Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Peak Oil Oppositional Disorder: Neurosis or Psychosis?

[En français

The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has grown to include 297 disorders, but it seems that there is always room for one more.

Richard Heinberg recently published an article that addresses various recent claims that Peak Oil is no longer a concern. His term for the phenomenon is “peak denial.” It sounds good, and dovetails nicely with Richard's overall theme of “peak everything.” It's a thoughtful piece that does a thorough job of exposing the surreal nature of the optimists' projections, and I have no issues with his argument. I do, however, have an issue with his terminology. First, since denial does not happen to be a nonrenewable resource with a characterizable depletion profile, its peak, should we detect one, is not particularly meaningful, because it could just as easily peak again tomorrow and then again next century. Second, I suspect that “denial” is no longer the right word to describe the social phenomenon we are currently observing. I think that Ugo Bardi pointed us in the right direction: in his article reacting to George Monbiot's assertion that "We were wrong about peak oil, there is enough to fry us all," Ugo characterized Monbiot's approach to Peak Oil using another word: “delusion.”

If you feel that the distinction between denial and delusion is just a minor, innocuous terminological difference—a gratuitous splitting of hairs on my part—then pardon me while I whip out my Sigmund Freud: in The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis [1924] he wrote the following: “Neurosis does not disavow the reality, it ignores it; psychosis disavows it and tries to replace it.” [p. 185] What psychosis replaces reality with is delusion.

Let's take this one step at a time. Denial is where you know something full well (e.g., that there is a finite amount of economically recoverable oil and that we have already burned through about half of it) but refuse to consider it as important. Denial is symptomatic of neurosis. Neurotics are not considered particularly dangerous; they can be quite annoying, and they can sometimes pose a threat to themselves, but they are, in general, not considered to pose a threat to society. They can also be quite charming: Woody Allen parlayed his neuroses into a successful acting/directing career. (In German the title of his film Annie Hall is Stadtneurotiker—“urban neurotic.”)

Delusion, on the other hand, is symptomatic of psychosis. Now, when was the last you ran across a charming, urbane, popular, successful psychotic? Back to Freud: old Sigmund distinguishes two types of thinking: there is secondary process thinking—the good kind—the domain of the well-adjusted, socialized self, grounded in consensual reality, reasonableness, rationality and logic. And then there is primary, or archaic process thinking—the bad kind—the product of obsession, compulsion, hallucination and... here we go... delusion. The path that leads from neurosis to psychosis is a regression toward a more primitive, archaic, infantile self. Take your typical neurotic (refuses to face Peak Oil, spouts gibberish about it when pressed), put that neurotic through a terrible, ego-destroying crisis, and that individual may regress and lapse into psychosis.

What happens to individuals also happens to entire societies. Take a neurotic Peak Oil-denying industrial civilization, put it through a terrible global financial crisis, tell it that economic growth is over forever, and what you get a psychotic, delusional industrial civilization. In Civilization and its Discontents [1930] Freud wrote of the capacity of delusions to propel an entire culture toward disintegration in a maelstrom of violence, and in Constructions in Analysis [1937] he pointed out that once delusional thinking permeates an entire culture, including its religion and its politics, that culture becomes inaccessible to logical argument. Delusion is a sort of tyranny—internal in the case of a sick individual, external in the case of a sick culture—that traps reality within specific images, precluding any possibility of self-understanding or objectivity.

This is a rather important point to take on board for those who continue to patiently argue the case for Peak Oil: to a psychotic, anyone who disagrees with her is automatically the enemy, and, since psychotics create their own reality, it is just a tiny step for her to then declare that the Peak Oil movement actually caused Peak Oil and is therefore to blame. It is quite typical for a psychotic to project delusions onto others in an effort to make them act as parts of her own enraged, uncontrollable self, because identifying the threat as her own self leads to an uncontrollable panic. This type of projection is a psychotic's main means of exercising power over others. Now, let's keep in mind that confronting a delusional mob is not the same as confronting a delusional patient in a psych ward, where there is a red panic button on the wall that you can push at any time, and nurses will rush in to restrain and sedate the patient. We have to be careful: when a psychotic society acts out, there is no-one to restrain it.

Let us look at the progression. The chant “Drill, baby drill!” at Sarah Palin's political rallies was a denialist, neurotic response to Peak Oil—an obsessive-compulsive reaction to the news that oil is running out. Neurotics often develop rituals which, though ineffectual in any practical sense, comfort them and temporarily reduce their level of anxiety. A typical example is compulsive hand-washing in an OCD-sufferer. And indeed we went on to see a ridiculous amount of drilling activity, most of it not particularly productive. But then something quite different came along: subsequent pronouncements that the US is about to become energy-independent are of an entirely different nature. These are born of delusions of omnipotence which are very common in psychotic patients. Also, psychotic obsessions often have physical mutilation as their objective, using the physical body as a surface on which to express anxiety and dread. It is something less than a metaphor to say that for a society, its body is the land on which it lives. Is fracking (hydraulic fracturing), which is ineffectual in any practical sense, but causes ghastly environmental and financial damage, not just such a psychotic self-mutilation?

