What happens when an entire culture steps onto existentially thin ice
|An old legal friend of mine recently wrote to me as part of a larger correspondence in the following terms, about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder cases that had crossed his desk, which he headed, ‘Snowflakes?’.
‘I have had the opportunity over the years to a look at series of claims by plaintiffs who have been caught up in threatening or violent situations and who have lodged claims seeking damages for ‘mental injury’.
As you can imagine I approach these claims with extreme suspicion. Mostly what I would see in these often ‘classlike’ claims were a few genuine cases of psychiatric illness and a large number of pretenders and malingerers. Well, not so much now days.
What I now see are doctors reporting real mental illness; mainly, but not exclusively, PTSD. Now while the circumstances giving rise to the claims are unpleasant enough, and plaintiff’s might believe they were seriously exposed or threatened, the point I want to make is that we are not looking at the beaches of Normandy, or Tobruk, or Monte Casino, or Kakoda.
The rates of physical and mental illness apparently reported by the Australian troops in overseas theaters in more recent times seem to me to be proportionately much increased. Are these generations of Xs and millennials snowflakes? Perhaps the answer is that society now offers the opportunity for compassion, compensation and care not previously on offer. But that doesn’t really sound all that complete and convincing. Anyway, I remain perplexed by these plaintiffs’ psychological fragility, as I see it.’
My good friend, who knows me well, put this little gem out as bait for me to respond to, and naturally I took it, hook, line and sinker, in roughly the following terms……
I have been thinking about this subject for a long time, because PTSD and other ‘trauma’ related phenomena seem almost bizarre in their extent across a wide spectrum of varying intensity crisis events/processes, the parameters of vulnerability to them, the acuteness and time distribution of their symptomatology, and the persistence and extent of the personal damage/crisis they appear to give rise to. It is very tempting to lean on convenient cliches and stereotypes to sound authoritative in one’s empathy or condemnation, which is the fate of much social thinking these days.
The phenomena are not restricted to necessarily the traditional theatres, event intensities and time exposure of ‘traumatic’ crisis inducing stress one might have once ordinarily expected. In my studies of sexual and cultural identity controversies on university campuses, it has come to my attention that in some places, students now have to be warned of potential ‘trauma triggers’ if they are going to be exposed to an idea that might cause them ‘flashbacks’ or some kind of existential crisis. ‘Controversial’ speakers are being deplatformed from speaking on campus because ‘the threat’ they pose to the ‘fragile’, ‘vulnerable’ and ‘easily upset’ sensitivities (and the colossally inflated perceived threat language that gives rise to) of some of the students. Ominously, ‘keeping them safe’ has become more important than free speech and robust debate.
My view is that something big is going on and it isn't just a matter of either ‘malingering’ or being ‘genuinely’ sick, weak or strong, or even of existentially substantial or ephemeral individual ‘character’. To make any sense of this subject at all, let alone speculate as to what to do about it, one has to look across these phenomena through a number of historical, social/economic and cultural/existential prisms that view it as a systemic issue emblematic of much larger forces and trends that have been rolling out since at least the 1960s…and have background contexts that arose from the First World War and even earlier.
The world order that made WWI possible was assembled by extreme and repeated trauma as business-as-usual pre and early modern worlds were systematically dismantled, populations uprooted and new ways and places of living and producing were established at an eye wateringly colossal price for everyone involved, except for very small privileged bourgeois minorities and their petty bourgeois hangers-on. These groups collectively accumulated for their use and deployment, unprecedented scientific insight, technological leverage, political/cultural prestige, credibility and legitimacy, and wealth and power across a wide range of contexts that overwhelmed and reshaped everything they touched.
There is hardly language available to adequately express how ruthlessly tough that maelstrom was, even for its leading protagonists (whose privileged position could easily be precipitately lost by a misstep or loss of focus) and how hardy, resilient and adaptable ordinary people had to be to endure and survive in that world at all. When one looks at the rank and file army recruits who appear with such vivid clarity out of Peter Jackson’s brilliant ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ digital reconstruction, colourisation and lip sync voicing of First World War film footage, one can see the scrawny shortness of stature, bad teeth and the prematurely ageing and hardened faces, particularly of the older ‘other ranks’ men, brought about by their very tough lives and poor diet.
