Depression, Colonial period and the age of Competition by Nree Raha Adrija


Around 300 million people around the globe has depression or suffers from acute mania as stated from the World Health Organization in 2017. In 2020 these numbers has increased considerably due to the Covid-19 economic crisis. Many people were laid off from their work , became homeless and couldn’t afford to pay rent or afford proper healthcare . The first question that rises is that why millions of people were under depression at the first place before the economic crisis of covid-19 and why during the covid-19 . According to the Anxiety and depression association of America , around 17.3 million of Americans have had major depressive disorders among which 70 percent had acute mania. Nevertheless to say that these statistics are never exactly accurate. The statistics often fail to record the exact value. The numbers are likely to be higher. In Bangladesh ranging between one to hundred teenagers coming from middle class families, around forty to sixty percent of the youth are more likely to be depressed regarding their careers, education facilities, and establishment. Among thirty to forty percent adults are depressed regarding their jobs, earning methods and due to the lack of financial stability. We are living in an era of neoliberalism and stating this fact personal depression takes a political form. Each individual is constantly in a race with each other shaping themselves up as “competitive” objects in a broader view in the concurrent capitalist society.

To look more speculatively on the cases of depression in a competitive age, it becomes a necessity to first look at the very core of this “competition” which is popularized by the capitalist society. Viewing this from a historical aspect , I felt the utmost need to investigate colonial history and the history of capitalism.

“Later history is always made the goal of earlier history.”

– Karl Marx.
Karl Marx (1818-1883), philosopher and German politician. (Photo by Roger Viollet Collection

From close observation of colonial policy it is evident that subjugation of the people of the colonies existed as a process of dehumanization. An act of severe brutality on the people of the colonies was visible to the eyes of the ordinary. “The numerous clause” was applied to the human race which stated that none may kill rob or slave their own man and laid down the principle that the natives are not our fellow man and settlers took extreme violent measures degrading him unless he doesn’t recognize himself as a man anymore. In Congo Negroes hands were cut off, in Angola malcontent’s lips were pierced in order to shut them with padlocks. Frantz Fanon says “It seeks to dehumanize them. He is no longer a man at all; Shame and fear will split up his character and make his inmost self shatter into pieces but you won’t get there without weakening him considerably; Blows will never suffice, you have to push the starvation further and that’s the trouble with slavery”. Violent measures taken to dehumanize the natives to that extent reduces his output and a fall in the accumulated wealth of the Europeans for which the settler had to stop the breaking-in halfway. A farmyard man finishes by costing more then he brings in. Fanon goes on to say “Here the contradiction of the settler stood naked. He ought to kill those who he plunders but now he must also exploit. If we go on to dehumanize them by carrying massacres to genocide the machine goes into reverse “. When the people of the colonies started raising their voice against the inhumane cruel action of the Europeans, The Europeans tried to bring a balance. The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They started off by wiping their traditions, to substitute their language of the native with theirs and to obliterate their culture. From Paris to London, from Amsterdam they only echoed “Parthenonl! Brotherhood! And some where in Africa or Asia lips would open “Parthenonl! Brotherhood!. Blacks were now allowed to participate in the Prix Goncourt Prize. Jean Paul Sartre says on this matter “Colonial administrator are not paid to read Hegel for that they do not read much of him but they do not need a philosopher to tell them that uneasy consciences are caught up in their own contradictions. So the European aimed to perpetuate the discomfort of the natives. It’s enough to hold a carrot in front of their noses and they will gallop right away” and the carrot was to let the natives to participate in the Prix Goncourt, in The Nobel Prize. From dehumanization to brainwashing blacks. In every ten Europeans one prize was given to the Black. Among hundred police officers there will be one black man, in ten professors one black professors, one black president in the political spheres of white supremacy. The Europeans showed the blacks the “white dream”. To be one black among thousand Europeans. ” To be that one black they fight among themselves , competes , degrade each other and sees his own race as inferior to the whites. They are separated , disorganized from each other while fighting for the “white dream”.

Frantz Fanon

From the history of colonization two important factors come into account . First one is that the Europeans could longer continue their animal-like degradation when the output of the slaves started to fall. For they must exploit also . Second one is whitewashing the blacks . To show them the dreams to become an European. They brought the mayhem further leaving the blacks as competitive objects to become an European.

