Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Politics of the Unconscious

Mike Mitchell
Across the US flags are flying at half-mast in honor of the twelve people killed and 58 injured by James Holmes during the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado. Meanwhile, Norway is commemorating the 69 people shot dead by Andras Brevik at the Labor Party youth camp on Utoya Island a year ago. Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that Brevik “brought Norwegians together in defense of democracy and tolerance.” Unlike the much higher civilian death counts coming out of places such as Afghanistan, such events never fail to shock us. We are fine with intercommunal violence, and happy to call it a “war.” In fact, the ability to kill people with impunity in remote corners of the planet makes us feel stronger and safer. But intracommunal violence shocks us, because it compromises our sense of safety.

Here is a question for Minister Stoltenberg: Do appeals to (and enforcement of) tolerance make repeats of such incidents more frequent or less frequent, and, if so, why? (By the way, if your elected leader doesn't thoughtfully respond to your thoughtful questions, then you are not living in a democracy.) In his book Violence (Macmillan, 2010) Slavoj Žižek writes: “European civilization finds it easier to tolerate different ways of life precisely on account of what its critics usually denounce as its weakness and failure, namely the alienation of social life. One of the things alienation means is that distance is woven into the very social texture of everyday life. Even if I live side by side with others, in my normal state I ignore them. [...] Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that sometimes a dose of alienation is indispensable for peaceful coexistence. Sometimes alienation is not a problem but a solution.” (p. 59, my italics)

But the rest of the time alienation is a problem. Politics serves several functions. There are the technocratic functions of governance, of formulating and enacting policies and of maintaining order. And then there is the psychological function of making people feel that they belong. Among groups with a strong ethnic, religious or regional identification the sense of belonging can sometimes be internally generated and remain independent of the government, or governments. At other times the people and the government become dangerously decoupled: “I love my country but I hate its government” is something you might hear from a Russian, or an American, or a Syrian, or an Israeli...

The need to belong is always there, and, when frustrated, leads to dire consequences. To belong is to feel included among those with whom one can strongly identify: conversely, the ability to belong presupposes the ability to exclude those who do not belong. A society that is sufficiently alienated to be tolerant of institutions that are incompatible and irreconcilable (gay/interracial marriage plus Sharia law plus white supremacism equals zero) is no longer able to succeed at the essential task of excluding those who do not belong. If you are Norwegian, the country is Norway, and you are now forced to accept that people who are not the tiniest bit Norwegian belong just as much as you do, then, depending on your psychological make-up, you may or may not end up with a major psychological problem, and do your flawed yet heroic best to pass it on to the country as a whole. This is a problem faced all over Europe: an aging, shrinking native population living within an increasingly globalized, generic culture dominated by English and an influx of immigrants, migrants and refugees all add up to a deteriorating sense of belonging.

In the United States the problem is significantly worse. Here, there is no unique national language, no single ethnic, historical or cultural identity, and the nation as a whole is a synthetic entity—the result of an explicit political pact. We are expected to derive our sense of belonging from our inclusion in a set of impersonal public institutions and participation in a scripted political process. But in spite of what our handlers in politics and the media tell us, our gut sense is that these public institutions do not belong to us, and that the political process is one of manipulation rather than inclusion. Many of us know full well that we live in a kleptocracy that prioritizes international financial interests and the interests of a small, privileged rentier class above all else. More and more of us are being excluded—based on our inability to pay for a middle-class lifestyle.

Where do we belong, then? With the Republicans/Democrats? Looking at the current presidential contest, in one corner we have a wealthy Mormon aristocrat posing as a self-made man, while in the other corner we have an exotic product of the American academe posing as a man of the people and, because he randomly happens to be brown-skinned, as a champion of the children of former slaves. Both are, in fact, faithful servants of financial interests, many of them transnational or foreign. Both will maintain the power of the center at the cost of the periphery, and extend the milking, the bleeding and the fleecing of the people for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the US Congress performs a sadomasochistic folie à deux on behalf of their corporate sponsors. Only 17% of the people approve of their performance. Such a high number is perhaps explained by the fact that roughly 20% of Americans are mentally ill. (Even so, it would appear that a few percent of the mentally ill are insufficiently delusional to approve of congressional performance.) The people as a whole, sane or otherwise, may be forgiven for thinking that they don't belong, and for acting accordingly.

