Whole Brain Catalog

American Psychosis

What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion?

Image on left by TOM MIHALEK/AFP, on right STILL FROM WRECKING BALL

This article is available in:

The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears [or Miley Cyrus], enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to “disappear” the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.

Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.

It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.

We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. It is this perverted ethic that gave us investment houses like Goldman Sachs … that willfully trashed the global economy and stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity. It is fused into one bizarre, perverted belief system and it has banished the possibility of the country returning to a reality-based world or avoiding internal collapse. A society that cannot distinguish reality from illusion dies.

The tantalizing illusions offered by our consumer culture, however, are vanishing for most citizens as we head toward collapse. The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The jobs we are shedding are not coming back, as the White House economist Lawrence Summers tacitly acknowledges when he talks of a “jobless recovery.” The belief that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the accumulation of vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others is exposed as a fraud. Freedom can no longer be conflated with the free market. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

America is sinking under trillions in debt it can never repay and stays afloat by frantically selling about $2 billion in Treasury bonds a day to the Chinese. It saw 2.8 million people lose their homes in 2009 to foreclosure or bank repossessions – nearly 8,000 people a day – and stands idle as they are joined by another 2.4 million people this year. It refuses to prosecute the Bush administration for obvious war crimes, including the use of torture, and sees no reason to dismantle Bush’s secrecy laws or restore habeas corpus. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Deficits are pushing individual states to bankruptcy and forcing the closure of everything from schools to parks. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have squandered trillions of dollars, appear endless. There are 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of Americans in a category called “near poverty.” One in eight Americans – and one in four children – depend on food stamps to eat. And yet, in the midst of it all, we continue to be a country consumed by happy talk and happy thoughts. We continue to embrace the illusion of inevitable progress, personal success and rising prosperity. Reality is not considered an impediment to desire.

When a culture lives within an illusion it perpetuates a state of permanent infantilism or childishness. As the gap widens between the illusion and reality, as we suddenly grasp that it is our home being foreclosed or our job that is not coming back, we react like children. We scream and yell for a savior, someone who promises us revenge, moral renewal and new glory. It is not a new story. A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually, emotionally and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans and will usher America into a new dark age. It was the economic collapse in Yugoslavia that gave us Slobodan Milosevic. It was the Weimar Republic that vomited up Adolf Hitler. And it was the breakdown in Tsarist Russia that opened the door for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to loudmouth talk show hosts, whom we naïvely dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. And as in all totalitarian societies, those who do not pay fealty to the illusions imposed by the state become the outcasts, the persecuted.

The decline of American empire began long ago before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before the first Gulf War or Ronald Reagan. It began when we shifted, in the words of Harvard historian Charles Maier, from an “empire of production” to an “empire of consumption.” By the end of the Vietnam War, when the costs of the war ate away at Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and domestic oil production began its steady, inexorable decline, we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started borrowing to maintain a level of consumption as well as an empire we could no longer afford. We began to use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable thirst for cheap oil. We substituted the illusion of growth and prosperity for real growth and prosperity. The bill is now due. America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the very foundations of our society. In the 17th century these speculators would have been hung. Today they run the government and consume billions in taxpayer subsidies.

As the pressure mounts, as the despair and desperation reach into larger and larger segments of the populace, the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and instability. The emergence of the corporate state always means the emergence of the security state. This is why the Bush White House pushed through the Patriot Act (and its renewal), the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” warrantless wiretapping on American citizens and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections with verifiable ballot-counting. The motive behind these measures is not to fight terrorism or to bolster national security. It is to seize and maintain internal control. It is about controlling us.

And yet, even in the face of catastrophe, mass culture continues to assure us that if we close our eyes, if we visualize what we want, if we have faith in ourselves, if we tell God that we believe in miracles, if we tap into our inner strength, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we focus on happiness, our lives will be harmonious and complete. This cultural retreat into illusion, whether peddled by positive psychologists, by Hollywood or by Christian preachers, is magical thinking. It turns worthless mortgages and debt into wealth. It turns the destruction of our manufacturing base into an opportunity for growth. It turns alienation and anxiety into a cheerful conformity. It turns a nation that wages illegal wars and administers offshore penal colonies where it openly practices torture into the greatest democracy on earth. And it keeps us from fighting back.

