small and when the unmodified masses rise in rebellion they are soon overthrown, the survivors fleeing the Earth in a starship of their own construction named the “Je Revien” (“I Return”).

However, unbeknownst to most of humanity a few are left behind.  They hide their nature and once again seize power as an elite nobility called “The Good Men.”

That would have been only a temporary issue except the Good Men soon find ways to clone themselves.  They raise “heirs” that are clones of themselves only when the decide it is appropriate for a Good Man to die and his heir to take over, the Good Man, in secret medical facilities the Good Man has his brain removed and transplanted into the body of his cloned “heir.”

Thus they have continued for several centuries, raising “children” only to kill them and take their bodies while everyone, including their new heirs, think they have been passing rule from father to son.

But the need to maintain secrecy meant their numbers never grew.  Any time a Good Man died–whether through accident, conflict, or assassination–without transplanting his brain into a clone, their numbers dwindled.

Because of this, one thing they continued to desire was to break the other check that their creators had put on them:  they wanted females of their own kind with whom they could create actual children.  And so they continued genetic experiments to create a female “Good Man” with whom they would be fertile.

The final result was Athena, a “clone” of the Good Man Sinistra, but with a doubled X Chromosome and enough other changes to permit her to be fertile with other Good Men.  She, however, in the first volume of the Darkship series, Darkship Thieves, escaped before Sinistra could have his brain transplanted into her body.

The experiment worked.  When Athena escaped she was captured or rescued (depending on ones point of view) by one of the mythical or infamous, depending on what one believed, Darkship Thieves, Christopher “Kit” Bartolomeu Klaavil.  In time they became a couple and, yes, the experiment had worked and Athena was fertile.

Which brings us to the latest volume, Darkship Revenge.

When Kit wants to return to near Earth space to collect the Power Pods on which both the Earth and the asteroid home of Eden rely for energy, Athena agrees, not having yet told Kit that she was pregnant.  It’s a several months journey from Eden to Earth and, before they can reach the trees only before they reach their destination they are attacked by an unknown ship.  And, as luck would have it, Athena goes into labor during the attack.  The battle is brief, but inconclusive.  Athena and Kit’s ship basically just enduring the attack until the attacker gives up.  Kit, leaving Athena in her bed after having given birth, goes out to make repairs.

And when Kit does not return from making repairs she has to struggle out of her birthing bed, take care of her newborn infant, and attempt to find out what happened to her husband.  She finds a cryptic message left by him:  Kidnapped.  Earth.

And so she’s headed back to the one place she least wants to go.

The story is in many ways about what it means to be a parent, specifically a mother. Not just Athena, but others in the story are put into positions to act as parents to others. In addition to her own child Athena finds she not only has responsibility for her newborn daughter, but is put into the position of acting as a parent to a “relative” she never knew she had. She has to rise above her own upbringing which had taught her little compassion for others, a trait that only changed through her association, and love, with Kit.

All of this is wrapped up into a fast paced adventure story that is hard to put down.

$11.00 in Paperback.  $8.99 on Kindle

Quisling’s Heirs and Quisling’s Foes by 60 Guilders

Cheating a bit today because Sarah A. Hoyt, over on “According to Hoyt” had some good things to day.

According To Hoyt

Quisling’s Heirs and Quisling’s Foes by 60 Guilders

At our most gracious hostess’ request, I have updated Dorothy Thompson’s “Who Goes Nazi?” for the present. I confess myself inadequate to the task, but she told me she’d have to do it if I didn’t, and she’s got enough on her plate.

There are times when one wonders who would collaborate with an invading regime and who would not, or who would gleefully take up the whip hand themselves. In a world where there are reds to the left, browns to the right, terrorists and dictators in front, and bureaucrats behind, simplifying it down to one ideology just won’t cut it. So we’ll be discussing two more basic philosophical schools: those who wish to have slaves and masters, and those who wish for there to be neither.

Imagine yourself, at a reception held by a Mister John Boddy, the only person…

View original post 1,543 more words

Oruk Means Hard Work

$2.99 in Kindle Store

Life among the orcs is hard.  So difficult and ubiquitous is brutal labor among them that “Veth oruk”/”Work is” is their most common greeting.  When Elara, princess of the elves is captured and enslaved by them that is the life she must learn to live, a life of hard, unremitting labor with no hope of rescue.

Work is.


