Share Tweet Share Share Prof Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, USA “better nurse a delicious FANCY Than GAG ON TRUTH” -Michelangelo PREFACE Truth is the object of our desires. Yet the supply always exceeds the demand. That anomaly is the point of departure for this collection of thoughts. Everyone talks about the truth, but most shy from it when presented. Puzzles of this nature prompted me to reflect on how truth, in its manifold forms, figures in the social psychology of individuals and cultures. The inclination to pursue the subject also stems from an awareness of truth’s progressive scarcity in public discourse. Truth avoidance, whether through lying or dissembling or a myriad of other ways, is now the norm rather than the exception. The very idea of truth is in jeopardy. Public persons exploit - wittingly or not - the growing sense that the actual and the virtual are interchangeable. Our leaders’ dishonesty with themselves at times matches dishonesty in dealing with others. This phenomenon conforms to larger social trends in our so-called post-modern societies.Humans have only so much tolerance for the truth. Considerations of convenience and comfort are the main reason. Where the threshold of tolerance lies is a function of personality, intelligence, education, instrumental need and circumstances. Those circumstances include the pressures of social conformity that are experienced and the individual’s own strength of character along with the status he enjoys. The higher a person’s status within the community the greater is the potential latitude for innovation. For he is in a better position to resist conformist pressures, or even to justify his deviation, to his fellows from a position of authority.The threshold’s location is also correlated with the new truth’s content and how adaptive it is to the established mindset. Some ideas, and the practices attendant upon them, are less palatable than others. Form counts, too. That is to say, the receptiveness of what we currently hold true to new claimants depends in part on the latter’s mode of address.*******The vehemence of lies about small things can be fired by sensitivity to exposure of more basic untruths. Those untruths have become part of someone's personality structure or worldview. Many of the untutored and uninformed orient themselves by a crude mental map haphazardly cobbled together from bits and pieces of inherited folk wisdom, partially digested fragments from schoolroom days, the biases of their community, and eventful life experiences. It suffices so long as they don't encounter things that either defy the coordinates of that simple mental map or are simply beyond them. It may take the form of a novel situation (a daughter's racially uncongenial friend), an unprecedented event/problem (9/11), abuse by a trusted institution (the Catholic priesthood), a perversion of core patriotic values (torture and spying in the name of fighting terror), or an unfathomable personality (Barack Obama).The natural reaction is to hold onto the old map ever more tightly while fending off the dangerous intruder by denouncing it with angry outbursts of frustration. The intellectual resources and secure self-esteem needed to cope just aren't there. In these circumstances, the psychological defenses are in a state of high alert. They are primed to detect and to neutralize that feared piece of information that could unravel their laboriously built sense of reality. Neutralization means transmuting it into the conventionally bad or the conventionally good. It follows that: Americans don't torture, or do so only to keep other Americans safe; our soldiers never kill civilians; pedophile priests are the exception who are dealt with harshly by Church authorities. I'm not prejudiced, but it's true that a lot of 'them' are not like 'us;' villainous bankers should be shot but you can't trust our government leaders to do anything about it; we need a man of the people to take charge - someone I can understand and who doesn't make me feel inadequate; someone better endowed but not better. So they fulminate.Truth is something these people cannot afford. It promises too much pain and distress. They will pay the price for that relief down the road in other currencies of personal need. Perspective, though, requires cool-headed calculation and reflection of which they are incapable for emotional as well as intellectual reasons. We all live by myths and legends. They abbreviate the universe for us. That is a crucial contribution to maintaining the emotional and mental stability that allows us to function. Neuropsychologists remind us that the brain is a refined instrument for discarding stimuli, forgetting disturbing facts, selecting what is useful from a flood of information. Some of this is programmed by nature, some we program ourselves over the course of a lifetime. This sifting process occurs at all levels. It is not restricted to the mundane practicalities. It operates as well in regard to the meanings we attach to persons, things and events. This last faculty is at the heart of what enables us to form societies and to create the cultures integral to them. Selecting and categorizing the perceptions of our senses and conscious mind sustains our core understandings of what we are and the meaning of our existence along with our relationship to the order of things. That is to say, our implicit eschatology or cosmology.Intellectuals of all stripes deny these propositions when applied to themselves. They hold to a conception of reason as the instrument for learning things, interpreting