We alone are casualties

Today, for the first time in the history of this planet, those living in cities outnumber those living rurally. London has a population density of 4,500 people per sq. km. Crowding on this scale has been shown to cause depression; the uncontrollable noise of the city parallels a standard way of inducing despression in a laboratory, outlined by the psychologist Martin Seligman.

Constant trauma and stress without being able to do anything about it leads to a state of learned helplessness. In an experiment where a caged dog is given a repeated electric shock that it is unable to do anything to prevent, eventually it lies down and whimpers. Beyond a certain point, even when the cage door is opened it will remain there being shocked. It has developed a state of learned helplessness.

Despite the ever present watchful eye of CCTV surveillance cameras, we are told to be suspicious of the person standing next to us. We live in a state of constant stress without real terror, akin to the period before the London Blitz. This was the phoney or twilight war; when sirens went off and civilians trooped down to shelters, but no bombs landed. When the Luftwaffe started dropping bombs in the summer of 1940, people reported that it was in psychologically better because they had something real to deal with instead of only fear.

Today’s constant threat of terror is our own phoney war. And its battle casualties are our minds. Nearly one in four persons in this country will have an episode of mental illness within a yearlong period; either depression, anxiety, substance abuse or addiction. One out of ten children has a mental illness, set in the context of family and community life falling apart.

We instead turn inwards and look to what we can control. Technological gadgets give us immediate satisfaction – mobiles, laptops, iPods. But they are the ‘psychological equivalent of junk food’ according to psychologists Christopher Peterson, Steven Maier and Martin Seligman. They turn us into egocentric people to the detriment of social cohesion. In addition, they argue that social cohesion is not obtained by diversity; which has replaced unity: “Let us raise the politically unpopular point that increased attention to the differences among our people will not make this society a better one in which to live.”

Highlighting differences is a step towards turning against those minorities that are perceived to be the problem in society. Will turning against the most vulnerable groups in society be the ultimate expression of inward looking instead of looking to the real threats to society like criminal ‘world’ leaders and international bankers?

In the sixties students and workers revolted and demonstrated for their rights over less, but today we are wrapped up in ourselves; and while we are narcissistically engaged all manner of external changes occur that we scarcely notice.

The changes are planned and implemented using mass techniques that appeal to emotion, not reason. It’s worth remembering the words of the economist Milton Friedman who originated the neo liberalism that destroyed so many people: “Only a crisis – actual or perceived produces real change.”

The French philosopher Jacques Ellul wrote in his book The Technological Society how he saw society changing in the post world war two era. “Human intelligence cannot resist propaganda’s manipulation of its subconscious. The suppression of the critical faculty … the first and clearest consequence of the application of psychoanalytic mass techniques.”

To build a new personality, the old one needs to be erased. Dr Ewen Cameron, former president of World Psychiatric Association was employed as a CIA mind control experimenter in the 1950s. He used electroshock, drugs and sensory deprivation to recreate a blank state in patient’s minds before rebuilding as he saw fit. It was not successful for over 70 percent of his patients, but it was very useful information for the torture industry. These techniques were refined and are a standard part of the torture kit used in places like Guantanamo Bay.

Are these techniques about to be employed closer to home? A panopoly of ‘non-lethal’ weapons lie ready in the crowd control arsenal. British police will be routinely equipped with Taser cattle prods to force compliance. Hitting someone with an extendable baton is harder to do than routinely pulling the trigger of an electric shock gun. Then there are trucki mounted microwave guns that can blast you with waves to cause intense discomfort and a burning sensation.

In the her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein parallels the desire to create a blank slate of the person, through the techniques of Dr Cameron outlined above, with the use of economic shocks or using crises to change behaviour.

Economic shocks disorientate us, causing fear and anxiety and leading to a state of childlike regression. We look for a father figure to save us. ‘In times of crisis people are willing to hand over a great deal of power to anyone who claims to have a magic cure, whether the crisis is a financial meltdown or a terrorist attack.’

But she does offer a solution: “ The universal experience of living through a great shock is the feeling of being completely powerless… The best way to recover from helplessness turns out to be helping – having the right to be part of a communal recovery.”

This resonates with the views of psychologists Christopher Peterson, Steven Maier and Martin Seligman again: “Our only assumption is that depression, demoralization, underachievement, and illness are bad. We think the lack of an orientation to the commons – the incredible selfishness that so abounds in our country – is in no small way responsible for these ills.”

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