Psychosis in Action

Societies run on stories. That was the basis of my initial analysis of corona as the invalid invocation of The Plague Story. In a post six months ago I noted that we were entering a period I called The Twilight Zone due to the failure of governments to deliver the appropriate ending to the modern plague story. I hypothesised that things would get weird because there was no backup story that could bring matters to an end. I was not wrong. Just in the last few weeks we’ve had the Australian government kick out the world’s best tennis player on trumped up charges. Then, as if leading straight on from that, we’ve seen the Canadian truckers convoy kick into gear. As with corona in general, if you’d told somebody just one month ago that these events would happen they’d have thought you were crazy. But they did happen and they are still happening in the case of the truckers.

January has also brought us another new development which is the declaration in a number of countries of an end to corona restrictions. Places like the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia appear to be trying to bring the story to an end by declaring the virus endemic. This has received pushback from the Branch Covidian True Believers in those countries who are now accusing the government of lying about the statistics in order to prematurely bring the story to an end. We had already seen this dynamic at play a few times in Britain, for example with the initial “freedom day” attempt last year. The True Believers will not accept the declaration that the virus is endemic as a proper end to the plague story. Unfortunately for them, that is the only end of the story at this point. There is no other way out. To acknowledge the fact is simple common sense.

Nevertheless, there are a number of countries refusing to acknowledge this fact; most notably Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Germany and Canada (I’ll stick to western countries here as I can’t really speak for the others). In these countries, the powers that be have attempted to simply gloss over the failure of the vaccines and continue with mandates as if nothing was wrong. In the case of Austria, they even decided to up the ante by trying to mandate the vaccine which, not knowing anything about Austrian politics, seems like about the dumbest possible thing to do. Canada was not far behind in the stupid stakes with curfews and other extreme measures being imposed on a country sharing a border with the US where, among other things, the Supreme Court had just struck down Biden’s mandate.

But the problem in countries such as Austria, Canada and Australia is not just one or two dumb decisions. The problem is the complete absence of any kind of story about what was going on. People might accept mandates and curfews a little longer if you could explain how they helped to bring the matter to a close. Instead, politicians turned to blatant scapegoating of the unvaccinated. Trudeau was among the worst on this front. That might work to score some cheap political points in the short term. In the long term you need a story and that is what Trudeau and other leaders have not provided.

It was into this narrative void that the truckers convoy started rolling. Whether by design or by accident, the truckers created a story. Act 1 was the convoy itself rolling across the frozen tundra of western Canada en route to Ottawa complete with the incredible scenes of people coming out into the freezing cold often in the early morning to cheer them on. Like any good story, the truckers had a Call to Adventure which was to meet in Ottawa on the weekend. And that’s what a great deal of people did. Meanwhile, people watching at home could show support by donating to the crowdfunding campaign.

The framing of the truckers convoy as a story differentiated it from the protests that happened elsewhere. Here in Melbourne, for example, we had the largest protests in my lifetime and the general mood looked very similar to Ottawa with ordinary people from all walks of life coming together in what was almost a celebration. Protests serve a purpose. But a protest is not a story. That’s why they are easily ignored. A story is not easily ignored, especially when it goes viral like the truckers convoy.

The truckers created a story that was so impressive that Trudeau needed to respond. How did he do it? By losing the plot. Among other things, he tweeted a laundry list of woke talking points, a complete non sequitur. Meanwhile, I saw an exchange in the Canadian parliament where the new leader of the opposition asked Trudeau’s second in command what the plan was to try and bring an end to the protest. Again, the response was a complete non sequitur.  Of course, we expect politicians to prevaricate, obfuscate and even downright lie but the lies must be in service of a larger political outcome i.e. a story. These non sequiturs from the Canadian government don’t tell a story at all. For that reason, they do not look like competent politics to me. They look much more like psychosis and specifically derailment, a term used in psychiatry to describe the occurence of non sequiturs in discourse.

We see similar levels of psychosis in the Australian public discourse right now. Anybody can see for themselves by reading the daily news but here’s a few of my favourite examples. After two years of 24/7 fearmongering, the Victorian government has taken out an advertising campaign to ask people to please stay at home if they get corona and not show up to hospital unless they are really sick because people with mild symptoms were overwhelming the hospitals. The Prime Minster said he thinks all discrimination against the unvaccinated should be dropped, something which was agreed by all states last year, while the Queensland Premier acted like this was a declaration of war against her state. It is currently expected that the Australian government will change the definition of “fully vaxxed” to mean three doses but when asked about international arrivals the Prime Minister said they would only be required to have taken two to enter the country. The Premier of Victoria had the gall to announce that “equality was not negotiable in Victoria” yesterday, which is surely news to the hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated who can’t work, visit a café or restaurant or enter public facilities paid for by their taxes. And perhaps funniest of all from my point of view, the Victorian health minister, the one who is responsible for actively discriminating against the unvaccinated in this state, is also the Minister for Equality. These absurdities and contradictions are all indicative of madness in a very literal sense. The inability to tell a story is no trivial matter. As Gregory Bateson pointed out, humans run on stories. It’s how we think. If your story doesn’t make sense, then you are not thinking. You are psychotic. [I’ve been pondering the metaphysics of stories quite a lot recently and hope to have a post on this in future.]

That’s part of the reason why politics runs on stories and part of the reason why stories are so important. We are now in a world with two different types of countries: those telling the story that corona is endemic (the plague story is over); and those telling no story at all. Canada is in the latter group. So is Australia. In one sense, all the truckers did was to tell a story which is to end the mandates and by extension the pandemic. That story is, in fact, the only way out at this point and any government with a shred of common sense would take the opportunity to follow the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. Unfortunately, governments like Canada and Australia are no longer running on common sense. That’s why events are completely unpredictable or, to put it another way, psychotic.

31 thoughts on “Psychosis in Action”

  1. Germans are mostly content. We have lost every story of our nation’s past the moment the guns fell silent and the deafening silence of an era without a story began.

    All that is now ending. And in lieu of letting a new story begin, people are clinging to the vacuum they’re familiar with, the story of an end their parents or grandparents never told them about, and which because of that became an overwhelming presence.

    Anyone outside that vacuum needs to be exorcised.
    That’s why they are not like Us.
    With the mandatory shot deadline for medical professionals approaching, people start theorizing why that won’t, can’t be a problem.

    A colleague just remarked that the hospitals won’t be affected because, unlike care facilities, they have few migrants working in them who tend to be unshot.

    And our health minister Karl Lauterbach just remarked that hospitals will be fine because those having to leave will merely be “kitchen and cleaning staff”.

    On the other hand those on the outside tend to play ball.
    Like young people in the 60s, those opposing mandates lack a story, too.
    And so they are trying to construct one by using the vacuum provided by the majority, which of course is doomed to fail.
    Neither side is getting out of it, with the majority enjoying crushing the unworthy, and the unworthy enjoying their suffering minority status.

  2. Michael – I think that’s true for most of the west in relation to the postwar period. That’s why I like The Orphan archetype as a summation of our predicament. If that’s true then the mission for the next little while is to find the next story or ideal to guide what comes next.

    As for Lauterbach, he reminds of one of my favourite German words – blödmann. Last time I checked, patients in hospitals need to eat too and it’s usually a good idea for hospitals to be clean. Maybe some hard working vaccinated Germans will fill in for the migrants.

  3. Oh, it’s undoubtedly true for most overdeveloped nations.

    Lauterbach’s nickname is ‘Karlchen Überall’ (Little Karli Everywhere), because for years there could be no talkshow on without him.
    His dissertation by the way is titled ‘Justice and the functions of health care’.

  4. Hah. That’s about as good as our health minister also being the minister for equality. The universe has a sense of humour.

  5. I’m reminded of this incident:
    “Lacan famously addressed a group of students at Vincennes in 1969. Towards the end of the exchange, Lacan declares: ‘What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one’.”
    What is not often mentioned is that he had his bitch with him on stage, to illustrate the point between, shall we say, constructive and destructive neurosis.

    Saying ‘no’ is easy. Saying ‘I’d rather not’ is the most difficult thing one can say.
    I’d rather not, but now I’m having to.

