The Sociopathy Contagion

Anyone reading CounterPunch likely knows and accepts that the colonization of the Americas was not successful due to any inherent superiority of European ideals of consumption or expansion. It was successful because up to 95% of the population simply died off from the pestilence carried by the new arrivals. Europeans had been living with their animals in a largely filthy state and brought with them all manner of lethal microbial passengers. Looking at the chaos unleashed via covid, a disease that is horrendous by all sane accounts, puts into perspective what something like that must have looked like. In other words, a complete catastrophe for those experiencing it. That there are remaining members of these tribes still carrying on traditions as best they can today is nothing short of miraculous. I can’t even fathom the depths of character and the suffering that their ancestors went through without simply giving up.

I mention this because it seems to be one bookend of the American experience, by that I mean the European invader chapter, from which my people came. They often fled terrible situations, but took the toxicity of those places they fled and planted it in the fertile American soil. For years upon years the “lucky” accident that they landed on a gorgeous land conveniently depopulated was propelled as evidence of the superiority of the winner take all system. But reality shows itself, sometimes hundreds of years later. We are in the era of unvarnished truth emerging.

The covid failure on the part of the United States is shaping up to be the end of any rational narrative that America is unique in the world (other than in a negative sense by virtue of the virus numbers). It’s only possible for so long to go along with gaslighting and magical thinking before the reality of the situation takes hold. Covid-19 plunges forward, unconcerned with the inane murmuring of personal freedom, hoaxes–really anything else that makes the owner of said irrational thoughts feel better and more in control of their world. The part of the brain crying out “it’s a hoax” is the same spot that for millennia, people have used to do the mental gymnastics they needed to feel safe. Whether it’s saying a black man should have “done what the police told him” or a raped woman was drunk and inappropriately dressed—it’s just a cowardly way to feel you won’t end up in a victim situation—a way to separate yourself. Those others did wrong, the virus is fake—and now I am going to get very irate about something incredibly minimal, but my pain is orders of magnitude more important than that of others. It’s fragile egos that explode rather than reflect.

This could have played out very differently. When citizens can’t visualize there’s a social responsibility to others in their nation (as in not wanting something like universal healthcare), well, I use the example of the household and close family. It is the accepted norm that we take care of “our own”. That is, we take care of our children if we have them, our partners, etc. Except under amazingly toxic relationship conditions (see: Trump family) there is not an expectation of payment to care for each other. You don’t keep tabs on how many times you change that diaper and ask for recompense when the little hooligan grows up. It’s a clear obligation, albeit a loving one, and truly the foundation that makes life worth living. An inability to care for others and to be cared for is not a healthy state for a human being.

So we clearly understand that caring for those in our immediate nucleus makes sense, is rewarding, and holds the fabric of our self worth together. But expand your circle to those in the community, to those in your state and nation, and suddenly the impetus to care for others disappears. A toxic, transactional and ultimately, doomed to collapse paradigm emerges. Americans have been doused in a false competitive narrative because that’s what the country was birthed upon: death, consumption and expansion. If families were to universally treat each other in this manner, society would simply fall apart and most likely humans would go extinct rapidly. The same will occur without some sort of mutual empathy and shared caring of those outside of our immediate circles. It will just play out in a painful slow motion. It may proceed with climate change or it may play out in serial epidemics. But without concern for others, it will end in the same place. There has to be a major expansion in our empathy. This is required for the health of the planet and for our own mental stability.

And here’s the thing…..almost all of us do have empathy…. we aren’t trying to train alligators to tap dance. It’s something that is already in us for those close by. We just don’t extend it to “the other”because we are like the bulls tormented until we fight. Studies have clearly shown that even babies have an inner empathy. We try to convince ourselves that this isn’t a basic trait of humans, but it is. They just try to drive it out of us.

This lack of responsibility and love for others is the core reason for every misery, be it war, this amazingly dark winter of pandemic, homelessness—it all comes from this walled off sense of self that isn’t able to permeate the fact that we are all connected, like it or not.

