By Charles Hugh Smith
Longtime contributor Eric Andrews suggests we are experiencing not just a financial Depression but a psychological/spiritual Depression as well.
I am very pleased to offer this provocative and insightful essay by correspondent/essayist Eric Andrews. You may not agree with every idea presented here, but the diagnosis cannot easily be dismissed. Those of you familiar with the work of psychiatrist R.D. Laing may hear echoes of his ideas here.
Those of you who have read Survival+ will gain a new perspective on opting out, protected fiefdoms, when belief in the system fades, profound political disunity, plantation-like structures, derealization, radical self-reliance, asymmetric stakes in the game, induced amnesia and other ideas I have presented here over the years.
This is the sort of essay you will never find in any Mainstream Media outlet, even so-called “progressive” ones.
Sleep, Dreaming, and National Suicide by Eric Andrews
“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? …All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” –Abraham Lincoln
The news lately is a blizzard of destruction: wars, recession, the financial crisis, deficits, drugs abuse, and border wars, random violence, declining education, energy crisis and the Deepwater Horizon, national policy, corporate malfeasance, collapsing communities, bankrupt cities, states, and nations, the list goes on and on. How did we get here? What’s causing all this bad news?
To me it’s simple:
All these effects are symptoms of Depression.
Not Economic Depression, like the 1930s stock crash, but National Depression, the psychological state.
Let’s take them one at a time: what do people do when they’re Depressed? Shop? Overeat? Make themselves physically ill? Get doctors to medicate? Abuse drugs to self-medicate? Are they unable to care for themselves, others, and even their children? Are their tempers short, and prone to irrationally lashing out, even at the wrong people, both at strangers and with their own people?
And when confronted with a problem, they cannot muster the concentration to investigate, discover, and then enact changes to solve them, like our energy policy, but muddle about in listless thoughts and pointless actions, eventually dropping it?
When faced with imminent, deadly danger, financial, as with the financial crisis; bodily, as with the Mexican Border Wars and ceding a swath of territory from Mexico to Phoenix to the Drug Cartels; or with internal disintegration, as we see every day with law, contradictory taxation, sovereignty, what is the response of the Depressed? They don’t care. The Depressed have no sense of urgency to danger, no remaining sense of self-preservation.
Often, as we’ve read on various challenges, Peak Oil, our trade deficit that comes from the imports, our lack of common sense in law, I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves:
Are we crazy? Are we trying to commit national suicide?
And I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms the answer is “YES!”, that’s exactly what we’re doing, complete with the panoply of symptoms and not-so quiet cries for help.
In the Hugo-Winning story “The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman, the main character is Morpheus, King of the Dream world. As a primary element, he cannot die, anymore than “Death” “Desire” “Despair” or “Delirium” can, for they’re not people, but ideas. (Warning: spoiler alert)
In the story, however, Morpheus takes years of novel-time to painstakingly and irreversibly arrange his death, his dissolution, his ending. He carefully made sure no one saw it coming. In that way no one could stop him. And he succeeds.
The United States has the same problem. A nation cannot die. For what makes a nation? It’s not a bunch of buildings, a collection of bureaucrats, a geographic territory; it’s not even a standing army: America is first and foremost an IDEA. And an idea can’t BE killed, not even by suicide. As long as anyone can read the Declaration of Independence and recite our history, America lives.
And as Lincoln says above, America is unique in that we can’t die by the normal means that nations fail. We’re not going to be culturally absorbed. We’re not going to be conquered by a larger neighbor. Even China isn’t powerful enough to do so, even if they could somehow get 30 million Chinese here in boats.
Yet the symptoms are all there: Lethargy. Incoherence. Blame. Violent temper. Drug abuse. Fantasy. Escapism. Empty consumerism, empty sex, empty eating, empty action, empty rhetoric.
Depression is not some random disease, a chemical imbalance caused by losing the genetic lottery. Depression has several causes, clearly-defined, clearly-traceable, clearly-provable, clearly-curable. The main cause of depression is simple: it’s cognitive dissonance. That’s a fancy way of saying, you have two ideas that don’t mesh and are at war with each other. It’s a way of saying, you’ve swallowed a lie or a pack of lies, and they’re poisoning you from within.
Consciousness is something we know the least about, but I think we all recognize that ideas are real, and that they have energy and power. If half that power is fighting with the other half, you’ll find yourself in an exhausted condition. Worse, you won’t be able to know, to choose, or to act. For which side, which set of ideas should you act on? Who’s right and who’s wrong? You don’t know, which is why there’s a civil war.