them and attaching meanings for the self-aware person who moves beyond emulation and socially instilled understanding. He is someone who scrutinizes, tests and theorizes using natural faculties free from cultural constraint. He supposedly also chooses among values, models for the preferred way of living, philosophies, and aesthetics. Some do manage to transcend their milieu, to a degree. Many come to fashion intellectual maps and belief systems that, once crystallized, exhibit their own rigidities. That is to say, they screen information, assay ideas, provide interpretations and guide behavior through mechanisms not that different from the common man. Yes, they have been far more self-conscious in their cogitations that created those maps and philosophies. They may be more acutely aware of unknowns, of contradictions and of trade-offs, more attentive to the logical connection between elements in a more complex equation. Very often, though, they share with their less intellectualized brethren a tendency to deploy techniques for filtering data of all kinds to ensure that it conforms to their worldview. There is a compulsive drive for protection of the exposed self that we all share. The intellectual’s is just a more elaborate construct. Tolerance for challenge, the ability to handle doubts about the basic, fixed frames of reference, the emotional capacity to live with porous boundaries to their field of vision, is usually not much greater than ordinary people. They are human. MENTAL MYOPIA A very large number of people function with extreme mental myopia. That is to say, the world around them looks fuzzy except for persons and things close to them and/or who have been part of their direct experience. The rest lacks clear definition. Signals emanate from their surroundings, but they are received serially either as discrete bits of unfiltered data or placed unconsciously in a crude framework of explication. It is a rough amalgam of half-baked ideas, simplistic versions of some ideology, and salient personal events. The net effect may be that most people are not much different from their fellows in earlier ages. On the plus side, they are literate, have access to infinitely more sources of information, and personally encounter more aspects of the social universe. That said, their mental apparatus, and emotional resilience for making sense of what they encounter has not improved commensurately. Moreover, the desire to more fully comprehend may be weak for reasons stemming from the assault on an ever-fragile sense of self by a plethora of stimuli. Hence, the compulsion to insulate oneself from a complicated, confusing environment is strong. So is the inclination to order it in narrow, stereotypical terms as necessary.We find it far easier to recognize and accept fresh insight into others than into ourselves. ‘They’ are part of the external world than we can objectify to a degree. How much affect we feel toward others does have a bearing on our openness to better understanding of who they are and our confidence evaluating their conduct. Dispassion about our own identity and qualities is of another order. After all, self-examination requires us to be at once subject and object. The essence of our being, and the pivot of our behavior, falls into existential doubt. The very act of reflection, of inner scrutiny, ipso facto changes who we are, in some way, to some immeasurable degree. That is discomforting.We are designed to forget as much as to remember - for good reason. Among the brain’s functions is to sift what is relevant and useful from the rest. If we did not routinely do so, our mind and emotions would be overwhelmed by a kaleidoscope of data, ideas and images. Purposeful behavior would be impossible. This filtering process does not necessarily involve insulating ourselves from the world around us. However, a narrowing of the aperture through which it registers on our consciousness does occur. It is reinforced by the multiple processes of socio-cultural conforming. Often, it is related to aging. In a world like ours there is an incongruity between the extraordinarily numerous and varied stimuli and a steady narrowing of the slit through which they enter our awareness. A cultivated insularity is the cause. An insularity that has little if anything to do with introspection as self-reflection.The genius of organized society lies in sustained accomplishments that are far beyond the capacities of the flawed and limited individuals who compose it. Vital to its doing so are similar ways of understanding the environment: social, physical and cosmological. This shared ‘truth’ about the world and how it operates underlies, and extends further than the shared norms and expectations that govern routine social intercourse. The individual and the collectivity are both served. The latter achieves necessary coherence and congruence among its members. Individuals acquire a set of meanings by which to make sense of a universe that they have very little native ability to comprehend. They also are blessed with the solidarity of their fellows that reinforces learned truths while succoring them. Only truly exceptional persons can find adequate intellectual and emotional sustenance without being deeply enmeshed in social relations. That is to say, to depend on society for no more than the meeting of practical needs.The consequences for how we experience ‘truth’ are far reaching. One is the central place of social institutions - formal and informal, comprehensive and parochial - in mediating between the individual and his surroundings. We are not free agents