How Western culture creates a man in psycho-spiritual crisis

Beau

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I just wanted to point out this article written by John F. Schumaker that was put up on SOTT, Cultural insanity: Ponerized Western consumer culture is creating a demoralized man in psycho-spiritual crisis. Some of you will know Schumaker from his previous books like The Corruption of Reality, of which there is a thread on the forum discussing the book.

I thought this essay was very insightful and an excellent overview of the main problems surrounding Western society. I think it's worth everyone reading, and it occurred to me that what Schumaker is detailing in his essay is, to me at least, one of the reasons why the Fellowship of the Cosmic Mind was started. As he states:

a society's moral net must be able to meet the key psycho-social-spiritual needs of its members, including a sense of identity and belonging, co-operative activities that weave people into a community, and shared rituals and beliefs that offer a convincing existential orientation.

That is the kind of thing that, IMO, FOTCM exists for, even if it doesn't necessarily have strict beliefs or shared rituals (other than eating bacon in the morning!). Schumaker isn't arguing that either beliefs or rituals have to be in supply, but that members of a society have a need for them. We clearly do not have the things that keep us psychologically healthy, which is what leads to, in Schumaker's words, a "demoralized mind." He defines demoralization as:

a type of existential disorder associated with the breakdown of a person's 'cognitive map'. It is an overarching psycho-spiritual crisis in which victims feel generally disoriented and unable to locate meaning, purpose or sources of need fulfilment. The world loses its credibility, and former beliefs and convictions dissolve into doubt, uncertainty and loss of direction. Frustration, anger and bitterness are usual accompaniments, as well as an underlying sense of being part of a lost cause or losing battle. The label 'existential depression' is not appropriate since, unlike most forms of depression, demoralization is a realistic response to the circumstances impinging on the person's life.

I think that a large percentage of people on this forum can relate to the above. A lot of us have felt like we're part of a lost cause, trying to fight against the ever-rushing tide of insanity that surrounds us, all the while without the anchor to hold onto. This is one of the reasons why Laura created the Eiriu Eolas program, to help people deal with feelings of frustration and anger, of being part of a lost cause. We CAN alleviate those feelings though, and I think the creators of this forum have gone about trying to do exactly that through FOTCM.

Check out the full article below:

Western consumer culture is creating a psycho-spiritual crisis that leaves us disoriented and bereft of purpose. How can we treat our sick culture and make ourselves well?

Our descent into the Age of Depression seems unstoppable. Three decades ago, the average age for the first onset of depression was 30. Today it is 14. Researchers such as Stephen Izard at Duke University point out that the rate of depression in Western industrialized societies is doubling with each successive generational cohort. At this pace, over 50 per cent of our younger generation, aged 18-29, will succumb to it by middle age. Extrapolating one generation further, we arrive at the dire conclusion that virtually everyone will fall prey to depression.

By contrast to many traditional cultures that lack depression entirely, or even a word for it, Western consumer culture is certainly depression-prone. But depression is so much a part of our vocabulary that the word itself has come to describe mental states that should be understood differently. In fact, when people with a diagnosis of depression are examined more closely, the majority do not actually fit that diagnosis. In the largest study of its kind, Ramin Mojtabai of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health sampled over 5,600 cases and found that only 38 per cent of them met the criteria for depression.

Contributing to the confusion is the equally insidious epidemic of demoralization that also afflicts modern culture. Since it shares some symptoms with depression, demoralization tends to be mislabelled and treated as if it were depression. A major reason for the poor 28-per-cent success rate of anti-depressant drugs is that a high percentage of 'depression' cases are actually demoralization, a condition unresponsive to drugs.

Existential disorder

In the past, our understanding of demoralization was limited to specific extreme situations, such as debilitating physical injury, terminal illness, prisoner-of-war camps, or anti-morale military tactics. But there is also a cultural variety that can express itself more subtly and develop behind the scenes of normal everyday life under pathological cultural conditions such as we have today. This culturally generated demoralization is nearly impossible to avoid for the modern 'consumer'.