It takes bravery the likes of which most people just don’t seem to have at the ready to change this. It will take a lot of work. It will take a cultivation that our leaders will actively work to squash. It’s no accident that our police forces have been given weapons of war in even mid-size US cities. They know they stoke the fires of oppression and anger and they maintain what they need to ensure that the hoarders of our society will have their stuff protected. They started out as slave rounder-upers, right? We are up against a well organized foe who knows how to brainwash.

I’ve written about it before, but it seems apt to bring up again this season. Given their own devices when the higher ranking officers were back with their families and away from the battle sites, soldiers in 1914 initiated Christmas truces and socialized together. When the high ranking individuals came back and forced them to again fight, it all fell apart. But the soldiers wanted to be friends with each other. This right here is a perfect illustration of what human nature is, and it’s not an urge to fight. It’s an urge to party and be happy—to look for meaning in shared joy. It takes an incredible amount of pressure, propaganda and threat to make the average person take part in anything like war or simple cruelty. This is of course, not to say that people don’t have dark sides and some people are without empathy. But they are in the minority; they simply, by virtue of aggressive self-interest, have found their way to power. They need to be removed from these positions because they will eventually kill us all. At the very least, we need to know they are walking, talking lies and they want to keep us to keep fighting with each other so they can continue to plunder. Everything they say is sus as my 13 year old would say (and she would cringe at my attempt to use the word sus).

But covid has laid bare all of these issues. The fact that there are so many politicians out there braying “access to healthcare” knowing damn well that this simply means “continue feeding insurance companies gold while an accepted number of people needlessly die”–well that right there should negate any right to rule these people claim to have. Some will say that they have that right because they were voted in. That’s a topic worth a hundred volumes—how that process at best gives you the least worst option, but it never selects for true transformational change. Look at the Bernie fiasco, volume 2 that played out. It’s a controlled opposition and a safety valve, but not an avenue to direct change.

I’m not saying that it isn’t refreshing to have Trump on the way out, in the same way it’s fantastic when a neighbor who steals your Christmas ornament collection from your shed and has dramatic, staged outdoor fights with her significant other moves away (looking at you Charlene, you despicable SOB). But we haven’t really heard anything beyond platitudes from Biden. He inherited the platitude machine from Obama. Push a button and it spits out….”here’s the deal….we are here to make sure all Americans get a fair deal, a fair shake, not a hand-out”. What the fuck does that even mean? Nothing. It’s a slower decline with Biden (perhaps) and it’s always good to see a truly sick individual leave, but we have abject suffering going on right now. The changes would need to be momentous and Biden is indicating that he is firmly in 1993 and will not budge. He refuses to concede that The Spice Girls really aren’t that great. I mean, they didn’t even know each other before they were put together in that band. Really. He needs to accept this and move on. The Spice Girls are truly terrible. I mean just plain awful. He needs to let go of that.

So where does that leave us? The younger generations (barring Proud Boys and their ilk) are already closer to the broad-based empathy that will be required. They are helping each other in far greater numbers than Boomers or Gen X’ers ever did. It’s a start. Those of us in the older generations have a responsibility to not advance the toxic exceptionalism that, let’s face it, we were brainwashed with. Perhaps the entire country needs to microdose psychedelics to get a sense of what it’s all about. If you can’t get there cognitively, get there chemically.

We are linked, connected, fused—all of that, to each other. Lives led denigrating others and selfishishly plunging forward will end badly for the owner of those values. Look at covid and how often those individuals who wouldn’t even wear a mask are now the recipients of the virus, often in the most bellicose rural areas. Their tiny critical access hospitals are pleading for transfer to larger facilities—but they simply don’t have the beds and staff. And the bulk of it all could have been avoided. Politicians encouraged their constituents to flirt with death. And their constituents obliged. People are definitely dying from care not being “accessible”.Selfishness feels good short-term, but the long-term side effects are brutal.

The lessons of the earth play out every single day if we simply pay attention.

We are being told what we need to do and it’s simple. Care for each other.

Kathleen Wallace writes out of the US Midwest. Her writing is collected on her Substack page.