THEOSOPHY, Vol. 35, No. 8, June, 1947
(Pages 349-353; Size: 15K)
(Number 44 of a 57-part series)



THE appalling growth of mental disease in the United States has often been mentioned by sociologists, and dealt with in this magazine in previous years. It has been lightly scouted by the public, its politicians and publicists, until it is now attaining a growth that can no longer be ignored.

The problem has been pictured many times during the past few months, but seldom in colors more sinister than those used by Dr. Martin Gumpert, in Redbook for March:

In nearly every bookstore, these troubled days, there is a well-stocked section of volumes whose very titles reflect the strains and tensions of modern living -- books which tell readers how to relax, how to avoid fatigue, how to have peace of mind, how to face the problems and perplexities of life today. It is a depressing thought that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of men and women who desperately need help in resolving their overburdening emotional conflicts....

Our forebears had their troubles, too. Basically, there is not much difference between the mental conflicts of yesterday and of today. The "nervous breakdown" of older generations has become the "neurosis" of modern times. But it seems obvious that neurosis is much more prevalent than was nervous breakdown. What was formerly a rather rare affliction now has become a common ailment which may affect someone with whom we live or work -- perhaps even ourselves.

Dr. Gumpert, after mentioning typical cases, continues:
Look into your neighbor's face. You will find the same expression of anxiety, of fear, of bewilderment, of anger. Imagine your own state of mind reproduced by the million in your contemporaries, and you have some explanation for the chaos that ranges from hysteria over nylon stockings and white shirts and the stock market to hunger, hate and despair, to produce a condition that -- from a medical point of view -- can be called mass neurosis.

The raw facts and figures on neurosis are indeed alarming. The general medical checkup of the nation by our Armed Forces revealed that 1,825,000 men, or thirty-nine per cent, of those rejected by the Army, were rejected for some type of mental or emotional disorder. In addition, up to July, 1945, mental causes were behind the discharge of forty-three per cent of the soldiers released from the Army for medical reasons, and other thousands were discharged because of "personality defects."

Hardly a day passes without warnings from radio, newspapers, schools and pulpits about the appalling danger of a steadily growing juvenile delinquency. The rate of incidence of mental disease increases rapidly with advancing age. The old-age group of our population is steadily growing, and so are the mental disturbances of later life. The rate of first admissions to state mental hospitals has increased from 7.7 per 100,000 of the population over forty years of age in 1912, to forty-nine per 100,000 in 1936. This is a rise of more than 500 per cent. Mental disease has become this country's pre-eminent medical problem....

Dr. Gumpert connects these symptoms with the deep-seated social and political unrest of our time:
The accumulation of millions of cases of individual unhappiness is responsible for most of our present international problems. Inflation, the black market, the breakdown in housing, labor strife, minority persecutions, crime waves, juvenile delinquency -- these are not only political, but medical problems. They are provoked and nourished by abnormal emotional reactions of many of our neighbors -- maybe of ourselves -- to the sad and frightening experiences of the past years, to the lack of security, the moral uncertainties, the continuous stress and tension of everyday life.

Why did we grow neurotic? We are made of basically the same stuff as our parents and grandparents, but they were allowed to live in the serene world of the Nineteenth Century -- which, of course, had its conflicts and tragedies, too. But there was far less turmoil of moral confusion; they knew or were convinced they knew what was good or bad. Their childhood and their old age were rooted in firm, time-hallowed traditions. They did not experience a change of cultural climate every few years, or continuous acceleration of time and constant shrinking of space.

We must not forget that many of us who were children in the early Twentieth Century have experienced at least five sorts of reality, as different spiritually and physically as five centuries. There was the Victorian world, the world of World War I, the intermission world, the world of World War II, and now before us is the frightening and fantastic postwar world. If we look at the circumstances which fate or history or civilization -- or whatever we may call these mysterious forces -- has inflicted upon us since 1914, it becomes evident that mental and emotional disbalance is the only "normal" reaction which can be expected from average human beings. Even normal animals, rats or dogs or cats, can be experimentally changed into neurotic animals when they are exposed for some length of time to frustration, anxiety and shock.

If your outlook on life, your capacity to "take" things, your energy, your tolerance, your equanimity, have deteriorated during the past years, take it as certain proof that you are a normal, basically healthy person. It is indeed normal to answer to a sequence of unpleasant and trying conflicts with neurotic symptoms....

Dr. Gumpert's facts are one thing; his proposed remedies another. Before dealing with the latter, let us ask, which came first, the vulture or its egg? Gumpert sets forth the proposition that this mass tragedy is the natural reaction of normal beings to unnatural circumstances. Whence, then, came the unnatural circumstances? From God or the Devil? In that case we had best appeal to the responsible one of those personages rather than to the psychiatrist.

The complex of civilized living, however, had its rise in nothing more or less than the desires of human nature as they express themselves when subjected to certain forms of temptation. It would seem that the slightest inkling of the sequence of cause and effect would at least hint to these "authorities" that there had to be something abnormal, unnatural, or irrational about those very traits of the humanity of these times.

