The Demoralized Mind essay by John F. Schumaker | The Moral Order by Anthropologist Raoul Naroll

“Western consumer culture is creating a psycho-spiritual crisis that leaves us disoriented and bereft of purpose” states John F Schumaker in his essay in the New Internationalist The Demoralized Mind. How can we treat our sick culture and make ourselves well?

John F Schumaker is a Clinical Psychologist who also has a 25-year career as a university lecturer across nations including the United States, Zambia, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. He has researched and published articles on cross-cultural mental health, depression, psychology of religion, eating disorders and human suggestibility.

The Demoralized Mind, essay, John F Schumaker, New Internationalist magazine

The Demoralized Mind essay by John F Schumaker in New Internationalist magazine

By contrast to many traditional cultures that lack depression entirely, or even a word for it, Western consumer culture is certainly depression-prone…In the largest study of its kind, Ramin Mojtabai of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health sampled over 5,600 cases and found that only 38 per cent of them met the criteria for depression.

Contributing to the confusion is the equally insidious epidemic of demoralization that also afflicts modern culture. Since it shares some symptoms with depression, demoralization tends to be mislabelled and treated as if it were depression. A major reason for the poor 28-per-cent success rate of anti-depressant drugs is that a high percentage of ‘depression’ cases are actually demoralization, a condition unresponsive to drugs.

In the past, our understanding of demoralization was limited to specific extreme situations, such as debilitating physical injury, terminal illness, prisoner-of-war camps, or anti-morale military tactics.

But there is also a cultural variety of demoralization that can express itself more subtly and develop behind the scenes of normal everyday life under pathological cultural conditions such as we have today. This culturally generated demoralization is nearly impossible to avoid for the modern ‘consumer’.

Rather than a depressive disorder, demoralization is a type of existential disorder associated with the breakdown of a person’s ‘cognitive map’. It is an overarching psycho-spiritual crisis –
Its driving features – individualism, materialism, hyper-competition, greed, over-complication, overwork, hurriedness and debt – all correlate negatively with psychological health and/or social wellbeing.

The level of intimacy, trust and true friendship in people’s lives has plummeted.

Without an existential compass, the commercialized mind gravitates toward a ‘philosophy of futility’, as Noam Chomsky calls it, in which people feel naked of power and significance beyond their conditioned role as pliant consumers.

Individualistic models of mind have stymied our understanding of many disorders that are primarily of cultural origin.

But recent years have seen a growing interest in the topic of cultural health and ill-health as they impact upon general wellbeing. At the same time, we are moving away from naïve behavioural models and returning to the obvious fact that the human being has a fundamental nature, as well as a distinct set of human needs, that must be addressed by a cultural blueprint.

In his groundbreaking book The Moral Order, anthropologist Raoul Naroll used the term ‘moral net’ to indicate the cultural infrastructure that is required for the mental wellbeing of its members.

Without an existential compass, the commercialized mind gravitates toward a ‘philosophy of futility’, as Noam Chomsky calls it, in which people feel naked of power and significance beyond their conditioned role as pliant consumers. Lacking substance and depth, and adrift from others and themselves, the thin and fragile consumer self is easily fragmented and dispirited.

Individualistic models of mind have stymied our understanding of many disorders that are primarily of cultural origin.

Human culture has mutated into a sociopathic marketing machine dominated by economic priorities and psychological manipulation.

Human culture has mutated into a sociopathic marketing machine dominated by economic priorities and psychological manipulation. Never before has a cultural system inculcated its followers to suppress so much of their humanity. Leading this hostile takeover of the collective psyche are increasingly sophisticated propaganda and misinformation industries that traffic the illusion of consumer happiness by wildly amplifying our expectations of the material world. Today’s consumers are by far the most propagandized people in history. The relentless and repetitive effect is highly hypnotic, diminishing critical faculties, reducing one’s sense of self, and transforming commercial unreality into a surrogate for meaning and purpose.

Cultural deprogramming is essential, along with ‘culture proofing’, disobedience training and character development strategies, all aimed at constructing a worldview that better connects the person to self, others and the natural world.

