A Crazed Psychologist Explains Why Things Are So Crazy

 

 
 I think most people would agree the world is pretty crazy right now.
I’m not referring to traditional forms of mental illness or psychiatric disorders but a more insidious cultural phenomena displayed by a deeply divided and highly polarized nation, an anxious self-medicating populace and a morally confused  citizenry. Other indicators suggest that people at various levels of society and economic strata are profoundly troubled and have begun to question the historical mythology about America including it’s inherent goodness, greatness and stature as a “beacon of light” for others. As a role model nation, the USA may be losing its luster. Somehow the beacon of light thing is getting progressively dimmer and as a country we may have to accept ourselves as having lost our way in the dark forest of what once was called our “manifest destiny”, a suspect concept itself. Generally speaking there is a lot of “free-floating” anxiety going on and a pervasive sense of foreboding that is still short of what might be called profound “doom or dread”. It’s more like a generalized form of anticipatory anxiety. Like many other things psychological in nature it’s uncertain whether sufferers of this existential pre-dread sensation are even consciously aware of this cultural virus , spreading affliction or understand it’s source. Regardless, large questions loom in the collective American psyche. Who are we now? What is going on?? Where are we headed? Is the United States washed up as a superpower? Are we no longer a globally respected model of  freedom, plurality and  democracy? These are just a few overarching questions about our identity and self-image that pertain not to any random individual that might seeking professional help but to a weakened and more neurotic nation even as the majority carry on with daily routines, plans for the Holidays, take selfies and update social media accounts. But who will be the country’s therapist?  
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To some observers that which is wrong simply boils down to a deficit or decay in baseline morality, as if the nation’s 14 k golden “moral compass” has broken or gone missing along with its Jiminy Cricket-like conscience reminding us what is “right from wrong” (an important component of legal sanity). Others contend that societal norms related to acceptable social behavior (the stuff that guides rational decision-making and keeps us from behaving like cavemen) are either absent or in transition due to a changing modern world and melting pot culture. Some critics see this as the direct result of adding too many immigrants (legal and illegal), different religions with clashing ideologies, and fundamentally incompatible racial-ethnic groups to the Founding Father’s original recipe. Regardless of the reasons, there is an overpowering sense that something is wrong in Camelot and while political parties and TV pundits point fingers and argue aloud who and what’s to blame, signs of this societal sickness continue to grow and even show. Put bluntly, if social issues and psychological problems were toxic fumes and the country was a a coal mine, the canaries would probably be dead already.
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As a Clinical Psychologist in practice for almost 40 years and as a cultural critic, it’s scary to have to admit that it’s gotten so bad (in terms of a general perception of unhealthy thinking, stress-related conditions and overall maladaptive behavior) that its difficult to say exactly who or what’s the very MOST crazy. The fact that relatively few people in power or so-called authority figures seem alarmed enough to do anything proactive about it may be what drives me the most crazy.  
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As a psychotherapist, I feel less like the guy with his finger in the “dam of the deranged” that’s sprung a leak and more like Chicken Little the crazed handyman tasked with fixing an already crumbling hen house made of ash and toxic asbestos. On the subject of toxicity, it only takes cursory research and a few keystrokes to realize there are way more published books and magazine articles on toxic work environments, toxic marriages, toxic pollutants, and toxic politics than there are on the social ills that result from living in a highly toxic culture. In fact, I couldn’t find anything very substantial or comprehensive on the topic in the professional literature either when I google search “toxic American culture”. That seems kinda crazy to me too. Maybe I’m the crazy one…..
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Certainly from media reports (both mainstream and alternative) it sounds like there are more “bad hombres” running loose and totally unhinged than combined flavors of Baskin Robbins and Ben and Jerrys ice cream. The phrase “another senseless act of violence” seems to show up practically on a daily basis. Trying to keep up with all the viral videos of incomprehensible antisocial acts and bonkers behavior or just remembering the name of this weeks mass murderer or suicide bomber is becoming impossible even for a seasoned psychologist and  information junkie such as myself.  Perhaps the head honchos in Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry in Bethesda, Maryland, Washington DC, or wherever they keep the gold standard for sanity and insanity have quietly thrown in the towel. Even they can’t seem to keep tabs on all the new and different mental and behavioral disorders crammed into the latest editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and (ICD) International Classification of Diseases. 
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Unfortunately I don’t have a single all-encompassing explanation for the explosion of irrationality and off-the-wall behavior occurring in many sectors of society. It seems that no place is safe from random encounters with lunatics or bad seed behaving individuals. It’s even more crazy-making to hear neighbors or friends of the IL (identified lunatic) interviewed later saying, “He seemed so normal…he was pretty quiet and used to mow my lawn for free, etc.” This disparity in perspective includes the broad range of overtly disturbed or psychotic people and plain old regular folk who snap and melt down like cheap candles in a pile of gas soaked rags right next door to in Suburbia USA. Luckily in my neighborhood they make reasonable allowances for me. I believe I’m referred to as the “sort of funny bald shrink who thinks he’s a pirate” and “the bald guy who takes his trash cans up to the street in his bathrobe”.  Do they really HAVE to mention the bald part every time? The good news is that many of them also bring their kids over to see my pirate basement.  Certainly, the Internet, social media and 24-hour cable news haven’t been of much assistance in helping people to remain calm, sane or civil in these stressful times. Furthermore, for all it’s Steve Jobs hype and “interconnected” gobbledygook, the information revolution may actually do more harm then good when it comes to providing the support, safety and security that is shown to mitigate mental illness (see website at bottom). Ditto for the digital age having  failed to keep it’s utopian pie-in-the-sky promise of transforming sedentary gaming addicts and technology consumers into “healthier” and happier human beings. In reality it’s more like a mash-up of Wall-e, Westworld and Halloween 3 online and outside. Finally, as far as I can tell NOBODY (including myself) is getting the doctor recommended 7-8 hours of “deep restorative sleep” every night. That alone is probably a bad sign.
 
