Alberta Tar Sands — Photo from EricWalberg.com
Dennis Rivers, November 2016
This week I’ve been thinking about the struggles going on to protect water supplies on the Standing Rock Reservation, and about the Alberta tar sands projects only a few hundred miles to the north. For native peoples around the world, the Earth Herself is sacred, and Her waters as well. So poisoning the Earth, or building industrial projects that create an ongoing unknown risk of poisoning the land and water, are not just material or political issues. They are spiritual and religious issues as well. This is not a theoretical risk at all. Large amounts of Dine (Navajo) land and water have been permanently poisoned with radioactive waste from uranium mining, causing a giant spike in cancer rates. And the Alberta Tar Sands photos speak for themselves. So native peoples have little reason to trust the assurances that they, their land, and their water, are not in danger from the white man’s projects.
Reflecting on the corporations willing to endanger someone else’s water supply in order to get rich building oil pipelines, I think it is time that we gave a proper name to the psychological illness that has been haunting us for several centuries: PIDM: profit-induced-destructive-mania. I intend to rally my friends within the counseling profession to have PIDM added to the DSM-5 as a recognized mental illness.
There are many strands of PIDM at work in U.S. culture. The long term effects of tobacco and greasy hamburgers kill hundreds of thousands of people a year, yet most of us prefer to look away from the spectacle of corporations enriching themselves by selling slow death behind smiling advertisements. We accept this as fairly normal, without really working through the implication that some forms of mental illness may be fairly common. The late psychoanalyst Arno Gruen explored this at length in his book, The Insanity of Normality (which I helped to republish after it was withdrawn from publication by its bought-out publisher).
People suffering from PIDM, a syndrome I see as a spiraling disorientation of both thinking and feeling, experience a chronic narrowing of the attention until they no longer recognize the people, animals, plants, oceans, forests and waters essential to their own survival here on Planet Earth, and begin a autism-like repetitive pattern of screaming, “Drill, Baby, Drill!”. PIDM is the economic parallel to Lord Acton’s observation that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, namely, that profits tend to disorient, and enormous profits disorient enormously. The contemplation of giant wins appears to disable people’s normal survival instincts. The same processes of disoriented thought appear to be associated with nuclear power as well, where the hope of generating mind-boggling amounts of cheap electricity causes otherwise sensible people to abandon their critical faculties, leading to catastrophes such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Just as anorexics cannot bear to face that fact that they are killing themselves, PIDM sufferers cannot bear to face the fact that they are killing their own planet, and the life-support system for their own children and grandchildren. Because of this self-injury component, some elements of self-hatred and suicidal ideation cannot be ruled out.
PIDM is like a Zika virus of the heart (it causes people’s hearts to get smaller). We need new clinical intervention strategies to reconnect EVERYONE on the planet with their own life energies (approaches such as Joanna Macy’s “Work That Reconnects”) and slow the lethal spread of PIDM and poisoned aquifers.