Functionally insane Americans
By David McGowan
August 2, 2003—There have been many attempts made, by both the legal and mental health communities, to define "insanity." But it seems to me that that term can be most succinctly defined as: "a disconnection from reality." And the severity of any individual's insanity is a function of the degree of that person's disconnection from reality.
That definition, of course, is entirely dependent on how "reality" is defined. From the point of view of the state, "reality" is whatever the shapers of public opinion say it is. Anyone who disagrees with the voices of authority is, therefore, insane. From that perspective, people such as, for instance, yours truly, are completely bonkers.
But if we base our definition on a relatively objective reality, then most of the people that I know are, without question, insane. Most of my relatives are insane. Most of my friends are insane. Most of the people that I work with are insane. Damn near everyone in the country is at least mildly insane. A very large majority are moderately to severely insane. And according to polls, at least a third are stark raving mad.
These people hold beliefs that are clearly delusional—that have absolutely no connection to reality. And they persist in holding these beliefs even when not a shred of evidence can be produced to support them. And no, I'm not talking about people who believe in UFOs, reincarnation, and the Loch Ness Monster. And I'm also not talking about people who believe in some supreme spiritual entity.
I'm talking about people who believe that 'weapons of mass destruction' have been uncovered in Iraq . . . who believe that 'weapons of mass destruction' were used against our troops over there . . . who even believe that 'weapons of mass destruction' is something other than a arbitrary term cooked up recently by Uncle Sam to describe weapons systems possessed by our 'enemies,' regardless of the actual destructive capability of those systems.
The functionally insane also believe that Iraqis were among the hijackers who allegedly commandeered the planes on September 11, 2001. It is difficult to fathom, but these people are so crazed that they have actually taken the government's already fanciful conspiracy theory, which is itself totally disconnected from reality, and they have made it even more ludicrous by adding some Iraqis to the mix. I'm betting that a few years down the road these same people will also believe that there were a couple of Liberians on one of the planes, as well as an Iranian guy, a couple of North Koreans, a Syrian, and perhaps a Cuban or two. Maybe even a French couple.
It's the damnedest thing, but in addition to holding these bizarre beliefs, these people can't even seem to see the walls going up. Perhaps that is the silver lining in being completely insane: when you are that thoroughly disconnected from reality, you don't even know that you are living in an asylum.
And so it is that we see the functionally insane behaving as though they still live outside the walls .. as though nothing has changed in their lives . . . as though their children haven't been stripped of any sort of meaningful future. You see these people everywhere, walking around without a care in the world, discussing who should have won the last American Idol, who the newest Bachelor should choose as his soul mate, whether a professional bodybuilder would make a better or worse governor than a professional wrestler, and whether Dr. Phil gives better relationship advice than Dr. Laura.
The beliefs of the functionally insane are not, by definition, based on objective facts, so it can be quite frustrating trying to communicate with one of them on anything other than a superficial level. Fully documented facts will either be dismissed out-of-hand or explained away using the exact same verbiage that spills from the cable 'news' programs—as though these people's minds are mere tape-recorders, rather than tools for analysis. It is not uncommon for the most severely insane to greet inconvenient facts with a practiced look that seems to say, more or less: "What are you—some kind of an idiot? Obviously you don't watch Fox News, 'cause if you did, we wouldn't need to have this conversation!"
One of the more bizarre ideas that seems to have recently taken root in the minds of the functionally insane is that the question of whether the Bush administration lied to the American people during the selling of the Iraq war hinges entirely on a mere 16 words inserted into the State of the Union Address—overlooking the rather obvious fact that every official on the Bush team knowingly and quite deliberately lied pretty much every time they stepped up to the plate to offer some imaginary justification for the war.
Another strange belief that has taken hold is that if Team Bush—at the very time that the media had actually called them on one lie out of thousands, and at the very time that the congressional 9–11 committee had released a heavily whitewashed but still damaging report, and at the very time that U.S. troop morale had sunk to levels that could soon see the American people reintroduced to the term "fragging"—suddenly announces that a band of its great and noble warriors have slain the sons of the evil one, then it must be true.
About the only thing that seems to be required for a fallacious fact to take root in the minds of the functionally insane is for a known liar in Washington and/or the media to have authoritatively uttered it. It matters not if the fallacious fact is later retracted and/or completely discredited. It matters not if the fallacious fact represents a brazen rewriting of history just weeks after that history was recorded. And it matters not if belief in the fallacious fact requires belief in a whole host of other fallacious facts that are internally inconsistent and completely lacking in logic.
Never mind, for example, that it is extremely unlikely that the Hussein brothers would be holed up in a Kurdish stronghold, where they are, according to Team Bush, universally despised. Never mind that it is equally unlikely that the pair would be holed up, together, in an unsecured location with no means of escape. Never mind as well that it is very unlikely that, between the two of them, they had just a single guard. Never mind that it is unlikely that the two would seek refuge in the home of a man who apparently sometimes claimed to be a relative, but actually was not. And never mind that that home has already been bulldozed, thus destroying all evidence of what happened there.
Never mind as well that neither Hussein brother was known to wear a full beard. That new look, according to U.S. officials, was part of their disguises. And that is a reasonable enough claim, I suppose, but is it also reasonable to assume that the two have been on a three-month feeding frenzy in order to pack on some extra pounds, also as part of their disguises? And never mind, I should add here, that the corpse identified as Uday appears to be sporting a beard that was created with a black magic marker. And never mind that we are left to conclude that the extra weight and facial hair enabled the two to live unrecognized in enemy territory, but will not prevent their corpses from being identified by the Iraqi people.
Never mind that officials at the scene of the firefight initially said that the recovered bodies were too badly damaged to be visually identified, which would be expected given the firepower that was unleashed upon them, but which was, nonetheless, directly contradicted by the release of the photos. And never mind that while Team Bush claims that captured Iraqi officials have positively identified the bodies, those same alleged officials have never been paraded before the Iraqi people, or the American people, despite claims that such displays are necessary to reassure everyone that the old regime is no longer in charge.
Never mind that no attempt was made to take the Hussein brothers alive, despite the fact that the real Uday and Kusai would be invaluable intelligence assets, since they presumably know where all the bodies are buried, and where all the mythical WMDs are hidden, and where all the fugitive Baathists, including their father, are in hiding. And never mind that live prisoners would have been far more convincing than photographic images of mutilated corpses. And never mind that it is decidedly more difficult to pass off a live impersonator than it is to falsely identify an altered corpse.
And never mind, finally, that there is something seriously wrong with the claim that it took 200 or more of Rummy's best fighting men—armed with state-of-the-art missiles, grenades and guns, and accompanied by the world's most deadly helicopters, airplanes and tanks—several hours and millions of dollars worth of munitions to defeat an enemy force of two able-bodied adults, one disabled adult and one young teenager, armed only with AK-47s and pinned down in what could hardly be described (and yet still was) as a fortified location.
Never mind all of that because the Bushmen do not lie, so if they claim to have slain a couple of dragons, then it must be true. And if they claim that doing so marked a major turning point in 'post-war' operations, then that must be true as well. Clearly, we are winning the War on Terr'ism. America is standing tall.
Never mind that nothing has really changed in Iraq. The 'diehard resistance' will continue to fight—indefinitely. U.S. troops will continue to die. Troop morale will continue to plummet as it becomes ever more apparent to our soldiers that they have put their lives on the line and lost a part of their souls to serve not as liberators, but as occupiers.
In the asylum, it is now firmly ingrained in the national psyche that the Sons of Saddam are dead—and that is cause for joyous celebration. This is not the time for doubts about what is in that congressional report on 9–11. Nor about whether the Bushettes lied to sell their war. And pay no attention to those distracting little stories that sometimes pop up, usually only briefly, in the news. Who cares, for example, that some Brit whistleblower decided to kill himself? Or that Bush's nominee to head the Navy also decided to kill himself? Or that Guantanamo is morphing from a concentration camp into a death camp? Or that someone shot a councilman in council chambers despite elaborate post-9–11 security measures? Or that the gunman was then picked off in a crowd by an uncannily accurate plainclothes officer who just happened to be on hand and who was able to immediately assess the chaotic situation and know within seconds exactly what to do?
In the asylum, none of that matters because nothing is real unless our masters tell us that it is, and then it only remains real until it becomes necessary to render a new reality. And the functionally insane nod their heads in agreement, their eyes never betraying a hint of confusion over the ever-shifting reality being created for them.
And the walls, meanwhile, get a little bit higher. Can you see them yet?
David McGowan is the author of "Derailing Democracy" and "Understand the F-Word: American Fascism and the Politics of Illusion."
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