The surreal world of electronic media contrasts sharply with my day-to-day concerns. I wake with the roosters and spend my mornings in semi-quiet contemplation with journal, coffee, and scenes of marsh, trees, and sky outside. I have no television or cell phone, rarely turn the radio on, and limit computer time to a couple of hours a day. My biggest concern is how to get rid of chicken mites without using poison. (The internet says 10% garlic juice spray on feathers and wood ash in chickens’ dust baths, for those who need to know.)
My closest contact with Humanland comes through machine noise, including neighbors’ power tools, traffic, or the aircraft overhead. The military planes from Hunter Army Airfield flying at low altitudes over my house often tell me when the US is deploying yet more troops to our interminable wars.
Every couple of days, I venture city-ward, to make sure humanity is still there. Sure enough, the coffee shops are operational, offering the same things they sold last week, serving the same customers with the same cell phones and lap tops, selling the same newspapers, and playing the same repertoire of loud bad music. I get the two-minute versions of the latest disasters, the hurricanes, shootings, presidential faux pas, North Korea’s intransigence. Everybody’s opinions about the NFL’s knees and the national anthem. The stock market is up but the economy is down, and no one is smiling. Demands on attention, and predictions of economic collapse, nuclear war, and climate disaster generate chronic static in the atmosphere, and we wonder why we’re so irritable.
I think about “Spoiled Rotten Brat Syndrome,” a diagnosis you won’t find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), because in the United States, this condition passes for normal. Only foreigners recognize SRBS as a disorder, but Americans seem to think it’s a symbol of superiority. That we have the debit and credit cards to buy junk food and fatten ourselves on chemically poisoned, genetically mutated, double-and-triple-packaged, processed, and dyed food is a mark of our superior intelligence, as well as our obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. That’s why we need the government to force us to buy health insurance, whether we want it or not. Theoretically, this will keep the “economy” from imploding quite so fast.
“Projection” is a term used by Sigmund Freud and others to describe the tendency to see in others what we deny or overlook in ourselves. These can be “positive” or “negative” tendencies. To characterize another person as “evil,” for instance, shows a judgmentalism based on fear of one’s own destructive impulses. Some people, who may believe they are strong, will project their more tender feelings on another, because they see tenderness as weakness. Violence, whether by individuals, groups, or nations, is a reaction to a sense of powerlessness, not power, despite common belief.
On the other hand, “projective identification,” refers to the recipient’s taking on the role projected, thus exhibiting the trait or intensifying it. In simpler terms, projection and projective identification can refer to expectations and living “up” or “down” to them. Children or cultural groups who live down to others’ negative expectations may never develop talents that could, in a more supportive environment, grow and flower. “Why try?” the feeling goes. “It’s hopeless.” Or, they may resort to violent or anti-social behavior to prove their “power” to destroy, creating fear in place of the respect they crave.
Insidious influences of mass mind are hard to detect, especially when you’re in the thick of them. And humans, being human, are only human, after all. While we insist we are more intelligent than animals, we are also susceptible to being misled by intellect. Our imaginations can intensify fearful beliefs, especially when they are so widely, easily, and repeatedly disseminated.
The contrast between human and non-human priorities becomes disturbingly clear when confronted by the exaggerated concerns that dominate the airwaves. Contrast this with the very immediate awareness of hawks and foxes lurking about when my precious chickens are outside. For these animals, life-and-death issues are close at hand and very real.
The helplessness I feel about man’s inhumanity to man makes me appreciate the animals more and more, their sanity, their moment-to-moment experience of life, their curiosity, their liveliness. My moods affect them, but theirs affect me, too, and they can brighten my mood just by being themselves, and dispel the heavy oppressiveness of humorless human worry and fear.
Alternatively, human spoiled rotten brats are never satisfied. Rather than appreciating what they have, they are perpetually seeking more, bigger, and better. Life is all about them, and nobody else matters. They want to be accommodated, at whatever cost, and it’s your fault, or the fault of the government, the parents, the terrorists, or the latest external target, if they’re not healthy, happy, and rich.
It’s possible Spoiled Rotten Brat Syndrome is a predictable consequence of society’s negative expectations. A child who is given everything he screams for, without having to earn it, may never learn the skills necessary to achieve his own potential. A society of entitled, immature citizens may have to suffer real hardship to learn how to behave.