Sample:

Elara, at eight years of age the heir apparent to the throne of the elves of Talen, had just finished reciting the names of the trees of the Greenwood when the alarm bell began to clamor. She jumped from the bench and began to look around.

Dorian put a hand on her shoulder, “Patience, Princess. Let us see what the trouble is first.”

The door to the garden burst open and Corinbar dashed in. “Dorian, they need you on the wall. Princess, come with me.”

“Trouble then?” Dorian picked up his sword and buckled it about his waist.

“Orc war party. They hit several farmsteads and are heading this way.”

Dorian nodded. “Taking the Princess to the keep?”

“That was her father’s charge to me.”

“Then I’ll accompany you as far as the wall,” Dorian said.

“I have told the King,” Corinbar snapped as he scooped Elara up to his hip, something only one of her bodyguards would dare, “that this garden needs to be inside the walls but he insisted on keeping it out in the forest…tradition.”

Once through the garden gate and out of the garden’s walls, Elara saw people streaming up the road toward the keep.

“This way!” Corinbar turned away from the road to dash through the woods.

“Where are we going?” Elara asked, her head pressed against Coninbar’s shoulder.

“The main gate’s too crowded and I need to get you inside now,” Corinbar said. “They’ll open a sally port for us.”

“I smell smoke,” Dorian said from behind them. “Elm, Ash, and Oak!  They have fired the forest.”

“They are close then,” Corinbar said as he sped up, far faster than Elara’s young legs could have propelled her.

Elara buried her face in Corinbar’s neck. Why did the orcs have to attack now, while her father was away?  Why did they…she suppressed a shout as Corinbar stumbled, then stumbled again. She looked up to see his face twisted in agony.

“Forgive me…Princess,” he said as he sank to his knees. “Dorian!” His arms went slack and Elara tumbled to the ground.

“Come, Princess,” Dorian grasped her arm roughly in his left hand and hauled her to her feet. In his right, he held his drawn sword, which blazed with the elf-light.

Elara stared at Corinbar as he fell forward onto his face. Two ugly black arrows protruded from his back.

Before Elara could begin to run with Dorian, a dozen orcs appeared from the trees. Two, armed with bows, let fly at Dorian. Dorian’s sword flicked out and both arrows fell broken to the Earth. In that moment, the other orcs were upon them. They piled on Dorian while one of their number fell on Elara. For a time she could see only hair and muscle, and then the orc climbed off of her and pulled her roughly to her feet.

The fight was over. Dorian lay bleeding on the ground, as did several of the orcs. The remaining orcs bound her; tight ropes cut into her wrists, then a bag covered her head and she was roughly lifted across an orc shoulder.

“Why?” She cried softly to herself. “Why are they doing this?”

#

And endless time of running later, the orc dumped Elara on the ground. Someone pulled the bag off her head. She struggled to a sitting position.

She saw that they were in a narrow ravine. Her woods-trained eyes spotted orcs at the top of the ravine, peering outward. Guards, she supposed. Another orc dug a small pit while others gathered wood, inspecting each piece before selecting or rejecting it.

Still other orcs stretched ropes between trees and pulled. They removed cloths from their packs and staked them over the ropes, forming low, wide tents.

While one of the orcs started a smokeless fire in the pit, the others spread forest litter over the low tents. Elara drew a surprised breath. From the ridges above, those tents would be invisible against the forest floor.

One of the orcs squatting at the fire stood and turned toward her. As he waddled in her direction, Elara could not take her gaze from the knife and bowl in his hands.

The orc squatted next to her as Elara sat, eyes transfixed on the knife. The orc raised the knife point first between them, then twisted it, giving Elara a clear view of the gleaming brightness of its tip from all sides.

The orc turned the knifepoint downward and stabbed into the bowl, coming up a moment later with a chunk of meat. He held the meat out to Elara. “Kurok.”

Although she was very hungry, Elara turned her face away.

“Kurok!” the orc repeated.

Elara shook her head ‘no’.

The orc set the bowl on the ground, then his hand darted toward Elara’s face and grasped her by the nose, pinching off her breath. Elara struggled for a moment, but the orc would not relinquish its hold. It drew her in closer and shoved the meat toward her mouth.

Elara kept her mouth closed as long as she could but with her nose pinched closed, she soon had to open it to breathe. The moment she did, the orc shoved the meat into her mouth and released the hold on her nose.

She spat the meat out at him.

