George Graham

The Attraction of Pain



I haven’t read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I don’t plan to read it. I will not go to see the movie or watch it on TV. Sadomasochism is a big yawn as far as I am concerned.

But a lot of people seem attracted to pain -inflicting it or enduring it, or both. And many others who don’t enjoy pain themselves are fascinated by the pain of others. I suppose that’s the explanation for the runaway success of “Fifty Shades” – and the increasingly graphic violence in today’s films.

The phenomenon is manifested in a wide range of cultural fetishes – from the “no pain, no gain” workouts of wannabe athletes to whips-and-boots sessions in the bedroom.

And it shows up in the austerity economics of misguided politicians.

We probably have the Puritans to thank for the notion that pain is necessary and should even be welcomed as a kind of catharsis. To me, pain is a warning signal that something isn’t working right and needs fixing.

The economic pain that Europe is suffering is an example. Angela Merkel and other austerity disciples apparently believe in some moral imperative that involves inflicting pain on the poor people of Greece.

In a Truthout op-ed yesterday, macroeconomist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. puts it this way:

The northern European countries, most importantly Germany, insist on punishing Greece as a profligate spender. They insist on massive debt payments from Greece to the European Union and other official creditors to make up for excessive borrowing in prior years.

As Baker points out, this punitive policy is self-defeating. It hobbles the Greek economy to the point where making the required payments becomes impossible.

And the human suffering it causes is heart-breaking. Baker observes that:

The tales of hardship are endless: an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent, a youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, a collapsed health care system. The European Union folks may not know much economics, but they sure know how to destroy a country.

The people of Greece are in revolt against this heartless abuse, and they could be the first of several European countries to recognize that pain – economic as well as physical – is a warning, not a rite of passage.

We can only hope the austerity politicians and the voters who elect them see the abject folly of their ways before it’s too late. If they don’t, they will be in for even more pain than the most ardent fetishists bargained for.

In America, as Republicans, with their cunningly persuasive propaganda outlets, become ever more powerful politically, the specter of a European-style austerity culture lurks menacingly in the shadows.

So far, the nation’s sufferers are the powerless – minorities, children, the aged, the disabled, the uneducated, the gullible… But as the ripple effects widen, the economy as a whole will certainly fail, and the privileged few will feel the lash, too.

And by then it might be too late to fix the problems causing the nation’s pain.

Click for the Truthout article.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for