Man’s success is mostly credited to his superior reasoning ability. Although a crucial factor, this was insufficient, since man’s intelligence likely peaked 30,000 years ago, as implied by frontal lobe measurements in fossil braincases.1 He also likely had language by then.2 Yet he didn’t start to dominate the planet until 5,000 years ago. He did so by transitioning from tribal life to large-scale cooperative societies (civilizations). These provided safety and strength in numbers, coordinated teamwork (as in division of labor), sharing of resources and infor-mation, and handing down of accumulated knowledge to future members, who thus didn’t need to reinvent the wheel and could easily add innovations.3
What enabled civilizations to arise? Throughout the past 5,000 years, each of the hundreds of civilizations, wherever on Earth they independently occurred, included an official religion. This implies that it’s essential. Sociologist E. Durkheim called religion the glue that holds society together.4 For example, Charlemagne led Europe out of the Dark Ages by unifying warring tribes into a Christian society.
How does religion do this? It offers comfort, belonging, serenity, meaning, and hope of a blissful afterlife to followers, so people seek it. Due to joining, adopting its rigid norms and doctrines, and practicing its regular rituals, they become alike/cooperative/organized, they overcome their selfish/barbaric nature, and they loyally surrender their will to the group. Even as their numbers grow very large and dispersed, they still think and act as one. Chaotic infighting thus ends, and is replaced by a spirited solidarity that’s bent on spreading the state religion.5
What enabled religion to arise? The foundation of nearly all religions is faith in God(s) — fixed illogical belief in things with no basis in reality. Oxford dictionary says “a belief maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument” is a delusion. It does qualify that to be called this, the belief must be idiosyncratic. It thereby acknowledges that some unlikely/irrational beliefs are common (a probable reference to religion). I instead use ‘delusion’ to mean all illogical/unlikely firm beliefs, no matter how popular, since things aren’t made real merely by many people’s believing in them.6 Ubiquitous faith in God implies that we’re all innately capable of delusional as well as rational thought, with an ability to adaptively turn to whichever a situation calls for. Don’t we all delude ourselves to believe what we wish was true, and deny the reality of things we wish weren’t? Don’t we all become psychotic nightly (have dreams)?
Without a capacity for delusional thinking, official religions likely couldn’t have thrived, and civilizations couldn’t have developed and flourished. So I conclude: 1) Man evolved an ability to think delusionally between 30,000 to 5,000 years ago. 2) The formula of two parts rationality plus one part delusionality was essential in helping man to ultimately outcompete all other species. In support of this, the first ever organized religious site (temple), Gobekli Tepe, was built 11,000 years ago. Several more were built around the world 6000-5000 years ago.7
But how do societies respond when people come up with delusions that don’t conform to the state religion, and thus disrupt the social order? Also through religion: they’re likely the ones who were called witches or devil-possessed. It justified their being forcibly removed or killed. Now they’re called mad or insane; it still condones removing (and/or tranquilizing) them.
Some may argue against this by claiming that the West remained civilized despite religion weakening after Darwin’s ideas were accepted. But in the first half of the 20th century, the post-Darwin world did descend back into barbarism/chaos due to two horrible world wars. All hell really did break loose. But this trend didn’t persist in the second half of the1900s. Why not?
Maybe we didn’t really discard religion, but just converted from faith in God and the holy scriptures to faith in modern psychiatry’s medicalization of emotions, and in modern medicine’s “all-knowing, all-seeing, all-healing” doctors overall. In hopes of attaining chemical nirvana via miracle pills, we accept brain disease and other newly-created illness labels with no basis in reality (physical exam, lab, or xray findings). MDs ritually administer daily serenity- inducing (anti-barbarism) pills to the masses (sedatives or opioids). 38% of Americans take opioids;8 they’re the new ‘opium for the masses’.9 Nearly as many use antidepressants, which, being placebos, give comfort only due to faith in them. Medical marijuana’s here too.
Kids are less indoctrinated into Christianity, but illogical, fictitious dogmas about chemical imbalances and defective brain-hardwiring are now instilled into them at school. Instead of daily prayer, they’re often trained by age six to partake in daily sedation. Viewing this as our culture’s official religion, with its own bible (the DSM, ca 1952), explains why clients unquestioningly accept its irrationality and blindly/unwaveringly obey its oft-lethal orders. As with religion, it gives purpose to their lives: they become devoted to ‘fighting battles with mental illness’ (or chronic pain). Faith that God is in control is replaced by faith that genes/biology are. But the result’s the same: they meekly follow society’s collective will instead of their own.
It may seem crazy to say: “Psychiatrists don’t really treat psychosis; they preach and promote it.” But being a high priest pays well, hence many other doctors are getting in on it: Two of the top three drug classes dispensed by all doctors are now mind-suppressors rather than real meds.10. Just like ancient priests, they mainly practice religion, but also some medicine.
- Lacaux, N. “The Brain of Cro-Magnon Versus Modern Man: A Matter of Size” Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique, 1-26-2011. ↩
- Leslie, M. “Suddenly Smarter” Stanford Magazine, July/Aug 2002. ↩
- Boyd, R. Richerson, P. “Culture and the Evolution of Human Cooperation” Philosophical Transactions Royal Society of London Biologic Sciences, 2009 Nov 12;364(1533)3281-3288. ↩
- Durkheim, E. “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” 1912. ↩
- Moore, T. “Placebos, Faith, and Morals, Or Why Religion” Hoover Institute, Stanford Univ. ↩
- Dawkins, R. The God Delusion, Bantam Books, Oct 2006. ↩
- “8 Oldest Temples in the World” Oldest.org. ↩
- “2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, Anns of Int Med, 1 Aug 2017,167(5)1-24. ↩
- Marx, K. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel; Philosophy of Right” 1843. ↩
- IMS Health National Prescription Drug Audit, 2010. ↩
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.