Welcome to the Age of Hysteria

Yves here. Synchronicity strikes! Lambert and I were discussing some of the extreme views expressed in comments yesterday. He attributed it to hysteria in the zeitgeist finally getting to the site. And now we have a theory as to why! It’s a neoliberal infestation.

By Marc Schuilenburg, assistant professor at VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Originally published at openDemocracy

In 1980, hysteria died. That was the year it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) handbookand ceased to be considered a medical condition. But we need only look around us to see that hysteria has never been more alive – just consider the run on toilet paper at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Or the consumer hysteria every Black Friday, or the overheated discussions taking place on Facebook and Twitter every day.

We all recognise hysteria – the display of over-the-top emotions – when we see it. In fact, no sooner than it left the DSM handbook, hysteria seems to have migrated to every other sphere of our lives. No longer a medical condition, it is our era’s defining sociological phenomenon. What lessons can hysteria teach us about the societies we live in today?

Sociological Key to the World

Medical and historical researchers, psychoanalysts and philosophers, religious and gender studies scholars, as well as painters and writers, have all grappled with hysteria and tried to unravel its mysteries. From ancient Egyptian times until deep into the 18th century, hysteria was diagnosed as a convulsive disorder affecting women, caused by a ‘wandering womb’, which was believed to move freely through the body all the way into the head, emitting toxic fumes that led to hysteria.

Sigmund Freud’s work popularised the study of hysteria from a psychoanalytic perspective. Ideas like the Oedipus complex – in which hysterical behaviour is caused by a girl’s guilty feelings about her sexual attraction to her father – have become irrelevant. But a theory of Freud’s that still resonates is that hysteria is caused by traumatic events that cannot be put into words and are expressed instead through bodily complaints.

In the 1970s and 80s, feminist thinkers such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray turned sexist views of hysteria on their heads, rebranding hysteria as a female system of meaning outside official languages and cultural conventions. They considered hysterical symptoms to be a rebellion against the social and institutional order that restricts women’s freedom.

Although there are countless possible explanations for hysteria, we tend to ignore the sociological link between individual stories and the big picture. Yet hysteria has as much to do with wider political, economic and cultural changes as it does with the individual. Examining the hysteria we are seeing now and how it is being fuelled by societies that not only encourage and enjoy but also abuse and reward it, can tell us something about why people seem increasingly to fall prey to it.

A ‘Black Plague of Degeneration and Hysteria’

In 1892, the Austrian physician Max Nordau wrote in his book ‘Entartung’(degeneration) that the growing number of cases of hysteria were down to exhaustion caused by the rapid development of modern society. He argued that Western society was haunted by a ‘black plague of degeneration and hysteria’.

Nordau described an unhealthy fin-de-siècle (end of an era) feeling marked by the acceleration of technological change. Age-old traditions and stories were being pushed out by new media such as the telephone and the telegraph, which brought together people who had previously been far apart. Daily life was further intensified by the invention of the steam train, the gramophone and film, as well as the spectacular growth of cities, all of which put people in touch with new sounds, images and worldviews.

Everything that had once been small and familiar became large and overwhelming, creating a void of security and belonging, against which the body revolted through hysteria.

Who Am I, Where Do I Belong?

We are again seeing a steep decline of a primal sense of security, the social glue of society. Globalisation has cranked the speed of life into a new gear. In many countries, Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism has replaced social democracy since the 1970s, leading to a loss of solidarity and over-individualisation, raising questions such as: who am I, where do I belong, how important is my culture?

At the same time, there is ever less space in our societies for community or communal identity. Corporate chains have replaced social meeting places, ranging from public libraries to corner shops. These ‘palaces for the people’, as sociologist Eric Klinenberg calls them, reinforce public familiarity in a neighbourhood by allowing people to make connections, help one another, and offer refuge to those who feel excluded or diminished elsewhere.

The lack of a sense of belonging – often accompanied by feelings of fear, frustration and anger – is a recurrent factor in outbreaks of hysteria. In that respect, life has arguably returned to how it was in late-19th-century Europe. Not that society is the same as it was at the time of Nordau – too much has changed since then – but there are undoubtedly some very striking similarities.

Twitter Goes Bankrupt Without Hysteria

Where hysteria used to be a medical condition, we can now think of it as our era’s business model. It works by playing on these feelings of lack and insecurity. Social media is probably the most obvious case in point. Facebook’s business model is focused on offering a platform to frustration and anger, emotions that are infectious and in combination with uncertainty often lead to extreme reactions. The more hysterical your post, the more clicks and views you generate and the greater the advertising revenue for Facebook. This also goes for other social media including Twitter, which would surely go bankrupt tomorrow without hysteria.

Facebook and Twitter are increasingly viewed as addictive, and with good reason. Research shows that the chemical dopamine, also known as the happy hormone, is released in our brains when we are successful on social media. Getting lots of likes or followers activates the reward circuit of the brain, while uncertainty strikes when we are unfollowed on social media, making us feel empty.

War on Everything

The same is true for politics. We might not think of politics as having a ‘business model’ as such, but politicians constantly draw on society’s potential for hysteria, ‘selling’ citizens both the hysteria itself and their solutions to it.

Take the issue of public safety. Citizens are liable to get incredibly worked up about the issue of security and respond with vehemence to what is seen as a non-committal attitude to crime characterising their country. As a consequence, political discussions about public safety tend to end in the unanimous conclusion that more decisiveness is needed to solve all problems for good.

Such policies are spoken of in hysterical terms and with a preference for a macho military vocabulary: ‘war on coronavirus’, ‘war on drugs’, ‘war on terror’. Former President Donald Trump threatened to send in the militaryto quell the unrest in American cities sparked by the brutal killing of George Floyd by police officers on 25 May 2020.

Once the diagnosis of a ‘law and order problem’ has been made, we are flooded by a veritable tsunami of new punitive measures – only for the cycle to be repeated. Any politician suggesting that crime rates in Western countries have fallen spectacularly for years or that it is impossible to create a risk-free society, is accused of ‘looking the other way’.

The Experience Economy

It’s possible that a void, or a feeling of lack, is inherent to the human condition. Indeed, it’s this sense of lack that has driven human development, bringing us wealth and progress. But the market economy thrives off and magnifies this feeling of a void in our existence that cries out to be filled. Nothing is ever enough: four words that summarise today’s neoliberal economic order.

The experience economy, which is based on the premise that reality is the way people perceive it, expertly deploys advertising and exposure to stimulate consumers’ desires by creating a feeling of need. The launch of every new iPhone sends us running to Apple Stores in a crazed frenzy, even though everyone knows the difference between the old and new versions in no way justifies the expense.

I can’t get no satisfaction,” as a wise man once said. Even if we obtain the thing we desire it will only satisfy us temporarily because no single object, experience or person can fully satisfy the lack that lies at the root of our desire, which is constantly recreated in the consumer economy.

Getting Hysterical About Hysteria

When exploited as a business model, hysteria brings misery. But hysteria can also have the power to turn the world upside down, just as the hysterical, uncontrolled laughter of the Joker in Todd Phillips’ film becomes a call to finish off today’s rampant neoliberalism after the Joker loses his medication and counselling because of budget cuts.

In the 19th century, women started politicising their bodies to revolt against the suffocating conventions of the Victorian era. While this ‘hysteria’ led to many of its ‘sufferers’ being institutionalised, it also produced social reforms aimed at giving women the same rights and opportunities as men. The tightly laced corset disappeared, making space for more liberal views on marriage, sexuality and the right to work.

This is not hysteria in its most destructive, sinister form, in which people tear off their clothes and pull out their hair. I am talking about a constructive hysteria which sets things in motion. Constructive hysteria is an engine for change, a way of making a contribution to the world. It acts for the greater good rather than out of self-interest.

House on Fire

It seems to me that certain issues should be treated with a little less hysteria, while others could do with some more. No one is raising the alarm over the fact that 14.3 million of the UK’s 66.4 million inhabitants live in destitution, including 4.6 million children. Nor does anyone seem too worried about a large part of this group being homeless.

At the same time, eco-barbarism is running rampant. Roughly 1,000,000 of the estimated eight million plant and animal species on Earth are threatened with extinction, in many cases within a time frame ranging from a few years to a couple of decades. As journalist David Wallace-Wells puts it in his bestseller ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, ‘Here, the facts are hysterical.’

While the planet is hurtling towards its demise, the debate about global warming revolves around how much it will cost to go on living the way we are now, and includes painstaking calculations of exactly how much money needs to be spent on measures to preserve the planet as well as our lifestyles. This reduces an ecological issue to a bookkeeping problem, to be resolved by a flight tax here, an energy subsidy there. The real issue, that we need to develop a completely new ecological awareness as well as a new and more inclusive understanding of such matters as ‘damage’, ‘care’ and ‘responsibility’, is not addressed.

You could argue instead that the sheer scale and disastrous effects of both issues should justify a hysterical gesture – one fueled not by profit and power but by the human need for survival and togetherness. Silence and inaction are no longer options. We do, after all, live in a hysterical world – and we know it.

This article is adapted from the new book ‘Hysteria: Crime, Media, and Politics‘ (Routledge 2021)

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  1. Henry Moon Pie

    “It’s possible that a void, or a feeling of lack, is inherent to the human condition. Indeed, it’s this sense of lack that has driven human development, bringing us wealth and progress. But the market economy thrives off and magnifies this feeling of a void in our existence that cries out to be filled. Nothing is ever enough: four words that summarise today’s neoliberal economic order.”

    Thought-provoking article.

    The psalmist writes:

    As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

    And Augustine writes:

    You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

    Christian theology has acknowledged this “void” for centuries and points to faith in Jesus as the cure.

    I’d propose a different source for this feeling that something’s missing along with a different cure. Humanity was once “at one” with the natural world. The Earth was our nurturing Mother. The other life around us was regarded as comprised of companions, not objects. Our “home” was wherever we happened to be, and we belonged in that place in that time.

    Our budding technological prowess and pattern-seeking brains offered us the possibility of sedentism, and its lure drew us from the forests and grasslands into villages and agriculture. We abandoned the home which had formed us through evolution in favor of a new home increasingly shaped and crafted by our own hands, but in doing so, we began to lose our intimate connection to the Earth and our fellow creatures.

    It is this loss that is being felt in that “void” described by the author and by Augustine’s restless heart.

    Seven billion of us can’t go back to being wandering hunter-gatherers, but we must do something to fill that void because the Madmen conspire day and night to manipulate us into filling the emptiness with Big Macs, big SUVs and even bigger McMansions. The Sacklers were happy to sell us lots of oxy to fill the hole. We could say it’s that void that’s driving us, with the help of plenty of Bernays sauce, to destroy ourselves with consumption.

    We have to change our relationship to the Earth and the rest of life. If we can’t return to that (we’ll call it) naive feeling of unity with what’s around us, then we’ll need a new religion that uses myth and ritual to re-create the connection in a new context. Otherwise, we’re going to kill ourselves trying to fill the void.

    One place to start is to ditch the concept of “happiness” in favor of contentment. “Happiness” is identified in our culture with that dopamine rush the author mentions. It’s connected in our society with purchasing crap, reveling in the ever-open bars and restaurants and flying on planes to exotic places.

    We need to focus instead on contentment, and Lao-Tzu is a great place to start for that:

    The greatest evil: wanting more.
    The worst luck: discontent.
    Greed’s the curse of life.

    To know enough’s enough
    is enough to know.

    Tao te Ching # 46 (UK Le Guin, trans.)

    1. skippy

      Some blokes domesticated the horse and changed the sky’s from moon to sun in relationship to human views – ????

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          And transcendent replaced immanent and anthropomorphic replaced the Earth.

          The old golden calf myth is still a powerful one. While Moses encountered the one true god (in the myth’s context) on the mountain, his fellow tribesmen down below were dissatisfied with that god and decided to make one themselves. Ironically, that’s what YWHW was as well, but the point, that there’s a human tendency to make ourselves into gods because going with the flow of the universe doesn’t stoke the pride of the nattering nabob in our noggins, remains a valid one.

    2. Foy

      Excellent Henry. And to add for those chasing the next iphone:

      “He who is attached to things will suffer much.”

      “In the end, the treasure of life is missed by those who hold on and gained by those who let go.” – Lao Tzu (c.604 – 531 B.C.)

      Somehow we have created an economic philosophy and system based on complete consumer and individual self interest to extract and use resources at the fastest growth rate possible, which is the antithesis most ancient philosophical thought. I really think that when people look back to this era in a couple of hundred years time (if we exist still) they will be asking themselves, “what they hell were they thinking, how did they expect that idea to end well?”

      And another to back up what Henry Moon Pie said

      ““Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend. Non-being is the greatest joy.” — Lao Tzu

    3. Wukchumni

      I’d propose a different source for this feeling that something’s missing along with a different cure. Humanity was once “at one” with the natural world. The Earth was our nurturing Mother. The other life around us was regarded as comprised of companions, not objects. Our “home” was wherever we happened to be, and we belonged in that place in that time.

      Our budding technological prowess and pattern-seeking brains offered us the possibility of sedentism, and its lure drew us from the forests and grasslands into villages and agriculture. We abandoned the home which had formed us through evolution in favor of a new home increasingly shaped and crafted by our own hands, but in doing so, we began to lose our intimate connection to the Earth and our fellow creatures.

      Nearly 20 years ago we got a divorce from the big village and returned ourselves to more or less the natural world, with the first available stoplight being 25 miles away and a medium sized village another 15 miles west.

      My grandmother was raised in a town in the Tatra foothills way back when and looking at photos of the area it was as if I had a homing instinct in being here as it looks similar to the old country in the way that mountains don’t move around much or change in character, The Sierra Nevada seems like a sister city range albeit being a mile higher in altitude.

      One of my companions on our walk to Oriole Lake the other day has lived here 25 years and conversation rolled around to real estate, and in his time here he related that no large homes have been built, no mcmansions or glorified garage mahals and maybe 25 new homes have been built-1 per year, and everybody is comfortable letting mother nature call the shots with we fortunate few surrounded by an oak savanna and bisected by four rivers (we only claim 3, being modest) and all sorts of wildlife.

      You could tear down the trees and bulldoze your way into putting a thousand new homes if you really wanted to, but nobody dares-we’re here to co-exist with nature-not dominate it.

      Not much potential for hysteria in this not so long ago realm of hunter gatherers who existed for thousands of years here, everything is as it appears and no potential of financial gains by hyping anything here online.

      The un-natural world I see on the outside looking in is one gloriously out of balance of artificial norms we’ve always known, and hysteria is a byproduct that comes with the errortory. The internet has been the grate enabler.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        when Houston just kept on coming, towards the then-rural place 60 miles north of downtown that used to be home…one of Mom’s criteria in choosing a more empty place to move the Homestead to, was a lack of any extractable resources that the Machine could want.
        no railroads , because there’s no timber, no oil or gas or coal bearing strata, not enough gold or uranium in the granite bedrock to be economically exploited, etc.
        that same granite providing just enough Radon in the water to fend off the city.

        4 years later, when i finally retreated out here and started driving around to get oriented, i discovered that one of the biggest exports from this and surrounding counties was something called “Frac Sand”, that was then being exported to Saudi Arabia*…the jokes write themselves, there.
        but it turns out that our place abuts a giant, exposed ancient beach dune full of the stuff…and as yet unexploited….we call it the “big hill to the north”, and it’s on my rancher neighbor’s spread.

        Machine is pernicious…and all encompassing…and shows up with a shovel when and where you least expect it.

        1. Wukchumni

          Oh to have been a hapless 49’er that strayed into the southern Sierra where there was almost nothing in the way of paydirt aside from the pyrite that predominates as if to mock those looking for the real thing.

          The only mineral around these parts is of all things: Tungsten.

          About 25 mom & pop small mines opened up after Pearl Harbor and closed after Nagasaki. You can see 3 or 4 of them from the road.

          Air BnB’s are our equivalent to your frac sand, in that I used to claim that we had no crime, no gangs, no graffiti & no work, but now vis a vis vacation rentals people have finally learned how to be dirty rotten capitalists, whoring their homes out.

    4. lyman alpha blob

      Excellent. You could also just watch your cat.

      Just finished John Gray’s Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life and as Gray imagines it, your cat would have similar advice on happiness v. contentment.

      Some favorites from the last chapter of the book –

      It is foolish to complain that you do not have enough time. If you think you do not have enough time, you do not know how to pass your time. Do what serves a purpose of yours and what you enjoy doing for its own sake. Live like this, and you will have plenty of time.


      Forget about pursuing happiness and you may find it. You will not find happiness by chasing after it, since you do not know what will make you happy. Instead, do what you find most interesting and you will be happy knowing nothing of happiness.

      Back to watching my cat chase her tail for no apparent reason. Not sure what lesson I’m supposed to take from that, but it makes me smile and I feel very content when she does it.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        That great philosopher, old JT, put it well:

        The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

        1. Susan the other

          Mexican painted tile of a burro sleeping under a tree: “How wonderful it is to do nothing and then to rest afterward.”

      2. Amfortas the hippie

        or Joseph Campbell, again:”Follow your Bliss”.

        there’s a place on “The Mountain”(real big hill, technically) behind our place where the end of it points northeast, so it’s windswept, with few trees.
        I placed my chair there in such a way to where my left foot can stomp the patch of rock i cleared the caliche from, and play the Mountain Drum.
        There’s a cave under there, somewhere…and on windless days, i can stomp my foot and hear and feel the Drum reverberating( i contemplate that Amfortas might end up in the Underworld in this fashion, if I do this too often)
        it has become an infrequent ritual, of sorts…part of the broader Protection Spell i’ve placed over my valley…echoes of Tecumseh (https://www.alabamapioneers.com/tecumseh-reported-to-have-caused-an-earthquake/)

        it only works when it’s dry, because the top of the mountain is a cuplike limestone formation, filled with ancient seabed detritus, and fills with water, which then seeps out around the cliffs over time.

        1. ambrit

          I have a problem with Campbell’s dictum, “Follow your bliss.”
          First, who among us knows enough of this life early on to recognize “bliss” when one sees it? This will assume primary importance, when growing up, (which can be a decades long ordeal.)
          [Phyl demands breakfast. More later.]

          1. Wukchumni

            Bliss was initially forced upon me in that my dad was stark raving mad about Giant Sequoias, so we’d spend a week to 10 days surrounded by them every summer since I was a toddler and it left a mark, my Rosebud if you will.

            In a world dominated by humans bent on development and change, the brobdinagians have certainly grown in my nearly 3 score on this good orb, not that you’d really notice. Really the one thing (aside from a wax paper wrapped Tootsie Roll Pop) that hasn’t changed all that much even in decay. I sometimes come across fallen Sequoias i’d guess have been horizontal 500 years and the wood is not decayed at all.

            And it led me to exploring the wilderness later on when I became an adult, the world i’m most comfortable with, where crime, dishonesty & trickery have no place-everything is as it appears, and it isn’t uncommon to have a 20 minute discussion with somebody you just met.

            1. ambrit

              Back. (Phyl is happy now with some French toast and blueberry sauce from last week on top. [Truth be told, it makes me happy too. Something definitely worth the time and effort to make.])
              Not trying to be ‘rot-ton’ here, but the experiences you mention have always been dependent on possessing the resources needed to have and to hold them. That’s why I have generally been a ‘Lefty’ during my life. I have seen too many people denied the life that was eminently possible for them due to the rapacious behaviour of ‘elites’ and other ‘interested’ actors in society. I have also been in close proximity to members of the ‘elite’ cohort who have been shown to be plain old everyday ‘common’ members of the Terran human species. Nothing really ‘special’ about them, just some classic cases of “the accident of birth.”
              The really ‘special’ cases I have encountered have, in general, not been interested in wealth or status. Their driving passions were the lodestones that guided their movements through life. With a very few exceptions, those who strove for wealth and fame were at best just marginally smarter or more ruthless than the average run of the population. The role of blind chance and luck in the affairs of Terran humans is also a giant unacknowledged factor in personal progress. If ‘Luck’ were to be given the weight in human affairs it deserved, the Myth of the Rugged Individual would vanish into the morning sunshine like a miasmal vapour.
              However my rantings have turned out, I do take your point. Mother Nature serenely carries on, and we do the best we can to accommodate ourselves to her dictates.
              Global warming might end up being an existential threat to the Terran human species. The Globe will carry on, with or without us.
              Never forget. The Sierras are an eminently defensible position.

            2. Glen

              Nice, very nice.

              My random musing today lead me to the sad conclusion that the people that “played by the rules” and “did everything right” to be a good member of society since the 00’s were pretty much screwed, and the crooks, the schemers, the shysters, they profited, they got ahead.

              Today we live in a country where the crooks were right – it’s all a rigged game, and it’s best just to figure out how to scam it to get ahead.

              So now we have a country where money rules all and the psychopaths have all the money. Not good.

      3. tennesseewaltzer

        “Happiness is as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

    5. Rod

      HMPThought-provoking article.

      thanks for your well thought out addition to the Article, resonating for me as poignantly as the Original.

      One place to start is to ditch the concept of “happiness” in favor of contentment.
      This got me thinking about the workings of Dopimine-v-Serotonin(et al) and the human preference for what effect.


      We have to change our relationship to the Earth and the rest of life.

      What increases dopamine and serotonin?

      Researchers have found as little as five minutes outdoors in a natural setting can improve mood, increase motivation, and boost self-esteem. The amount of time spent in sunlight correlates with serotonin and dopamine synthesis. Even a brief walk in the park can improve your well-being.Dec 12, 2017—–

      What would appreciation, centered around humanity and the Natural world yield?

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        Rather than appreciation, I’d put it this way: we can relate to the universe in one of three ways. We can try to dominate it. (We see how that turns out.) We can try to transcend it as Buddha and some Christians teach. Or we can belong to it. We need to belong again to the Earth that shaped us and continues to nurture us.

    6. Lambert Strether

      > The Earth was our nurturing Mother

      Nature is wonderful, beautiful, terrible — but I don’t think I’d go so far as to project our human familial relationships onto Her, Them, or It.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        That was a projection back, though I don’t think a baseless one given what we can know, as limited as it is, about hunter-gatherer beliefs. Aboriginal people are faced with a tough task to preserve their traditions given our western European propensity to obliterate their cultures, but many of them point to a concept of the Earth as Mother.

        It’s a pretty realistic perception, though. Whence comes all our sustenance? What entity can better lay claim to “knitting us together in the womb” than the Earth and all its creatures who interacted in such a way as to produce our species?

        Did hunter-gatherers ascribe human feelings to the Earth? Maybe. Who knows? Is that a bridge too far for the modern mind? Probably. But that seems tangential to me. The important point is our relationship of dependence on the Earth. It’s the place that gave us existence. It’s the place that gives us what we need to stay alive. We’d be crazy–or hysterical–to go all Orestes and commit matricide.

        1. Reify99

          Neil Douglass-Klotz maintains that it was a typo
          (really a “scribo”) when a preposition was changed by a monk translating to the King James Version of the Bible. What should have been
          “Dominion with the Earth” became “Dominion over the Earth.”

          Gotta watch those pesky little prepositions.

        2. vlade

          Earth doesn’t give a toss about us. In fact, Nature, which is a much wider thing than Earth, doesn’t give a toss about us humans. It was here before us, and will be when we’ll not even be a memory.

          Saying anything else is a massively anthropocentric view of the world which has no basis in reality. And which, paradoxically, defies our uniqueness in the Nature, but it’s only us who can (for a time) preserve us.

          Just by using terms like “matricide” you’re asigning to the humans superpowers, and detracting from the main issue. It’s not the Earth (and very definitely not Nature) that we can destroy. We can destroy but us plus some collateral damage. But the planet coped, repeatedly, with 90+% of species die-offs. It works on scales unimaginable to humans, who haven’t been around a blink of its history. In fact, it’s almost certain that even if humans did not exists right now, 90+% of the species alive now would not exist in 100 mil years.

          It’s like we need a planed-wide hysteria, as if the fact that we have the ability to destroy ourselves is not sufficient, that we have to feel more importnat, to have the power to destroy yet more.
          Entirely ignoring the fact that our “civilisation” can be wiped out in a century by anything from a massive solar flare, super-volcano going off, or an asteoroid hitting us, without any of our agency.

          I will never cease to be amazed by the humans feeligns of self-importance, while entierely ignoring the miracle of their existence.

          1. Basil Pesto

            I agree wholeheartedly, and framing like this:

            While the planet is hurtling towards its demise

            from the article (which is ultimately just a bland cliché) grates on me more each time I read the newest iteration of it. As you suggest, the arrogance takes the breath away.

          2. Henry Moon Pie

            “It was here before us, and will be when we’ll not even be a memory.”

            This sounds tough and realistic, but to me, it sounds like denial.

            Yes, there will be a planet here, but will it be teeming with life? Die-offs are already staggering in their scope and speed. We may not have superpowers, but we do have an awful power to destroy, and we’re exercising that with all the arrogance and indifference to life that we can muster.

            How shall we think of the Earth? A vast, complicated machine? That invites the Gateses and Musks of the world, who consider themselves to be master tinkerers with machines, to try their handiwork at a planetary scale. Who are our fellow creatures on this Earth? Objects to use as we please? Collateral damage of our greed and laziness but not that important in the long run? Or are they our siblings in a sense, children of the same Mother.

            When we realize what we’ve done–as a species and individually–to this planet and our fellow creatures, we should spend a period weeping and dressed in sackcloth and ashes before we get to work trying to ameliorate and repair what we’ve done.

            1. vlade


              O-S event, 60-70% of all species killed off.
              Late Devon event, ~70% species killed off
              PT event, 90-96% of all species (marine species suffered more badly, but there was more of them) killed off
              TJ event, 70-75% of all species killed off
              CP (formerly-known-as K-T) event 75% of all species killed off

              And these are the Big Five, and it’s for example ignoring the Oxygen Crisis (because who cares about single-cell organisms), and unproven theories like Snowball Earth. Arguably, some of these lasted quite a while, but some of them (CP) were quite abrupt. But in all of them, a very large part of the life on Earth died off. Within tens of millions of years, you’d not be able to tell though. Isn’t life amazing?

              Die offs are part and parcel of the life. There’s few things able to kill off all life short of boiling away oceans and turning the Earth into Venus-like planet, even if you’d class only multi-cellurar organisms as “life”, never mind single-cell ones.

              The problem isn’t that we’re killing the species. The problem is that we’re killing ourselves. Yes, we may be the cause of the next Great Extinction, and it may be geologically speaking a pertty damn fast one (not faster than a giant asteroroid slamming into a Gulf of Mexico though).

              But post that, there’s going to be plenty evolutionary niches to fill in all the time down the track. Becuase the planet’s going to be around for a few billion years more.

              If it made sense, I’d be willing to bet that in 10 million years, Musk, Gates etc. will be not even dust, and the only memory of them will be fading signals from our current era being spread in the universe. But it’s almost certain that some sort of life will be happily populating the Earth (unless it will going throuh another Great Extinction, because the few things that one can rely on is that they won’t go away until the Sun boils the Earth in the last one).

              But we humans can’t think in that sort of timeframes, it not just “boggles the mind”, it’s entirely out of any scope – the longest we can think of history is about 10k years, which in the existence of our planet is nothing (and even in that time, evolution is filling niches).

            2. vlade

              Also, my point is that all that concern about Earth etc. is just irrelevant to our plight. It’s wokeness in terms of nature, crying about the “poor mother Earth”, instead of actually doing something so that human race can keep surviving in reasonable conditions over a geologically reasonable period of time.

              The main reason why we should behave differently is _our own_ interest as a human race – because if we don’t, we won’t be here. No mother Nature coming to save us despite our own wrongdoings, no higher-power intervention. We’d not be doing it for Nature, we’d be doing it for _us_, because as far as Nature is concerneded, it’s “take it or leave it, won’t make much of a difference over the next ten millions of years”.

    7. ChrisAtRU

      Greed’s the curse of life.

      I have slowly but near assuredly come ’round to believe that this is a fundamental truth.

      Thanks for sharing this gem from the Tao The Ching.

  2. skippy

    Where does on even start with the DSM.V considering its unpacking back in the old NC days. Even questioned my ex wife’s arm long alphabet psychiatrist accreditation over which one she used and the answer was no way would I use that guide.

    Don’t make me regurgitate the convo about her dropping the freakonomics book into the mix and considering it economics … gag reflex will be epic …

    Oh and we have had rapture hanging over our heads how long, and some seem to embrace that, so, maybe the hysteria is just a factor of a glitch in the neomatrix narrative and not one of a real threat like AGW, potable water, soil, species extinction, et al, but one of how some view their atomistic individualism being threatened in the market place of dreams come true …

    1. ambrit

      As I said above. The Globe will carry on, with or without us.
      From my admittedly limited experience with ‘shrinks’ of all sorts, I can well understand Freud’s admonition that potential ‘shrinks’ have to experience ‘analysis’ themselves before being “officially” allowed to mess with other people’s heads.

  3. IM Doc

    Dr. Nordau’s book “Degeneration” is mentioned in the very beginning of this article.

    I had to look twice at the publication date 1892.

    I do not believe it to be a coincidence that year is exactly the year at the end of the first wave of the last great Coronavirus pandemic. It continued on wave after wave for several more years.

    This has all happened before and will all happen again.

    1. Foy

      Great clip Rev. I was thinking the other day that the ancients sitting around a nightly fire is another every day natural meditation opportunity that has been lost to humans in recent times. Sit there, get mesmerised by the fire and let go of the body, lost in thought for an hour or so every evening.

      But I’m sure there’s now an app on my phone I can probably stare at instead. Which will also helpfully immediately remind me when I miss a day, and let all my phone staring friends group know that I have missed a day, and get me stressed cause it keeps pinging me that I missed a day and my daily average is now only 44 mins and…ohh

  4. John Siman

    The Rachel Maddow persona developed by MSNBC is an especially profitable media product right now precisely because, I am thinking, it generates, by its design, so much *hysteria*. Note, for example, how the Maddow product has functioned in the most recent iteration of Permanent Russia Panic: “As usual,” Glenn Greenwald writes, “the media figure most loudly and dramatically enshrining the CIA leak about Russia as Proven Truth was the undisputed Queen of demented conspiracy theories, jingoistic rhetoric, and CIA propaganda: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Over and over, she devoted melodramatic segments to denouncing the unparalleled evil of Russian treachery in Afghanistan…” (“Journalists, Learning They Spread a CIA Fraud About Russia, Instantly Embrace a New One” https://greenwald.substack.com/p/journalists-learning-they-spread).

    Hysteria and histrionics, though unrelated etymologically, appear to provide a solid and lasting foundation for MSNBC’s business model!

    Matt Taibbi is, of course, our reincarnated Freud on this matter of the immense profitability of insanity-based demographic silos, and his new piece entitled “Rachel Maddow is Bill O’Reilly” (TK News by Matt Taibbi, https://taibbi.substack.com/p/rachel-maddow-is-bill-oreilly-d47), takes the history of the hysterical histrionics of hate all the way back to the zany days of Saddam “Worse than Hitler” Hussein and the 2003 Iraq War.

    1. Mark Gisleson

      Taibbi’s post is excellent, but Maddow is an example of faux hysteria which is quite common in the news media and politics. Fear mongering would be another term for it.

      I think what disturbed many in Washington the most about the Reagan Revolution, is that suddenly there were people in Congress who weren’t faking, they were truly hysterical (about Communists, alt-sexuality, POC, etc.).

      As for the media, I suspect nearly all of their hysteria is of the manufactured variety. Even Alex Jones is (I suspect) more of a fear monger than personally afraid. The Maddows and Jones are more like televangelists than news broadcasters. They enourage hysteria in others, but as for themselves, they’re faking it all the way to the bank.

      1. John Siman

        Right. Maddow is the highest-calibre hysteria-inducing product in the MSNBC arsenal. The actual hysterics are the upscale resistance liberals in Maddow’s demographic silo who are now addicted to the Putin Apocalypse narrative.

        1. Mark Gisleson

          Your earlier comment made me look up histrionics. Interestingly, it has two related but very different meanings: deliberately affected or theatrical (faux hysteria), but it also refers to an attention-seeking psychiatric disorder (the politically discredited Freudian stuff).

          Ironic that of the two Jones is more the latter and Maddow clearly in the former camp. But when I think back to the most hysterical of all Russiagaters in the media, I always think of those over-the-top Keith Olbermann rants. I don’t think he was faking any of it, proving that a uterus is not a pre-req for hysteria.

          1. TexasOriginal

            If you dig far enough back into recent history you’ll find Maddow launched her MSNBC career as a frequent guest on Olbermann’s show. The nut has not fallen far from the tree as it were.

            1. Big Tap

              Actually Tucker Carlson, yes the same one that’s on Fox News, helped out Maddow’s career when Carlson was on MSNBC.

              1. Michael Fiorillo

                And we should not forget the obeisance Maddow paid to the Devil himself: Roger Ailes. She has often spoken of the career help he provided her…

    2. Nikkikat

      You are so spot on to point to Maddow. Rhodes Scholar Maddow is exactly where she is, advocating hysteria, fear and propaganda because she has been groomed for that purpose.

