Created February 18, 2022
Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.
Data from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that as of 2007, half the world’s population suffers from mental illness at least once in their lifetime. And in any given year, one in five people suffer from mental illness.
I would argue that the problem is even more severe than that. The definition of mental disease is constrained to various known syndromes including depression, schizophrenia, and so on. These statistics do not include the percent of the population who would score as not having a mental illness by standard medical tests, but who are enslaved by automatic scripts playing out in their brains. Including such people in the stats would bring the percentage up to possibly 80-90% of us who are not functioning mentally to our innate capacity to do so.
The strict medical illness definition types and the “normally neurotic” types have probably not been increasing as percentages of the total population. They probably peaked long ago, judging from human history. In fact, the meditation movement may have inched down the percentage slightly in the last half century or so.
The Institute for Health Metrics estimates that 57% of the world population has had Covid so far. The Worldmeter tracks known cases of which there have been over 400 million globally so far, which is only 5% of the world population. The truth is probably somewhere between 5% and 57% so far. So Covid appears to be less rampant than mental illness and normal neuroses combined.
The two (mental incapacity and Covid) work together, which explains why the world appears to have flown off the handle. It is not just appearance. The world is technically off its rocker.
I visualize the mental strength of the human population to be a grey scale, a continuum, and each individual is not always at the same place on the scale. We can go up and down from minute to minute depending upon what is going on around and inside us.
When reality is too terrible to be faced, the average person will move toward the insanity end of the scale. Mass hysteria has happened many times before, but typically occurs in confined populations such as passengers on an airplane, students and faculty of a school, people living in one town. It could be related to the Mirror Neuron System (MNS) in that it starts with a few people and then others around them start to mirror the behavior of the initial cell. Dr. Richard Silberstein has taught me that the Orbito Frontal Cortex (OFC) has a function of regulating the MNS and thus acts as a check on excessive imitative behavior. Mass hysteria could arise in situations when something has interfered with the proper functioning of the OFC.
In all of the documented cases since the Middle Ages, none has become a pandemic. Until now. Why now?
Certainly, Covid is one important triggering event, causing us to lose most of the weekly experiences we considered the most fun, which make life worth living. But I think it started before Covid. Two other dystopian trends began before Covid-19. One was social media, and the other was a drift toward fascism which some have traced to the anti-terrorism stance the US took as a result of 9/11.
I never considered interactive media dystopian, I always thought it would be the stuff that brought us to utopia. I was forgetting about the large proportions of mentally ill people.
Brexit and Cambridge Analytica showed the world how social media could be used manipulatively, weaponized as a new level of propaganda warfare. The communications industry identified Cambridge Analytica and put a stop to its activities, but no one can stop rogue nations/superpowers/militias from mis-using social and all other media.
When George Washington warned us of the dangers of the party system (it was not part of the US Constitution nor did it exist for the first 20 years of the USA’s existence) he could not have foreseen how the inherent divisive effects of partisanship might interact with social media, fascist tendencies, and widespread mental illness/neurosis.
This is the Abstract from a scientific paper published about a year ago entitled “COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria” : In this article, we aim to develop a political economy of mass hysteria. Using the background of COVID-19, we study past mass hysteria. Negative information which is spread through mass media repetitively can affect public health negatively in the form of nocebo effects and mass hysteria. We argue that mass and digital media in connection with the state may have had adverse consequences during the COVID-19 crisis. The resulting collective hysteria may have contributed to policy errors by governments not in line with health recommendations. While mass hysteria can occur in societies with a minimal state, we show that there exist certain self-corrective mechanisms and limits to the harm inflicted, such as sacrosanct private property rights. However, mass hysteria can be exacerbated and self-reinforcing when the negative information comes from an authoritative source, when the media are politicized, and social networks make the negative information omnipresent. We conclude that the negative long-term effects of mass hysteria are exacerbated by the size of the state.
So, it seems that we have the explanation of why the world has suddenly literally gone mad.
That in itself does not constitute a cure or solution. But it points in certain directions where we can look for a cure.
One direction is inside. When a mature adult who has learned enough about life to act like a mensch most of the time (that description might fit all of us in our best moments, but perhaps only one in ten of us in terms of steadiness over time, and during today’s mass hysteria maybe even fewer of us) discovers that he or she is their own worst enemy, it causes one to pause and rethink everything. The automatic ego-emotional impulses which turn us into robots, once exposed to a sane person, begin to come under scrutiny and control, and after a long process, the individual becomes mentally and emotionally resilient. This is manifest in more authentic consideration given to others, courage, fortitude, better decision making, greater creativity, more time spent in the Flow state.
In other words, the way out of this mess is for each of us to take ourselves in hand.
The challenge has never been greater than it is today. The media pressure (social and otherwise) is not going to stop, the vast majority of one’s countrymen and women being largely (hopefully temporarily) “crazy”, the political banditos taking fullest advantage of the situation, none of those driving variables is going to stop just because an isolated few of us start to take back our selves and stop being puppets manipulated by stimuli and by parts of our nervous systems designed to be helpful but prone to becoming perverted. No, it isn’t going to be easy.
But what else is there to do? The only open path is to maximize our own sanity first (put on your airbag then help others).
The Sanity Movement is going to arise, it is a historical necessity. It will be in a sense at war with the negative idea polluters of social media and all media, but it cannot descend to warlike behavior without simply becoming another nutty group vying for attention. It has to spread good healing ideas that really work to calm oneself down and begin acting intelligently again.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
Best to all,