Rather than a depressive disorder, demoralization is a type of existential disorder associated with the breakdown of a person's 'cognitive map'. It is an overarching psycho-spiritual crisis in which victims feel generally disoriented and unable to locate meaning, purpose or sources of need fulfilment. The world loses its credibility, and former beliefs and convictions dissolve into doubt, uncertainty and loss of direction. Frustration, anger and bitterness are usual accompaniments, as well as an underlying sense of being part of a lost cause or losing battle. The label 'existential depression' is not appropriate since, unlike most forms of depression, demoralization is a realistic response to the circumstances impinging on the person's life.

As it is absorbed, consumer culture imposes numerous influences that weaken personality structures, undermine coping and lay the groundwork for eventual demoralization. Its driving features - individualism, materialism, hyper-competition, greed, over-complication, overwork, hurriedness and debt - all correlate negatively with psychological health and/or social wellbeing. The level of intimacy, trust and true friendship in people's lives has plummeted. Sources of wisdom, social and community support, spiritual comfort, intellectual growth and life education have dried up. Passivity and choice have displaced creativity and mastery. Resilience traits such as patience, restraint and fortitude have given way to short attention spans, over-indulgence and a masturbatory approach to life.

Research shows that, in contrast to earlier times, most people today are unable to identify any sort of philosophy of life or set of guiding principles. Without an existential compass, the commercialized mind gravitates toward a 'philosophy of futility', as Noam Chomsky calls it, in which people feel naked of power and significance beyond their conditioned role as pliant consumers. Lacking substance and depth, and adrift from others and themselves, the thin and fragile consumer self is easily fragmented and dispirited.

By their design, the central organizing principles and practices of consumer culture perpetuate an 'existential vacuum' that is a precursor to demoralization. This inner void is often experienced as chronic and inescapable boredom, which is not surprising. Despite surface appearances to the contrary, the consumer age is deathly boring. Boredom is caused, not because an activity is inherently boring, but because it is not meaningful to the person. Since the life of the consumer revolves around the overkill of meaningless manufactured low-level material desires, it is quickly engulfed by boredom, as well as jadedness, ennui and discontent. This steadily graduates to 'existential boredom' wherein the person finds all of life uninteresting and unrewarding.

Moral net

Consumption itself is a flawed motivational platform for a society. Repeated consummation of desire, without moderating constraints, only serves to habituate people and diminish the future satisfaction potential of what is consumed. This develops gradually into 'consumer anhedonia', wherein consumption loses reward capacity and offers no more than distraction and ritualistic value. Consumerism and psychic deadness are inexorable bedfellows.

Individualistic models of mind have stymied our understanding of many disorders that are primarily of cultural origin. But recent years have seen a growing interest in the topic of cultural health and ill-health as they impact upon general wellbeing. At the same time, we are moving away from naïve behavioural models and returning to the obvious fact that the human being has a fundamental nature, as well as a distinct set of human needs, that must be addressed by a cultural blueprint.

In his groundbreaking book The Moral Order, anthropologist Raoul Naroll used the term 'moral net' to indicate the cultural infrastructure that is required for the mental wellbeing of its members. He used numerous examples to show that entire societies can become predisposed to an array of mental ills if their 'moral net' deteriorates beyond a certain point. To avoid this, a society's moral net must be able to meet the key psycho-social-spiritual needs of its members, including a sense of identity and belonging, co-operative activities that weave people into a community, and shared rituals and beliefs that offer a convincing existential orientation.

We are long overdue a cultural revolution that would force a radical revamp of the political process, economics, work, family and environmental policy

Similarly, in The Sane Society, Erich Fromm cited 'frame of orientation' as one of our vital 'existential needs', but pointed out that today's 'marketing characters' are shackled by a cultural programme that actively blocks fulfilment of this and other needs, including the needs for belonging, rootedness, identity, transcendence and intellectual stimulation. We are living under conditions of 'cultural insanity', a term referring to a pathological mismatch between the inculturation strategies of a culture and the intrapsychic needs of its followers. Being normal is no longer a healthy ambition.