We must learn [Dr. Gumpert says] that to be unhappy is rarely the fault of the victim, but is the fault of his environment; that unhappiness -- in the majority of cases -- is a disease the roots of which may reach back into earliest childhood.
The convenient "personal devil" again -- renamed "environment." But whence the "environment?"

One must often apply to the "psychiatrist" the same rigmarole of "compulsions" and "complexes" by which he judges his brethren, in order to determine how he came to be attracted to his art in the first place -- and how he arrives at his conclusions in the second!

Search for a basic cause may go far back into history, covering every state of society and every experience that man has had, from the most materially comfortable to the most vile; and it will discover merely this: that throughout recorded history man has never attained happiness, although it is the one consistent object of his incessant pursuit. The conclusion to be drawn is that the present age differs from others only in that men are losing hope in the "pursuit," and abandoning themselves to a despair which is able to find solace only in a mental evasion from this plane. This, in a nation and in a time when material desires are realized with a facility and luxuriance never before known in all this planet's history!

Here and there a modern philosopher has seen that men desire, and always have desired, the wrong things, with the necessary consequence that the height of madness, insecurity, and disappointment is reached with the greatest fulfillment of those mistaken aims. The brighter the coin, the more dangerous its attraction.

Strangely, this has always been known by the truly great of earth -- always, as long as there has been suffering among men. How long will it take the mass to learn it? As long as men listen to so-called "healers" who offer to subdue pain by pointing out gratifications of the senses, or who base their medicine itself upon the deadly heresy that man is a puppet of circumstances -- the heresy that has caused the evil in the first place!

If you would be healed, seek not these sick ministers of the sick -- men as unhappy and ill-adjusted as those who come to them; but seek among the hard-working simple peasants of various lands, whose lives hold little but a meagre diet, hard work, hard beds, the stars, the rain, and the sunshine! Seek among the sages of the mountains -- whether of the Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps, or the Rockies -- lowborn or highborn, who by one means or another come to know that man is happy, and happy only, when the crying passions, that blind him to the depths of bliss accessible within his own eternal soul, are torn up by the roots and expunged -- not "suppressed"!

To these blind healers of the blind, of course, the "suppression" of desires is the worst heresy and wickedest sin of all -- for they resist and deny the notion that desires can be ended. To them man is a mass of carnal flesh, tenuously held together by rationalized animal instinct; to them the secret of healing is an "adjustment" enabling these passions to get along with each other without tearing the man apart or causing him to tear others asunder.

But relief will never come by that road; it will never come until men understand that their own nature is universally misconceived by themselves.

Man is no compound of material cells organized by blind instincts; he is fundamentally a non-material being temporarily clothed in a form which itself is an expression only of one of the least and lowest of his creative powers. Can the ocean strive to contain itself in the drop, and be at peace? Never!

Man, a spiritual being immersed in a body of his own creation, has a double duty -- to create in, and through "matter," to the end of elevating the whole evolutionary mass; but above all, to remain consciously rooted in his primeval spiritual self, eternal, boundless in its depths, self-sufficient and self-blissful, beyond desire, beyond change, beyond sorrow.

Modern "philosophy" has circulated the most monstrous of delusions: it has blinded man, by subtle argument and sophistry, to the reality of his spiritual nature; it has debarred him in the mass from creating, by centering and monopolizing the creative power in a handful of managers and technologists, leaving their credulous followers nothing upon which to exercise their ingenuity save new justifications of vice and new flights of passionate greed.

The growing madness of America is but the misguided effort of the soul to escape these deadly bonds. It can escape, and in no long time; it can escape by merely abandoning the insane effort; or it may exit by a stupendous cataclysm brought on by the soul's necessity to end illusions that will not be broken in any other way.

Meantime it is in the power of Theosophists, and no others, to understand the nature of this imprisonment, to anticipate its end, and to be prepared to build better, even from the shards and dust of the ruins.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


We gain infinitely more than we lose in abandoning belief in the reality of Divine Revelation. Whilst we retain, pure and unimpaired, the treasure of Christian morality, we relinquish nothing but the debasing elements added to it by human superstition. We are no longer bound to believe a theology which outrages reason and moral sense. We are freed from base anthropomorphic views of God and His government of the Universe, and from Jewish Mythology we rise to higher conceptions of an infinitely wise and beneficent Being, hidden from our finite minds, it is true, in the impenetrable glory of Divinity, but whose laws of wondrous comprehensiveness and perfection we ever perceive in operation around us.... The argument so often employed by theologians, that Divine revelation is necessary for man, and that certain views contained in that revelation are required for our moral consciousness, to maintain. The only thing absolutely necessary for man is is purely imaginary, and derived from the revelation which it seeks TRUTH, and to that, and that alone, must our moral consciousness adapt itself. 

--Quoted in Isis Unveiled

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