Inability to maintain a psychologically healthy sense of belonging gives rise to a certain consistent syndrome, first described by Wilfred Bion in Experiences in Groups and Other Papers (New York: Basic Books 1961). When the dominant culture fails to produce a sense of belonging, the human mind regresses to a pre-verbal state, where it is ruled by innate, subconscious impulses that are common to higher social animals. Depending on one's personality and situation, one or another of three major impulses described by Bion may come to dominate the behavior of the individual, and, in due course, the society as a whole.

When it comes to aggressive young males, the sense of disconnection produces in them a heightened sense of insecurity and anxiety which directly affects the sympathetic nervous system. This may cause an animal to behave more aggressively, or, in the case of the human animal, to gather rocks and to find and sharpen sticks, or, technology and finances allowing, to purchase semiautomatic assault weapons and lots of ammunition. This process may then progress through several stages. The end result is the spontaneous development of a warrior mentality—a cultural universal marked by a desire to prove oneself in battle, contempt for death, and a tendency toward what Emile Durkheim called “altruistic suicide.”

The pattern is the same among Homeric heroes, Mongol conquerers, Japanese samurai, European knights of the age of chivalry or Moscow's bandits and racketeers during the violent 1990s. Meaning is created out of meaninglessness through heroic acts of violence performed in keeping with a code of honor. Inclusion in the elite group is achieved via violent rites of passage and creates group loyalty and a sense of belonging. The gun cult in the United States is a strong precursor to this development, and the sporadic shooting sprees are its individual manifestations. This may at some point progress to the point of becoming a mass phenomenon. If it does, it will annihilate the current ruling class and the process of aristocratic formation will begin anew.

Another subconscious impulse takes over the minds of those who feel themselves to be weak and vulnerable. Here the subconscious urge is an infantile desire to find and cling to a strong, lord-like father figure. In the United States, this impulse finds its expression in widespread adherence to organized religion with its invisible yet omnipotent leader. The illusion of serving the leader, together with the conviction that all that happens is in accordance with the leader's inscrutable will, helps to reduce the anxiety that is born of helplessness and alienation. Rhetorical or physical attacks on those who refuse to follow one's chosen divine leader offer a way to exclude those who do not belong, and to create a sense of solidarity, loyalty and belonging.

Lastly, there is a third subconscious impulse which has its roots in primate psychology, one that predominantly affects women: the impulse to ingratiate oneself into an imaginary group of superior individuals as a beta-female (or, in particularly sad cases, as a beta-male) in order to gain a sense of belonging. It manifests itself in the expectation of the emergence of something wonderful yet unborn, that will be the result of a successful mating between an alpha-male and an alpha-female. It finds its expression in the celebrity cult, via television programs and tabloids sold at supermarket check-out counters. Lower-class women follow with great interest the antics of the rich and famous: who is getting married, who is getting a divorce, and most importantly, who is pregnant, because, you see, one of these siliconed, Botoxed bimbos will one day give birth to our new Savior. Their sense of belonging, such as it is, comes from vicariously participating in the lives of people they consider their betters.

It is notable how smoothly the three impulses have repeatedly combined throughout history. In act one, our hero takes up arms against all who wish to oppose him and triumphs in battle; others eagerly fall in under his banner. In act two, our hero undergoes an instant and spontaneous metamorphosis from a rampaging bandit to an anointed sovereign and the people cheer and shout “Hail Cæsar!” Optionally, the bandit is deified and temples are erected in his honor at great public expense. In act three, the anointed bandit takes a bride, and women throw flowers at their feet as they walk in procession, and await with eager anticipation the arrival of their sacred progeny. In act four, the bandit dies and his degenerate, bickering progeny swiftly destroys the people's sense of belonging. The progeny is then butchered by the next hero/bandit, and the cycle repeats.

