Being-in-the-world Part 2: the world affects us

“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.”
Soren Kierkegaard

Historically, politically, and in many other ways, the majority are very often wrong by virtue of our being so easily influenced by shared narratives.  The mainstream narrative would have us believe that we develop mental distress, ‘mental illness’, depression, stress and unstable moods because of some inherent defect or dysfunction within the individual psyche.  This is a convenient idea as it confines ‘the problem’ to the individual mind and in so doing let’s the world – the majority – off the hook.  Whole industries are built around and profit from the notion that our emotional or psychological disturbance is the result of there being something ‘wrong’ with us, ‘imbalanced’, ‘negative’, dysfunctional’, ‘defective’, ‘disordered’ or that we have an ‘illness’: pharmaceutical corporations, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, insurance companies, law firms and the judiciary, politics and economics, and many other industries rest on the idea that the individual who suffers or complains, fails to conform or exhibits unusual behaviours is the primary location of the problem.  This is the stigmatising narrative we have accepted as truth.

Story Versus Truth

But if we are to seek the whole truth then we must bear down upon this standard narrative and recognise it for what it is.  It’s a story that has done the rounds and served so many vested interests for so long when we, as suffering people, know all too well that it is but a portion of a greater truth: the truth that our mental states, choices, wellbeing, emotional stability, freedoms and behaviours are all profoundly affected by the world.  Rarely do we wake up suddenly, mysteriously depressed or psychotic, unless of course we have taken in some toxic substance that so affects us.  Typically the onset of our distress is much more gradual and follows events in the world that impact upon our emotions, feelings, bodies and minds.  Like living in a house that is on fire, we cannot realistically isolate our experiences, our emotions, our physiology, our choices and behaviours from the context in which we live.   Similarly, the psyche is necessarily shaped and influenced and can be adversely affected by the world in which we live.

Above video: The film-maker’s conclusion that Laing was “spreading bleak, paranoid ideas into other areas of society” as a result of his research findings, which he considered the result of Cold War Machiavellianism in governments is, I would suggest, an unfair characterisation of Laing’s work.  Laing was, in my view, revealing the adverse effects of the dishonest socio-political milieu upon families who in turn adversely affected vulnerable members of society who suffered schizophrenia as a consequence of the dishonesty and double-binds they were subjected to. Rather than ‘spreading bleak ideas’, Laing was revealing them.

‘There’s something wrong with you’

Here are some obvious examples of how our context impacts upon our mental and emotional states.

  • A child is sexually abused by one of her family members.  Another traffiked as one of countless children in the world exploited for sex.  They grow up traumatised, troubled and chronically insecure; their relationships profoundly affected.  These aren’t internal defects.  They’re responses to the world.
  • A man becomes depressed because he gets grief from his bosses and grief from those he manages.  In his efforts to satisfy the profit-driven demands of his superiors and manage the poor working conditions his workers have to endure, he becomes withered by the stress of trying to keep his job to feed his family.  Thinking he has something ‘wrong’ with his mind he takes anti-depressants to keep on going.
  • Millions of people every year are diagnosed ‘electrosensitive’ because they become so severely affected mentally and physically by pulsed microwave signals from wifi, cellphone towers, and other sources of corporation-made radiation that they are unable to work or function in normal society.  Calling someone ‘electrosensitive’ is a way of saying ‘there’s something wrong with you’ rather than ‘there’s something wrong with the telecommunications industry’.  The shift in responsibility from corporation to individual expression of corporate toxicity is obvious, but continues nevertheless as lives are ruined so that shareholders and company directors can profit.  This is ‘normal’.

Clearly, we could come up with a billion examples of how the world and the way the world is run – from the immediacy of the family context, to the broad canvas of our geo-political context  – adversely affects us as human beings.  But instead of this context being acknowledged and included as a factor in our understanding of mental distress, the individual is often blamed, pathologised or labelled for their response to adverse circumstances.  This stigmatisation is what might be called ‘reactive abuse’**.  Western culture has so declined in recent decades that its leaders and exploitative systems have been having such a negative impact on the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of people, environment and wildlife that we are daily faced with some new angle on the crises facing our planet; crises created largely by governments and corporations driven by profit, but often blamed upon citizens.