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Let’s put the topic in historical perspective. In the past, when most of the population worked on farms or in factories, people were too busy or too tired to develop insane conspiracy theories or wacked-out delusions involving Jodie Foster, Vince Foster or Foster Grants. Plus, if you brought that kind of crazy thinking up at the family dinner table your mother (Ma), father (Pa) or grandmother (Granny) would wack you hard with a large wooden spatula… or worse. With more discretionary time on our ever-evolving hands and texting thumbs the industrial revolution and current information age have made it possible for millions of Americans to plunk themselves down in a cheap chair from IKEA and consume large quantities of caffeinated energy drinks and packaged honey buns from the local gas station to watch 1000 televised channels of shallow entertainment, reality TV shows, and informercials selling shiny objects. Who really wants or needs 285 hunting knives or samurai swords in 15 different colors? Don’t tell me. I don’t really want to know….altho I suspect many of those people live in Florida.  Those who prefer to stay “well-informed” may now choose between highly polarized politically prejudiced TV news programs (can you spell “cognitive dissonance”) occupied by bombastic pundits, life-sized barbie dolls and desperate stand-up comics. What’s with that weird combination of so called “talent”? Who’s bright idea was that? Science aficionados such as myself are pretty much relegated to pseudo-science documentaries about Mermaids, Bigfoot, and Ancient Aliens…or some combination thereof.  
 
 The online universe may not be all that much better than the aforementioned “boob tube”. Access to the world wide web and the “internet of everything” (which includes the dark web and more pornography per band width than insects per millimeter of dirt) probably does have more to offer “content-wise” that is relatively constructive. It also makes it possible for more people as well as different types of individuals to connect including those who were previously isolated, disenfranchised or just plain alienated from the mainstream. Isn’t that a good or even great thing? Well, not necessarily, because now really sick and twisted Homo Sapiens like the serial-killer Hannibal the Cannibal Ed Gein (the prototype for Leatherface) who was safer for society stuck on his dilapidated pig farm in Wisconsin is also able to reach out and form like-minded social groups, web forums, and “meet and greet” events. Starbucks Coffee, home-made jerky and (real) “finger foods” anyone? Connectivity also allows these formerly isolated and demented individuals to listen to paranoid podcasts with “shock jocks” acting like know-it-alls and scientific authorities on topics ranging from the 9/11 “hoax” to alien abduction to verified sightings of Martian lizard men in Obama’s Oval Office. Crazy people often only need one other lunatic to agree with their nutbag thinking (or radical/violent philosophy and attached 550 page rambling manifesto) to convince themselves of it’s absolute merit. In other words, we all need to learn how to lovingly tell certain friends and acquaintances, “Um, sorry but that’s fucking crazy”. 
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All I can guess is that “epigenetic” changes in the human brain, meaning active mutations in the neurological and cortical structure are now occurring as a result of living in a continuously stressful, topsy-turvy and crazy-making world…one in which “up is now down” and down seems to have no bottom. Good examples would be college students violently protesting AGAINST free speech on university campuses, “trigger warnings” on classical literature, and groups of otherwise sane individuals (including certain elected officials) believing it’s “understandable” and socially acceptable to bodyslam a news reporter and then blame it on Obama…or on something in the water.
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HOW CRAZY IS MADE:  If you allow me to expand on my only slightly LESS paranoid theory (Disclaimer: CaptCliff’s theory currently lacks definitive empirical support or a well-replicated double-blind peer-reviewed study and published academic journal article) let me put it this way:  if the goal is to manufacture more unhinged crazy dangerous people in society, first you bombard the entire population 24/7 with offensive and psychologically damaging sound bites and computer bytes of stress-arousing emotionally disturbing news including traumatizing and/or empathy-habituating videos depicting random violence, the decapitation of innocents and children, recurrent episodes of road rage, suicide, etc. Then you add an overarching social climate characterized by fear and anxiety, status-seeking narcissism, general mistrust of others who are different and excessive conformity to overly insular values and authoritarian leadership (rather than humanistic, compassionate, cooperative or consensual cultural value and imperatives). Finally you eschew education both for young people and adults that promote critical thinking, interior growth (within the self), self-awareness relating to social-emotional intelligence and introspection, and basic skills for coping and psychological resilience. Hey, did I remember to mention rampant drug and alcohol abuse? Did I happen to include the over-utilization of legal and illegal psychoactive prescription medications that are often addicting, grossly under-supervised, mood-altering and rife with serious physical and psychiatric side effects? They are a big problem too….. a really big problem or as Donald Trump would say (one thing I actually do agree with him about) a “really really tremendous problem”. 
 
