Making Sense Of The Agony Caused By Rampant Insanity
Sanity comes from the Latin word Stanitas which roughly translates to ‘Health and Wellness’. Simply put, the meaning of sanity is a healthy person, and insanity equals unhealthy. There are different ways to interpret sanity. The type of sanity I’m talking about is the well-being of the individual. Their ability to ‘Make sense of the World’. To act in ways that are healthy, adaptive and functional for them and the society as a whole.
Does The Society have Contradicting Opinions?
Jiddu Krishnamurti (philosopher 1895-1986) said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”. When we think about our desire to be more popular, make more money, climb the corporate ladder, or command the respect of people, we’re trying to be more adjusted in this society.
But we live in a society that thinks that subjugation of the masses is a reasonable approach to conflict resolution. It’s only after years that we realise that there were fiscal motives not manifested at the time. There were other alternatives, without weapons of mass destruction, and most of the people who suffered were innocent civilians. As rational thinking people, we must question the meaning of sanity that our society holds. We must take a hard look at the decisions that we make at a societal level.
The evident massive human-induced species extinction, climate change, ocean acidification etc., is leading to an unsustainable environment on earth. It’s almost like our behaviour is collectively suicidal. That doesn’t seem sane from a collective definition. It does not match the meaning of sanity we have been referring to for ages.
Do We Really Understand the Meaning of Sanity?
Can we truly call ourselves civil yet? What does it mean to be civilised?
Adhering to war and subjugation as solutions to resolve conflict instead of other peaceful strategies is not humane or sane. Then we have a society where we have an underprivileged population (which is also rampant). And no earnest measures are being taken to fix it. The massive wealth inequality in some countries is alarming. Yet here are a few countries that don’t have this issue to some extent. We have models that have solved it, but we haven’t even attempted to adopt them. Is that sane?
It’s interesting because if we look at Psychopathy/Sociopathy, they are considered mental illnesses, as per the existing healthcare system. We don’t consider a person who is rational and can make good choices for themselves but just happens to enjoy the pain of others as just a particular predilection. We say that it’s actually a mental illness. This is because humans are social primates, and being mentally well doesn’t just mean proper individual functioning but functioning in a way that allows other humans to function properly as well.
So, if Psychopathy/Sociopathy are mental illnesses and we continue to support unethical practices happening around us just because it’s more convenient and we don’t want to think about it, is that not like a low-grade psychopathy/sociopathy manifesting at a collective level? Is it not the degradation of our empathy to the point that our behaviour is, directly or indirectly, through complexity, being harmful to the world at large, and as a result, harmful to us too.
Diminishing Case of Empathy With Increasing Power
I would argue, there are social conditions that are conditioning the turning down of empathy as an adaptive response since otherwise, people would feel emotionally crushed. Sometimes mental illness is adaptive to a damaged world and is the only way to function in a damaged world. Is it a damaged world driving damaged people, or is it damaged people driving a damaged world? It’s obviously a vicious cycle — a feedback process. And we need to understand how that feedback process works to turn it into a virtuous cycle that conditions people towards better mental health.
If we think at a slightly smaller level — at how rampant abuse of power is — almost everywhere, where power exists, its abuse exists. So then we want to ask, is it in the nature of humans to be destructive when given power and is it inexorable? We can argue very clearly that that’s not the case. It has more to do with the existing processes of our society. For someone to get to a high position in a highly competitive and cut-throat environment like finance, the movie business, or the government, they had to compete against many other people in a lot of zero-sum games.
This means they had to have the orientation towards power and the desire towards it, and the ability to turn off empathy when indulging in such cut-throat competitions. And so those environments are incentivising and selecting for and conditioning abuse of power. So this becomes a really core question about, ‘Are the institutions (like the Government – at large) themselves Mental illness producing mechanisms ?’