Here is another instance of the same progression: the terrorist attacks of 9/11 initially produced a largely neurotic response. One instance of it is what's often been described as “security theater” carried out by the Transportation Safety Administration at airports in the US. The screening system is sufficiently porous for anyone who cares to do so to smuggle through a weapon and even a bomb, but everyone is forced to submit to a humiliating charade with sexual overtones (groping). The entire process is an institutionalized obsessive-compulsive coping mechanism: an attempt to control the society's anxiety level through nonsensical rituals. But a few years later a very different behavior evolved: endless “surgical” drone aircraft strikes in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan thought to be controlled by the Taleban. The idea is to exterminate the enemy through physical assassination. From a rational perspective the strategy is nonsense: the Taleban, who are considered the enemy, are predominantly ethnic Pashtuns; the Pashtun code of honor, Pashtunwali, requires family members to avenge all murders (although payment of restitution is also acceptable); there are some 40 million Pashtuns. Every time a drone kills a Pashtun, another Pashtun has to join the Taleban and go try and kill an American. If the goal is to minimize American deaths, then the winning strategy is obvious: Americans should stop killing Pashtuns. But if your country has shifted gears from neurosis to psychosis, then rational arguments no longer apply because in your own mind you are now omnipotent and must surgically excise the Other, or face uncontrollable panic.

One more symptom: the psychotic condition is often accompanied by a sense of unlimited entitlement, and, surely enough, one thing I consistently hear from Americans is: “All we have to do is keep printing dollars because nobody can stop us.”

Freud was certainly not the first to spot the connection between the psychotic self and the psychotic society. Plato, in Book 9 of The Republic, drew the connection between the tyrannical state and the tyrannical self, the two existing in a reciprocal relationship, one reinforcing the other in a symbiotic psychosis. Psychotic delusion on the personal level becomes ideology at the group level; both possess the power to annihilate the Other—be it the foreigner or the domestic subversive. “We communicate with the psychotic part of our self by locating that communication in our politics. We only hide or repress or split off the inaccessible side of who we are and project outward, as collective phantasies, toxic emotions that take shape in political programs, acts and ideologies.” [James M. Glass, Psychosis and Power, 1995, p. 169]

Greek tragedy depicted psychosis as commentary on public life. And this, I think, is as it should be: drama, literature and religion all offer powerful ways to channel our unconscious urges and psychotic impulses, keeping our communal self from disintegrating even during the worst crisis imaginable. It is better to face psychosis as part of a group, because an individual disintegrating self is painful even to watch: “if such persons are not howling, weeping, cutting themselves with whatever they can get their hands on, smearing feces on the wall, mumbling incoherently, or shouting profanities, they lie in bed staring at the ceiling... Disintegrating selves possess no sense of community, reciprocity or reality as a continuing historical experience and little, if any, self-respect or dignity.” [ibid., p. 155]

According to Dr. Glass, a culture of psychosis is incompatible with democracy: “A personal world of limitation, respect, shared understandings, regard for the body, sensitivity to others, implies a political world of tolerance, respect for rights, and acknowledgement of the right of the other to live without domination. [Psychosis], however, provokes domination and destruction; it is tragic, like the madness of an Oedipus at Colonus or the torment of Medea, reflecting the tragedy not only of her family but of an entire society and culture.” [ibid., p. 130] Indeed, the parallels between psychosis and tyranny almost draw themselves. Take this famous utterance by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda: “Our task here is surgical... drastic incisions, or some day Europe will perish of the Jewish disease.” How different is that from a certain schizophrenic patient described by Dr. Glass who kept insisting that his legs are poisoning his body and must be amputated, and that, once they are gone, he is sure that he will be able to live and remain healthy for a trillion years? (Would that be his personal trillion-year Reich, I wonder?)

A society's ability to remain amenable to reason, to negotiate, to respect differences and so on rests on a fragile foundation that is made up of illusions such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” or “government by, of and for the people,” or “liberty and justice for all,” or “a system of checks and balances” and so forth. “Illusion is what binds democratic communities together; delusion destroys democratic process and function.” [ibid., p. 184] Most of these, while not strictly counterfactual, are not meant as statements of fact and are indefensible as propositions but are accepted on faith. (“Checks and balances” is total fake; the US Supreme Court upholds all federal laws.) The biggest illusion of all is called “The American Dream”: “Is it still real?” a recent copy of Time Magazine asks right on its cover. Is believing in a dream not the essence of illusion? When illusions break down, they are replaced with delusions. “The result, in both the self and the community, is tragedy.” [ibid., p. 176] Loss of the American Dream may well lead the individual citizen to loss of identity, ego disintegration, psychotic rage and compulsive self-mutilation and the nation to an explosion of racism, jingoism, fanaticism, xenophobia, scapegoating, witch-hunts... in short, to tyranny.

And this brings us to the question of political leadership. Political leaders maintain or create our foundational illusions, mainly by indulging our phantasies. These phantasies are of two kinds: conscious and unconscious, and it is the unconscious ones that are the more politically potent. Societies tend to select leaders that represent them, and psychologically sick societies—the ones whose unconscious phantasies happen to be on fire—tend to select the sickest individuals to represent their particular disorder.

