The once rare specters of hypochondria, germophobia and agoraphobia became required behavior for participating in polite society over the past year. These conditions remain the same mental illnesses they were in the twentieth century, but are now compulsory prerequisites for social acceptability in America and much of the industrialized world. The fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane, and the fact that they agree on a consensus of errors does not make those errors truths. Surging suicide rates, alcohol treatment admissions, self-harm reports and drug overdose statistics reveal that if western society wasn’t already a cause for mental disturbance, it went completely insane during the panic of 2020. As it turns out, the choice to live like a vegetable carries major consequences.
Nonstop reports reveal ever more frightening trends in the mental health of Americans. Last month NPR Boston presented the story of a mother and father that refuse to hug either of their two children, whom they force to wear masks at all times inside their home while also prohibiting them from visiting any of their friends. All members of this family sleep in separate rooms, work from home and avoid contact with anyone outside the direct family.
This depiction of culturally-induced hypochondria would be disturbing enough if it were reported honestly. Such an instance of patently absurd behavior seems fit for programs like America’s Funniest Home Videos or Tosh point O, only valuable as an example of how not to behave; an opportunity to point at the freaks and laugh; an occasion to reevaluate our definitions of child abuse. But rather than ridiculing the psychotic overreaction, the hallowed airwaves of National Public Radio’s flagship evening news program instead promoted these irrational phobias and absurd behavior as the normal standard the rest of us should aspire to live up to. And the children growing up in this masochistic psychosis get the gift of unpacking the subsequent and detrimental psychological side-effects for decades to come. The gift that keeps on giving.
German humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm suggested that the only data we can measure the psychological health of our communities are those for suicide, homicide and alcoholism. “It a safe assumption,” he writes, “that a high suicide rate in a given population is expressive of a lack of mental stability and mental health.”
It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Yet many of us refuse to entertain the idea that society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. We’re told that the problem of mental health in society lies with those “unadjusted” individuals, but not the culture itself. But America’s suicide and substance abuse statistics strongly suggest that we’re about to bear witness to a mental health roller coaster ride unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed before.
By the end of 2020 Americans’ mental health had fallen to a 20-year low in sync with a surge of student suicides, and opiate overdoses fueled by a nationwide epidemic of loneliness and despair. In fact, suicide rates increased across the board in all demographics last year, according to a CDC study published in December. They found that 1 in 4 young Americans considered suicide last summer amid life under the unprecedented social isolation of lockdown. According to another recently published study, self-harm claims among 13-18 year olds has risen by 333%. Overdoses are up too.
Last summer CDC Director Robert Redfield admitted that suicides and drug overdoses had surpassed the death rate for covid among high school students.
One California hospital doctor admitted that during lockdown he witnessed “a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.” While the mortality risk of covid for young adults hovers near zero, school closures coupled with isolation from family, friends, and community, creates a far more pernicious harm.
There’s no denying that confining people to their homes and stripping away their livelihoods directly correlates with spikes in suicide and depression. As reported by the New York Times, the negative health effects of social isolation are well-documented:
“A wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.
“Another analysis that pooled data from 70 studies and 3.4 million people found that socially isolated individuals had a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age.
“Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.“
Heartbreaking testimony from parents reveals how extended distance learning is “catalyzing a mental health crisis among school-aged children.” One mother, Allison Arieff, said she had recently found her 15-year-old daughter “curled up in a fetal position, crying, next to her laptop at 11 a.m.” Another mother, Lindsay Sink, has seen a “major regression” in her 7-year-old son who has “uncontrollable meltdowns that turn the whole house upside down.”
Our society is actively teaching our kids that they need to protect other people from themselves at all times by wearing a mask; to run to the other side of the street if they see someone without a mask coming toward them. We’re conditioning the next generation to automatically assume other humans pose a significant threat by virtue of merely existing. They’re being trained that the only way forward involves assuming the role of a pathologically frightened loner who is perpetually searching for a guarantee of security that cannot exist so long as humans are mortal. And because the only place you’re completely secure is inside a nine-by-nine concrete cell, we’ve begun consciously transforming our entire world to resemble a literal prison. And nothing demonstrates this point better than a recent controversy in Toronto, Ontario.
