OPINION: Who is actually crazy?

Norman McFarlane

On Saturday a red flag was unfurled atop the holy dome of the Jamkarãn Mosque in the Shiite holy city of Qom, Iran.

This is apparently the first time in the history of the mosque, that this has happened. The event was telecast live in Iran.

In Shiite tradition, a red flag symbolises blood spilled unjustly, and serves as a call to action to avenge who was slain.

Tradition dictates that the flag will only be lowered once the death of the person slain, is avenged.

The slain person was Qassim Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds force, who was killed in an American drone attack in Baghdad earlier in the week. The drone strike was authorised by President Donald Trump.

Thousands gathered in the streets of Baghdad on Saturday, chanting “America is the great Satan”, during the funeral procession for Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who also died in the drone strike.

Iran retaliated by unilaterally withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the Iran nuclear deal, which has constrained until now, Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “From now on Iran will no longer commit to any limits on the level of uranium enrichment, stockpile of nuclear fuel and also nuclear research and development,” Iran’s local English daily, The Tehran Times, reported on Sunday, citing a government announcement.

Iraq’s Parliament voted on Sunday to expel all American forces, in retaliation for the drone strike, which took place on Iraqi soil.

Soleimani’s death has brought arch rivals Iran and America eyeball-to-eyeball, raising fears of all out war.

Reactions to the drone strike, tweeted with evident triumphalist glee by Mr Trump, have ranged from condemnatory to laudatory.

In anticipation of Iran retaliating, Mr Trump decided to up the ante on Sunday. “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!” he tweeted.

Mr Trump, it seems, believes that Iran’s symbolic raising of the red flag is of no consequence, secure in the belief that America is unbeatable militarily, and if the reaction to the drone strike by his support base is anything to go by, so do they.

It is easy to dismiss Mr Trump’s handling of this issue as a clear sign of his mental instability, which, with every other outrageous action he has engaged in since taking office, has generally been the case.

Popular culture characterises him as a malignant narcissist, but does that mean that he is mentally ill?

Not according to psychiatrist, Allen Frances, author of Twilight of American sanity.

Dr Frances, who wrote the criteria in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder, says Mr Trump’s “amateur diagnosticians have all made the same fundamental error” because “they fail to recognise that being a world-class narcissist doesn’t make Trump mentally ill.”

“Crucial to the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder,” says Dr Frances, “is the requirement that the behaviours cause clinically significant distress or impairment”, of which he maintains, there is no evidence.

“Trump is a threat to the United States, and to the world, not because he is clinically mad, but because he is very bad,” says Dr Frances.

His abusive actions, vulgar speech, self-promotion, grandiosity, egocentricity, and manifest dishonesty, may make him a national embarrassment (for some), but none of this makes him mentally ill, according to Dr Frances.

Which begs the question, how did he get elected in the first place, and what does that say about American society?

Dr Frances explains it thus: “Trump is a symptom of a world in distress, not its sole cause. Blaming him for all of our troubles misses the deeper, underlying societal sickness that made possible his unlikely ascent. Calling Trump crazy allows us to avoid confronting the craziness in our society – if we want to get sane, we must first gain insight about ourselves. Simply put: Trump isn’t crazy, but our society is.”

The problem is that we, as a society, harbour a set of delusions that if we deny their existence the existential threats that we face – climate change, increasing tensions in the Middle East, population growth, dwindling resources, increasing inequality, economic stagnation – they will simply go away.

“In psychiatry,” Dr Frances says, “a delusion is defined as a fixed, false belief that is firmly maintained and resists correction by overwhelming evidence and rational argument.”

Which explains why so many people insist, for example, that climate change is an international conspiracy, a hoax, a natural phenomenon and definitely not anthropogenic, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, and Mr Trump’s efforts in this regard, do deserve special mention.

Isaiah Berlin, in his essay The Hedgehog and the Fox, speaks of those who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea and reject anything that might conflict with that view, and those who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea.

Anybody who has tried to persuade a climate denialist, through the presentation of peer reviewed scientific research – there’s a helluva lot of it out there – will recognise the hedgehogs of this world.

It is the hedgehogs of this world who attack the likes of Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg.

Closer to home, it is the hedgehogs of this world who staunchly believe that amending Clause 25 of the constitution to enable expropriation of land without compensation, will miraculously, eradicte poverty, unemployment, and inequality, in our deeply divided and unequal society.

It’s time for us to stop blaming the Donald Trumps, Jacob Zumas, Boris Johnsons, and Vladimir Putins of this world, and to reject the delusions they propagate to gull us into believing that nothing has to change, and that they will lead us to a land of milk and honey.

Wake up, world.