Perhaps one also sees amongst the cheerful, but almost shy bonhomie of new recruits in front of the unfamiliar hand cranked ‘moving pictures’ camera, a more subtle set in the faces of people who knew who and what they were, as soldiers prepared to fight in defence of a settled personal and world order that they believed in implicitly.
At the battle front, the camera sees them as they assemble themselves to ‘go over the top’, knowing that there was a good chance of not coming back in one piece, if at all. They are all manfully conquering their fear with a grim and unflinching resolve to do their duty, no matter what, safe in the knowledge that there was a place for them in the bosom of God, if it were his will that they should die. Those that could amongst the stretcher wounded grin at the camera and wave, with a balming cigarette to distract themselves with, hanging from the side of their mouths.
The stoicism is palpable.
The increasingly powerful secular messages coming out of a new infrastructure of knowledge, industrial practice and urban life may have gradually white anted the hardy and God Fearing puritan virtues of the reformation and replaced it with a measure of formalism, hypocrisy and cant, but enough of it was still extant in 1914 to present the face of a more or less intact and variously solid world that still sustained people, as it had done for centuries before.
But what those who marched to the western front in 1914 could not possibly know was the grisly extent to which protracted firepower intensive modern warfare, with its gigantic artillery attacks, use of poison gas and astronomically casualty intensive infantry assaults through barbed wire entanglements against machine gun fortified entrenchments, could tear the stuffing out of European society….and find out its accumulated weaknesses.
Psychological injury known as ‘shell shock’ became ‘a thing’, despite the reluctance of military authorities to recognise it as such, in a winner takes all conflict where the combatant party capable of absorbing the most pulverisingly brutal punishment for longest would win. But even the most ruthless military denialism could not prevent men from mentally ‘snapping’ and being reduced to helplessly dysfunctional incoherence that would require evacuation and some kind of treatment regime. 80,000 men (BBC: Shell Shock during WW1) out of the total of 5 million who joined the British army (of whom 744,000 were killed and overall 1.675 million wounded - Wikipedia: WW1 casualties) ended up as officially recognised as psychologically wounded.
What they found was that for a majority of cases, if the patients were kept in field hospitals as close to the front and their old unit as possible, within hearing of the guns and treated as if they were going to get better soon and ‘go home’ to their comrades, they were much more likely to get better than disappearing them into sanatoriums either well to the rear of the front or back in the home country.
And this gelled well with the military brass concern that ‘shell shock’ should not be considered a malingerer’s ‘soft option’ get out from the front…..Behavioural dysfunction and personality related injury, with its implications for military discipline, morale and capacity to keep fighting under extreme conditions, made all military responses to it ‘crabbed’, ambivalent and ambiguous….veering from some semblance of empathy for the psychologically wounded, to shooting disoriented men for ‘cowardice in the face of the enemy’.
I can only speculate that by ‘normalizing’ their condition as an ordinary and recoverable ‘walking wound’, maintaining social and environmental connection and a feeling of battle worthy morale, enabled these men to ‘recover their senses’, by not making any changes in their lives that might further undermine their tenuous hold on reality, and allowing time, familiar albeit modified routines, militarily relevant incremental task extensions close to the front, and plenty of rest, to nurse them back to themselves and their comrades.
And convalescent nursing I think were more the operative words rather than medical therapy, by providing a pathway of attentive, supportive and firm guidance back to ‘normality’ for men who saw themselves capable of getting better with some structured 3 Rs: Rest, Revivify & Reset.
Of course, none of this would help soldiers who had suffered permanent or semi permanent neuro/psychological injuries that would leave them as intractable sanatorium patients, or damaged characters with sufficiently minor/tolerable, but long term mental disorders, to be released back into rear echelon military formations and later on back into civilian society, with perhaps outpatient support when adverse episodic ‘stuff happened’.
The surviving troops who eventually made it home after the war, almost all brought back a stock of terrible memories that they compartmentalised and locked away, except when they leaked out in dreams, moments of deja vu, or negative unconscious stress behaviours that perhaps residualized with time, and sometimes didn’t. Families felt duty bound to absorb these things in their menfolk, who come back from the war ‘different’ from when they marched away.