Resistance movements will have to look now at the long night of slavery, the decades of oppression in the Soviet Union and the curse of fascism for models. The goal will no longer be the possibility of reforming the system but of protecting truth, civility and culture from mass contamination. It will require the kind of schizophrenic lifestyle that characterizes all totalitarian societies. Our private and public demeanors will often have to stand in stark contrast. Acts of defiance will often be subtle and nuanced. They will be carried out not for short term gain but the assertion of our integrity. Rebellion will have an ultimate if not easily definable purpose. The more we retreat from the culture at large the more room we will have to carve out lives of meaning, the more we will be able to wall off the flood of illusions disseminated by mass culture and the more we will retain sanity in an insane world. The goal will become the ability to endure.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, is the author of several books including the best sellers War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

582 comments on the article “American Psychosis”

Displaying 561 - 570 of 582

Page 57 of 59

anonymous

Michael Jackson the best example of this culture of illusion??????

Are you serious???? OMG I am laughing at you so laudly!

It's ok, if you speak about Paris Hilton or Victoria Beckam, that are the ICON of what you are talking about, but with Michael Jackson you show us that you don't follow a word of what you preach. You talk in a very superficial way in a matter you don't know a single information and you didn't research, but you say others are superficial......OMG I'm still laughing at you!

You forgot too many important thinks, for example :

1- Michael Jackson didn't have a normal childhood. He worked when he was 4 years old, while all the other children were at home with their loving parents. He was forced to go on stage with also a corporal punishments if he didn't want to....and he was 4.
What about the forced juvenile job?

2- Michael Jackson was ACQUITTED from ALL counts, it was not a "questionable relationship with young boys"; it was a case of extortion, perpetuated twice, during the trial of which also the first case was brought to the stand and ACQUITTED.
Do you know the meaning of the word EXTORTION?
If you don't know it, look at the voice Michael Jackson's trial and '93 allegations in the dictionary, than lokk at yourself in the mirror and make that change of mind. He was not pedo.

3- Michael Jackson was a great humanitarian. Have you ever seen Mick Jagger, Kate Moss or Brad Pitt, for example giving million dollars to hospitals? Or fighting to find a liver for a little bulgarian child? Or paying for a transplant for a woman? Going on hospital? Going to orphanages? No. I saw personally Michael Jackson doing it. So shut up

Michael Jackson was the victim of EVERYTHING you are condamning in this arcticle. YOU should condamn yourself, too, since you're guilty as the same level as the people you are talking about, if you speak about Michael Jackson as the greatest example.

You contraddict all your arcticle with the wrongerst example you could ever take, my dear. What a waste of time; in writing it and reading it.

Go to make the moral somewhere else, it's better.... or at least, document yourself before.
The work of a "journalist" consist in documenting before writing, and you didn't, as too many other collegues of yours.

You've made the part of the ridicoulous, and you really deserve it.

anonymous

Michael Jackson the best example of this culture of illusion??????

Are you serious???? OMG I am laughing at you so laudly!

It's ok, if you speak about Paris Hilton or Victoria Beckam, that are the ICON of what you are talking about, but with Michael Jackson you show us that you don't follow a word of what you preach. You talk in a very superficial way in a matter you don't know a single information and you didn't research, but you say others are superficial......OMG I'm still laughing at you!

You forgot too many important thinks, for example :

1- Michael Jackson didn't have a normal childhood. He worked when he was 4 years old, while all the other children were at home with their loving parents. He was forced to go on stage with also a corporal punishments if he didn't want to....and he was 4.
What about the forced juvenile job?

2- Michael Jackson was ACQUITTED from ALL counts, it was not a "questionable relationship with young boys"; it was a case of extortion, perpetuated twice, during the trial of which also the first case was brought to the stand and ACQUITTED.
Do you know the meaning of the word EXTORTION?
If you don't know it, look at the voice Michael Jackson's trial and '93 allegations in the dictionary, than lokk at yourself in the mirror and make that change of mind. He was not pedo.

