Is it me—or is there a kind of madness sweeping over the world? Certainly for a very long time people have been (among other things) violent, selfish, and engaged in social policies that are, to say the least, not particularly rational.
Now, however, there seems to be a kind of free-floating disconnect from reality, patterns of speech and behavior that literally make no sense.
A women loads her two kids into her car and simply drives into the Hudson River.
Twenty-four (yes twenty-four) Filipino men celebrate Easter by being …crucified. One has done it every year for more than three decades: in thanks, he says, for surviving a three story fall thirty-five years ago.
A United States senator tells (knowingly?) an enormous untruth on the senate floor. When he is called on his mistake his office reassures us that what the Senator said “was not intended to be a factual statement.”
The worst day of tornadoes ever recorded sweeps through the South, leaving 350 or so dead. Seventy percent of Texas is in a drought. And more people in that part of the country believe in the literal truth of Genesis than in the literal truth of global climate change.
In the same vein, parts of sub-Saharan Africa are facing decades of expected draught. Throughout the world food prices are rising precipitously, one of the reasons being extreme weather events. And my university, which produces some of our nation’s best trained engineers, invites the head of Exxon (which has spent millions to convince people that global warming isn’t happening) to be its commencement speaker.
And just today, in the wake of the killing of Bin Laden, I hear various U.S. spokesmen saying that we’ll be all set to leave Afghanistan when we’ve made sure “the country can defend itself.” Since it is we who are foreigners, and the Taliban is almost entirely made up of Afghanis, this statement leaves me, once again, in a state of near hysteria.
I could go on, but instead I’ll just ask you, dear reader, if you ever listen to the news and wonder if the world has gone mad?
Before we get into causes, let’s pause and admit how frightening this is, for at least two reasons. First, crazy people are, well, crazy: unpredictable, out of touch, capable of saying and doing things that don’t belong in an ordered, safe world. For such people the usual motivators don’t motivate. The woman who wants to kill her children cannot be dissuaded by saying, “Stop, for God’s sake, those are your own kids.” The free-lance crucifixion victims are not interested in the fact Jesus said we should help those in pain, not willingly create suffering to no purpose. Politicians, who have enormous power, seem to inhabit a world in which what you say and “the facts” have only the most distant of relationships. And the global warming skeptics won’t be convinced by a rational discussion of science, greenhouse gases, and looming, disastrous feedback loops.
And sometimes, in a way, it gets worse: for sometimes I wonder if I’m as crazy as everyone else. I write my books and articles while the temperature slowly rises. I say I follow an eclectic spiritual path that teaches the importance of compassion and kindness, and when I’m frustrated I can get petty and self-righteous. Isn’t there some fundamental reality that I’ve lost touch with, as well?
Maybe we are all a little, or more than a little, overwhelmed. Dealing with climate change will require such an enormous transformation of our economies and lifestyles that it will be comforting for many to leave their heads buried in the sand until the very last moment. Politicians desperately need to raise funds, are hounded by the media, and live in a public space virtually defined by phrases meant to be emotionally affecting rather than descriptive of hard truths or actual moral virtues. Raising children in a world of rapidly changing culture, technological invasion of the family, and endless “things” that most of us don’t have, not to mention the vastly diminished sense of community, is enough to drive most of us at least a little nuts. And being the world’s only Superpower is such a grave responsibility that it’s not surprising U.S. spokesmen are driven out of their minds by the sheer power they wield.
Almost a century ago Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Russian Revolution who was subsequently hounded from the Party and then assassinated, made a stark prediction. Humanity, he said, faced a simple, stark choice: “socialism or barbarism.” A world dominated by mammoth corporations, and their flip side of violent religious fundamentalism, however, looks a less like barbarian hordes than it does the inmates running the asylum.
It’s at this point of the essay that I’m supposed to offer “the solution.” Like the magician taking a rabbit out of the hat, I am expected to tell us all that “If we all did such and such (meditated, did yoga, joined the Green Party, voted for Obama over the Republicans, became Vegans, followed True Meaning of the Bible), everything would be fine.”
Sorry, no can do. The forces that created the present insanity—global capitalism, global techno-addiction, patriarchy in desperate retreat, rapidly spreading consumerism and straw clutching fundamentalism for those who don’t get to the Mall much—will be with us for some time. My only recommendation, for those of us know that the madness is afoot, is to take care of ourselves and our loved ones as best we can, and try to stay calm amidst the madness. Be kind, hug a tree, treat animals with compassion, remember that in the long run honesty almost always makes you happier than lying. If, like the Egyptians, you can topple a dictator, by all means do it. Or if you can lessen violence against women, save the rainforest, or, like the students at my university, protest having a commencement speaker who represents (in their words) the “robber baron past,” I wish you the best of luck. Just remember that finding a few moments of sanity won’t end the insanity in other places; or guarantee that tomorrow or next month the craziness won’t come back to where you cleared it away.
And hold on to your hats, we’re in for a long, rough ride.