Author: Roman King

Roman King is a 15-year-old from Decatur, Illinois currently serving as Senior Editor for 71 Republic. Outside of writing, King is an honor roll student with a varsity letter in Scholastic Bowl, participating on a team that finished 12th at the 2016 Small School National Championship Tournament and 6th at the 2016 IHSA Championships. King can be contacted at [email protected]

The Hypocrisy of the National Rifle Association

Roman King | United States

When one thinks of firearm advocacy organizations in the United States, there are few organizations that ring the bell quite as loud as the National Rifle Association. Ever since its founding in 1871, the National Rifle Association, or the NRA as it’s colloquially known, has the reputation of being a fighting force for gun rights. According to their membership website, the NRA boasts a membership force of over five million strong and is one of the strongest political activist groups against gun control in the nation. According to the NRA website, the NRA actively seeks out lawmakers and lobbies for them to vote against gun control measures like universal background checks, bump stock bans, and suppressor bans. However, the NRA has not been as staunch on the defense of the Second Amendment as they would like you to believe. They have actively helped author gun control legislation, and have actively lobbied for gun control when it helped their political narrative.

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The Fragile State of Human Mortality

Roman King | United States

There comes from time to time a moment when man must contemplate his own mortality, and come face to face with the inordinate truth that, like it or not, we have a limited time on this mortal soil. And it should also come with that knowledge that at any moment, no matter how crude or cruel, we may suffer that terrible fate, stolen from the machine of life, stolen from our loved ones, stolen from humanity. Such crises, God willing, will not happen often in any one person’s life. But time to time, tragedy strikes with the cruel, cold hand of a tyrant, punishing the innocent, and leaving behind a wake of horror. Such is the harsh reality of life; that we are subject to the ultimate truth that we are here for a limited amount of time, often times not nearly long enough.

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The Millennial Mental Health Crisis – Why Are Our Youth Depressed?

by Roman King | United States

It’s no secret that teenagers and millennials are having a serious mental health crisis right now. According to a paper published in the medical journal Pediatrics, 11.8% of teenagers in the United States have suffered a major depressive episode at one point in their lives. This is an incredibly startling statistic, considering this rate was just 8.7% in 2005, representing a 37% increase in reported occurrences of major depressive episodes among teenagers. Considering that the same study cited above didn’t find an increase in mental health treatment for teens in that period of time between 2005 and 2016, the realistic rate of depressive incidents and clinical depression among teenagers and millennials in America has likely seen an even larger increase than that.

This is an incredible problem, considering that over 50% of people who commit suicide suffer from major depression, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In regards to this terrible trend of mental illness in the youth community, it would be imperative to try and destroy something so prevalent that it occurred in the majority of suicide victims. To the dismay of the youth and psychologists alike, though, it is nearly impossible to treat something when nobody can point a direct finger to why the most recent generations have been the most depressed in recorded human history — everything from increasing college prices, social negativity, and all the other reasons among them have been pegged as reasons our youth are suffering greatly. Certainly, none of these reasons are wrong — and it’s somewhat ridiculous to generalize such issues to a group as diverse and unique as millennials and teenagers. However, the massive issue has much more to do with behavioral psychology and the unique problems millennial/teenage children have collectively had in their early youth (in the elementary and even early middle school years) than the overly political sociologists in modern academia would perhaps like to admit. The problem is much more primal and begins as young as young as the age of 2, and it’s where all of the emotional imbalance potentially begins — millennial and modern children do not get enough play time at school.

Not Enough Free Play

It is scientifically proven that free, unstructured play time is essential to the well-being and development of children. Unstructured free play contributes to the cognitive, motor, and social development of young children, and it is such an essential part of neuronal development that the same phenomena can be observed in simple rats. In an article by Dr. Steven Schlozman, associate director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry at Harvard (published in Psychology Today), Dr. Schlozman writes that rats benefit from free play by experiencing growth in the frontal lobe which controls decision making and solves problems. That same article also describes the developmental plights of the rat that doesn’t get to play, but instead spends its time in a cage eating and sleeping all day — their brains are not as fully developed as the rats that were able to run around and enjoy adequate free play. There is still more to be said about the peculiar development of these aforementioned lab rats; the younger a rat is exposed to free play, the quicker they develop from it. At a certain age, the rats begin to lose potential value out of their playing, and don’t develop from it. These lab tests showed that it wasn’t possible for rats to compensate for a childhood of unhealthy habits at an older age.