Like any other civil war, the two sides are wrangling for who is going to get control, who is going to have their ideas acted on. An exhausting, tiring, excruciating civil war. It’s no less than a real civil war, same as in distant fields with a gun, or ceaseless fighting at home with one’s family. You may not want to fight, you may avoid it, but every action, every decision only brings up the problem again. You may not want to lash out at people, but you’re in agony: taking drugs, shopping, zoning out in TV, video games, anything to mitigate the pain.
We may not be able to measure an idea, put it on a table and photograph it, but we know that they’re real. The pain is certainly real. And the actions we take to manage the pain are very real, for they’re part of our daily life.
This is the state we’re in as a country.
I can even tell you what the dissonance is:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Compare that idea of ourselves to where we are today: referring to ourselves as “Consumers,” a nation where a “Right” is anything we can get somebody else to pay for, and “Free” is something we use to advertise Checking Accounts.
Which nation are we? The America of Jefferson and Madison? Or the America of Gordon Gekko and Edward Bernays, father of modern advertising and propaganda?
This is not idle discussion—which we choose will have real, calamitous, and permanent consequences. Whichever we choose is likely to kill us, or kill the other. This is the same cognitive dissonance that was tearing the nation apart under slavery, and could easily have the same outcome: more men died in that one conflict than all American wars combined. Nobody wants to start it off. Nobody wants to throw the first punch. In fact, we are one mind, one nation and the finest display of grace is that we don’t want anybody to get hurt. We’re not taking it out on the Jews, the Blacks, the Mexicans, the Rich. It’s all us, and we’re killing ourselves with ignoring it, with trying to keep it all going.
But ultimately only one path can be chosen.
Want to know where this started? Look when the symptoms began. Sure, we had this with George F. Babbitt back in the 20s, but the real problems began with Reagan after Vietnam. We had a choice under Carter: would we face up to our limitations of failing oil and shrinking importance and become a smaller, humbler country, the spunky underdog of Mickey Mouse, a nation of “aw-shucks” stay-at-home farm-boys? That was the path of the 60s, back-to-the-land, hippie guitar-playing with your friends by the wood stove, of Carter in the sweater, solar panels on the White House. The American Reality: oil was declining. We’d have to work hard as ever, play nice and get nothing from it but to claim our own souls as men.
Or were we going to live the American Dream? The Big America. The leader of the Free world. The greatest might and right ever known, the John Wayne of nations, going to kick ass and take names Pilgrim, the world’s sole hyperpower. We could have it all: the new house, the new car, the fancy retirement, eat and flush 25% of the world’s resources, and what’s more, all for no money down, no work! Which would you choose? The reality, or the dream? Work? Or play? Eternal Sunshine? Or the Endless Hardship?
And we know how that went. American Reality was bounced out on its ear in favor of a glorious new “Morning in America.” A year later, Nancy Reagan started the War on Drugs, as Americans kept demanding medication in ever-spiraling quantities and ever-increasing strengths to stand the lies, the dissonance between what they knew and what they heard—always bad enough, but which then entered the transcendent levels that seem so quaint today. Consumerism turned from a modest enjoyment to an unreasoning juggernaut, the purpose of existence. Debt—personal, national, corporate–went from a modest load to numbers on a scale that now dwarfs the number of all stars in all the known galaxies.
But like any other depression, any other addiction, it didn’t cure the problem, it only hid it. The root disease remained down below, festering, eating us from within.
You want to know how easy it is to fix our problems? As the world’s 3rd largest oil producer, we use 20M bbl/day in transportation fuels. Yet we only import 10M bbl/day altogether. Isn’t the solution to our oil imports and a therefore a major part of our trade deficit just to live twice as close to work? With 10M empty houses, can it really be that difficult? 1/5 of all electric power is consumed in vampire cubes and ready-on devices. Europe and Japan use 1/3 less energy than the US for an equal or higher standard of living. We’ve spent 30 years on a problem could be solved overnight.
You want to know why we won’t fix the problem of oil spills, of strip malls, of imminent energy crisis, of unsustainable finances? We don’t want to. We don’t WANT to keep going. We WANT it to end. We don’t WANT to be this kind of country. But we can’t stop it, we can’t die, because America is an idea, not a person. If we can’t stop it, we do what all addicts, what all the suicidally depressed do: we arrange our own destruction so it ends for us, without our having to choose. We use increasingly bad behavior to force the collapse so we can finally break free from the impasse, and make the radical, nation-shaking change we can’t face on our own.
That’s what we’re doing right now. At the bottom, with Millennial Apathy and dissipation, right to the top, with Katrina rescues and unwinnable Foreign wars. We’re committing suicide. We’re FORCING ourselves into a corner so we HAVE to change.
