CULTURAL INSANITY, THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING OUR WORLD AND OURSELVES:
WITH CURRENT POLITICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL EXAMPLES,
AND HISTORICAL CASE STUDIES IN WITCH-HUNTING,
THE MEDIEVAL CHURCH IMPEDING SCIENCE,
AND THE REJECTION OF GEOLOGIC TIME & EVOLUTION
FORMULATING THE THEORY OF CULTURAL INSANITY
[Most of the four paragraphs on the HOME page are repeated here to make this section complete.]
The concept of cultural insanity provides a better way of understanding much of what is wrong in our society and in the world today—and how it got that way—and some ways to improve it. And it offers the mind a pathway to see reality more accurately, especially within one’s own country and culture.
Although the focus here is on cultures, be forewarned: Where our own culture is involved, we and all other individuals in our society are party to it, yet largely blind to it, and to varying extents partake of at least some of its madnesses. Accordingly, correctly grasping the idea of cultural insanity will also reveal pathways to improve one’s self-understanding and oneself generally.
Cultural insanity is characterized foremost by features of a society/culture that unnecessarily thwart the development of human potential, where “unnecessarily” means that there must be viable alternatives. So allowances must be made for a culture’s level of technology, its people’s levels of consciousness, and more. For example, for millennia, due to their widespread acceptance, slavery and the oppression of women qualify only as “buried” cultural insanities—insanities that got exposed only gradually in more recent centuries.
In more democratic societies, both improvements in society and cultural insanities arise not only from top-down efforts by leaders but from the masses of people, in the latter case most typically by way of partly-organized subcultures or purpose-oriented corporations or interest groups. “Members” of such subcultures are not blind to their differences with the culture at large, but sometimes they try to impose through laws their version of the “way, the truth, and the life” or some secular equivalent—and thus to spread whatever good they may offer along with any associated cultural insanities.
Virtually (if not) all cultures are, or have tendencies to be, culturally insane in some respects, and it is immensely important to understand why this is so. To some extent the causes of such general cultural problems are rooted in the evolutionary history of our species, including the way our brains operate. Among the weaknesses are those involving our perceptions and how our memories operate. For example, in terms of our thinking processes, we have little awareness of the fact that much of our decision-making occurs at the subconscious level; we have too-quick pattern recognition (which, though needed to recognize danger on the African savanna of our evolutionary ancestors, now readily leads to premature conclusions on too little evidence). In prehistorical/tribal times, for safety’s sake we had to divide others into enemies and people like us (before they got too close), and the dark-side remnants of this behavior, such as racism and scapegoating, haunt our cultures today. Also from a prehistoric source, comes our tendency to attend closely to stories told in tribal gatherings and respond to any associated emotional appeals, but such stories often mislead us now because any one anecdote is often not representative of the broader picture. Our drive to present a consistent (non-hypocritical, non-double-talking) stance to others and avoid embarrassment and shame is one that contributes to our frequent use of a variety of defensive maneuvers, such as rationalization, to maintain our public image. Similarly, we tend to accept information that agrees with what we already believe and cast aside information that doesn’t (confirmation bias), which, in very recent times, has contributed greatly to the development of information silos, some of which are replete with cultural insanities.
But much of this culture of ours was inculcated into us as youngsters, at home until adulthood, at school, and through other social institutions. These inculcations include not only values, beliefs, attitudes and worldview, but feelings. Almost everyone needs to re-evaluate at least some of their basic assumptions. (Liberating feelings induced in upbringing is harder yet, but not impossible. For example, some of us may never free ourselves entirely from some of the fears that drive homophobia or racism, but we can reduce them.)
Awareness of all these processes, along with more fully conscious thinking, and the use of evidence, reason and scientific methods, can reduce the negative effects these influences have had and continue to have on culture(s). These same techniques are needed to break out of our enculturated mental straitjackets. To liberate oneself from cultural insanities, it is important to incorporate all the important relevant facts. We may well need to face head-on any competing values or worldviews. And exclude stereotypes, fake facts, and one-sided interpretations based on cherry-picked data; and discount all nonrepresentative anecdotes/stories. Information silos will misinform you or, worse yet, promote belief in deliberately falsified information. Skepticism and doubt, and not leaping to conclusions in accord with our established worldviews, are key assistants for the reality-seeking mind.
And with more of our cultural blinders off, or at least perforated, we can get a better grasp of the problems and damages that cultural insanities, whether full-blown or incipient, cause our society—and envision better alternatives to improve the development of human potential.
Part One includes not only the theory and methods for cultural insanity analyses, as above, but also many examples of current and recent cultural insanities from U.S. politics, history and the environmental realm. I have also included here my compilation of the “elements of human development” as a way of describing humans’ potentials.
Many of our culture’s problems are U.S.A.-centered. Among them are those that involve misunderstandings of issues associated with: the history of African Americans; the value that a variety of immigrants have brought—and continue to bring—to our society; the source of the real problems in previous trade agreements and their effects on industries in this country; taxes and deficit spending; the negative effects of the abuse of technology in pursuit of profit in agricultural and meat production, and in the chemicals and oil industries; the failure to provide comprehensive medical coverage to all the people; our propensity to sucker for political spin and insufficient recognition of deliberate and hidden attempts by some corporations to undermine science to foster profits; and our failure to effectively recognize various forms of truly “fake news” involving deliberate disinformation campaigns in service of ideology or party.
But many other cultural insanities are caused jointly by many societies/countries. Together, we are causing a Sixth Extinction and overpopulation; we are consuming the Earth’s resources at way beyond sustainable rates; we are depositing wastes, plastics, and chemicals everywhere, from remote islands to the top of Mt. Everest and in our own bodies; we are causing global warming; and we are living in a world in which “social” media, some foreign governments, and many individuals are manipulating, or trying to manipulate, our grasp of facts and reality--for their own benefit.
Too often the cultural insanities mentioned here are being denied, ignored, or otherwise given low priority and, hence, are frequently being left in exacerbated forms for subsequent generations. Some of these cultural insanities endanger all humanity. Indeed, probably the only way to save humanity from extinction and preserve our freedoms is to exercise those freedoms much more responsibly—and that requires a level of conscious awareness high enough to understand the cultural insanities in which we are enmeshed. A greater liberation of our minds and our selves offers new hope for the development of human potential without so much destructiveness.
Parts Two through Four are historical case studies, the last leading up to the present time (see the other tabs). These parts more fully help the reader to understand the methods and nuances used in analyses of cultural insanity, and to recognize parallels and continuations in society’s problems today.
Click HERE to read the Intro to Parts Two through Four.
Click HERE to return to Books page.
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Passenger Pigeons (extinct) at the Natural History Museum, London.
Photo by Jeffrey Koon.