Human culture has mutated into a sociopathic marketing machine dominated by economic priorities and psychological manipulation. Never before has a cultural system inculcated its followers to suppress so much of their humanity. Leading this hostile takeover of the collective psyche are increasingly sophisticated propaganda and misinformation industries that traffic the illusion of consumer happiness by wildly amplifying our expectations of the material world. Today's consumers are by far the most propagandized people in history. The relentless and repetitive effect is highly hypnotic, diminishing critical faculties, reducing one's sense of self, and transforming commercial unreality into a surrogate for meaning and purpose.

The more lost, disoriented and spiritually defeated people become, the more susceptible they become to persuasion, and the more they end up buying into the oversold expectations of consumption. But in unreality culture, hyper-inflated expectations continually collide with the reality of experience. Since nothing lives up to the hype, the world of the consumer is actually an ongoing exercise in disappointment. While most disappointments are minor and easy to dissociate, they accumulate into an emotional background of frustration as deeper human needs get neglected. Continued starvation of these needs fuels disillusion about one's whole approach to life. Over time, people's core assumptions can become unstable.

Culture proofing

At its heart, demoralization is a generalized loss of credibility in the assumptions that ground our existence and guide our actions. The assumptions underpinning our allegiance to consumerism are especially vulnerable since they are fundamentally dehumanizing. As they unravel, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify with the values, goals and aspirations that were once part of our consumer reality. The consequent feeling of being forsaken and on the wrong life track is easily mistaken for depression, or even unhappiness, but in fact it is the type of demoralization that most consumer beings will experience to some degree.

For the younger generation, the course of boredom, disappointment, disillusion and demoralization is almost inevitable. As the products of invisible parents, commercialized education, cradle-to-grave marketing and a profoundly boring and insane cultural programme, they must also assimilate into consumer culture while knowing from the outset that its workings are destroying the planet and jeopardizing their future. Understandably, they have become the trance generation, with an insatiable appetite for any technology that can downsize awareness and blunt the emotions. With society in existential crisis, and emotional life on a steep downward trajectory, trance is today's fastest-growing consumer market.

Once our collapsed assumptions give way to demoralization, the problem becomes how to rebuild the unconscious foundations of our lives. In their present forms, the psychology and psychiatry professions are of little use in treating disorders that are rooted in culture and normality. While individual therapy will not begin to heal a demoralized society, to be effective such approaches must be insight-oriented and focused on the cultural sources of the person's assumptions, identity, values and centres of meaning. Cultural deprogramming is essential, along with 'culture proofing', disobedience training and character development strategies, all aimed at constructing a worldview that better connects the person to self, others and the natural world.

The real task is somehow to treat a sick culture rather than its sick individuals. Erich Fromm sums up this challenge: 'We can't make people sane by making them adjust to this society. We need a society that is adjusted to the needs of people.' Fromm's solution included a Supreme Cultural Council that would serve as a cultural overseer and advise governments on corrective and preventive action. But that sort of solution is still a long way off, as is a science of culture change. Democracy in its present guise is a guardian of cultural insanity.

We are long overdue a cultural revolution that would force a radical revamp of the political process, economics, work, family and environmental policy. It is true that a society of demoralized people is unlikely to revolt even though it sits on a massive powder keg of pent-up frustration. But credibility counteracts demoralization, and this frustration can be released with immense energy when a credible cause, or credible leadership, is added to the equation.

It might seem that credibility, meaning and purposeful action would derive from the multiple threats to our safety and survival posed by the fatal mismatch between consumer culture and the needs of the planet. The fact that it has not highlights the degree of demoralization that infects the consumer age. With its infrastructure firmly entrenched, and minimal signs of collective resistance, all signs suggest that our obsolete system - what some call 'disaster capitalism' - will prevail until global catastrophe dictates for us new cultural directions.
 

whitecoast

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I thought this essay was very insightful and an excellent overview of the main problems surrounding Western society. I think it's worth everyone reading, and it occurred to me that what Schumaker is detailing in his essay is, to me at least, one of the reasons why the Fellowship of the Cosmic Mind was started.

