Is Humanity Nuts?
In the late 1960’s this valley atop Kilimanjaro was white - covered in a glaciation that has now retreated to the horizon…it will soon be gone, in our life time the roof of Africa will lose its beautiful cap of snow and ice. (Photo Dan Baschiera, 2015)
A MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGE FOR HUMANITARIANISM THE GLOBAL SUICIDAL IDEATION (INSANITY) CONCEPT (GSI)
An Essay by Dan Baschiera
“Man is the most insane species - he worships an invisible God and destroys a visible nature. Unaware that the nature he is destroying is this God he is worshipping.” (Hubert Reeves)
“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” (Albert Schweitzer)
The economic and political mindset in globalisation still argues a justification for ‘growth’ within the finite reality of a planet rapidly coming to the anthropogenic limit of its bio-capacity.
The survivability of the human trajectory, questioned since the splitting of the atom, now appears intertwined and hardwired in money, consumerism and its ‘stuff’.
Given we rank humanity with some intelligence and rational thought, globally, why do we face an absurdity? It appears we are currently experiencing what many would argue as an existential extinction event.
As an ‘event’, it can be defined in the most simplistic terms as an acceleration of globalised ‘progress’ without a collective nurturing and care. It is, of course, more complex than that.
A defensive denial will be the first reaction by many to the content and questions posed in this essay. The questions are many, and likewise raised by many - one is the bumper sticker and T-shirt logo quoted below and seen around the world. “Why are we living on this planet as if we have another one to go to?” (Terry Swearingen)
Is Humanity ‘nuts’?
In Humanitarianism, there are now philosophical discussions and questions on a mental health platform that seriously question human sanity at a global level.
In the face of the regular, tolerated and ‘acceptable’ planetary insults, a relevant question now emerges – does the ‘vision concept’ broadly described amongst humanitarians as a Global Suicidal Ideation (GSI) really exist? Are global warming, radioactive disasters and plastic oceans merely the symptom of a more significant underlying global mental health problem? Are we seeing the consequences of a social, economic and political global order that is blatantly unsustainable?
Does our global mental health need to be radically challenged with essential changes to enable and strengthen human and indeed environmental survival?
Our oceans are in serious trouble – dying! (Antarctica Journal) Scientists have been raising this alarm for decades, yet we continue with a denial and a political disdain when rationally we should be working together to resolve this no longer ‘pending’ planetary crisis before it is too late.
“Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography sampled an expanse of the sea between Hawaii and California, where currents tend to deposit flotsam from around the Pacific basin, and found a garbage patch, or gyre, the size of Texas…” (Antarctica Journal)
Scientists in the Scripps Institute are calling this ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ stating among other concerns it is housing predators that are massively consuming plankton and fish eggs. (Antarctica Journal December 2017)
Should the current level of species extinction and wildlife endangerment also serve as a litmus to our globalised mental health condition – our global lack of responsibility to the planet and its future?
This is an essay responding to the call for a new revolutionary thinking in humanitarian organisations (including religion). It is a call, a vision to use the huge entity that humanitarianism has become in an effort towards grasping the precarious emerging reality of human insanity on a global scale. Identified as the self-centred danger it poses to our children and their future generations.
Has our rapid technical ability now outstripped our ethical social maturity? There also appears to be a ‘techno-social’ crises emerging, where robotics and digitisation are increasingly ‘controlling’ us.
“I don't think advances in artificial intelligence will necessarily be benign.” Stephen Hawking
In short, do we globally need to change our thinking? Is Humanity ‘nuts’?
“Humanity's strategy is to learn from mistakes. When the end of the world is at stake, that is a terrible strategy.” (Max Tegmark MIT)
The discussion and suggested proposal in this essay proposes a discourse for some immediate response in Humanitarianism, Journalism and Conservationism given it appears the human body politic (whatever ideology) and its dominant handmaidens of Commercialism and Militarism are now demonstrating inadequacy as paradigms for human survivability.
While there are some positive moves in the right direction, and political ‘use’ of the issues – we must not become complacent about human and specie survivability - from now until ever! Studying daily media (let alone what is not in the media) we can see that there are already too many insults to the planet…We are on the edge of a precipice.
