An Entire Country Go Mad?
April 25, 2003
By Ernest Partridge
Can an entire country go mad?
Of course it can!
And history provides many examples: the Salem Colony during
the witch trials (and its 20th century counterpart, the McCarthy
mania), Nazi Germany, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and arguably
the United States under George Bush.
Worse yet, most people living at a time of national
derangement perceive that condition as perfectly normal,
and even moral. And pity the poor soul who sees things differently:
the "one-eyed person in the land of the blind."
If we are even to suggest that the American public has,
by and large, gone bonkers, we should begin with a definition
of "sanity" and, by implication, of "insanity."
Perhaps Sigmund Freud said it best: a sane person is someone
with an operating "reality principle" someone who checks
his beliefs against the readily-available promptings of "the
Of course, each and every one of us falls short of complete
congruence with "reality" it's the price we pay for our
finitude, our mortality.
"Sanity" does not mean perfection; it merely means sufficient
commerce with the real world to allow us to survive both day-by-day
and in the long term thus "sane" individuals obey traffic
laws, learn from their mistakes and practical experience and,
in the case of moral sanity, they recognize in others their
worth and their capacity for joy and suffering. Furthermore,
sanity implies a capacity to critically evaluate one's experience,
to distinguish fact from fiction, and to further adapt to
the real world through that experience and knowledge.
Insanity, by implication, suggests a kind of habitation
in an unreal, made-up world. The megalomaniac who believes
he is Napoleon, to put it bluntly, is not Napoleon. The schizophrenic
hears voices that nobody in fact utters. The paranoid is in
constant fear of non-existent threats. The psychopath can
not recognize the human worth and the capacity for pleasure
and pain in others, and so on.
A deranged society is often, but surely not always, made
so by a deranged leadership. This is especially likely when
that leadership has effective control of the media. Then the
leaders possess the means to convey their delusions to much
of the public at large.
Now I don't wish to claim that one George Bush has lost
all his marbles, though I suspect that he may be "a few
bulbs short of a full marquee" (Garrison Keilor). George
Bush's world may, to a disturbing degree, be out of sync with
the real world.
That's a startling charge to level at our leader and, by
extension, at our compatriots. So let's look at the evidence:
"Solipsism" is the philosopher's term for the
assertion that "all that exists is my mind and its ideas."
It is epitomized by the opening sentence in one of Arthur
Schopenhauer's books: "the world is my idea." Of
course, no sane person believes this (including Schopenhauer).
However, the challenge of escaping solipsism leads to the
core issues of epistemology: how do we demonstrate the existence
of other minds and of an independent "outside" physical
world. (My late friend, the novelist Edward Abbey, had an
ingenious solution: "if someone tells you he is a solipsist,
throw a rock at his head. If he ducks, he is a liar.")
Now, of course, Bush and his gang are not solipsists, and
the term, "national solipsism" is meant figuratively. (Literally,
the term is self-contradictory "national" entails a plurality
In this figurative (and I suspect original) sense, "national
solipsism" is a belief, still better an attitude, that
the world beyond our borders is just what I want it to be
and believe it to be, and nothing more. To Bush and his neo-con
handlers, ours is an uncomplicated world free of unintended
consequences. This world need not be studied in order to be
understood the opinions of experts are of no interest. Rather,
the state of the world is best apprehended by gut feeling.
So we are free to violate a batch of treaties, to defy the
United Nations, and to invade an unthreatening country. And
what will the excluded community of nations think of this
behavior? How will the Arabic and Islamic nations react? Can
they retaliate in any troublesome way? We don't know and we
don't care. Anyhow, we can always bribe or bully our way through,
as we did when we collected the coalition of the willing.
In brief, in the world of the "national solipsists,"
our nation is the sole actor; all other nations are completely
Case in point: Syria. When asked "what is the message
of the Iraqi attack" to other countries in the region,
Perle casually said: "you're next!" To Perle
and others of like mind, the governments of Syria, Iran, North
Korea, or wherever, upon hearing this and contemplating the
fate of Iraq and its leader Saddam, will simply passively
await their fate in fear and dread, making no alliances or
other preparations that might surprise us. Instead, they will
wait helplessly, like condemned prisoners in their cells,
awaiting the sentence of the court.
And that kind of an assumption is just plain crazy.
In point of rational fact, the remark "You're next!"
must surely provoke strategic planning in Syria, etc., and
for that matter in numerous nations throughout the world.
Similarly, reactive strategic planning is the certain response
abroad to the Bush regime's flagrant violation of treaties,
and its disregard of international law and institutions. We
are not the only nation on earth with national interests to
attend to, although the neo-cons behave as if this were so.
Suppose one were to directly confront Perle, or Wolfowitz
or Rumsfeld with the question, "Do you really believe
that other countries will stand idly and passively by as they
contemplate the fate of Iraq, as they read the text of 'Project
for a New American Century,' and as they hear that taunting
remark, 'you're next?'" Surely they would reply, quite
truthfully, that they don't really believe in the complete
passivity of nations abroad. But the essential point is that
they act as if they believed this! Provocative remarks (you're
next!"), violations of treaties, habitual lying, unprovoked
attacks upon harmless and disarmed countries all this is
done by the Bush team as if they firmly believed that the
U.S. government and its military can do whatever it damned
pleases, without fear of surprises and retaliation from other
regimes and non-governmental organizations such as al Qaeda.
In short, their beliefs in rational reflective moments are
fundamentally disconnected from their actions and their policies.
And that is clinically insane behavior. Moreover, to the degree
that this disconnection between certifiable knowledge ("justified-true-belief")
and operative foreign policy doctrine infects the general
public, via the vector of a compliant media, that public catches
a bad case of the crazies from its government.
