Capitalism as Psychosis (or No One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

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Common Dreams

Capitalism as Psychosis (or No One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

Can a society become psychotic? Certainly a quick look at our national political dialogue would suggest that’s precisely what’s happening.

Let’s start with what passes for rational discussion on the economy.

For going on 30 years now, the Washington Asylum has focused on the debate between a collection of insanely passionate shrink-the-government-until-you-can-drown-it-in-the-bath tub supply-siders on the one hand, and … well … a collection of folks who embrace a more progressive economic agenda every four years, but seem to feel strongly about both sides of the issue in between.

Meanwhile, empirical evidence shows that the shrink the government side of the argument is counter-factual, destructive, and leads to Great Recessions, record-breaking income disparity, human want and deprivation.

So what do the Shrinkers advocate? More shrinking, of course, in the form of austerity budgets.

But as Paul Krugman pointed out, once again reality caught up with the Shrinkers. The high interest rates and economic catastrophe that debt and deficits were supposed to cause, failed to happen. In fact, the deficit is shrinking, interest rates are near all time lows, and the economy is growing – slowly, but certainly much faster than in countries that tried the austerity route.

Did this evidence cause the Shrinkers to change their position? Nope. Like a lunatic insisting he’s Napoleon despite all evidence to the contrary, the free marketeers simply came up with a new reason for austerity – deficits are a moral issue.

Like, OK, Doc, I gotta admit there aren’t aliens out to get me – it’s actually lizard people from middle earth … Nurse Ratchet, better turn up the meds …

Cheating our children?

Never mind that the conservative strategy of weakening government regulations, relying on trickle down-feed the rich policies, and shrinking benefits for middle and low income people ushered in the greatest economic dislocation since the Great Depression. Never mind that income disparity and the amount of wealth held by corporations are now at their highest since the Great Depression. And never mind that these were what caused the Depression. We want austerity, godammnit, and we’ll keep trying to come up with a justification that you’ll swallow until we get it. Oh, and if the kids can’t find a job or go to college, well, too bad.

Debt a moral issue? How about the fact that austerity measures are just another way of turning the country over to the uber rich 1%, lock, stock and barrel?

Yeah, it’s easy to get worked up over the economic hypocrisy of Republicans and Tea Partiers and the faux progressivism of Barry “let’s make a deal” Obama, his band of democratic enablers and the whole castrato chorus that is our national press.

But the thing is, as insanely psychotic as this bait and switch economic chicanery is, it pales in significance compared to the real moral crime of our time – climate change.

This is where craziness takes on a whole new level.

Worried about future generations? Well, how about destroying the climate in which our species – in fact, most species – evolved? Think that might warrant a furrowed brow or two?

Not from the crazed and counterfactual Shrinkers. They’re closing their eyes, sticking their fingers in their ears and denying it with all their might. They’re even trying to legislate it out of existence. Might as well try to outlaw evolution – Oh, wait. They’re doing that, too.

Nurse Ratchet, get that Thorazine here, quick ...

You want crazy? The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment is due out soon, and according to one of its principle authors, it should put to rest any questions that climate change is caused by humans and that it poses an existential threat to our future.

Meanwhile, the US leads the world in subsidizing fossil fuels with over half a trillion dollars in 2011. Think about this – we are giving the most profitable industry in history trillions of dollars to produce a product that is literally killing us and destroying the global ecosystem. Talk about psychosis. Talk about moral failing. We make a crack cocaine prostitute look like a paragon of virtue, and a tin-foil hat crazy look sane.

It gets worse. We are poised to approve the XL pipeline, a carbon bomb that will actually cost us jobs while it destroys the climate.

Oh and that IPCC report? Retrospective analysis shows that historically, previous IPCC reports have understated the rate of climate change, and its magnitude. This one won’t be any different. For starters, the report will not even address one of the most troubling potential feedbacks, methane releases from melting permafrost and volatilizing clathrates – a phenomenon that killed off some 96% of marine species 250 million years ago.

What do do? Drill for more fossil fuels in the Arctic, of course.

Nurse Ratchet? More Mellaril, please … These guys are going right off the edge of the Earth.

And what is it that’s driving us so crazy? The idea that unfettered capitalism will deliver all good things by pure serendipity … the idea that a fistful of dollars is worth more than the natural capital that makes all wealth possible.

Where’s McMurphy when you need him?

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

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