The United States may not yet be quite at the bottom of this cycle, but notice how the three ingredients are already in place and looming large over the political landscape. The gun cult is massive and unstoppable, and we have regular shooting sprees that shock us but also inspire copycats eager to outdo the last heinous deed in death toll and shock value. Religion is a huge part of public life, and after each shooting spree Americans head to a church and pray for deliverance to an omnipotent yet invisible father figure. After the effect of the shooting spree wears off, they go right back to celebrity worship, watching the antics of the Kardashians and keeping track of which celeb is preggers with what other celeb's baby. It seems like this whole thing going according to a plan—the whole three-car train is on rails and rolling downhill on its own.

Here is a quote from the last Batman movie: “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” I don't; but how do you suppose anyone can stop this? It started before we were born, and it will end long after were are dead. Maybe we are supposed to just watch.


Niffiwan said...

There are very multicultural cities which also have low crime rates. Toronto is one example (~50% of its population is foreign-born). I won't argue about the sense of alienation, though. If anything, there are immigrants from so many different places that the cumulative cultural effect seems to be that they cancel each other out and use WASP culture as a sort of common language to speak to each other.

If Yugoslavia is any example, it will remain a paragon of civility until the wealth runs out.

But really, which is better: a big, inclusive government that alienates many of its own citizens, or many tiny nation-states that are constantly in conflict with each other?

In either case, someone wins and someone loses. Perhaps the solution is to be in gradual flux between the two, so that the entrenched interests don't have time to adapt and are kept on their toes.

Caith said...

So the way to avoid falling into one of those traps, even if alienated and hopeless, is to find yourself some sort of subculture where you do belong?

Jeff said...

It is easier to agree on the behavior of people generally than to make something uniquely American of it. As you say, the Norweigan shooting was bigger, and one of the victims of the Colorado shooting had previously survived a mass shooting in Canada. Tying to a gun cult seems tenuous.

Religion is everywhere; witness the cult of the suicide bomber in certain regions. In USA you can opt out of religion; some countries don't give you that option. And those non-Americans who don't pray in church or mosque seem to deify soccer, of all things.

Celebrities? Probably less harmful than parasitic royalty; at least we can publicly mock and humiliate our celebs without breaking a law and being thrown in prison. Thailand comes to mind.

Overall, yes, we are a strange species.

Denys aka Mommy said...

When I read "roughly 20% of the US has a mental disorder", I thought that number is way too high. Wow was I wrong. I googled it and the NIMH research the number is actually 26% " An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year." http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml And this is one in four adults who have access to mental health services. Given the inequalities in those services, I suspect the actual number could be much higher.....scary.

Denys aka Mommy said...

When I read "roughly 20% of the US has a mental disorder", I thought that number is way too high. Wow was I wrong. I googled it and the NIMH research the number is actually 26% " An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year." http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml And this is one in four adults who have access to mental health services. Given the inequalities in those services, I suspect the actual number could be much higher.....scary.

Cethirien said...

Immigrants themselves overcome their own alienation by creating enclaves. Their social networks are usually the strongest and have become even more tightly bound due to the annihilation of space between their home and host country by the telecommunications revolution. Because of this, the more national minded nationals can grow resentful. If combined with the very male need to hinge their own identity and masculinity on the nation-state, this sentiment grows virulent and possibly violent. In the west, nationals are often themselves living in alienation, so the sight of a gaggle of strange looking foreigners can raise blood pressures, although this is often sublimated into self-defeating support for reactionary politicians (hence, Toronto voting for a complete buffoon like their current mayor).

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Great read.

One thought: in the quoted part below, "religion" should be construed broadly, because there are people who claim varying antipathies or apathies toward traditional religions, yet act very devotionally toward their socio-political tribal symbol / identity / leader. There are "intellectuals" who treat Marx as a deity, "progressives" who treat their "progressive" identity as deified or sanctified, "liberals" who do the same, or "Democrats" who do likewise.

While disdaining religion and the religious at every opportunity.

Avner said...

Times must be tough. I was sorry to see your beacon column disfigured by ads. I have made a donations -- if others do this, perhaps you can take them off.

Martin said...

It would seem there is a fourth group - those of us (possibly including yourself) who prefer alienation from the mass and have become watchers of the 'play'

Picador said...

So many Toronto comments!

I live in Toronto, a block away from the recent shooting at the Eaton Centre. I wouldn't call it a "mass shooting": there was a single target (1 dead) and a bunch of bystanders (7 injured). It was a top headline in Toronto for weeks. I've never before lived in a city where something like that would register as big news.

I am a fairly recent immigrant from the US. I grew up in Washington, DC during its "murder capital of the world" phase: there were several fatal shootings at my high school alone. There were shootings on my block growing up. I have since been held up at gunpoint (while living in Harlem, not DC).

But none of this has anything to do with the phenomenon described above: all the incidents I've described were directly or indirectly related to the black market drug trade, carried out either between gangs competing for resources in the drug trade or by junkies mugging people for cash for a quick fix.

That distinction having been made: it's true that Canada doesn't seem to have a lot of the kind of alienation-linked violence discussed above. It has already been mentioned that Toronto has a larger proportion of immigrant residents than any other city in the world, and that they get along almost unbelievably well with each other. I agree with the hypothesis set out above that part of what makes this city work is that no one group feels like it's "theirs": English and WASP culture get used as a kind of lingua franca and cultural default, but they just barely feel like the background culture of the city. Generally, there's a universally deep respect here for other cultures, subcultures, and communities.

I suspect that Dmitry has identified, not some universal human need for ethnic/cultural exclusivity of power and belonging, but rather the after-effects when a nation founded on such myths of ethnic and cultural superiority has to cope with change. Canada, as a former British colony long considered a backwater (even by themselves!), is lucky enough to have more or less escaped such a national mythology. There are hints here and there of how that might have been different -- a little more English imperial snootiness, or a little more Rugged Frontiersman self-aggrandizement, and Canada might have turned out much more obnoxious -- but they seem to have dodged that bullet. And I can't imagine Canada is the only place in the world where this is true. I suspect that you could identify other pockets of happy, harmonious cultural pluralism that disprove the grim theory Dmitry posits above.

kollapsnik said...

Canada is in a much better place than the US with regard to the problem I describe. There, it is almost a non-problem, I would say. It is a confederation, and is comfortable with being a cultural mosaic. There are still a few problems there; the obvious one is the extent to which Canadas's economy is tethered to the US, the other is that there are a couple of huge province (Ontario, Québec) which distort the egalitarian structure of the confederation. Although what I say in this article relates to some cultural universals, the discussion applies explicitly to the US, where gun cult, religion, and celebrity worship dominate the culture, as it is falling apart at the seams.

kollapsnik said...

Robert, Avner - thanks for your donations. If you hate ads, switch to Firefox and install Adblocker, and you will never see another ad, on this site or any other.

dex3703 said...

As a symptom of catabolic collapse, the latest shooting certainly fits, not in and of itself but with the aftermath's kabuki theatre. Everyone is shocked, shocked at such a tragedy. That everyone puzzles how such a thing could be possible is indeed tragic: society is effectively blind as to causes or any possible actions to take.

In a way, inclusive openness ("tolerance") has led to the middle part of the chess game: everyone has made all the free moves they can, and the only way forward is to lose pieces. With the 1/10 of 1% continuing to remove energy from the greater system, wholesale pieces of the social fabric will continue to fray in various interesting and horrifying ways.


Slavito said...

A fascinating read and interesting comments.

I must say that Canada is not problem-free, either. It's a much younger society and it looks like it's still in the process of forging its identity. The much-vaunted multi-culti nature was arguably a deliberate response of the elites to Québec's lingering separatism (the logic being roughly as follows: if one culture doesn't seem to like the other much, why don't we pretend the other, "default" culture simply doesn't exist? We are all simply pieces of the same vast cultural mosaic. Corollary: Québeckers, too, are just another piece of that mosaic).

This multi-culti is actually not working out all that well in Montreal (I suspect because the local dominant culture of the surrounding province stubbornly resists being hewn into just one piece of the generic national "mosaic").

Is it a coincidence, then, that Montreal was the site of several "alienation"-style shootings? Think about the 2006 Dawson College shooting (perpetrator: Kimveer Gill), the 1992 Concordia University shooting (Valery Fabrikant), and the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre (Gamil Rodrigue Liass Gharbi, aka Mark Lépine). In all three instances, the perpetrators of these crimes were, in one way or another, "outsiders" to the dominant Québecois culture.

P.S. Picador - do you have a blog of your own?

hexsquared said...

"....or, technology and finances allowing, to purchase semiautomatic assault weapons and lots of ammunition. This process may then progress through several stages. The end result is the spontaneous development of a warrior mentality—a cultural universal marked by a desire to prove oneself in battle, contempt for death, and a tendency toward what Emile Durkheim called “altruistic suicide.”

-Which is Breivik's self description, but we don't know anything like that for the latest shooter. It could be simply a brain tumour or such. It's happened before. A lot of things can go wrong with a brain other than politics or culture.

Jerry McManus said...

I enjoyed watching a re-run of "Slumdog Millionaire" the other day.

Desperate hungry people crowded into filthy slums. Random slaughter of one religious group by another. Corrupt police and gun toting gangsters ruling the streets. Children picking trash for a living, or if they're lucky getting recruited to a life of begging by having their eyes burned out of their head with a hot spoon. After all, everyone knows "blind singers get double".

Humanity in all its glory, coming soon to a reality near you.

Niffiwan said...

Cethirien, there is nothing mysterious about Toronto's mayoral voting patterns: the city simply always votes for the councillor who seems like a straight-talking, honest outsider who promises to clean house, completely without regard to intelligence, competence or place in the political spectrum. This time that was Ford (simplistic and conservative), last time it was Miller (erudite and socialist).

It also seems to help if they're a WASP, which as has been noted is the cultural lingua franca here. Heck, one of Miller's campaign ads even had the words "he LOOKS like a mayor", above a picture of him with his blue eyes and blond hair. And of course, Ford has blue eyes and blond hair as well. I don't see the "native" population here (what remains of them) becoming resentful so long as they remain the trusted impartial arbiters between the different groups of immigrants, a position which hasn't been seriously challenged.

Andy Brown said...

I'm leery of monkey-brain explanations of society, because they are usually used to make the particulars of a given case or interpretation seem "natural" and even inevitable. That's probably the case here, too, but I'll play along. My own overwhelming sense standing amid the gathering ruin of this country (the US) is that the three syndromes you discuss are part of the normal repertoire of rule (whether consciously or unconsciously used upon that monkey-brain) and what we are seeing is not the natural upswelling of human nature -- but the abandonment of certain tools of rule by elites that are no longer interested in ruling 300+ million surplus Americans. The great levers of politics and culture are abandoned, but not idle -- power saws abandoned by their craftsmen are wielded with idiot curiosity by dueling 5-year olds.

Avi said...

@Jerry I grew up walking the slums of Bombay and can testify that your account misses the mark. It's worth emulating these slum-dwellers' joy in life and preservation of humaneness INSPITE of the terrible circumstances they are living through.

galacticsurfer said...

I was interested in the Mexican reaction to the massacre (Protest of their prez to lax gun laws in USA). We all know that the gun problem there and the drug running are all related to the USA. They get cheap weapons from USA and smuggle drugs there so you have 50,000 dead in 5 years ( at the rate of death happening in Syria now but for much longer time period without UN response or intervention). Lots of South American countries are on a USD standard and have drug smuggling cartels. In Central America lots of youths have formed gangs based on their experiences in L.A. and similar( Crips, Bloods, etc.) and have made life in these countries unlivable for normal adults as if every small village in El Salvador, etc. were like L.A. I t is a werid export of US culture like rap and hip hop with that clothing fashion in African countries emulating US ghetto culture. All of this is a race to the bottom of culture as English is a global language and all the African languages for example are not comprehensible to each other so this culture unites them along with, say, evangelical religion (where they are not mulsims or francophone for example).

theblamee1 said...