in our encounters with reality. We lose that agency through the course of our socialization and acculturation. Some regain a portion of it by way of the arts and intellectual exertion. Even in those domains, we remain prey to fad and fashion, to the seduction, encouragement and validation of schools, tendencies or movements. THE AMERICAN MALADY America is afflicted with a debilitating ailment that has warped the collective national mind. Its symptoms are the experience of persistent delusions and a distorted sense of objective reality. The disorder impairs functioning since the subjective perception of the world does not match actual conditions. That marks the classic psychotic syndrome.Psychosis can stem from trauma and acute stress. In our case, the traumatic event was 9/11. Characteristically, an experientially caused psychosis, as opposed to one with organic roots, is short-term. The terror psychosis is well into its second decade with no signs that it is ameliorating. That indicates the active presence of psychosocial factors that perpetuate the acute anxiety and apprehension associated with the original traumatic event. Those factors do not take the form of aftershocks. There have been no serious attacks against the United States over the past 13 years – much less any that registered a facsimile of the damage produced by the precipitating shock. Those that have occurred have had domestic sources, and have been minor by several orders of magnitude.Yet, think of the huge disparity between the actual threat and the response. The United States has sent armies to the farthest reaches of the globe in futile campaigns either to stamp out militant Islamic movements that had no direct role in attacking America (the Taliban – Afghan and Pakistani variants) or to destroy a hostile regime whose only connection to the initial traumatic event was that it was Arab and hostile to the U.S. (espousing, in fact, an anti-religious political ideology) i.e. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Smaller operations involving the American military have been launched in a few dozen countries spread from the Western Sahara to Mindanao even though the groups targeted have been local in organization and objective. We have built an elite army within an army in the form of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Numbering 80,000, they are designed to undertake select clandestine missions – in principle; in practice, they are assigned a wide range of intelligence and political missions as well as commando-type ones. The force is almost as large as that which Imperial Britain deployed to police its far-flung empire. EPISODES OF HYSTERIA Another consequence of the terror psychosis is to create fertile soil for fresh episodes of hysteria. Once acute anxiety becomes embedded in the national psyche, it is susceptible to delusions that transform relatively banal challengers into imminent threats to the nation’s very body or soul.The root cause of these recurrent bouts of hysteria can be traced to 9/11. The panicked, overwrought and protracted reaction has both prepared the psychological ground and set the tone for what has followed. RUSSIA has been stigmatized as ghoul no. 2 in the American chamber of horrors. It has been given a personalized identity just as 9/11 became synonymous with the persona of Osama bin-Laden. This ‘threat’ is personalized as Vladimir Putin, the Evil Onewhose diabolical machinations chip away the democratic foundations of the Republic. He is omnipresent. His insidious infiltration of the nation's soul is corrupting even the most virtuous of persons and institutions - the White House, the RNC & DNC, banks and business, and - yes- the media themselves.In the Russia case, the gap between delusion and reality is exceptional. The horrors of 9/11 did actually occur. The reaction was excessive; still, there was some genuine cause for alarm.RUSSIA is a quite different matter. Tangible evidence of threat is thin to non-existent. First, as to alleged election meddling, we have yet to see any hard or credible evidence that the Kremlin did the much ballyhooed hacking. Not only don’t we know who may have instigated it, it has yet to be established that any hacking took place at all – at least insofar as the expose of the Hillary emails are concerned (emails that should have been divulged months earlier as a public service). As for the Facebook placements, they don’t amount to a hill of beans. Someone writing in Cyrillic script who floats into the cyber sphere a relatively tiny batch of messages calling attention to America’s domestic problems has been inflated into something of huge importance. This is a bit rich from a country that routinely interferes directly (or indirectly) in the politics of foreign countries around the globe – 40+, at last count. Its methods includes invasion and occupation without international mandate.Then there is the collusion business. The most unsavory of these supposed dealings do not involve the Russian government but rather a mixed bag of sleazy operatives matched up with equally sleazy American counterparts. As to meetings between Trump (and Clinton) campaign officials and governmental figures from Russia, this is simply common practice. Presidential candidates are always making trips abroad to talk with government heads, opposition figures, etc to establish their foreign policy bona fides or, on rare occasions, to learn something worthwhile.The Flynn affair is the one that has led to criminal action. We should keep in mind that he pleaded guilty only to perjury. His talks with Russian Ambassador