3- Michael Jackson was a great humanitarian. Have you ever seen Mick Jagger, Kate Moss or Brad Pitt, for example giving million dollars to hospitals? Or fighting to find a liver for a little bulgarian child? Or paying for a transplant for a woman? Going on hospital? Going to orphanages? No. I saw personally Michael Jackson doing it. So shut up

Michael Jackson was the victim of EVERYTHING you are condamning in this arcticle. YOU should condamn yourself, too, since you're guilty as the same level as the people you are talking about, if you speak about Michael Jackson as the greatest example.

You contraddict all your arcticle with the wrongerst example you could ever take, my dear. What a waste of time; in writing it and reading it.

Go to make the moral somewhere else, it's better.... or at least, document yourself before.
The work of a "journalist" consist in documenting before writing, and you didn't, as too many other collegues of yours.

You've made the part of the ridicoulous, and you really deserve it.

Anonymous

Maybe MJ was similar to the victims of mass media manipulation other than in his superficiality and ego. Forget his flaws, the point is not to insult him. He is a paradigm for hundreds of thousands rendered inadequate by the 'perfect' minority (photoshopped and edited) that are thrown across countries ona glowing box as adequate pictures of truth. He felt insecure about his looks and changed them. He turned white for fuck's sake. The idea seems a perpetual grab at what you dont have, and maybe shouldn't have. The grass isn't greener on the other side, it just appears so in technicolour and HD.

Anonymous

Maybe MJ was similar to the victims of mass media manipulation other than in his superficiality and ego. Forget his flaws, the point is not to insult him. He is a paradigm for hundreds of thousands rendered inadequate by the 'perfect' minority (photoshopped and edited) that are thrown across countries ona glowing box as adequate pictures of truth. He felt insecure about his looks and changed them. He turned white for fuck's sake. The idea seems a perpetual grab at what you dont have, and maybe shouldn't have. The grass isn't greener on the other side, it just appears so in technicolour and HD.

Erik O'Dowd

Great photos at the head of the essay, with concise and vivid description of the state of the nation. And as to the conclusion that the course remaining to those of us who still see the light is to hunker down to keep the truth alive, Yup, that's about all there is to do anymore. Indeed, there's a case to be made that we should align ourselves behind a Palin/Beck ticket in 2012 as a means to purge ourselves of this terminal disease on the theory that only by bottoming out can recovery begin.

Erik O'Dowd

Great photos at the head of the essay, with concise and vivid description of the state of the nation. And as to the conclusion that the course remaining to those of us who still see the light is to hunker down to keep the truth alive, Yup, that's about all there is to do anymore. Indeed, there's a case to be made that we should align ourselves behind a Palin/Beck ticket in 2012 as a means to purge ourselves of this terminal disease on the theory that only by bottoming out can recovery begin.

Hooker Jay

There's only one problem with this article that I have -- the notion that American society can't distinguish between reality and illusion. The far more scary truth is despite the average American having the attention span of a moth with ADHD, they *CAN* distinguish between reality and illusion but it deliberately prefers the illusion; believes its entitled to live in a bubble of mirrors insulated with an Ann Coulter-esque "Doctrine Of Infallibility" that equates Thomas Jefferson's old school values of dissent, free argument, raillery, and even ridicule as permanent threats to be ignored or exterminated, and thus American society chooses to cobble the fantasy together in a frantic (and vain) attempt to stave off the sharp bubble-popping needle point of reality.

I hardly need remind you of what happens when the bubble does pop. We've all been on business end of the infantile red-faced foaming-at-the-mouth rage, and know right away that its a telltale symptom of the malignant brain cancer that stems from Narcissistic Personality Disorder ... and there is no cure whatsoever.

Alas, some will dissent with that by suggesting that the cure for NPD is nothing more than growing up, cracking open the Gospel of Don Henley, and getting over ourselves by finding our respective inner child and proceeding to kick its little narrow pockmarked ass, but I think they're confusing "cure" with "treatment" ... ;)

Hooker Jay

There's only one problem with this article that I have -- the notion that American society can't distinguish between reality and illusion. The far more scary truth is despite the average American having the attention span of a moth with ADHD, they *CAN* distinguish between reality and illusion but it deliberately prefers the illusion; believes its entitled to live in a bubble of mirrors insulated with an Ann Coulter-esque "Doctrine Of Infallibility" that equates Thomas Jefferson's old school values of dissent, free argument, raillery, and even ridicule as permanent threats to be ignored or exterminated, and thus American society chooses to cobble the fantasy together in a frantic (and vain) attempt to stave off the sharp bubble-popping needle point of reality.

