When people suffer, they need hope. They need something, anything to give them direction and confirmation that the world is, somehow, fair. In times of chaos and despair, this need is pronounced. All too often, however, human nature drives us to a place of blindness and scapegoating; a place where we can safely deposit all of our angst and fear into a ready receptacle.
Throughout history, such receptacles have taken many forms: gods, devils, Jews, witches, cripples, heretics, and more. Today, they appear in the form of Muslims and the ‘mentally ill’. How convenient to be able to deposit all our hatred, anger, fear, and worry into a pail that looks, I don’t know, different, somehow, and believes in stuff we don’t understand. Or better yet, to be able to throw all of our sorrow, hatred, and pain into an abstract bin organized by the greatest piece of trash: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).
Afraid of random acts of violence? Well! Just ban all Muslims and mentally ill people from entering your sphere and all will be well! Afraid of the mounting pressure within of emptiness, sadness, and loneliness? Do not consider giving up your riches or evaluating the society in which you live! Take a pill and all will be well! Afraid of losing your home, your family, and your consumerist way of life? Blame the Blacks, the Mexicans, and your family members’ mental illness for your struggle and all will be well! Of course! Except none of this is true; they are, at best, illusions that save some at the expense of others.
Humans’ need to believe in the justice of the world, the idea that people deserve what they get and that randomness does not exist, is, perhaps, the greatest factor in our own demise. In fact, it has been demonstrated in numerous studies of sociology and social psychology that the need to defend ‘just world’ beliefs is often a primary factor underlying racism, victim blaming, defense of illegitimate authority, advocating for war, dogmatic ideologies and more. Even more terrifying than an unfair world? One that is random and without predictability. Better, then, to find a scapegoat.
A girl gets raped because her dress is too short. The little girl clearly wanted it. The Muslim mosque gets bombed because Muslim refugees of war are being saved. The Muslims clearly wanted it. The students cannot excel because they are dumb, unable to learn, and disabled. It has nothing to do with our education system or the variety of human nature. They clearly don’t want it. Our president is creating chaos and dissention throughout the world because he is mentally ill. He hasn’t planned it, but he clearly wants it. Because he’s mentally ill.
What a relief! The world makes sense again.
Life is suffering. We all suffer. Some suffer more than others, and, ya know what? It’s not fair. If we actually acknowledged this we might consider how to make things more fair. We might consider that those who wish to die, or kill, or drink, or inject, or experience alternate realities or entities others can’t understand are those who are suffering. We might also consider that everyone, no matter their circumstance or self-hatred, might also take some responsibility for their actions. And we, as a society, as a human race, might also take responsibility.
I have heard the accusations of me being a “troll” or a person who cannot possibly understand what it’s like to be “mentally ill”. I have been told that I don’t know what it’s like to suffer or experience discrimination or suffocate under the black cloud of oppression. Well, what do strangers really know? I have experienced some of the worst life has to offer. I have been violated in more ways than I care to count. I have seen the darkness and found comfort in a world that was only my own. I have cried night after night and lived in terror of unseen voices and phantoms that haunted ceaselessly. And I have been cruel. I have hurt others. I have also taken the blame for the cruelty of others. My early life was a primer in learning how to both be a scapegoat and to scapegoat others. Ultimately, I choose to repent. I am not a religious person, but I will not throw my responsibilities into a swamp that will only be drained by the devil himself. Learning how to love is itself where healing begins.
In the end, is there hope? Can we, as a human race, come to a place of acceptance and stop needing to lash out and scapegoat? If it’s not the “devil” or “evilness” or “witch craft” or “Jews” or “Muslims” or “heretics” or “mental illness” or “Trump”, what is it?
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.