Today in the non-United States, we are witnessing the erasure of all our most important values and principles. It feels shocking. It feels frightening. And it feels chaotic. The foundation is crumbling. It is hard to take a firm stand or any stand at all.
Truth is now hate. Justice is colored white. We have gone, in the seemingly blink of an eye, from free speech to no speech. Questions and debates, research and science are considered violent and hateful. Black Lives Matter, but Black voters don’t. Or do they matter too much? Morality is replaced by greed and avarice. A large portion of the country now stands against what we have always stood for.
Material reality is being turned inside out and, instead of struggling toward greater truth, an increasingly large number of us are fleeing its blinding light for the more soothing light of the screen. The streets are filled with violence and fear, the homes with isolation, depression and increased levels of intimate partner violence. Gaslight is the only kind of illumination permitted.
The very planet that we call home is close to destruction as we discuss what we are having for dinner or who won the most recent football game. Can a man be a woman and is there really any such thing as a woman? Is rule by the ignorant and the hateful better than a democracy?
Here in Costa Rica, where I live, land that readily evokes comparison with the Garden of Eden, terrain so spectacular that it can hardly be believed to exist except as a storied paradise, yields to hillsides filled with multimillion-dollar condominiums being snapped up by those who can, chains of box stores aping the North American landscape, and mindless devotion to acquisition.
All these tendencies point toward imminent tragedy and inevitable destruction of the world as we, the people, have known it. Yet I have the unpleasant obligation of warning you today that something even more destructive is afoot. In my opinion, the final blow, the knockout punch, is the apathy and the indifference with which these crises are being met by the populace as a group.
It has been said that “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference” (Kershaw). In today’s non-United States, we are well into the final phase of indifference to the mortal crises we face as individuals, as a people and as a planet.
Why aren’t we in the streets screaming and protesting these existential losses? Why do so many of us turn away, turn to the screens instead of to the erasure of our way of life, possibly of life itself? We turn against each other instead. In perfect anticipation, we turn away from life.
While there have been many heroic attempts to right these wrongs, they alone are not enough if the majority of the people turn away. How have so many of us gotten lost in the woods together? Why can’t we hold each other’s hands and find our way out of the dark together?
The vertiginous reaction of too many of us instead leads to mental health treatment, turning terror to trauma and trauma to individual treatment. Turning fear-based paralysis to depression and depression and anxiety to individual treatment.
In my own opinion of my own profession, psychologists trained in treating the smaller issues only participate in occluding our vision and interfering with real solutions. Instead, we learn yet another form of indifference in the name of mental health. If we can’t change the inevitable destruction, then we are taught to flee from it. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, but you can self-talk your way through it. You can choose not to notice it and instead get medicated. You can even try to alter your brain waves. I am not trying to dismiss individual suffering, but instead to see clearly its source and its solution. Individual change must be linked to the social situations causing them or we psychologists are only administering emotional band-aids.
In a misguided effort to nurture and protect our children, we have instead weakened them. Instead of teaching them how to face the adversity that is a natural part of life, we have taught them how to nurse the wounds created by free speech, now considered a form of psychological violence. By creating “safe spaces” and approved language, we have taught them the illusion of safety in an unsafe world. As the universe is collapsing around them, they run to the “safety room.” In this way, we have failed our children, our students and ourselves. We have coddled them into possible extinction.
As a psychologist, I know very well that feelings are important. They might be thought of as the energy that fuels the mind and that fuels action. But when faced with material destruction, it is time to acknowledge material reality and to use feelings to fuel that action. Instead, what used to be called the silent majority again remains silent or turns to Twitter to express feeling or to engage in schoolyard name calling. We, ordinary humans, suffer and name it trauma, depression, anxiety and other words that reduce the size and import of what is happening to each of us and all of us.
We fail to recognize that this is an emergency and as such, calls for emergency measures. Our human hearts are breaking. Our human souls are being violated. We turn to technology for comfort. Technological comfort is cold. We, all of us, need the warmth of each other, but we do not reach out for each other. The very term “reach out” has come to be the introduction to a business call. “I thought I’d reach out and see if you need more insurance,” the caller on the other end of my handheld device oozes.
Insurance against what? “Can you insure the planet? What is it worth?” I want to respond. “Can you insure the land and the trees, the lives of all humanity? How much is my soul worth on your actuarial chart?”
And still… We do not reach out for each other. The most common desire of those facing death is to tell someone(s) how much they love them. What would you do if you knew you were facing death or worse? Please, please do it now. Reach out and touch someone,” another adopted sales pitch rather than a way of life. Do something to respond effectively to the emergency, no matter how small or how local. There are millions of us. It adds up.
Those with the power to do so continue to sow confusion and to promote division. Only we, the people, can save ourselves now. Only those who understand the interpersonal gravity that exists among all of us and that defines our very species as social animals should be leading us. Only those psychologists who understand the importance of context, connection and the liberation of all oppressed people should be treating us. There are enough rights to go around and too many wrongs to tolerate any longer.
Many of us sit in front of our screens wondering how all this is happening and wonder further why someone doesn’t do something. Corrective action may, at this moment in history, sound out of reach and utopian, but taking the first baby step and then the second one does not. Do something small. Do something local. But do something!
Well, we have exhausted all our natural and unnatural resources except for the one remaining possibility. And that is you! Please reach out and do something, touch someone. May we act before it is too late. May we not abandon each other and ourselves.