I Don’t Know About You, but I’m Getting Nervous

“Not the enemy in front but the friends behind are the men who spread despondency and alarm” 

Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary (1920)

The word neurosis denotes what a less pretentious age called a nervous disorder, or a case of bad nerves.   That was in the day when psychiatrists were called nerve doctors.  Neurosis is compounded of the Greek word neuron, which means a nerve cell, and the suffix osis, which means a disorder, disease or complaint.  This is why a man whose breath is cause for complaint is said to have halitosis.

A neurotic man is, therefore, overly nervous.  He is fretful, excitable or disabled by a paralyzing melancholy.   It is not absolutely clear how nervous a man must be in order to be classified as overly nervous, but it is generally said that a man is overly nervous when his fretting, excitement or melancholy gets in the way of his everyday life.

It should be obvious that everyone has neurotic episodes, and that most of us cure this intermittent neurosis with the home remedies of calming down, taking a deep breath, or going for a long walk.  Many of us have personalities that are permanently colored by a striking excess of fear, mania or depression.  In ancient and medieval psychology, these dispositions were attributed to an imbalance in a man’s “humors,” and society dealt with these foibles by accepting these maniacs with “a sense of humor.”

When a society is subjected to the extraordinary mental strain of a general calamity, such as a war, famine, or pestilence, it will often exhibit a sharp uptick in the prevalence of these neurotic foibles and maniacs.   This is called “mass neurosis” or “mass hysteria” and it means that an unusually large number of people in that society are suffering some degree of “nervous breakdown.”  If there is a difference between neurosis and a nervous breakdown, I am unable to see it.

Mass neurosis becomes a problem for the same reason that individual neurosis becomes a problem.  Not much work gets done when much of the multitude is fretting, raving, or mired in the slough of despondency.  Things begin to fall apart when the percentage of maniacs in a population rises above a certain level, and the sense that things have begun to fall apart increases the mental strain and the production of these maniacs.

* * * * *

The extreme mental strain of total war may be the most powerful means to spread mass neurosis through a population, but an early expert on psychological warfare tells us that “all measures which increase tension and spread a feeling of insecurity and discontent are valuable tools for the diffusion of mass hysteria.”*  He calls insecurity and discontent “valuable tools” because modern warfare always seeks to cripple the economic and military strength of the enemy by inducing nervous breakdowns and mass neurosis in the enemy population, thereby raising its percentage of maniacs to an insupportable level.

Totalitarian regimes also view controlled mass neurosis as a valuable tool with which to control their own people.  Neuroticism impairs the industry of workers, and the courage of soldiers, but stultifying the “spirit” of a people makes those people tractable and easier to rule.    The effect of mass neurosis on a population is, indeed, analogous to the effect of the drug Ritalin on “spirited” boy.

It takes a deft hand to spread “nervous exhaustion” in one’s own population, since an excess of mass neurosis will cripple the economic and military strength of the totalitarian regime.  But if mass neurosis is kept at the right level, the neuroticized people can perform their assigned tasks, but will be at the same time docile, suggestible and politically disorganized.

This level of mass neurosis is induced by regular alarms in a sensationalistic media that magnifies threats such as terrorism, nuclear war, violent crime, domestic revolution, or epidemic disease.  The aim is to maintain a politically useful malaise of fretting, excitement and despondency, and to thereby stultify public spirit and cause the people to “lose their nerve.”

* * * * *

Spreading mass neurosis among one’s own people is sometimes described as “brainwashing,” although deliberate inducement of nervous exhaustion is better understood as spirit-washing.  The aim is to break the public spirit of mental resistance to outrageous policies, propaganda and demands.  If your aim is to swindle a man, you want to play the trick when he is exhausted and a “nervous wreck.”.  Two experts on the Communists’ use of mass neurosis explain

“Brainwashing is not primarily a technique to make prisoners of war confess to imaginary crimes and betray their country’s secrets.  It is primarily a means of transforming the character structure of an entire population and of keeping that population in a permanent condition of mental subordination to the Communist state, of unhesitating belief in all that it asserts, in chronic anxiety, neurotic tension and disintegrated personality state.”*

These same writers go on to explain that imputations of collective guilt help to spread neurosis and mental subordination.  We see this at the personal level when a domineering husband controls his wife by harping on her real and imagined failures.  We see it at the social level when the personalities of one segment of the population are deliberately disintegrated by public harping on their real and imagined crimes.  The authors just quoted say,

 “The mind is broken down by . . . the practice of requiring self-criticism and the denunciation of others, indoctrination and reindoctrination.  The processes used involve arousal of guilt feelings and maintenance of a continuous atmosphere of tension and fear.  Guilt is collective in the sense that the individual is made to feel responsible for his class, his community, his nation, for the class origin of his family, for the “crimes” of his nation, defining crime as anything which departs from the Communist line.”

* * * * *

It is hard to deny that the Covid panic has made America into a neurotic nation, and that the simultaneous amplification of racial scapegoating is aggravating the nervous breakdown in a large subset of the population.  This comes directly on the heels of the Islamic terrorist panic, and in the midst of “nerve shattering” changes in technology and the national economy.