Authorities in the Peel suburb of Toronto, Ontario distributed parenting guidelines last month for kids sent home from school following possible coronavirus exposure: the child must sleep and eat in a separate room, use a separate bathroom, wear a mask within the home and remain six feet away from other humans at all times.
One mom posts, “And so the 14 day isolation begins. Nothing has broken my heart like the sound of my 10 year old crying while I sit on the other side of the door and tell him 14 days will go quickly. Hoping Peel Health calls so we can get some advice and answers.” Another mother replies, “I have my 7 year old in isolation downstairs. He keeps messaging me on Facebook messenger saying, ‘mommy I’m lonely.’ My 5 year old wrote in his journal entry today that he is sad because his brother isn’t here. I set up a baby monitor to let the 8 year old ask for things. 5 year old is using it to talk to the 8 year old.”
Matthew Christiansen precisely articulates the fundamental flaw with this situation: “So your child is crying and you’re waiting for clearance from the state to comfort your own kid? Whose kid is it? Yours or the government’s? You’ve allowed the state to turn your home into a prison for children. Plain and simple.”
Martin Luther King famously proclaimed that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It seems unconscionable that any parent would acquiesce to state-sanctioned child abuse, and yet the reporting of such extremes helps condition society to begin accepting such circumstances as “the new normal.”
We’ve collectively adhered to the state-sanctioned cognitive dissonance of a “two week” lockdown to “flatten the curve” for 52 consecutive weeks now. After a year the data confirms that the response to covid was highly disproportionate to the actual threat, which carried a survivability rate of 99.97%. The deadliness of the virus, and therefore the restrictions on individual liberties, should be in direct proportion to the level of the danger. The overblown hysteria consistently proves itself to be far more deadly than the covid boogieman, and everyone knows it. Yet so many continue behaving in silly ways just because they’re told to.
George Orwell describes Doublethink as, “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”
The oxymoronic phrases “alone together” and “social distancing”; the hypocrisy of banning Thanksgiving while promoting Black Friday consumerism; the double standard of closing churches while ignoring the laughable conditions at Walmart stores and Amazon warehouses, all represent the kind of state-sponsored doublethink Orwell was trying to warn us about. The fact that so much of society accepted the program seems the real tragedy. It seems that our susceptibility to embrace the quantum psychosis of doublethink comes from the need for a coping mechanism against the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.
We’re finally arriving at the 365th day of “15 days to flatten the curve” and after a whole year we’re still being told not to hug our children because “affection spreads infection.” We’re told that bodily autonomy as pronounced by Roe v Wade no longer applies. We’re told that that freedom of choice amounts to the freedom to unintentionally kill old people; that bread lines are normal; that state imposed poverty results in heightened security; that your inability to breathe naturally protects you, rather than drastically increasing your susceptibility to bacterial pneumonia and lung cancer.
Historian Alexei Yurchak described “HyperNormalisation” as a similar phenomenon to doublethink. Filmmaker Adam Curtis tells us that, “in the 1980’s everyone from the top to the bottom of Soviet society knew that it wasn’t working, knew that it was corrupt, knew that the bosses were looting the system, knew that the politicians had no alternative vision. And they knew that the bosses knew that they knew that. Everyone knew it was fake, but because no one had any alternative vision for a different kind of society, they just accepted this sense of total fakeness as normal. And this historian, Alexei Yurchak, coined the phrase “HyperNormalisation” to describe that feeling.” The effect is social paralysis and political impotence.
In a society where nobody knows what to believe, submission to irrational authority becomes a necessary means of survival. The economic threat of starvation which forces us to accept the unacceptable also helps drive the barbarism of totalitarian movements. An army of obedient conformists who take up the dirty work of violent authoritarians cheerfully rationalize away any personal responsibility for their own actions by proclaiming that they were “just following orders.”
