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Are we crazy?

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I’ve had it. Another shooting. And children, for god’s sake. .Let’s call this for what it is.


We talk about mental illness as if mental illness is just a personal problem, which, in part, it is.  We ask, “Was the shooter mentally ill?”

When do we ask the same of our culture?

The shooters in Uvalde and Buffalo belonged to a culture that lets some people/ leaders claim their right to be bigoted, selfish, manipulative, and heartless and not be called mentally ill.

Instead of only diagnosing the individual, isn’t it time to also diagnose the culture and the belief systems that allowed the killings at Robb Elementary School and Buffalo to happen?

Diagnosing the disease

The psychology profession invests hugely in a book by the American Psychiatric Association called the DSM,  the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  

It allows therapists and clinicians to find codes they can apply to the individuals they are treating. I think this helps with insurance.

I once had the rare opportunity to see the maverick psychiatrist R.D. Laing do a dramatic reading of the DSM. He’d turn to a page, read some codes and make us laugh at how ridiculously general some codes were and how they applied to many of us with normal reactions to life. Today, if the profession could keep up with the times, I’d probably be coded with  “Environmental anxiety with hints of despair about climate change,” which seems like a justifiable way to be.

Why don’t we code the culture?

Why do we code individuals and not code the culture, part of which is, frankly, insane?

To get the ball rolling, I’ve started a list of culture codes for the Cultural DSM (CDSM) – please remember the manual is in its earliest draft.

Although these conditions manifest in individuals, for the purpose of this list, they are dealt with as aberrant cultural beliefs.

CDSM  1.45  Weaponism.  The belief that God (or his surrogate) wants everyone to own an AK-47, and that privately owning a military assault weapon is a human right (but access to health care is not).

CDSM 1.82 Excessive wealth disorder. The belief that it’s OK for certain individuals to manipulate the economy, through taxes, politics, or whatever, in order to amass millions/billions of personal wealth, while hunger is allowed to persist on the planet.

CDSM 1.82 B  Not-enough-ism also called the Give-me-more disorder. The belief that whatever wealth you accrue is never enough. Often combined with a distinct lack (or proportionately low) amount of charity.

CDSM 2.5 Gaslighting disorder. Gives permission to people of influence to make up whatever-the-f they want to say and promote it in the media as truth, often for ideological or manipulative reasons.  

CDMS 4.2 Walk-away-ism. Cultural tendency to grieve tragedies like Sandy Hook or Uvalde for a few days, and gradually forget them. May be combined with “Denial-ism” and applied to historic events like the Holocaust.

CDSM 5 Environmental disorders. Here we have a growing subset.

CDSM 5.1 Refusal to believe that climate change is real and reflective of human action.

CDSM 5.4 Refusal to see the earth as a living thing, (whether called Gaia or not), thus justifying extracting, abusing, and draining the living essence of the earth.

CDSM 8.0 Better-ism. This is a large category supporting the belief that some groups, races, and religions are better and more deserving than others. Subcategories include racism, classism, homophobia and genderism, nationalism, religious righteousness, and many more. Refusal to see each other as human.

CDSM 10.2  I-want-my-freedom-but-you-don’t-get-yours disorder. This includes support for those who don’t want to be constrained to wear masks, helmets, or otherwise support the social good but demand authority over what a woman does with her body.

CDSN 11.1 Walk-away-ism. The ability to see poverty, homelessness, and degraded lives, and walk away or blame those who suffering as if it’s only “their problem.”

CDSM 13.4 Discard disorder. The tendency to treat marginalized populations, such as the mentally ill, those with dementia, the elderly, the disabled, and the developmentally disabled as “discards and rejects.”

CDSM 13.25 Solo-philia. The obsession with individualism at the expense of noticing that we live in community and in society. Often combined with homo-obsessed or the belief that we, as humans, are the only thing that matters on the planet.

CDSM 12.1 Words-without-action disorder. The ability to continually talk about the need for change, without managing to do anything. Spreads through groups of politicians.

Obviously, the list is much longer and deserves to be refined by those whose language is more precise than mine.

I don’t want to imply that I’m immune from some of these cultural crazy ideas. They are in the air I breathe.

When I had COVID (last week) I was quarantined for ten days. Maybe it’s time for a cultural time-out, a quarantine in which we stop spreading our cultural mental illness, take some time for reflection, acknowledge our diseases, and plan a path to recovery.

We can’t keep diagnosing individuals as crazy, while not acknowledging the craziness of our culture. Our cultural insanity feeds individual beliefs and can lead to terrible actions.

You may argue that it is through individuals that the culture will change and I’ll buy that. But until we diagnose our cultural diseases we are at their effects. And frankly, no one is immune.

My heart goes out to the families wounded by the insanity. My prayers are with you.

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5 Responses

  1. Sally – thank you for this thoughtful essay! Your words so eloquently express what I have been thinking in past few days since this latest horror. We can and must continue to talk about gun laws, but the problem is so much bigger and more complex than that, and it comes back to the culture. As a culture, we have so seriously lost our way, that to call it insane is almost an understatement. The first step to healing is always to acknowledge the need for it, and I guess even before that we must ask the question – “What ails us?” Your list is a good start in addressing the question.

    I believe that if one were to name a single huge cause behind all the items in your list, it would be spiritual impoverishment and materialism taken to its final conclusion – a dead universe devoid of meaning.

    How does a culture heal? What can we learn from other cultures that have undergone a healing process? I have been asking this question for years now, and it always comes back to how we raise (educate and care for) our children. And of course we each, as individuals, must look honestly within ourselves as well, since, as you pointed out, no one is immune. We are all in this together, like a big pool, and there is so much cleaning up to do! Blessings to you for what you share in these blogs.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful words. I so resonate with the single huge cause you write about – spiritual impoverishment and materialism. Unless we can see through that spiritual lens, we will only see part of the world and be blind to so much that matters.

      I agree about educating the children. And how we educate them depends upon the consciousness of the adults.

      I wish there were an easier answer. You don’t shift consciousness over night.

      Thanks for writing!

  2. Sally

    I always enjpy your insights, but this one is especially meaningful–your SDSM is brilliant! I agree with you wholeheartedly in looking at the culture. Esepcially tuned into the #5s!
    Thank you!

  3. I am stating the obvious, but I wonder about one side’s obsession with “unborn children” combined with their refusal to even support small changes regarding private access to the military-grade weapons that have been used on already-born children.
    I wonder how folks whose values prohibit them from using violence/hypocrisy/exploitation/manipulation/deceit have a chance against those who see those same things simply as strategies and tactics.

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