    3. Basil Pesto

      interesting words coming up today. Yesterday I wrote up a comment, but didn’t post it, about how breathtakingly embarrassing all these cop snuff videos from the US are to an outsider. In describing the behaviour of the cops, ‘hysterical’ and ‘histrionic’ are two words that I used, particularly with regard to their demented shouting peppered with artless swearing. The thrust of my post was it doesn’t have to be like this (which I realise now echoes the Graeber quote cited below).

      1. Count Zero

        Well this outsider, looking from England, can’t avoid seeing some videos of the US police at work. The first thing that strikes me is how overweight and old a lot of the cops on the street are. They can’t run, they can’t fight and their only defence seems to be their gun. The second thing that strikes me is how aggressive and uneducated and unprofessional they are. Tricky situations need a degree of intelligence to navigate. Two inarticulate and frightened people, with guns, confronting each other, is a recipe for misunderstanding and disaster.

        I only once encountered a US cop. Many years ago, in San Francisco, jet-lagged, going for a walk on a beautiful sunny morning about 7 am. A big police car screamed up. A policeman jumped out and marched towards me shouting things I couldn’t understand. Eventually, playing the stupid foreigner (not a difficult act), I was allowed to proceed on my way. But I was quite shaken by the rudeness, noise and aggression of the encounter which stopped just short of physical violence. I have never forgotten it. I would expect in England to be treated politely, addressed with a smile as “sir.” Of course that’s often not the experience of people in the UK but it’s the standard of conduct we have a right to expect. And so too have Americans. Manners are at the core of eighteenth-century thinking about civil society.

        1. Basil Pesto

          While I try to be well-mannered and polite, I think the outward-facing masks of punctiliousness (and etiquette) can often get present hypocritically, concealing quite a bit of nastiness or mean-spiritedness.

    1. John Siman

      Hysteria is from the noun ὑστέρα = womb by way of the adjective ὑστερικός = suffering in the womb, hysterical — so I fear your proposed word hysteriarchy might be prone to etymological misuse. For one could infer from it that our 21st-century hysteria is generated in the womb, that it is, by some post-Victorian misdiagnosis, a woman’s problem, when hysteria is in fact generated in the corporate media.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        perhaps it’s potentiated by the corpsemedia, but it doesn’t begin there.
        it began with our progressive separation from Nature.
        “…For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”-Blake

        when i was still able to get down to, and into, the Llano River(been afraid to go it alone for 17 years, now), I’d pull the canoe over at some empty stretch of river(very sparsely populated), and get my nekkid butt out to sit on a rock, or a fallen log, in the adjacent pecan bottom.
        so long as i was naked and still, after a time, critters would appear, and go about their business…paying little mind to me.
        I could hang out, smoke dope, drink beer, even wander around and pick up other people’s beercans and diapers(washed down—i carried orders of magnitude more stuff out of there than i ever brought in)…and they would ignore me.
        but let me do exactly the same in even a towel, and they would remain hidden.
        hypothesis: the wearing of textiles makes me…unconsciously…a part of civilisation, and thus mentally orients me as foreign…other…separate….and the critters perceive this, and stay away.

        i encourage everyone to replicate this experiment, if possible.
        everyone i know who has has had pretty much the same experience.
        a vole walking across one’s hand, or a dragonfly landing on one’s shoulder, are pretty profound arguments.

        1. Rod

          i encourage everyone to replicate this experiment, if possible.

          and “profound” is certainly the word i use when thinking back.
          Despite the deep south and high humidity, useing bug spray is a rarity for me–except for this– it is the enabler.

          As an aside–went for a bit of a ‘drive about’ several weeks ago. Had the occasion to meet a nice, young Texas SHP between 2-3am on SR 87 between Dalhart and Hartley. He was concerned that I might be driving with just my running lights on instead of Headlights.
          Well, it could have been those SC Plates, also.
          We made some small talk(me inside him outside) as I ran through the Lighting selections until he was satisfied I indeed did have my headlights on correctly.
          My Guardian Angel handled all the details, so it was pleasant enough and I was soon Amarillo bound again, very much awake for the sunrise.

      2. Paradan

        good point, I was using Hysteria in the context of it’s modern usage, but since it’s attached to the -archy it would use it’s Greek meaning. So Phobiarchy?

        1. John Siman

          Hysteria and fear are weapons, not the basis of our system of government, which seems to have become a some kind of nightmarish woke oligarchy.

      3. Susan the other

        I love science. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago (time has flown) they discovered fragments of the Y-chromosome in the blood of mothers of sons. It proves that it takes decades for these bits to be “cleared” as they say about viruses. If you are feeling better, you have cleared your virus. So just the fact that, generationally, there are microscopic connections in mother’s blood stream and mother worries so much about her kid she is “hysterical” most of the time (controlled hysteria) is very instructive. What else floats in our blood that we are unaware of? That sense that the Earth is not well? Certainly. They only discovered the Y fragment accidentally – and would never have discovered this fragment if it had been a daughter because they wouldn’t have differentiated the daughter’s X from the mother’s own X.

  5. cocomaan

    Wonder if the better way to talk about this, minus all the baggage of the word hysteria, is “lack of emotional regulation”.

    People seem to have lost their grasp on their own emotions. It all runs out of control immediately.

    Neoliberal media, especially twitter, takes advantage of this, but I think the failures of the religious and spiritual institutions around the world have contributed to this.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      cocomaan: I agree. The word “hysteria” has been coming up often the last few years, and I tend to think of its weird past as an imagined disease of women as disqualifying. On the other hand, I have wanted a non-loaded term to describe much of what has gone on among (upper middle class) women in relation to Hillary Clinton’s loss. The Rachel Maddows among us.

      For the last four or so years, I have referred to these bouts of irrationality and of sloppy emotion for the sake of emotion as panics. Luckily, equality shows us that both men and women are capable of such panics. The whole business of not wearing masks among men resembles that panic of the diehard Clintonians.

      So: I will go with panic. And panic comes from the idea of herds of animals that get spooked. As Yves Smith has pointed out, it is hard to understand how a conformist society like the US of A is wracked by such weird fissures. But let’s take the panicked herd as a model. Ahhh, we’re back at the chthonic god Pan (son of chthonic god Hermes), as Henry Moon Pie writes way up top.

      Panic. Separation from basics like plant life, the change of seasons, the spectacle of the constellations in the heavens, the Earth itself, a respect for death, an appreciation that the gods may be immanent.

      We are in the continuing crisis of monotheism and the shortage of places to have brunch that are “dog friendly.” We are dissolving in our own panics.

      1. cocomaan

        “Dissolving in our own panics” is a fantastic way of putting it.

        We’ve advanced so far as a species and we’re able to grasp new ideas, fear new things like bankruptcy instead of lions. But I feel as though we’ve gotten to a point where we can manufacture new panics faster than we can handle them.

        Hopefully we can reach “Peak Panic” and get this arms race over with.

    2. Aomoa

      Alternate (or tangential) perspective: I feel what I feel, and I don’t get to chose what feelings I have. That is something I don’t control, but how I deal with them and what action I take is within my control. The ability to effectively deal with our feelings as adults is what is sorely lacking in our society. We are a nation of emotional children, in arrested development.

    3. korual

      Indeed, you could take the main symptoms of any personality disorder – narcissism, sociopathy, histrionics, paranoia and a desperate need for approval etc – and apply them to the media and everyday life in the way the author of the article has, which rather disproves the theory that it is only hysteria.

  6. Alice X

    As for the extreme comments yesterday, I believe they were largely mean spirited. I thought to engage at several points, but then as the saying goes: never mud wrestle with a pig, you just get dirty and the pig loves it.

    1. The Historian

      Those comments may have sounded mean spirited, but the fact is that there is a significant portion of our population who feels the same way. Kudos to the moderators for allowing us to see them here at least this once. We cannot ignore these people – they are us too – we need to understand what has driven them to this. I couldn’t respond to most of them because I just didn’t know what I could say to get them to even reconsider some of their views. Perhaps someone with more talent than I have can get through to them. It must be hell to live in such fear and contempt of your neighbors!

      1. cocomaan

        Absolutely agree. This is the right attitude, I think.

        Ultimately, I think changing anyone’s mind can’t be done actively. You can’t do it through argument or persuasion. People double down. Getting someone on your side has to be done by example.

        You have to show that not only can you hold contrary opinions to their own, but that you can also live a good and honorable life.

