Bill Schubart

Commentator

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.

Schubart: Depression

Feb 12, 2018

Seventy per cent of all Americans are taking some form of prescription medication, and ten per cent of them are on anti-depressants. Among women between 40 and 50, the number is twenty-five percent. In fact, antidepressant use has quadrupled in just the last thirty years.

Recent federal policies are putting our international standing at risk.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested that our economic recovery could be stoked by American women simply having more children.

Although our collective individual commitments to improving our communities and environment are important in offsetting the negatives of over-consumption and pollution, scientists warn us that by themselves, personal efforts like recycling, heating with renewables, and reducing consumption are not enough to move the dial on planetary survival.

In physics, centripetal forces propel objects toward the center and centrifugal forces drive them away. And today, our societies and communities are engaged in an epic battle between these two opposing forces.

Any male not now asking himself about his own behavior towards woman and children is extending the risk to both into future generations. Sexual abuse rolls forward from generation to generation until someone – both victim and perpetrator – decides to get honest with themselves and others. Victims are now coming forth in droves.

At seventy-two, I often hear myself say, “Well, when I was young…” followed by some judgment about the behavior of today’s kids. I seem to remember my parent’s expectations of me as a kid were quite different from what parents seem to expect today. Looking back, my parents’ expectations and boundaries hardly felt ambiguous.

It’s no secret that many colleges and prep schools are in financial trouble. Accrediting organizations predict a significant number of institutional failures in the next decade. We even feel the pain here in Vermont but, understandably, no one wants to discuss it, as any faint whiff of distress further discourages applications.

When I was eight, I took the NRA safety and target training at a camp in Maine. Two years later, my parents gave me a Winchester .22 long rifle. We kids would peddle our bikes up to the dump after it closed on Saturday to “pop” rats. During deer season the high school boys brought their 30.06s to school and left them in the principal’s office so they could hunt right after school before sundown.

As human beings we’re living in a time when our evolutionary capacity to understand, regulate, and use technological innovation in a way beneficial to mankind and our planetary home is simply overwhelmed by the relentless speed of discovery and invention.

When I was young, Morrisville had three doctors, two dentists and the wood-framed, four-story, Copley Hospital, which had the town’s first elevator. Theoretically, there was competition, but price wasn’t the criteria by which we chose our providers, it was familiarity and trust.

The principle of free speech is again being debated in the streets, in op-ed columns, and between opposing ideologies. Although principles are often deemed absolute, their legal application is most often contextual … and therein lies the rub. The context often cited is that it’s illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater unless there’s a fire.

Like many, I wake up each morning and check online news sources for the latest read on the health of our nation. Like the addictive eater I am, I gobble up the latest ethical transgression, human rights abuse, crony favor, or governmental misbehavior. This menu of public service abuses sets the baseline for my thoughts, mood, and conversations for the day and I take satisfaction in thinking how right I am and how wrong so many of my fellow citizens are. It’s like scanning the country’s electronic medical record so I can keep up-to-date on its wellbeing.

I’ve been watching the national effort to politicize Burlington College’s demise and am saddened by the venality of our politics and our dangerous ignorance of non-profit governance. It’s endemic in Vermont, where too many of our major non-profits have limped through a decade or two of un-reviewed leadership, mission decay, and disconnection from constituents because their boards have no idea what the obligations and liabilities of board members are or even what board service means.

How quickly we forget. Just short of four decades ago Vermont policymakers decided that a competitive healthcare system had not lowered healthcare costs, but was, in fact, driving costs up, as hospitals vied for more expensive technology and market share. The relationship between our thirteen community hospitals and our tertiary-care hospitals – then Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth – were tortured and riddled with expense.

From as early as I can remember, I’ve been an opera buff. I remember sitting in the orchestra section at the Old Metropolitan Opera House on 39th and Broadway and hearing the great mid-century singers. My great-grandmother Selma was having a platonic affair with Caruso. My Aunt Rose hung out with the greats of the time: Gueden, Schwarzkopf, Kunz, and Jerome Hines. My fervid childish imagination lit up at the live passion, violence, and madness on stage that made the comics littering Al Melendy’s barbershop in Morrisville seem pale by comparison.

I love Vermont. I’ve lived here seventy years, and like my father, I’ve turned down opportunities to move away and earn more money. But I don’t trust the Vermont myth of ‘exceptionalism.’

We’ve become a nation of divided cranks. Too many of my friends have made up their mind about everything, dug in their heels, and either turned their face to the wall, as they say in hospice, or steeled themselves to fighting for their entrenched opinions.

Many small colleges are struggling with low inquiry, application, and admission rates, including here in the Northeast. Rising tuitions, student loan abuses, and radical change in employment patterns have discouraged many students who then choose to bypass college and just enter the workforce at a lower level of opportunity.

Growing up in the transition from Vermont’s “Republican century” to the Democratic “sixties,” the political labels we used seemed meaningless in the many discussions I had with people of differing political ideals. I usually found commonsense and decency in their differing perspectives.

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