How does the the otherwise helpless and totally alienated, who fully recognizes but refuses to promote, absorb, or cooperate with any of these three stages of sccial and political artificiality live a sane and meaningful life? In no way does your article address this fourth stage. Your thoughts are urgently requested.

kollapsnik said...

theblamee - I think you have largely answered your own question. Refusing to be caught up with people who are driven by these subconscious impulses, by realizing that they exist, may, depending on circumstances, give one a greater freedom of choice. What one does with that freedom is up to the individual.

theblamee1 said...

Thank you for replying to my question. But, oh please, not another "you have to live life so as to give it meaning" glossing over, which really is thing about having answered my own question amounts to.

Your response is bothersome for a number of reasons. First, telling me that I have answered my own question negates the value and the merits of the question being asked. I know (or dont' know in this case), what I think. Your article implies a shared understanding, but much more further along than my own.

Secondly, I found your article very well written, but offering no real options for resolution. Freedom is not necessarily feeling just awful all the time. Freedom is not having the ontological spins all the time. Freedom is not a process of learning from ones mistakes without finally arriving at a livable life.

Secondly, when life is a moment of time before it runs out, freedom is not being a finite being who is hamstrung by laughable, dismisive answers to very real questions, especially when one is geting older and the mistakes keep coming.

Again, please explain the fourth level, the resolution of the first three levels. I want to know what you think, feel and believe. I sincerely wish to hear what you have to say.

Terry T said...

Okay. The thing about mental illness. I see you have put those of us with lifelong depression in the category of "The Other" i.e. the insane, who approve of congress, etc. Are the mentally ill, as identified by you and Denys aka Mommy ("scary"), included with those who exhibit the three manifestations of finding meaning in the meaningless? Then, by that definition, perhaps 80% or more of the population is mentally ill, but since it is "normal" it is not appropriate for diagnosis.

I guess I'm in no position to judge, but frankly, I view the vast majority of Americans as being delusional in their willingness to share a national narrative united in the worship of unlimited consumption, valuing only what can be monetized, and exhibiting a bizarre xenophobia in a land of immigrants and then petulantly projecting it on the rest of the world.

Some of us on the "Other" side of the depression fence have always looked at humanity and felt that society is mad, violent, punitive and petty. That when we were children we saw the actions of adults at large not making any sense and finding, with the onset of maturity, that they still don't make any sense!

Personally, through my whole life I've suffered deep depression and anxiety, attributable in no small part to my feeling that I am unwilling locked into a box car on a train piloted by the greedy, power hungry, vengeful and egotistical; and that as the train is about to derail they guilty will safely eject, leaving the innocent to suffer. [I've often said the third Beatitude should read, "The meek shall inherit what's left of the earth."]

I appreciate your so eloquently and consistently expressing our predicament both as Americans and humans and view with dismay the scramble of the international elites to amass enough of our wealth to become the new kings in the world of post-oil neofeudalism.

Your prescient insights should be compulsory reading for sane individuals around the world. But I dare say that mental illness may in fact be a sign that a person actually senses that something is going terribly wrong but finds that saving one's own hide no solace in watching good people and innocents throughout the world individually suffering horrifying fates, all brought on by human greed, hatred and pettiness.

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." -Jiddu Krishnamurti

theblamee1 said...

Since you moderate these responses let me give you a throw-away.

Reading your article (are you Dmitry Orlov or somebody else?) is like being a social outcast caught at the crime scene with a copy of "Catcher In the Rye" or "Reinventing Collapse," when being caught at a crime scene is really not what the reason for reading the book at all. You know that you probably are not a super hero, but you can only pray that you are not a super villian, or a victum.