Free-market capitalism, with its Hobbesian justification of the laws of the marketplace, with its competitive, exclusionary, brutal, possessive individualism, elevates pathological narcissism, granting it the status undisputed, unavoidable economic reality. In doing so, it selects for sociopaths as leaders: individuals who lack empathy or conscience. There seems to be a certain wiring problem with their brains: you can shock them repeatedly, and they still won't cringe when you tell them that you are about to shock them again. They seem to lack both emotions and emotional memory, but are often excited by the suffering of others. “The higher you go up the ladder, the greater the number of sociopaths you'll find there,” says Martha Stout of Harvard Medical School, author of The Psychopath Next Door. Indeed, Robert Hare, author of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, has estimated that the prevalence of sociopaths among America's CEOs is much higher than in the general population, higher even than among the prison population. The ones who are not sociopaths do their best to emulate the ones who are, but rarely do as well, because their attempts to maximize shareholder value are often hampered by inconvenient and awkward feelings of sympathy, pity, remorse and dread. (The terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” are used interchangeably and mean the same thing, but if you look at the checklist you will realize that those who score high on it are quite different from your garden-variety asshole.)

Americans should feel lucky to be ruled by sociopaths; being ruled by a psychotic is much worse. Psychotic societies select for leaders such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot; the effect is a society that is effectively decapitated. A political body can continue to function, for a time, with its head amputated. Its army and bureaucracy intact, it gallops around as a headless horseman, driven to destroy by primitive, atavistic impulses. The tremendous power of subconscious phantasies harnessed in the service of state power by a psychotic leader infects all of surrounding reality even while the state apparatus remains perfectly rational: law and order in the service of stark raving madness.

Psychotic individuals are quite aggressively medicated, and antipsychotics are already the most prescribed class of medications in the U.S. Many people say that antipsychotics are overprescribed—especially to children and to the elderly—in an effort to control them, and this is probably true: the sale of psychiatric medications is one of the most lucrative businesses in the world, and antipsychotics are the current cash cow for pharmaceutical companies now that the patents on many antidepressants are expiring. Just as it has with the antidepressants and depression, it will likely turn out that the antipsychotics are similarly ineffective in treating psychosis and are really just sedatives with many nasty side-effects. Be that as it may; they are prescribed, and the reason they are prescribed, I would venture to guess, is because millions of people in the US, young and old, exhibit symptoms of psychosis and require sedation.

I would further venture to guess that the prevalence of psychotic symptoms in the American population is itself a symptom—of the psychosis of American society as a whole. If treating psychotic individuals is a difficult problem but is the focus of a huge and profitable industry, the treatment of the spreading psychosis of American society is not even recognized as a problem.

If you thought that Peak Oil is about energy—think again. It may well turn out to be about delusion, resulting, personally, in ego-death and nationally—in psychotic tyranny.


Unknown said...

This culture has been psychotic from the outset. It considers itself a gift to humanity and a beacon of freedom. Yet it has been built on the stolen lands of decimated indigenous cultures and destroyed habitats. The sooner "ego-death" arrives, the better. A collective cultural suicide appears the only cure.

Andy Brown said...

Blow up your T.V.
throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden,
eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own
("Spanish Pipedream" - John Prine)

Lucas Durand said...

"If you thought that Peak Oil is about energy—think again. It may well turn out to be about delusion, resulting, personally, in ego-death and nationally—in psychotic tyranny."

This is a point that I think a lot of "peak oil" commentators miss when they talk about mitigation strategy or adaptation.

I've read very few adaptive or "transition" strategies that factor in the effects of a weeping, cutting, feces smearing populace that will be an almost certain by-product of the stresses imposed by various converging crises.

Most strategies seem to assume an underlying rational and cooperative society...

Maybe this is just an extension of mainstream economic thinking - ie: that humans are "rational" creatures with their own best interests in mind?

forrest said...

Doc Fraud -- just one of those data-cooking quacks with a personal delusion system he wanted to give everyone for their own good... really doesn't illuminate that much. (See how he comes off in Rodger Kamenetz' _The History of Last Night's Dream_)

Sort of a rule-of-thumb diagnostic system I've had to adopt via knowing more than one "mentally ill" person -- and living through an era when a pretty sane friend could take LSD and tell me, "Yeah, I am seeing hallucinations. But I'm always seeing hallucinations."...

Some people think in images, some in words, others in both -- and they can all be factually grounded or somewhat disconnected. "Reasonable" or "crazy" turns out to be a useful dichotomy: Can I expect this guy, who explains everything by the fact that he's a fried egg, to make a disasterous error with an loaded automobile (etc) or is he likely to be as appropriate in his decisions as anyone else.

The main observable problem with "mentally ill" acquaintances has been their efforts to maintain some illusory identity. Sometimes by medication -- but with one example, by abruptly discontinuing a psych med he'd become quite addicted to. Then coming to think he could play chess while believing that 'P-K4' meant "Let's go to Mischa's house."

But as LoVerne concluded her lost poem, 'The Sane': "The Sane are busy blowing up the Earth."

William Hunter Duncan said...

I think I know why you bought that boat. Thinking of building one myself.

What's the captcha below - anarcha. Not anarchy, a society of self-rule, but anarcha, a society of psychotic hyper individuals gone mad? Synchronicity.

