The Breakdown of Civilization

Eric Saund sent me philosopher Daniel Dennett’s book, “From Bacteria to Bach and Back.”

It has left me sick at heart, suffering from too much insight.

Dennett writes, “Our civilization has been running smoothly – with some serious disruptions – for thousands of years, growing in complexity and power. Could it break down? Yes, it could.” He points out that it is the work of vastly many individuals acting in concert. “Human cooperation is a delicate and remarkable phenomenon…quite unprecedented in the natural world. It depends on trust, a sort of almost invisible social glue.” However, he warns, “Trust is not a ‘natural instinct’ hard-wired by evolution into our brains.”

No behavior is more destructive of trust than violent projective identification. It is an artillery barrage, projecting hate. It never runs out of ammunition. In earlier blogs, I have referred to The Death Instinct, Freud’s discovery that some individuals are possessed by violent demons. He found it impossible to modify their destructiveness. Every day comes fresh evidence of Trump’s demonic behavior.

Violent projective identification is not an obscure psychiatric metaphor. It is as real as the Las Vegas gunman shooting into a crowd of 22,000 concert goers from his eyrie 30 stories high. And as real as Trump firing off endless tweets from his impregnable position in Trump Towers, such as shooting moral condemnations into the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans, ravaged by a Category Five hurricane. Or demeaning Gold Star mothers.

No leader engages with the world as relentlessly violent as Donald Trump, with the possible exception of Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Trump has over 4,000 nuclear weapons, Kim Jong-un perhaps seven.

We don’t need psychiatrists or mental health experts or learned historians to tell us what’s happening. After all, he is our president. Each of us is affected by Trump’s ACTIONS. They are unleashed by inexhaustible hatefulness and are violently directed into our innards. We are the experts in assessing Trump. We experience him every day. His piecemeal destruction of The Affordable Care Act threatens a huge impact on our lives. His appalling response to the devastated Puerto Ricans was communicated in every newspaper and TV news program. What are we to make of his lies? And like the black and terrifying skies that portend tornadoes, Trump’s cavalier attitude towards nuclear weapons leaves us naked in a world that is within his powers to destroy. In fact, he has asked, “Why have such weapons if they are not to be used?”

Dennett makes a profound observation, “We have bootstrapped ourselves into the heady altitudes of modern civilization, and our natural emotions and other instinctual responses do not always serve our new circumstances.” Let me cite three.

Why do billionaires such as the Koch brothers trash the planet in order to get richer?

Why do religious institutions fight contraception in a world that has gone from one billion inhabitants in 1830 to well over seven billion today?

We are all much more human than otherwise, yet a murderous relationship has grown between the Islamic world and that of the Christian, even though each goes back to Father Abraham.

Dennett is deeply disturbing. Prophets do that.

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