The Collapse of the American Mind
"The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist."
― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
For the last two decades I have been writing about the deteriorating American Mind and how it is playing havoc in our national politics. I have also consistently predicted that it would only get worse unless we paid close attention to the mind itself and addressed the serious assault under which it is laboring.
Today, that deterioration is undeniable as we see and hear the latest conspiracy theories that millions of mentally defective minds in America swallow with an apparent absence of any attempt at even the most basic form of critical analysis. Like a computer reduced to safe mode function, these critical tasks for independent psychological functioning of the mind have ceased to operate.
Instead, for millions of minds in America, increasingly bizarre explanations of the world are readily accepted as “reality.” For the once conservative wing of the Republican party, their liberal counterparts on the American political spectrum are not simply wrong in their political ideas, they are pedophiles. And, oh, yes, Donald Trump will ascend to the Presidency in August. The crazy litany of improbable events goes on and on, oftentimes with a craziness that makes it difficult to even remember them.
How do we explain this frightening turn of events in any helpful way?
One of the most important functions of the mind is the creation of our reality sense, our understanding of what is true and false and what is important for our own survival and quality of life. We take "reality" for granted. It, like the air we breathe, it simply is.
But that is not true. Our mind is a complex organ, no less than our heart, our stomach, or our lungs. Its strength will vary from individual to individual and will be subject in its operational effectiveness to many variables which we ignore at our peril. Today and for the decades in which I have been writing about this subject, we have been ignoring them.
Our reality formation is the result of a very complex set of mental tasks. If our mind is overburdened in fulfilling its tasks, it falters. If it falters badly enough, the results for the individual can be catastrophic. Our judgment becomes impaired. We project blame for our own frightening inner experience and tend to see enemies everywhere to explain our painful inner experiences.
In such a taxed condition, the psychological tasks that Hannah Arendt discussed in her cogent observations about the authoritarian minds of her era, are simply too demanding for the mind. But without some sense of reality, life is very scary. Thus, the mind is badly in need of a crutch to help it conjure up some sense of reality. Ultimately, as the mind grows weaker and weaker, it becomes more important for the mind to have something to believe in as real than it is that that "something" actually makes sense along traditional lines of logic.
And so, we become vulnerable to powerful sounding demagogues who tell us in very authoritarian tones that indulge our most primitive and often hateful states, that they see things as they really are. They perform some of the missing psychological functions for our minds like determining who we can trust and how we should understand the inner noise inside our self. We become beholden to these demagogues, because they do give us respite from the psychological strain we feel when we are on our own. It is in this sense that Donald Trump has become their “savior.” And when he goes, they will need to find another one. But we can trust that unless we intervene effectively, they will do so.
Over the next few blogs I will discuss the variables that have created this current collapsed state for millions of American Minds and I will discuss some of the steps we can take to reverse that process.