The United States has seen more and more stories like my own. As inequality rose, so did its victims. Between 1980 and 2014, the income share of the richest 1 percent of American adults doubled, rising from around 10 percent up to 20, while that of the bottom 50 percent was halved, falling from around 20 percent down to 12. Research has shown that societies with high inequality are also societies with high levels of status anxiety — and for good reason: as inequality rises, one’s relative social standing comes to matter much more in determining one’s life chances. Yet as inequality rises, so does the fixity of the status hierarchy. Social mobility declines, so fewer poor parents have rich children, and fewer rich parents have poor children. The wealthy are piling into gated communities and closing the gates behind them.
In this context, people take risks to get ahead against increasingly impossible odds, and mostly they lose. That’s how risk works. And so, here, in the richest country in the world, we have rates of mental illness, drug use, violence, and homicide that are among the highest in the world. We have a massive prison population, facing much harsher sentences than prisoners in other countries. We respond to this drastic situation by giving up our lives. For fuck’s sake, life expectancy is declining in America. On a dying planet we are dying sooner. It’s like being in an otherwise quiet room with the loud ticking of a nearby clock. Can’t you hear it?