Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 88

A Tale of Thanatos and Two Invasions

Is our destructiveness our own undoing?

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”1

Today is the 2-year anniversary of the declaration by the World Health Organization that the invasion of COVID-19 was causing a world-wide pandemic. Although the state of the pandemic is somewhat better now, as the destructive impact of the virus and its variations is lessening in some countries, news about it is being eclipsed by the escalation of the 2 weeks or so invasion of Ukraine by Russia. This overlapping timing makes me wonder how they might be psychologically connected.

The last worldwide pandemic, called the Spanish Flu, occurred about 100 years ago. Instead of preceding a war, it developed toward the end of World War I. World War I, of course, caused much instability in the world, with a peace settlement that in retrospect seemed too harsh to allow for Germany to recover, leading to the Nazis and World War II.

Now, Russia, which apparently has suffered greatly from the viral pandemic, has started another war, with the world’s fear that it could escalate to a nuclear one. It makes me wonder if the timing of this invasion had anything to do with the instability caused by the pandemic. This time we also have the instability caused by climate change.

In general, disasters caused by mankind are more difficult to recover from than those caused by nature. More posttraumatic stress disorder is one difference. As difficult as it was to successfully address the invisible invasion of the virus, this manmade invasion perhaps poses an even higher risk. One could even conclude that the pandemic and climate change also had their genesis and development greatly influenced by human behavior.

Such considerations bring us back to the famous saying of the comic strip character, Pogo.1 If widely true, that leaves us with the challenge of overcoming our human nature tendencies to be self-destructive. Freud called this our death drive. It is also called Thanatos after the demonic Greek God in ancient Greek mythology. Though Thanatos was thought to be merciless and indiscriminate, as our current invaders seem to be, he could be outsmarted. In particular, perhaps psychiatry worldwide can help us outsmart our own societal destructiveness, just as we can often do in the individual treatment of patients.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

Reference

1. Kelly W. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Comic strip. Accessed March 11, 2022. https://library.osu.edu/site/40stories/2020/01/05/we-have-met-the-enemy/