What is interesting for us a hundred years later in a psychiatric world where ‘talking out’ ‘repressed memory’ is considered therapeutic, is that during the post world war 1 period, putting bad memory behind oneself, letting ‘sleeping dogs lie’ and ‘moving on’ were considered the best way forward for the memory holder and those around him. This might help explain the almost universal reluctance of soldiers to ‘dredge up’ their toxic war experiences with anyone, except within the ritually safe confines of veteran marches and old comrade get-togethers that happened during the annual Armistice Day remembrance days, when they would briefly let out their communal demons for a short walk, on a short lead, with all the others who did similarly.
My own father, who was a professional artilleryman throughout WW2 up until 1958, almost never talked about his war experiences and only ever did so with a few drinks in him. And the stories were sufficiently gruesome to understand his reticence. On one occasion when in his early eighties, he blurted out a particularly horrible story at a dinner party and spoiled everyone’s appetite. His then spouse was furious with him…..
I think it would be presumptuous to assume that these attitudes were necessarily a bad thing overall, for it posited resilience, inner ‘spiritual’ strength and ‘character’ as ideals, sources of succour and the building blocks for sustainable psychological fortification, endurance and capacity to let go of the past.
That did not mean that it was a cure all, for some succumbed to alcoholism, bouts of black depression, periods of being unable to cope and variously ‘taking it out’ on nearest and dearest. But the fact was that in all likelihood (most of the ‘evidence’ for this is anecdotal &/or ideologically charged narrative/polemic for those invested in a ‘hidden’ World War PTSD pandemic that would ‘normalise’/make sense of/justify the present one) most men did ‘get on’ with their lives, and got over and/or learned to live with their war wounds of every type. And that was reinforced by the general social expectation that that would be the case, because everyone, soldier and civilian alike, had suffered during those long, weary, terrible war years, and badly wanted to get back to some sort of normality again, pick up the old threads, and if young, marry, have children and bring them up in a secure family with some hope for the future.
One can only speculate on how much such a traumatically extreme set of events as the First World War would affect the fabric of the social culture. Interestingly, the first tangible sign that something big had changed was in the colonial world, where the almost unassailable prestige and legitimacy of the Pax Europa, which had been established in the long (relative) peace after the Napoleonic Wars, was exposed as a fundamentally weakened and flawed idea. Nationalist movements sprouted immediately in its aftermath and although they were quickly suppressed, things just weren’t the same anymore. The respect and deference were disappearing.
Much of the enormous accumulated wealth built up during the rise of the Industrial revolution had gone (The Bank of England ran out of gold reserves in 1917 and had to borrow from the Americans to stay in the war), along with a good measure of its social capital and young male cohort. People wanted so badly to ‘get back’ to the way things were, but they weren’t, at any level. What had picked itself up and dusted itself down in the wake of the maelstrom that was the First World War, was a shadow of what had once existed, and though people continued to act out their traditional and familiar rituals, it just didn’t feel the same…..Things that had once been marginal challenges to the system, like a version of socialism, suffragette demands for women’s rights, colonial restiveness and a noticeable break down in pre war social conventions, ineluctably started to find their way into the centre.
Things just weren’t the same anymore.
Uneasiness, weakness, uncertainty and awkward questions simmered under the peacetime conventionalities of the interwar period. The outward forms of empire marched on, but under new pressures. People still went to church, but finding authentic faith was becoming a struggle. And when the economic catastrophe of The Depression struck, it was communism and fascism that defined the cultural horizons rather than the old God and his angels, and his netherworld opposing demons. These cultural artifacts shrank back into the private world of the personal, gradually residualizing into realms of weakening and increasingly spasmodic outward conformity, settling as existential comforters for the aged, and attenuating into the imagination of children’s Sunday School fairy stories.
Almost exactly a generation after the Great War, it re-ignited for a second round, which while for the British and Australian people was not as casualty intensive as the first, it still shook down and drained out whatever was left of the much weakened old order and empire, that now looked like the suddenly raddled corpse of Oscar Wilde’s once seeming perpetually youthful Dorian Gray, after he had stabbed his discreetly curtained off portrait alter ego, that until he attacked it, had secretly aged and corrupted in his stead over a whole generation of his times.
