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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Picture this:

Uncle Sam lies on the analyst’s couch. The analyst, his notebook on his crossed legs, is saying, “You’re completely normal - if only the rest of us were as sane as you.” Meanwhile, the analyst is surrounded by three flak-jacketed commandos with their assault trifles trained at his head.

What’s wrong with this picture? Uncle Sam would never admit any misgivings about his sanity, is what.

Erich Fromm MD said it 51 years ago, and it’s probably even more relevant today:

Nothing is more common than the idea that we, the people living in the Western world of the twentieth century, are eminently sane….

Can we be so sure that we are not deceiving ourselves? Many an inmate of an insane asylum is convinced that everybody else is crazy, except himself. Many a severe neurotic believes that his compulsive rituals or his hysterical outbursts are normal reactions to somewhat abnormal circumstances. What about ourselves?

Let us in good psychiatric fashion, look at the facts. In the last one hundred years we, in the Western world, have created a greater material wealth than any other society in the history of the human race. Yet we have managed to kill off millions of our population in an arrangement which we call “war”. Aside from smaller wars, we had larger ones in 1870, 1914 and 1939. During these wars, every participant firmly believed that he was fighting in his self-defense, for his honor, or that he was backed up by God. The groups with whom one is at war are, often from one day to the next, looked upon as cruel, irrational fiends, whom one must defeat to save the world from evil. But a few years after the mutual slaughter is over, the enemies of yesterday are our friends, the friends of yesterday our enemies, and again in full seriousness we begin to paint them with appropriate colors of black and white. At this moment, in the year 1955, we are prepared for a mass slaughter which would, if it came to pass, surpass any slaughter the human race has arranged so far. One of the greatest discoveries in the field of natural science is prepared for this purpose. Everybody is looking with a mixture of confidence and apprehension to the “statesmen” of the various peoples, ready to heap all praise on them if they “succeed in avoiding a war,” and ignoring the fact that it is only these very statesmen who ever cause a war….


Why should I continue with a picture which is known to everybody? Certainly, if an individual acted in this fashion, serious doubts would be raised as to his sanity; should he, however, claim that there is nothing wrong, and that he is acting perfectly reasonably, then the diagnosis would not even be doubtful any more.

Of course, it’s not doubtful anyway.

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