  6. Living in Canada, in a rural area about 2 hours outside of Ottawa, I have been appalled by the narrative divide that has torn families, friendships, and now our entire civil society asunder. It has obviously been going on for two years now, intensifying with the push for MRNA vaccination. But the problem is not now the Corona narrative, as that has pretty well been entirely back-burnered in the wake of this trucker convoy, but rather the new narrative presented by our government/media in order to counter the compelling story actualized by our truckers. That story is that all the Rebellious Children are in fact “dangerous, far-right, racist, white supremacists,” mostly funded by American political interests, QAnon, and followers of the demonic Trump. This of course couldn’t be further from the truth, as anyone who has spent five minutes at Parliament Hill this past week could clearly see, but it provides Trudeau and the authorities a convenient way to further entrench themselves in their divisive narrative and demonize the “anti-vaxxers.” Unfortunately any and all dissent only seems to strengthen Trudeau’s remarkable hubris.
    Although I have been supporting the protests (went and cooked 300 free hamburgers yesterday and danced the frigid afternoon away happily) I fear at this point they may actually be serving Trudeau as a rallying point to engage in further Devouring Mother behaviour. Case in point: Ottawa has just declared a state of emergency and states they will now arrest anybody attempting to bring supplies to the truckers. A man who was helping me yesterday was stopped by the police as he pulled a sled laden with jerry cans of diesel and told “tomorrow what you are doing will be a criminal offense.” I expect to see a lot of people imprisoned this week as the authorities are obviously hoping to end this by freezing/starving the truckers out. Once again, as throughout this madness, the Canadian authorities will use an “emergency” to grant themselves extraordinary power and chip away at our basic rights. There is no end in sight here; as other nations decide to sloppily end their Covid narratives the endemic route, I fear we in Canada are digging in for the long haul.

    Love the blog Simon. Been reading for some time and your ideas have really helped me weather this past year’s madness. Thank you.

  7. Michael – that’s a nice synchronicity. I’ve been meaning to go back and check out some Lacan recently esp in relation to stories.

    Cub – thanks for the update on the ground there. From this distance, it has seemed that Canada is in many ways the worst overtaken by the archetype. Here in Australia, the Prime Minister has been mostly unwilling and it’s the states who have been Trudeau-like which has helped to limit the damage somewhat. Even if they manage to shut down the truckers at this point, I think they still lose. By the way, what’s your take on Pierre Poilievre? I know absolutely nothing about him. But it seems to me that having a politician immediately jump on board the change in mood is a big positive. All western nations are due for a populist takeover in politics and I think it’s just a matter of time.

  8. Re populist takeover:
    A while ago the current Bavarian head of state had seemed like someone who could ride the Trump tail-wave, former journalist and slightly silly loudmouth that he is.
    Then Carola hit and he did his best to outdo everyone else in squeezing every drop of public life out of his state.
    But today…he’s saying that he’d like to be the first to end the foxx mandate.
    I’d love to see him see that one through and then aspire to higher honours – at the moment, populists are a rare breed in this country.
    (They’ll probably tell him he can’t become Chancellor because Bavaria is only technically part of Germany.)

  9. Michael – interesting. So the tide is turning even in Germany? Seems like quite a lot of governments looking for the exit now.

  10. Yes, exactly as predicted, reports are of protesters in Ottawa being unlawfully arrested today. I assume it will only escalate from here as Trudeau refuses to accept any responsibility for, well, anything.

    As for Poilievre, I don’t know an awful lot about him either, but he could seemingly be lumped in with various Conservatives now hopping on the anti-mandate bandwagon after doing nothing the last two years as the official opposition to a minority Liberal government.
    A true populist leader here would be Maxime Bernier, who left the Conservatives years ago to found and lead the People’s Party of Canada. Proudly wearing the appelative Mad Max, he has been speaking out against Covid restrictions from the start and has been a visible presence at rallys and protests, even getting himself arrested for violating “public health measures” this summer.

  11. Cub – not surprising. Pretty sure it’ll get worse before it gets better. Who did all these people vote for in the recent elections? It’s not like they didn’t have a chance to vote Trudeau out. Although, I guess the conservative party didn’t provide a real alternative either.

  12. Simon – Canada’s deputy PM’s response in that exchange you shared is a good example of the utility of the ‘bullying is never okay’ posture – which you cited on the Vic dept of education & training website – that speaks to the Left’s current obsession w/ identity politics to the point that it’s lost all peripheral vision. Like Trudeau, his deputy seems to me to be using misdirection or diversionary tactics, which accords w/ your insights on gaslighting, Devouring Mother style. Which relates to CJ Hopkins’s predictions re ‘pathologized totalitarianism’:

    ‘These multiplicitous “threats to democracy” (i.e., “terrorists,” “viruses,” “misinformation,” “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “transphobia,” “electoral-system scepticism,” “white-supremacist pancake syrup,” “premeditated pronoun abuse,” “oppositional-defiant-infant masklessness,” “vaccine hesitancy,” “religion,” et cetera) will fuse into a single Goldstein-like enemy which “New Normal” children will be conditioned to reflexively hate and fear, and want to silence, and quarantine off from “normal” society, or “cure” of their “illness” with government-mandated, “safe and effective” pharmaceutical therapies.’