The above wasn’t just the formal end of the old imperium, but everything else within the economic and social order that quietly slid under the waters of a new, brash and indulgent brave new world that made a ‘daring’ libertarian virtue out of flouting and deriding the ‘repressive’ old one, as part of the global roll out of Indulgence Capitalism, where too much was never enough; where a world of disciplined needs and wants gave way to one of fantasies of desire and immediate satiation at any price, at a dollar down and a dollar week; that systematically deregulated the social system in favour of disinhibition posing as freedom, and privatized social accountability into narcissistic self assessment; that substituted sales, marketing and public relations management for social norms and enforcement by discrediting the latter and building the former into the most profoundly totalitarian private propaganda apparatus in the history of the species, turning civil society free citizens into consumer slaves whose planted subjective visions of paradise trumped objective reality to the point that eventually hardly anyone could tell the difference; and finally, that deposed mature adulthood by institutionalising spontaneously unmediated adolescent consciousness as an authoritative social norm that only it ‘understands’ and is thus not accountable to anyone.
It was all a brilliant ploy that seemed so benignly and ‘forgivingly’ generous and asked so seemingly little in return, but was in fact a Faustian pact, whereby in the third generation, the devil would get his due in the form of shop troops and production warriors who knew nothing else, and whose social and existential infrastructure had been so completely removed they could be sold bottled water at four thousand times the price of tap, be convinced that they could change sex just by feeling it to be so and enjoy an adolescent life without boundaries forever, in the Pied Piper’s magic mountain of consumerland.
The account that is being laid out here is one of a society that has had most of its existential software removed as part of a systematic enslavement to a public relations and marketing system that is more powerful than the ‘Big Brother’ state in Orwell’s ‘1984’, without any of the ‘repressive’ giveaways that would alert its victims to the extent to which they have been colonised and weakened as characters. It is the classic jewel wasp preying behaviour that paralyses its victim’s will to escape and induces it to co-operate in its own colonisation and destruction as a labour and food resource for the system progeny.
This is a diabolically insidious strategy for maintaining very high levels of sacrificial co-operation by individuals who have no defences at all. But that also means that they have almost no independent resources or resilience in the face of adversity, and they can crumble, even when hit by a proverbial ping pong ball. The whole indulgent cultural re-arrangement is a trade off between supine slavery more profound than that inflicted by the slave masters masters of old….and a profound fragility.
The biggest problem is realising that it has happened at all. The cockroach victim of the jewel wasp has no idea that it has lost all autonomous agency, because the wasp has envenomed the precise area of its victim’s brain that controls the escape reflex and the will to resist. The human victims are reduced to medicalized mystification and silence in a world where nothing works properly anymore and collapses into existential mush, as they get eaten out and lose control of their fate and their capacity to respond.
The state mental health systems expand, profit and drown in existential distress, incompetence, incoherence and malfeasance that they can neither address nor solve, because what they are dealing with is not medical, but cultural and inherent in the system of production, consumption and social reproduction as it is currently constructed, where almost all the existential software is missing, because it has been sucked out as surplus to requirement.
It was never censored out. It was systematically discredited and never got any updates after 1945.
Indulgent disinhibitive deregulation and privatization of accountability is not new replacement software. It is a withdrawal of resources that is replaced by external messages from the proud sponsors and a system of human rights with all the autonomy producing disciplined and responsible civil, social and moral agency torn out. It produces great compliance and terrible social product.
If our social reproductive manufacturing system were treated like any other industry, it would be shut down for trading while insolvent, producing absurdly undercapitalised existential junk that is negligibly designed or thought out, sloppily made, unreliable and unsafe product that is often as dangerous to itself as others, subject to unpredictable and frequent breakdown, and made that way because there is no rules based system of orderly and honest governance, regulation and enforcement of its industrial standards. It only stands up at all because of its unprecedented capacity to facilitate spontaneous voluntary conformity, where the prisoners cannot bring themselves to leave, because they are kept not by guards and walls, but visions of paradise, brought to them by the voices in their heads.
A chronically run down and badly damaged social and existential commons is just bound to eventually produce weak integrity, unstable, insecure and fragile, immature, narcissistic and low resilience product. Medicalizing that problem is little better than victim mystification, sectional interest pandering, industry profiteering and regime obfuscation to cover its tracks and divert attention away from its catastrophic failings.
Ditto for the snivelling postmodernist victimologization of discourse coming out of increasingly academically suspect humanities industry makework departments, whose main regime propping outputs might one day be recyclable as compost or toilet paper….
They too are part of the marketing and sales apparatus of Indulgence Capitalism, where a debate driven intellectual culture of disciplined objective evidence based thought is replaced by one of politicised subjectivist fantasies of wishful thinking that poses unconditional entitlement as ‘justice’; whose increasingly doctrinaire, oracular, authoritarian and heresy averse ‘actioning’ destroys its beneficiaries by pulling out all the responsible autonomous social and moral agency. It then blame shifts the disastrously chaotic consequences from itself onto racism, imperialism, colonialism, paternalism, patriarchy and anyone or anything other than its disinhibited and narcissistic conformity to its own ideological chorus line.
The Humanist Ascendancy that controls our system of social administration runs exactly the same deregulatory and privatization agendas being run by its corporate regime opposite numbers, that have exactly the same terrible eviscerating effects on the economic and natural commons, for exactly the same reasons, and produces the same kind of feral and unstable product that has the same terrible propensity to trash itself as its environmental surrounds.
If you want to destabilize and destroy a financial system, bring up the children who become members of the boards of financial institutions on a diet of indulgence and moral deregulation and watch them turn a system for responsibly looking after other people's money into a gaming casino run by narcissistic and voraciously greedy space cadets trading in commodified fictions that cannibalise the system they are supposed to be stewarding, charge for services they do not provide, launder money on a grand scale, sell their clients products they know to be duds, and then, if they get the chance, short sell the suckers for a double whammy take down.
If you want to destroy an aboriginal community (or any other welfare driven ‘community’) and its system of socialization more finally than anything else that has ever happened to it, sell it indulgent disinhibition and lack of accountability as freedom, and human rights and permanent welfare as consumer entitlements; sell them ‘their noble culture’ as an excuse not to modernize and adapt to the multicultural society on offer, because their mythical stone age roots in the landscape are more important; indulge their self winding sense of loss rather than engage the opportunities in front of them, that motivate people from some very tough places elsewhere to risk their lives to get here...and pretend that the completely out-of-control and pathological behaviour of some of its children in detention centres is everyone else's fault except that the community from which those children came....
If you want to indulge an entire society in its disinhibitory sexual-fantasies-without-borders, do not get all surprised and outraged if supposedly responsible adults and children start to sexually interact with one another, or suddenly, what used to be the predatory sexual behaviour at the margins margins, starts to invade the reproductive centre, and colonises it.
PTSD as a phenomenon is just part of the smashed furniture in a cultural space that has been systematically bombed to the extent that there are no support structures left, other than ones that are so damaged and compromised, they are held together by nothing but a temporary inertia before the overriding laws of physics eventually prevail.
That is what we are blithely unconsciously living in, zonked out on the jewel wasp venom relentlessly pumped out through the system of marketing, public relations and sales Inc, that has many of the same features that that telling fable of late modern times, ‘The Matrix’, laid out as entertainment fantasy from 1999 through the noughties of this century.
Why do prison guards who have been exposed to low level hostility and occasional outbreaks of violence dissolve into an existential puddle?
The short answer is, that there isn’t much holding body and soul to together by way of boundaries, an autonomous centre and moral compass to guide it, that would prevent them from losing their way and disintegrating under pressure; that all that is holding them in one piece at all is cultural inertia
But that is just the internal existential stuff. Externally, the guards find themselves working on behalf of a degovernanced, deregulated and morally privatized culture, running camps full of desperate people who think that they have a sacred right to crash our borders, who believe constraining them is not legitimate, and are encouraged and supported in that by their advocates and elements in the media in Australia, backed by bevvies of human rights lawyers looking for customers.
Inside the camps, the guards themselves become the flash point of constant moral sniping and confrontation where their authority and institutional values, and Australia’s right to control and manage its borders, are repeatedly brought into question and disputed to the point where they become the party under siege from the detainees, not the other way round. And because the detainees have enforceable human rights, they can abuse and harass their guards to their hearts’ content.
Human rights have no underlying moral obligations or social agency requirements that would demand at least formal respect and compliance with the legitimate authority set over them. Human rights give the beneficiary powerful sacred site protection backed by an equally powerful chorus in Australia, against meaningful disciplinary action. Detainee behaviour doesn’t have to be reasonable. They are never the ones who have to justify their behaviour. That ‘privilege’ belongs almost exclusively to the guards.