    2. Robert Hahl

      I saw it as sophisticated trolling, which mostly failed to get a raise from us, so, good job all around.

    3. Medbh

      Maybe there’s a Gresham’s law for communication, where the people who are honestly open to changing their mind and having a mutually respectful conversation are driven out of media and online boards by the extremists/bad actors. I feel really upset if someone responds to me in a nasty or condescending manner, even though intellectually I tell myself all the reasons why I shouldn’t let it get to me. I’ve stopped using some sites because I’ve realized that it’s a net negative to my peace of mind. If the other people are there primarily to hurt or “own” others, then what’s the point in participating?

  7. David

    The author needs to calm down a bit, and stop promoting hysteria with suggestions that “the launch of every new iPhone sends us running to Apple Stores in a crazed frenzy.” Do you do that? Do you know anyone who’s ever done that? It reads like a vague recollection of stories of hardcore fans camping out all night to be first in line for a store opening. It’s been at least a decade since I saw reports of anything such thing.

    The author is right about the connection with neoliberalism, but it’s a bit more complicated than just marketing insecurity. Neoliberalism in all its splendour, the economic and social ideology of the PMC, is the first ideology to be based on essentially arbitrary and a priori beliefs. Unlike past religious or political ideologies, this one does not depend on revelation, tradition, custom, economic laws or the workings of history, it just depends what has come out of the IMF and Woke Central this week. It began in the 80s, with alleged economists claiming there was a causal connection between interest rates and inflation. Because this was an article of faith, questions about the actual statistical basis of such assertions were angrily brushed aside. But it’s continued with many other aspects of the PMC ideology. In the days when I used to read, and occasionally contribute to, the Crooked Timber site, one of the favourite themes was the necessity of open borders for free movement of peoples everywhere. Commenters who asked about, costs, providing accommodation, where language teachers would come from etc. were violently attacked and in some cases banned from the site. I stopped reading it after that.

    Essentially, if your beliefs are arbitrary and not based on anything, as well as constantly changing at the demands of others, you are going too treat even the most civilised request for further information as a threat to your ego, and react hysterically. Thus the Russiagate example discussed by Taibbi today: asking about the factual background is construed as an attack on the individual making the allegation.

    Inevitably, this trend has spread to the Woke part of the PMC as well. Sites like this one and this one which track wokeism in a scholarly fashion, show quite clearly that for many wokeists, their entire identity and ego is wrapped up in victimism and the need to internalise and reproduce what they are told. Attempts to challenge their ideas with actual facts provoke hysterical reactions, not only because subjective truths are more important than objective ones, but because these subjective truths are what their egos very largely consist of. If you abandon the search for objective truth, in case it produces an answer you don’t like, then then very concept of rational debate is impossible to accept: indeed it’s a threat. And of course once wokeists start attacking each other, any pretence of rationality goes out of the window, and competitive hysteria is all you have left.

    1. Keith Newman

      Insightful comment David. I too found the iPhone observation problematic. At worst it describes a relatively small number of consumer product obsessed people. They do definitely exist. I knew one I worked with. But he was only one person among twenty.
      Still, I do think the author is right in general and most of what he wrote I found interesting and thought-provoking. In my entourage I absolutely find an inordinate number of people who nearly hysterically will believe nonsense. They are all on the “progressive” side. Not everyone by any means but certainly considerably more than in the past. Anecdotal I realise but true in my world.
      Unfortunately I didn’t have time to read the comments much yesterday. Since they triggered the above article I’ll take a look at them today.

    2. KiWeTO

      The work of efficient planning, pre-ordering online before “launch day’, and the Precariat offering door delivery for some pennies means there needs to be no queue in front of stores anymore. I live in a city. I decided I wanted retail therapy last year during lockdown to replace an apple phone. Everything transacted online and it was delivered 10am on launch day. No need to queue, not that any queue was possible during a lockdown anyway.

      A better measure might be to determine the number of hashtags and posts related to new “objects d’consumption” on launch day/week instead of the absence of queues in front of yesterday’s temples to consumption. No, I didn’t shout on twitter that day, but commented to a few close contacts via the internet how magical desires can be met with barely lifting a finger.

      In that sense, confirmatory bias exists everywhere. The absence of a queue is just that. No queue. Extrapolating it to falling market interest is a leap too far, if apple’s ongoing sales numbers are true. Then again, I’ve only confirmed David’s point – requests for more information is difficult and may be seen as aggressive rather than contemplative.

    1. flora

      One thinks of the color revolutions, etc. Could the same ideas be used by neoliberals to undermine home democracy, the Bill of Rights, calls against too-much-free-speech, etc ?

  8. Robert Hahl

    In the same way that humor always involves an element of distortion, usually exaggeration (I can’t understand why people are mystified about what makes something funny), I feel this kind of “hysteria” always involves scapegoating – blaming others for our problems coupled with a simplistic solution. This makes for effective social control because it is safer to conform than to resist. It just feels better to make the same mistake everyone else is making.

    1. Susan the other

      To paraphrase the Marx Brothers: “Hysterical? Who’s hysterical? I’m not hysterical. You’re hysterical.”

  9. ObjectiveFunction

    Linton Kwesi Johnson:

    Dis is de Age of Reality,
    But some a wi a deal wit’ mytalogy
    Dis is de age of science and technology
    But some a wi’ a check fa antiquity

    When we can’t face reality,
    We leggo wi clarity;
    Some latch on to vanity,
    Some hol’ on insanity….
    But dem can’t make decision
    when it come to a fight,
    Dem can’t make decision
    when it come to what right

  10. The Historian

    Thank you for this article. It does explain a lot to me.
    I have been trying to understand why Idaho’s legislature has been so bent on so many crazy laws this session and now I think I understand more as to what is going on.

    For example, education is very important to me and the fact that Idaho can’t pass a budget to fund the schools for next year because they are so afraid that teachers might use that money to teach ‘social justice’ shocked me. The teachers in this state come from the general population as do the school boards and administrators. They are as conservative as the rest of Idaho and would never even think to teach anything other than what their fellow citizens want – why would the legislature think anything else? The reason has to be hysteria – fear of what ‘might happen’ instead of actually seeing the reality of what is.

    I think this is similar to all those anti-Sharia laws that were passed after 9/11. Nobody would ever have attempted to bring Sharia to the US but hysteria prevented so many people from actually understanding that.

    1. juno mas

      As a former interim Idaho Spud, allow me to temper the view of the political landscape there.

      In the 1970’s, Cecil Andrus (D) was the governor. Boise, the Capital city, was the home of a top-tier philharmonic, a growing university (BSU), and huge swaths of central park land of grand trees (Le Bois) enjoyed by an educated, and magnanimous community. The surrounding Counties in the Snake River Basin were mostly agricultural, rural in nature. While the northern Counties (Cour de Laine) were focused on timber and summer homes on the lake. I lived in Ketchum/Sun Valley where ski bums (me) and the wealthy (Harriman’s) have congregated since the 1950’s; The area was definitely not politically conservative with a citizenry agglomerated from all parts of the US, and beyond.

      Today, Idaho is controlled by a Republican governor and legislature. The rural counties have grown in population with disgruntled California refugees, an increase in Mormon influence, and the loss of timber jobs in the north and light manufacturing (computer chips) in the south. The controlling political sentiment is now quite anti-government; even when 65% of Idaho is federal land and provides enormous economic and recreational opportunity. Eventually, the pendulum will return to the Welcome sign governor Andrus erected at border entry’s: Idaho is too great to litter.

  11. Dave in Austin

    Yves and Lambert are right; a touch of hysteria has infected NC comment recently. Race and crime in the U.S. are, as usual, the fault lines.

    My take is that we are living in “the great peace”, one of those lucky times when most of us are living comfortably and everything seems to be getting better… in the short run.

    But God is dead the comfy Christian world of heaven-and-hell/good and evil is gone along with the “meet your family again in the afterlife” mindset. Educated people are alone in the world. We can almost smell the dark afternoon clouds on the horizon. We have the ecological and demographic crisis; the “this is beginning to look like 1914” sense about China and the U.S.; the undiscussable anxiety of the childless, or even more oddly of those with adult children who are failing to produce grandchildren, those little creature that give people that nonsensical but endearing sense that “I have a future”…

    As a friend said last week: “I go to a lot more funerals than christenings now”.

    We are warm, dry, well-fed… and sad. On the bright side reading the Guardian and NC with a nice cup of tea and a touch of anxiety is still better than the alternative, the world of 1900-era schoolboys whose dreams of adventure and a meaningful life ended in WWI.