Hardship Rising

The steep rise in welfare-, teenage- and military-related suicides, foodbanks, homelessness all speak to traumatising conditions created by a class of people driven by the exploitation of nature and human beings for profit.  Our acceptance of the narcissistic, responsibility-shifting narrative that our misery and suffering are somehow the consequence of there being something ‘wrong’ with us; our own inherent weakness, lack of ability, intelligence or stamina, or that we are ‘too sensitive’ in a thick-skinned world, is what maintains our misery.  It is a variant of the narrative that claims “the poor only have themselves to blame” under an ethos that would have us compete and outdo others for survival rather than cooperate and share with others what we inherited as gifts from the Earth.  We must therefore, begin to broaden the scope of our inquiries into the causes of our suffering until we establish the greater truth of its social and political context.

Unnatural Conditions

Once we begin to open our eyes to the adverse and harmful circumstances that we suffer as human beings – circumstances such as poverty and economic struggle, poor healthcare and education, created by clusters of influential people, not nature – we begin to recognise that the benchmark stress and strain that we are expected to tolerate is a yoke with which we have been saddled.  It is the weight created by systems within our society that are not conducive to wellbeing, happiness, peace, mental health and good functioning for the majority.  In the same way that a donkey forced to carry overweight tourists up a steep hill a hundred times a day in the blistering heat experiences conditions that make its life a misery, he is relieved only by the sun setting each day, not by having positive thoughts about his life of pained endurance.  Equally, he can hardly be blamed for his plight.

Above video: True in part, we must nevertheless be careful of the notion that ‘we are all to blame’ for the ruin of the Earth.  Can children be blamed for being encouraged by parents to eat too many sweets?  Proportionate responsibility must be placed at the door of the real gluttons in our society: those fuelling the underhanded art of advertising psychology, corporate greed, creating demand, usury and rutheless profiteering.  The same wolves who misuse Capitalism to fleece the poor exist within the same class as those running a pseudo-Socialist ‘solution’ that benefits the super-wealthy whilst imposing controls on the rest of us.

As human beings we are for the most part born into unnatural systems that would have us believe that the ability to choose between breakfast cereals, smartphones and what colour of paintwork our car has is somehow ‘freedom’.  We are conditioned to believe a litany of lies that would have us trust in fairness, justice, democracy, and the fabled work ethic that an individual’s success in life is the direct result of hard work and talent in a marketplace of ‘equal opportunities’ whereby we can reap proportional rewards for our efforts.  This relies on an ‘every man for himself’ approach to human life, whereby competition, not cooperation, and ‘getting to the resources first’ are central tenets that simultaneously reward those willing to exploit nature and other people, whilst creating a stress burden on the rest of us.

These tenets of selfishness are supposed to be self-evident truths within our society – a reflection of the natural order of things – when in fact it is clear to see that they are merely parts of a story that we are told whilst our eyes and hearts and the weight upon our shoulders tell us quite the opposite.  As a result of their acceptance as immutable truth, systems of commerce, justice and government are built to accommodate those willingly to prey on other human beings for profit.  This prevailing socio-political context is normalised in our minds by a commonly accepted narrative of ‘success’ that is in reality the product of one’s willingness to be parasitic upon both world and peoples.  Taken at the level of individual psychology, the traits required of the ‘most succesful’ begin to fall under a spectrum of behaviours defining the dark triad of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.  Indeed, corporations are easily so characterised (see The Corporation documentary below].

Clarity and Responsibility

So, as a staring point, it is imperative that we come to a point of clarity: which is to say that if someone walks up to our house and starts pumping carbon monoxide gas into it, it is we who are responsible for what we do in response.  We are responsible for stopping it, not for causing the initial insult or for its effects upon us.  We might be responsible for making it worse by doing nothing to escape our plight, or failing to alert others – that’s another matter.  So being clear on our responsibilities provides us with the opportunity to 1. do what we can to look after ourselves by being clear on the source of the problem; 2. do what we can to change the conditions that allowed us to be harmed so that we can better protect ourselves and others.  In a house full of poisoned fumes if we simply say ‘there’s something wrong with my breathing’ then we solve nothing.

In terms of our wellbeing and health, our world is polluted with toxic influences that adverseley affect us emotionally, physically and psychically.  From the invisible poison of GMOs to wireless microwave signals that damage our DNA, fertility and kill trees and pollinating insects.  To the pharmaceutical toxins and the carcinogenic herbicides and pesticides we consume in our drinking water and food.  To geoengineering’s attempts to address problems created by profit-driven industry by engaging in the profit-driven spraying of megatonnes of toxic metals into the air we breathe.  To the miseries imposed upon us in dysfunctional workplaces dominated by favouritism and bullying.  To the stresses and strains created by the rigged financial system built to make wealth flow up from the poorer to the wealthy.  The list could go on, but we are expected not to correlate our daily stress, struggle and suffering with these adverse, human-designed conditions.

Empowering Yourself by Refusing the Narrative

In the end, it is up to each of us as individuals to refuse the convenient narrative woven into our childrens’ education and our daily lives that only serves to maintain our tolerance of what makes us ill; makes life physically, psychologically and emotionally harder than it has to be. The narrative continually suggests that the problem must somehow lie inside of our minds where we fail to adapt to poison; that all we need do to alleviate our suffering is take a pill, have a drink or go see a therapist.

This is not the answer.

Psychotherapy can help you overcome your suffering and the injuries to your psyche, yes.  But at its most ethical, it must be a means of helping you identify the toxic, external influences upon you so that you can better protect yourself from them and put some of your energies into changing them for the better.  Whistleblowers, truth-tellers, activists and the few journalists of integrity we have left stick their necks out in their attempts to improve conditions for others.  Otherwise industries that merely help you adjust yourself back into a dysfunctional social and political environment using pills, potions and practices are, in my view, not so much therapeutic as they are forms of social engineering and control exercised in the service of preserving a regressing, diabolical status quo in which it is largely the innocent, sensitive and conscientious who suffer, whilst self-interested, inauthentic and callous minds and cultures continue to prosper at our expense.  This latter ‘normality’ should not be confused with ‘health’ simply because it is allowed to continue, or because a statistical majority appear to support it.  It is, if we are honest with ourselves, the definition of dysfunction in its blatant opposition to what allows decent, caring human beings to thrive.

Healing ourselves by first identifying the original sources of harm; standing against them, using our truth to change our world for the good as we heal: for the betterment of ourselves, justice for our children, for our friends and family, for nature’s sake and the creatures in it.  What better definition could there be of ‘mental health’?

**Reactive abuse” occurs when a victim of abuse reacts to the abuse they received and is then blamed by the perpetrator and further abused as punishment for their reaction. It’s a technique used to shift responsibility for the original abuse, often resulting in a circular argument of blame that the abuser uses in an attempt to locate the problem and responsibility for the problem in the victim.

All written material and original artwork on this website is subject to copyright and cannot be used or reproduced without permission and clear attribution being made to the author.  Please contact me if in doubt.

Free images courtesy of dreamypixels


The following are just a few pieces of information on the wider geo-socio-political context that we live in and which necessarily influences our lives, our ideas, choices and states of mind.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. While I cannot agree that capitalism is a cancer, there is much truth to this post. Certainly, capitalism “red in tooth and claw” has a deleterious impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      I think it’s like anything else Anna: it’s really the misuse and abuse of capitalism, religion, politics, psychiatry etc that is the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had to return to this powerful post, Stephen. Your reference to the yolk society places on us put me in mind of a verse from Scripture. “At that time Jesus answered and said…’Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11: 25, 29-30).

    What you so clearly describe in all areas of life — capitalism, religion, politics, psychiatry — are the effects of sin. Christ alone is the answer, my friend.

    Wishing you well, A. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Many thanks for your insightful comment Anna. As usual, well considered.

      Liked by 1 person

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