I am not saying that Covid is fictional, or that Islamic terrorism was fictional, but that both crises appear to have been deliberately magnified in order to spread neurosis and nervous exhaustion, and to thereby break the public spirit of mental resistance to outrageous policies, propaganda and demands.  And this mental strain has been deliberately enhanced for a subset of the population by “requiring self-criticism and the denunciation of others,” by “indoctrination and reindoctrination,” and by repeated “arousal of guilt feelings.”

The goal is to break our spirit and, so far as I can see, it is succeeding.

*) Béla Szunyogh, Psychological Warfare: An Introduction to Ideological Propaganda and the Techniques of Psychological Warfare (New York: William-Frederick Press, 1955), p. 77.

**) Nathaniel Weyl and Stefan Thomas Possony, The Geography of Intellect (Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1963), pp. 231, 232.

9 thoughts on “I Don’t Know About You, but I’m Getting Nervous

    • I’m not a psychiatrist, but I would include extreme irritability as neurotic. Things very easily “get on the nerves” of irritable people, and I think all of us become more irritable when suffering “nervous exhaustion.” I’ve known extremely irritable people who learned to control their anger, although the underlying neurosis never went away.

      • Scapegoating is a built-in tendency of human beings. The Old and New Testaments reveal the scapegoating mechanism and by doing so permit people to wrest themselves away from it into Christianity, which only ever fully achieves itself in the saints. Christian faith is extraordinarily strong: It can wrest people away from their mimeticism, which leads them to scapegoat others; but Christian faith is also extraordinarily fragile: It can become too much, at which point people abandon it. Right now we are in a phase of abandonment, which is tantamount to a resurgence of witch-hunting and witch-burning. I, too, am nervous. Why will this trend not advance in North America the way it advanced in Russia, Germany, and China? Myth, in the most negative sense, is replacing Faith. And Satan is casting out Satan. The wicked and stupid control all institutions. Please forgive my fulminations.

  1. For whatever reason, I was more nervous last year than now. Things could change at any moment – but recently I have been rather relishing the clarity of the spiritual situation behind the socio-politics; which leads to a much greater ease of understanding what is happening.

    In a sense it is simpler to be a real Christian now than ever before – anyone who wants to, can do it. Albeit, not many do want to be Christians – apparently.

    And it is simple to recognize other real Christians. This is partly because it has become extremely difficult to be a pretend Christian. Discernment is easy. Fakes can no longer fool others, as in the past, by mere institutional compliance (nor do they manage to fool themselves: they don’t bother).

    And the same applies to many other activities in life. Sometimes – as with politics/ professional science/ academia (etc.) – one realizes there are whose areas of discourse where there are Very Obviously Nothing-But fakes!

    • I understand the consolation of clarity, but am at the same time disconsolate over what has become clear. I suppose that a man feels similar when he finally knowns, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that another man is trying to kill him. I have a pretty strong normalcy bias, so my intervals of dread have always been separated much longer intervals of hopeful complacency. But those intervals of hopeful complacency don’t last so long these days. They have been replaced by an awareness that the wolves are everywhere, most in but many out of sheep’s clothing.

      I think I’ve read most of what you have written about the proliferation of fakes and impostors, but this is another truth it is hard to actually live my. A complex society absolutely requires a vast amount of implicit trust, since we must put our lives and fortunes in the hands of strangers all the time. That trust is going away, so I expect authorities will have to become more coercive and common folk will have to become more devious. Since so much work nowadays is either sham or malignant, it would probably be better to pension off a large part of the workforce, these pensions dependent on fulfillment of an ironclad promise not to (pretend to) work.

  2. Scapegoating eliminates the scapegoat without getting rid of the problem that seemed to demand a scapegoat, so it is futile and self-perpetuating. This kind of blame-shifting seems to be more common among teenagers, who are never responsible for any of their own problems (or the problems they cause other people, for that matter), so adults who persist in the habit are really retarded. When the a plan for self-improvement involves nothing but changes in the attitudes and behaviors of other people, that plan will fail.

    You are probably right about our return to witch burning. And it doesn’t take a weatherman to know who has been picked to play the witches.

  3. Perhaps I see all these struggle sessions with a yawn and a jaundiced eye because my former expertise was China. If you let it succeed with you, it will succeed. If you don’t, it won’t. Many Americans, in fact, find this turn of events — a Fourth Turning — emboldening. From what I see, I remain very hopeful. Not for those who commit to the condemnation of others, but for those who reject it outright. Remember, even the Germans were defeated. Stay strong!

    • Thanks for the encouraging words. One problem, even for those who stay strong, is that they must live amidst an ever growing number of neurotic maniacs. A sober man will suffer in a society overloaded with alcoholics.

      • Yes, I understand. But it wears off once you get used to it. And, most importantly, one must find like-minded people. Once I understood that, and imagined myself meeting them, all of a sudden they appeared in my life.

        More so than at any time over the past 20 years, since I returned to the US, have I, in the past two years discovered more incredibly talented and capable Americans than ever before, and in places I never had thought to look. It’s truly awe-inspiring. Why do you think I come here to read each and every piece of writing and every comment?

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