Pain exploded against her right cheek as the orc slapped her. He dipped another piece of meat out of the bowl and held it out to her. “Kurok. Kurok olf.”

She ate. The meat was dry and tasteless, but filling. When she had eaten all the meat in the bowl, the orc poured water from a skin into the bowl and held it out to her. She drank.

Once Elara had finished with the crude meal, the orc rapidly undid the knots binding her legs and pulled her to her feet. The rope that had bound her legs was converted to a tether. A slip loop in the end went around her neck and the rope ran down her back and under her tied wrists, before leading back to the orc. The one time she tried to struggle, the orc gave a quick jerk on the rope caused it to close painfully around her throat, then release. She did not repeat the attempt.

The orc half circled Elara. The rope he held ran from his hand, around her waist and to her back. A slight tug showed that even from this direction, the rope could cut off her air if she resisted. The orc started to walk and Elara, having no choice, followed him out of the camp, down the valley of the ravine. Once out of sight of the camp, the orc stopped. Elara looked up at him but he just waited.

With a start Elara realized what he was waiting for. She couldn’t, not in front of an orc. But if she didn’t, she would soon foul her clothes.

After a short inward struggle, she did what was necessary. It seemed to take a long time.

#

That night they put her in one of the tents, still tied, where she drifted between fitful sleep and groggy waking. In the morning they fed her again, more meat and some kind of spongy bread, took her out to relieve herself and left her under the guard of one of the shorter orcs while they struck the camp.

Finally, they packed the tents and ropes away and extinguished the last coals of the fire.

“Azg!” the orc guarding Elara said.

“Azg, yourself,” she said, looking up at the orc.

The orc grasped her shoulder and pushed. “Azg.” He pulled at rope that poked from his pack. “Azg shek tak gorug shet.”

“I don’t understand you!  I don’t speak orc!”

The orc stared at her for a moment, then walked a few steps. “Azg.” He pointed at her. “Azg.”

Tears welled up in Elara’s eyes. “I don’t want to ‘azg.’ I want to go home. Can’t you let me go home?”

The orc waited while she cried, terrible in his patience, then pointed at her once more. “Azg.”

Sniffling, the last of her hope dying within her, Elara walked.

For three days they walked, each night’s stop being a repeat of the first one. On the fourth day, before the sun had reached its zenith, they reached a narrow sinkhole. At the rim of the sinkhole, iron spikes protruded from the rock. To these the orcs tied ropes, the free ends of which they dropped into the dark.

Elara barely had time to scream as one of the orcs wrapped a hairy arm her around her waist, grabbed one of the ropes, and leapt into the darkness. Her breath caught in her throat as they fell, stifling her scream. The rope hissed and smoked as it slipped through the orc’s hand. She kept expecting him to let go of the rope and the two of them to plunge to their deaths but, instead, their descent slowed. By the light of the dwindling circle of sky above them, Elara could see the other orcs descending other ropes.

A yelp burst from Elara’s throat when the orc carrying her hit bottom with a painful thump. He released her and she sat on the damp stone floor and moaned. It was dark. The only light came from the sinkhole far above them. She could see that they were in a cavern, but its size was lost in the murk.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked. “Are you going to kill me?”

The orc bared his teeth and pointed. “Azg.”

Tears running down her cheeks, Elara got up and tried to walk in the direction the orc had indicated. She had not gone three steps before her foot caught on a rock unseen in the gloom and she fell, bruising her cheek painfully since her hands were still tied.

The orc grunted and grabbed her arm with a calloused hand, a hand still hot from the descent down the rope, and pulled her to her feet. She could then feel his hands working at her wrists. Shortly, the ropes around them fell free. The orc stood back and pointed again, “Azg.”

Untied now, Elara could possibly run, but where could she go?  “Azg,” she said and walked in the direction the orc had pointed.

Just released: Oruk Means Hard Work

Just a real brief note that I’ve “pulled the trigger” on the release of my latest novelette “Oruk Means Hard Work”.  It should be available soon in the Kindle Store.  As always, I have made it available for free under Kindle Unlimited.  I’ll do a longer blog post later, with a sample and link as soon as I see it available.