The guards can’t win. They are always in the wrong. Even when they are right they are wrong. The detainees are poor things and the guards are always the bastards. The latter are forced to live in a claustrophobic moral insurgency from which there is no escape, or at least not for long, where they are constantly putting out brush fires and being blamed for them….relentlessly….and getting almost no support out of the administrative system at large, because everyone all the way up the line is into flak avoidance and blame shifting…..back to the bunnies at the pointy end.
As we have seen in youth detention centres, guards that attempt to discipline completely out-of-control young feral toughs whose parents never gave them the basic social toilet training, get crucified, because no one is prepared to take responsibility for the lack of governance that got them that way, or doing anything except containing them. The forces of history have discombobulated their judgement, so it is all everyone else’s fault because they are ‘disadvantaged’ victims of history, imperialism and the whole sorry story damned thing, and we just have to put up with it, because victims cannot help being what or where they are…..
“Isn’t that right boys and girls!?”
In this process, the language of moral discourse becomes so opaque and bowdlerised that ordinary authority based social governance becomes impossible and degrades into inoperable and nonsensical ‘discriminatory’ (the ordinary exercise of critical judgement) ‘unfairnesses’ (sectional interest special pleading) excuse making and evasion that works beautifully for the operators, and puts those trying to hold them to account into a hopeless space where they just can’t win, because unconditional consumer rights and human rights have become indistinguishable. The victim customers are always right.
And anyone at all in a position of responsible authority, from a parent to a teacher to policeman to a detention centre guard is constantly being put the test, but without backup or any of the ordinary attitudes of respect necessary for them to carry out their roles. That whole control and management function has been completely taken over by the voices in peoples’ heads, courtesy of sales and marketing inc…...Traditional authority isn’t obsolete; just nobbled.
No one is prepared to take on the Humanist Ascendancy that helps promotes this castration of the language and role operability of governance, let alone get it out of its hegemonic role within the education institutions it controls and the social administrative arms its graduate apparatchiks now run. And as long as they are in charge, this kind of bollocks will go on indefinitely, perpetually turning people like the guards inside asylum seeker holding camps on places like Manus Island into moving targets.
Why do troops coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq drop like flies with PTSD?
Although military training and discipline can to some extent reconstruct indulged civilians into a more robust format, anti insurgent work is always acutely stressful. Its opaque nature trades on the absence of central moral axioms that limit the ambit, scope and brutality of warfare, the rules based uniformed participation in it and loss of boundaries between civil and military engagement, friend and foe, participant and bystander. The insurgents have learned to deconstruct, camouflage and extend the battlefield to the extent that they alternatingly define and blur the space, the terms, the intensity and timings of military engagement, as it suits them. They snap at the heels of the strong, wear them down and only ever commit in force when the chances of victory are overwhelming.
In insurgency wars, foreign interveners find their work blighted by often a weak consonance and confusion between and within political and military alliances, objectives and collaboration to meet them, because the territories that insurgencies tend to thrive in have weak and under siege national institutions with a history of chronic internal division, corruption and penetration by insurgent operatives/fellow travellers….which means the foreign troops can never fully trust their local allies.
During joint operations, the foreign soldiers find themselves wondering whether they will get a bullet in the back from one of their local allies whenever there is a contact with the enemy (or even inside their own bases while unarmed), or whether their position has been given away by the locals, or they have been put in the way of an ambush as a result of falsely laid information.
There is always loss of military grounding and compass against an elusive and ambiguous enemy that gains strength through weakness; i.e., brutally ‘dirty’ tactics where chronic uncertainty is weaponized, using/leveraging civilians, ambush, IEDs and snipers, that even the odds against militarily superior strength modern force formations and causes not great, but relentlessly regular and morale sapping battle casualties….and funerals….in a struggle that never seems to get anywhere, despite numerous tactical ‘victories’, where nothing is ever what it seems because for the insurgent, an informal hold over people is just as efficacious as responsibly controlling and having to defend physical territory.
It is the same with the narc gangs in the favelas of Brazil. The police come and go, but everyone still pays their dues to the narcs, if they know what is good for them…..and their families.
