Small Screen Quarantine: Mental Illness as a Crisis of Meaning in Modern Society

“The unheard cry for meaning…”

We used to sit around back in the 70s smoking weed and asking each other questions, like what is the nature of reality, what is real, what is insanity etc. We concluded that insanity is a natural response to living in an insane society, without really knowing what we were saying or why that may or may not be true.

What is mental illness, after all? What makes sense, and what is simply the way we decided, as a group, things should be. What is meaning?

Anyway, this is a worthwhile watch:

Discussing the frustrations of navigating the world and people who seemingly exhibit consistently anti-social behavior, my partner said, “I just need to know what thought processes go into this. I need to know what they’re thinking!”

All I could think, sadly, is that you are going to continue to struggle if you believe that they’re thinking at all. I don’t believe they are. Where does this cross over into mental illness? Perhaps it’s just the stress inherent to finding order in the chaos, and it is chaos. Many if not most people aren’t thinking at all. They’re not paying any attention at all to how better behavior might make the world easier for all of us. It’s not a question of not caring. It’s about not even thinking about it.

And before I proceed, you’ll probably notice if you’ve watched the video that this is entirely tangential, but I’m riffing off the idea in the video that much of what we have defined as mental illness is thoughts and behaviors that defy the set order of our societies. It is behaviors that don’t fit in. What I’m doing here is expanding the definition to behaviors that are clearly anti-social but perhaps less disruptive. And to the stresses caused by the prevalence of these behaviors…

For many people navigating their day is a series of tasks with what they see as a point A and a point B. They give little consideration to the variables between A and B, or namely other people. Perhaps people have become weary of the bulk and weight of all these variables and have just learned to shut them out to ease the exhaustion. They’ve blocked out the consideration and the possible repercussions and are startled when someone points out their selfishness. They’re infuriated that their identity as a good person is questioned. They’re infuriated that someone would question their right to move about as they choose without thought. Call it what you will but I’m going to call it a mental illness. It’s applying survival behaviors of “by any means necessary” to entirely ordinary interactions. It’s applying a moral and ethical imperative to their rights to just come and go as they choose without question. And so on blah blah blah.

My point is that many, if not most people, move about without thinking. Are they bad people? Maybe not in a relative sense. Is coming and going and acting with little to no consideration an anti-social behavior bordering on mental illness? I absolutely believe it is. I believe that for most people the feelings and well-being of others has become too weighty to consider so they have stopped altogether. They’ve blocked it out. There is no thought process at all and a person will drive themself crazy trying to find some meaning or purpose in it. There is nothing to understand.

That seems pretty bleak, doesn’t it? It absolutely seems dire when it’s put into words. How that plays out on a daily basis is that I stopped getting so stressed when I lessened my expectations in humanity. I can’t say that I’m happier for it, but I’m not less happy for it. It seems like less pressure to just be mournful of bad behavior than to be angry at it.

But stick to the video. It’s better than my rambling thoughts. I do believe that our struggle to find meaning in a lot of this is driving us crazy. Not everything means something. It’s easy enough to see how we got to this place but that doesn’t really offer a solution. There are personal solutions to lessen the impact, but… I don’t have a more comforting answer for my partner. She seemed reluctant to accept the idea that people reduce themselves bit by bit to their animal selves, excluding many of what we would consider properly social human behaviors, in order to just get by with as little stress as possible. It makes sense to me though. I don’t exclude humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. I don’t think we exist naturally in a higher state. I believe it’s simply a more complex and complicated state as there are more of us and each of us takes up more space. We don’t sleep in piles. We create divisions and this idea called private or personal property and make that part of our identity. Maybe that in and of itself is the ultimate anti-social behavior, this stress on “the individual.”

I don’t know.

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