But it’s evident from the fatality data that covid was no more deadly – perhaps even less deadly – than the flu, which has mysteriously disappeared from the UK. This is not ebola. People are not keeling over in the streets to the soundtrack of nonstop ambulance sirens. In fact, hospitals have operated at reduced capacity, and the vast majority of us never knew anyone who died from the sniffles.
The doublethink flip-flops started early in 2020. No other public figure enjoyed such a boost to his social status, as our vaunted master of the medical arts, sometimes colloquially referred as the G.O.O.F: The Great, Omnipotent, Omnipresent Fauci! Every mention of his sacred name in the media comes in reverent hushed tones to clearly communicate that you must participate in the cult of his hero worship or be doomed to a life as a pariah and traitor to your society. The GOOF can never be wrong, even when he is wrong. Look no farther than the first great goof up of the lockdown: Doctor Fauci’s advice to the American public that we shouldn’t bother with masks and gloves. He told us all, plainly and directly, that masks do nothing to curb the spread of this virus.
A month or two later when someone or something decided that it would be better for their interests if we were compelled to wear masks, word passed down through medical science’s Mister Rogers declared that though it may be a beautiful day in the neighborhood, its time for us to hide our beautiful face from our neighbors indefinitely. To respond to the natural consternation caused by his unnatural contradiction, our beloved GOOF conveyed that he had been lying to us all when he said masks didn’t work. He naturally only lied because he didn’t want us dumb, panicky, unwashed masses to rush out and hog up all the masks, gorging ourselves on Personal Protective Equipment in a grotesque orgy of hoarding and conspicuous consumption. And even though he lied before, we can definitely believe him this time.
Whatever you believe about mask efficacy, it’s clear that Fauci told the public two completely different stories. He contradicted his own sacred medical advice and justified his duplicity by assuring us that his lies were for our own good. But of the two contradictory stories he gave, why would we choose to believe the one that dehumanizes us? He admitted to lying to us, claiming the lies were for our own good because we simply couldn’t be trusted with the truth, and all at a time that so many of our intrepid authorities were hypocritically disobeying their own irrational mandates. Truly HyperNormal.
Pelosi and Lightfoot got caught at salons after shuttering salons; Newsom and Murphy and Hancock all got caught at crowded dinner tables or traveling after prohibiting travel and banning Thanksgiving; DeBlasio got caught working out at his private gym after closing down all private gyms. Pathological liars do well in politics and finance because the structure of our system rewards the sociopathic tendencies of those most attracted to money and power.
17th Century philosopher Baruch Spinoza posits that greediness and ambition are themselves forms of insanity, even though society does not think of them as “illness” per se. But it is nevertheless true that America’s nonstop war profiteering helps foster a social ecosystem conducive for psychopaths to thrive within.
As we peel back the layers on what may be one of the most frightening personality disorders on the spectrum of mental illnesses, we find that manipulation, deceit and egocentricity are also the very precepts most valued by our corporate state at large. A system that values profit over health incentivizes sociopathic tendencies in otherwise moral people and empowers the truly ruthless. This system has “inadvertently increased the number of attractive employment opportunities for individuals with psychopathic personalities,” according to Paul Babiak’s 2006 book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. America’s drones drop a bomb every 12 minutes on account of mental illnesses that are deemed socially acceptable by the military-industrial-surveillance-complex. When jobs are scarce and everyone’s out for themselves, a little war profiteering probably feels kinda normal once you get doing it. Nothing personal. Just blood for money. This attitude in-turn creates endless lines of broken soldiers returning home with chronic trauma, which then trickles back into our mental health statistics in the forms of alcoholism and suicide.
