Categories
Africa Colonialism Medicine

Podcast: Robert Koch in Colonial East Africa

 

Robert Koch (1843-1910) (source: Carl Zeiss Microscopy)

By Sofia Falzberger BA, Charlotte Fleischmann BA & Pamela Kultscher BA

The podcast discusses Robert Koch’s activities and medical experiments in Colonial East Africa.

Categories
Capitalism and Disease Vulnerability

Capitalism and Mental Health

by Sofia Falzberger, BA

While the second lockdown will have grave effects on Austria’s economy, it seems to be necessary in order to save lives. The infections need to be stabilized to ensure an intensive care bed for every person needing it. Cutting contacts, staying at home, saving lives- this is what the population is required to do.

What is different in the second lockdown though is that we still need to function. While the first lockdown came to all of us as a surprise and was quite all embracing- this second lockdown is harder to understand, harder to grasp.

“So, we should stay at home but then we should go to work. Within the first lockdown I was like telling myself, okay… It’s gonna be over soon. It’s okay to not do anything. I’m just gonna make this puzzle”, a friend of mine told me.

For her, what makes this second lockdown so hard is not that it is the second one but that within it, you are still expected to be functioning. While the first lockdown meant a halt in our capitalistic economic system, throughout this second lockdown capitalism is supposed to continue.

We don’t only need a healthy body. We also need a healthy mind.

The notion that we can only function within a healthy body is widespread within capitalistic societies. Capitalism’s highest premise is that we are functioning well, as it is this collective functioning that keeps this system alive.

However, it seems to me as if we are missing something in this equation. To function well we do not only need a healthy body. We also need a healthy mind.

And this healthy mind has not only been forgotten in capitalistic societies since the Corona Pandemic hit us. On the contrary, while Capitalism is constantly worsening society’s mental health it is still turning a blind eye on the subject.

The paradox we keep on reproducing

In the article A Mad World: Capitalism and the Rise of Mental Illness the author even dares speaking of mental illness as being the second pandemic we are constantly living in[1]. Another article, Capitalism and mental health states that the WHO estimates that more than three hundred million people suffer from depression worldwide[2].

While there is evidence that genetics and physical biomarkers are causing mental disease, the other important factor is environmental and societal causes. Our society prefers explanations based on genetic reductionism over others. Structural inequalities resulting from an economic system that builds upon capital accumulation and competition only, are widely ignored.

The truth is: the more our lives get turned into commodities, the more we feel alienated within them. Here Marx gave the example of a mother labouring (and it is work to give birth to a child!) her child. As soon as the baby is in this world, it gets turned into something doll-like, into a commodity. By this it is taken further away from the woman it came out of, the parents it was made from and the naturality of things. The market is taking this baby and claiming it for itself, alienating it even further from the parents[3]. This constant shift from things how they are, into a notion of things how they ought to be is driven by forces such as capitalism and advertisements. These forces have already been identified by Freud as the motor of increasing neuroses within a modern society. Psychoanalytic psychotherapist Sue Gerhardt also writes about how capitalism reshapes our brains and our nervous systems, stating that we would often be confusing ‘well-being with psychological well-being’[4]. All these arguments are also subsumed in Erich Fromm’s hypothesis that under capitalism humans become divorced from their own nature[5].

Inequality creates mental illness

Another point that this discussion should not miss is the inequality capitalism generates.  It is common knowledge that mental illness is developing out of inequalities and today we also have a lot of scientific proof for this. According to a report of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London, “children from households with the lowest 20% of incomes have a three-fold increased risk of mental health problems than children from households with the highest 20% of incomes.[6]” This also comes back to the debate of work. In our modern society work is often portrayed as the individual’s fulfillment, as a sort of self-realization. However this argument only embraces a small minority of people (and even within this small minority one could question how self-fulfilling it really is to persistently have to prove oneself to be the best). What work actually does is, that it contributes to the feeling of alienation. A study conducted in 2018 in Britain states that 47% of the participants are considering looking for a new job[7]. Erich Fromm talks about human beings being active creators. Under capitalism however, we are forced to put all the energy in the labour, never mind a personal sense of connection to the outcome. What we create then, we rather produce. We no longer have a relation with the results of our work.

It is strange enough that we live under these conditions that steadily are bringing us further away from our human nature. But even stranger it is, that we know about it and still do not change a thing.

Even if it feels like it has already been mentioned a thousand times and even if it feels like a hopelessly optimistic approach, I will still say it: Maybe the Covid-19 pandemic can open our eyes and serve as a turning point towards a new, more just system.

For further information, read these articles:

David Matthews: Capitalism and Health (2019) in: Monthly Review, an independent socialist magazine.
https://monthlyreview.org/2019/01/01/capitalism-and-mental-health/#en38

Rod Tweety: A Mad World: Capitalism and the Rise of Mental Illness (2020) in: Hampton Institute.

https://www.hamptonthink.org/read/a-mad-world-capitalism-and-the-rise-of-mental-illness

[1]          Rod Tweety: A Mad World: Capitalism and the Rise of Mental Illness (2020) in: Hampton Institute. https://www.hamptonthink.org/read/a-mad-world-capitalism-and-the-rise-of-mental-illness (last access: 03.12.2020, 14:37).

[2]          David Matthews: Capitalism and Health (2019) in: Monthly Review, an independent socialist magazine.
https://monthlyreview.org/2019/01/01/capitalism-and-mental-health/#en38 (last access: 03.12.2020, 14:32).

[3]          Rod Tweety: A Mad World: Capitalism and the Rise of Mental Illness (2020) in: Hampton Institute. https://www.hamptonthink.org/read/a-mad-world-capitalism-and-the-rise-of-mental-illness (last access: 03.12.2020, 16:37).

[4]          Sue Gerhardt The Selfish Society quoted in: ibid.

[5]          Fromm, The Sane Society refered to in: David Matthews: Capitalism and Health (2019) in: Monthly Review, an independent socialist magazine.
https://monthlyreview.org/2019/01/01/capitalism-and-mental-health/#en38 (last access: 03.12.2020, 14:32).

[6]          Royal College of Psychiatrists London: No health without public mental health- The case for action: Position Statement PS4/2010 (London: Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2010) p.18, https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/docs/default-source/improving-care/better-mh-policy/position-statements/ps04_2010.pdf?sfvrsn=b7316b7_4 (last access: 03.12.2020, 14:28).

[7]          Investors in People: Job Exodus Trends: 2018 Employee Sentiment Poll (London: Investors in People, 2018) in:
David Matthews: Capitalism and Health (2019) in: Monthly Review, an independent socialist magazine.
https://monthlyreview.org/2019/01/01/capitalism-and-mental-health/#en38 (last access: 03.12.2020, 14:32).