The Age of Political Psychosis

And the world turns and iPhones capture our every thought and experience, despite being built upon what Louis CK describes as “Asian suffering.” Welcome to the future. Sure looks a lot like the past.

Happy Birthday Mac!On this, the 30th birthday of the Mac, I believe it’s time for some reflection. Steve Jobs has become the patron saint of college dropouts; his penchant for the aesthetics of technology is the stuff of legend. We mourn the loss of an American visionary, and sweep the bad stuff under the carpet of good taste. It’s best not to speak ill of the dead, or to mention the unspeakable horror their advancements have brought into the world. After all, Jobs certainly didn’t invent low-wage factory workers, and those in China (happy new year!) who need safety nets strewn between buildings to catch them from suicidal plunges might just as well have been in a similar situation creating other types of products had Steve Jobs never walked this earth.

Those are legitimate arguments and I agree with them for the most part. Except for the fact that the enormous profits made by Apple executives might have gone to make effective changes in the lives of the factory workers. He might have taken his dynamic vision and applied it to the working model so that suicide nets could just be there for show.

No matter. He’s dead and they’re not. And the world turns and iPhones capture our every thought and experience, despite being built upon what Louis CK describes as “Asian suffering.” Welcome to the future.  Sure looks a lot like the past.

But hey! – that’s capitalism. That’s the system. And to criticize that system is to invite catcalls of the “patriotic” who throw words like “socialist” at you, with the same vocal inflections that one use might to say, “Asshole” – even if they can’t precisely define socialism beyond a widely circulated Facebook meme.

The broader implication of our mass consumption of Apple products is the disconnect between our decisions and their effects on human beings. It exemplifies an increasingly self-interested citizenry. Author and education advocate Henry Giroux calls this “Zombie Politics,” and its tentacles reach into all facets of our culture. “The notion that profit making is the essence of democracy,” Giroux said in an interview with Bill Moyers in November, “the notion that economics is divorced from ethics, the notion that the only obligation of citizenship is consumerism, the notion that the welfare state is a pathology, that any form of dependency basically is disreputable and needs to be attacked, I mean, this is a vicious set of assumptions.”

If I had my druthers (and it’s my blog, so I get to indulge my druthers) I’d call this not Zombie Politics but “Psychopathic Politics.” And it just might be because I just watched the series finale of Breaking Bad. I came late to the Breaking Bad party and I enjoyed the recent Netflix-given phenomenon of binge watching where my husband and I subjected ourselves to all six seasons in just a few weeks.

Quite a few things struck me about Breaking Bad, but for our purposes here, I’ll focus on the killers. I lost count of all the murder victims, but I noted three types of killing: pragmatic, emotional, and apathetic. Sometimes these overlapped, like whTodd-Alquisten a victim was offed for a practical reason (he posed a threat) but the murder took an emotional toll on the killer. The more gut wrenching it was for a killer, the more dramatic the scene. The exception here is the character Todd, who killed people with an emotionless vigor, an emptiness that was truly terrifying. He didn’t bat an eye whether his victim was a child or a young mother, and even scarier, he never stopped to consider his alternatives. This was the only character who killed not for pragmatic necessity, but because he simply could. And that was most terrifying aspect of the show.

The name for someone who displays a complete lack of empathy is psychopath.

We witnessed this in one of the Columbine killers. While one of the two suffered from depression, which is a sense of rage usually turned inward, something fairly common among Americans, the other – the leader – was a full-on psychopath. He could not feel.

The truth is that few of us will ever come into contact with a full-on psychopath. Yet, it’s a psychosis we could extend to the encroaching culture that has tentacles that reach into our governing body. It’s a lack of empathy for the poor among us, a disconnect from the sick. It shows itself in victim blaming. A killer would rationalize by saying the victim “had it coming.” Politicians do it by justifying cutting food stamp programs for children with economics. As if money were the beginning and end of it, and empathy and ethics were inconsequential.

Ask any nursing mother to describe what happens when if she leaves her baby at home for a few minutes to run to the supermarket for diapers. Ask what her body’s reaction to a crying baby in the next aisle might be. A child she has no connection with, doesn’t even see. She’ll tell you that her breasts will automatically fill and begin to leak. It’s an embarrassing condition for those of us who have been there, but what it reveals is that we have an inborn, physical natural response to feed the hungry. It is in our very human nature. To divorce that from policy is unnatural. I might go so far as to say, inhuman.

Or we can give it a psychological diagnosis: psychopathic.

The larger question remains: is there a remedy? And can we ever wrestle control from those who withhold treatment in time to save ourselves?