John Whitehead's Commentary
America Breaks Down: The Anatomy of a National Nervous Breakdown
“This country has been having a nationwide nervous breakdown since 9/11. A nation of people suddenly broke, the market economy goes to shit, and they’re threatened on every side by an unknown, sinister enemy. But I don't think fear is a very effective way of dealing with things—of responding to reality. Fear is just another word for ignorance.”—Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist
Another shooting, another day in America.
Or so it seems.
With alarming regularity, the nation is being subjected to a spate of violence that terrorizes the public, destabilizes the country’s fragile ecosystem, and gives the government greater justifications to crack down, lock down, and institute even more authoritarian policies for the so-called sake of national security without many objections from the citizenry.
Take this latest mass shooting that took place at a small church in a small Texas town.
The lone gunman—a former member of the Air Force—was dressed all in black, wearing body armor, a tactical vest and a mask, and firing an assault rifle. (Note the similarity in uniform and tactics to the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams and military.)
Devin Patrick Kelley, the 26-year-old gunman, had served a year in military prison for assaulting his wife and child in 2012. Domestic disputes aside, Kelley—like many of the other shooters in recent years—was described as a “regular guy” by those who knew him.
This “regular” guy’s shooting rampage left at least 26 people.
President Trump and the Governor of Texas have chalked the shooting up to mental illness.
That may well be the case here.
Still, there’s something to be said for the fact that this shooting bore many of the same marks of other recent attacks: the gunman appeared out of the blue without triggering any alarms, he was dressed like a soldier or militarized police officer, he was armed with military-style weapons and clearly trained in the art of killing, and the attacker died before any insight could be gained into his motives.
As usual, we’re left with more questions than answers and a whole lot more fear and anxiety.
As The Washington Post reports, “For some, the church massacre … reinforced a sense of unease that no place could be considered immune from possible violence after a concert ground in Las Vegas, a Walmart in Colorado, a Nashville church and a bike path in New York all became scenes of death and bloodshed over the past six weeks.”
That sense of unease is growing.
How do you keep a nation safe when not even seemingly “safe places” like churches and rock concerts and shopping malls are immune from violence?
The government’s answer, as always, will lead us further down the road we’ve travelled since 9/11 towards totalitarianism and away from freedom.
Those who want safety at all costs will clamor for more gun control measures (if not at an outright ban on weapons for non-military, non-police personnel), widespread mental health screening of the general population and greater scrutiny of military veterans, more threat assessments and behavioral sensing warnings, more CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities, more “See Something, Say Something” programs aimed at turning Americans into snitches and spies, more metal detectors and whole-body imaging devices at soft targets, more roaming squads of militarized police empowered to do random bag searches, more fusion centers to centralize and disseminate information to law enforcement agencies, and more surveillance of what Americans say and do, where they go, what they buy and how they spend their time.
All of these measures play into the government’s hands.
As we have learned the hard way, the phantom promise of safety in exchange for restricted or regulated liberty is a false, misguided doctrine that has no basis in the truth.
Still, why do these things happening?
We have been plagued with trouble at every turn, from racial unrest and political upheavals to environmental disasters and economic bad news.
Clearly, America is in the midst of a national nervous breakdown.
Things are falling apart, and the inmates in the asylum are starting to turn on each other.
This breakdown—triggered by polarizing circus politics, media-fed mass hysteria, militarization and militainment (the selling of war and violence as entertainment), a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in the face of growing corruption, the government’s alienation from its populace, and an economy that has much of the population struggling to get by—is manifesting itself in madness, mayhem and an utter disregard for the very principles and liberties that have kept us out of the clutches of totalitarianism for so long.
When things start to fall apart or implode, as they seem to be doing lately, I have to wonder who stands to benefit from it. In most cases, it’s the government that stands to benefit by amassing greater powers at the citizenry’s expense.
See, we’re like lab mice, conditioned to respond appropriately to certain stimuli.
Right now, we’re being conditioned to be reactionaries capable of little more than watching and worrying. Indeed, we are fast becoming a nation of bad news junkies, addicted to the steady and predictable drip-drip-drip of news—be it sensational, devastating, demoralizing, disastrous, or just titillating—that keeps us plastered to our screen devices for the next round of breaking news.
Just consider a small sampling of headlines from two days’ worth of the news cycle:
Senator Rand Paul suffers five fractured ribs after being tackled by a neighbor while mowing the grass at his Kentucky home. Donna Brazile rocks the political sphere with a claim that the Democratic National primary was fixed to favor a Hillary Clinton win over Bernie Sanders. Kevin Spacey joins the lineup of celebrity men to be accused of sexual assault. The Pentagon hints at the possibility of a ground invasion of North Korea. And then this latest mass shooting, supposedly over a domestic dispute, in Texas.
No wonder America is breaking down.
So much is happening on a daily basis that the average American understandably has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from reality.
We are suffering from “the crisis of the now.”
As investigative journalist Mike Adams points out:
“This psychological bombardment is waged primarily via the mainstream media which assaults the viewer by the hour with images of violence, war, emotions and conflict. Because the human nervous system is hard wired to focus on immediate threats accompanied by depictions of violence, mainstream media viewers have their attention and mental resources funneled into the never-ending ‘crisis of the NOW’ from which they can never have the mental breathing room to apply logic, reason or historical context.”
Professor Jacques Ellul studied this phenomenon of overwhelming news, short memories and the use of propaganda to advance hidden agendas. “One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones,” wrote Ellul.
“Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandists, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.”
All the while, the government continues to amass more power and authority over the citizenry.
When we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this.
As long as we’re tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles, we will remain tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms
This is how the corporate elite controls a population, either inadvertently or intentionally, and advances their agenda without much opposition from the citizenry.
Rod Serling, the creator of the Twilight Zone, imagined just such a world in which the powers-that-be carry out a social experiment to see how long it would take before the members of a small American neighborhood, frightened by a sudden loss of electric power and caught up in fears of the unknown, will transform into an irrational mob and turn on each other.
It doesn’t take long at all.
As Serling concludes in the Twilight Zone episode of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”:
“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”
Among the 26 people killed in that small church in Texas, at least half of them were children. One was a pregnant woman: both she and her unborn were killed.
Devin Patrick Kelley may have pulled the trigger that resulted in the mayhem, but something else is driving the madness.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’re caught in a vicious cycle right now between terror and fear and distraction and hate and partisan politics and an inescapable longing for a time when life was simpler and people were kinder and the government was less of a monster.
Our prolonged exposure to the American police state is not helping.
As always, the solution to most problems must start locally, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities. We’ve got to refrain from the toxic us vs. them rhetoric that is consuming the nation. We’ve got to work harder to build bridges, instead of burning them to the ground. We’ve got to learn to stop bottling up dissent and disagreeable ideas and learn how to agree to disagree. We’ve got to de-militarize our police and lower the levels of violence here and abroad, whether it’s violence we export to other countries, violence we glorify in entertainment, or violence we revel in when it’s leveled at our so-called enemies, politically or otherwise.
Unless we can learn to live together as brothers and sisters and fellow citizens, we will perish as tools and prisoners of the American police state.