This post originally appeared on Taryn Fox’s blog in 2013.
Matthew Garrett’s recent post on depression touched a nerve, because I’ve been dealing with it for most of my life and it was especially bad all of last year. I’m trying to arrange to get help, but even that is extremely difficult right now.
I’m going to try to add some things to his post without going on for too long. Specifically, I’m going to address ideas we have and stuff we take for granted that makes the experience of being depressed much, much worse.
The “Just World” fallacy
This is a fancy name for the idea that people tend to get what they deserve. Here in the States, we call it “liberty” and “objectivism” and “reducing dependence on government.” In the Linux and Free Software communities, we call it “meritocracy.”
It’s an extremely convenient belief to have if you’re at the top of your pecking order. It tells you that you deserve to be there, because of how awesome you are. And it tells you not to worry about anybody beneath you, because if they’re deserving they’ll make it eventually. And if they’re not, well, don’t worry about it. It’s their fault, and helping them will just keep them dependent on you. Better to throw them out of the nest and watch their carcasses smear on the rocks, until you find one that can fly like you could.
This mindset stigmatizes being weak or in need of help. It turns being a newb, at life or at Linux, into something to be ashamed of. And when you have this mindset yourself, and are weak or injured, you’re ashamed of everything. You have a desperate need to please others and show that your life is worthwhile. You’re afraid to admit failure, to yourself or to anyone else, because you know that you’ll be destroyed and it’ll be your fault.
Preordained winners and losers
If you aren’t so conscientious, of course, none of that matters. Of course you’ll get the help you need. Of course you deserve it. Ayn Rand herself went on Social Security. My parents have no qualms about getting cheques from the government, via dad’s military retirement. But I sold off almost all my possessions to keep from needing to apply for “food stamps,” which are one of the only reliable social welfare programs here for people who aren’t senior citizens. I didn’t want to be a burden.
And that’s what these beliefs are all about. They take people who care about others, who want to help others, who want to be part of a team and community and work together to do something awesome, and very often make them into nervous, self-loathing wrecks. At their best and most productive, they may have impostor syndrome and depression, may fail to promote themselves and their projects, and may put up with crap no one should. At their worse, they may want to kill themselves, like I almost did a few years ago after being thrown out of the house.
The fact that my parents let me back in an hour or so later didn’t change anything. There was no apology. The status quo, in which this event wasn’t even surprising and I just needed to live with it, did not change. And my family laughed and joked with each other later that day, without saying a word about what’d happened, as I went catatonic right there on the couch. I knew now that I was worthless, and no matter how much reassurance or encouragement I get from others that “fact” is still the core of my being.
I guess what I’m trying to say is,
The idea of “meritocracy” causes depression and kills people
And so whenever I see people glorify it, I know right away that to the degree that they take this belief seriously I’m looking at a good ol’ boys’ network with preordained winners and losers. Where people they like and consider worthwhile get rewarded and get away with anything, and people they dislike get blamed for their “failures” and punished.
This is why there’s historically been so much hostility towards Apple, and towards everything in GNOME and Free Software and politics that tries to make stuff easier for newbs or bring new people into the fold. The people complaining have decided who’s a “real” hacker or gamer or contributor or American, and who’s undeserving of the label. They want the undeserving to run off somewhere that they don’t have to see them, and they close their eyes so they don’t see the smeared carcasses on the rocks.
When you grow up with this mindset and then realize that you’re undeserving, you want to die.
I guess that’s all.