|An etiological exercise|
By "social dementia" I mean the dynamics of cultures, civilizations, societies, and groups (not individuals).
In other words, when large numbers of people go crazy for the same reasons during the same span of time.
I have quoted A. Toynbee, who studied some 26 civilizations, then, after mulling it over, wrote: "In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown." (Etiology of Social Dementia - 13).
Concerning Toynbee's work, a premier encyclopedia has refined that statement a bit, by specifying how Toynbee indicated that the suicide or murder takes place: "In the Study Toynbee examined the rise and fall of 26 civilizations in the course of human history, and he concluded that they rose by responding successfully to challenges under the leadership of creative minorities composed of elite leaders. Civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and the civilizations then sank owing to the sins of nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority. Unlike Spengler in his The Decline of the West, Toynbee did not regard the death of a civilization as inevitable, for it may or may not continue to respond to successive challenges. Unlike Karl Marx, he saw history as shaped by spiritual, not economic forces" (Encyclopedia Britannica, emphasis added). I am reminded of: “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
One of America's forefathers, some years prior to Toynbee, explained how the madness develops in a culture like ours:
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.(James Madison). The U.S. has become imperialistic, hegemonic, and addicted to the notion of war as a cure-all, rather than seeing it as a cultural dementia (Is War An Art or Is War A Disease?, 2, 3).
War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied: and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.
The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both.
No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
Those truths are well established."
Some years after my initiation of this series, an interesting book came out.
Part of its title is "How Culture Shapes Madness" which is in accord with the thrust and essence of this current series and others (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala, 2, 3, 4).
An interesting observation, in a review of that book, is worth contemplating:
"There is a pattern of circumstances that can make us more vulnerable to delusions and schizophrenia, the authors write. We all have a “suspicion system” that is always on the lookout for threats to us. When it is functioning properly, we are protected. When it malfunctions, we have problems, such as feeling that we are actors watched and controlled by others."(Psych Central, Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness). There is ample evidence that our culture has "lost it."
For example, consider our cultural "suspicion system" and its vastness:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.(The Homeland: Big Brother Plutonomy, quoting the Washington Post). After trillions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars are spent because of paranoid delusions, we now fret about Russia taking over our elections (instead of fretting over our incompetence).
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.
* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year - a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.
The demented among us are so addicted to war as "a cure," that they are now trying to destroy national systems that take care of citizens:
"The U.S. military keeps searching the horizon for a peer competitor, the challenger that must be taken seriously. Is it China? What about an oil rich and resurgent Russia?(Your Health Is Their Number 1 Enemy?!). The domestic enemies within us compose the despotic minority who Encyclopedia Britannica mentioned as the focus of Toynbee, when he studied and figured out the dementias of the previous ~26 civilizations that have committed suicide.
But the threat that is most likely to hobble U.S. military capabilities is not a peer competitor, rather it is health care."
Suicide is a suspicious activity for civilizations to embrace and carry out (Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
As I have written several times, S. Freud was ahead of the curve on this (because he saw it coming) long ago:
"If the evolution of civilization has such a far reaching similarity with the development of an individual, and if the same methods are employed in both, would not the diagnosis be justified that many systems of civilization——or epochs of it——possibly even the whole of humanity——have become neurotic under the pressure of the civilizing trends? To analytic dissection of these neuroses, therapeutic recommendations might follow which could claim a great practical interest. I would not say that such an attempt to apply psychoanalysis to civilized society would be fanciful or doomed to fruitlessness. But it behooves us to be very careful, not to forget that after all we are dealing only with analogies, and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to drag them out of the region where they originated and have matured. The diagnosis of collective neuroses, moreover, will be confronted by a special difficulty. In the neurosis of an individual we can use as a starting point the contrast presented to us between the patient and his environment which we assume to be normal. No such background as this would be available for any society similarly affected; it would have to be supplied in some other way. And with regard to any therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most acute analysis of social neuroses, since no one possesses power to compel the community to adopt the therapy? In spite of all these difficulties, we may expect that one day someone will venture upon this research into the pathology of civilized communities." [p. 39](Civilization and Its Discontents, S. Freud, 1929, emphasis added). This brings up a question that is not limited to the Dredd Blog realm: Is This Country Crazy?
"Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature
to such a pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man. They know this——hence arises a great part of their current unrest, their dejection, their mood of apprehension." [p. 40]"
The previous post in this series is here.
One of the authors of "Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness":