If you have been paying attention to politics, the economy, falling wages, student debt increases, climate change, or the myriad other problems facing the world over the past several decades, you may have detected that these situations are not improving.
The US obesity epidemic means that children dying before their parents may become common for the first time in modern history. Real wages have not increased in the US since the 1970s despite annual improvements in worker productivity. Rampant money printing by the Federal Reserve means a dollar is worth less than at any time in US history. Climate change is rapidly affecting weather patterns, creating a rise in flooding, severe storms, wildfires, and other natural disasters. Housing and secondary education costs have outpaced inflation for decades (while incomes have declined), meaning more adults spend their 20s and 30s living with parents. Jørgen Randers, the author of the book "2052: A global forecast for the next forty years," projects the coming decades to be amongst the worst in US history. He attributes the cause to multiple factors, including climate change, a loss of the reserve currency status, economic problems, rapid technological advances eliminating jobs, and a widespread reduction in living standards. Hard times do not lie ahead. They have arrived already and will only worsen.
People typically navigate the world around them by applying practiced critical thinking skills. Education helps this process by providing facts upon which decisions can be based. Education is not the answer; critical thinking is. Critical thinking is the car to education's gasoline. The more education, the further the car will go. Gasoline alone, though, does very little. Without critical thinking, our species would not have left the caves and reached the stars.
So what hinders critical thinking aside from a lack of education? The answer includes environmental factors such as disease (e.g., a pandemic, heart disease, cancer), loss of a loved one (e.g., death, divorce), financial insecurity (e.g., job loss, foreclosure, bankruptcy), health issues (e.g., obesity, food insecurity, malnutrition), natural disasters (e.g., flooding, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes). When critical thinking is disturbed, a growing number of people suffer from increasingly more detrimental forms of mental illness. These include depression, anxiety, and other emotional regulation disorders. Flawed critical thinking leads to the most common mental health issue in the world: delusion.
Every day our world grows in complexity. People must decide which information to ignore and which warrants attention. Depending on what is chosen, different world views appear. Delusion involves the misinterpretation of facts, often by focusing on the wrong environmental stimuli. If a person focuses only on an elephant's legs, they may be mistaken for tree trunks. If a person focuses only on the trunk, only a snake may be seen, or even a rope from the tail. In an increasingly complex world, no time is available to perceive the larger picture of the elephant. Factually, each misperception has solid logic when detecting a tree, snake, or rope. However, these are all delusions, apparent only after the whole set of facts show an elephant.
We are taught delusion from a young age. The explanation for the factual evidence of new presents under the tree on December 25 is that an obese saint breaks into people's homes and leaves gifts for good children. The reality is parents with discretionary income. The delusional explanations for hidden eggs on Easter and money under our pillows are more magical, benevolent fairies. Societies transfer cultural delusions in the form of trite sayings like, "guys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses" or "all for one and one for all." Men are taught that they need to be breadwinners, powerful, and emotionless. Women are taught they should be beautiful, reserved, and devoted to men. A culture is little more than shared delusions, such as "the American dream" or "baseball and apple pie."
While we all foster delusions, most are harmless. Stories about the Easter bunny, Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy may carry subtle messages about capitalism, but for the most part, initiate children into a world of benevolence and safety. Sometimes, delusions take a darker turn. Germany suffered one of the worst deflationary depressions in modern history during the 1920s. An entire generation of German people suffered dearly for causing World War I. This misery led to Adolf Hitler's rise to power and the shared delusion of Aryan purity that would end German suffering. Hitler's message was appealing to a beleaguered populace, exhausted from war and years of economic and emotional hardship. After all, no one wants to admit they may be the source of their problems.
To combat delusion, one starts by separating delusional people from one another and then provides new information in a "reality check." A reality check involves a situation where new information cannot be ignored, and the false interpretation can no longer be accepted. Reality checks are how you deprogram someone who has joined a cult. Reality checks are how you rescue someone from an abusive relationship. Reality checks are why so many social media platforms are banning posts for spreading disinformation about vaccines, politicians, companies, and private individuals.
Since the advent of the Internet, it is nigh unto impossible to separate people from those who share their delusions. It becomes more challenging since the repeal of the fairness doctrine, a law requiring all sides of a story to be presented in mass media. Repealing this law led to right- and left-wing propaganda channels like Fox News and MSNBC. Social media algorithms are designed to match people according to their "similar interests," another term for shared delusions.
When these delusions become so great that new information is ignored, a powder keg can form. People already suffering in the environmental hardships begin to suffer mentally too. This suffering was evident on January 6 when people who sincerely believed they were patriots saving America from tyranny stormed the US Capitol to execute elected representatives. Days and weeks later, many of these same people received reality checks when they were arrested and criminally charged. What many people interpreted as alligator tears was the reality check of jail returning these delusional people to our shared truth. "Rock bottom" is the term addicts use to describe the realization that the one thing helping them through their day has become the root of most of their problems.
Reality checks are both incredibly jarring and emotionally challenging. People run the risk of adopting new delusions to replace failed fantasies. This fact is one reason why so many political zealots become religious zealots or vice versa. Victims of severe delusions are more inclined to adopt new fantasies than correct their errors in critical thinking. The state of our world and social media's easy intrusion into people's lives make delusional zealotry more appealing and effortless to adopt. Humans are social animals; everyone wants to be part of a pack. Whether a group is delusional or not, it's hard to leave. Netflix provides an excellent documentary example of this, showing flat earthers refusing to accept the results of their own research proving the earth is round.
All this is to say that if you have noticed the world is going mad, you are right. Problems within the environment, the government, the economy, the educational system, and our shared cultural delusions are getting worse. These problems cause delusional thinking to become both more common and more severe. We are entering a perfect storm where eight billion people all want to share in the American dream on a planet without enough resources for Americans to share that delusion. The earth cannot sustain this level of abuse.
The US dollar is ending its 100-year reign as the reserve currency. Historically, this change has been heralded by world wars (e.g., WWI & WWII, the Napoleonic wars). Artificial intelligence and robotics are quickly advancing to the point where humans can be permanently replaced, and at a pace that people will not be able to learn new skills fast enough to stay ahead of the machines. Today's world is a breeding ground for widespread mental health issues. The symptoms are everywhere.
In the future, this mental health crisis will only become more severe and more widespread. For people, states, and countries to survive this storm, they must work together. Humans succeed through cooperation, not competition and war. Humanity needs all hands on deck. There is no time to argue about whom to blame or throw overboard. Unfortunately, if history is any indicator, that is precisely what will happen.
So if you have noticed that the world is going crazy, you are not wrong. But if you think it's not going to get any worse, it will. Worse than you can imagine.
I hope you will be one of the people who try to work with people and not against them. I hope you will embrace new information and pay attention to the reality checks around you. I hope you will fight against your delusions of racism, sexism, nationalism, etc., and work together as the one body of humanity.
It will not be easy, but together, we can survive the storm.