Fromm contends that, “An unhealthy society is one which creates mutual hostility, distrust, which transforms man into an instrument of use and exploitation for others, which deprives him of a sense of self, except inasmuch as he submits to others or becomes an automaton.” (71)
By contrast, “A sane society is one in which qualities like greed, exploitiveness, possessiveness, narcissism, have no chance to be used for greater material gain or for the enhancement of one’s personal prestige. Where acting according to one’s conscience is looked upon as a fundamental and necessary quality and where opportunism and lack of principles is deemed to be asocial.” (241)
But the spectrum of 2020’s irrational hysteria went even farther as we witnessed a hybrid of Stockholm Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome unfold at a planetary scale.
Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological survival response that occurs when hostages begin to empathize with their captors over the course of prolonged captivity.
Munchausen Syndrome (also known as Factitious disorder) is a psychological disorder where someone pretends to be ill or deliberately produces symptoms of illness in themselves. Indeed, society now mandates that we all at least pretend to succumb to the mental illnesses of germophobia, OCD, hypochondria, agoraphobia, etc.
Have we internalized our learned helplessness to the point that we willingly choose the cage over our freedom as Huxley warned? Are we “not in danger of becoming slaves anymore, but of becoming robots” as Adlai Stevenson so famously proclaimed?
Fromm observes that in the modern technocracy, “There is no overt authority which intimidates us, but we are governed by the fear of the anonymous authority of conformity. We do not submit to anyone personality; we do not go through conflicts with authority, but we have also no convictions of our own, almost no individuality, almost no sense of self.” (96)
If next week our irrational authorities mandate obligatory butt-plugs because someone at the CDC declared that farts cause covid, would you wear one? How long would you wear it for? We all know that a percentage of us would. You likely know at least one or two individuals whose compliance with covid restrictions is so fanatical that they would eagerly do it, and encourage all those around them to “plug up and shut up”. We’ve all met these people. Some of them are even our friends, but would you be willing to plug up and shut up if the CDC told you to today? What about tomorrow? How many of your own personal barriers have already been broken down? How many times have the goalposts already been moved on you?
No matter how absurd, a proportion of the general population can always be fooled into acting the way the oligarchs want. How much more authoritarian nonsense will it take for people to feel safe again? Orange jumpsuit mandates? Bars over the window mandates? The insane protocols will continue so long as people remain afraid.
Those who spoke out against lockdown restrictions were branded “granny killers” and “anti-vaxxers” for merely displaying elementary skepticism because our deep-seated fear of social disapproval has been completely weaponized by the corporate state. We’ve been psychologically conditioned to imprison ourselves under a spell of fear that posits we might unintentionally get someone, somewhere, killed if we fail to obey our infallible authorities. The ability to hold discourse and debate and disagree remains integral for society to be healthy. But practical and fair debates based on reason and logic are in danger of becoming relics traded for conformity and obedience to irrational authority. The social hostility to reason and critical thinking that’s dividing our communities seems convenient for corrupt bureaucrats and their billionaire puppet masters. Now that we’ve been culturally conditioned to fear each other, we’re not getting together and talking about how badly we’re all getting fucked by this corrupt system, or how truly insane it has become.
“The alienated person attempts to solve this problem by conforming. He feels secure in being as similar as possible to his fellow man. His paramount aim is to be approved of by others; his central fear, that he may not be approved of. To be different, to find himself in a minority, are the dangers which threaten his sense of security; hence a craving for limitless conformity. It is obvious that this craving for conformity produces in turn a continuously operating, though hidden, sense of insecurity. Any deviation from the pattern, any criticism, arouses fear and insecurity; one is always dependent on the approval of others, just as a drug addict is dependent on his drug, and similarly, one’s own sense of self and “self”-reliance becomes increasingly weaker. The sense of guilt, which some generations ago pervaded the life of man with reference to sin, has been replaced by a sense of uneasiness and inadequacy with regard to being different.” (137)
In 1978 cult leader Jim Jones isolated nearly a thousand followers in the jungles of Africa and used fear to manipulate them into drinking his mass suicide Kool-Aid. Humans are highly adaptable creatures, and historically we seem to prefer emotions to facts, superstition to reason, and dogma to logic. But the chronic harms we’re unwittingly visiting upon each other in the illusory quest for safety and permanence far outweigh the potential benefits we’re told will somehow make all this “worth it” in the end. The notion that we must commit daily acts of self-harm by suffocating vital breath just to participate in society seems completely insane.