We hate this place. We Americans hate our empty houses, our empty jobs and our empty lives. We hate driving and not seeing our children. We hate not doing the things we dreamed of as children, making flying machines and pedaling free down tree-lined roads. We hate it with a burning passion but we don’t know how to stop it, which is our fascination with Apocalypse, with catastrophe, with violence and disaster. We wish it would just blow up once and for all. Yet this place is us, our lives, our neighbors, our home towns: how can we hurt it? How can we condemn our own American Dream to death?
You have to understand, America is a very, very, very good country. It may not look like it right now, but you can still see it at every level. Who was there in hours when Katrina was hit, giving time, money, lives, everything for free? Who was there when the Boxing Day Tsunami came in, despite that 12% of our own people are on food stamps? We were. We fix things. We’re practical and we make it better, instantly, automatically, inventing a new world that’s never been. Even in our tangled suffering, we can’t help it. We’re a good people, a practical, hard-working people. That’s who we are.
If we’re suffering with half-truth, half-lies, at internal war, where did the lies come from? Where are these lies coming from today?
This part is important, so listen up. You know how we all tour the web, upset, angry, frustrated as hell with people telling us the Fannie Mae bailout was for our good, we were going to make money on it, that the oil spill was under control at 1,000bbl/day, that deficits don’t matter, that unemployment is at 9%, and that 12% of the nation on food stamps and the annihilation of New Orleans and Detroit don’t mean anything? Who tells us those lies?
Let’s not even pick on this administration, or the last one, for this sort of thing goes back to President Wilson. Let’s be broad, let’s be generous. Was it both parties? Yes. Was it corporate advertising? Yes. Was it Television, including every major news outlet by the 5 controlling companies, every book released by the 5 remaining publishers, every textbook you’ve ever read, every teacher and professor you’ve heard? Yes. Was it every false, propaganda-addled government statistic released since Kennedy, each unlisted mortality of war, every vanishing job, every dollar of inflation? Yes.
Was it the total machine, every authority figure you’ve ever seen, convincing you that our life is forever better and better, that America is greater and greater, every day, from every office of power public and private, although this is has been measurably false since wages started falling in 1971? Yes. Is this the same empty propaganda they heard in Romania, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, East Germany under the Soviets? Yes. And it’s having the same effect on us: it’s driving us insane.
So. You’ve been lied to. You’re being lied to with every word you hear. You’ve consumed maybe 10,000 lies that are inside you, eating you up, warring, making your judgment faulty, your actions irrational, the results arbitrary, contrary to the expectations you’ve been told, the way we were told the world would work. You need to get them out, and to expel one per day will take 30 years hard labor. Only a catastrophe can make it go faster. The one we’re creating.
This is why we’re sick, and why we’re acting the way we do. The lies on TV are not a sideshow, they’re not a misfortune to be glossed over, they aren’t harmless Spin: they are a condition that is fatal; they are specifically and measurably killing us, as people, as you, your neighbors, foreigners, the nation, and quite possibly, the world.
My question is: who is profiting by these lies? Sure, some lies are thoughtlessly repeated, but who is knowingly and serially lying, to the detriment and total destruction of us and our great nation? And why?
I think you’ll find a startlingly small layer of individuals profiting by the lies, made drunk as Gods on the wealth, power, and influence that gives them, unthinking and uncaring of the total collapse that faces us and them because of their acts. There is a slightly larger, but still-small group directly below them of insiders and hangers-on. They are the same kind of small layer that held the Soviet Union together and profited by it, instead of suffering with the overwhelming mass of people, and exist in the same way for the same reasons.
This insignificant few are using those lies, that sickness, and the Depression and lethargy it creates in us to cling to power and prevent any significant change that might save us from destruction. They fight all realization, all discussion, any challenge to their interlocking interests with astoundingly and increasingly draconian measures. No input is welcome, no change is allowed. No action of yours is wanted or permitted.
Want to know why people are Depressed, why as a nation, we’re diseased, unhealthy, addicted, over-medicated, over-incarcerated, committing suicide? It’s right here. It’s well-proven that hardship does not cause depression. People endure the most appalling things: the Black Plague, the 1918 Flu, the 1906 earthquake, hurricanes, tornadoes, dustbowls, violence, privation, starvation–anything at all as if it were nothing at al–as long as they have the freedom to respond to it. As long as they can choose what to do to change things, solve things, create a better tomorrow. As long as they have Life, as long as they have Liberty, and as long as they are allowed the Pursuit of Happiness as they see fit.
What we have now is a backlog of the usual challenges and hardships, and you are not allowed to do anything about it. Only they, our leaders, that thin, insignificant layer of influence at the top, are allowed to choose. Want to take water to somebody thirsty after a Hurricane? Sorry Amigo, federal roadblock, M-16s waving, and our federal prisons are eager to receive you. Want to close a critical estuary in the Gulf to save a corner of fishing for your children and grandchildren? Sorry, not allowed. Here’s a form to fill out and in 6 months we might respond, long after all hope is destroyed.
