Are we all insane?

Guest post by Kindred Defender, Dr. Peter D. Carter, M.D., January 17, 2007

On January 17, 2007 something happened worth a pause for thought in our hectic lives.

For the first time in five years the U.S. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced they are winding the minute hand of their Doomsday Clock closer to the fatal hour of midnight. The clock had been fixed at seven minutes to midnight since 2002. Even so – far from a safe time.

Now new dangers such as global warming and renewed nuclear weapons posturing have caused the scientists to move the clock two minutes forward — to five minutes to midnight.

A famous quote from Albert Einstein is ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. It’s amusing but may be not so funny any more. Thinking about it could be good medicine for our cultural hubris. I welcome Glenn MacIntosh’s bold and timely initiative in starting an environmental organization based on the premise that our culture could be long overdue for a mental health check-up. I mean that seriously. Is it sane to be planning industry on the Moon and terra-forming Mars when we can’t get our only home on Earth in order?

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As a physician, it has long seemed odd to me that we only recognize mental disorders from an individual perspective. Arrogance paranoia and hostility can all be contagious, infecting a whole nation and with terrible consequences. Yet we keep doing the same things over again.

For a while in the years of MADD foreign policy (mutually assured destruction by nuclear weapons), we really did question our sanity. We did wonder if risking all life on Earth was sane behavior coming from sane thinking.

Einstein said we must change our mode of thinking to avoid catastrophe. Since Einstein’s time we have discovered numerous global environmental crises of our own making. The latest, global warming, is looking like nuclear war in slow motion. It’s time to think again.

Perhaps a way of thinking that was sane when we lived in caves is not sane when we live in cities. Our cities have proven that all humans can happily co-exist in peace. That’s worth thinking about. One dictionary definition of sanity is “common sense”. Surely it is common sense that we all depend on one another and our respect for our Earth.

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Specifically, at this time there are several issues in which we as a culture are behaving in ways damaging to both our personal, societal and environmental health. As the damage can be devastating, the question needs to be asked – is this sane?

The first case is our worsening and so far incurable propensity for war. This is a huge issue in itself. There are still 20,000 nuclear warheads in the world today. Is that sane? Though much has been written about the psychological effects of war, there are only a few books written on war as a psychological disorder. And this is most relevant to environmental crises. As the Rio Earth Summit expressed it, “Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible” (Rio Declaration Principle 25). By our lack of interest in war as a collective madness (as one book has it), we are in a dangerous state of cultural denial.

We are just coming out of a quarter century of global denial on global warming. It is not easy to face the awful truth that we, who call ourselves the most advanced culture in history, are polluting the atmosphere to the extent of putting at risk our entire global civilization. Is this sane? Especially when the same pollution is a cause of damaging lung disease and deadly heart disease?

Then there is our diet. We all know that our heavy meat eating diet is a cause of arterial clogging leading to heart attacks and strokes. We are ignoring the very strong evidence that meat is a cause of cancer. Even so we are in denial because we still keep up our heavy meat consumption.

Last, the UN reported that the livestock industry accounts for a massive 18% of green house gas emissions. Eating low on the food chain is the easiest and most immediate of the measures available to us to cut down on global warming. Is it sane that we do nothing?

The first stage in recovery from mental illness is insight. That is, facing the possibility that our behaviors betray a state of mind of questionable mental health. Another Einstein quote: “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.”

Dr. Peter D. Carter, M.D.


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