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Over time, the inevitable result of all the above and probably at least a dozen other significant but still unmentioned factors such as thousands of young traumatized war veterans with PTSD returning to society without jobs, adequate follow-up help or effective treatment is a crackpot/crock pot recipe for societal disaster. At the very least these internal changes and external stressors may be promoting a kind of rapidly reproducing meme or cultural virus in the form of pathological social behavior/mimicry and psychiatric disorders that are neither quiet or primarily internalized (like say clinical depression usually is). Those with psychiatric and pharmacological expertise say the worst thing helping professionals can do is “energize” or “give legs” to a severely depressed person. What that means on a practical level is that a depressed person who may be considering suicide or violence is generally safer depressed in bed until he/she starts to feel better than they are jacked up on Paxil, Prozac or ANYTHING ELSE which if not properly supervised might trigger a suicide attempt or murderous rage.  Now insert “radical religious ideology” or “super crazy delusion” or “dangerous political belief” for Paxil or Prozac.  Rather than suffer in silence, this type of wired, fired, emotionally disturbed and culturally conditioned individual (who is walking around with a REALLY bad motherboard in his head) wants his name in lights and trending on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Put another way, due to the basically antisocial nature of his affliction (either genetic, acquired, or both) he will desire his self-propelled and self-controlled psychophysiological “detonation” (literally or figuratively) to be videotaped for posterity and  live-streamed over the internet.
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Many people assume (at least at first) that unusually violent acts and brutal crimes including mass murder are associated with longstanding clinical psychoses, gang or drug cartel related criminality or extremist religious ideology, ie., just another treatment resistant schizophrenic dressed as a ninja, radicalized Islamic terrorist or intoxicated illegal alien with a long rap sheet. In reality, however, it often turns out to be someone unexpected who is either around 23 years old, minimally employed, a “drop-out dreamer” or solitary gamer and/or internet addict who just broke up with his girlfriend or a married mid-life white guy who rather than just have an extra-marital affair or buy a red sports car decides to pick up a shotgun and use it on someone. Even later it’s revealed that he was “kinda nice but a little weird”, kept to himself a lot,  was socially unpopular, somewhat of a “nerd” or “loser” (by societal standards of success) and perhaps a “bit idiosyncratic” in his primary interests. We ( the helping professionals) pull out our diagnostic manuals and start to think maybe Aspergers Syndrome /autism spectrum disorder with unusual aggressive or depressive tendencies, conduct disorder, antisocial personality, undiagnosed or untreated schizophrenia or bipolar mania. However, the possibly bigger problem is that off the radar and unbeknownst to most people these same individuals “primary interests” have increasingly become obsessions like learning how to make a nail bomb, collecting an impressive cache of automatic weapons and reading up on the current world record holder for mass murder (all at the expense of much needed therapy, yoga class, league bowling, craft beer tasting or any other far healthier social pursuit). More often than not they have experienced rejection, humiliation, and a loss of their once important dream of personal success, belonging, and fulfillment…yeah the American dream thing. The final outcome is someone inexplicably blowing up a packed music concert full of innocent teenaged fans, randomly shooting a completely helpless elderly man, a nightclub full of gay and straight people, beating a sleeping homeless person to death with a claw hammer, or for some god-forsaken reason murdering their entire family and then committing suicide …all while live-streaming it on Facebook. Now that’s what I call REALLY CRAZY and unfortunately I think we have something to do with it. Before you take that the wrong way what I mean is we need to “wake up” and get better at helping ourselves and others around us including those people outside our personal “bubble” of experience and expertise. In my opinion, we shouldn’t be relying so much on well-meaning professionals like myself or even so-called “esteemed” psychiatrists with prescription pads, Big Pharma connections, and another new atypical antipsychotic drug to “cure” our emotionally disturbed, psychiatrically struggling, and/or socially stunted kids. The same is true about believing there is some reliable professional fix for alcoholism and drug abuse at any age.  Yes all of these off-kilter emotionally disturbed people need professional help and affordable treatment but they also need a kinder, healthier and more balanced CULTURE to live in. That would begin with us all recognizing what is physically, socially and psychologically TOXIC to human beings. For starters I”m pretty sure being deployed in combat at the age of 19 or 20 years old (especially if one is already psychologically vulnerable and who isn’t?) is generally toxic to mental health. It’s impossible to be fully “prepared” or vaccinated for extraordinarily violent and traumatic experiences of that sort. Then these brave young men and women return to a country that is very busy arguing over everything, playing silly games on their “smart” phones, and watching shows on TV with names like “Survivor”, “Naked and Afraid”, and “Fear Factor”. Imagine what they (combat vets) think of that after having their legs blown off by an IED or having watched their best buddy bleed out in Afghanistan. That would certainly make me kind of crazy.
 
