Friday, July 22, 2011

Do we live in a sick society? Are we collectively mentally ill?

Reflections on the falling crime rate and the Harper government's reaction

              Violent crime is down, crime is at lowest level since 1973. A cause for jubilation?

              At least one might think it a cause for jubilation. But apparently not for Harper government hairy-chested ideologues.

              They want to spend lots of $$ - taxpayers' money, not their own - "gettin' tough on crime". Professional criminologists think they are crazy, obviously: even down in the States they are having second thoughts about all that money they've wasted.. And besides, the crime decline is probably due, in large part, to demographics, not to government programs. In an aging population, like ours, "exhibitionist" / machismo crimes like barroom brawls, murder, muggings go into decline. Older folks are more cautious: they embezzle the bank they work for or swindle their clients out of their life savings, they ship their profits overseas to island tax havens or use those havens to launder money from drug importation / production..

              The rhetoric is getting a bit hairy, too. Some of Harper's people are claiming crazy things like: "the crime stats are being manipulated" (to fit a liberal-secular humanist-socialist / communist agenda, no doubt..) or, again, that the beleaguered, victimized public has become so discouraged that - in droves - they have ceased reporting crimes. Wacky, wacky, this is wacky thinking..

              The pattern here appears obvious: the Haperites always, instinctively, return to their populist / reactionary core or base, whether we speak of principles or of targeted "audiences" (subsets of the electorate to whom the rhetoric of the Right appeals). Such targeting - think: focus groups - is, in reality, a sure sign that a party, or a political system, is bankrupt of ideas and vision. "They pander to the Right wing / reactionary vote", we say..

               But perhaps we mistake the trees for the forest. Perhaps we are overly focused on what are really only symptoms of a deeper, more pervasive, cultural or civilisational malady: the very lack of ideas, the lack of vision for the future and its potentialities or the flagrant moral irresponsibility with which our societies have addressed issues like 3rd world development, social justice, equity between nations in access to the earth's ressources..

                We contend that the Harperites' obsessive, paranoid fixation on punishing (ubiquitous) evildoers deserves to be put in parallel with, for example, some of Rush Limbaugh's recent conspiratorial ravings.

                For years, I have avoided the conclusion that our leaders, hence our society, is somehow "mad". After all, can one legitimately apply concepts drawn from individual psychopathology to a collective, societal context? Not so sure about that one, me..

                But the evidence is now pressing, invasive, omnipresent. Even professional psychologists are beginning to worry about our collective mental health; we're not talking about crime here but something else, more ominous still. What is happening? For example, why, exactly, are so many people droping psychotropes - prescription, stolen, legal or illegal? Why are wacky, extremist, fundamentalist religious sects gaining political power in the US, the country that put men on the moon and began robotic exploration of the inner and outer solar system, is daily cataloguing exoplanets capable, possibly, of harboring extra-terrestrial life: is this not a worrying trend? If it is not a worrying trend, what is then..

               What we are witnessing, I believe, is an increasing disconnect-from-reality on the part of ascendant reactionary forces in Western societies. Why this is so, I don't know. In fact, none of the social scientists whose work I've consulted has been able to answer this question for me. We can, at best, merely describe this social pathology although its etiology - its origin and nature - remain opaque to understanding, at least at this point in time.

              Such was the case for the plague which ravaged Europe for centuries before people began to get a handle on controling its spread through improved public hygience, quarantine and  rodent control. Only much later was the ultimate cause of the disease isolated after the rise of microbiology.

               Social psychologist, Bob Altemeyer (University of Manitoba) has well described the "highly compartmentalized thinking" and logical incoherence (self-contradiction) so often noted in authoritarian / reactionary / conspiratorial thinkers. Exactly, why these folks are like this is anyone's guess at this stage of the game, but at least we can assess their "illness" and it's potential impacts on society.

                 It is evident, I hope, that one does not have to understand a danger in order to recognize that it IS a danger. In this case we are not dealing with a plague caused by a microbe but a "psychic plague" (Wilhelm Reich): reactionary, fascistic politics and their precursor, contemporary right wing populism. As the recent, still unfolding tragedy in Norways trumpets: our societies are sick, we are in trouble..

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