I hardly need remind you of what happens when the bubble does pop. We've all been on business end of the infantile red-faced foaming-at-the-mouth rage, and know right away that its a telltale symptom of the malignant brain cancer that stems from Narcissistic Personality Disorder ... and there is no cure whatsoever.

Alas, some will dissent with that by suggesting that the cure for NPD is nothing more than growing up, cracking open the Gospel of Don Henley, and getting over ourselves by finding our respective inner child and proceeding to kick its little narrow pockmarked ass, but I think they're confusing "cure" with "treatment" ... ;)

Anonymous

Great analysis by Chris Hedges.

The most recent evidence of the decline and fall of America occurred this past week with the smearing of Shirley Sherrod and the knee-jerk reaction by so many after a meant-to-deceive video segment of a much longer speech was released by someone already known to practice deceit.

A whole lot of people, in Washington D.C. and in the news media, didn't do any fact-checking before leaping to the conclusion that the perpetrator of this hoax wanted them to reach.

When lying becomes the norm in any society, especially when so many citizens start believing the lies, then that society doesn't have much longer to survive, especially as a free, democratic society.

Outsourcing jobs overseas is good for America. Lie.
Allowing companies to self-police their business practices is good for America. Lie.
Driving up federal budget deficits through unfunded overseas wars, while calling for the extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest, which also exploded federal budget deficits, is good for America. Lie.
Practicing torture is good for America. Lie.
Privatizing everything public is good for America. Lie.
Expanding police-state surveillance of American citizens, while giving retroactive immunity to those participating in illegal surveillance activities, is good for America. Lie.
Outing covert CIA agents, while letting the perpetrators off, is good for America. Lie.
Getting rid of the Fairness Doctrine, letting certain "news" outlets and radio talking heads literally get away with murdering the truth each day, is good for America. Lie.
Letting corporate "revolving-door" hacks run the federal agencies that (by law) are supposed to represent the interests of all U.S. citizens, not just the business interests, is good for America. Lie.
Turning a blind eye to the millions of American citizens who are going under financially is good for America. Lie.
Throwing the poor under the "fiscal responsible" bus is good for America. Lie.
Letting states crash financially is good for America. Lie.

I could go on ad infinitum, ad nauseum, but there is one political party in America today who keeping claiming, despite all evidence to the contrary, that their policies are good for America. Lie.

Anonymous

Great analysis by Chris Hedges.

The most recent evidence of the decline and fall of America occurred this past week with the smearing of Shirley Sherrod and the knee-jerk reaction by so many after a meant-to-deceive video segment of a much longer speech was released by someone already known to practice deceit.

A whole lot of people, in Washington D.C. and in the news media, didn't do any fact-checking before leaping to the conclusion that the perpetrator of this hoax wanted them to reach.

When lying becomes the norm in any society, especially when so many citizens start believing the lies, then that society doesn't have much longer to survive, especially as a free, democratic society.

Outsourcing jobs overseas is good for America. Lie.
Allowing companies to self-police their business practices is good for America. Lie.
Driving up federal budget deficits through unfunded overseas wars, while calling for the extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest, which also exploded federal budget deficits, is good for America. Lie.
Practicing torture is good for America. Lie.
Privatizing everything public is good for America. Lie.
Expanding police-state surveillance of American citizens, while giving retroactive immunity to those participating in illegal surveillance activities, is good for America. Lie.
Outing covert CIA agents, while letting the perpetrators off, is good for America. Lie.
Getting rid of the Fairness Doctrine, letting certain "news" outlets and radio talking heads literally get away with murdering the truth each day, is good for America. Lie.
Letting corporate "revolving-door" hacks run the federal agencies that (by law) are supposed to represent the interests of all U.S. citizens, not just the business interests, is good for America. Lie.
Turning a blind eye to the millions of American citizens who are going under financially is good for America. Lie.
Throwing the poor under the "fiscal responsible" bus is good for America. Lie.
Letting states crash financially is good for America. Lie.

I could go on ad infinitum, ad nauseum, but there is one political party in America today who keeping claiming, despite all evidence to the contrary, that their policies are good for America. Lie.

Pages

Add a new comment

Comments are closed.