I agree, thanks for starting this topic on it. It's interesting to think about how historically democracies have evolved to deal with theoretically corrupt governments. All the mechanisms developed depend on a functioning civil society and common sense. I wonder how many of liberalism's classical enlightenment era proponents would recommend we deal with a corrupted civil society? Should the government step in? Or are ponerized governments largely in charge of the degradation of civil society? It's especially interesting to think about with regard to the recent SOTT radio broadcast on the destruction of intimacy due to pornography and sexual promiscuity, paraphilias, etc. here. https://cassiopaea.org/forum/index.php/topic,41737.0.html
 

mkrnhr

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It is indeed a very insightful article. His first book I'd read was "The Age of Insanity: Modernity and Mental Health". Unfortunately, the price of the book at amazon is Insane.
It wasn't until I started living in a big city that I understood the real effect modern life has on the mental sanity of people, and that doesn't include just the cell phone addiction. It can be observed on a daily basis, even in people's body posture and space management. The pursuit of happiness through material pleasure, which has been imposed upon the population, has had a devastating effect.
 

BHelmet

Jedi Council Member
Yes it all fits. I would add that the technological component is also a part of this in that it (cell phones/computers/cyber space) creates an artificial sense of belonging and identity which are 2 important counterbalances for psycho-emotional balance that the article mentions.
 

Carl

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I think this article explains very well the problems we have in modern society. The worst part for me is how people just keep it all inside. Most people look like they are happy just getting on with the insanity of "work", life as debt slaves, and filling their free time with mindless entertainment in order to fill that hole.

This creates even more problems for those of us who long ago acknowledged that we are demoralized and unfulfilled in life. For me anyway, when I would experience these feelings, it just made me feel like I am broken. "Why can't I be like all those smiling happy people in that facebook picture? Like those lads getting drunk and bantering in the bar? Like those girls excitedly shopping for new shoes" etc.

City life is tough indeed, and each generation seems to have it worse: a total lack of any meaningful social connection.

That is why I am so grateful for finding this forum and network, because amazingly, as far as I can see, there seems to be nothing else like it in the whole English-speaking world and beyond.
 

dugdeep

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Great article! Thanks for posting Beau.

This part rang very true for me:

The more lost, disoriented and spiritually defeated people become, the more susceptible they become to persuasion, and the more they end up buying into the oversold expectations of consumption. But in unreality culture, hyper-inflated expectations continually collide with the reality of experience. Since nothing lives up to the hype, the world of the consumer is actually an ongoing exercise in disappointment. While most disappointments are minor and easy to dissociate, they accumulate into an emotional background of frustration as deeper human needs get neglected. Continued starvation of these needs fuels disillusion about one's whole approach to life. Over time, people's core assumptions can become unstable.

I'd say that it was this process, and my complete dissatisfaction with it, that led to me searching for "something else" - looking for meaning in a the sea of surreal vapidity that our current culture embodies. That's how I came upon the Work and eventually Laura's work and this forum. This is why, I think, the "lighthouse" analogy is so appropriate. FOTCM is a beacon in the darkness.
 

Niall

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Note that it concerns, specifically, Western culture. That's the 'Americanization' of the world since 1945, but it extends deeper into the origins of liberalism in the UK. Liberalism's professed goal is to 'free' the individual from all constraints. This ideology, taken to its logical conclusion, is madness; to 'free' the individual from all social connections and thus from himself. We're living through the 'conclusion' of this ideology, and what we've discovered, after stripping away all 'constraints', is... nihilistic nothingness, an endless black hole. Some of those constraints should never have been removed because they unhinged Western man from reality.

