I have been thinking about how future historians will characterize the period through which we are living and the label ‘The Age of Unreason’ popped into my mind as a suitable one (at least for the US). The reason is that I marvel at the kinds of things that people currently believe and are doing that seem so detached from reality and untethered to reason. Here is a short list of things that immediately came to mind and I am sure that there are others.
Anti-vax: Vaccines are some of the greatest inventions in medicine, saving countless lives all over the world. The rapid development of the vaccines for covid-19 was a stupendous achievement. And yet, we have people refusing to take it because they think that Covid-19 was an intentionally planned outbreak and part of some plot and are willing to trust completely untested and sometimes dangerous alternatives. Some of these people are even giving up on Trump because he does not buy in to all their claims.
QAnon and the Big Lie: There a large number of people who think that Donald Trump actually won the last election and that it was stolen from him by some vast conspiracy of Democrats, election officials in many states, Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, George Soros, Antifa, and the companies that manufacture voting machines and their software. The fact that someone who was actually elected to the office of the US presidency and will likely run again is a major proponent of these ideas shows how widely this idiocy has spread. many of these people believe in all manner of other QAnon-inspired idiocies, including the idea that John F. Kennedy, Jr. is not really dead and will return soon.
Cryptocurrencies and NFTs: We seem to have a bubble in which huge amounts of money are being spent on opaque technological innovations that seem to have little basis in reality. I may be wrong in thinking that there is nothing there, especially when it comes to cryptocurrencies, but NFTs strike me as a classic speculative bubble in which people people seem to willing to invest huge amounts of money on something that has no intrinsic value.
Mass pedophilia: Pedophilia is a real and vile thing. What I am talking about here is an obsession that erupts from time to time that it is happening on a massive and organized scale, that children are being abducted and trafficked in huge numbers all over, and that major figures in the world of politics and business are behind it. I am hardly a fan of the power elites but this is a bit much.
Nicole Karlis lists some of these widely held beliefs and poses the question of whether we are living in a period of mass delusion.
It should go without saying that these kinds of beliefs are fantasy, not rooted in any rational fact or evidence. Hence, someone observing from afar the rise in conspiratorial beliefs and pseudoscience might characterize a vast swath of the American public as delusional. From the COVID-truther movement to people believing the 2020 presidential election was rigged, it appears that the body politic is — to put it mildly — no longer on the same page.
Given the perturbed psychological state of so many Americans, it is worth asking if something is happening — psychologically speaking — that is causing many Americans to live in very different realities.
Psychologists say yes; and, moreover, that what is happening was actually predicted long ago by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Indeed, Jung once wrote that the demise of society wouldn’t be a physical threat, but instead mass delusion — a collective psychosis of sorts.
Indeed, Jung himself warned that modern society was prone to collapse due to a pandemic of “delusional ideas.”
“Greater than all physical dangers are the tremendous effects of delusional ideas, which are yet denied all reality by our world-blinded consciousness,” Jung wrote. “Our much vaunted reason and our boundlessly overestimated will are sometimes utterly powerless in the face of ‘unreal’ thoughts.”
Notably, Jung believed that the United States was particularly prone to society-breaking delusions.
There is always the danger that we have a tendency to paint with too broad a brush and over-simplify, creating a simple narrative that does not reflect the complexity of the periods. Take for example, what is called the Age of Reason. The Age of Reason is contrasted with what came before, which was the Middle Ages (or more pejoratively the Dark Ages) comprising the 900-year period from the 5th to the 14th centuries, which were thought to be some kind of black hole where the knowledge gained in earlier times somehow disappeared to be replaced by mysticism, religion, and superstition, and where there was little scientific and cultural advancement.
More recently, scholars have described that picture as a gross distortion, that there were many interesting developments in that period and that rather than being a reversion to a more backward way of thinking, actually laid the foundations for all the advances that came after.
So we should be cautious and not too quickly declare the current period as being somehow very far from the historical norm. It may be bad but it may also be that the passage of time has resulted in many of the irrationalities of past decades disappearing from our awareness, leaving us to think that people were not as irrational then.