Kisalyk were not illegal. Indeed, an incoming administration’s reaching out to foreign leaders is commonplace. The intend to undercut the seated Obama administration policy vis a vis Israeli settlements in the West Bank was unsavory; but it too has its precedents, e.g. Nixon re. peace talks with Hanoi, Reagan’s backroom dealings with Iran on the timing of hostage releases. The only “Russia-gate” matter of any intrinsic diplomatic significance involved Turkey/Erdogan – not Russia/Putin.The one area of possible serious criminality concerns Trump/Kushner’s real estate transactions with various criminal syndicates. They included Russians, Azeris, Khazaks, and most notably Israelis. Here is where it is most likely that a smoking gun will be found – but not one with the Kremlin’s finger prints on it.Finally, there are Putin’s actions in Crimea and Syria. The prevailing narrative re. the former fails to account for these salient facts: the Washington sponsored coup of an elected government in Kiev replaced by one hostile to Moscow; the relentless NATO expansion eastwards in violation of agreements reached between Bush the Elder and Gorbachev; and the comparison with identical American action in Kosovo as well as the aggression in Iraq. As to Syria, there are two elementary points to keep in mind; every state has an acknowledged right to provide assistance to another state in accord with its determination of its own best interests – this is not a U.S. privilege; Russia is in Syria at the request of a legitimate government, the United States is not. Anyway, Putin has made repeated approaches to the White House to enter into talks on mutual problems and the rules to govern the new international system – as outlined in detail in speech after speech. Washington has rebuffed them all. In truth, Washington’s foreign policy elites prefer Russia as an enemy. Temperamentally, and by experience, they are discomforted by the challenge of dealing with an independent, self-confident power whose interests at times deviate from those of the United States and whose terms of collaboration where they converge stress equality. Look at those who hold the reins of power (and think as well of their Obama counterparts). They have not the aptitude or skill to conduct skillful diplomacy with parties like today’s Russia in a complex international arena. A contest between Trump/Tillerson/Kushner vs Putin/Lavrov makes one shudder. Los Vegas odds-makers would take it off the board. Look at Syria. As one former diplomatic ruefully has said: “talking strategy with Rex Tillerson is like shaking hands with an empty glove.”The Russia mania is a classic example of “mass hysteria.” Collective anxiety hysteria long has been identified as“consisting of episodes of acute anxiety, occurring. among a group of people (often in the dense space of a cloister or boarding school) Frequently, nuns or adolescent students believed they were suffering from a similar ailment or under threat from some potent mysterious force (sometimes referred to as mass psychogenic illness or epidemic hysteria). The best known historical examples involvedelusional diabolic possession or witchcraft – as occurred at Loudon and Salem. *The closest approximations of today’s hysteria in the United States are the “Red Scare” in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution; and the McCarthy era hyper-anxiety triggered by the Soviets acquiring The Bomb. Their historical precursor is the Irish Fright of 1688 in England at the very end of their civil wars. The Irish Fright took place in England and parts of Wales in December 1688 during the Glorious Revolution. False reports that Irish soldiers were burning and massacring English towns prompted a mass panic in at least nineteen counties, with thousands of people arming themselves and preparing to resist non-existent groups of marauding Irishmen. At the time, those fanciful forces conjured the same dire images and aroused the same primordial fears as nowadays we imagine legions of Russian hackers hunched over computers in the bowels of the Kremlin fueled by liters of vodka alongside each keyboard.Hysteria can take milder, more prosaic forms. At the moment, Americans are fixated by the vision of rampant sexual predators lurking in every nook and cranny of the homeland. Harassers, gropers, touchers, leerers as well as actual rapists are threatening women everywhere and enveloping American society in the coils of lewd macho sexism. This mania masks the very serious problem of rape on university campuses, and the abuse of power by celebrities and executives. The trivial and the criminal become confused. Hysteria inexorably produces victims. In the past, they were as accused devil-worshipers (mainly young women) and some burned at the stake. Often, they were fed to the authorities by enemies of one sort or another. These denunciations, in turn, served the official need to whip up popular hysteria with spectacular auto-da-fé and other gruesome spectacles. Its closest modern analogue were the show-trials orchestrated by Stalin at the time of the Great Terror in the 1930s. There, too, denunciation was a widespread method for getting revenge. Denunciations in the cause of injustice also have been a feature of American counter-insurgency campaigns in the Greater Middle East. Clueless, undertrained but trigger happy soldiers and Special Forces could be easily manipulated to kill innocents. Those incidents occurred repeatedly in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Yemen and most recently in Somalia where U.S. Special Forces gunned down a village