    To quote from Neil Young:

    I was lying in a burned out basement
    With the full moon in my eyes.
    I was hoping for replacement
    When the sun burst through the sky

    and Friedrich Nietzsche:

    If you look long enough into the void
    the void begins to look back through you

    1. R

      Don’t read the Guardian, please, except to know thy enemy. It is the shrill maddened voice of the idpol BoBo PMC. Its Scott Trust principles died when Alan Rusbridger participated in the sacrificial killing of the hard drives in the basement, to atone and abase the paper for Wikileaks and speaking truth to power. There is only so much rotten stench that edgy cartoons and design supplements can mask, even with a decent cryptic crossword.

  12. Nels Nelson

    I recently finished Adam Curtis’s 6 part series “Can’t Get you Out of My Head”. He begins and ends the series with this quote from the late David Graeber: “The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make and could just as easily make differently”.

    The series deals with the conflict between individualism and collectivism and where power resides. It is very apparent that this conflict was on display in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Curtis says we are living through hysterical times, trapped in a constant state of hysteria and trusting no one. We hang on to dead ideas. Bombarded with theater and spectacle, the reality is that nothing changes. Nothing changes because the structure of power does not change.

    I followed the series with the two hour interview and discussion Russel Brand has with Curtis on Brand’s podcast Under the Skin. I highly recommend Curtis’s series and Brand’s podcast as an adjunct to the discussion here.

    One little interesting observation. I watched the series over several nights. The series is available on YouTube and at first was readily accessible. When I tried to access the last 2 parts I was blocked with a screen that announced the content contained disturbing scenes suitable only for mature audiences. In all of the previous parts I found nothing of the kind. In order to complete the series I had to provide proof of age. What I noticed that I did not notice in the previous unblocked parts that were now also blocked were jumps where it appeared something had been deleted.

  13. The Rev Kev

    A few random thoughts here. I think that the term hysteria may be a bit misleading, especially in light of the fact that the term has fallen into disuse. Sure, you still occasionally hear the word ‘hysterical’ but the word ‘hysteria’ not so much. If we are going to be honest, it might be better to use a more direct term – fear – as that what hysteria is founded upon. Same as with jealousy for the same matter. Both have their foundations in original fear.

    We have to remember that fear has been something actively encouraged by both commercial interests and governments. From about the 1920s, companies worked out that they could sell more products by making people scared not to use them such as the old Listerine campaign against bad breath. Later, it proved profitable to make people be worried about not keeping up with the Joneses whether it be the latest car or the latest holiday destination or even the clothes that you wore. Of course the net result was to erode the society-wide confidence that people had in themselves but it was nothing personal – just business.

    And then we have governments hype people up with fear in order for them to toe the line but we can all think of examples here. So the thing is, a healthy population carries their security internally. And it has nothing to do with such externalities of what possessions you own or what position you have in society. The trouble is that society tells us the exact opposite. And a neoliberal society thrives best when the bonds between people are cut asunder, thus threatening their security even more. And this general move to a Woketopia threatens to cut those ties to a much finer degree.

    What I am trying to say that each generation as they grow up has to make their own adjustment to society so that they have a place in that society itself. The problem here lies with the fact that our present society is manifestly sick and trying to adjust yourself to it results in many problems for the individual. And I note that some people have physically removed themselves from society because the adjustments required are just too much for their own mental health. Call it hysteria, call it anxiety, call it fear – whatever. These are all the results of living in a sick, immature society. Rant over.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      some people have physically removed themselves from society because the adjustments required are just too much for their own mental health.

      that’s pretty much me.
      all the bad luck and nonsense and Ur-Homelessness that flowed from my cop problems, and in 94 i simply gave up on modernity and civilisation and went into the proverbial wilderness…as luck would have it, this place is like Avalon, a little out of phase with the rest of the country, and in a sort of time warp(as in all the anecdotal feed store anthropology)…so it’s been much easier to drop out, as it were…and focus on the tuning in and turning on parts.
      now, of course, just about everyone in the county but me is on twitter and faceborg on tiny, ever present screens, and glued to cable news, and have made the problems promoted by strangers far away Their Problems, and invited the colonisation of the mind.
      while i understand the still extant roddenberrian Promise of the Web(see: hertzog’s Lo and Behold), i often suspise that we were simply not ready for it.

    2. Rod

      We have to remember that fear has been something actively encouraged by both commercial interests and governments.

      Bumper sticker on car in Food Lion parking lot:

      “Scared people do crazy sh*t”

      as both predictor and descriptor..

  14. Mikel

    He writes:
    “Take the issue of public safety. Citizens are liable to get incredibly worked up about the issue of security and respond with vehemence to what is seen as a non-committal attitude to crime characterising their country. As a consequence, political discussions about public safety tend to end in the unanimous conclusion that more decisiveness is needed to solve all problems for good.

    Such policies are spoken of in hysterical terms and with a preference for a macho military vocabulary: ‘war on coronavirus’, ‘war on drugs’, ‘war on terror’. Former President Donald Trump threatened to send in the militaryto quell the unrest in American cities sparked by the brutal killing of George Floyd by police officers on 25 May 2020.

    Once the diagnosis of a ‘law and order problem’ has been made, we are flooded by a veritable tsunami of new punitive measures – only for the cycle to be repeated. Any politician suggesting that crime rates in Western countries have fallen spectacularly for years or that it is impossible to create a risk-free society, is accused of ‘looking the other way’.”…

    So I click on the source link for the “crime rates have fallen spectacularly” and read this:


    “Strict police enforcement and severe sentences tend to reduce crime rates…”

    And I face palm…

  15. Mikel

    “The launch of every new iPhone sends us running to Apple Stores in a crazed frenzy…”

    But still not enough frenzy to make it the top seller in smartphones.

    Just throwing that out there because one of my hobbies is poking Apple fan boys and girls.

  16. shinola

    “… Lambert and I were discussing some of the extreme views expressed in comments yesterday.”

    Hmmm… First thing that came to my mind on reading this is “I need to go back & check out yesterday’s comments sections.” (I only had time to skim through them quickly yesterday). Entertainment value don’cha know.

    I doubt that I’m the only one here that thought came to…;)

    1. ambrit

      Same here.
      I missed yesterday’s Links.
      As for “…entertainment value…” More like a sociology class assignment.

  17. skk

    I gave up on Fox, MSNBC, CNN – the whole miserable lot of them – a while ago. On the printed news front once I suddenly saw that the headlines in ANY newspaper, including the Guardian, were clickbait – identical in purpose to the miserable crap that Taboola and Outbrain ( the ones who sites contract out to for selling clickbait like “You’ll be shocked to see what she looks like now” ) sells – I’ve relaxed a lot and am sceptical about even more stuff.
    Because I realized that since the ancient days – the times when newspaper boys apparently ( since its before my time ) went down the street yelling “Read All About it” – newspapers have always been about clickbait. Heck they want my eyeballs and my money to boot. I’ll part with them with care then.

  18. Dick Swenson

    This is material for a weekend of reading. I’ll just grab an adult beverage, sit in a warm shady place and ignore the world. That is bliss.

  19. Psmith

    I read _Degeneration_ in graduate school (in a class in late nineteenth-century literature), so it was an odd experience to see it cited it a neutral or even approving light. To me (clearly a “degenerate”), the kindest reading of this rather mean-spirited work is that although Nordau is officially horrified by queer people and our purple-shaded lamps, he may cherish a sneaking affection for our creativity and ability to reinvent ourselves.

  20. elissa3

    “While the planet is hurtling towards its demise”

    Very species-centric. The planet will continue without us. Over time, another species will become the dominant super predator. And so it goes.

    1. KiWeTO

      It will continue until our sun goes supernova. Then, the planetary remnants might continue as space dust or have entered the resulting black hole to realities unknown.

      If astrophysics’ hypotheses are true. Probably won’t find out in my lifetime. The stoics had something going.

  21. Geo

    This “hysteria” we’ve been seeing seems to be of a different type than described above. It’s not merely an “exhaustion caused by the rapid development of modern society” but seems instead more of a nihilistic backlash against that rapidly changing society.

    Umair Haque, a writer I’ve been enjoying lately, even if he’s at times a bit on the hysterical side himself, has been writing a lot on this theme. Two recent pieces seem to get at the heart of it. His focus here is primarily on America’s hyper-conservative and selfish culture of competition, though he’s had some good articles about UK and other nations lately as well.

