“We are never deceived, we deceive ourselves.”
We are content to live on a nuclear powder keg because we are tranquilized by a false sense of security from having our own weapons. We hope, ironically, that the existence of our own WMDs might somehow bring about a peaceful solution to the world's problems. We deceive ourselves by ignoring the reality that treaties are created for political ends, and that they will be broken as soon as it suits one of the parties to the treaty. We hope without reason that something as bad as nuclear war just could not happen. We believe that mankind in general is enlightened, and a WMD would only be used by a madman—a terrorist. What is it about the human mind that allows us to function effectively in the face of such grave peril? All too many people are simply uninformed about WMDs; but how do those people who are aware that WMDs could end all life on Earth, and that it could happen tomorrow, function effectively from day to day and live life as if they are going to live forever?
Photo by Philippe Halsman
© Halsman Estate
"The only difference between
me and a madman is that
I am not mad"
According to Conyers Thompson M.D., our ability to function in the face of danger stems from normal defense mechanisms, which serve an essential function in our psychological well being. Even though we know that misfortunes happen every day and that someone else’s child was killed in an auto accident, we create an illusion of well being. It is not going to happen to our child, or if something bad does happen, it will not happen now. The belief in the illusion allows us to let our child get in the car and drive to see a friend. If we humans don’t carry around a small amount of this illusion in life, we’ll walk around anxious, pessimistic, negative, and depressed. People are happier with a shadow of illusion. The illusion of denial protects us and allows us to continue living. Denial is similar to illusion, but the denied reality is more specific.
In addition to illusion and denial, other built-in defense mechanisms, such as detachment and repression, allow us to tune out reality that threatens our sense of connection to the world, our power to shape it, and our hope for the future. Detachment allows us to remove ourselves from sources of anxiety instead of constructing other psychological defenses to deal with them. Repression results in not remembering an idea that is not truly forgotten, but is buried in the unconscious. Naturally and instinctively we turn away from thinking about horrible events, such as nuclear war.
Apathy is a state of indifference characterized by a lack of enthusiasm or motivation. In an extreme state, apathy manifests as disassociation, detachment, and numbness. Affected individuals may rely fully on others for help when life circumstances cause the individual to experience his choices as irrelevant. Extremely unpredictable environments such as war, famine, and drought may tend to foster learned helplessness. For example, during the Holocaust, some concentration camp prisoners, called Mussulmen, refused to care or fend for themselves. Apathy towards WMDs, genocide and terrorism can be “unlearned” when an informed constituency recognizes its choices are relevant and its voice can be helpful.