“How can conscience develop when the principle of life is conformity?” Fromm asks. “Conscience by its very nature is nonconforming; it must be able to say no, when everybody else says yes; in order to say this “no” it must be certain in the rightness of the judgment on which the no is based. To the degree to which a person conforms he cannot hear the voice of his conscience, much less act upon it.” (155)
This brings us to the colloquial definition of what may be the most pervasive mental illness in America today: insanity. That is, repeating the same action over and over again all the while continuously expecting a different result. We’re told that if we’re dissatisfied with the management of our communities to reinforce the very mechanism that maintains the status quo. The system tells us, both explicitly and implicitly, to “vote harder.”
Emma Goldman once declared that “If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal.” Mark Twain famously concurred with, “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.” But it’s now a scientific fact that America is not a democracy but dominated by a rich and powerful elite, proven scientifically by professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page of Princeton and Northwestern, respectively. But no matter how much proof is offered that America’s elections have always been fixed, a segment of the American population will still demand ever more government as a solution to this problem. We keep voting, decade after decade, hoping for a different result. But the house always wins. The corporate state maintains its power by keeping us divided and distracted, and voting is one of the best ongoing ploys to accomplish this.
Chris Hedges tell us, “The nature of illusion is that it’s designed, at least at the moment, to make you feel good about yourself, about your country, about where you’re going. In that sense it functions like a drug. Those who question that illusion are challenged, not so much for the veracity of what they say, but for puncturing those feelings. Attempt to get up and question where we’re going and who we are and the critique will be that you’re such a pessimist, that you’re such a cynic, that you’re not an optimist. Optimism becomes a kind of disease. It’s what created the financial meltdown where you have this kind of cheerful optimism in the face of utter catastrophe. And you plow forward based on an optimism that is no longer rooted in reality.”
But our collective insanity manifests itself in other fascinating ways. The destruction of nature to fulfill vain consumerist desires drove the creation of The Lorax as a conscious warning about where our society is headed. And the fact that the name of this book’s author has become controversial in recent weeks seems to indicate a failure to heed that warning.
What the corporate media unwittingly accomplish is the widespread realization that the media are the virus. They pushed the narrative of their big pharma owners through a deliberate campaign of nonstop, paralyzing fear. Bill Hicks was right when he said that watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye. Maybe we should be practicing media distancing, because television only “tells lies to our vision.” This is in part why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. asks, “Do pandemics disappear when mortalities cease, or when it’s no longer in the media’s financial interest to frighten and shame the public?”
Speaking at the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, Thomas E. Woods warned in the summer of 2020, “This is not normal. We’re surrounded by crazy people. We can’t even have a conversation because if you try to have a conversation about this, “You just want people to die!” You can never have an honorable disagreement with the hysterics. Never. And it’s always because you secretly “hate” something. And that strikes me as the classic case of projection. If their first instinct is, “This must be motivated by hatred!” maybe they intimately are familiar with that emotion, that they would constantly be consumed by attributing it to everybody. Take people who say to you, “If you don’t favor locking people in their homes, then you just enjoy watching people die.” Okay? I’ve had that said to me–that I want people to die. And then, conversely, I’ve had people tell me that they hope I die because I’m encouraging things that are going to make other people die. There’s a lot of death wish around in society these days apparently.”
Such a landscape of the blind leading the blind will teem with despots and criminals eager to tell everyone else what to do, how to think, and what to buy. We’ve become sequestered in our atomized dwelling units and slowly become sicker as we deprive ourselves of life-giving sunlight and oxygen in the very world that we’re shielding ourselves from, while the wealthy grow their fortunes to embarrassingly unethical proportions.
Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and positions of power have a strong tendency of attracting the corruptible. But skepticism of the government seems sadly lacking. How could anyone be sincerely convinced that this government cares about us in the abstract when our authorities systematically and deliberately denied healthcare to Americans during a pandemic while kicking around the idea of making ultra-profitable vaccines a mandatory requirement?
The true power of the pandemic drew from an entrenched fear of death that we are especially vulnerable to on account of the fact that it’s become a taboo subject. Our neurotic denial of impermanence and death makes us better consumers and better slaves. We rarely consider how our precious time is disappearing in service to this machine as we fill our inevitable inner voids with products and likes.
The negative long-term side effects from masks, social distancing, and prolonged isolation are well documented. David Cullin has repeatedly asked whether these measures are sustainable long-term. The efficacy of such measures is now seriously disputed and must be weighed against the suffering they caused in their own right. Given the catastrophic impact that all of the lockdown measures have on individuals and society, there is an obligation on all of us to question the veracity of the data that is being used to justify them. If the protocols are found to be disproportionate to the threat, we should not practice them any longer.
Many statewide mask mandates are lifting, meaning that normal folks can finally begin clearing away the rubble and move forward with their lives, partisan politicking notwithstanding. People have become wise to the fact that wearing a mask to stop a virus is like putting up chain link to stop mosquitoes. With a vape pen or a walk outside on a cold day anyone can watch the billowing clouds of water vapor pour through and around the face mask with every breath, even if the wearer has more than one mask on. If water vapor can get through and around your mask every time you exhale, so can a microscopic virus. The unscientific mandating of masks represents nothing more than the height of security theater.
No wonder there are psychological issues rippling through the population. While forces of totalitarianism actively muzzle free speech on every major platform, those same forces mandate a literal muzzle as a symbolic reminder to keep your mouth shut.
As far back as 1955, Erich Fromm noted that, “We find that the countries which are among the most democratic, peaceful and prosperous ones, show the most severe symptoms of mental disturbance. These data raise a question as to whether there is not something fundamentally wrong with our way of life and with the aims toward which we are striving.” (19)
In the essay, Industrial Society And Its Future, Ted Kaczynski concurs, “Imagine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy, then gives them drugs to take away their unhappiness. Science fiction? It is already happening to some extent in our own society. … Instead of removing the conditions that make people depressed, modern society gives them antidepressant drugs. In effect, antidepressants are a means of modifying an individual’s internal state in such a way as to enable him to tolerate social conditions that he would otherwise find intolerable.” (145)
That someone as mentally disturbed as Ted could be capable of so accurately articulating the reasons for his clinically antisocial behavior seems like a very interesting warning; that the increasingly anti-human structure of our society threatens to create monsters far more dangerous than Ted, and perhaps more numerous as well. But Fromm noticed the exact same phenomenon at play in western society several decades earlier: “Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of men. The specialists in this field tell you what the “normal” person is, and, correspondingly, what is wrong with you; they devise the methods to help you adjust, be happy, be normal. In Brave New World this conditioning is done from the first month of fertilization (by chemical means), until after puberty. With us, it begins a little later. Constant repetition by newspaper, radio, television, does most of the conditioning. But the crowning achievement of manipulation is modern psychology.” (151)
These observations mirror those of countless philosophers throughout modern history, including Bakunin, Durkheim, Einstein, Marx, Own, Proudhon, Schweitzer and Tolstoy, all of whom addressed the psychological quagmire that our industrial systems impose upon the individual. The real problem is that we live in systems that benefit from the alienation of ordinary people, and the pandemic has merely magnified a preexisting problem; that our lives have become disconnected from purpose and meaning.