If we now look at the subaltern class ( The word “subaltern” is used here from Gramsci’s perspective and is taken from the “Philosophy of Praxis”. It doesn’t stand for the meaning as the word subaltern has in post-colonialism or postmodernism ) from a historical point of view abstract from their race, colour, or nationality then in the era of slavery , slaves were under the full domination of the slave owner or to be more precise the slave was the property of the slave owner. He didn’t have his own house and were not allowed to marry without the permission of the slave owner. To that point violent and inhumane measures were taken to keep the slave under control which was visible to the ordinary eye. In the Feudal era , the farmer had his own house , own land and his own farming tools but he still had to pay a heavy tax to the feudal lord otherwise his land was seized . No more killings and violence. It might seem to the ordinary eye that violence carried out on the dominated class was reduced to a lesser extent but what was still visible that the feudal lord exploits, he dominates and had direct control over the farmer. Then as a progress in the production relation and productive forces came forth the era of capitalism. The civil society. The proletariat doesn’t have to pay a heavy tax to the capitalist, has his own house and freedom to have family and doesn’t work under the capitalist directly but indirectly. The contradiction hidden under the antagonistic feature of each dominant class and the dominated class at some point results into a resistance. But like Sartre said colonial administrator doesn’t need to read Hegel to understand this contradiction , in a similar way the dominant class also doesn’t need a philosopher to tell them that the antagonistic feature between the two opposite class might result into resistance. For that matter they start to “disorganize” them to bring a “balance”. They show the proletariat you can be one of us by sending your children to school , by working more hours for us , you can get him educated , you can have a better house , a better life. They start from the very ideological base which Althusser called the “Ideological Apparatus”. The worker work for the capitalist to earn his bread, he thinks that by working I can get food to eat , I can pay my rent. Here capitalism plays the trick. This time the exploitation is not visible to the ordinary eye; It functions from the ideological base in a similar way brainwashing the blacks. They introduced the era of “competition”. “It’s enough to hold a carrot in front of their noses and they will gallop right away”. To prevent a mass uprising , to bring a balance the blacks were allowed in the Prix Goncourt, to be one of hundred white man . They will give the opportunities to a few student from the third world countries to study in England , a few professors to teach in their universities among hundred others who came from the dominant class. The masses constantly compete with each other , individuals fight for status , money and power consistently in order to be more established in a capitalist society.

The Europeans talk about humanity while they are still carrying out animal-like degradation . Their paintings in the exhibitions , their films in the Oscar only sympathize the poor, while they go on exploiting the masses .They will read lines from communist manifesto in the Oscar , while child labourers of the poor countries are beaten down to work , for the filthy wealth of the European countries , for the filthy wealth of the dominant class ,

They open charities and Ngo’s to help the poor. The international “Ngo-isation” uses the process of “Relief effort” to build the basis of bureaucratisation, professionalization, and depoliticization eventually resulting into “Corporate Ngo’s” . The parallel process of institutionalization and professionalization tend to transform civil society into hierarchical, centralized, and corporate entities, that focus on their own survival. They have put a veil on the truth to divert the masses due to competition. The State ensures that members of the dominated classes do not experience the relations of production as class relations, instead living them as competitive relations among individuals constituted as ‘subjects’ of the democratic people-nation.  Nicos Poulantzas called this process ‘the isolation effect’: The State exists by the the unification and organization of the class fractions dominant class while leaves the dominated class disorganized by Competition. To show them the dream that they can be one of them.

Competition was introduced to the masses in a similar way brainwashing the blacks. Competition with one another from the same class in order to be more richer , more wealthier more established. This competition eventually results into “depression” among the individuals in the middle class and the middle upper class while the working class working under extreme pressure doesn’t recognize him as a man anymore just how the dehumanization process was carried out in the colonial era. He can no longer think but only works. He works to earn bread for that day , to be able to send his children to school so that his child doesn’t end up like him . But the school plays even a higher role in the ideological apparatus. It only creates a more skilled labourer of the bourgeois. Each individual becomes competitive to the other. Competition in order to “disorganize” the masses, to distract them from the real truth , to show them the dreams of becoming one of the dominant class. For a lower class , it is to be a part of the middle class, for the middle class to be a petty bourgeois while a handful of people rule over the world disorganizing the masses . Individuals as competitive objects, suffers from severe depression when subjected to failure. Success becomes the main motive of life. There are several stages of competition in a capitalist society which presupposes the development of capitalism in that society. Teenagers from middle class or upper middle class are forced to choose a given subject in the university which will have a better career for them in a capitalist society. Subjects that can guarantee a higher rank job in Microsoft Company, in Tesla, or Amazon. A large number of teenagers commits suicide under the pressure of getting into a good university , regarding bad grades. Depression in thirty percent of the Adults results from financial instability. To be not able to find a better job , a better house or a better car. In the middle and middle upper class mental disorders often results due to competition. In the working class, the workers goes under the same process of dehumanization which seeks to dehumanize but this time economically without the help of violence . Suicidal behavior and depression often results due to unemployment and poverty. During the covid 19 pandemic eight suicidal cases were registered due to poverty. On 6 April, an adult man (aged 30 years) from Mohespur Upazila in Jhenaidah committed suicide (by hanging himself) due to the pressure of unpaid debts. In addition, his family was half-fed and had starved for a week after losing work after the lockdown and was denied any financial support from local government authorities.On 12 April, a woman and mother of five children (aged 35 years) from Cox’s Bazar attempted suicide by hanging, although one of her sons rescued her by getting help from her neighbors. Her husband lost his job because of the lockdown and they were also ineligible to receive relief goods from the local government authorities. The mother could not bear to see her starving children’s faces and thought that by killing herself she could provide more food for her starving children. On 13 April, a young adult man, a day labourer (aged 27 years) from Noldangga village in Natore committed suicide due to unemployment.  On 14 April, a woman from Dhamrai in Dhaka attempted suicide and kill her two children by setting themselves on fire with kerosene oil. Her husband became unemployed due to the shutdown of a garment factory. On 16 April, an adult man from Bashkhali Upazila in Chattogram committed suicide.The man was an auto-rickshaw driver and was unable to earn any money for his family because he was unable to use his vehicle to earn money during the lockdown. There are many similar cases of suicide regarding unemployment due to the Covid 19 in Bangladesh and many others around the globe.

Mental disorders is manufactured politically in the economic spheres. Depression in individuals is not an abstract form from the political spheres, it is not apolitical. In a capitalist society , depression to a higher extent results from competition, unemployment and economic crisis. It is nothing but a by-product of capitalism.


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