Sure enough, the same phenomena has been be found in human children; they’ve been getting less and less time out playing, and the effects have been markedly negative. According to Dr. Peter Gray, Professor emeritus of Psychology at Boston College, children in 1997, as compared against those in 1981, spent 18% more time at school, 145% more time doing school work, and 168% more time shopping with parents. The prevalence and increase in helicopter parenting has been cited as one huge reason for this decrease in play; Dr. Gray argues that parents are collectively becoming much more protective of their children, which is causing a severe drop off in the amount of children getting to have the unsupervised free time necessary for proper neuronal and cognitive development. Along with the increase in helicopter parenting, the boom of commercial entertainment in the form of television has helped produce a more sedentary generation of children — since 2000, the amount of households with a television in the United States has increased from 102.2 million households to 119.6 million households in 2018, representing a 17% percent increase in this statistic.

The scientific literature is quite clear — television is an incredible cognitive and behavioural depressant. While there are arguments to be made that educational children’s programming can result in better number and shape recognition, children are more likely to watch “normal TV” than educational programs, and the time that could have been spent at play is still lost. The cognitive benefits of children’s programming does not seem to match up to the penultimately important developmental benefits of unsupervised free play. So kids aren’t getting enough playtime with their friends as small children, and it’s obviously affecting the ability of millennials to problem solve, to participate in complex situations, and to cope with negative emotions. That alone doesn’t explain the incredible increase in negative emotions among millennials and teens, though — that just explains why our systems are doomed to go haywire from the start. It doesn’t explain what sets them haywire. For an explanation on that, we can turn to the silicon monster that dwells in our pockets — the rise of the smartphone, and perhaps more specifically what we’re doing with those smartphones.

The Rise of Social Media

2004-2007 was one of the most influential time periods regarding revolutionary methods of Internet communication, and one of the most important points of reference to the modern era of social media and interaction. In that three year period, the way people (specifically millenials and teenagers raised into that culture) communicated was radically and permanently shifted. In 2004, Facebook, one of the first social media applications, was launched in the United States in certain college campuses — you had to have a college email account to sign up for Facebook. Even for college students who did not grow up with it, it was still an incredible change in how people communicated and got information. This didn’t have an incredibly massive effect on the mental health of college students in 2004-2005 (when Facebook wasn’t completely collectively available), because it was a much smaller endeavour than it was when it became fully realized, and because the college students using it were still raised in a way that pointed towards healthier mental development (the spike in television households didn’t happen until 2000, well after the early childhoods of 2004 college students).

This changed in the year 2006, when Facebook became available outside of college communities for the first time. With this change, any 10-year-old could pretend to be thirteen and join Facebook. This on its own was a radical enough change; now that young children much within the range of what I would call the rise of the helicopter parent era were able to access social media (albeit at a limited capacity), their developmentally warped minds now had another social medium to contend with — this strange field where positive emotion was gained from whether or not the mob agrees with you. People post content and get feedback in the form of likes from the general population — a mob, almost. The specific statistics on the negativity of this phenomenon are somewhat unclear, but the psychological consensus is that mob social hierarchies are incredibly negative.

This was already bad enough, but at least those 10-year-olds had to be somewhat intuitive to use their parents’ personal computer to access Facebook. It wasn’t until the iPhone was released in 2007 that things started to get out of hand. Immediately the first iPhone was one of the largest commercial success stories in the history of American capitalism. Even the first iPhone found its way into the hands of children and teenagers (who, from what we’ve already discussed, are more suspect of being critically socially underdeveloped). By 2015, 67% of teens owned an iPhone — by 2017, that number was up to 76%. Neither of these surveys accounted for the moderately sizable minority of teens using Android smartphones, so the percent of teens with a smartphone is likely even higher than that 76% mark. With the development of smartphone technology also came new and shinier ways to fundamentally mess up human social interaction; Twitter was born in 2006 Instagram came along in 2010, and Snapchat followed up just a year after that.

