Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Taking Refuge in Insanity
But the seemingly impenetrable, fact-proof façade obscures a delicate and vulnerable organism sheltering behind it: every contrary word that gets through causes a wound; every grain of truth becomes an irritant. As the laughter of the gods grows louder, we shut our eyes and plug our ears, and yelloch our sacred slogans through amplifiers turned up all the way to eleven. But a time comes when the reality of our failure can no longer be ignored, and then it is time for a break—a psychotic break.
The transition from denial to psychosis may not be easily detectable, but it is similar to a phase change. A physical phase change results in a substance with different physical properties: you can walk on ice, but only Jesus can walk on water, and even then only figuratively. Similarly, a psychological phase change results in individuals, and entire populations, with different psychological properties.
People who are in denial are not entirely outside of consensual reality. They are just taking a break from it but remain normal semi-social animals and therefore generally conformist: as soon as they see that a critical mass of those around them have come out of denial, so will they. Moreover, plenty of them will pretend to have been in the vanguard of this exciting new trend, for fear of being viewed as laggards. Their path back to reality may be overgrown with the thorns of their self-induced, willful ignorance and strewn with minor and major embarrassments, but it does exist.
Not so with the individuals and the populations that have become psychotic: they inhabit their own imaginary realms, and whatever happens in the real world does not penetrate theirs except as muffled noises and shifting shadows. If reality pushes them too hard they become violent or self-destructive, catatonic or hysterical. For them, a path back to reality may not exist at all. But how can we be sure of this? Looking in from the outside, they may seem relatively normal and simply refusing to pay attention to subjects they find difficult, uninteresting or unpleasant.
Some—especially those who are forced by their circumstances to live on the streets—may find themselves in need of some chemical help in maintaining the firewall between their own world and the real one, and self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. But others—those who are well cared for and have access to medical treatment—may be perfectly content to reside within their own fictional realms, separately or in like-minded groups. They may even be high-functioning, with savant-like abilities, and inhabit prosperous enclaves.
Their psychological problems may surface if they are not sufficiently sheltered—if the safe spaces they inhabit are not safe enough, or if their basic needs are not sufficiently well provided for; but all of these reduce to just one problem: insufficient quality of care. The richer societies can more thoroughly obscure the magnitude of the problem: they have fewer people sleeping rough, permanently drunk, and more people living comfortably on the psycho pharm. In those societies that are humane enough to take good care of their psychotics, the few that are observable in public are but the tip of the iceberg.
Another iceberg floating about is made up of those who are neither in denial nor psychotic. The tip of this iceberg is made up mostly of those who, through a lifetime of experience, have amassed an abundance of insights into the workings of various fields and disciplines; who are lucky enough to no longer be beholden to the corporate, academic or governmental guardians of the status quo (through retirement, academic tenure or being independently wealthy); and who have a penchant for speaking the truth. Thanks to the internet, mass media gatekeepers no longer have the ability to silence them while governments find it problematic to restrict access to publicly available information or to ban expressions of opinion, confining their efforts to issues of secrecy, confidentiality and intent.
But while allowing people to stay in denial (and keeping safe spaces safe for the psychotics) is a major industry, actually informing people about the true state of the world and its prospects is definitely not. It is at best a cottage industry and is really more of an artisanal pursuit. This is because denial sells better: reality is harsh, and it is always easier to sell sweet dreams than sad truths. Plus knowing sad truths can create problems of its own: we are semi-social animals that like to run with the herd, and the more social of us may get sad and lonely when the herd is grazing on one side of a wall of denial while we are stuck on the other.
When eventually reality intrudes and the laughter of the gods at our combined folly grows deafening, we may be cheered to see those around us coming out of denial, somewhat shamefaced but generally amenable to reason, or we may be driven to despair in realizing that we have been dwelling among psychotics and will be spending the rest of our days in Bedlam. There may be ways of finding out which of these it will be ahead of time. For example, in today’s United States, you can find out a lot about the mental status of the population by asking people a simple question: “Who is your president?” If the answer is some insane ranting about Russians—well, there’s your answer!