Brent Potter, author of Elements of Self Destruction, engages with the works of Wilfred Bion and Martin Heidegger to explore the sometimes horrifying manifestations of ‘mass hallucinosis’ in contemporary culture and our everyday lives.
Early in my career during the 1990s, I recall occasionally looking up from my discussion with a so-called chronically mentally ill patient to look around the office. Invariably, there was outdated (usually 1970s-era) wall art, a desk lamp lighting the small room, a dead office plant in the corner and some abandoned dusty books next to the plant. The community mental health clinic where I cut my teeth was a massive, labyrinthine structure with an awkward combination of large cubical-laden expanses for clinicians and tiny consultation rooms. The clinic was the eighth largest employer in the county and each clinician had roughly 80-100 patients on his or her caseload. It reminded me of some kind of demented beehive abuzz with overworked, underpaid clinicians frantically running around completing paperwork, making copies and answering a backlog of voicemails. And the ‘patients’—always one or two screaming and/or throwing things in the lobby—wandering around, usually disoriented in the befuddling hall network. Supervisors and administrators wisely locked themselves in their offices or were otherwise quietly absent.
I think, in my eight years working there, I saw the clinical director twice. To add to the confused and confusing environment, the clinic had a 50% annual employee turnover. So, I may have seen a clinical director on more than two occasions but wouldn’t necessarily know. Patient suicides, clinician suicides, government cut-backs in spending, heartless human resources personnel; the patients’ chaos and the agency’s chaos seemed to reflect each other. It was Kafkaesque, as if the atmosphere itself was saturated with unwellness and us, collectively, attempting to give it shape and meaning. During this time, I asked my analyst what the real difference, if any, there was between the patients and clinicians. “Keys,” he answered quickly. “What?” I asked. “The clinicians are the ones with the keys to the building,” he said with a smile.
“become part of the cotton fuzz that makes for a kind of psycho-social soundproofing, dulling, numbing. Part of the hallucinatory nexus involves a mechanism reaching deep into infancy. In psychoanalytic language: “identification with the aggressor” … A strong leader or group identification finds alternate pathways for fears, hates, and criticism, often deflected towards a designated enemy … People in power intuitively know how to throw small bones for constituents to gnaw, keeping minds occupied, while grander destructive scenarios unfold … a hallucinated election. A hallucinated democracy … A hallucinated identity, a hallucinated life, a hallucinated death.”
Taking Bion’s notions of dynamic psychotic processes in psychic reality and applying them to social reality yields much. From this broader perspective, it is easy to see the hallucinatory spell cast in much of the world to be ‘successful’, to be ‘Number One’, to vanquish the ‘evil doers’, to establish a moral super-ego across the lands. A superficial (or no) sense of consequences is near to the essence of much contemporary psychopathic hallucinosis.
“As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectivelessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve.”