In the late 17th century, we British decided that, as a humanitarian effort and public service, we’d collect up all the people from the towns and countryside who were bonkers and confine them in institutions, so that society could be protected from them.
As so often proves the case, the idea of a collective solution to an individual problem is doomed to failure from the start.
There are many problems with madhouses. First, they need funding and, of course, the entity that receives the funding is likely to prefer skimming off whatever they can, rather than spending it on the inmates. Second, the sort of people who apply to become staff are often not the most desirable, and in fact are often dangerous. Third, one madman might be a social problem, but what happens when you throw them all in together? Are conditions likely to make them less mad or more mad? (I would suggest the latter.)
When I was a teenager, I had the dubious pleasure of visiting a state-run madhouse - the maximum security ward, where all the most violent inmates were kept.
I’d been asked to visit a short-term inmate named Billy, who’d been committed to the mental institution for a month as punishment for a petty crime. My purpose was to hopefully raise his spirits, but my one visit there provided me with insight that I couldn’t have gained otherwise and has stayed with me for life.
I was taken through several layers of security until I was led through a series of heavy steel doors into a large room with tables and chairs in the middle and beds along the walls. About fifteen men were talking congenially in small groupings.
I sat down with Billy. Although we weren’t friends, he was glad to have a visitor and the men with him were also glad to see a new face. One man was having a lunch that had been sent by a relative and he insisted that I have his dessert, a cupcake. He seemed quite a nice guy, although I later learned from Billy that he had been a schoolteacher and was sentenced for life, having butchered his mother and a female pupil.
Billy advised me that all of the inmates were easy to get along with, but most were relatively paranoid and could “go off.” He said that there had recently been a bloodbath in the ward, so everyone was enjoying a week or two of calm, hence the friendliness of my reception. However, soon, each inmate would begin to wonder if any of the others had managed to make or find a weapon. The more they worried, the more they’d try to get ahold of a weapon or make one themselves. After a month, it would be assumed that most of the men had a weapon of some sort. After two months, it was assumed that they all now had hidden weapons and tension would be building. Conversations would diminish over time and each man would become increasingly withdrawn.
At some point, the paranoia would become so great that some errant word or small gesture by an inmate would inadvertently trigger violence in another inmate. When this happened, it became every man for himself immediately. They’d all reach for their weapons and there would be a bloodbath. Some would try to hide in corners, whilst others would attack whoever might be near to them.
Afterward, the weapons would be collected by the orderlies and those wounded would be taken to hospital. For a time, the survivors would return to congeniality – happy that there were no more weapons, allowing them a “normal” social life with each other.
My visit was brief, only an hour or so and, during that time, all the inmates were quite calm and polite to me. I was perhaps nineteen at the time and, later, I mentally compared my rather privileged upbringing with the life of those committed to the asylum. I decided that, if I were ever in a situation that might result in my becoming an inmate in such a place, I’d exit the situation as quickly as possible, before I was trapped in such a deplorable institution.
So. Fast-forward to the present day, and we witness the US government providing a regular stream of misinformation on the Middle East, Russia, China and pretty much any nation that poses any economic threat to the present American hegemony.
The network news in the US is clearly eating this up and expanding upon it – not only crying wolf, but using a bullhorn to do it. The US has more 24-hour news programmes than any other nation and many of them spend over 90% of their time warning of the dangers of Russia and other “enemies”.
It can truthfully be said, that, when an empire slides into decline, the leaders almost always opt for war, partially because it creates a distraction from political misdeeds and partially because most people will get behind their government, no matter how flawed, if there’s a war on.
This is clearly the case in the US today. The rhetoric-attack against other nations has largely succeeded in convincing Americans that Russia, China, the Middle East, etc. are “out to get us.” Russia and China, in particular, have consistently tried to expose the lie of this rhetoric, but their efforts are never reported on the US programmes, so the average American has no idea that he’s being lied to on a wholesale basis by his government and the complicit media.
Virtually every news item that’s reached the American ear as to developments in Ukraine and Syria has been falsely reported by the US news, to the point that many Americans believe the US should, ‘go in and straighten them out.”
The creation of islands in the South China Sea by the Chinese, which they have held claim to for hundreds of years, has allowed US military “experts” to declare repeatedly on the news that, “We can’t allow the Chinese to expand into the South China Sea.”
And, of course, the US, in the last sixteen years, has invaded or bombed Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc., under the dubious claim of “keeping the world safe for democracy.”
Again, cooler heads on the other side of this equation have done all they can to calm down the rhetoric. Even US allies in Europe, such as the French and Germans have refused to endorse US sanctions against the Middle East and Russia, for fear that they might be dragged into, not only a trade war, but possibly a shooting war.
In such an atmosphere, it’s no wonder that the world in general is ramping up its storehouse of weaponry. As America celebrates the creation of a new aircraft carrier, the rest of the world does what it can to quietly built up its own arsenal, “just in case.”
This, of course, is what foments wars, even world wars.
When all the inmates begin to realise that tension is building and the other inmates now have lethal weapons, the question is no longer, “Can I win against them?” but, “Can I afford not to do all I can to protect myself, no matter the outcome?”
This reveals a basic failing of empires - the assumption that they’ll force other nations to cave in to their threats. The opposite is, in fact true. Once everyone is trapped in the madhouse together, the moment the violence is finally triggered, all the inmates reach for their weapons. And what happens after that is anybody’s guess.
I’ve spent the balance of my life avoiding madhouses by living in countries that are not rooms within the madhouse. Today, the US is heating up the world to a dangerous degree and those who don’t wish to be trapped in the madhouse when the tension boils over might be advised to seek a safer place to live before the panic occurs.