  13. Shane – I don’t think it’s a tactic in this case. A tactic would imply there was a goal in mind but that seems to be completely absent. Even if this kind of thing begins as cheap slander, you can’t repeat it all the time without eventually starting to really believe it. I think that’s where Trudeau and a number of Australian politicians have ended up. They simply no longer know the difference between reality and the fictional world they’ve created in their own minds.

  14. Australia stands in a very strange place. The first white settlers were denatured and landless people from urban England and this first birth pang has left a mark to this day. Then we very quickly became both fabulously wealthy and connected to the rest of the world. There was never a real peasant culture (and therefore no national cuisine) and we have a gaping hole where our metaphysical life and connection should be. (Compare the Russian Peasant of Tolstoy’s and Dostoevsky’s novels to the selector of Lawson’s poetry.) The period from around 1830 to 1900 has perhaps the stirrings of something, but was quickly blown away by federation, the world wars and globalisation.

    As much as we mock flyover Americans at least they actually believe in something, and I think it is very important that the Americas were first settled by people who still belonged to an organic living culture in the Spenglerian sense, while Australia and New Zealand were settled by those in which the culture had mortified into cold and rational civilisation. We grope around at indigenous spiritualities without at all understanding them, and the half hearted attempts at incorporating them into a national narrative leads to results which pale in comparison to the fusion of MesoAmerican/Spanish catholic that happened in Mexico. I think the Covid fiasco has laid this bare and revealed a people who are very sick spiritually, in desperate need of new native Australian metaphysic with which to place their faith and construct their spiritual lives. Without it we will continue to be tossed on the wind.

  15. Simon – Yes, these politicians have themselves become exactly the “New Normal” children Shane just described.

    Trudeau runs a minority government which garnered 33% of the popular vote last election (only about 20% of eligible voters cast a Liberal ballot if you factor in voter apathy). Unfortunately another election is a long way off unless our entire political system changes drastically in the coming months, which is what many are now acting and praying for.

  16. Skip – very well put. The US also has its constitution and a dedication to freedom as an end in itself that has come in very handy in the last two years. It’s been fascinating (and depressing) to watch Morrison stumble around trying to find something in Australian culture to counteract the madness and coming up empty. We just have no real concept in this country of life being difficult and a peasant culture, almost by definition, is the culture that can survive difficulties.

    Cub – It’s weird that with such a low percentage of the vote, Trudeau talks as if he’s the emperor (or is that the Empress aka Devouring Mother).

  17. Germany too has that urbanized core of people who’ve been swept up and deposited elsewhere. Even the former peasants are now exclusively treated as fellow industrialists, and have wholly accepted this role, big horsepower toys and all.

    And we’ve also been gifted an American-style constitution, complete with Supreme Court. We lack kangaroos, but not on the Supreme Court.
    Before the present attempt at democracy, we’d been gifted a monarchy by the Franks. Then a democracy by a lost war. Then a stab at communism. Then a rather short-lived dictatorship, and now this.
    We have absolutely no idea what to make of any form of government. We know what subsidiarity is – we created the term. We just never use it when it counts.

  18. Michael – destroying itself seems to be a European specialty. Of course, that also allows rapid change because you need catabolism to drive anabolism. Maybe European culture is simply the culture that must have change and if it means destroying itself every now and again, so be it.

  19. I think the US constitution and dedication to freedom stems from the spiritual side of their national life, in that they put a metaphysical faith beyond rational thinking into enshrining the concept of individual liberty, and will defend it to the bitter end. What do we have in comparison? A dedication to debt fueled home ownership? A ‘fair go’ whatever that means?

    It also made me laugh when both Australians and those overseas were shocked by the brutal treatment of the protesting public by law enforcement. That was the most predictably Australian thing that could have happened. From settlement, through the rum rebellion, to Eureka, to Ned Kelly, to the mounted police in Queensland, to the shearers strike of the 1890’s, to the stolen generation, all the way up to military intervention in indigenous communities, this is stock standard Aussie gov behaviour. ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is a thinly veiled reference to the shooting of one of the shearer-revolutionary leaders at the combo waterhole in Queensland by the police. Par the course.

  20. Skip – agree. I think because Australia is so dominated by US culture we think (and they think) that we share their attitude to freedom. Actually, that’s not true at all. Interestingly, though, I think Australia is in denial about that as if we can’t face up to what we really are. And because we are chronically averse to conflict there is not a whisper about any of it in the public discourse here. It’s just a dirty little secret we try to keep hidden away.