full of citizens at the instigation of tribal rivals. The usual promised investigation will reach the foregone conclusion that Americans with guns in those places only kill bad guys. In the current state of collective hysteria that deceit passes with hardly a murmurTo cap off all of this, Americans elected a malignant narcissist as their President – and did so at a time when the country is experiencing no exceptional shocks - itself a collective act of mass hysteria (as well as cynical calculation by Republican loyalists).These waves of hysteria have had a deleterious effect on American public life. Sustained fear and anxiety wears down the body politic, just as long-term stress weakens the body. It becomes vulnerable to dysfunctions of various sorts, makes us hyper-sensitive to signs, however small or ambiguous, of other impending threats, and warps judgment. In the American case, the terror obsession has gathered strength rather than been supplanted by later mania.This pattern conforms to the profile of psychosis.1 It is an odd, multi-faceted psychosis.. The terror obsession fits the clinical pattern, albeit with a few peculiarities considered below. What is peculiar is the manner by which secondary obsessions attach themselves to the primary obsession. They reinforce each other in strength and credibility. A rough analogy is the synergistic effect of a major storm pulling minor low pressure systems into its meteorological orbit.Little of this stunning phenomenon is recognized, understood and responded to by an adjustment of behavior. Delusion rules. Thus, behavior remains unchanged. The overshadowing delusion is that the United States is besieged by legions of Islamist enemies scaling the walls of the Republic bent on mayhem. Only the ingenious defenses that we have erected, and the valiant efforts of our warriors in Langley, Fort Meade, and in hundreds of outposts around the world, keep this diabolical foe at bay. Actual reality: there are a few hundred poorly organized, scattered remnants who have the intention and will even to imagine a direct attack on the United States. That small coterie lacks the means. In any case, they could not conceivably replicate anything like 9/11. In our world of delusion, any Islamist group which espouses an anti-American creed is declared a grave threat. That includes Somalia’s al-Shaabab – which didn’t even declare itself an al-Qaeda affiliate until 2012, years after its formation, Boko Haram – a strictly Nigerian outfit, and an array of small groups scattered around Southeast Asia. What should be an international police exercise to apprehend criminals has been transmuted into a global war on fundamentalist Islam.Hence, we have populated the world with ghosts and goblins like children who exorcise their primordial fears by imaging monsters at the bottom of the cellar stairs. Their behavior is cathartic. The GWOT is not. Instead, successive Presidents have warned Americans that ISIL is an “imminent” danger to the American homeland without a shred of supporting evidence. At the same time, the Pentagon relegates it from the top of the enemy list to number 4, with Russia slotted in as Number One. (This was a few years ago before ISIS suffered crippling defeats). We now are tacit allies of ISIS remnants in Syria in a vain struggle to use them as leverage against Assad/Putin.Simultaneously, we tremble at the calculated, self-serving rhetoric coming from Saharan brigands, Congolese marauders and Yemeni Houthi insurgents against a corrupt, American backed government – among scores of similar minor villains. Our rulers take every occasion to stimulate our fearful instincts: high officials grab the limelight at photo ops each time that a half-baked plot (as likely as not concocted by the FBI) involving some street corner types doodling on a napkin is “uncovered.” Security barriers, controls, restrictions are omni-present. Hollywood and TV are given inducements to produce streams of confected “reality” shows that depict blood-curdling nightmares of evil-doers at the doorstep. The world of terror delusion has become a national theater of the scary – however absurd.All of this scare-mongering creates a political climate wherein elected officials dread doing anything that could expose them to charges of being “soft on terrorism” and putting the country at risk. So they portray themselves as relentless in grim combat with a legion of would-be terrorists. Hence, you have a closed loop of continuous reinforcement between public fears and the actions of leaders that deepen them. This mechanism interlocks with the external mechanism of self-perpetuating jihadism insofar as American military action feeds hostility and paranoia about a Western crusade which in turn produces rhetoric and actions that give material form to the initial perception of threat. Like the fast-breeder reactor, output exceeds input.