"This is a rather important point to take on board for those who continue to patiently argue the case for Peak Oil: to a psychotic, anyone who disagrees with her is automatically the enemy, and, since psychotics create their own reality, it is just a tiny step for her to then declare that the Peak Oil movement actually caused Peak Oil and is therefore to blame"

It doesn't seem possible, but it absolutely is, and once it comes to that, there's no arguing with psycho's, or those bureaucrats and goons working the psycho's will. I heard a woman say recently, "we'd have plenty of oil if we could just drill in our own country." She was just repeating a line she's heard a hundred times, no doubt.


Bryan McNett said...

This was by far my least favorite post so far by Mr. Orlov. It seemed out-of-character for him to describe our culture as one that is basically well (or was well during a recent "golden age," perhaps when our parents were young) but which may become sick when faced with an insoluble energy crisis.

In fact, and I've always assumed Mr. Orlov to understand this, our culture hasn't been well for thousands of years. During that time, empire has always been consuming and destroying someone somewhere. And so it continues today - just not to you and me for a generation or two now.

Because we aren't the victims of the day, we delude ourselves into buying the party line, even on a website like this one. We fear bogeymen like Pol Pot, and not the megadeaths inflicted in wars where only thousands of us die.

Post Peak Medicine said...

In 2004 (8 years ago) an estimated 50 million people in the US were taking psychotropic medications (antidepressants, tranquillizers, antipsychotics).
The proportion is probably much higher now. As one of the evil pill-pushers forcing this stuff down the throats of the unsuspecting populace, here’s my take on it:

Firstly, the demand for this is coming from the public, not from doctors or drug companies (although, granted, we facilitate it). Every day, patients beat a path to my door for their repeat prescriptions for Prozac and the like. Many people can’t manage to get through their day without it. I suspect this is due to feelings of stress due to many factors (family disunity, information overload from electronic devices, impossible work demands) and maybe, suppressed feelings of anxiety about where this is all heading (either increasing numbers of emails and phone calls, or a total collapse and no emails or phone calls).

The other remarkable thing is that there is almost no discussion of this at medical school or in continuing medical education. It’s like an enormous elephant in the room which nobody wants to talk about.

I would like to tell my stressed out patients “turn off the mainstream media, go plant a vegetable garden and chill out” but I know they wouldn’t thank me for it. That kind of thing is not part of the collective conversation, whereas Prozac is. So I keep writing the prescriptions.

dex3703 said...

@Peter +1. Turning off the MSM is a significant step in finding healthy equilibrium. The amount of sheer noise created by it can only encourage psychosis.

Psychosis is all around us and has been increasing all my life (I'm 42, born in 1970). All media seem to have been transformed into not only a propaganda platform, but a powerful machine for sense-destroying noise. I remember when intelligent people like Bill Moyers were not banished to the far reaches of graveyard PBS, asking searching questions in the late Eighties about information overload, the presence of money in politics, corporate takeover of journalism and media. It's clear who won those battles since those questions aren't even asked any more.


Martin said...

Psychosis can lead to suicide - and here we are....

Greenwood said...

Yoa Peter,

About '..the estimated 50 million people in the US were taking psychotropic medications (antidepressants, tranquilizers, antipsychotics).

Maybe it's a coincidence but there is an estimated 46 million Americans on Food Stamps. Close enough.

Well, they're not stamps, they are 'rechargeable' debit cards so no one else in the super market line knows you are on 'assistance'.

This solves two problems, the general public doesn't see bread lines and soup kitchens all over suburbia freaking them out that 'all is not Well', thus precipitating more psychotropic medications and the recipient's debit card can be conveniently 'refueled' electronically once a month, or coming in the near future, terminated, for not towing the 'party line' and having 'the Right Attitude".

Charley said...

Pretty fundamental piece, Dmitry; well-done. And prescient as hell.

Ian said...

As a few commenters have already said, our culture has long been psychotic. A good book on that from the point of view of a Native American is "Columbus and Other Cannibals." It tries to understand the growth-even-if-it-kills-us-all mentality as what some Native tribes call the "Wetiko" disease, which sounds a lot like another culture's version of psychosis.

Mabu said...

Most already know Derrick Jensen's work, I'm sure, but he has a sweeping indictment of the psychosis of our society from its roots, in "The Culture of Make Believe." This phenomenon is not new to the US, and not limited to Peak Oil. Institutional slavery (also about "energy" in labor) and the genocide of native peoples ("energy" in land) are two obvious examples of cultural and political delusion.

Odin's Raven said...

If the body of a society is it's land, perhaps oil is the soul of this materialistic society, and electricity is it's spirit. Loss of soul and spirit will end the society, and it's corpse will be re-used by others.

Walker said...

Your larger piece has much merit, but it is not true that the Supremes uphold all federal laws. On the same day as the ACA decision was announced, for example, the court voided the "Stolen Valor Act," a noxious piece of posturing that would mainly have snared the types of mentally Ill folks your post describes. The casebooks have many other examples. Perhaps you could rephrase your point, not sure what is intended.

Walker said...

Not sure why you said the supremes uphold all federal laws. Not so. Same day as ACA was (only mostly) upheld, the court struck down the socalled "Stolen Valor Act" in it's entirety. Many similar examples can be provided.

Can you rephrase that to more clearly explain what you were trying to say about checks and balances? I'd say that, far from a fiction, they have become terribly effective and hinder all progress quite effectively.

Dmitry Orlov said...