Want to grow a garden in your front yard? Get a permit. Want to buy a chicken and to sell six eggs? Be arrested by the FDA for food violations and the IRS for tax evasion. Want to start a business? Pay 50% of your income up front before you make that first dollar and maybe we won’t run you out of business with regulations.
Heck, want to paint your house blue and change the height of your porch railing? Sorry, not allowed.
What do the people say then? You and me, and the Millennials who have lived their entire life under this regime of “safety” and “orders” under threat of violent, hysterical consequences? Fine. I can’t stop it. They can’t stop it. You can’t stop it. But I guarantee you, on my life, it will stop.
The people have stopped supporting the system. The system, the powers of coercion and violence can rush from place to place making them, ordering them, forcing them, but they refuse to save it, refuse to help, refuse to perpetuate it. Let it rot. It’s too big and too violent to take down and there’s no point anyway. Let it fall in.
There’s the apocryphal example of Soviet rail workers sitting on the station, bags of cement all around. And it starts raining. “A pity, Comrades,” the workers said, “we didn’t get any orders to load the concrete onto those waiting boxcars.” Too bad. Let it rot. They’d learned that if they took initiative, Khrushchev would be as likely to have them arrested. And they didn’t care if the system succeeded or failed anyway. What did they get out of it?
For that matter, what do we get out of it? If I work those extra 20 hours a week, if I get out there and make a new business, a new invention, create free energy, solve world hunger, will I get anything out of it?
No. It will be punished as a challenge to the system, taxed to penury, and stolen by insider lobbyists and given to an insider monopoly. Same as the bailout, deregulation, S&L, Enron, and a dozen more I could name. So fine. Atlas has officially Shrugged. They’re so big and important, they can run it by themselves without me. Let them turn every screw, load every sack, and personally make every tiny decision if they think they’re so big and smart. I’ll just sit here and watch because I don’t need them for anything. But they sure need me. Who is Napoleon if nobody follows his orders? A lunatic. The power isn’t with him, it’s with us, just like the Declaration told you.
Would there be any point in preparing for the crisis, to be wealthy, well-positioned, well-stocked? No. If there were a dollar of wealth left anywhere, the government and inside powers will change the rules and steal it, devour it utterly and chase you for more. There is no point in physically preparing when there are no property rights remaining, no rule of law, as seen around us daily in eminent domain, ever-shifting bankruptcy laws, shaking down companies for $20B a pop, suspending bondholders without bothering with due process. This is how nations become poor. One simple way, one simple difference: rich nations have rule of law and property rights. Poor nations do not.
Do you see why we’re Depressed? When the reaction to the most mild challenges to power is irrational, hysterical violence, false imprisonments, frivolous lawsuits, IRS harassments, law changing at a whim, we know we can’t stop the system by pushing it, by any known challenge, or even involving ourselves with it. This was proven years ago, with the Indians, with the Rebels, with the Hippies, then the South Americans, the Arabs, the Asians. And the system that we turned on them has now turned on us. It’s gone categorically and demonstrably insane.
What is it to be insane? A danger to one’s self and others? Check. Divorced from reality? Check. Actively defending beliefs that are demonstrably false, even with violence? Check. Cannot be reasoned with by any argument, but whose beliefs and goals are an unalterable article of faith? Check.
The only answer when you have a violent, insane neighbor, who is protected by the world’s largest army of the world’s largest government, is to stay far, far away and let matters take their own path.
The only thing we can do is, slowly, methodically, over unending years, arrange our own irrevocable suicide to happen in its own time without being anybody’s “fault”–not even our own.
Will we survive? Or will the crisis kill the idea of America forever? I don’t know. No suicide or addict does. If we could be certain we would survive, there would be no danger. All that will be up to us at that future time. All I can most assuredly tell you that we CAN survive it. We are a large country and even if stockpiling and creating wealth is useless, we can do many internal things to help ourselves at that time. We can transform ourselves into the people we once were and loved to be, or into some new people we have yet to imagine: all good, all healthy. But the first step is to know what is going on, what has happened to ourselves and each other.
The first step is to stop swallowing what is killing us and vomit up the poison that’s killing us all: the lies that are driving us crazy.
Morality is not a nicety, a pretty addition to life. Morality is what we DO: it IS life. And our decisions in life are fatal so you better pick well. It’s high time we started acting as if we mattered, because we do. The lives of you and everyone you know depends on it.
So what are you going to do about it?
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” –Douglas MacArthur