Sooner or later, the Bushistas and the American public will
find out, to their astonishment and chagrin, that the world
beyond will not tolerate this behavior much longer, and moreover,
that the community of nations, comprising the other 95% of
the world's population, is quite capable of devastating,
albeit non-military, retaliation.
Science be damned - "the world is my idea."
Solipsism, or "subjectivism gone mad," is reflected
attitude toward science, and in the consequent policies
of his administration. According to the Bushevik subjective
metaphysic, the physical world is also just what we want it
to be, scientific expertise and proof be damned. And so, when
the threat of global warming is affirmed by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate change, consisting of 2000 of the leading
atmospheric scientists of the world, and when the IPCC findings
are confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences, the Bush
regime responds by shooting the messenger by arranging the
firing of the IPCC Chairman, Thomas Watson. Furthermore, the
Bush EPA then removes a section on climate change from its
annual report. Similarly, Bush energy policy is apparently
based on the
belief that petroleum reserves are infinite contrary
to scientific information and economic statistics. "We
don't want to believe what the scientists tell us, so it ain't
Economics is not a hard science to say the least of it.
Nonetheless, there are a few compelling economic principles
that are ignored at the peril of society. One is that huge
deficits far into the future, with no indication of reversal,
leads inexorably to fiscal collapse. Another principle is
that the way to stimulate an economy is to direct funds to
those who will spend and/or invest in the near future (that's
most of us), and not to those who will send these funds to
offshore banks or to set up low-wage industries abroad (i.e.,
to the fortunate top 2%). But never mind all that. George
Bush has a promise to keep to his political contributors.
And, at least in this case, he keeps his promises.
Another bit of economic lunacy: "Compulsive behavior"
persisting in an activity that has clearly been shown to
be useless or even counter-productive is a compelling indicator
of some loose screws in the cognitive clockwork. In extreme
cases, it calls for strait-jackets and padded cells. Now consider
supply-side, trickle-down economic policies (i.e., reverse
Robin-Hoodism throwing money at the rich), which proved
to be a colossal failure during the Reagan and Bush I administrations.
When Bill Clinton dumped supply side, two conservative Texas
Professors of Economics, (and Senator and Congressman respectively)
Dr. Phil Gramm and Dr. Richard Armey, predicted economic disaster.
Instead, there followed eight years of unprecedented grown
and prosperity. But never mind that, with Bush the Sequel
we get supply side, the sequel. Experience refutes supply-side
economics, and eight Nobel Laureate economists have denounced
it. But so what? George Bush's gut says otherwise, therefore
supply side theory is true.
Psychopathology: "Who cares what you think?"
Psychopathy the failure to recognize, much less to empathize
with, the personal human dignity, rights, and feelings of
others, is displayed in the Bush administration de-funding
of Medicare, Social Security, veterans' benefits, and furthermore,
in the callous disregard of the lives and safety of the unfortunate
Iraqis beneath the U.S. military's cruise-missiles, shells,
and bombs. Sure enough, the Bush word-smiths recognize compassion
as a politically potent concept hence Compassionate Conservatism.
But the astute citizen will (untypically) follow Richard Nixon's
advice: "don't pay attention to what [they] say, pay
attention to what [they] do."
"The Truth is Out There."
The Bush administration has an uncanny ability to concoct
lies and, when found out, to move on unscathed. This accomplishment
stands as a tribute to their mastery of the black arts of
public relations and propaganda.
Consider the justifications for the attack on Iraq in
particular, those presented by Colin Powell to the UN Security
Council. (a) Saddam Hussein is producing weapons of mass destruction
(WMDs), and (b) Saddam Hussein is in close cahoots with al
Qaeda terrorists. As it turns out, the case for WMDs was based
collapsing structure of plagiarized term papers, forged
documents, rumors and false reports, even as the UN inspectors
were failing to find any independent evidence of WMDs. And
even the CIA reported that there was no evidence linking Saddam
with al Qaeda. Furthermore, it was a plain verifiable fact
that none of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi. And yet so effective
is the Bush propaganda machine that a majority of the American
public now believes that Saddam had WMDs at the ready, and
that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Significantly,
the corporate media has taken no great pains to disabuse the
public of these flat-out misconceptions.
In other words, the American public's "reality principle"
was, in these cases, deliberately and effectively sabotaged,
resulting in a case of mass-derangement.
And yet, "the truth is out there." The facts about Saddam,
WMDs, al Qaeda, 9/11 are not secret, nor are the opinions
of atmospheric scientists, petroleum geologists. The opinions
of world-renowned economists are on the record, and if that
doesn't suffice, the economic statistics unemployment, consumer
confidence, inventories, stock prices, etc. are published
for all to see.
Yet, to the neo-conservative and fundamentalist dogmatists
in the Bush administration, none of this matters. "Screw
reality, we have our doctrine and we have the interests
of our sponsors to tend to."
Likewise, although the facts are out there in front of the
eyes of the public, yet they refuse to see. Meanwhile, the
subservient corporate media have instituted a successful campaign
of mass distraction, while the Congress and the Courts are
no help, since they no longer work for "We the People."
Corruption and despotism, like cockroaches, scurry for cover
when the light is cast upon them. Thus the most dependable
route out of this pit that we the people find ourselves in,
is the route prescribed by Thomas Jefferson and fellow founders
of our republic: a free and diverse media, a vigorous and
well-funded system of education, and the resulting open discussion
of competing ideas. Unfortunately, now that the corporate
media at home have abandoned us, we must now look to the foreign
press and the internet for our news and information.
So wake up, America. Reality calls!
And reality won't budge an inch to accommodate our fantasies.