  21. Gday mate,
    interesting discussion.
    I don’t know why aussies are the way the way they are, but there is no question that there is a huge gap between self perception and reality. Actually bordering on delusional.

    For those who have a lot of time, here are a few podcasts talking about just that.

    @Cub thanks for the info from canada. Must be rather amazing to be Canadian right now. Aussies used to think of themselves as being a lot like Canadians. Sadly we fall far short of the standards you set. What you guys do in -20 degrees celsius, we cannot do on a balmy 25 degree day.

  22. Roland – Australia had no sooner gotten rid of the cultural cringe than we got swamped by US cultural (and political) imperialism. My guess is it will take the fall of the US empire before we can start to find ourselves. Of course, that’s assuming we can actually prevent ourselves falling under the control of whatever power takes over from the US.

  23. Sometimes I wonder if we are not overthinking things. Maybe Australia is simply an example of what happens when a society becomes too rich for its own good.

  24. Wealth is definitely a magnifier of psychological weaknesses. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that almost every religion recommends poverty. Although not the religion our Prime Minister follows.

  25. Ironically, it’s probably true. Lock a country away from the world for two years and we can expect some time to adjust to the latest variants of all the other respiratory viruses. Not a single word in the article of improving health, diet, getting exercise, sunlight or any other thing that might actually be useful.

  26. Great conversation!

    Simon – agree that repetition can be an effective technique for self-hypnosis, intended or not. And that these politicians have lost all meaningful contact w/ reality. But it seems to me they never lose sight of one goal: to maintain their power (such as it is). And w/ their focus on increasingly volatile polls, any story they tell is likely to keep changing too often to ever gel at all.

    Indigenous spirituality – &, I guess, any authentic spirituality – must remain inaccessible (granted only token respect or seen as irrelevant) to a culture obsessed w/ self-protection, safety & security… & the wealthier people get, the more they feel they have to protect – as expressed through material ownership (of land, things, people) rather than trust in intangible entities or principles.

    I don’t yet know much about the Devouring Mother as archetype but can maybe infer stuff based on the personality type, & the defensiveness that tends to come w/ it: defended against the world outside one’s rigid boundaries: foreigners (unless they bear gifts), pathogens, seditious ideas, bullies (i.e., competition)…

  27. Shane – I’m not an expert on Australian political history, but I assume the focus group/poll-driven politics is a fairly recent thing. One of my favourite stories of Bob Hawke was that he was told some policy of his wouldn’t go down well with “racists” and he responded by saying “tell me what I need to say to change their mind.” That’s what actual leadership looks like: convincing the public to change their minds and encouraging them to rise above base impulses. That’s the opposite of what we our current politicians do and that’s another reason why I think The Devouring Mother is a fairly recent phenomena that’s been getting steadily worse for the last couple of decades.

  28. Shane I agree I think this is why Australia seems to lack so much culturally. You need limits to be creative, and with basically unlimited wealth you can just sit back and take your pick of what everyone else has created. As I mentioned above international visitors often ask why we don’t have a national cuisine and it’s for this very reason. You need a peasant culture, limited to a certain number of local ingredients, to create a cuisine. You can’t just have everything available all the time. It doesn’t have to be ingredients that are ‘indigenous’ as some think (tomatos are not from Italy) it just has to be limited and isolated for a very long time. Same with all aspects of culture. We have always been to rich and too connected with too many other options and therefore no incentive to do anything than sit on our backsides and talk about how good it is to live here. Which I suppose was the original critique of the ‘the lucky country’.

  29. Simon – agree that poll-driven politics (reflected in the frequency of leadership changes) is recent, & am assuming that’s entwined w/ the rise of social media, the concomitant shortening of the human attention span, & the increasing irrelevance of actual content online (& beyond), since the consumer has become the product. Your definition of what leadership looks like works for me: policies behind the personalities. Your Devouring Mother timescale makes a lot of sense – its worsening coinciding w/ the rise of Web 2.0, the necessary precondition for Big Tech to be able to gobble us up.

    Skip – so true that we’re in a position to just sit back & take our pick. And yet we seem to lap up a disproportionate amount of US culture. (One irony is that Americans have to work so much harder to survive.) And wealth tends to create insularity (as if we didn’t have enough geographically): bigger houses on bigger blocks of land w/ higher fences etc. to keep the real world in all its dirty diversity at a distance until we order a delivery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *