This now famous line from “Network” was uttered by Howard Beale, the embittered newscaster. It also seems to have been in the background of people’s explanations for the choices made in this past election. Or perhaps, it was only a variation like, I’m as mad as hell at you, and I’m not going to take you anymore! It’s much, much easier to take out one’s frustration in these troubled times on somebody than to spend the time to locate where the “this” in Beale’s cry really lies. It’s never quite clear in the movie whether Beale’s use of “mad” refers to anger at something or to his mental state. He had threatened to commit suicide on the air.
Beale’s phrase came upon me as I was reading an article from Orion, one of my favorite magazines. The article, “World Gone Mad,” by Derrick Jensen, is the converse of Network. It’s the world that has gone mad, not the commentator. Jensen, expressing his disappointment about the shallowness of most everything claiming to be green, asks why no one concerned about the state of the world ever “mentions psychopathology.”
Why is this important? Because those in power destroy sustainable communities?—?and not just sustainable indigenous communities. If people develop new ways to live on their land more sustainably, and those in power decide that land is needed for roads and shopping malls and parking lots, those in power will seize that land. This is how the dominant culture works. Everything and everyone must be sacrificed to economic production, to economic growth, to the continuation of this culture.
Jensen calls on the “official” definition of mental disease, section F60.2 of The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders, published by the World Health Organization, Geneva, 1992, similar to the US psychiatric standard, DSM-IV. Here are the key characteristics of sociopaths:
a. callous unconcern for the feelings of others.
b. gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules and obligations.
c. incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.
d. very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.
e. incapacity to experience guilt and to profit from experience, particularly punishment.
f. marked proneness to blame others, or to offer plausible rationalizations, for the behaviour.
The article is not for the squeamish. Jensen is indeed angry and provides ample examples of each of these behavioral characteristics. I’ll only quote his comments after the first item in the list, callous unconcern.
Where to start? Have members of this culture shown any concern for the feelings of the indigenous as they’ve stolen their land? How about the feelings of nonhumans being driven from their homes, or those being driven out of existence? Further, doesn’t the mainstream scientific community demand that emotion be removed from all scientific study? Aren’t we also told that emotions must not interfere with business decisions and economic policy? Do chickens in battery cages have feelings? What about dogs in vivisection labs? What about trees? Rain? Stones? The culture goes beyond “callous unconcern” for the feelings of these others to deny that their feelings even exist.
He finishes the article with a rather mild call for action saying we “need to step up and call out the larger culture for the way it behaves.” I do not think being mild is the right response. These days I feel more like Howard Beale. I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore! I’m not at all sure where this will take me, but somewhere beyond merely writing down my thoughts and hoping people will be stirred to do something. I would be delighted to hear suggestions from you who have been following my blogging.