Fromm's solution included a Supreme Cultural Council that would serve as a cultural overseer and advise governments on corrective and preventive action. But that sort of solution is still a long way off...

and

We are long overdue a cultural revolution that would force a radical revamp of the political process, economics, work, family and environmental policy.

Schumaker and Fromm conclude that course correction can only come from without, via some re-education of Western masses by a sane authority. But where to find sane leadership in the West? How to convince Western leaders that 'hegemony-at-all-costs' is a lose-lose situation for both Westerners and the rest of the world?

One mechanism could be the Eastern culture(s)/Global South 're-educating' or, for want of a better term, 'civilizing', Westerners by working towards their own destiny. That would be BRICS, new non-Western international financial institutions, new international political bodies that actually uphold international law rather than abuse it for narrow western interests, etc. In the process, we might see the Western world forced to come to terms with the fact that they must share this planet with other civilizations. But I fear that psychopathology in the West in so entrenched, and the masses there so susceptible to it, that it will take an altogether different form of external authority to "force a radical revamp."
 

Joe

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Niall said:
Note that it concerns, specifically, Western culture. That's the 'Americanization' of the world since 1945, but it extends deeper into the origins of liberalism in the UK. Liberalism's professed goal is to 'free' the individual from all constraints. This ideology, taken to its logical conclusion, is madness; to 'free' the individual from all social connections and thus from himself. We're living through the 'conclusion' of this ideology, and what we've discovered, after stripping away all 'constraints', is... nihilistic nothingness, an endless black hole. Some of those constraints should never have been removed because they unhinged Western man from reality.

Yeah, I think it's pretty well summed up by Bernays' 'cult of the individual' (see the documentary 'Century of the Self'). That process began in earnest in the 1930s USA and became the backbone of US cultural imperialism that spread around the world over the ensuing 100 years. The effect was to turn people's own energy back in on themselves to feed and glorify their own narcissism as the 'solution' to all their problems. As Schumaker says, that's exactly the opposite of what people need to feel happy and fulfilled.

It was very much like bait to entice people to focus on avoiding suffering at all costs to be 'happy', despite the fact that happiness can only exist in contrast to suffering, or at least the awareness of it. But in fact, what people have been enticed/manipulated to do, is to store up lots of suffering that may well be released all at once.

Rather than being encouraged to realize and accept that life involves suffering and, most importantly, through suffering we learn, they have been manipulated into putting the brakes on learning/growth in favor of chasing instant gratification that very quickly and naturally leaves them cold again and looking for the next 'hit'. If there is any truth in the idea of suffering being a necessary component of life, then lots of people's debt is going to come due at some point, and like I said, possibly all at once.
 

luc

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Joe said:
Niall said:
Note that it concerns, specifically, Western culture. That's the 'Americanization' of the world since 1945, but it extends deeper into the origins of liberalism in the UK. Liberalism's professed goal is to 'free' the individual from all constraints. This ideology, taken to its logical conclusion, is madness; to 'free' the individual from all social connections and thus from himself. We're living through the 'conclusion' of this ideology, and what we've discovered, after stripping away all 'constraints', is... nihilistic nothingness, an endless black hole. Some of those constraints should never have been removed because they unhinged Western man from reality.

Yeah, I think it's pretty well summed up by Bernays' 'cult of the individual' (see the documentary 'Century of the Self'). That process began in earnest in the 1930s USA and became the backbone of US cultural imperialism that spread around the world over the ensuing 100 years. The effect was to turn people's own energy back in on themselves to feed and glorify their own narcissism as the 'solution' to all their problems. As Schumaker says, that's exactly the opposite of what people need to feel happy and fulfilled.

It was very much like bait to entice people to focus on avoiding suffering at all costs to be 'happy', despite the fact that happiness can only exist in contrast to suffering, or at least the awareness of it. But in fact, what people have been enticed/manipulated to do, is to store up lots of suffering that may well be released all at once.