A lot of you seem intent to paint all of civilization as delusional and psychotic. Slavery, war, genocide, conquest, etc., are all perfectly normal human behavior, nothing psychologically aberrant about them at all. Perhaps you yourselves suffer from illusions (not delusions) as to what species you happen to be. I find this entire train of thought completely unhelpful and off-topic.

Michael J. Petro said...

"...pardon me while I whip out my Sigmund Freud..."

Good one, Dmitri!

Is that a Freudian Whip? :)

kleymo said...

At the recent “Age of Limits” conference, the theme of this blog entry was brought up at the end of Mr. Orlov’s talk on the role of belief systems in our future. I was a bit taken aback by my reaction to his tone, which struck me as uncomfortably close to cynical disparagement. On the other hand, look at what my country has done to itself since WWII. Our social experiment is on the level of what the Soviet Union did to itself, minus the genocide.
Still, I have a strong belief that Mr. Orlov did not mention in his talk, the Constitution of the United States (as I stated in the question an answer session after the talk). Most people here are still supportive of the original Bill of Rights, even with its flaws. I believe this society, as pathetic as it has made itself, is willing to go to bat for the philosophy behind it. After all, what else is there that unites us all? I also am fairly sure that my belief will be tested within the next few years.
Mr. Orlov, I respect and value your opinion, and have learned a great deal from your thinking. I thank you for it. At the same time, as you told the Swedish reporter, we (Americans) do have an [inexplicable] way of putting faith in our institutions no matter what. We do this, in my estimation, because however bad they get, those institutions will respond sooner or later to positive force for change. Writing the Constitution off carelessly as a “legal document” that has little meaning may be okay for you; there are a great deal of people who are not ready to do that.
One question (no rhetorical intentions here – it would likely be helpful for us all to read) I have for you: what do you believe in?

Patrick said...

American policy becomes much more clear when viewed through the perspective you've given in your post. Mind altering drugs are illegal, not because they are harmful (some are), but because they cause a shift in consciousness, and ego-death, which nearly every American could really stand to experience at least once.

If everyone understood how insulated their perspective is, they might be more likely to attempt to understand opposing points of view.

@the previous poster, the constitution is exactly that, a legal document. Your rights are inherent simply from being alive. You do not need a document to list them for you, nor can a government ever take them away. The bill of rights simply lists the rights we are afforded as free humans. No government can infringe upon those rights legally. Our government is corrupt, however, and does so with increasing ferocity.

You believe things can be fixed with the system. The system is broken. It will be the death of many of us if we do not learn to adapt to a different way of living and thinking about our world.

parkslopegigilo said...

There is a scene in the movie "Mephisto", which I recommend, in which the character modeled after Goring enters a theater to the thundering sycophantic applause of the cream of German society. He and his wife take their seats with all the arrogant dignity of royalty while the crowd lavishes them with praise and devotion, no doubt due to fears of being marked as critics of the Nazi's but also because the pair represented an affirmation of the kind of social psychosis that by some accounts gripped German society in those days.

The rejection of critical thinking and self reflection in exchange for superstition and fantasies of the German Ubermensch, the superior race led by superior leaders, the high slopes of humanity idolizing their very peaks. It's a powerful piece of a powerful film and it has stayed with me for around 10 years now.

The scene has always stood as a metaphor for US culture in my mind, although this was probably not the movie makers intentions. The worship of ourselves as a special breed, fundamentally different from other peoples and fundamentally superior. The way we elevate goons and thugs and thieves and liars to quasi religious status, how we happily sit down to consume bowls of our own shit when we are commanded to believe it to be ice cream and then mock those who gag and turn away, how we lavish love upon those who tear our lives apart and turn like snapping rabid mutts on those who dare to resist. Certainly, misinformation, the fear of power, and that most hideous form of superstition known as patriotism play a role here but there is more.

Our culture >is< a kind of psychosis at the best of times, to be a USer is to have a variety of delusions fed to you since the day you popped out of Mom, a pack of stupid lies repeated over and over until it becomes the truth, one that is resilient and flexible, one that constantly seeks to deflect blame outwards at the Other, one that calls cruel power justified and weakness a moral failing.

Certainly other cultures have done and thought similar things but consider that none of them had the economic might, the historical impact, the military excess that the US has. We are a kind of supercharged Frankenstein's monster of a nation, with all the failings of any human social construction but with the addition of enormous physical resources to make the stage settings all the more authentic. Hunter S. was right: we are the Fourth Reich, with all the horrible gibbering delusions and dementia attendant to such a state of affairs.

Now along comes a knot of problems that even Uncle Sam can't beat into submission, bomb to pieces with drones, torture in a police interrogation room, or set Roger Ailes loose upon with any firm effect. Who could expect this lunatic to see through the howling mob in it's head? We will march straight off any cliff that dares to confront us, proudly and by and large in lock step, singing and waving Ole Glory as we tumble onto the rocks below. We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of our madness. Nothing shall stop us, rest assured, least of all ourselves.

Jeff Snyder said...

kollapsnik, your comment re: readers suffering from an illusion as to what species they are part of is IMHO one of the most pithy, incisive comments you have made in your stellar commentary. It's like being unexpectedly doused with a bucket of cold water.