Synthesis

With the developmental problems teenagers and millennials have struggled through in the face of increasingly protective parents, a lack of essential playtime, and the disturbing promotion of sedentary lifestyles, one could expect the rate of depression to increase just from that alone. The smartphone and its constituent social media apps, and the increase in young children being brought up with them (note: I find it incredibly important to state that the negative effects of social media dwindle the older the smartphone owner is — for older teenagers, smartphones are often indispensable methods of contacting people that must be contacted) only makes this problem worse. If you take a bunch of emotionally unintelligent kids who have never been taught any better and give them smartphone, the results won’t be pretty — it’s agreed upon that the presence of these social vices have obvious negative effects on the self-esteem and anxiety rates of teens brought up with them. So what the hell are we to do about it?

The pre-inclined parents reading this, already holding a bias towards technology, might find it apt to use this article as proof that their hypotheses were right after all. Often times, these are the same parents that commit the grave sin of being overbearing on their children, protecting them from the world around their kids. To those like that reading this, I say, hold your horses bucko. I don’t actually think the primary problem is the smartphone. There’s good reason to believe that a majority of the problems stem from your collective inability to raise your children to a healthy standard of experiencing the world. Social media just makes your parental inadequacies ten times more obvious to the rest of the world. Indeed, social media can be a new medium to explore social interactions and contracts to the healthily developed teenager — that is, if that teen is adequate in emotional intelligence, and that’s not a guarantee, with the modern trend of parenting trending towards helicopter-esque.

Conclusion

So what’s the actual answer? There isn’t any one clear answer, sadly — with the preexisting mental volatility of teenagers and the literally infinite amount of environmental factors that can cause depressive episodes in teenagers, there isn’t really a way to prevent children and teenagers from experiencing what can essentially be boiled down to life. Certainly, though, the answer isn’t by trying to shield children from the realities of the real world by refusing them opportunities to play and frolic freely. Instead, parents should allow their kids to play in an unsupervised, unorganized manner. This is how essential problem-solving skills are learned at a young age. An active lifestyle will also help circumvent the many downsides of sedentary lifestyles; physical activity is right behind proper diet in the competition of what blasts away obesity (an incredible mental killer, a massive reason teens have low self-esteem). There is also a case to be had about generally waiting until the later teens to introduce social media and smartphones to children. Generally speaking, though, the mental health of teenagers and millennials is being shot in both feet at a very early age, and it’s hurting us. Suicide rates are up. Depression is through the roof. If we are to improve at all as a society, we must start recognizing the mental illness crisis among the youth and start moving to solve it. We can’t do that unless we actually know where the problem arises from, however, and I tried to flail my arms about and put forth an informed, somewhat academic idea onto the table. This is that attempt. Hopefully, it can be of some sort of help to somebody.

How To Psychologically Endure Crisis: A Personal Account

By Roman King | USA

It is a genuine tragedy that I never got to know my dad. I lived with him for fifteen years until his paranoia, alcoholism, and bipolarism made him decide to ditch us and leave for Arizona. In those fifteen years, I never got to see the man my mom swears existed at one point. Perhaps the biggest tragedy was that indeed, I got to see glimpses of what could be, had his own demons not ruined him; I got to see a loving, caring man who would take a bullet for those he cared about. It was a shame, then, that this was often displaced by bitterness, drunken tirades, reclusiveness, and the tendency to change from happy to furious with the snap of a finger. I got to see glimpses of a man who was active about his hobbies, but this was offset by the constant apathy I saw him demonstrate when he laid in bed for entire weekends, not caring to participate in the family unit. Indeed, what I knew of him wasn’t much good.

I knew that there was a man with noble goals there, underneath the shadow that had fully enveloped him, but there was nothing my mom and I could do to reach down there. What a tragic story he had growing up, too. Without getting into details, it is the kind of stuff that needs copious amounts of alcohol to wash away.