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Blast from the Past: Depression and Suicide

In some recent discussion I have seen, I became aware that a person with whom I have a peripheral connection (he ran a website I followed) has killed himself.  No need to name the person.  And if anyone comments, no need for guesses as to who it might be.  Who it was doesn’t really matter to this post.  What follows is a slightly edited version of a post I wrote on my old blog after Robin Williams’ death:


The death of Robin Williams has led to a lot of discussion among my friends on FaceBook.  One of the things that has got a lot of discussion is the topic of suicide and suicide prevention.

First, let me say that I am not a trained counselor or suicide prevention specialist.  We had some instruction on that back when I was in the Air Force and my own experiences may give me some insight but that’s all I have to offer.  Perhaps for someone it will be enough.

A number of people have expressed some anger from the aspect of “think of how you’re hurting the people left behind.”  Sometimes that helps, but sometimes…  Well, from my experience, from “suicide prevention” materials I studied in the AF, and from people I’ve talked to, a person who’s suicidal can generally go one of two ways. In one, they just don’t believe that anyone cares, or that people would be better off, that their death would be a relief to the folk they leave behind. The other direction is that, yes, they know they’ll hurt people. But they’re still suicidal so now they feel guilty about the pain their death would cause, which makes them feel worse, which makes them more suicidal, which makes them feel more guilty, which….

In neither case does “think about the people you leave behind” serve as a useful approach to take.

Suicidal people often do think about the people they’re leaving behind, and the thought makes their feelings of depression worse. They are mistaken. On an objective level what they’re thinking is wrong. And on some level they may even know that.  But their thought processes are messed up by the same issues that cause the depression in the first place.

Now sometimes, “think about the people who care about you” can help but you do need to remember that both of the above are very common reactions. Does that mean that there’s no way out? Of course not. A lot of it depends on how far one has gone down the path before intervention. I’m just pointing out one of the elements of depression is ones perceptions and emotional reactions are all screwed up. “Think about the people you’d be leaving behind” is generally not a good approach for a person who is deeply depressed and suicidal and is quite likely to make the matter worse.

One of the problems, and one of the defining points of going from “depression” to “suicidal” is the belief that it won’t pass, that you will never be happy, or anything other than miserable, ever again. You might “know” on an intellectual level that it’s bogus, that it will pass, but you feel, down inside, that it’s forever, that you don’t even have one happy day ahead of you. You might know better, but you don’t believe it.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t approaches that do help. Probably the simplest, and surprisingly quite effective is to just be there, be stubborn about leaving.  Frequently a depressed person will try to drive you away, thinking in their depression that they’re doing you a favor by doing so, that they’re not “worthy” of having friends or family around.  Let them talk about whatever.

And sometimes, it means medication either temporarily to get out of the current cycle or possibly permanently. When I had my bad episode the first doctor to prescribe antidepressants for me said that because of the severity of my depression I’d probably be on medication as a prophylactic measure for the rest of my life. As it happened I found something better, far better, than medication (since the medications that worked for me had certain side effects that negatively impacted “quality of life” and also put some extra stress on my marriage–you can make your own guesses; I’m not going to say more here). I found that for me (not saying it would work for everyone, or even anyone, else) that getting involved in “outdoorsy” activities like hunting and fishing (hiking, less so), cleared things up in a way that none of the medications ever did.

But the combination of medication and counseling got me out of that very bad period. And the thing that my friends and family did that helped the most was get me into that counseling and to a doctor for the medication.

And, yes, I know that the two paths I described before are not “either/or”. It’s also “and” because I managed to feel both of them at once, mutually contradictory or not. (I did mention that depression screws up your thinking, right?)

Another thing that isn’t very helpful is to ask a person why they’re depressed.

When you try to answer that question, your “reasons” sound silly to yourself. And so you feel bad for being depressed over such “trivia”. This results in feeling even worse.

That’s one of the problems. Everything is so backwards from what a non-clinically-depressed person thinks.

However, the ones who really deserve a bitch-slap are the ones who sneer at “suicide attempts” and “depression” as a “ploy” for attention. While that might happen sometimes, the “cry for help” is generally not a “ploy”. If they’re crying for help via the means of doing something potentially lethal to themselves (unlike, say that scene near the beginning of Earthquake where Liz Taylor’s character dumped a bunch of sleeping pills in the toilet and pretended to have taken an overdose).

If they’re going that far, then that “cry for help” is because they really need help.

Even a half-ass suicide attempt which is highly unlikely to work means a person really needs help. Really.

For that matter, even a faked suicide attempt is a pretty serious cry for help, and may well be a first step toward something more serious.