Actually, being caught was the last thing on the reader's mind. All the reader wanted were some answers, not a confirmation that they were caught in some Tennessee Williams play where things had been so stirred up that there was no way out, no resolution, just unpleasant consequences, no matter which way they turned.

Painful and very deadly consequences are not something a human being wishes their whole life to amount to. One can only tolerate having the cell that they occupy defined for so long before they need to be told of a way out. This is a very weak way to describe what I am asking.

And when the prisoner says how they didn't deserve this, only to hear that "deserves got nothing to do with it." Well, you have no idea.

kollapsnik said...

For those clamoring for me to tell them what to "do about it": fixing the world's problems is far above my paygrade. But for ideas on what to do on a personal/family/small group level (the level at which there is some freedom of action, at least for some of us) please read my next book, Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors' Toolkit, due out next June from New Society.

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

It's completely unclear to me how Dmitry Orlov is responsible to "theblamee1" or anyone else for solution of a visitor's existential, psychiatric, economic, sociological, governmental, civic, or other problems.

I read comments like those here by "theblamee1" pretty often, usually I find them at websites run by writers who ponder similar social degradation questions. The commenter almost always insists that the site's host writer is obligated to "have a solution" -- else the writer is some kind of charlatan!

No matter who you are, where you come from, how you grew up, what you do for fun, what you do for money, what you do for love -- your existential dilemmas are yours, and yours alone.

I don't come here to read Dmitry Orlov's solutions, I come here to read his thoughts.

The solutions are up to me. For me to find, for myself, for what works in my life, at my pace, with my resources.

It's the same for you, "theblamee1". Help yourself. And I mean that literally.

Kio Smallwood said...

Tolerant societies do not have to be more alienating than intolerant ones, that's just a reflection of current conditions.

It is entirely possible for individuals to become more tolerant by expanding their definition of the words "my tribe".

Many religions teach people to accept strangers (e.g. parable of the Good Samaritan) as brothers they haven't met yet.

If people are educated from a young age to disregard superficial differences (skin colour, dress sense) then they will feel sympathy with a much greater "tribe" and hence be truly tolerant instead of the false "tolerance" described here, which is simply indifference to your fellow humans.

My donkey said...

Depending on the situation and the individual, I suppose alienation could provide all -- or some -- or none -- of the impetus for a specific violent action. And it might be possible to determine the amount contributed (if any) for a single event.

However, various other motives could also be partly or wholly responsible, and without doing controlled experiments on a good-sized chunk of the population to find out, is there any point in speculating?

Maybe. So let's do it! Where does alienation end and isolation begin (or vice versa)? They're related but not the same: you can feel alienated in the midst of a crowd (and therefore not isolated), and you can be isolated geographically while being a member of an online community (and therefore not alienated).

Does isolation contribute to alienation and violent thoughts? Has being isolated in our cars contributed to road rage? Has being isolated by the Internet contributed to flaming? Isn't it good that we have these outlets to prevent violent actions from happening in person?

Does powerlessness contribute to alienation and violent thoughts? At election time I get irked at having only 1 or 2 of my ten or so issues even addressed by the candidates, and I get steamin' mad when those 1 or 2 issues invariably get ignored or reversed after the election. Not even Viagra can help this kind of impotence. Feel like bustin' heads sometimes.

Does in-fighting contribute to alienation and violent thoughts? I absolutely hate it when some poor sap making $10/hr tries to drag down the $20/hr worker to his level instead of trying to boost himself up. This is what happened with the Occupy movement, more-or-less mimicking the words of railroad tycoon Jay Gould in 1886: "I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half". The ruling class loves to watch the working class follow the "divide & conquer" recipe by themselves! But I don't love it. In fact it makes me feel like offing a few folks, yes it does.

I'm isolated, I'm powerless, and I see in-fighting all around me. Call it alienation or call it what you want -- I really don't like seeing and listening to people who have it ALL when I have nothing. But talk is cheap in our results-oriented society, so I think it's time to go downtown and see what they have in semi-automatic weapons. Yeah, I think it's time a few folks Paid Attention to me. Nobody's ever too poor to Pay Attention.

latheChuck said...