Rather than being encouraged to realize and accept that life involves suffering and, most importantly, through suffering we learn, they have been manipulated into putting the brakes on learning/growth in favor of chasing instant gratification that very quickly and naturally leaves them cold again and looking for the next 'hit'. If there is any truth in the idea of suffering being a necessary component of life, then lots of people's debt is going to come due at some point, and like I said, possibly all at once.

Word!

This ties in I think with what Nancy Collier says about happiness in 'Inviting a Monkey to Tea':

Inviting a Monkey to Tea said:
1. ADDICTED TO HAPPINESS

Happiness is an addiction and we are hooked. Happiness is an addiction because our monkey mind convinces us that we are not okay if we don’t get our fix of it. It is an addiction because it provides relief for short periods of time and then fails us over and over again. It is an addiction because we are consumed with the need to be happy. We spend an enormous amount of time and energy trying to make happiness happen, and yet we remain not happy.

There is a belief in this culture that life is supposed to be happy; happiness is part of our definition of a good life. In the face of the suffering that everyone’s life contains, we hold tight to our belief that life’s basic nature is pleasurable and fun. The media presents life as some kind of amusement park ride with ice cream, laughter and prizes. Our conception of what we are supposed to feel is based on a life that is not in alignment with what’s real. Certainly, a part of life is joy. Life is also challenging and difficult at times. All of these experiences are part of the ride. We have to do things that we don’t want to do, we have to interact with people who hurt us, we have to live inside a body that gets sick, and eventually we have to let go of everyone that we love. Expecting a joy ride is a recipe for disappointment. And yet the cultural mythology persists: life is supposed to look good, smell good, and be fun all the time.

In this society, when we are not happy, not only are we failures for not being able to create a happy life, but worse, we are missing out on the myth. We are not getting what we deserve—what everyone else undoubtedly gets. With such a cultural mythology, we spend much of our life feeling depressed about not getting to have something that doesn’t exist, thereby fueling the unhappiness that we so dread.
 

Niall

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Joe said:
Rather than being encouraged to realize and accept that life involves suffering and, most importantly, through suffering we learn, they have been manipulated into putting the brakes on learning/growth in favor of chasing instant gratification that very quickly and naturally leaves them cold again and looking for the next 'hit'. If there is any truth in the idea of suffering being a necessary component of life, then lots of people's debt is going to come due at some point, and like I said, possibly all at once.

Indeed. And if money is energy, with Western levels of financial debt (private and public) being astronomical, financial collapse of the dollar might be the breaking dam that unleashes a tsunami of 'overdue' suffering.
 

LQB

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Niall said:
Joe said:
Rather than being encouraged to realize and accept that life involves suffering and, most importantly, through suffering we learn, they have been manipulated into putting the brakes on learning/growth in favor of chasing instant gratification that very quickly and naturally leaves them cold again and looking for the next 'hit'. If there is any truth in the idea of suffering being a necessary component of life, then lots of people's debt is going to come due at some point, and like I said, possibly all at once.

Indeed. And if money is energy, with Western levels of financial debt (private and public) being astronomical, financial collapse of the dollar might be the breaking dam that unleashes a tsunami of 'overdue' suffering.

Yes, and a very good summary statement Niall!
 
Niall said:
Joe said:
Rather than being encouraged to realize and accept that life involves suffering and, most importantly, through suffering we learn, they have been manipulated into putting the brakes on learning/growth in favor of chasing instant gratification that very quickly and naturally leaves them cold again and looking for the next 'hit'. If there is any truth in the idea of suffering being a necessary component of life, then lots of people's debt is going to come due at some point, and like I said, possibly all at once.

Indeed. And if money is energy, with Western levels of financial debt (private and public) being astronomical, financial collapse of the dollar might be the breaking dam that unleashes a tsunami of 'overdue' suffering.

Or perhaps an offer waits to be made to the human kind: you can escape your "karma" but for this to work you need to give up some of your freedom, for the sake of an entirely new system.

Not hard to predict what the choice is likely to be.
 
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