    There are points to dispute, of course, but his perspective and analysis seems, to me at least, very spot on in diagnosing the hostility and selfishness seen in the recent hysteria gripping such a large swath of our society:

    How Long Will America Be a Failed State?
    America life isn’t seen as an endeavour in lifting others up to make the most and best of themselves. Instead, Americans live lives of brutal, bruising, endless competition, to the death. When I say “to the death,” I’m not kidding. You have to wake up every day, and compete for some dumb job, whose only real point is to make billionaires richer — just so you have healthcare, a little bit of money, so you can pay the rent and mortgage and utilities. If you can’t compete in this game, ruthlessly, then you’re simply left to die. If you don’t want to wage this war, then you’re left to die. American life is adversarial, combative, individualistic. Americans never learned to be friends because they’ve been too busy being enemies.

    The Predatory Principle, or How Our Systems Take Advantage of Us at the Precise Moments in Life We Need Support Most
    What are the most vulnerable moments in a person’s life? Birth. Youth. Education. Sickness. Joblessness. Aging. Now think of the exact moments in which Americans are made to pay the most — bankrupted, abandoned, neglected, exploited. Don’t those two lists line up exactly and precisely?

    1. Abi

      I used to love Umair Haque but I left medium and so I don’t read his articles anymore.

      I used to hate my political theory classes but I understand why they were necessary. American political ideas follow the realist thinking patterns which ultimately come from Hobbes’ view that the world is brutish so we have to act accordingly to survive.

      It is inherently very selfish and self centered. I mean Friedman basically told us it’s ok to be selfish at all cost. Hayek made that the organizing principle of the “markets”.

      I’ve been thinking for a while now how it was possible for people to read their ideas and agree it was a great idea.

      Unpopular opinion but a lot of the issues will be solved with a little kindness.

  22. John

    I look at the obvious hysteria as the birthing pangs (suffering in the womb) that are going on all the time at various scales. Sometimes there is a collective big contraction that forces us all a little further down that birth canal to the new day. The old dies, the new is born and that wheel been turning a long time. Fight it or slide easy, it’s gonna happen.

  23. vlade

    “The planet is hurtling towards its demise” is, indeed hysterical. *)

    IMO, the issue is that for one of the first times in the history, a majority fo mankind does not have a literal worry of surviving to tomorrow or the end of the year. Yes, poor are still extremely poor, with much lower life expectancy, but on an absolute scale have a much more certain and ‘richer’ _material_ world than a hundred years ago. But it’s being paid for by much less certain, and poorer _social_ world than a hundred years ago.

    But humans are still social animals, and the unprecedented pace of change of social conditions – especially change without any easily graspable reasons via external events such as wars, revolutions, famines and what have you – is hard on most humans. Moreover, all of those desperate circumstances tend to reinforce, in some ways, the social cohesion (at least locally).

    *) the planet will, short of the total nuclear arsenal being detonated in a very specific way that would break up the planet, survive humans. At the current course, my bet is on the planet – and even life on the planet – surviving the humans.

  24. Gulag1

    This display of over the top emotions is particularly pronounced in the areas of race relations.
    The academic community, in my opinion, bears a significant degree of responsibility for this particular current of race hysteria.

    Important intellectual circles that developed in the 1980s, like post-colonial studies, have created a completely racialized anticapitalism that is seen as the new key to American history.

    Such theorists postulate that in post-colonial societies, the legacy of colonialism is purely an expression of “white domination.” As a result racial identities are brought to the foreground marginalizing all other aspects of social and cultural life and the engine of history becomes the struggles of races and genders.

    Using such a framework ends up endorsing the perspective that whites are “systematically” guilty of racism because they are “white” by definition and blacks are “systematically” innocent victims of racism because they are black.

    The end result is a type of anti-racist, racism which has a tendency to view the white man as intrinsically guilty. It is hard to think of a political theory more likely to create over the top emotions. especially if that theory also seems to also demand white apologies for their skin color.

    I would like to believe it is possible to study the polymorphous legacies of slavery and colonialization without bluster or victim mythology but perhaps I am simply naive.

    1. Aomoa

      Poor white guys. So marginalized. So oppressed. You can’t see the violin I’m playing right now because it’s so tiny, but my song goes out to white male victims of guilt and shame everywhere.

  25. cnchal

    > “I can’t get no satisfaction,” as a wise man once said . . .

    Mick? Wise? That’s hysterical. He is a narcissistic dirtbag, that can’t find enough holes to screw. That’s what satisfaction means to him.

    1. witters

      Whoa. To be or say something wise is a possibility open to anyone. And the lyric is to the point (Mick is a fine, if as here, so often an underrated lyricist.) Also, it is an elementary, if revealing, error to identify the author/lyricist with the persona or themes of a creative art work.

      1. cnchal

        Is it the wise man that has everything they desire, wealth, fame, groupies, adoring adulating crowds soaking in every vacuous jingle, that says “I can’t get no satisfaction” or were we played?

        I get no satisfaction. Makes sense.

        I can’t get satisfaction. Makes sense.

        I can’t get no satisfaction. Nonsense, or we all misunderstood dear Mick.

  26. ChrisAtRU

    I was recently recommended “Society of The Spectacle” (Guy Debord) by someone on #Twitter (microverse of hysteria!). I believe this hysteria is a result of many people beginning to see beyond The Spectacle. Debord’s writing resonates with me because I see it as being about the illusion of the lives that we live – lives defined by and steeped in all manners of erstwhile philosophical (the meritocracy!) and political (we are a democracy!) propaganda. Watching as so many people in power and the wider population eschew empathy for the sake of “the economy” brings these words from Debord to life:

    “16. The spectacle subjugates living men to itself to the extent that the economy has totally subjugated them. It is no more than the economy developing for itself. It is the true reflection of the production of things, and the false objectification of the producers.”

  27. juliania

    I apologize both for being late to this subject and for sounding pedantic in my assessment. First of all, I don’t know what Freud’s interpretation was, but ‘an Oedipus complex’ per se can’t be as the author describes as involving a daughter’s relationship with her father. What Oedipus exemplifies is the hubris involved in seeking for answers to his city’s plague problem, which answers embroil him as the ultimate source of that iniquity – there are numerous applications of that Greek story which apply to our current impasse, but hysteria is not one of them, unless you suppose that Jocasta is acting hysterically when she hangs herself after discovering Oedipus to be her son, and then Oedipus using her brooches to blind himself is having an hysterical reaction to the same horror.

    Rather than these being hysterical reactions, are they not simply extremes of human emotion facing unbearable situations, universal to all human beings facing similar extreme situations often brought on by the recognition that they themselves are responsible for what has happened or is happening? ‘Hysterical’ to me implies an overreaction; we are judged hysterical when we make too much of something that can be addressed more calmly.

    I did see calm attempts being made in yesterday’s dialogue, so hysteria might apply in that situation – I’ll leave it to others to judge. ‘Hubris’, to me, seems closer to the mark, since those (abhorrent to many) statements were made in a calm manner. Quite chilling, in fact.

    Nonetheless, we do need to look more closely at what the Greek playwrights were telling us. It was a civic duty in Athens to attend those performances. We might more profitably wonder why.

  28. CanCyn

    I think outrage at racism is not hysteria.
    I think disagreeing with people who think that individuals who don’t pay their taxes are more problematic than corporate tax dodging is not hysteria.
    Like a few commenters here, I started a couple of times to respond to those threads but gave up as I was overwhelmed by the seeming pointlessness of it. I was angry then, I am sad now, and, frankly, a little offended by this ‘explanation’ for yesterday’s ugly commentary. What I am not is hysterical.

    1. Jeff

      When racism occurs, nearly all reasonable people agree it’s gross and worthy of criticism and condemnation. Baseless, proof less accusations of racism designed to vent woke hysteria should be called out in the same way.

      Your point of tax cheats and companies spiking laws in their favor by renting political influence…. Even unreasonable people see the problem with that.

  29. Sy Krass

    It wasn’t to surprising that there was a hysteria toward hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, it was that 16 weeks later the hoarding was still going on.

  30. Matthew G. Saroff

    The toilet paper shortages were not an artifact of any hysteria, but if a shift in consumption.

    Toilet paper for the home and toilet paper for institutions are two different products made in different factories.

    When restaurants and offices closed, the demand for that product fell, while the cabana for home toilet paper rose, creating real shortages.

    There was hoarding as well, but the underlying cause was a surge in demand for the product.

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