The discussion also contextualises the concept of ‘Groupthink’.
Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/groupthink)
The context of this essay reflects on the above defined ‘Group Think’ but on a much broader scale, a global scale. However, calling it ‘Global think’ denies our complex human articulation – as a definition it is not as clear cut as Group think.
What appears though is a similar, if not more confusing, and a more dangerous human thinking pattern. Dangerous because it threatens human and species survivability on the planet. It is a pattern reflected in the global systems that are out of control and an insanity of ‘a global think’ based on a commercialised and militarised ‘infinite growth paradigm’. The simple reality is that our planet is finite. Will humanity now overshoot the planet’s bio-capacity?
Rachel Nuwer in her BBC award winning essay writes a similar concern about our global economy:
“The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.”
Has technological and economic ‘development’ now surpassed our capacity for that rational thought that we ‘had hoped’ was and is developing within our evolutionary maturity?
Hopefully, an intelligent reflection asks the following. Is market over-consumption by the richer nations now damaging our ability to exist in harmony? In a collectively healthy manner, do we need a planned slow-down, a policy of economic ‘de-growth’ for a collective prosperity beyond just individualised (shareholder) profit?
In the words of controversial psychiatrist R.D. Laing is “…sanity the ability to control our own reality”?
The issue, like all mental health issues, is complex, and made further complex because it is of a political and global manifestation. Despite all our attempts to avert climate change we are still falling well short of targets (BBC Environment). Is this lack of control of our survivability a suicidal ideation without borders riding on a wave of ‘economic growth’, like an insatiable drug addiction?
While some true leaders are evident in the global politic we have concerning levels of powerful lability in leadership and in the context of survivability, a measure of political incompetence.
We appear to have a global society where governments (fascist and democratic) forsake the political contract – that mandate to care for the electorate. Instead, they appear to respond to the demands of corporations where the main “modus operandi” is to run global society as a conglomerate of business. This situation creates an ethical status of the winner takes all…but where do you take it to?
“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure of the universe.” The pertinence of the many reflections of Albert Einstein applies well in this essay. He also wrote “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.
The threat of crises has always been a historical and rational occurrence within our humanity. Zealots and prophets of one form or another have always forecast an end ‘to life as we know it’, a judgement day – a loss of the world. This type of prophecy has been recorded down through history.
The threats we currently perceive, however, are not those foretold by some dreaming and legendary prophets. They are threats defined by human behaviour and modern science and certainly not a divine revelation or insight. Basic and painstaking research appears to be telling us that anthropogenically we are, in fact, killing ourselves – a collective self-murder for profit and convenience (plastic is a great convenience). The term Ecocide has already been defined (Wiki Pedia). What this essay is attempting to do is to rationalise our powerful anthropogenic domination of the planet and its collective self-harm to a change of thinking – toward a constructive healthy thinking. It raises the concept of a Global Suicidal Ideation as we do not appear to want to change our thinking and direction.
Critique of this of this essay argues it is already 40 years to late!
We also have climate change deniers, yet interestingly denial is often the pre-cursor to a mental health diagnosis (Psychology Today). No doubt a response to this essay will also be a denial that ‘Humanity is nuts’. This while continuing the economic engineering of outmoding or developing ‘consumable stuff’ and stimulating ‘entitlement schemas’. It is a madness toward consuming and needing more – a madness for commercialised shareholder profit and not for the healthy thinking of collective and constructive global care.
Constantly, in political elections all over the globe we hear of parties of varying ideologies assuming the way out of any economic problem is to increase economic growth and arguing the best ways this ‘growth’ can be achieved. Economic growth is a questionable goal particularly when not applied with collective care or a form of constructive conscious capitalism. It often, as evidenced, causes an ongoing and expanding milieu of environmental, social, and economic problems. (Ife J.)
In the light of the introduced concept of global suicidal ideation and its suicide by ‘stuff’ the following seminal words have prophetic modern-day traction. “Capitalism contains within it the seeds of its own destruction.” – Karl Marx. It is also ironic given that the first rule of business is survival. Possibly a more encompassing definition of modern capitalism could look at the neurosis of profit within planetary destruction. Is our current ‘business paradigm’ a healthy paradigm?