The late Mark Fisher pointed out continually that a mental health crisis does not happen in a vacuum or a bubble. “It happens as a result of social economic and political systems. The mental health plague in capitalist societies would suggest that, instead of being the only social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of it appearing to work is very high.”
Many harsh economic realities swarm together to alienate the modern industrialized citizen, including an unconscious but ever-increasing sense of powerlessness, disposability, abstractification (what is x worth), and commodification (everything is for sale). Today’s modern citizen feels like an automaton whose artificial smile has replaced genuine laughter, and whose meaningless chatter has replaced communicative speech. Dissatisfaction, apathy, boredom, lack of joy and happiness, a sense of futility and a vague feeling that life is meaningless, are the unavoidable results of this situation.
“The alienated person cannot be healthy. Since he experiences himself as a thing, an investment, to be manipulated by himself and by others, he is lacking in a sense of self. The alienated person feels inferior whenever he suspects himself of not being in line. Since his sense of worth is based on approval as the reward for conformity, he feels naturally threatened in his sense of self and in his self-esteem by any feeling, thought or action which could be suspected of being a deviation. Yet, inasmuch as he is human and not an automaton, he cannot help deviating, hence he must feel afraid of disapproval all the time. As a result he has to try all the harder to conform, to be approved of, to be successful. Not the voice of his conscience gives him strength and security but the feeling of not having lost the close touch with the herd.” (181)
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, famously mentioned: “People fascinate me. First, they sacrifice their health to get money and then they try to sacrifice money to regain their health. They worry about the past and future so much that they do not enjoy the present. They try to live as if they are never to die and, in the end, they die without having lived.” Increasingly that final sentence about dying without having lived holds more true in 2021 than perhaps ever before, which brings us to the philosophical problem of risk.
Fromm addresses our modern obsession with “security”: “Increasingly people feel that they should have no doubts, no problems, that they should have to take no risks, and that they should always feel “secure.” Thus parents, especially those who follow this literature, get worried that their little son or daughter may, at an early age, acquire a sense of “insecurity.” They try to help them avoid conflicts, to make everything easy, to do away with as many obstacles as they can, in order to make the child feel “secure.” Just as they try to inoculate the child against all illnesses, and to prevent it from getting in touch with any germ, they think they can banish insecurity by preventing any contact with it. The result is often as unfortunate as exaggerated hygiene sometimes is: once an infection occurs, the person becomes more vulnerable and helpless before it.”
“How can a sensitive and alive person ever feel secure?” Fromm asks. “Because of the very conditions of our existence, we cannot feel secure about anything. Our life and health are subject to accidents beyond our control. We can never be certain of the outcome of our best efforts. There is certainty only about the fact that we are born and that we shall die. The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself, is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity, without panic and undue fear.” (172)
Life seems riskier in the age of covid. But living cannot be reduced to mere biological survival because that would mean that ‘eating cans of navy beans inside of a windowless room for 75 years would be just as good as a life full of human affection, meaningful relationships and exhilarating experiences.’
We must grow up and accept that death is a part of life. And there is more to life than the avoidance of death. Life carries with it a certain degree of risk and people should be permitted to decide for themselves if they wish to take that risk. Therefore, vulnerable people should decide for themselves if they wish to quarantine and take precautions or not. But the choice should never be taken away from them. Corrupt governments weaponized our compassion for vulnerable elders as an excuse to paralyze the working class and push forward a cowardly new world.
Considering how we can build a sane society, Fromm writes, “depends on creating again the opportunity for people to sing together, walk together, dance together, admire together—together, and not, to use Riesman’s succinct expression, as a member of a “lonely crowd.” (303)
Dr. Stephen Shapiro, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical center, warned us during the 2020 lockdowns that, “What we cannot do is extended social isolation. Humans are social beings and we are already seeing the adverse mental health consequences of loneliness, and that is before the much greater effects of economic devastation take hold on the human condition.”
Erich Fromm excerpts adapted from The Sane Society, New York, Holt, Rinehart & Winston Inc., June 1955.