****The mystery is that the psychosis has endured for so long. The first question to ask is whether there is a functional counterpart to the biological component which is the organic basis for the illness’ resilience and persistence in Individuals, i.e. neurological abnormalities, and distortions in brain chemistry.In other words, does there exist an element in the national mindset that makes American society peculiarly susceptible to this phenomenon? A few candidates do come to mind. The country’s historical invulnerability to attack is one of them. After all, with the historic exception of Pearl Harbor, the United States has not experienced a violent assault on its territory since 1813. Moreover, it has not faced a concrete threat during that period other than the abstract danger of nuclear strikes from the Soviet Union. We should note that the Red menace which the atomic bomb embodies did generate the hysteria of the early Cold War years. But that effect, and conscious fear of the Bomb itself, gradually wore off by the end of the 1960s.A second feature of the national culture deserving citation is the low tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty – at least as regards the foundations of the Republic’s peace and tranquility. That is unique among nations. In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans were haunted by the dread thought that it might happen again. The existence of fundamentalist Islam itself was the incarnation of this phobia. Other countries, which have endured far more awful things, know from experience that it always might happen again. They accommodate to that reality. Americans by contrast believe in absolute security; they find it hard to tolerate anything short of that.The emergence of mass hysteria typically is not provoked by the introduction of new material into the mindsets of individuals and groups. Rather, it reworks them by 1)magnifying certain elements; 2)packing them into a narrative; 3) animating it with negative passions, and 4)directing the volatile brew in a predetermined direction targeting predetermined objects. All of the ingredients in the current mix of psychotic hysteria can be labelled ‘Made In America.’ But countervailing ingredients have been weakened and marginalized. It is the latter that, in normal times, constitute the collective super-ego. Abandonment by key elites of their innate responsibility to maintain and to assert that super-ego clears the way for the hysteria dynamic to form and to spread. There is some psychological truth to these hypotheses. However, it does not explain adequately either the exaggerated response to a single (if singular) event or the intensity and acuteness of the delusional thinking in the absence of evidence from the real world that the fearful images are justifiable. The objective truth of the real world is overwhelmed by the subjective virtual truths that shape their perception of reality.This loss of contact with reality is characteristic of delusional disorder in individuals. Often it is associated with the individual’s isolation – from other persons and from the external environment. Just the opposite, though, is the case with the collective psychosis we are examining. For delusions are reinforced through regular contact with other members of society. Here is a clue to one reason for the perpetuation of the delusional state of mind. There is massive reinforcement among persons sharing the same emotional experience, reacting to it the same way, attaching the same meanings, and coping with the same fears.The silence of those who themselves are not caught up in the hysteria allows the dominant emotions to sustain momentum. No wind-break or harbor mole acts to slow it. No alternative conception of reality intrudes. We see that today as the sexual harassment hysteria claims one victim after another with the headlines set in the same font whether it’s matter of serial rape or Garrison Keillor placing his hand on a colleague’s bare back for a few seconds several years ago. Irrationality rules; perspective and proportionality disappear. In 2003 the United states Congress officially renames “French fries” in the cafeteria “freedom fries.” This week, The New York Times’ senior music critic suggests that we consider discarding recordings of the Metropolitan Opera led by James Levine because of his alleged sexual misdeeds with young men.The hysterical mob does battle with “The Evil One” for the soul of humankind. A witch-hunting state-of-mind is like a wildfire that ignores boundaries – physical, social or ethical.Collective hysteria is a fairly common societal phenomenon. It has been much studied. Witch hunts fall into this category. On a larger scale, chiliastic movements in the past exhibited similar characteristics. The Book of Revelations is a pageant of apocalypse fixated psychosis in addition to encouraging psychotic tendencies to develop into pathologies. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that End Times churches awaiting Armageddon and the ensuing Rapture are flourishing simultaneously with the War on Terror. In this sense, the stunning appearance of ISIS is like a glimpse of the anti-Christ which signals that the climactic battle between Good and Evil is at hand. It is in the Bible Belt that the two psychoses have merged in a potent mix that has given new thrust to the Christian Right and elements of the Tea Party. Together, they helped elect their fellow psychopath – Donald Trump.The true believer in a state of hysteria has an almost unlimited capacity for self-delusion. Hence, Evangelicals passionate about family values find it easy to accept the vile behavior of Donald Trump once he has been anointed their savior by their preachers and Christian Right talk radio. His groping of 23 women? Well, Trump was pursuing impulsively his search for the Ark of the Tabernacle in every nook and cranny of the Holy Land. In this respect, segments of American society are little different from 16th Century Spain or the Soviet Union circa 1937.One feature of them all is that there is a triggering event. It then is given a larger meaning that reflects underlying emotional substrata of the societies involved. 