The destruction of the family unit is always something to lament, but it’s hit me personally. He won’t really ever know me, or God forbid my younger brother. At least my dad got to see me begin to spring into something of a future. The odds of him seeing me come to fruition are low, but at least he got to see me do something outside of the expected realm of growing up. My younger brother is nine! Nine years young!

My dad, who has contacted me exactly once in 2018 and incredibly sparingly since the writing of this over three months ago, won’t get that luxury of watching little Alex become something closer to a man. I can only update so much; I can only give sparse commentary to my dad about the utter growth my brother will soon have. God, that’s truly awful. He won’t get to see his own son sprout into adolescence, and my brother won’t have a dad there with him. It’s heartwrenching.

It is a psychological and emotional catastrophe; it is unfair. The absolvement of that close relationship is an incredible problem because it is an intense deviation from the norm. I would argue that having a problematic dad is better than not having one there at all. This is something that is generally true throughout life; the absence of a problem is much more negative than the problem itself. Not having a problem means that there is nothing to solve and no opportunity to improve the problem because there’s not a problem to improve upon.

As much as I am angry towards my dad for abandoning his parental responsibilities and refusing to get help, I would much rather he suffer these terrible mental battles at home, surrounded by people that unequivocally love him, than at a psych ward thousands of miles away from any semblance of family. Yet another tragedy that stemmed from not confronting a shadow.

There is no point holding bitter feelings towards him, I’ve found. That’s much different than simply feeling angry; I’m of the opinion that you have the right to feel emotion when life deals you a blow. When you experience heartbreak, you are allowed to feel sad. When you are lonely, you are allowed to lament that. When you become enraged, you are allowed to boil off and yell. The problem comes when you do not take care of yourself and allow these negative emotions to continue to stop you from growing as a person. That is where things spiral out of control. Tragedies and catastrophes must be kept scaled down to the lowest scale of importance based on your own belief systems; that’s the miracle of surviving life.

To move forward in your life despite unimaginable tragedy; tragedy much worse than just losing a family member, perhaps, you must be able to control the events so that they don’t cause a ripple through what you yourself believe in. It is much better to suffer unimaginably within the framework of which you’ve set yourself in than to question the framework altogether. At least when you feel pain within your own belief system you have something to lean against when you’re out of breath; when the framework collapses, you are left with nothing. If you react to a catastrophe by leaving your belief system to the wind, you will be entirely swept away, and you will face the immeasurable peril of being completely defenseless, from a psychological perspective.

When my dad did eventually leave to the middle of God-knows-where, it was a crushing event. This is undeniable. Such relationship-altering events are bound to cause problems. As much as he was a broken person, I would argue that it’s much better to have a cracked pillar holding up a structure than no pillar whatsoever. All of the above individual factors I talked about made the entire situation incredibly confusing and painful for me to cope with.

The only reason it did not entirely destroy me is because I contained the suffering I felt within a structured, closed system that I knew well and could count on: my mother and brother. The system might be different for you than it was for me, but the important thing is that you had a structure. The direction I had planned in life was not altered. My life plans did not change. My morals, ego, and personality did not change as a direct result of the event. The psychological destruction was kept to an absolute minimum. This is indescribably important.

You can take this mindset to any problem; as a matter of fact, this is probably one of the best ways depressed people can try and take some sort of control over their mind back. Without conscious effort, a depressed person’s mind will take a moderate/minor problem, expand it exponentially, and demonstrate how it ruins the entire belief system and justify why that problem was just another reason to put a gun to their head and pull the trigger. It really is that tragic and it really is that extreme — as Jordan Peterson put it, “…these realizations hit with the certainty of absolute truth.” The best way to counteract this would be, then, to put as much effort as physically and mentally possible to limiting the problem within a small domain, or any domain for that matter.

Suffering is such a characteristic trait of life that the statement “life is suffering” is accurate beyond a reasonable doubt. Just because this is true, however, does not mean that we as people should keel over and accept that; ideally, you should try and disrupt that endless cycle. Despite your best efforts, however, you will undoubtedly suffer somewhat in your life — it is best to be prepared for strife when it knocks on your door.

