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Those over the age of forty or so will remember when people regularly went to see a psychiatrist to discuss their troubles. This was far more common in the upper class than the middle-class, but it was not unknown even among the lower class. It was a regular feature on television shows starting in the 1960’s. By the 1970’s, characters regularly talked about their trips to the shrink. Even today, the shrink is inserted into popular culture, as with the television series The Sopranos.
Psychiatry has fallen out of fashion as it has become obvious that you cannot talk someone out of mental illness. In fact, it sounds primitive and superstitious to think that talking about your troubles with a shaman can help cure them. There are people still clinging to things like Freudian psychoanalysis, but people with some knowledge of the human science know it is quackery. In fact, the entire enterprise of talk therapy is just pseudoscience, like astrology or tarot card reading.
Even so, Freudian quackery had a big impact on the West. It was tangled up with larger assaults on the culture, like the attack on the family. Instead of relying on the culture to cope with the inevitable struggles of marital life, women were encouraged to seek psychiatric help, which preached a form of women’s liberation. This encouraged the adoption of divorce, which swung a wrecking ball through society. It is fair to say that Freud was one of history’s great monsters, as well as a quack.
We have been conditioned to think that we live in the age of reason and that our ancestors were superstitious and irrational. This is a part of the cultural campaign to disconnect us from our past, but it is also a conceit. Our material existence is better, so we assume our technology is better, which means we have a more reasonable and rational understanding of the world. We no longer believe in invisible sky gods that control the natural occurrences we see from our cave.
In some respects, this is true, but in general, those old superstitions were more rational and practical. The unhappy wife spending more time at church did more for her wellbeing than hours with a quack and an eventual divorce. The peace of knowing that after this life, there is a next life of eternal bliss did more for the psyche of regular people than handfuls of anxiety drugs. Those old superstitious primitives in the family album did not try to turn their boys into girls.
Even though some of the nutty ideas like psychoanalysis have been dumped in favor of actual science, we have new crackpot ideas. Panpsychism, for example, is promising to introduce a fresh batch of oogily-boogily into the human sciences. Panpsychism is the idea that consciousness is inextricably linked to all matter and simply grows stronger as a physical object become more complex. That means gravel in your driveway has a consciousness, just less complex than your consciousness.
If it sounds like something someone comes to believe after taking peyote during the bachelor party in Las Vegas, you would be right. It is right out of eastern religion, but it is being pushed by people with claims to science. This is how all quackery ends up in the general culture. People with claims to science dress up their new brand of Gnosticism with the authority of science. It may not be long before “science” is telling us Covid is mutating because it is offended by our vaccines.
The story of man is supposed to operate along the general plot line that starts with primitive superstition and works toward reason. Early humans thought the natural world was animated by spirits. Then it was the creation of the gods. That soon moved to a more complex set of rules imposed by one God. Then God was dropped altogether, and we are left with the rules of nature. That’s the official narrative, yet we are zooming back to the idea of the world being controlled by invisible spirits.
The IQ guys will argue that this is proof we are getting dumber, but modern quackery is always the product of elite culture. Freudian psychoanalysis was not invented and spread by rural mystics. It started in the cosmopolitan elite and then spread to the rest of the population. It was the lower classes that remained stubbornly skeptical about the guys with turtlenecks and pipes. The same thing will be true of panpsychism if it breaks from the laboratory like the Wuhan virus.
It may be that our elites are getting dumber and there is evidence of that, but that does not explain the rise of nonsense in the modern world. Marxism is obvious nonsense when you read it but it spread like a plague in the 19th century. According to the IQ guys, those elites were smarter than our elites, yet many of them fell for what amounts to monstrous quackery. They fell for it because they wanted to believe the glorious future free of conflict was an inevitable outcome of history.
It may be that in the fullness of time, the ape historians will look at what we call the modern age, the period kicked off by the Enlightenment, ending sometime soon, as the great quest for meaning. This is when Western man discarded his religious convictions and went on a long quest for the answer to the great question, but only managed to murder himself in the process. One bit of quackery after another until Western societies could no longer hold and they collapsed into ruin.
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