9/11 is the triggering event in this instance. We noted some of the predisposing elements in the American psyche. But the critical factor is of a different nature. It is the agency of those who stoke the emotions, who propagate the myth of a larger meaning, who direct the febrile energies of the mass in a particular direction against a particular target. That is pretty much what has happened in America over the past 13 years.The instigators of the delusional break from reality have been our leaders – in government, in the media, among those who are profiting handsomely from the GWOT, and (perhaps saddest of all) the political class and intellectual elites generally who have been either accessories to the plunge into a world of delusion or skillful beneficiaries in status and acclaim. Together, they are the culpable parties who have sealed the country into a bubble of illusion so well insulated from reality that it has become our semi-permanent residence.The net effect of of keeping the GWOT at full throttle, without any discussion of purposes and premises, and the sweeping under the rug of everything unsavory, has been to favor the creation of delusional myths about the entire era. America’s essential purity was reaffirmed, the justness of America’s cause inscribed in the national memory book, all sins expunged, and thereby all critics were delegitimized. The two primary tools for accomplishing these purposes were to make the horror of 9/11 the central reality of the contemporary American experience (roughly analogous to the way that current Israeli leaders use the Holocaust), and to keep percolating the fear of lurking terrorism (a la the Evil One in the panoply of the Medieval Church). Rituals to memorialize 9/11 have been instituted that keep prominent the emotions and meanings of 9/11. Remembrance ceremonies are natural. The graphic reenactments through endless repetition and dramatization of the moving imagery, though, borders on being the functional counterpart to the Passion Plays designed to revivify the Christ narrative among the Faithful. In a more minor key, the choreographed celebration of our uniformed soldiers at sporting events serves the same purpose. It is akin to saying Grace before indulging in a sumptuous meal. Omnipresent American flags – from lapel pins to the 30 foot banners that wave above car dealers – are like the crosses that symbolize our collective ordeal and abiding faith. Thereby, the saliency of the War on Terror for individuals and for the nation is maintained – and, with it, susceptibility to the implanting of the delusions that are integral to it. In short, psychotic elements are insinuated into the American psyche.The tension associated with the psychotic individual’s encounter with objective reality does not arise if the dominant element of that reality is the attitudes and expressed opinions of others who share the underlying delusions. Their subjective state is a crucial part of the external environment. Reality testing, in these circumstances, leads to conformity in viewing the world through the delusional prism – rather than it being a potential corrective.As for behavior, in theory it could be modified were individuals to feel a sense of shame or guilt about what they have done and supported. Guilt turns on the relationship between the self and the conscience. It can be a private matter. Shame, by contrast, is a social phenomenon; it is a matter of an individual’s sensitivity to how others view him. Moreover, shame may take on collective forms of expression that guilty feelings rarely do; thereby carrying a greater potential for influencing public policy.Shame loses its force as a motor for changing attitudes and behavior when the social influence is factored out because the widely accepted norm conforms to the “shameful” behavior rather than to its stigmatizing. Guilt is more likely to be internalized in the absence of public condemnation. And less likely to lead to externalized behavior in the form of revelation, protesting or witnessing. PROGNOSIS The multi-faceted American psychosis is now so deeply entrenched in the American psyche as to obviate any possible treatment. There is no such thing as societal psycho-pharmacology; and, in any case, there are multiple other drugs or placebos in wide use that would counteract them. Therapy is out of the question since there is no one to lead it. An exceptional President could perhaps produce some melioration but that person is non-existent. Anyway, therapy could only work if the patient wants to change. There is abundant evidence that self-absorbed Americans are too preoccupied with other problems to appreciate the damage that is being done – including the exacerbation of those other problems.What of ameliorative measures? It is conceivable that contingent factors could come into play to attenuate the impulse to intervene everywhere on the skimpiest justification. Financial costs have been enormous In the process of prosecuting the Global War on Terror, the country has spent in the range of $2 trillion to $3 trillion and mounting. However, to date America’s political class has shown itself too timid to call those expenditures into question. The public is largely ignorant or accepts them as necessary to keep them safe. Anyway, restraint at the margins would trim relatively little off the Pentagon/Intelligence/Military benefits budget.Is there some way to break the reciprocating influences between the terror paramount obsession and the other obsessions – Russia above all? In terms of psychological dynamic, that is extremely hard to do, as the clinical evidence indicates. We might hope that a more deliberate approach be taken in the cost/benefit/success-failure calculations