@kleymo, please consider whether those who still believe in the Constitution and Bill or Rights are also similarly suffering from an illusion and are having their hopes and labors uselessly diverted by a mythology known as The Rule of Law. The American Revolution was brought about by American elites for the benefit of American elites, it was not an uprising of the common people. Most people never focus on the list of grievances set forth in the Declaration of Independence, but it is quite telling. It is so obviously a list made by people who are itching to wrest monopoly control from England to have for themselves, so that they can make their own rules and exploit the riches of the "new" land for themselves. They sought "independence" so they could have it all for themselves.

I recommend that anyone who wants to explore this further have a look at the work of Arthur Silber at powerofnarrative.blogspot.com, who has written many acerbic, incisive essays on American history and law. Good places to start are "Concerning the American Change in Management and the Lies that Will Kill You", http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2011/11/concerning-american-change-in.html, and "Yet Another Appeal to Non-Existent Gods," http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2012/02/yet-another-appeal-to-non-existent-gods.html

Beyond that, anyone still appealing to a "return" to the Constitution IMO has to first address the serious issue that: we HAD the Constitution and this is where we ARRIVED. How does a "return" to it exactly "save" us? In other words, you are implicitly counting on something other than words on paper to "restore" liberty and general righteousness. What is that something else?, because obviously that is the key.

kleymo said...

Thank you all for responding to my comments. They are helpful to me in thinking about just what we are as Americans, and just what it is we want to pass on to our children.

I am a father of young children, and so come at this from a very practical point of view. What will be best for my children to have good lives? What is important for them to have that their parents can provide?

Two experiences from my life that may be useful to you (ya’all – wish we had a plural “you” like the Russians do).

Kosovo in 1999 – I went to Kosovo in the early fall of 1999 as a Russian linguist with the U.S. Army (contractor). The Serbs had left a very instructive example of what can be accomplished when there is no rule of law. They had driven out most of the Albanian population. Then the Albanians came back. Again, no rule of law. The Albanians turned around and did the same thing to the local Serbs. NATO forces saved lives and imposed the possibility of peaceful coexistence on two rather surly nationality groups. Short term it worked, sort of. It will probably not work long term, as both sides are teaching their children to hate the other side. LESSON LEARNED FOR ME – the rule of law is much better than being able to do whatever you want.

My condo association today (9 units in a 1919 building) – we moved in in early 2009. The association had a bare majority that was making questionable decisions. They were not above lies to get their way, also. Turns out they had never bothered much with the Bylaws (the governing document of any condo association). I read the Bylaws, dug into the files and found an amendment they had buried, etc. Those Bylaws and the Condo Act of IL are the only thing reining in a dictatorship of the majority (as Jefferson put it). Without these two documents, my life would be much less pleasant. With them, my neighbors have been forced to modify their behavior. LESSON LEARNED FOR ME – insist on the law and rules being followed; always be ready to have a dialogue; make change only in the prescribed manner that has been agreed upon by the community in which you live.

I get what you are all saying about the U.S. being founded for less than altruistic reasons; that the U.S. has followed an imperialistic path. That is not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is people getting along with people; of having a way to get along with people that gives everyone a chance. I do not see that happening, given our “predicament” at the moment without the Constitution being followed, and revered.

I believe that given the opportunity, people can be very unpleasant to one another. Insisting on certain norms being followed keeps us from falling into the abyss (revolution). I am very unhappy when our leaders do not do that. I am also unhappy when the rules are used for stupid things (as Mr. Orlov has so cogently pointed out when talking about shipping here; heck, look at the crap our zoning laws have made out of how we live).

Basically, do not believe in some sort of law, have someone make one for you. Believe in some sort of law, and fight that person who wants to make one for you.

Mister Roboto said...

Everywhere I go these days, I hear what I have charmingly nicknamed "the funeral music of a doomed society". It has become so soul-crushingly depressing that I can't even bring myself to blog about it.

hawlkeye said...

linguistic nitpick:

"Y'all" is the singular, the plural is "all y'all"...

just saying

DaShui said...

Hey Orlov,
Somebody is stealing your ideas.


Don't mention it,

Ivan Lukic said...


Two decades ago Graf Nikolay Tolstoy asked self-proclaimed Balkan experts from UK if they knew Serbian language and when they addmited that they do not know it he was surprised what kind of Balkan experts they are!

It is obvious that you do not know much about neither Serbs nor Albanians, less so about history of Balkans, and you should not give such simplified view about that particular war as comment on Kolapsnik's latest text.

Unknown said...

I find Mr. Orlov's focus on Freud's psychodynamic perspective- and all the dark ways by which it goes about explaining human failure- to be unnecessarily grim and oppressive.

It goes without saying that nobody forces me to come to his blog every Tuesday, and it's a testement to his engaging personality and the sharpness of his wit that I'll keep coming back for more- despite the black stain it might leave on my heart for an afternoon or two.

But- ahem- while we're dabbling in the field of pyschology, why not yield the floor to some of the humanists? And since we're making analogies between individual health and the health of society as a whole (in line with Plato's Repulic), I would like to propose, for those of us that still consider ourselves to be in The Sun Also Rises crowd, that we can use a little of Albert Bandura's theory of reciprocal determinism- which suggests that each of the three elements of behavior, cognition, and the environment continually reinforces the others- to balance the ideas of our much-venerated, cocaine-snorting Viennese witchdoctor.

I would also invoke the ideas of another cognitive psychologist, Julian Rotter, who advanced the notion of 'locus of control', which he believed to be an individual's sense of whether control over his or her life is internal or external.

If you have an external locus of control, so the idea goes, you are more likely to believe that you have little influence over the way other people behave, and that it is only wishful thinking to believe that one can really influence what happens in society at large.

On the other hand, if you have an internal locus of control, you will believe that people can be quite easily led, if one knows how to deal with them, and that individuals can change the course of world affairs, if they make themselves heard.

I hope Mr. Orlov forgives my speaking to The Sun Also Rises crowd on his blog.

rpauli said...

Neurosis can be cultivated and reinforced by culture - both by reward and fear. Mass media helps lots.

Psychosis will most likely be delusional no matter what the environment or support.

kleymo said...

Ivan Lukic

I spent a year there. What I am refering to is based upon personal observation.

Here is a timeline of the war itself:

One amusing tidbit: the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in Albanian was the UCK. Since after the war they "disbanded" they were called the fUCK in documnets ("f" being "former").

So lets here some specifics. What did I get wrong?

Both sides showed no real compunction to have a dialoge. One Serb priest wanted to talk with the Russians once. He had quite a chip on his shoulder about the U.S. where he had been a priest in Chicago. He didn't know Russian though, and had to use me as his interpretor. Ah well.

I was in a Serbian village store once. I paid for a coke in Serbian currency. The Russian behind me only had U.S. dollars. Probably the dollars were more welcome on a practical level.

The Albanians were gunning for the Russians, and set a big anti-tank mine up in their sector. It blew up a U.S. special forces Humvee, killing 2 or 3 U.S. soldiers.

A collegue of mine quit when he saw the results of two children getting machine-gunned.

The Albanians threw a grenade into a poorly sited courtyard of a Russian base once, where I happened to be sleeping. If I had been standing, I would have been shredded.

The Serbs made great pizza. The Albanians made lots of good food, too.

By the way, I lived in the same room with Albanians, Macedonians and Serbs for months. We got along fine. Hard to hate someone you talk to every day.

An amusing aside; while on leave in Greece with my wife, Greeks often complained to us about those jerks the Americans who had bombed Kosovo (we were Russians, you see).

Yeah, the Serbs ended up on the short end of the stick, but the Albanians in Kosovo are not in a very happy situation strategically. What happens when things get a lot less stable in Europe in the near future?

Yeah, I guess I don't know much about that part of the world.

mtwilson said...

I gotta say, I've been living outside the US since 2008 and on the rare occasions I have returned it felt like I was among the dead or psychotic. There is such a detachment from reality in the States that it is palpable. I find this sensation overwhelming at times and it is not nearly as prevalent in Europe and Asia. I make my home in Peru now and I am confident that people will fair far better here than in the US because they have far fewer "delusions" to overcome when confronting the reality our future likely has in store for us. I worry about my daughters who still live in the US. If this go the way they seem to be going, their experience in the States will likely be far more terrifying than anything we face in the Amazon jungle. I love my country (USA) but I fear it is incapable of facing a resource limited reality with anything resembling grace or humility. On the contrary, my countrymen are far more likely to react like spoiled brats throwing a tantrum when all their toys get taken away.

DeVaul said...

I am kind of amazed at the comments here that do not reflect what Dmitry was talking about and seem to fly off on their own tangents -- specifically tailored to each commenter's political view, of course.

I do thank Peter, as a doctor on the inside, for his revelations, and confession. My own son was doped by my ex-wife at the age of 4 because she felt he was mentally ill. She tried to have him subjected to a full psychiatric evaluation during our divorce when he was only 3 and upset over being kidnapped. The doctor actually made the appointment until I threatened to sue her for not having my permission to do this to my son. She relented only out of fear of being sued.

Like so many others, she believed a deaf parent was a dead parent, and no, there is no recourse to the law for those who have been formally placed outside the law.

My son will probably have brain damage some day after 10 years of doping all because my ex-wife, who failed all her pyschological testing, but had "money" and "influence" (she was a doctor), needed to control him so that he could not get upset over not seeing me or his other family members.

I have almost no respect for doctors anymore. If they are not stealing someone's home after surgery, they are doping children for money. They have descended to the level of lawyers without yet knowing it, but someday they will.

Thanks for another great article, Dmitry. Yes, I can stand the bucket of cold water -- unlike others. I'm used to it.

VyseLegendaire said...

I agree with the main thrust of this commentary, and do think that the project of civilization has been one of enslavement and suicidal aggression. However, I disagree with Mr. Orlov that human nature is incipiently cruel and evil. I do believe we can overcome and throw off the history, yolk, and inertia of our trajectory of tragedy and despair and make for a better society – For instance I do not believe the gift economy could thrive in an inherently violent and domineering society. This will however most likely require a reset and a culling of the herd before that is even possible.

Ivan Lukic said...


If a Russian is contracted to translate he is not necessarily obliged to have pro-US attitude as guarantee that he is loyal to his employers. Being loyal to fellow Americans and to banksters are two different things. Never mind, many Serbs are like that too. An WASP would never be like that, he would be strictly professional.

I am perplexed if you do not know what dirty part US played in wars in former Yugoslavia, or you know it but pretend not to know it. Reduced to your personal experiences and impressions, gained after the Kosovo war was over, that war does not have any meaning or purpose. According to you US is one gigantic charity. According to me US is one gigantic bloodsucker of the world and its resources. What US did to Serbia is what is planed to be done to Russia if only it would be possible. Only retarded child believes that anti missile shield is meant to protect Europe from Iran bombs. Vladimir Vladimirovich is not retarded child. Fortunately, there are other big players that are not very fond of US. Carl Schmitt’s famous essay about concept of political is read in China too.

Stalin once said to his comrades: ”When I am gone, capitalists will strangle you like blind kittens.” They almost did it during Gorbachov-Jelcin era. If US banksters (Dylan calls them “Masters of War”) are doing to American people what they are doing, what other peoples can expect? I respect and like Americans who are like Archdruid, Dmitry, Jim Kunstler, etc., but I am always ready to face boys with firearms that are sent to Serbia by the American masters of war, and, frankly, I am ready to be cruel.

Anonymous said...

Peter said:

Firstly, the demand for this is coming from the public, not from doctors or drug companies (although, granted, we facilitate it).

1) The minimizing backpedal regarding "facilitation" is a clever attempt to avoid real culpability while admitting "mistakes were made" (like Nixon).

2) People become aware of pyschopharmaceuticals thanks to advertisement. Maybe Peter wears blinders when he's not busy writing Rx scripts, but everywhere I go, I see advertisements for various Rx and an insistent message: "Ask your doctor about ________."

3) Obviously, the urging to "ask your doctor about" is the origin of a patient coming to Peter's office and asking for an Rx for __________. It's not because awareness of the drug is traveling around in the Miasma of Life, an ethereal construct that magically worms its way into the human imagination. The suggestion is planted by Rx mfrs through direct, not even remotely subliminal advertisement. The ads implore people to ask about ________.

4) The generic descriptions in the ads make it sound like every little difficulty in life deserves a new Rx script and an accompanying new pill to cope with, for example, the non-renewal of your favorite TV show, or the store's back-order/no-stock of your favorite risotto.

I tried to understand Peter's post as a satire, but it didn't play well in that mode. I can only assume, sadly, that he was serious.

Which would explain Dmitry's main point here quite well, wouldn't it?

(thus... possible satire?)

Ivan Lukic said...


There is a small book by Serbian film director and writer Zivojin Pavlovic - Madness in mirror (my translation of the title from Serbian). He explains two paradigms of Western and Eastern peoples as characteristic collective mental diseases. For him in western peoples (Americans) Paranoia dominates. Western man is encapsulated in his paranoic fears, therefore such destructive attitude towards Other. For Eastern man (Russians, Serbs) Schizophrenia is characteristic disease: too much internal communication with Other, unable to consolidate his position, torn by ever changing moods. Destruction is more directed inside than outside.

Delusion that you describe in your post is more characteristic for Westerners, but as Western influence is so profound, even Easterners are becoming more paranoid.

Concerning misuse of antipsychotic medication (which in Serbia has monstrous proportions, millions of boxes are sold, people use it more like a chewing gum) here is my experience. When I was once feeling bad I bought a box of Bensedine (I do not know US name of that drug) to try it. Instead of being concentrated on specific problem I had, after I took Bensedine I felt generally bad. No need to tell you that the box of Bensedine soon ended in garbage can and I have no intention ever to buy or use any antipsychotic drug again.

Unknown said...

All societies are built around consensual realities that are divorced to some extent from physical reality. We argue that there are psychopaths among our leaders, not readily admitting that leadership is not itself a measurement of moral goodness but only a measure of the ability of a person to persuade others in the rightness of their direction - and in general a psychopathic personality is one that most readily combines the grandiosity of self-import (and hence in the assurance that one's beliefs are right), with the charm to get others to believe them and the lack of critical questioning as to whether such directions are ethically right. Such leaders will usually lead their followers off a cliff, but they will do so with full conviction in the rightness of the path for several steps beyond the edge of the cliff.

I have lived in both America and Canada. Americans are mainly extroverts - they are self-confident in the extreme, more inclined to take risks, and drawn toward the loudest and gaudiest leaders, as they believe that confidence equates with competence. Canadians are, by and large, introverts. They are more contemplative, more inclined to question, to cogitate, less inclined to take decisive action without exploring the consequences of these actions. Overall, I think the Canadians will emerge far better off in the long term. Psychosis is simply the manifestation of extreme Extroversion. (And yes, this a Jungian take on a Freudian staple here).

Paul said...

One of your most fascinating and compelling essays, imo, Dmitry. High praise, if I may say so.

parkslopegigilo's post is also wonderfuly trenchant and incisive, although somewhat more in the vein of a mordant diatribe than discursive education, if in some degree,2z that as well.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall reading that about 98% or so of species that have ever existed have gone extinct.
Do you feel lucky?
Or is it all about skill? Or cleverness? Intelligence?
Paradoxically, our capacity for systems complexity that did so well for us so long ago on the plains of what is now known as 'Africa', may be what does us in. Built-in psychosis or otherwise.

Pav said...

I must say that we are starting to see the same symptom you describe of a psychotic society, here, in France.

That's why i tought it would be usefull to do a translation of this text in french here