Erich Fromm sums up this challenge: ‘We can’t make people sane by making them adjust to this society. We need a society that is adjusted to the needs of people.’

Democracy in its present guise is a guardian of cultural insanity.
We are long overdue a cultural revolution that would force a radical revamp of the political process, economics, work, family and environmental policy.

It might seem that credibility, meaning and purposeful action would derive from the multiple threats to our safety and survival posed by the fatal mismatch between consumer culture and the needs of the planet. The fact that it has not highlights the degree of demoralization that infects the consumer age. With its infrastructure firmly entrenched, and minimal signs of collective resistance, all signs suggest that our obsolete system – what some call ‘disaster capitalism’ – will prevail until global catastrophe dictates for us new cultural directions.”

Though I am physically and emotionally fit, I’m financially challenged – affected more recently by dealings with several unscrupulous people in a recent housing situation. I’m happy however, and appreciate any donations towards my blog writing, eBook with science links, illustration, photography and music composition.
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Carol Keiter, blogger

Carol Keiter the blogger

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About carolkeiter
Aspiring writer, artist, musician and composer who was born and raised in the United States and has resided in several European countries. Communication is my forte; both through using various tools and in approaching people of divers backgrounds to gather information. Speak conversational - advanced intermediate - French, German and Spanish. Love interacting with people in cultural centers as much as going to remote places to learn more about the different creatures that share our planet. Love of the outdoors and of a variety of outdoor sports. Driven to learn and expand my own consciousness and understanding through curiosity and love of life. Creative skills merge with analytical ones, leading to an interest in a myriad of topics; ranging from politics, economics, science to environmental. Motivated to use my art, music and writing to support and educate people towards humane practices that support and respect all of life, including practices supporting a healthy planet.

One Response to The Demoralized Mind essay by John F. Schumaker | The Moral Order by Anthropologist Raoul Naroll

  1. Loren Booda says:

    Meaningful communication provides an alternative to cynical commercials. When we care for others, just enough to share a good feeling that does not come from a brand or catchword, we free ourselves and make a tree of relationships.

    The place of most need is the third world, where industrialization and its stepchild, capitalism, have crushed vibrant societies under the wheels of pollution, destruction of natural resources, war, disease, etc., all of which lead back to depersonalization. Where there was once a plant, now there is trash; where there were wonderful forests, now slaughter of animals; where there were natural communities there is now Koyaanisqatsi.

    If our efforts are to have any meaning, put words into plans into actions – compassionate, personal interactions. If this does not come spontaneously, lead and change the world a being at a time. No human is an island; we all in some way rely on and nourish the entirety of Gaia.

    The Internet, television, radio and print all drive us insidiously toward petty goals to buy this, talk about that, show off another. I tell you, if you try genuine contact with the living “computers” in your life, you might not change humanity, but the seed you plant will feed many more.

    The structure of commercialism is mind control, survival of the fittest, greed over need and trickle-down economics. In a nanosecond we are programed to respond to a brand, seared into our unconscious. We risk our own safety from ads on the car radio — either avoid or crash — or just lead an empty existence hypnotized by neon pseudo-art in place of astronomical beauty. I see city children of different aboriginal ethnicities forced to shed thousands of years of native knowledge.

    Apparently Carol has dedicated herself to a more meaningful experience. I imagine her bicycle, without so much as a camera. The western expanses replace hordes of aimless, oblivious pedestrians. Unlike the Nation’s Capital, the stone monuments here have stood for millions of years in their pristine beauty. The air warms and cools at the mercy of the Sun, the center of the desert. Basically, if you’re surviving with creation, you’re really living. Otherwise, watch out for the next false god – I can tell you, it won’t be found in the primordial.

    Spirit is in everything, Spirit is everything. Only if we allow ourselves to be deceived by the absence of morals, demoralization, do we stumble at our own peril. But you may choose to breathe in deeply, slowly through your nose and sigh out through your mouth. For a moment you have found breath; in Latin: Spiritum.

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