of doing X, Y or Z – particularly in the Middle East. Several of our policies and engagements at present defy common sense and logic. Cosseting the Islamic State’s remnants while providing both arms and diplomatic protection to al-Qaeda in Syria is an outstanding example. Even more egregiously, Washington’s uncritical backing for the reckless actions of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin-Salman are counterproductive in terms of combatting violent Islamic fundamentalism, stabilizing the Persian Gulf, insulating Lebanon from sectarian hostilities or finding a modus vivendi with Iran; not to speak of being an accomplice in the crimes against humanity being committed on a massive scale in Yemen. Yet, neither the Obama nor the Trump administration have seen their way to clear thinking on any of those matters. Delusion overrides sound judgment, deliberate diplomacy and a cool headed appraisal of the American national interest. Conclusion This essay has affirmed the proposition that a collective national fantasy is self-perpetuating in the conditions described here. Crucial is the mutually reinforcing dynamics of individual psychology and mass behavior. Very, very few people are rational thinking machines – as discussed in the Introduction. This is true of elites in government as well as the common man. There are powerful forces that create a natural disposition to preserve/protect the mind’s implicit map of the universe, i.e. its belief system encompassing prominent reference points, actors, boundaries, etc. In other words, how the world operates. Its companion is a set of ideas about interests, aims and purposes. This is readily apparent in the foreign policy domain as well as in other professional spheres.Group think within institutions and governments reinforces these inertial biases and themselves are a product of individuals’ ingrained resistance to adjusting their perception of reality. Resulting rigidities are no more liable to modification and adjustment when their relationship to reality is relatively tenuous – as it is today. Indeed, as the gap widens, there is a tendency to tighten one’s grip on the prevailing fantasy version of reality because of the pain and cost associated with an abrupt break from it. For that poses the challenge of adjustment against the background of now acknowledged error and (likely) failure. NOTES 1. Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier. * Salem witch trials (1692–93)Adolescent girls Abigail Williams, Betty Parris, Ann Putnam, Jr., and Elizabeth Hubbard began to have fits that were described by a minister as "beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease to effect." The events resulted in the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings leading up to the executions of 20 citizens and the deaths of five citizens of Salem Village, Massachusetts (present day Danvers, Massachusetts) and nearby towns accused of witchcraft.** For example, there was the “writing tremor disorder” in Basel when scores of students, confronted with a high stakes writing assignment, found their hands and fingers paralyzed. The cause was traced to a deep-seated fear that their composition might resemble that of Thomas Friedman in the International Herald Tribune. Other explanations have been offered by those who note that the episode occurred in 1888. About Michael Brenner, the author Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh; a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS-Johns Hopkins (Washington, D.C.), contributor to research and consulting projects on Euro-American security and economic issues.Previous teaching and research appointments at Cornell, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Brookings Institution, University of California – San Diego, and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the National Defense University.Publishes and teaches in the fields of American foreign policy, Euro-American relations, and the European Union.Author of numerous books, and over 60 articles and published papers on a broad range of topics. These include books with Cambridge University Press (Nuclear Power and Non-Proliferation) and the Center For International Affairs at HarvardUniversity (The Politics of International Monetary Reform); and publications in major journals in the United States and Europe, such as World Politics, Comparative Politics, Foreign Policy, International Studies Quarterly, International Affairs, Survival, Politique Etrangere, and Internationale Politik. His most recent work is Toward a More Independent Europe Egmont Institute, Brussels.Directed funded research projects with colleagues at leading universities and institutes in Britain, France, Germany and Italy, including the Sorbonne, Bonn University, King’s College London, and Universita di Firenze.Invited lecturer at major universities and institutions in the United States and abroad, including Georgetown University, UCLA, the National Defense University, the State Department, Sorbonne, Ecole des Sciences Politiques, Royal Institute of International Affairs, University of London, German Council on Foreign Relations, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and Universita di Milano.Consultant to United States Departments of Defense and State, Foreign Service Institute and Mellon Bank on multilateral diplomacy, peace keeping by multinational organizations, and political risk assessment.Recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, United States Information Service, European Union Commission, NATO, and the Exxon Education Foundation.