The Deteriorating Effect of Environmental Dynamics on Masses
At the individual level, when we look at how many people (both in the developed and developing world) wrestle with non-trivial levels of anxiety, depression or existential angst, anhedonia, addiction, body image issues, or loneliness, we realise the gravity of the problems we face. Besides a few people who have achieved profound levels of self-development, almost everyone else suffers negativity bias. And I’m going to argue that that’s not native to the human condition; that it’s actually a result of societal and environmental dynamics that are conditioning the masses.
Let’s assess one of these negative conditionalities. Suppose we take a look at loneliness. If people look into the famous psychologist Bruce Alexander’s research on addiction, the primary cause behind addiction is loneliness, and there is really good evidence supporting his claims. If we look at how many people are lonely enough to be depressed and suicidal, we will observe that it is a common phenomenon. This is because humanity, for most of history, has evolved in tribal dynamics. But now we have people living on their own or in a nuclear family.
And that’s not native to the human condition. Such a paradigm invites rampant addiction as a way to fill our loneliness, an evolutionary void that didn’t exist before. We can observe this with social media as well.
The Absolute Downfall Social Media is Leading Us To
If we look at how social media platforms operate, we realise that they have a financial incentive to maximise the amount of time people spend on-site.
For instance, Facebook earns most of its income through advertisement revenue; the more time people spend on Facebook, the more money they make. Data scientists, psychologists and AI experts have brought into existence the company whose primary goal is to maximise the time we spend online on the website. They achieve this by employing addictive mechanisms, by designing the news feed algorithms to be as addictive as possible. But we know it’s not healthy.
Research from Stanford University states that “the more time people spend on social media, the more depressed they are”. Facebook alone has 2.8billion people on it, which is four times more people present in the world at the beginning of the industrial revolution. So it’s a civilization-scale platform that affects people’s consciousness, mind, and psyche, with seemingly antithetical profit motivations that negatively affect the wellness of people.
So what’s best for people is to get off Facebook and spend more time with actual people because they are lonely. We go on Facebook to connect with people, but it’s not a meaningful connection.
Are There Abhorrent Consequences Of The Dopamine Effect on Human Mind?
Using social media is like consuming sugar; to get a dopamine hit, but it has no real nutrients, so we feel hungry again after a short while. We observe a phenomenon of hyper-normal stimulus, a state that results in far more neurotransmitter production than when we experience a regular stimulation. In a natural evolutionary environment, we didn’t have much sugar; we had berries, and they were not that abundant or as sweet as the modern hybridised berries.
They were only in season for a short time, but they were dense enough that there was an evolutionary benefit to take as many as you could, store a little bit of fat and make it through famines. Hence, a big dopamine hit comes at us the moment we consume sugar. But that was not a big deal because we couldn’t get sugar often enough, and consuming lots of sugar was actually useful because later, one would burn it off. But now, we have a world where we can produce sugar on demand. We have a paradigm wherein people are dying of obesity-related diseases rather than starvation.
It’s a hyper normal stimulus, i.e., we get a stronger dopamine hit than when we get from eating a salad or anything healthy. This creates a cycle wherein we get progressively less healthy, and our dopamine receptors also get less sensitive. When someone’s lonely, they are more susceptible to overindulging than when they are engaged in what they love to do. We end up locking our state of mind in a hypo-normal stimuli state. That results in us feeling a sense of emptiness that we’re always trying to fill through overconsumption. The point is, people are more susceptible to hyper-normal stimuli when they have a hypo-normal environment.
In today’s world, people have an insufficient amount of human connection. If they have the human connection it isn’t intimate enough to feel like a real human connection. We end up needing more to feel good because our baseline is – feeling worse. We are always hiding behind a digital facade. That’s why so many people don’t feel well connected to themselves or their own purpose.
Thus a new baseline sets in, where what’s normal seems hypo-normal, leading to addictive patterns that foster a hyper-normal state. This is where overconsumption of sugar, drugs, video games, social media, and pornography come in — to fill the emptiness we feel. That’s the addiction cycle. The natural impetus of a business is to vector in a direction that favours overconsumption. So that it outcompetes others for greater market share. With the realisation of such dynamics, we see a world where depression, loneliness and addiction are ubiquitous. We develop a clear understanding of why the world is the way it is.