When the soldiers (or for that matter the detention centre guards) get ‘home’, the receiving culture is a completely alien one, with none of galvanizing discipline and group identity props that maintained them as robust military/institutional operators. The society they go back to is colonised by indulgent consumerist values that bear no relation to ‘authoritarian’ military ones, or the disciplined virtues they inculcate, or necessarily bear any sympathy for or honour towards the military or its objectives at all. They find themselves outsiders in a strange land, even with their wives and children, who unlike the family cohorts during and after the World Wars, have all along been living business-as-usual peacetime lives where the footy and Xbox gaming is more important than what Dad is doing in Afghanistan, which isn’t that popular anyway.
Mao was perfectly correct to brand bourgeois 'imperialist' societies as ‘Paper Tigers’ that would never stay the course against really determined adversaries. Indulgent societies don’t feel comfortable with toughness of any kind and always find plausible sounding reasons why ‘aggression’ (resolute firmness) should be ‘unacceptable’ (‘we’ don’t like it) and are subjected to a substantial legitimising vocabulary of defeat (‘peace’), nasty dysphemisms (disapproving stereotypes for armed struggle, like ‘imperialist violence’) and exculpating euphemisms for the enemy (liberation fighters) for whom the supposed humanitarian laws of war somehow do not apply (not war crimes but 'peoples' justice)….that the homecoming soldier has been through a personal nightmare which includes losing comrades or seeing them maimed, to try and defeat.
Demoralization should really not be any surprise, whether we are talking guards directly defending our borders against unauthorised entry, or soldiers defending against threats to our larger global interests and alliances. Demoralization is not a disease or disorder. It is an objective outcome of accumulating alienation, chronic uncertainty, undermining, needling and relentless existential erosion until the targets are so undermined and battered, their resistance and sense of integrity crumbles into despair.
To fix this at a macro institutional level means getting rid of indulgence as an economic and cultural norm...and the regime social and corporate sectional interests that directly and indirectly profit from it. That includes the Humanist Ascendancy that controls most of our system of social administration, whose deregulatory and privatization drivers have done so much damage to our social infrastructure (and which they have become very deft at obfuscating and blame shifting).
To fix that at an existential level means reconstructing the city of the imagination in the same way that people did in bombed out cities in the wake of the Second World War. It requires diversion of considerable social resources away from the production of consumer goods and services into rebuilding existential/social infrastructure that should end up being worth as much as the monetised economy, and absorbing that much labour and capitalization within the total Gross National Effort.
The existential, social and reproductive 'industries' therefore need to represent around 50% of our net worth. A society that fails to recognise that, and loots those assets instead in favour of relentless exponential fantasy driven growth, ends up bankrupting its people and their social infrastructure, so that their key reproductive enterprises that are supposed to produce stable, secure, resilient, virtuous, giving, other regarding and emotionally dependable people, can’t deliver, and we get unstable, self absorbed shit instead.
The Matrix doesn’t mind a PTSD pandemic and chronic social dysfunction as long as the slaves keep obeying the siren calls of the shopping malls and their visionary McMansion aspirations. The social chaos just means another set of industries to mop it up, like psychiatry and its drug suppliers…..and an ever expanding list of mental ‘conditions’ for the medically mystified punters to be plugged into to get their happy pills. Chaos will keep throwing up an ever expanding inventory of ‘conditions’ to keep the mental health system in ever inflating stipends and funding streams that provide some semblance of orderly management and balm, as the existential worlds around them fall to pieces.
At some point, the merry-go-round will have to stop, while the necessarily very tough changes get made to a system that is already beginning to sputter, internally divide and come under external pressure; you know, turning right down the volume on the fantasy based marketing, public relations and sales department, reregulation of the social system, the re-establishment of fundamental and axiomatic bottom lines with some rules, standards and boundaries to reference, measure and gird them with, and relegitimising the authority of its social instrumentalities and adult primary care figures, so that they can enforce their edicts, as part of the deprivatisation of moral and social accountability, to bring back some order, certainty and security to empower our children, so that they in their turn can confidently and reliably take the package into another generation themselves.
Watch this space, for a very modern take on some very old and forgotten, but rediscoverable notions of virtue, sin, repentance and salvation, and what you need to do and be to get there.
None of these problems can be fixed by maintenance of a status quo that is palpably disintegrating and in increasingly desperate need of restructuring.