Let’s Call Out Institutional Insanities


What are the signs that an institution is clinically insane? For over thirty-five years I have been trying to persuade psychological and psychiatric specialists and their professional associations to take up this serious subject for study and corrective suggestions. Alas, to no avail. They are totally occupied with the mental health of individuals.

One symptom of institutional insanity is when the mass media repeatedly goes wild covering offensive words, while ignoring systemic offensive deeds that reflect those words. In 2009, Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, settled for $2.725 million with the Department of Justice for unlawfully excluding prospective African-American and Hispanic tenants from his apartment buildings. In comparison to the coverage of his racist words, this injustice received little news coverage.

This past week, all you heard was the endless replay of his private bigotry with whom many believe to be his girlfriend and all the condemnations by wealthy active and retired ball players and coaches. Where was their outrage in 2009? What about the tens of thousands of serf-laborers in Southeast Asia who slave away manufacturing Michael Jordan’s and LeBron James’ shoes?

In Malaysia, meeting with the head of state, visiting President Obama saw fit to comment on Donald Sterling. Yet, during his week of meetings with East Asian leaders, President Obama did not bring attention to that region’s main health threat to the United States – the deadly viral epidemics that could reach these shores as have other past lethal viruses. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) could have benefited from some Presidential backing for greater resource cooperation and early alerts from those nations.

The media coverage of the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings (3 fatalities, 264 injuries), was omnipresent while two recent alarming reports by the underfunded World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC warning of many moremillions of deaths, that could result from over-prescribing of antibiotics leading to resistant superbugs, were given short shrift. WHO warned that our world is on the way back to the pre-antibiotic period, when there was little medical protection against bacteria and viruses.

This is not just a future projection. Every day more than 200 Americans die in the United States from health care-associated infections, such as hospital-induced infections, according to the CDC and other sources. Each day!

The first case of the deadly coronavirus from Saudi Arabia has reached Indiana where a returning visitor from that country came down with a little-researched virus called MERS. Traced to infected camels, this disease has taken the lives of one third or more of its victims, and has already resulted in about 100 deaths. Have you seen coverage in the media equivalent to recent political verbal gaffes or Hollywood celebrity misbehavior? Should this virus, already confirmed in a dozen countries, start moving to human-to-human transmission, “Katy bar the door!”

Mr. Obama’s navy is redundantly completing another aircraft carrier costing $12.5 billion. There are now twelve of these strategic white elephants, apart from their imperial force protection, while there are insufficient funds for countries to discover the genetic makeup of this virus or case-control studies regarding its pattern of spreading.

President Obama has proposed in his fiscal year 2015 budget all of $30 million for facilitates that could identify more resistant bacterial strains and communicate their resultant outbreaks and treatments. Apparently these very perilous, invisible “toxic terrorists” do not command the gravity and resources as do human terrorists or the insatiable demands of the weapons industrial complex.

There truly are no more fitting words to describe this grotesque inversion of priorities than “institutional insanity.” It also comes in the form of mass trivialization of the media’s selectivity. Serious often timely public demonstrations and reports on widely perceived risks and existing harms are ignored. Just look at what fills national afternoon and network weekend television shows, using our public airwaves for free, no less. Look at the many pages of newspapers on sports, styles and celebrity woes, compared to the space devoted to letters to the editor or coverage of local and national civic activities that focus on improving the lot of humanity or solving widespread problems with available solutions. Too much “news” coverage is devoted to debauchery and fluff.

Neuroscientists, such as Antonio Damasio, have speculated that uncontrollable hedonism, which takes down individuals, may, at a societal level, behave in similarly self-destructive or dysfunctional manners.

Someday, I imagine, someone will organize a “national society of serious people” that can put this hedonistic corporatism on the nation’s table so we can examine its destruction of human potential and what we convey to our posterity.

We can start by asking why the corporatists – those most sensually exploitative institutions – can so often get away using, for free, our own commonly owned property (public airwaves, the public lands, the internet, the trillions of dollars of taxpayer research and development given to corporations) against the interests of “we the people” and, most cruelly, our children.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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