Barry’s Blog # 287: Why Are Americans So Freaking Crazy? Part Six of Nine

As long as we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. – Increase Mather

Don’t blame Wall Street; don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job, and you’re not rich, blame yourself. – Herman Caine

In a mad world, only the mad are sane. – Akira Kurosawa

God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature. Very funny religion! – D.T. Suzuki

So, the statistics that appear throughout this essay may well be inflated. Or maybe not. Robert Whitaker argues that the adverse effects of psychiatric medications are the primary cause of the epidemic. He reports that these drugs can cause moderate emotional and behavioral problems to become severe, chronic and disabling ones:

Once psychiatrists started putting ‘hyperactive’ children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms. Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers. A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants.

These children and teenagers are then put on heavier duty drugs, including drug cocktails, and often do not respond favorably to treatment and deteriorate. BabyPills1 And that, for Whitaker, is a major reason for the 35-fold increase between 1987 and 2007 of children classified as being disabled by mental disorders. He acknowledges that the psychiatric community is coming around to sharing his opinions, especially on the pseudo-science behind the “chemical imbalance” theories of mental illness. However,

Psychiatry, all along, knew that the evidence wasn’t really there to support the chemical imbalance notion…and yet psychiatry failed to inform the public of that crucial fact…Researchers haven’t identified a characteristic pathology for the major mental disorders; no specific genes for the disorders have been found; and there isn’t evidence that neatly separates one disorder from the next. The “disease model,” as a basis for making psychiatric diagnoses, has failed…the entire edifice that modern psychiatry is built upon is flawed, and unsupported by science…Even as the intellectual foundation for our drug-based paradigm of care is collapsing, starting with the diagnostics, our society’s use of these medications is increasing; the percentage of children and youth being medicated is increasing; and states are expanding their authority to forcibly treat people in outpatient settings with antipsychotics drugs…I think we have to appreciate this fact: any medical specialty has guild interests, meaning that it needs to protect the market value of its treatments…Diagnosis and the prescribing of drugs constitute the main function of psychiatrists today in our society.

Cui Bono? So clearly, the industry survives and replicates itself in each generation by over-diagnosing countless people, especially children, many of whom exhibit only slightly more extreme behavior than normal people, and then pushing drugs on them. It follows, then, that the statistics at the top of this essay are probably inflated, and that there aren’t as many mentally ill among us as they would indicate. Wrong.

Because very large numbers of those suffering from legitimate mental conditions never appear in the surveys. How can you diagnose a homeless person who won’t enter a shelter; or a “functioning, productive alcoholic”; or a sexual predator priest;


The “Pharma-Bro”

or a Big Pharma executive who jacks up the prices of critical drugs; or an openly racist member of Congress? Between 30% and 80% of the homeless receive little or no “treatment”, including 50% of those with severe psychiatric disorders,  meaning medication rather than psychotherapy.

Who is crazy? Trump responds to every mass shooting with the standard argument that the problem is not guns but the “mentally ill” people who perpetrate these massacres, which have added immeasurably (actually, very measurably) to the level of fear in society. Many on the left have taken his bait and risen to the defense of the mentally ill with statistics that refute his accusations.

They are right, but this is unfortunate, since their argument normalizes violence and implies that mass shooters are not crazy. This can only be true in a world where the DSM-5, for all its hundreds of categories, has not (yet) officially declared it so. Perhaps it hasn’t because if the actual shooters were nuts, then the dozens of others who publicly threaten to perpetrate shootings and the thousands of white nationalists who support them online must be nuts. And if those people are crazy, then the millions of right-wing and evangelical activists and climate-deniers from whom they arise must be as well. It would never stop – until we all agree that the culture, its politics, its economy, its educational institutions and its mythology are mad, and that a corrupt pharma/psychiatric industry is merely a symptom of that madness.

Beyond and below the manipulated numbers stands this base craziness. Phil Rockstroh suggests the impact of growing up in such a world on adolescents:

Inundate a teenager with the soul-defying criteria of the corporate/consumer state, with its overbearing, pre-careerist pressures, its paucity of communal eros, its demands, overt and implicit, to conform to a shallow, manic, nebulously defined yet oppressive societal order, and insist that those who cannot adapt, much less excel, are “losers” who are fated to become “basement dwellers” in their parents’ homes or, for those who lack the privilege, be cast into homelessness, then the minds of the young or old alike are apt to be inundated with feelings of angst and dread…Worse, if teenagers are culturally conditioned to believe said feelings and responses are exclusively experienced by weaklings, parasites, and losers then their suffering might fester to the point of emotional paralysis and suicidal inclinations.

Over twenty years ago, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, acknowledged a depression epidemic:

We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago…the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5…Now the average age is between 14 and 15.

Antidepressants are the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44 years. Even if we assume that many of these diagnoses are bogus (see above), that still leaves an awful lot of unhappy young people.

In Chapter Five of my book, I quote former teacher John Taylor Gatto as I distinguish between authentic tribal initiation (“education”: to lead out) and American schooling (“instruction”: to stuff in), the primary purpose of which is to create compliant consumers. Not wanting to veer too far off topic, I encourage you to read that chapter, or look at his website. But for our purposes, this is another crazy-making American institution. So we shouldn’t be surprised to learn, as Bruce Levine writes, that only 40% of high school students report being “engaged with school.” And, seen from this perspective, much teenage behavior that the psychiatric profession has pathologized and medicated really is rebellion against a dehumanizing society.

…those labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do worst in environments that are boring, repetitive, and externally controlled…(and) are indistinguishable from “normals” when they have chosen their learning activities and are interested in them. Thus, the standard classroom could not be more imperfectly designed to meet the learning needs of young people who are labeled with ADHD…there is a fundamental bias in mental health professionals for interpreting inattention and noncompliance as a mental disorder. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where all pay attention to much that is unstimulating. In this world, one routinely complies with the demands of authorities…When we have hope, energy and friends, we can choose to rebel against societal oppression with, for example, a wildcat strike or a back-to-the-land commune. But when we lack hope, energy and friends, we routinely rebel without consciousness of rebellion and in a manner in which we today commonly call mental illness.

But mostly, in talking about adolescents, we are expressing and enacting what I consider to be the most fundamental myth of Western culture (which I discuss in Chapter Six): the sacrifice of the children. It’s a world in which too many parents are too willing to allow too many profit-driven experts to diagnose, pathologize, medicate and institutionalize their children.

Centuries ago, American Puritans pointed to the “bad seeds” who, simply by their presence within the community, showed who was fated and who was not fated to join the heavenly choir – and who were the sources of pollution. Today, we use the terminology of “abnormality,” “development disorder,” “neurologically defective” or “brain chemistry disfunction.”

We can’t deny that large numbers of children do suffer from genetic and in-utero problems – one in forty (up from one in 68 just two years ago) are now on the Autism spectrum – and perhaps the effects of untested vaccines created and hawked by that same Big Pharma, or that electronic devices are harming them.

Clearly, however, madness predates capitalism, and the economics of corrupt institutions doesn’t explain all of it. Nor does Protestantism, which first demonized the mentally ill as “immoral” and institutionalized them in the 17th century. 

Enter Dionysus, who tells us that madness is a fundamental, archetypal aspect of the psyche. Plato spoke of the “divine madness” that comes as gifts from the gods: poetic madness was inspired by the Muses; Apollo and the Muses were the patron deities of prophetic madness; Aphrodite and Eros inspired erotic madness; and Dionysus was the patron of ritual madness. We recall Walter Otto: “A god who is mad! … There can be a god who is mad only if there is a mad world which reveals itself through him.” James Hillman, who saw pathology as existentially human, summarized the old thinking: “…insanity is following the wrong god.” And most religious traditions, especially Sufism and Buddhism, have long honored the carriers of “crazy wisdom.”

But we have to keep coming back to American innocence.

When our personal or national self-image has no shadow, we imagine that our motivations have the purity of white sugar on white bread, washed down with milk. We have dreamed up a world – the American Dream – in which we are so good, so generous, so caring, so pure, so willing to bring enlightenment to others, that no one – except for the incarnation of pure evil, Satan himself – or his dark, ethnic surrogates – could ever doubt us. And the fear? Doesn’t much of it spring not also from the media but also from our own subliminal guilt and our unwillingness to confront our grief? Is this not the stance of an inexperienced, uninitiated, naïve youth unconsciously daring the world to smack him with a wakeup call?

So when we really are attacked, the release of disillusioned energy results in our astonishingly violent extremes. Our lost innocence (We have done so much good! Why do they hate us so?) and denial of death justify the revenge fantasies that support or ignore reactionary and genocidal behavior or treat it as if it were a football game. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Certainly since 9/11/2001, and arguably since the beginning of World War Two – three to four generations – Americans have endured (or more often ignored) the fact that their government and their young men have been waging wars and covert interventions – and dying in them – almost continually. I really don’t think that we can imagine healing our internal epidemic of mass shootings (including police murders), or the rage that motivates the shooters, or the helplessness and lost dreams below that, without addressing these external realities. Few politicians are willing to do so. The only presidential candidate to try has been Tulsi Gabbard, and the media have slammed her for the effort.

What has our awareness of what we do, regardless of why we do it, done to our souls? Caitlin Johnstone comments:

The most significant and consequential aspect of establishment propaganda is the simple, everyday practice of manufacturing normality.  Every time something horrible happens without news reporters treating it like something horrible…Every time something unimportant happens that is treated as newsworthy, normality is being manufactured…In an even marginally sane world, the fact that a nation’s armed forces are engaged in daily military violence would be cause for shock and alarm…A hypothetical space alien observing our civilization for the first time would conclude that we are insane…It is absolutely bat shit crazy that we feel normal about the most powerful military force in the history of civilization running around the world invading and occupying and bombing and killing…

Dionysus asks us, what is madness in the only nation to have used atomic weapons, and following that war has bombed nearly fifty nations, whose people, every single time (with one exception, Serbia) were people of color? A nation that dropped seven million tons of bombs on Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia? A nation that utilized free-fire zones and defoliation and made the body count its primary metric to judge military progress? Phillip Slater asked at the time,

This transfer of killing from a means to an end in itself constitutes a practical definition of genocide…Do Americans hate life? Has there ever been a people who have destroyed so many living things?

Well, that was then. And now? Dionysus might wonder what we should make of a nation in which a third of the population favors a nuclear strike on North Korea even if it killed a million people.  Twenty-four hundred years ago, Euripides (in The Bacchae) instructed the Athenians that their failure to listen to the mad god, and their own normalization of warfare, would drive their own children mad. William Hawes, (“Growing Up Insane”) writes,

…we must at least question whether collectively, we the citizenry, are as susceptible to mass delusions as our psychopathic leaders are. Our society can be effectively generalized as forming what Paulo Freire calls a culture of silence, many of whom see no problems with exploiting and despoiling other countries, looting wealth, and killing millions; and many more that are simply afraid to speak out against the indignity of the U.S. empire, in fear of socio-cultural reprisals. This culture of silence, which we are taught at a young age, indoctrinates and effectively eliminates the ability of people to form critiques of our rotten political and economic systems. This is who Richard Nixon was really referring to, when he spoke of the “Silent Majority”: citizens too naïve, dumb, childlike, and afraid to confront the injustices inherent to our system…

The mention of Nixon (“When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal”) reminds us that in this demythologized world, every single one of our major institutions has been corrupted by capitalism, democrats-are-zeroing-in-on-top-trump-aide-stephen-miller-in-the-house-russia-probe and that we have to address all political, social and cultural issues by asking Cui Bono? Who profits?

We’ve established that the mental health industrial complex drugs millions unnecessarily and ineffectively. Looking, however, through the lens of American myth, we also discover that, in true Protestant fashion, it frames mental health problems as purely individual issues and conditions everyone to overlook structural issues such as racism and systemic violence. Eric Greene argues

…this reduction serves a specific political function…it keeps those who are oppressed inward looking and forecloses knowledge of the dominant class as they exert enough force to contribute to extensive suffering and mental illness in the oppressed…This specific kind of colonization of consciousness (i.e., ideology or false consciousness), by the mental health industrial complex contributes to…the current ‘culture of incapacity’ and elicits mantras of self-blame while exploiting humans as patients for the bottom-line dollar. In short, the definition and diagnosing of mental illness is political…The clinic and the therapies provided therein act as a tool of systemic oppression. Unless clinicians actively work against dominant racial inequalities and institutional forms of oppression, our tools work to perpetuate and exacerbate them.

Bad dreams constantly interrupt our 400-year sleep of denial. Waking exhausted, we reach for our devices. Denial and fear; fear and denial, all electronically mediated. In 1968 Muriel Rukheyser saw this:

I lived in the first century of world wars.

Most mornings I would be more or less insane,

The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,

The news would pour out of various devices

Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.

I would call my friends on other devices;

They would be more or less mad for similar reasons…

– “Poem”

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Barry’s Blog # 286: Why Are Americans So Freaking Crazy? Part Five of Nine

A trait no other nation seems to possess in quite the same degree that we do—namely, a feeling of almost childish injury and resentment unless the world as a whole recognizes how innocent we are of anything but the most generous and harmless intentions. – Eleanor Roosevelt

…that omnipresent American narcotic, optimism, the unending flow of which poured through the American mind continuously, whitewashing the graffiti of despair, rage, hatred, and nihilism scrawled there nightly by the black hoodlums of the unconscious. – Viet Than Nguyen, “The Sympathizer”

The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem. – bell hooks

So, Dionysus insists on asking, who defines sanity? And who profits from these definitions? For decades, Benjamin Rush’s definition prevailed: “…an aptitude to judge of things like other men, and regular habits, etc.” Freud added the abilities to love and work.

Thomas Szasz, however, insisted that most mental illness is composed only of behaviors that psychiatrists (overwhelmingly white, middle-class men) disapprove of. In his libertarian view, the “therapeutic state” uses psychiatric justifications to strip individuals of their rights. It creates two classes: those who are stigmatized as mentally ill and subject to coercive intervention, and the majority, whose conventional behavior indicates their innocence. “Only in psychiatry are there ‘patients’ who don’t want to be patients,” he says. No one else, neither priest nor judge, has the psychiatrist’s power to have someone committed, even if he came of his own free will. “If you’re in a building that you can’t get out of, that’s not a hospital; it’s a prison.”

Behaviors such as masturbation and homosexuality no longer fit, but others are continually added. But when psychotherapy (not to mention advertising) merely attempts to recover or maintain a sense of “productive normalcy,” that condition which is itself one of the causes of our unhappiness, it becomes yet another effort to recover lost innocence, as well as a condemnation of an archetypal experience ruled by Dionysus. Banishing him, we welcome ourselves to the madhouse, even if we don’t notice where we are.

So we are forced to confront yet another paradox: on the one hand, ours is an utterly mad culture, and vast numbers of Americans suffer from a deep sickness of the soul. On the other hand, a profoundly corrupt and extremely profitable, mostly private pharmaceutical-mental health-prison-industrial complex serves our elite classes by diagnosing millions as biologically and chemically imperfect, drugging them, institutionalizing them and identifying them as scapegoats for us all to pity and then forget about — until the next mass shooting. Indeed, as Ethan Watters writes, this medical model is spreading to most other nations.

We are the net products of a process that has taken some two hundred generations to unfold, reaching its peak with our current political and corporate leaders, most of whom are sociopaths or outright psychopaths, men who are driven to enact the shadow aspects of our national mythology for the rest of us.

Every American — at least every white American — suffers from suppressed grief, which returns as anxiety, addiction, narcissism and depression. The mad culture, led by madmen, regularly requires scapegoats whom we sacrifice to restore our innocence. Three million Viet Nam War veterans carry the burden of delayed stress for us all. Movies that portray them as ticking time bombs allow Middle America to consider memory’s immense power without confronting its universal application. But, says Dionysus, we are all ticking…They and all depressed people carry the shadow of our manic celebration of progress, extraversion, cheerfulness and grandiosity.

The more politicians and celebrities emphasize these American characteristics, the more depression will spread. We who can channel the madness into consumerism feel welcomed into the community of the elect, while those who cannot do so prove our righteous standing – and our innocence.

We’ve never been innocent, or “normal.” Three thousand years ago, the Greeks conjured up the figure of Dionysus to express their understanding that a large region of the psyche and of the world is so irrational, so driven by dark emotions that, by nature, it threatens to destroy the walls of the ego, all the more so because it is generally so repressed by the spirits of consciousness. They knew very well the costs of not honoring this god. They knew, as the classicist Walter Otto wrote, “A mad god exists only if there is a mad world which reveals itself through him.”

From this perspective, a major function of the myth of innocence is to suppress our grief and allow us to continue on as normal neurotics and normal consumers. Many men are well aware of this condition. Over my thirty years of participating in and leading mythopoetic men’s retreats, one of the most common statements I’ve heard is: I haven’t cried in thirty years, and I won’t allow myself to start. If I did, I know that it would never stop.

This is the indigenous soul leaking out, speaking in a language that normal ego consciousness cannot perceive, acknowledging that the sacred work of going down into grief requires a strong container of ritual and community and cannot be done alone. It acknowledges that part of the grief just below the surface of heroic, American male identity is the awareness that those containers have not existed for a very long time. The inability to grieve – or the perceived lack of permission to grieve – makes us crazy.

This is the baseline of stress and anxiety that most Americans endured right after the massive pains of World War Two and before that, the Depression. Since then, new factors have appeared. GettyImages-530193749 The awkward combination of fear, denial and electronic stimulation has ruled our consciousness during the 70 years of television, which was born amid both McCarthyism and the new consumerism. Lucille Ball diverted us while Richard Nixon admitted, “People react to fear, not love.” I have argued, however, that the roots of this madness go back to the original confrontation of Puritans and Indians. Ever since, we have held the contradictory notions of chosen people and eternal vigilance.

In America, curiously, the plural phrase “chosen people” also evokes the radical individualist, the lone hero who chooses his own destiny and then goes out and achieves it. And he embodies one of our most fundamental values: social mobility, or the opportunity to get ahead. The likelihood of advancing in social class has decreased significantly since the 1980s. But 56% of those blue-collar men who correctly perceived G.W. Bush’s 2003 tax cuts as favoring the rich still supported them, apparently assuming (against all evidence) that they would someday be admitted to that exalted realm. Decades before, John Steinbeck wrote: “I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.”

One story we tell ourselves about ourselves is that purpose can be divorced from community. The desire to be seen as special contributes to the quest for expensive symbols – a quest that is ultimately futile, wrote Phillip Slater, “…since it is individualism itself that produces uniformity.” Paradoxically, our American obsession with individualism produces persons who “cannot recognize the nature of their distress.” the-comfort-in-conformity-3-1600x900 This results in a desire to relinquish responsibility for control and decision-making to the images provided by the media. Here lies a great paradox of American life: our emphasis on the needs of the individual has contributed toward cultural and political conformism.

But conformism and rebellious individualism are not our only choices. For tribal people, true community exists in order to identify and nurture the individuality of every one of its members, who are, in turn, necessary for the community to thrive and reimagine its values. Malidoma Somé writes that in West Africa, “Individuality is synonymous with uniqueness. This means that a person and his or her unique gifts are irreplaceable… A healthy community not only supports diversity, it requires diversity.”

The myth of individualism, of the self-made man is as deeply engrained as our wild, naïve optimism; in 2000, 19% believed they would “soon” be in the top one percent income bracket, and another 19% thought they already were. Two-thirds of us expect to have to pay the estate tax one day (only two percent will). Here is where the older myth intersects with New Age thinking, which preaches that right thinking will produce desired results. However, as I wrote above, most of us still accept the religiously-based corollary of those statements, that poverty is our own fault.

We expect, unlike any people in history, to successfully pursue happiness. Despite the secular terminology, it’s an essentially Protestant perspective, rooted in apocalyptic, end-times thinking. Yet our expectations of worldly happiness continually break up against that same Puritan heritage. Yes, we learned from Jerry Falwell, we should equate poverty with low moral status, and wealth does indicate our status among the elect. It does, doesn’t it? Please tell me it’s true. As I write in Chapter Seven,

Americans, like no people before them, strive for self-improvement. But within the word “improve” lies the anxiety of those who can never know if they’ve attained the otherworldly goal. Thus we must continually “prove” our status in this one.

Our characteristic American expectation of positive emotions and life-experiences makes feelings of sadness and despair more pathological in this culture than elsewhere. Christina Kotchemidova writes, “Since ‘cheerfulness’ and ‘depression’ are bound by opposition, the more one is normalized, the more negative the other will appear.”

When, in the great majority of cases, one realizes that his sacred assumptions of social mobility are unrealistic, the hero may encounter his shadow opposite – the victim – within himself, and we become what we really are (except for the thirteen years of Nazi Germany), the most violent people in history.

American crime is a natural by-product of our values, an alternative means of social mobility in a society where “anything goes” in the pursuit of success. “America,” says mythologist Glen Slater, “has little imagination for loss and failure. It only knows how to move forward.” When we can only imagine relentless progress and that movement is blocked — and communal grief is not an option — we may see no alternative but to go ballistic. Then guns become the purest expression of controlling one’s fate. As such, they are “the dark epitome of the self-made way of life.” 

We as a people may well dream bigger dreams than other peoples. With great possibilities, however, come great risks. Gaps between aspiration and reality – the lost dream – are also far higher here than anywhere else. Cultural historian Greil Marcus writes,

To be an American is to feel the promise as a birthright, and to feel alone and haunted when the promise fails. No failure in America, whether of love or money, is ever simple; it is always a kind of betrayal.

When we don’t meet our expectations of success, when that gap gets too wide, violence often becomes the only option, the expression of a fantasy of ultimate individualism and control. In this sense, the Mafia is more American then Sicilian, and the lone, mass killer (almost all of whom have been white, middle class men with no criminal background) is an expression, writes Slater, of social mobility gone bad.

Myths are composed of unquestioned narratives, stories that we so consistently assume to be true that it never occurs to us to question them. But when we take an outsider’s perspective, we may quickly realize that one of these assumptions, the myth of the free market, is a prescription for craziness. Tweedy reminds us,

The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the…consequences it might cause to others. By its own legal definition, therefore, the corporation is ‘a pathological institution’…Capitalism is, it seems, rooted in a fundamentally flawed, naïve…model of who we are – it tries to make us think that we’re isolated, autonomous, disengaged, competitive, decontextualized – an ultimately rather ruthless and dissociated entity. The harm that this view of the self has done to us, and our children, is incalculable.

This notion of “ruthless and dissociated” is so much an unquestioned aspect of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that it slides very easily into the common view of Trump and his supporters: gratuitous cruelty, or cruelty perpetrated simply because one has been encouraged to do so without any consequences. To me, this explains both the government’s astonishingly brutal immigration policies and the increase in mass shootings since his election. And, I must add, the degree to which we are still shocked by these policies is a measure of our own innocence, because Trump is us.

It may also explain why the opioid epidemic has hit Trump country most strongly. It turns out that taking antidepressants impairs empathy, while the experience of actual depression itself does not.

For two hundred years this American cycle of expectation and disillusionment has been playing out within the capitalistic narrative. Pankaj Mishra writes:

The ideals of modern democracy – the equality of social conditions and individual empowerment – have never been more popular. But they have become more and more difficult, if not impossible, to actually realize in the grotesquely unequal societies created by our brand of globalized capitalism.

As the myth of innocence collapses, more and more of us can perceive gashes in its fabric. Now there is a nearly universal consensus (obvious to all but the politicians and media hacks) that the capitalist perspective has corrupted every institution in society. We see this most especially in the pharmaceutical industry, with its gigantic lobbying budget. This has resulted (Cui bono?) in the medicalization of psychiatry and the over-diagnosing of mental disorders. I don’t want to veer too far off topic here, so I’ll just list some interesting links:

Are Psychiatrists Inventing Mental Illnesses to Feed Americans More Pills?

Majority of Youth Prescribed Antipsychotics Have No Psychiatric Diagnosis

Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption 

Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease 

30 years after Prozac arrived, we still buy the lie that chemical imbalances cause depression

There Is No Definition of a Mental Disorder

How Big Pharma got Americans hooked on anti-psychotic drugs 

The “Institutional Corruption” of Psychiatry: A Conversation With Authors of “Psychiatry Under the Influence”

Are America’s High Rates of Mental Illness Actually Based on Sham Science? 

Renowned Harvard Psychologist Says ADHD is Largely a Fraud 

How Drug Companies Helped Shape A Shifting, Biological View Of Mental Illness 

Why Psychiatry Holds Enormous Power in Society Despite Losing Scientific Credibility 

The History and Tyranny of the DSM

Are Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America? 

Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways – But Can It Change? 

And in pathologizing much natural human behavior, it has given a “scientific” reinforcement to our characteristic American refusal to grieve. I argue throughout my book, especially in Chapter Twelve, that our inability to confront our national shadows of genocide and slavery and our willing toleration of a brutal foreign policy are fundamentals aspect of American innocence. Few people can recover from trauma in an atmosphere that labels an appropriately lengthy mourning process as “major depressive disorder,” as Peter Kinderman writes:

Standard psychiatric diagnoses are notoriously invalid – they do not correspond to meaningful clusters of symptoms in the real world…Diagnoses fail to predict the effectiveness of particular treatments and they do not map neatly onto biological processes…it also sets the scene for the misuse and overuse of medical interventions such as anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs…diagnosis and the language of biological illness obscure the causal role of factors such as abuse, poverty and social deprivation. The result is often further stigma, discrimination and social exclusion.

So, the statistics that appear throughout this essay may well be inflated. Or maybe not.

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Barry’s Blog # 285: Why Are Americans So Freaking Crazy? Part Four of Nine

Every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief. We have never seen a totally sane human being. – Robert Anton Wilson

Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq (1996): We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it? Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.

White children, in the main, and whether they are rich or poor, grow up with a grasp of reality so feeble that they can very accurately be described as deluded. – James Baldwin

I didn’t just screw Ho Chi Minh. I cut his pecker off. – Lyndon Johnson

 The U.S. military coined the phrase “Shock and Awe” in the late 1990s and applied it to the invasion of Iraq a few years later. It accurately describes the American psyche. The “shock” side is composed of fear-mongering and electronic stimulation. This alone is more than enough to maintain our constant state of anxiety. But our optimistic character simultaneously pulls us in the opposite direction, and together they make us crazy in our uniquely American way.

The “awe” side, our third factor, is represented by our old tradition of advertisers, real estate salesmen, stock brokers, hucksters, con-men and “public relations” specialists, as well as clergymen and politicians, who collude to reinforce our denial. Characteristic themes include: the market is always rising, “doom-and-gloomers” overrate our problems; global warming is a lie; unemployment is down; racism is history; history itself is a feel-good story of constant progress; the Iraqis and Afghans (and soon, the Iranians, Syrians and Venezuelans) welcome us – all translatable into “the system is working.” An essential part of this message is visual images: idealized pictures of the America that Trump promises to make great (and white) again. 718b1038be9c6031750af1ec9a1dfca3 You know what I’m talking about: pristine coastlines, carefree drivers on uncrowded country roads, slim athletes and dancers, the family dinner, Sunday church picnics, reunions at Grandma’s house and small-town July Fourth celebrations.

The speed and frivolity of the media charms us all and conveys our values primarily through two film and TV styles. In one – action and disaster films – the redemption hero intercedes to save the community from evil, traditionally in the last reel or just before the final commercial break. Since 1990, when Islam replaced communism as the external Other, a new generation has grown up watching literally dozens of movies and TV shows depicting this threat, but with a series of (usually white) American heroes eliminating the threat. Zero Dark Thirty and American Sniper are merely the more well-produced and honored of this genre.

Disaster films work both sides of the fear/denial dichotomy by heightening anxiety (and perhaps anticipation) of apocalyptic punishment and then cleanly resolving the threat through the intercession of selfless heroes. It’s a world of crimson red, dark brown and black, with very little grey area (or grey matter). Guy stuff.

The other mode is the ubiquitous, cloying, Disney-style alice-alice-in-wonderland-cute-disney-ilustration-tea-favim-com-72133 cartoons and children’s programming, in which, writes Todd Gitlin, “…characters are incarnations of an innocence that can never be dispelled,” where everyone talks out their problems, resolves them, hugs and remains friends. It’s a pastel world of pinks and lavender that still portrays most positive characters as white and heterosexual. Gal stuff.

TV news (FOX News aside) offers a parallel experience. Reassuringly calm, unemotional, authoritative newscasters place even bad news in the wider context of progress: It’s all good. Michael Ventura, however, measures how deeply “…people know that ‘it’ is not all right…by how much money they are willing to pay to be ceaselessly told it is.” Think positive or don’t watch at all.

thActually, even the calm Walter Cronkite father figures are mostly long gone. What we have had instead for many years are actors such as Matt Lauer  who portray journalists or debate moderators, mixing in cornball humor and soft-core porn megyn-kelly so things don’t get too boring. With Fox news “commentators” such as these, avyrz6u no wonder the Trumpistas get their opinions there. Again, Fox is only the most extreme, as this list of the “25 Most Gorgeous News Anchors” attests. MSNBC balances it on the “left,” the two of them defining the narrowly acceptable range of political discourse for the diminishing numbers of Americans who consume news outside of social media.

Indeed, it has been clear since well before 9-11 that both politics (best seen in our embarrassingly silly Presidential debates) and news journalism have been so “dumbed-down” that we now perceive them as merely alternative forms of entertainment. This is laughable, as it was surely meant to be. But it also means that for many of us “reality” simply isn’t real any more, that it’s indistinguishable from anything else that appears on the screen – or that it’s all good.

Thus, in the midst of massive denial about a collapsing environment and the real economic and spiritual sources of terrorism, Americans fret about issues that the media choose to present. The most common source of our anxiety becomes either dark-skinned others or, in the case of mass killings, the disturbed individual, the bad seed, rather than systemic inequities and corruption. In this fantasy, immigrants and home-grown thugs, rather than discriminatory housing patterns and long-term unemployment, cause domestic violence. And Islamic fundamentalism, rather than American military intervention, causes most international violence.

Periodically, episodes of real terror evoke the old frontier paranoia (at the risk of being slimed as a conspiracy theorist, I insist that we have mountains of evidence that many of these events have been contrived).Then, as Ben Franklin lamented long ago, we quickly exchange our freedoms for a dubious sense of security.

The gated community has become yet another potent symbol. gated-community Four centuries after defining themselves in contrast to the demonic forces of the wilderness, whites are once more circling the wagons. Forty percent of new California homes are in gated communities. Nationally, 8 million people live in them. Madness at the gates: as we enclose ourselves in racially homogeneous, suburban ghettoes or high-security high-rises, we simultaneously imprison more people than any nation in history and warehouse millions of others in nursing homes. Out of sight; out of mind.

Here we are, at the core of who we are: the condition of simultaneous denial and anxiety leads to paradoxical connections. For years polls have commonly reflected our belief that things were better in the old days, that things are going downhill – even if our personal outlook is rosy. But it’s more serious than that. Joy DeGruy’s 2005 book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing described the multi-generational trauma experienced by African Americans. We can easily understand how the victims of over three centuries of violence and discrimination can pass their suffering on to their children. In the simplest of terms, racism causes PTSD, and it lives on its victims. 

Traumatic events can happen to anyone, not just minorities. The government estimates that 10% of women and 4% of men will have PTSD at some point in their lives, about 8 million adults during a given year. That number is ridiculously low, given 36 million African-Americans, seven million Native Americans, 60 million Latino-Americans, several million LBGT people, the massive opioid epidemic and a thousand suicides per week, including 140 veterans and six active-duty service members. Given also, that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.

Given also, that over half of the population doesn’t have enough money to cover a $1,000 emergency.  Given also, that, officially, 20% of children live in poverty, some 16 million. That number, again, is ridiculously low, since that the federal poverty threshold for a family of three (one adult + two kids under age 17) is about $22,000. So a family reporting one dollar more than that is not considered impoverished by the government. Rod Tweedy writes:

Capitalism is as much an inequality-generating system as it is a mental illness producing system. As a Royal College of Psychiatrists report noted: ‘Inequality is a major determinant of mental illness: the greater the level of inequality, the worse the health outcomes. Children from the poorest households have a three-fold greater risk of mental ill health than children from the richest households. Mental illness is consistently associated with deprivation, low income, unemployment, poor education, poorer physical health and increased health-risk behavior.

Those with steady employment hardly escape. Jeffrey Pfeffer, in Dying for a Paycheck,  reports that 61 % of employees say that workplace stress had made them ill, with 7% requiring hospitalization. The stress of overwork, he writes, may cause 120,000 deaths annually in the United States.

Even those who see through the fear mongering and perceive neither immigrants nor “the Russians” as threats are subject to quite legitimate fear about the future. Sixty-two percent of us are “somewhat worried” about climate change and 23% are “very worried.” Counselors report seeing patients with anxiety, depression or a sense of helplessness. Although it is not an official clinical diagnosis (yet), terms for the phenomenon are already in use: “climate distress,” “climate grief,” “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety,” and Hollywood has responded with films and series such as The Dead Don’t Die, First Reformed, and Euphoria. 

So we should acknowledge that trauma – caused by war, generational racism, underemployment, overwork, homophobia, poverty and realistic thinking, and expressed in suicide, mass violence, addiction and physical and mental illness – certainly affects many tens of millions of Americans. Dionysus might ask, who can separate legitimate stress from illegitimate stress? How long does a person or group suffer from stress before it becomes anxiety, before anxiety (real or not) becomes mental illness, or before they pass it on to their children?

But I am suggesting that the perpetrators of violence, as well as those (the majority) who have been indirectly privileged by that system have also been so dehumanized over those same centuries that most Americans have experienced some version of this epigenetic condition – transgenerational trauma –  their entire lives. Psychologist Bryant Welch comments on the implications:

80% of the American public has experienced some form of significant traumatic experience, which we can reasonably anticipate will disrupt our effective psychological functioning…All the things that once supported the mind’s ability to construct its reality have been under assault, and the price we’re paying is terrible. People are becoming…so shaky in their trust in their own reality that when we see someone with a different reality, it’s too threatening to us and so we hate them…We all think of paranoia as irrational suspicion…but it’s a lot more. Paranoia takes place right at the boundary between what’s inside our mind and what is outside our mind, and that’s a pretty thin membrane and we can easily get confused on it.

Crazy or content, perpetrators, victims or detached observers, and despite our myths of equal opportunity, we all share the capitalist nightmare: one of the most unequal societies in history. And studies clearly show that, compared to more equal ones like Japan, we all suffer for it, writes Robert R. Raymond:

…in more unequal American states or European countries…only 15 or 20 percent of the population feel they can trust others. But in the more equal ones, it rises to 60 or 65 percent…The relationship between inequality and depression has been well documented… people in less equal states experienced higher rates of depression…

If we add the legacy of racism to the mix:

…we see higher rates of physical illness and chronic diseases like hypertension in Black Americans…Black adults are up to two times more likely to develop high blood pressure by age 55 than white adults.

Perhaps much of this is speculation; but tell me, reader, can you honestly say that modern life – and well before Trump – has not traumatized you? Mad-as-hell Or if I could pose the question as Dionysus himself, or news anchor Howard Beale in the 1975 film Network: Why aren’t we all running through the streets screaming, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”?

Mythologically speaking, the gods are returning from exile. In historical terms, many Americans experience the traumas of racism, poverty, childhood abuse, misogyny or delayed stress. But we all suffer from the long-term, collective emotional effects of massive and rapid historical shifts: from paganism to monotheism, from rural to urban lives, from religious conformism and predictability to secular consumerism and nationalism.

We all suffer from dissociation, from the belief that we are separate beings, that maturity entails escaping the demands of the community, that we can and should detach our consciousness and our feelings from the terrible crimes of our government and the homeless misery that surround us. What does it mean to be reminded that babies are being torn from their parents or that all the large fish in the Pacific are contaminated from Fukushima – and then simply change the channel? How do our bodies interpret such bizarre behavior?

We all came into the world with another expectation, to exist within a container that provides us with divine figures – the gods and goddesses of mythology – who will convey images of our human potential. This is why, over thousands of years, most human societies evolved the mythology (granted, under patriarchy) of Kingship, and why, even now, in a democratic myth, we remain fascinated with its toxic mimic, the British Royal Family. We need images of nobility (related etymologically to knowledge) as well as human elders.

So what does it do to our indigenous souls to live our entire lives listening to celebrities and elected leaders – many of whom really are psychopaths – who lie to us continually, and, despite our rationalizations, to know very well at some level that they are lying? Or for the 35% of us who know but don’t care? What kind of insult to our archetypal expectations of being presented with the best of who we might be is this? Or to be told that our own perceptions are wrong (see below)?

Again, Trump is only the latest and grossest of examples. Noam Chomsky has long pointed out, without hyperbole, that “…if the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.” Can anyone deny that our political process has been so degraded, for so many decades, that no one could possibly be vetted to the level of serious presidential consideration who is not already crazed by the drive for power? One study proposes that “Nearly half of American presidents from 1789 to 1974 — and this includes two of the four U.S. leaders featured on the iconic Mount Rushmore — met the criteria for a psychiatric disorder.”

We recall that apocalypse means “to lift the veil.” Facing the truth is a grand opportunity to be dis-illusioned. To begin to extricate ourselves from this sticky, mythic mess, we have to acknowledge that this culture of death really does raise the very worst of us, those who embody the most extreme expressions of toxic masculinity, to the highest levels of praise and influence. When we hear of Trump’s latest outrage – or if we were to objectively consider the policies of his recent predecessors  – any of them – we need to get past both the dark humor and the denials and accept that they are us. And for ourselves as Americans, the veil to be lifted – the clearer view of reality – is always, always about our perpetual attempts to remain innocent.

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Barry’s Blog # 284: Why Are Americans So Freaking Crazy? Part Three of Nine

We are the United States of Amnesia, which is encouraged by a media that has no desire to tell us the truth about anything, serving their corporate masters who have other plans to dominate us. – Gore Vidal

We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the U.S. public believes is false – William J. Casey

 If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit…‘We won the war on terror and everything’s great,’ because…your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive. – Former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes 

 We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term. – Lindsey Graham

All this hysteria began long before the advent of the internet or Fox News, on the major networks, and it highlighted an old pattern in American myth and politics. To a very great extent, this has always characterized democracy in America: voting against welfare-coddlers, bootstep liberals, east-coast intellectuals, “feminazis,” miscegenation, polluters of racial purity and (let’s get real) “nigger-lovers.” And for hyper-masculine, authoritarian, reactionary, Indian-hating, pseudo-Christian, immigrant-bashing, reality-denying demagogues. Trump is only the latest in a long line stretching back centuries. Indeed, as Democrats continually marvel, large numbers of us regularly vote against our own (narrowly-defined economic) best interests, and in favor of the emotional satisfactions provided by those who promise to marginalize, demonize and/or sacrifice The Other.

The man who claims to be loved because he says “exactly what he means” – says exactly what the entire Republican Party has been saying for 40 years, but sugar-coated with euphemisms – and before that, much of the Democratic Party. Be afraid, be very afraid. They are coming for your hard-earned taxes, your safe neighborhoods – and your daughters.

Getting together with people who think as we do to talk about our worries may not help:

(This) is what social psychologists call the “law of group polarization,” which states that if like-minded people are concerned about an issue, their views will become more extreme after discussing it together.

I recommend Strauss’s article as an excellent explanation of what drives many of Trump supporters to ignore his obvious deficiencies in favor of his “strong man” (read: fascist) approach to dealing with the nation’s current Others: Muslims, Mexicans, feminists and Black activists.

But ultimately Strauss lacks the broader perspective that we really need to understand the whole picture. Given, the fast pace of internet-based media and its impact on our emotional lives is something relatively new. But fear of the Other has always driven Americans to circle the wagons. unnamed And not just Americans: the origins of World War Two in Germany remind us that propaganda has always rested on creating anxiety about appropriate scapegoats. As Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.”

So far, we are in the realm of universal explanations. But what Strauss misses, and what I’m more interested in, is what makes Americans so exceptional in this regard. In other words, what makes us so freaking crazy? He has only part of the picture. And for the rest, I refer to an earlier blog  series of mine, Shock and Awe: Re-invigorating the Myth of American Innocence.

Re-invigorating our myth occurs in three major ways, and Strauss gets two of them. The first is obvious: the constant fear-mongering of the media and the political class – both major parties – that we can trace all the way back through American history. In fact, it is so much a part of our history as we learn it that it is nearly indistinguishable from our mythology. It is the primary story we tell ourselves about ourselves: our fear of the Other that is solved only with the intercession by some hero figure – with Biblical violence – so that we can get on with the business of pursuing happiness, making money and congratulating ourselves on our self-made, good fortune.

As such, this primary story is quite literally how we define our American identity. We periodically renew that identity by experiencing the fear that the Other will somehow erase it – and then encouraging our warrior classes to sacrifice themselves so as to prevent disaster. And it shouldn’t require a degree in psychology to understand the addictive nature of this experience, which, like any drug, only satisfies us briefly, until we need it again. This is the “shock” side of our “shock and awe” American experience.

Strauss gets the second factor as well, the pace of modern life and the instant nature of electronic news that reinforces our sense that bad things are happening constantly, regardless of our political leanings. I would add (in Chapter Eight):

…the mania produced by our technologically enhanced environment. In most large, indoor public spaces (stores, shopping malls and sports arenas) we have gotten used to enduring the unrelenting onslaught of loud music, blinking lights and high-definition visual images. This is most certainly not accidental. Take restaurant design for example: open kitchens, hard floors and high walls that reflect and increase sound, forcing patrons to shout just to be heard (thereby increasing the noise)…In many places, especially those catering to adolescents, Seneca-Niagara-Casino-39-Canti-e1528996815284 the atmosphere approaches that of gambling casinos, which are deliberately designed to create “altered states” of consciousness. The object is to heighten anxiety and encourage the sense that it can be reduced through consumerism. However, because the anxiety never fully dissipates, we continually acclimate to greater levels of it. Could we find a better clinical definition of addiction?

But what really makes us exceptional – exceptionally crazy – is a third factor that combines with the first two as it has done with no other people in world history. And I must stress again and again that I’m not describing Trump supporters only. Indeed, each time liberals identify them or him as loony – or “the Russians” as the sole source of his election and their discomfort – they reinforce their own sense of innocence. I’m talking about Americans, at least white Americans.

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Barry’s Blog # 283: Why Are Americans So Freaking Crazy? Part Two of Nine

In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope. – Peter Zarlenga

It is our job to make women unhappy with what they have. – B. E. Puckett, Allied Stores Corp.

…the debasement of the human mind caused by a constant flow of fraudulent advertising is no trivial thing. There is more than one way to conquer a country. – Raymond Chandler

Granted, the mental health figures I listed in Part One are inevitably somewhat subjective, and much of them are driven (see below) by a profoundly corrupt pharmaceutical industry, or “Mental Health Industrial Complex.”  And, despite right-wing attempts to distract us from the necessary gun control conversation, most of the mentally ill are not violent. But it’s pretty clear: we’re unhappy, we’re angry, and, as these figures indicate, we’re lonely: 

– Americans work nine weeks longer per year than Europeans.

– Thirty million Americans live alone. 

– In 2004, 25% of Americans said that they had zero confidants in their lives, and over 20% of millennials claim to have no friends at all.

Those are some of the numbers. But we mythologists have a responsibility to look beyond them, to the great mythic narratives that produce them. Perhaps the most important of them underlies both our craziness and our anger: fear, or more precisely, anxiety.

On its surface, the myth of American Innocence sings of a people who are the children of Manifest Destiny – divinely inspired to spread freedom and opportunity across the world. As such, we have always celebrated ourselves for our optimism, our practical, positive, “can-do” approach, our willingness to take risks and our sunny dispositions as we pursue happiness and model our success for all others. The Blues Brothers spoke for all of us: We’re on a mission from God. That’s our story, and despite mounting evidence to the contrary over the past forty years, we’re sticking to it. We do this because we are increasingly desperate to ignore its shadow side: how we have always defined ourselves in terms of the Other; more specifically, fear of the Other.

Fear of what I have called the black “Inner Other” has driven our racism for three hundred years. Jq6DCzI7uEyAhJsRclaGIg The Native American was the originally red “Outer Other” who transformed into the red communist and whose most recent incarnation is the Islamic terrorist of our imaginations. Our hatred of immigrants expresses the fear that the Outer Other will cross the boundaries of the self, become the Inner Other, and obliterate that identity which we have struggled so hard to maintain. In a mythology and a politics that places so much emphasis on such an unstable sense of identity, the notion that we ourselves, at the core, are other (what Dionysus tells us), or that there is nothing at that core (as Buddhism tells us) is a threat and a recipe for breakdown. Is it any wonder that we are so obsessed with “walls”?

This most certainly did not begin after Trump or even after 9-11. As I describe the national emotions in those days in Chapter 8 of my book:

Hadn’t Americans feared Indian attacks for three centuries? Hadn’t they been terrorized for seventy years by red hordes from the east? Hadn’t every President since Truman managed a war economy that perpetuated itself on fear of the Other? Hadn’t politicians played the “race card” for two centuries? Hadn’t gun sales continued to rise even as crime rates had plummeted? Weren’t Americans already armed to the teeth?…Had they forgotten the missile gap, the domino theory, the window of vulnerability and the Evil Empire? Hadn’t AIDS ended the sexual revolution? Hadn’t they been stuffing themselves with anti-depressants, hormone replacements and potency drugs?  Hadn’t fear of losing property, status, security, virility, youth, freedom – and innocence – always been at the core of the American experience? Hadn’t we bounced between denial and terror for our entire history?

Writing in August of 2019, I recall events of a hundred years ago. It’s been an entire century of fear since the U.S. and other Allied powers intervened – invaded – in the Russian Civil War; since the “Red Scare,” when the government arrested 3,000 suspected communists and deported hundreds; since “Red Summer,” when white mobs attacked blacks in over thirty separate race riots; since the Spanish Flu pandemic killed 50-100 million people, including over half a million Americans.

This is who we are and have been: swaying for generations between the two extremes of childish, privileged optimism and abject terror. Have a nice day! And keep moving…

But even in the best of times our baseline condition is of being sold by media to their advertisers, who in turn target us. Unless we are in the woods with no cell phone reception and no ear buds, this experience pours into our psyches all day long, and it also offers two conflicting messages. The first is the creation of demand. Freud argued that culture obtains much of its mental energy “by subtracting it from sexuality” and making potential consumers feel deprived. Artificial scarcity of gratification assures surplus energy to drive the fevers of production and conquest. To generate this scarcity, it attaches sexual interest to inaccessible, nonexistent, or irrelevant objects, wrote Phillip Slater in The Pursuit of Loneliness. And by “…making his most plentiful resource scarce, (man) managed…to make most of his scarce ones plentiful.”

Kali Holloway explains the second type of message:

There’s an art to convincing an increasingly ad-weary and debt-saddled American public that it should spend money on products it neither needs nor can afford, and as it turns out, that art is mostly built on fear…Studies confirm that the “interest [in] and persuasiveness of” ads is increased by fear, which explains why “fear appeals are one of the most frequently used motivators” for getting people to respond to marketing of every sort. From snake oil salesmen to digital marketers, advertisers have long preyed on our insecurities to sell us products that don’t so much solve our problems as they do allay our darkest fears…Humiliation, science now tells us, is a soul-crushing feeling we’d do anything to avoid. With so many subconscious fears plaguing us, it’s unsurprising that studies find people “better remember and more frequently recall ads that portray fear than they do warm or upbeat ads or ads with no emotional content.” We are the products of a culture that teaches us to fear an endless list of things that advertisers can, and absolutely do, use against us. The oft-repeated phrase that sex sells turns out to be wrong…Sex just gets your attention. Fear actually moves units.

Indeed, as early as the 1920s, the advertising industry created its own poetic terminology – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) – to influence perception by disseminating negative, dubious or false information that will constellate our fears.

Is this just about selling products? Hardly, when we consider that most liberal politicians are law school graduates, while large numbers of Republicans attended business schools, where all the latest brain science and motivation research is taught. Democrats, stuck apparently with Enlightenment ideals of rationality and self-interest, continue to attempt to appeal to our heads with talk of our “best interests,” while Republicans, well-versed in American mythology, aim for the gut.

Sociologist Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear,  observes, “Most Americans are living in the safest place at the safest time in human history.” Crime is down, the air is cleaner and the odds of being injured in a terrorist attack are absurdly low. So why, asks Neil Strauss, are so many of us so worried all the time? he summarizes the brain research and social science that explains the state of constant anxiety that so many privileged, white, middle-class Americans experience:

What we’re talking about is anxiety, not fear…Where fear is a response to a present threat, anxiety is a more complex and highly manipulable response to something one anticipates might be a threat in the future…It is a worry about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen.

But there’s a reason why anxiety gets converted into actual fear. Blame the media of course, especially Fox News and its ilk, which constantly reinforce this pattern that trumps our rational thought processes.

…political conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism and conservative shift were generally associated with the following: chronically elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, desire for revenge and militarism, cynicism and decreased use of humor…(and) the number-one way in which Americans respond to their anxieties: voting.

And it’s never been this bad! Glenn Greenwald quotes some of these breathless, apocalyptic warnings:

We have never seen more threats against our nation and its citizens than we do today. – Lindsey Graham, 2015

 I have never seen a time of greater potential danger than right now. – Dianne Feinstein, 2015

 Something will detonate…I’ve never seen a greater threat in my lifetime. – Fox News, 2014

The threat of attacks has never been greater — not at the time of 9/11, not after the war in Iraq — never. – CNN, 2014

You get the picture. If you need more examples, Greenwald’s article has dozens of them. It’s horrifying! In another excellent article, M.M. Owen descries the attraction of horror films:

Our present era is one in which the heart of culture is blowing hard upon a coal of fear, and the fascination is everywhere. By popular consent, horror has been experiencing…a ‘golden age’. In terms of ticket sales, 2017 was the biggest year in the history of horror cinema…The imagination’s conversion of fear into art offers a dark and piercing mirror… fear-3 We have always told horror stories, and we always will. Because horror is an artistic expression of an ontological truth: we are creatures formed in no small part by the things to which we are averse…It is no coincidence that the Gothic – horror’s regal antecedent – emerged precisely at the moment when lots of people began to believe that God really might be dead. Modern horror is in part the story of what happens when our threatened minds shed a theology. Once holy texts can no longer entirely encode the terrors of being, horror enters fully the arena of art.

When mythologies collapse, gender and racial identity are called into question, especially when those identities are founded upon such an unstable base. These fears are the source of the anger that drives right-wing populism. And let’s be clear about this: if, as many pundits still insist, Trump’s popularity is driven only by economic insecurity, then ten million African-Americans would have voted for him. Yes, white Americans are worried about their jobs; but they’re far more concerned about the blacks, Latinos, Muslims and gays moving into the neighborhood.

The rage that always threatens to break through into mass violence, and the fear behind it, are nothing new. We can trace the self-loathing and hatred of the Other exhibited by uninitiated men living in a demythologized world all the way back to Biblical times, as I do in my book. But below the rage is the anxiety. And that’s what mainstream media news and the internet exploit. Deborah Serani writes:

Fear-based news programming has two aims. The first is to grab the viewer’s attention…this is called the teaser. The second aim is to persuade the viewer that the solution for reducing the identified fear will be in the news story…consultants who offer fear-based topics that are pre-scripted, outlined with point-of-view shots, and have experts at-the-ready. This practice is known as stunting or just-add-water reporting. Often, these practices present misleading information and promote anxiety in the viewer… Boston thing An additional practice that heightens anxiety and depression is the news station’s use of the crawl, the scrolling headline ticker that appears at the bottom of the television, communicating “breaking news.” Individuals who watch news-based programming are likely to see one, two, or even three crawls scroll across the screen…crawls are not relegated to just news channels…(They) are now more prominent during entertainment programs and often serve as commercials for nightly newscasts or the upcoming weekly news magazine show. The crawls frequently contain fear-driven material, broad-siding an unsuspecting viewer.

Sophia McClennen adds:

Most of us have heard the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads,” but it’s worth asking when we simply started to take it for granted. In fact, the phrase was originally a reference to local TV news – a tacit criticism of the way local news programs used hype and sensationalism to attract viewers since they lacked the serious reporting of network news. In the early 1980s, just as media critics began noting that local news was turning toward even greater fear-based reporting, CNN was founded. The advent of the 24/7 news channel radically altered the kind of information offered to television news audiences…Put simply, there wasn’t enough “real” news to sustain a 24-hour cycle. So cable news relied on two things to fill the hours: time spent hyping future stories and pundit reviews of news items. Both of these changes depended more on fear than facts to keep viewers tuned in. Anchors babbled on about worrying news stories, then pundits hyped them up with hysteria.

All day long, every day. In Part Three I’ll talk about re-invigorating the Myth of American Innocence.

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Barry’s Blog # 282: Why Are Americans So Freaking Crazy? Part One of Nine

Cut loose from the earth’s soul, they insisted on purchase of its soil, and like all orphans they were insatiable. It was their destiny to chew up the world and spit out a horribleness that would destroy all primary peoples. – Toni Morrison

I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside. – Rumi

Warning: I’ll be roaming shamelessly between psychology, history, sociology, religion, ritual and poetry to try and grasp this enormous and critical issue, which I address in much greater depth in my book, Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence. To me, the only framework that can encompass it all is mythology, and our guide must be the mad god himself, Dionysus, whose presence outside the walls serves to mirror the madness inside. And I’ll make some broad, generalized statements. If they provoke you, then I’m doing my job.

We exist within a broad framework of stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves. It encompasses the entirety of modern culture, indeed, all of Western history. Despite much evidence to the contrary, we still choose to think of ourselves as proactive citizens, making rational choices to further our ability to achieve happiness. Seen, however, from the perspectives of the Earth’s remaining tribal cultures, almost all modern people are so alienated from the natural world, from our ancestral roots, from our bodies and emotions, from our “indigenous souls,” from what makes us essentially human, as to be helpless against, indeed complicit in the imminent destruction of that same natural world. The situation is crazy-making, and all of us who are part of it are mad as hatters.


From those perspectives, such as the African Dagara people (in the writings of Malidoma Some´), or the Guatemalan Tzutzil Maya people, (in the writings of Martín Prechtel), we all come into the world with great expectations. We expect to be welcomed by a loving community that lives within a mythically alive universe, that will recognize our uniqueness and the gifts we bring it and will later encourage the expression of those gifts in initiation rituals. We expect to learn to know who we are and why we are here. In the absence of such full welcoming and the lack of a mythic container, we – all modern people – stagger through life with the constant anxiety of not being comfortable in our bodies or in the thin identities we have constructed. We simply don’t know who we are.

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections. And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

– D.H. Lawrence, “Healing”

So we fill the holes in our souls with grand meta-narratives, stories of who we think we are, stories that society, rather than recognizing something in us, determines for us. These “isms” are what Caroline Casey calls the “toxic mimics” of authentic identity: fundamentalism, nationalism, alcoholism, racism, consumerism, narcissism, workaholism, conspiracism, celebrity worship and the envy that merges into the hatred of others who appear to be comfortable in their own bodies.

As the environmentalist Paul Shepard wrote,

The grief and sense of loss that we often attribute to a failure in our personality is actually an emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered.

It was clear to him in 1992 – long before Trump – that the American national psyche has been uniquely unstable, uniquely anxious about identity and uniquely willing to use violence to re-affirm that identity. The life-long, unconscious, daily struggle to convince ourselves that we are essentially good, well-intentioned, heroic, original, active, deserving, achieving, forward-thinking, inclusive, helpful and compassionate – while simultaneously enduring work  and schools that we hate amid the rat race of competitive lifestyles, demonizing people of color, poisoning our bodies, passively supporting an empire of death, and, yes, sacrificing our own children – all this, so as to hold to a state of innocence, has been making us crazy for a very long time.

Shepard also wrote that we all experience an “epidemic of the psychopathic mutilation of ontogeny.” In simple terms, we don’t grow up the way nature intended anymore. Lacking initiation into true adulthood, we are, by indigenous standards, children.

Within those same daily and hourly time spans, we have been regularly consuming, and teaching, expectations of progress, of infinite growth in both self-awareness and financial success, despite Edward Abbey’s 1991 insight, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

Our three-hundred-year mythology of the “self-made man” has always contained a dark shadow. Doing research for my book prior to 2010, I learned that six out of seven of us, regardless of our financial status, believe that people fail because of their own shortcomings, not because of social conditions. This is more than a commentary on capitalism; it’s as concise a statement of the myth of American innocence as any other I could find or invent, and a necessary way of understanding madness.

In this story, we are subjected to three relentless and simultaneous messages:

1 – As Americans, we are free, capable, willing – and expected – to act as individuals to achieve our highest dreams, and in the process, to at least look cheerful.

2 – Because so few of us can even identify those dreams, let alone achieve them, we learn that failure is no one’s fault but our own, that unhappiness is an indication of our own deeply flawed natures, not of social conditions.

3 – Paradoxically, other people with little money, privilege or opportunity cause our problems. And, always, “the threat has never been greater than right now.”

Our indigenous souls enter the world expecting to be held in a container of myth, ritual and community. Instead, we encounter the alienating nature of capitalism. It is our unquestioned assumptions about this quite unnatural way of living that give it its own mythic quality. George Monbiot describes neo-liberalism (another way of saying “capitalism”):

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name…Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises…But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalyzed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly? So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognize it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law…

This ideology (I call it a mythic narrative), writes Rod Tweedy, is

…rooted in a fundamentally flawed, naive, and old-fashioned seventeenth-century model of who we are – it tries to make us think that we’re isolated, autonomous, disengaged, competitive, decontextualized – an ultimately rather ruthless and dissociated entity. The harm that this view of the self has done to us, and our children, is incalculable.

It really is more than enough to drive you crazy, and very, very angry. For background context, here are some other essays of mine that deal with these issues:

– Dionysus Looks at Mental Illness 

– Normalizing Trump

– Sacrilicious

– Shock and Awe

– The Con Man: An American Archetype

– The Innocent American is The Violent American

– The Mythic Sources of White Rage

– A Vacation in Chaos

– What if We Allowed that to Happen? 

– Breathing Together

Before we venture into deeper analysis, let’s begin with some statistics, almost all of which come from studies done before Trump, some of them even before the economic crash of 2008:

– Guns kill 40,000 Americans per year, over 100 per day.

– There are 20,000 homicides and 50,000 suicides (28,000 by guns) annually.

– Suicide is more prevalent than homicide, and current suicide rates are the highest since World War II.

– Police kill 1,100 Americans per year, mostly people of color.

– For the past several years there have been mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot in one incident) nine out of every 10 days.

– American adults own 260 million legal and 25 million illegal firearms.

– A quarter of Americans believe that “it is acceptable to use violence to get what we want,” while a third would support nuclear war on North Korea, even if we killed a million people.

– By age eighteen, an American will have seen 18,000 virtual murders on electronic devices.

– One in five adults experiences some form of mental illness each year; 7% have at least one major depressive episode; 18% experience anxiety disorders; and 20 million experience substance use disorders.

– At some point in their lives, 46% of Americans meet the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for at least one mental illness.

– A third of college students seek treatment for mental health problems.

– 1 in 5 children have been diagnosed with a mental health problem.

– One in six American men and one in four women take antidepressants or other psychiatric drugs. The highest use of anti-depressants is in the most religious states.

– In 2010, one in six U.S. armed service members were taking at least one psychiatric drug.

– Over 8 million American children up to age 17 take psychiatric drugs, including over a million under six years old and 275,000 toddlers under one year. Eleven percent of them have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and are drugged accordingly, as opposed to 0.5% in France.

– Sales of psychiatric drugs in the U.S. exceeded $70 billion in 2010.

– American doctors are five times more likely than British doctors to prescribe antidepressants to minors.

– 88,000 Americans suffer alcohol-related deaths each year.

– 60 to 70,000 die yearly of opioid overdoses, 130 per day, over 400,000 since 1999, over half of them from prescription medications. This represents 70% of all drug overdose deaths.

– In 2018, reflecting this epidemic, U.S. Life expectancy dropped for the third year in a row. 

– A year after Trump took office, 40% of Americans claimed to feel more anxious than they had a year before.

– 69% of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) task force members admit having ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

In Part Two, we’ll start to look at the issues behind these statistics.

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Barry’s Blog # 281: Who is an American? Part Three of Three

1941: Utilizing secret date provided from the 1940 census, Franklin Roosevelt establishes Executive Order 9066. It forces 110,000 Japanese-Americans – as well as 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent, mostly residents of Peru – into concentration camps. MGQ3KQUCV4ZBJINELBTBVWHE6M Fred Korematsu challenges the policy before the Supreme Court, which decides that compulsory exclusion is justified. German-Americans are not affected, nor are Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, who are deemed necessary to the war effort.

1942: Addressing a severe shortage of farm workers, the government establishes the Bracero Program, which ultimately imports over four million temporary agricultural laborers from Mexico. However, by excluding women, it guarantees that women and children have no access to legal routes of migration and can only follow their men illegally. The result is a bifurcated labor system; one is legal and male, and the other is unlawful, female and full of children.

1943: Congress repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act, but it limits Chinese immigration to 105 persons per year. zoot-suit-riots-los-angeles Race riots occur in over a dozen cities. Thousands of white servicemen rampage for a week through East Los Angeles, attacking Latinos in the “Zoot Suit Riots.” Police arrest only Latinos.

1945: The War Brides Act permits immigration of Asian spouses and children of American servicemen. Among the 100,000 persons admitted are 1,500 German scientists and spies, including many Nazis.

1946: Congress grants naturalization rights and small immigration quotas to Asian Indians and Filipinos. After the war, half of the Japanese Latin Americans who had been held in the camps are deported to Japan when their home countries refuse to take them back.

1948: The Displaced Persons Act allows for up to 200,000 European refugees who have reached certain safe zones by certain dates to be admitted to the U.S. It deliberately discriminates against some 250,000 Jews who have not yet reached those zones by Dec 22, 1945.

1948-1960: HUAC engages in a reign of terror that demonizes much political activity and speech as “un-American.” The FBI investigates thousands of citizens, resulting in hundreds fired from government and academia, many suicides and the Hollywood blacklist.

1949: After the Chinese Revolution, 5,000 educated, anti-Communist Chinese receive refugee status.

1950: The Internal Security Act bars members of communist or fascist organizations. By then, the former Nazis scientists have been admitted and naturalized. Amendments to the 1948 law extend the total allotment of visas for displaced persons to 400,000, including 80,000 Jews. The McCarran Act requires Communist organizations to register with the government and have their literature stamped as propaganda. It bans Communists from holding passports or government jobs and establishes a control board to investigate persons suspected of joining such groups, members of which cannot become citizens. Immigrants found in violation of the act can have their citizenship revoked. Six concentration camps are built to hold communists, peace activists and others deemed a threat if the government declares a state of emergency.

1950-1980: At least 14 predominantly African-American churches will be bombed or burnt down across the South.

1952: The Immigration and Nationality Act abolishes all racial restrictions. Japanese Americans and Korean Americans are allowed to naturalize. However, these countries receive only small, token quotas of about 100 people per year. The law defines three types of immigrants: those with special skills or relatives of U.S. citizens who are exempt from quotas; average immigrants; and refugees. It again bars suspected subversives, including former members of the Communist Party, even those who had not been associated with the party for decades.

1953: The Refugee Relief Act admits more persons from Southern Europe, including 60,000 Italians, 17,000 Greeks and 45,000 from communist countries. Applicants undergo a thorough security screening and must show a guaranteed home and job. President Eisenhower issues Executive Order 10450, under which 5,000 federal employees are fired as suspected homosexuals.

1954: Ellis Island closes. With most former white farmers having returned from war, Operation Wetback deports over 250,000 Mexicans. The Border Patrol changes its language from “policing unsanctioned laborers” to “policing criminal aliens.”

1957: Utah becomes the last state to permit Native Americans to vote.

1961: Residents of Washington, D.C. receive the right to vote in presidential elections. The 1960s will see 160 riots.

1965: The Voting Rights Act enfranchises racial minorities and prohibits poll taxes. The Immigration and Nationality Act abolishes “national origins” as the basis for allocating immigration quotas, thus opening the doors to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It creates a seven-category preference system giving priority to relatives of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and professionals and other individuals with specialized skills, but for the first time it limits immigration from Mexico to 20,000/year. This results in the beginning of large-scale illegal immigration. The INS continues to deny entry to homosexuals on the grounds that they are “mentally defective” or have a “constitutional psychopathic inferiority.” Blacks riot in Watts (Los Angeles).

1966: The Supreme Court prohibits tax payment and wealth requirements for voting in state elections. The Cuban Adjustment Act simplifies and expands possibilities for Cuban immigration, without mentioning any other Latin American country.

1967: The Bracero Program ends. wpid-screenshot_2014-03-25-10-18-56-1 Thousands of “Sundown Towns” still exist. There are sixteen major race riots.

1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated; 125 riots follow across the country.

1969: President Richard Nixon launches Operation Intercept, requiring customs agents to search every vehicle entering the U.S. for drugs. It throws border crossings into chaos and ends after three weeks. The Stonewall riots in New York begin the modern fight for LGBT rights. HUAC becomes the House Committee on Internal Security.

1970: Congress passes the Equal Rights Amendment and sends it to the state legislatures with a seven-year deadline to acquire ratification.

1971: Adults aged 18 through 21 receive the right to vote. The 1970s will see 16 riots.

1973: Enrollment at Indian boarding schools reaches its highest point, 60,000. The Wounded Knee Incident occurs. Activists at the Pine Ridge Reservation occupy the land for over two months. A judge rules that sexual orientation alone cannot be the sole reason for termination from federal employment.

1974: Residents of the District of Columbia regain the right to vote for mayor and city council but still lack voting representation in Congress.

1975: The Pine Ridge shootout occurs. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act calls for decentralizing students from boarding schools to community schools. Many large schools will remain open until the early 1990s. The Civil Services Commission announces that it will consider applications by gay people on a case by case basis. Congress ends the House Committee on Internal Security.

1976: President Gerald Ford terminates Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 and apologizes for the internment of the Japanese Americans. It is revealed that the Indian Health Service had sterilized 3,400 Native American Indian women without their permission between 1973 and 1976. North Carolina alone had sterilized 7,600 people, 40% of whom were minorities, between 1929 and 1974. Over a third of Puerto Rican women had been sterilized since the 1930s. Twenty thousand had been sterilized in California.

1978: Jimmy Carter approves $4.3 million to build a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. White supremacist groups establish camps and train hundreds of vigilantes. Federal authorities ignore these paramilitary groups accosting migrants in the desert and investigate the priests, nuns and others involved in the Sanctuary Movement. The militia camps will expand well into the 21st century.

1979: The ERA fails to receive enough support in the states before its deadline.

1980: Carter appoints a commission to investigate the internment of the Japanese Americans. It concludes that the decisions to incarcerate them occurred because of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership,” and that the military had lied to the Supreme Court.

1980-2000: Successive administrations will allow massive immigration of Cubans while turning back those seeking political refuge from El Salvador and Guatemala. Defining the Haitian boat people HA-haiti.1.atsearescue.uscg_-696x484 (as opposed to Vietnamese boat people) as economic rather than political refugees allows the government to refuse asylum to thousands and immediately deport them, even as Cubans and Vietnamese find housing and jobs. Israelis are another special case, with unlimited immigrant privileges, unique in the Middle East.

1983: Corrections Corporation of America becomes the first for-profit prison company.

1985: Ronald Reagan attempts a partial border closure with Operation Intercept II. It ends quickly. The Philadelphia police use airplanes to drop bombs on black radicals, destroying an entire black neighborhood.

1986: Congress gives amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants already in the country and makes it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit illegal immigrants. Thousands of businesses and individuals will ignore the new law.

1988: The Civil Liberties Act pays $20,000 each in reparation to tens of thousands of Japanese-American survivors of the internment camps. The government, however, refuses to pay Japanese-Latin Americans, who then file suit.

1990: Congress revises all grounds for exclusion, including homosexuality, and ends the 1906 English language requirements. It increases total immigration to 700,000/year for 1992–94, and 675,000/year after that. It provides family- and employment-based visas and a lottery for immigrants from “low admittance” countries. In also creating temporary protected status for those unable to return home because of ongoing armed conflicts or environmental disasters, it specifically benefits El Salvadorans. The Border Patrol  begins to erect physical barriers in its San Diego sector, ultimately erecting fourteen miles of fencing. The numbers of female legal immigrants reach parity with numbers of males. Lake Forest, Illinois ends its anti-Jewish and anti-African-American housing covenants.

1991 to 2000: The U.S. admits more legal immigrants, (ten to eleven million), than in any previous decade.

1990-2019: At least 48 predominantly African-American churches will be bombed or burned across the South.

1993: Bill Clinton begins Operation Hold the Line and Operation Gatekeeper, which focus on intercepting illegal entries at the border itself. Then, with the “Prevention Through Deterrence” strategy, the Border Patrol attempts to control immigrant movement by rerouting it away from urban ports of entry and into wilderness areas, thus heightening the risks. These programs cause at least 7,000 deaths and countless disappearances without halting the mass movement of people.

1993-2017: Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, oversees what the Justice Department will call the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history, including the re-introduction of chain gangs, until he is convicted and removed.

1994: Congress passes the North American Trade Agreement, which floods the Mexican rural economy with subsidized U.S. corn, undermines government protections for poor farmers and forces two million Mexican farmers off the land. The result is a massive increase in migration northward of formerly independent farmers.

1995: Clinton institutes the “wet foot, dry foot policy.” For the next two decades, any Cuban caught on the waters between the two nations (with “wet feet”) is summarily returned to Cuba, while one who makes it to shore (“dry feet”) gets a chance to remain in the U.S. and qualify for expedited “legal permanent resident” status.

1996: Clinton authorizes mandatory detention of illegal immigrants. Every illegal alien convicted of a serious felony is to be placed in expedited removal proceedings. He also authorizes construction of a secondary layer of border fencing to support the already completed 14-mile primary fence. Construction stalls because of environmental concerns. The number of immigrants in detention increases dramatically.

1998: The Japanese-Latin Americans who had sued for reparations ten years before win their lawsuit and receive $5,000 each.

2001: The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would grant residency status to qualifying foreign immigrants who entered the United States as minors, is first introduced in Congress. It will be debated for the next eleven years.

2002: The G.W. Bush administration creates the Department of Homeland Security. By 2017 it will have over 240,000 employees, a $40 billion budget and persistent allegations of waste, brutality and fraud.

2003: Bush creates the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). It will eventually have 20,000 employees and a $7.6 billion budget. It will detain about 34,000 people on any given day, in over 500 detention centers, jails, and prisons nationwide, and deport two million people.

2005: DHS’s national database of “critical terrorist targets” grows to 300,000 localities, including thousands of non-critical sites such as doughnut shops and petting zoos. Indiana will have more than California and New York combined.

2005: Operation Streamline initiates a “zero-tolerance” approach to unauthorized border-crossing by engaging in criminal prosecution of immigrants. Up to 70 people are tried at the same time, sometimes wearing shackles in the courtroom. The number of prosecutions will increase from 4,000 annually in the early 2000s to 16,000 in 2005, 44,000 in 2010 (under Barack Obama) and 97,000 by 2013. The Minuteman Project, a borderlands militia, claims nearly 1,000 members. The Real ID Act waives local laws that interfere with construction of physical barriers at the borders. Fred Korematsu dies.

2006: California officially apologizes for deporting Mexicans between 1925 and1931. State legislatures introduce over 1,400 immigration measures – a number that exceeds the total of the previous ten years. The Secure Fence Act authorizes construction of additional fencing, vehicle barriers, checkpoints, lighting, cameras, satellites and drones along the southern border.

2007: 9,500 Native American children are still living in Indian boarding schools.  

2008: Congress estimates that DHS has wasted roughly $15 billion in failed contracts.

2009-2016: Obama deports 2.5 million immigrants, 40% of whom have no criminal conviction. Blacks riot in Baltimore, Oakland, Anaheim, Ferguson, Milwaukee and Charlotte following police shootings.

2010-2017: Immigrants file over 1,200 sexual abuse complaints against ICE agents, only 2% of which it investigates.

2011: DHS completes some 650 miles of border walls and fences. The government will later admit that illegal border-crossers had simply found new routes, that the fences had been breached thousands of times, and that the Secure Fence Act had caused at least 2000 additional deaths. California first observes “Fred Korematsu Day.”

2012: Obama announces that he will stop deporting undocumented immigrants who match certain criteria included in the proposed DREAM Act. He initiates the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which will eventually register 750,000 young people who entered the country as children, the vast majority of whom speak fluent English, have no connection to the countries of their birth, and have committed (by definition) zero crimes. Meanwhile, some 2,000-3,000 non-citizen veterans, promised that they would automatically become citizens through their service, face deportation.

2013: The Supreme Court strikes down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, claiming that racism is history, and effectively enabling many states to disenfranchise minorities once again.

2015: Obama successfully opposes full voting rights for Samoans, citing the 1901 Insular Acts. This prevents areas with four million Americans (almost all of them people of color) living in Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands from voting for President and contributes to a Republican victory in the next election.

2016: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) grows to 62,000 employees, with a $14 billion budget. Bernie Sanders calls on Obama to end the deportation raids and instead extend temporary protected status to families who have fled violence in Central America.

2017: Obama cancels the “wet foot, dry foot policy” before leaving office.

2017-2019: Trump calls for building more walls, stopping all Muslim immigration (except for Saudi Arabia and other client states), removing citizenship for American-born children of non-citizens, adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, ending DACA, imprisoning migrants in a camp that had held Japanese-Americans during World War Two, and sending the military to stop Central American migrant caravans. It is revealed that Melania Trump’s parents were the beneficiaries of “chain migration.” The Supreme Court rules that immigrants can be detained indefinitely. Trump pardons Joe Arpaio. The government separates thousands of immigrant children from their parents, even from those legally applying for asylum. Comprehensive Health Services pays a $3.8 million fine for double-charging the government for its services. It continues to charge $750 per detainee per day.

2018: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services alters its mission statement by removing a reference to the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants.” The Justice Department instructs U.S. attorneys’ offices to replace the term “undocumented immigrant” with “illegal alien.” The Supreme Court lifts an injunction against enforcing the Muslim travel ban and confirms that the original Korematsu verdict was “gravely wrong…”

2019: For the fourth time, the government prosecutes a humanitarian volunteer, threatening a 20-year sentence for providing food and water to immigrants on the border. The trial ends in a hung jury, but the government appeals. Investigators reveal a DHS intelligence-gathering operation in the San Diego-Tijuana area targeting journalists, immigration attorneys, and advocates working with the migrant caravans. California officially apologizes for its genocide of Native Americans. The NAACP warns African Americans to carry bail money with them if they travel to Missouri. Florida re-enfranchises ex-felons and then essentially re-institutes the poll tax. A Justice Department lawyer argues before Congress against soap, toothbrushes or beds for detained children. The Border Patrol expressly orders agents to not hug them or even to allow siblings to hug each other.

Trump declares a national emergency, giving him the power to direct $6.1 billion more from other federal agencies for the wall (though over a dozen states challenge the executive order in court), bars all asylum seekers who pass through a third country and insults Congresswomen of color.

The government spends nearly $3.8 billion on grants and contracts initiated since Trump became president related to “unaccompanied alien children.” Immigration officials use secretive and unreliable gang databases to deny asylum claims and removes live interpreters from immigration courts. Homeland Security admits that its use of abhorrent conditions at detention centers is to deter immigrants from entering the country. Two Facebook groups that post hatred of immigrants have over 10,000 Border Patrol members, including the Chief of the Agency. The U.S. women’s soccer team sues for gender and pay discrimination. Defying Congress, ICE opens three new migrant jails. 20190626T0829-28253-CNS-POPE-MIGRANT-DEATH-820x394

Today: Legal immigrants are at their highest level ever, at just over 37,000,000. The U.S. has spent over $100 billion in border and immigration control since 9/11. 50,000 Irish reside in the country illegally without fear of deportation. Although all its constituent sections have long been repealed, Chapter 7 of Title 8 of the United States Code is still headed, “Exclusion of Chinese.”

I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color…If anyone should do any pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese-American people…One person can make a difference, even if it takes forty years. – Fred Korematsu Fred-with-medal-SG-EDITED-Shirley-Nakao-mediumres

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