Am I correct in assuming that the article quantifies the "mentally ill" population with statistics on the number of people who are prescribed psychoactive medications? (This is not a veiled criticism; I rather like it.) Would the vigorously self-medicating also qualify (via alcohol, cannabis, etc.)? Then I assert that those of us who are rationally anxious and sad about the situation are not among the ill. I'm sure that those in the Titanic's lifeboats were also anxious and sad.
Does anyone have an idea how to quantify the hypothetical medications of the "financial elites"? I should think that they'd have trouble sleeping at night (and pills that purport to solve that problem are popular enough to support TV advertising). It's too bad that the pills don't actually solve the problem that's keeping them awake.

kollapsnik said...

I am sorry I said that crazy people approve of the US Congress. I should have said "stupid". Memo to self: never ascribe insanity when mere stupidity suffices.

My donkey said...

Speaking of alienation, why are blog entries ignored beyond about the first week of existence?

Why isn't there a forum arrangement that shows the time of the most recent comment and effectively keeps the lines of communication open indefinitely, as in this example from BugGuide:

In this age of whiz-bang techno wizardry, I expect the task to be no more difficult than God saying "Let there be light." And there was light. So what's the problem?

Dredd said...

It is good to see that others recognize that some of our national problems are serious psychological problems rather than economic problems.

Atao said...

I'm reading "The Social Contract" of Rousseau these days. A work that is probably better than anything written since about political organization in human cultures. The conclusion is quite simple, when it comes to use of violence, chaos and economic crash: only if legislation is under control of the people (no delegatation, no election of parliament) and only if the executive power has some quality of aristocracy (the eldest in tribal culture, the most educated in elective aristocracy) the society can both prosper and remain peaceful.
If the legislation is not under control of the people and if aristocracy is composed of the 20% stupid or mentally ill, or lets say heart ill, violence is the basic tool of communication and solution seeking for everyone.The majority tries for a while to follow the rules until everybody understands, that it became meaningless to play by the rules of law.
Thus the whole issue of the future is to find useful universal standards for all nations with popular consent and healthy "aristocratic" stewardship. Certainly these standards would have to include the 21st century state of science.

forrest said...

"Across the US flags are flying at half-mast in honor of..."

What does this say?!

It seems to me that the implicit message of those flags is:

"We sane folks are at war with the dangerous crazies slavering for our blood" -- Who TF are these "sane" folks who think they can make war on "insanity" as if it were a hostile force entirely outside themselves?

So, guys, where's the war?

Terrace said...

"I googled it and the NIMH research the number is actually 26% " An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year."

Considering that desiring to spend one's free time alone reading books is now considered a diagnosable mental disorder among teens, I'm not surprised the percentage is so "high."

Vyse Legendaire said...

While I find this alienation and receeding into pre-verbal modes of thought to be interesting theories, I think the basis of alienation begins at birth rather than at inculcation into any society – local or global, modern or ancient.

This is fundamentally because alienation begins when one is alienated from their parents. If parents took responsibility for their children and did not birth them into chaos, they may be the seed for a solid community of well adapted individuals. But if they birth children into chaos and violence, then everything that comes after will be a petri dish of dysfunction and calamity.

That is the real story of our history, in my opinion.

neroden@gmail said...

I think there's going to be a regional breakup. I don't see any chance of the cycle playing out *nationally*; the chosen leaders, chosen gods, and chosen messiahs are going to be *local*.

One reason why I believe this is that the price of transportation is going straight through the roof. This was an implausibly large country to start with, and the railroad systems which kept it tied together socially -- the ones which Russia still retains -- were allowed to fall apart.

The USSR fell apart on quasi-ethnic lines. The US will fall apart on more self-chosen social group lines. But it's the same principles; Vermonters and South Carolinans will mostly breathe sighs of relief as they are no longer connected to each other.