In much the same way, the many thousands of victims of domestic violence, childhood sex abuse, social media bullying, drug addiction, drug overdoses, suicide, suicide-by-cop, and even the much despised suicide bombers often never had a chance to learn how to handle the uncomfortable truth that modern life is complex, unpredictable and that emotional pain, loss, trauma, tragedy and failure are inevitable. Helping others to learn how to better deal and cope with reality (rather than reality TV or Hollywood distorted versions of reality) is the name of the much better game we should all be playing.
 
Sadly, some of these troubled and highly disturbed people don’t get a second chance to “come back” (like in the violent video games) and never get to know that others in the real world can learn to be more loving, more compassionate, more present, less judgmental and overall better (humane) human beings. Rather than argue politics or point fingers we could learn to give hugs and truly listen with empathy and genuine compassion EVEN if we disagree on a number of major issues… like politics or religion.  I keep saying this but I’ll say it again. I’m 63 years old going on 64. I’m a Clinical Psychologist with a Ph.D………but I myself have a long way to go in improving on most to all of the things I just mentioned. I keep catching my mind making reflexive judgements and self-serving conclusions. In my fear, anxiety and anger I catch myself (usually after the fact) falling into the trap of blaming, inflaming, shaming, and defaming (the so-called bad guys) rather than reframing the problem. I keep forgetting just like after someone waking up from a vivid dream with obvious and important meaning that is GONE like fairy dust (or the quantum stardust we are all made of) in less than 5 minutes. Unfortunately, it’s often gone because I reflexively turned on the morning television news, immediately checked my iPhone for messages or opened my precious laptop (god forbid if it’s not already fully charged) to get on Facebook to argue politics or attempt like a flaming narcissist (or failed stand-up comedian really) to get more “likes” for being clever…as if I’m 13 years old and not a 63 years old Chicken Little Jewish guy in a fluffy bathrobe and Pirate costume going on slightly decrepit. 
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Summary: Once again I apologize for my inability to ever be succinct. I tried. This time just hear my personal plea. Help me (and help one another) to get outside of our ego-centric selves, our electronic addictions and our ingrained “habits” (which includes how we choose to think) that are progressively blunting our empathy, our authenticity, and our essential humanity. Not to pick on China but I don’t want to end of like the Chinese people who watch with indifference while people get run over multiple times and then continue on with their day (see video below). While I may still be awake from last night’s dream (for some reason it had frogs in it…whaa?) I know I will still probably forget. Help me to NOT forget what I am trying to say about our toxic American culture. I don’t want to be another numb or narcissistic “numbskull” (my father’s word) who has lost the ability to see the healthy forest of our future from the troubled traumatized trees of today.  Things gotta change and I promise you there’s no magic red or blue pill to fix this. 

About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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