From the Editor: The Title “Cultural Critic” Is Meaningless

During my time writing with 71 Republic, I’ve been called many things by my peers at school, by family members, and by people familiar with my writing. I’ve been complimented on giving solid social commentary and giving decent positions on psychological issues, which is nice. There’s one title, though, that I’ve gotten, that I want to disavow vehemently, and I never want to be associated — I never want to hear anybody ever call me a “cultural critic” ever again. The term is utterly useless, pointless, and a breeding pool for incredibly toxic virtue signaling. Here’s how.

The term cultural critic is a wide-spanning term that fits a lot of people under its tent, but a generally accepted definition is somebody who specializes in critiquing societal and cultural theory, sometimes on a rather radical scale. The tent is quite large, too, encompassing popular television personalities like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Ann Coulter, and the like — talk show hosts who point out perceived cultural and societal flaws and discusses how to get rid of them or improve upon them. Also among this group are the political commentators and writers like Nate Silver, Nick Gillespie, Ariana Huffington and the like; journalists that have a rather large sphere of internet influence and that draw a large amount of support, quite like the aforementioned television personalities.

From an intellectual point of view, they’re often harmless enough; most of the so-called television cultural critics generally load their discussion with a fair bit of bias (which doesn’t render the facts they cite their arguments with invalid, just as a rule of thumb) to try and reaffirm their viewer base and belief systems, which is standard human behaviour at best and mildly harmful at worst. Cultural critics like these people are incredibly influential in modern society and can inspire monumental acts of collective activism; take John Oliver’s fascinating battle against net neutrality, for example. People such as this aren’t problematic in it of themselves, but no matter their views they all fall under the same groups; social critic, social commentator, cultural critic, et cetera. The term is incredibly wide used; so wide used, as a matter of fact, that the term has lost the little bit of meaning it once had.

This is a problem. Tomi Lahren, in all of her hyper partisanship, faulty logic, and truth-bending, is best known by populist conservative groups as a cultural critic. Milo Yiannopoulos, who’s most defining trait is having the audacity to be conservative and gay, is an incredibly influential cultural critic. John Oliver, who’s arguments can almost all be boiled down to “But it’s the current year!” is an incredibly influential cultural critic. Even Filthy Frank, a fictitious Internet character made with the sole and express intent to offer shock humour, has been genuinely brought up on Internet discussion boards as a cultural critic.. There is a serious problem when Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and published author, can be put under the same blanket as the plethora of armchair social analysts that plague the Internet at any given point in time. If Peterson is a cultural critic, and Dave the extremely outspoken and somehow oft-viewed liberal blogger at your high school is also a cultural critic, does the term really mean anything?

Anybody can call themselves a cultural critic, because the term is meaningless. Literally anybody who is capable of giving somewhat of an informed opinion on modern events can call themselves a cultural critic, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. The very concept of cultural criticism is something that should be undertaken by a majority of people participating in the culture they’re critiquing; it should not be something unique to massive personalities, because then the culture won’t really accurately reflect the ideas of the people in it. Assigning the title of cultural critic means nothing because almost everybody is capable of critiquing culture.

You could make the argument that people like Jordan Peterson, Jonathan Haidt, and other modern intellectuals are academic cultural critics and can be called that correctly, but the expertise they have and the ideas they espouse are from the academic backgrounds of established branches of studies like psychology, sociology, social engineering and social analysis, and what have you. Their cultural criticism is secondary to their actual professions and fields of expertise. Their social commentary is secondary to their work in academia. People who are known solely for cultural criticism can’t claim that. At best, the contemporary cultural critic is an informed, extroverted individual with a platform on which to espouse their ideas. At worst, and what is becoming more and more common, the contemporary cultural critic is an egomaniac anti-intellectual who uses logical inconsistencies and fallacies to push their agendas onto other people. I’m not that. I’m a journalist, a writer, and a proud student of academia, but I am not a cultural critic, and neither are you.