A number of years ago, a psychiatrist friend brought to my attention a study showing that men and women with psychological problems had a slightly better chance of overcoming their disorders by themselves than with the help of a psychiatrist. Since alcoholism, drug addiction, and obesity are other personal problems best resolved through the willful efforts of the one suffering from such habits, it is not surprising that emotional healing would best arise from within the individual.
How might this lesson apply to the current social insanity that has its foundations within our minds? Without relying on political, academic, or media "shrinks" to straighten out our thinking, can we remedy that thinking and, in the process, deliver mankind from its well-organized madness?
Our self-healing might begin with an awareness of how much of our social life is grounded in lies and other forms of dishonesty. Political systems mobilize and glorify the very worst characteristics of humanity. People who would not dream of killing a harmless stranger, will become enthusiasts for mass murder carried out by the state. Men and women who would never put a gun in the face of a neighbor to extort money on behalf of a cause they support, will call upon taxing authorities to do just that.
All of politics is grounded in fantasies, wishful thinking, and the fears not only of others, but of self-responsibility. As such, lying is as essential to the state as it is to carnival side-show hucksters. Politicians will always promise benefits for which the recipient need not pay, as well as an unending list of dangers from which people need the protection of the state. The major media — the propaganda arm of the political establishment — is forever warning readers and viewers of threats to their daily lives: child abductors, unsafe consumer products, environmental dangers, or someone else’s religion.
The behavior of ordinary people in our world has never been as threatening to human well-being as the statists try to convince us it is. The political classes know this as well as you do, if you but pay close attention to the peaceful ways in which you and total strangers interact on a daily basis. Were the statists to remind you of the truth of how we actually deal with each other, their ambitions over your life and property would be dealt a fatal blow. It is only the propagation of lies, and the fear those lies are meant to induce, that cause people to huddle together in mass-minded subservience to those who promise to protect them from the fear-objects they have created!
Adolf Hitler taught his political descendants this important lesson: "The great masses of the people . . . will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one." In order to sustain big governments, we must be told big lies about big threats to our well-being. The bigger the lie, and the more deadly its consequences, the more enthusiastically most people whoop up its defense.
After World War II ended, the massive state power that had accumulated required the presence of new "enemies" in order to keep the American people in subjection. The Soviet Union — our trusted ally in the war against Germany — was instantly transformed by a bit of political legerdemain into an "evil empire," and with nary a suspension of disbelief by a public still mesmerized by the World War II hobgoblins.
To his credit, President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, made an effort to warn his fellow Americans about the dangers implicit in the corporate-state war system. In his words, "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." He added: "We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
The years since World War II have seen a continuing parade of "threats," allegedly orchestrated by the Soviet Union and or China, for which Americans have been induced to part with ever-increasing portions of their income and their liberties. During my childhood years, the government was at least honest enough to describe its military branch as "The War Department." But such honesty could no longer be tolerated in the era of "big lies for big governments," and the name was changed to "The Defense Department." This agency was now fully dedicated not to the defense of the lives of ordinary Americans, but of the very corporate-state establishment interests of which Eisenhower warned.
The Soviet Union — while unquestionably a tyrannical regime — became the enemy of convenience for a "Cold War" designed for the greater purpose of transferring wealth from taxpayers to the defense-contracting racket, an undertaking that served, equally, the power interests of the American state. Former United States ambassador to the Soviet Union, George F. Kennan, acknowledged this fact in declaring, in 1987:
Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.
In service to the propagation of the big lie, the establishment enlisted the services of all sorts of people — from the worlds of politics, the media, motion pictures, and academia — to parrot the new party line about the dangers of Soviet subversion of the "American way of life." No ordinary lies would do: they had to be plausible, but only to a public whose minds had already been rendered credulous. What was required, said George Orwell, was "political language . . . designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
One of the enlistees in the Cold War frenzy was Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. For many months this pompous purveyor of balloon juice had Americans terrified of their own shadows — and of one another — as he frenetically sought out "active agents of the communist conspiracy" in every corner of society. To this devotee of the "war against communism" — no less so than his modern counterparts in the "war against terror" — every dissident was a suspect, while the lack of evidence against a man only showed how deeply insidious was the conspiracy against America!
The neurotic delusions of Sen. McCarthy — energized by the corporate-state’s need to embellish the image of the Soviet Union as a world-hungry leviathan — infected the minds of most Americans. They ate up the entertainment industry’s — and, I should add, the far more dangerous House Un-American Activities Committee’s — fear-mongering. I recall one report of a man who regarded his neighbor as a likely communist, because he had National Geographic maps on the walls in his living room!
But in time McCarthy’s spell was broken, done in by a mild-mannered Boston lawyer named Joseph Welch. Appearing before McCarthy’s committee on behalf of a client, with the hearings carried live on television, Welch took issue with the senator’s cavalier attack on his client. In a polite but firm tone Welch declared: "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness," going on to ask: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
With the words of this mild man, Joseph McCarthy lost his power of fear over the minds of Americans, and a semblance of sanity returned. In the language of the study of chaos, Joseph Welch was the butterfly, whose flapping wings changed the climate of a nation. A few months after this hearing, the Senate — having discovered its hind legs long enough to stand upon them — censured McCarthy.
The state’s bogeyman show went on, of course, bleeding American lives and pockets in wars concocted to serve the military-industrial interests of which an earlier president had warned. But by 1989 the Soviet Union was no more and, as Mr. Kennan advised, the "military-industrial establishment would have to go on . . . until some other adversary could be invented."
The establishment has its new "adversary," the international "terrorist," against whom will be arrayed all the weaponry and other systems that defense contractors will be able to create, at great profit to themselves. And your sons and daughters will continue to be offered up in sacrifice — as will your income — in service to what the historian Charles Beard called the "perpetual war for perpetual peace."
In the meantime, one wonders if there is a modern Joseph Welch among us who can speak truth to power and, in so doing, restore to us the sanity that is essential to the health of any living system. That such a person resides within each of us is a thought that we too easily dismiss. We have been too long conditioned to believe in the rationality and goodness of political leaders, regarding the shortcomings of the system as nothing more than a failure of technique, not of the character of its officials. In the 1996 words of Arthur Miller:
Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.
But if society is the sum of the psychological disorders of those who comprise it, and if psychological health can more effectively be restored by the self-help efforts of individuals, to whom do you think it best to turn if our world is to be returned to sanity? Who, if not you or me, is to ask firmly, and out of a sense of love for life that hangs in the balance, "at long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.