The term ‘stuff’ is questionably ironic – we need stuff, but how can we make it compatible to environmental health?
While living in a finite world it is delusional to think that relentless ‘techno-industrial growth’ can continue without a rationalisation based more on global care than profit. Climate change consequences and oceanic plastic pollution now kill indiscriminately. Have we now reached the limits to this planet’s economic growth? (Hamilton 2003, De Young & Princen 2012, Jackson T 2011)
“Mankind has probably done more damage to the Earth in the 20th century than in all of previous human history.” Jacques Yves Cousteau. In the 1960’s he also said with some remarkable prescience “Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”
Logic has it that humanity in destroying its’ planet – is, ergo, destroying itself. Is this how we will end? Is this why SETI (The Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) in its many configurations has not found anything? Can ‘intelligent life’ differentiate need from greed for successful survival as Gandhi so aptly put it? Intelligent aliens so far come from ‘Hollywood’.
“The only thing the good lord has distributed fairly is intelligence. Everyone is quite sure they have more of it than anyone else.” Dr Samuel Johnson.
Let this essay pose the following questions – what if we are the only ‘intelligent’ life form in the universe, what does that make us and what does that mean?
The synchronistic formula (the study of relevant coincidence) that has enabled our and other species’ existence on this planet, and in fact the existence of our ‘blue planet’ may well surpass any calculation of infinity…
The Universe is literally awash with water, and although water in its liquid state is yet to be discovered outside of the solar system, there are huge reservoirs of water in its gaseous and frozen states in the molecular clouds out of which stars are forming as far as the (aided) eye can see. (Universe)
While, as stated, the compound of water is plentiful in its solid and gaseous forms throughout the universe as a liquid it is potentially very rare (like aliens yet to be found). A synchronistic ‘fine-tuned formula’ for water to exist in liquid form means by some good fortune we may have won a cosmic lottery and own a water planet - a blue planet. While we search the cosmos with our SETI programs we have yet to find water in its 3rd (and for life) its most valuable form - as a liquid. It begs the question what does it mean to be alive due to a significant coincidence?
“God does not play dice with the Universe.” Albert Einstein
Why are we destroying ourselves?
In humanitarian discourse, questions often lead to more questions, whilst we try to grapple with attempts at answers. There are times though when a question should draw a line in the sand and I believe this is one of them.
Is the above now an elementary yet revolutionary question humanitarianism should be asking or at least reflecting on and if so what can we propose to do about it?
Can humanitarianism work towards raising a global consciousness as to the state of our global collective mental health? Do we have the right in humanitarianism to change the way we think – to work toward changing the way humanity thinks?
“The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right or wrong.” C.G. Jung. While arguable the current state of the planet now makes this glib Jungian statement somewhat worrisome.
"Either we limit our population growth, or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now…Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a co-ordinated view about the planet, it's going to get worse and worse." David Attenborough.
In richer nations where subsistence needs are met, there is still a drive to proliferate consumer goods that do little more to improve quality of life. How is it that with so much “stuff” already in our lives that we hunger for more? Is it a social sense of insecurity? Is aggressive commercialism driving blind consumerism attempting to fill ‘empty’ lives? Is it caused by an elitist abuse of the ethics within human professionalism - driving human entitlement schemas so that seemingly more needs to be consumed? “Madness” behaviour when it is well argued that we are ‘environmentally’ spinning out of control and planet earth is our only spaceship.
“There are no passengers on spaceship earth. Only crew”. Marshall Mcluhan.
Consumerism is seen and described as a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. This is a way of thinking, in the light of common sense human wellbeing. It is an ideology that now needs challenging by the media, but here lies the conundrum - mainstream media is controlled by commercialism, not by humanitarianism.
I believe we are living in the midst of an interminable succession of absurdities imposed by ‘growth for profit’ and myopic short-term political thinking. I argue that we are suffering a global suicidal ideation by default – a suicide by ‘stuff’. (Even though stuff can be useful).
I believe that there is a need for a change of thinking and therefore the need for humanitarianism to harness the elite and powerful in a perspective to effect change. They already exercise their power in global society by controlling key institutions (Ife p.65) such as education, corporations, media, politics, banks, finance, governments, and so on.
In 1955, economist Victor Lebow stated that “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”
We are now heading toward the unknown of ‘Rubicon Time’ with that crazy drive to consume ‘stuff’ – the more we consume the more we feel empowered. This ‘need’ has been conditioned into our heads by the psyche of consumerism. Surely it must be time now to invoke a change of thinking?
The development of plastic, for example, was an enormous ‘scientific’ revolution however, it only really bred ‘convenience’ – that elementary key to marketing. Plastic is not finite (bio degradable) and we and many other species are now choking on it. The fact that there are still no legislative controls on its mass manufacture is further evidence that ‘humanity is nuts’. Governments are not thinking about the longevity of civilization and a positive global mental health status. Politicians and corporations continue to squabble and squander as we watch our planet die. This is not civilization.
Empowerment towards a positive global mental health condition can only be achieved by developing or changing structures and institutions to bring about healthier access to resources, services and opportunities for all. This to participate humanely with civilised dignity in the global community.
When asked what he thought of modern civilisation Mahatma Gandhi was to reply, “That would be a good idea”.
Some of the coming impacts on humanitarianism
Below, in part, is a short listing of ongoing and potential events humanitarianism is going to have to respond to in our countdown to the Rubicon - the point of no return and beyond:
Plastic macro and micro materials – waterway and oceanic pollution and erosion into carcinogenic organic capture and massive quantifiably unknown bird/fish kills;
Multiply antibiotic resistant bacteria strains – a lack of global restrictive protocol use of antibiotics;
Latent epidemics such as a new (but ancient) potentially droplet spread Haemorrhagic Viral Fever which would have a high mobility and rapid spread (our populations continue to cut down trees and in hunger feed on animals with a close human genome e.g. fruit bats/monkeys);
A commercialised, processed, nutrient deficient, chemically laden and potentially harmful diet - possibly linked to the developed world’s rapid rise in autism and dementia. By 2025, it has been suggested that autism will impact 60% of all the developed world’s children;
The severe, destructive and unfair effects of climate change - drought, wind, fire and water;
Steadily rising sea levels;
Increasing earthquake and volcanic eruptions – polar meltdowns and tectonic pressure modulations;
Potential economic crashes – rampant capitalism/market forces/economic rationalism evoke unpredictability and provide limited controls. Society is now being run as a business – companies are holding governments to ransom when they are too big to fail;
Journalism sadly dictated to by commercialisation – stupefying humanity;
A global political addiction to a limitless ‘economic growth’ in a finite system;
War and conflict in its varied manifestations;
Massive displacement and refugee surges;
The ‘Black Swan’ event(s) – unpredicted, and unknown, catastrophes (asteroid strike) - natural and anthropogenic;
Chain reactions in and to chaos events;
Logistical disasters following catastrophe(s);
Rubicon Time - an undetermined point of no return, which science attempts to predict, but with a real fear of not knowing when;
We are now running out of time – an issue enhanced by globalisation, elitism and corporate control. The horror is inevitable and cognitive dissonance is setting in – “managing” a problem by denying it.
The horror - will it accelerate by surfing on a black swan and are there many potentials here?
Any of the above phenomena in this incomplete list, or indeed a combination of threats, could be the trigger point for consequences of an unimagined scale. There is potential for a globally compounded multiple disaster further triggering massive anthropogenic and environmental crashes. Is this the future challenge for humanitarianism as it already is in many ways for environmentalism, with journalism seeing it happen but powerless to the dictates of commercialism and politics? Can brothers and sisters in commercialism and militarism, regardless of ideology, help contain our dangerous thinking and behaviours? Can humanity work together to save its most sacred entity – our planet and its life?
“Do not be a fool – why die before your time?” (Ecclesiastes 7:17b)
“And do not kill yourselves. Surely, God is Most Merciful to you.” (Quran 4:29)
Humanitarian and media stakeholders could set up a powerful media system at a global level to educate and influence elite and influential individual/companies/corporations and countries to change thinking and effect change toward the collective care of the planet. Further debate needs to happen here. For example, what gives us the right to influence thinking?
The essay strategically proposes that the humanitarian agency should partner with global networks. Humanitarianism must be built up through journalism to a significant general interest level with mainstream global news TV/IView/internet/etc. Humanitarian news feeds need to be well represented by the major channels such as the BBC, CNN, ABC, Aljazeera, Sky News, etc. There may need to be work with these networks to enhance humanitarian content and knowledge growth to develop our mental plasticity for altruism and planetary concern. It appears (given the numerous short ‘news grabs’) mainstream media are very concerned about the planet – evidenced regularly on news streams, so there may be a pathway within a mainstream media channels. Where journalism, conservation and humanitarianism, can work cooperatively, constructively and collectively for change.
This is a voice call to the future, where humanitarianism through a media mechanism collectively links benefits, discussion, and education to a global audience, enhancing the depth, breadth and plasticity of compassion in the care for our global populations. Humanitarianism, Journalism and Conservationism need to provide and develop a pathway so that this education enables a global change of thinking. We all need to work together.
Funding for this ‘revolution’ could emerge from an associative proposal of global humanitarian agencies – perhaps a pathway into the future for Rotary, ICRC, MSF, etc.
Ethics: Ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethic
All governments are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain ethical economic development, standards of living etc. Conventional economic solutions are now failing to work and are only short term. The inequities and limits of the global economic system are becoming apparent. Economists and most professional commentators are now coming to the view that our major problems cannot be solved within the existing system and its paradigms and that radical change is needed towards a different global society.
It is necessary to seek a system that breaks the cycle of growth and is not dependent on continuing ‘growth’ for its maintenance. A model of global sustainability and prosperity should emerge in this discourse enhancing the practice of humanitarianism, Journalism and conservationism.
While under significant pressure already, civilisation as we know it is not a lost cause. I believe using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development. Fellow writers and thinkers like Homer-Dixon agree. Even as we weather the coming stresses of climate change, population growth, plastic oceans, dropping energy returns, and the black swans on our horizon I believe a supported humanitarianism can collectively harness human common sense to both maintain our societies and better them. It requires resisting the very natural urge, when confronted with such overwhelming pressures, to become deniers in our dissonance and/or conflictual in our thinking. Failure to reflect on our response can mean we become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason. As Homer Dixon puts it “The question is, how can we manage to preserve some kind of humane world as we make our way through these changes?” (Thomas Homer Dixon)
Media education can focus on the tool of economics but mould it to change direction away from profit before people and life as we know it and toward a global prosperity. In other words, use modern economics to defend conservation and humanity – not destroy it.
A global media education is needed to grow social knowledge, responsibility and enthusiasm. We must generate altruism and in turn carefully and ethically harvest that altruism for the benefit of the planet. We also need to reflect on the following – money in our known history is a major component of our humanity and individuality. Does the mismanagement of this resource mean an end to our humanity? Can we work towards a better outcome? I think we can, but together.
We like to define ourselves as “Homo sapiens” when really it would appear we are more “Homo Aquaticus”, that missing link, a swimming ape where in my view fish oil may have expanded our brain before recorded history.
We now need to use this brain rationally - to focus on the future truly as “Homo sapiens” – wise man and not as “Homo insania” – lunatic.
“You can check out any time you like but you can never leave” The Eagles – Hotel California
Hamilton C. 2003 Growth Fetish, Allen & Unwin (Sydney).
Homer Dixon T.
De Young, R. & Princen T. 2012 The localization reader: adapting to the coming downshift. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mas.
Jackson T. 2011 Prosperity without growth: Economics for a finite planet. Earthscan, London.
Ife J. 2013 Community Development in an Uncertain World. Cambridge University Press.
Rees N. 2006 Brewer’s Famous Quotations. Orion Publishing Group, WS Bookwell.
Universe February 10, 2016/UNIVERSE
The Holy Bible.
About the Author:
Dan Baschiera is a veteran Social Worker reading Humanitarianism for three decades.
Receiving the highest Rotary Honour in a Citation for his Fields of Service, and collectively nominated as person of the year as one of the Ebola fighters in 2014. He has published and shown leadership in the development of humanitarianism, initiating and developing Australia’s first undergraduate degree in Humanitarian and Community Studies.
A contemporary thinker he is humbly grateful for the knowledge gained in the field and the learning from all the people he has worked and studied with.